The Sign of Jonah

Easter Sunday  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:40
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On Sundays we are going through a series - Majoring in the Minors. This series is a walk through the 12 minor prophets. In this series we are learning and seeing that God not only spoke long ago through those prophets, but that God through those same prophets speaks today. Right now we are in the book of the fifth prophet - Jonah. The study of Jonah has led us to Easter - Resurrection Sunday. Jonah’s experience is a prophecy that Jesus points to and refers to as “the sign of Jonah”
People search all over for proof, evidence — a sign something tangible to the senses that God exists and Jesus is the Savior He claims. The sign has been given already in the sign of Jonah. Christianity is based upon it, it is the chief sign that points to Jesus as Messiah, establishing His claims of deity and proving Him Savior. This sign is the greatest sign given and the chief cornerstone sign upon which the Christian faith is based.
Our text this morning in Matthew 12 brings us to a point in which Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees after having just cast out a demon. The crowds were declaring and asking if Jesus could be the Son of David. The pharisees declared Jesus was casting out demons by Beelzebub ruler of the demons. Jesus tells them a house divided against itself cannot stand and their claim to cast out demons because He is a demon is absurd.
Matthew 12:38–39 CSB
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Matthew 12:40–41 CSB
40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s preaching; and look—something greater than Jonah is here.

Wanting a Sign

Matthew 12:38 CSB
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”
The pharisees and scribes asked Jesus - calling Him “teacher” - we want to see a sign from you. Show us a sign to prove to us what you claim and we will believe you are the Messiah. On the surface this looks like a genuine request. They seem open to receive evidence and proof with which to believe Jesus as Messiah. They even referred to Him as teacher. This is a false admiration of Jesus.
Many seekers today make the same claim - claiming Jesus to be a great teacher - but stopping short of believing Him to be God or Savior.
Lord Lunatic or Liar - C.S. Lewis
A man who was merely a man said all sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with a man who said he was a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
The Pharisees and others who dismiss Jesus’s claims were really looking for another way to reject Jesus as Messiah.
Their demand for signs was an indication of their unbelief not of their desire for faith. Jesus had just cast out a demon from a man who was blind, unable to speak. Jesus healed the man so that he could both speak and see. This wasnt the only healing but one of many. This was not the first demon cast out but one of many such exorcisms done by Jesus in the presence of the Pharisees. When someone doesnt believe and has decided in their heart not to believe, more evidence will not help them to believe. At this point it is a heart issue and not an evidence issue.
Josh McDowell in his book Evidence That Demands A Verdict says “that when talking with someone and before I share evidence with them, I ask them if they are willing to surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior if they see evidence, and when they say no there is no reason to go further, because they will not surrender no matter how much evidence is provided.”
Matthew 16:3 CSB
3 And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times.
Luke 16:30–31 CSB
30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

One Sign Was Given

Matthew 12:39 CSB
39 He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Matthew 12:40 CSB
40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
Jesus responds with a rebuke to them. A wicked and perverse generation demands a sign. Jesus saw their request for what it was- it was a demand. No sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. They would not get a sign they sought, but they would be given a sign they were not seeking.
Christ’s miracles were great and many, and worked as amazing signs of God’s power and ministry. His works testified of Him.
John 14:11 CSB
11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Otherwise, believe because of the works themselves.
Christ however said that the primary sign to identify Him as the Messiah would be the sign of Jonah. What is the sign of Jonah? Jesus says “For as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
Jonah was a prophet sent by God to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria — Israel’s enemies. He was to go and warn them of God’s judgment if they did not repent. Jonah did not want to go, because of their wickedness Jonah would rather see them destroyed. So Jonah flees in the opposite direction and gets on a ship headed to Tarshish (Spain). While on the ship a storm arises that God has caused and in it Jonah is discovered and tossed overboard into the sea. While in the sea Jonah is swallowed by a great fish prepared by God. After three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish Jonah is vomited onto dry land. Jonah then goes to Nineveh to complete the commission of God.
So what is the sign of Jonah? The sign of Jonah is a typical prophecy. The experience that Jonah went through is a “type” of what Jesus as Messiah would go through. Jonah in the belly of the fish three days and three nights and Jesus would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
The sign pointed to Jesus death burial and resurrection and also the timing of the resurrection. What may seem like trivial details to some Jesus staked His identity upon it. Our God is a God of perfect timing. Daniel the prophet foretold of the exact timing of the Lord’s first coming hundreds of years in advance.
Daniel 9:24 CSB
24 Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city— to bring the rebellion to an end, to put a stop to sin, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.
Daniel 9:25 CSB
25 Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an Anointed One, the ruler, will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat, but in difficult times.
Daniel 9:26 CSB
26 After those sixty-two weeks the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the coming ruler will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come with a flood, and until the end there will be war; desolations are decreed.
Luke 19:41–42 CSB
41 As he approached and saw the city, he wept for it, 42 saying, “If you knew this day what would bring peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
Luke 19:44 (CSB)
44 ...because you did not recognize the time when God visited you.”
This provides us with understanding that the death and resurrection of the Savior would also occur at the perfect time and with the perfect timing.
John 7:30 CSB
30 Then they tried to seize him. Yet no one laid a hand on him because his hour had not yet come.
Mark 14:41 CSB
41 Then he came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The time has come. See, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
The Pharisees understood what Jesus was saying about the timing as well. They knew Christ has given an exact timetable.
Matthew 27:62–63 CSB
62 The next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’
Matthew 27:64 CSB
64 So give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come, steal him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”
Matthew 27:65–66 CSB
65 “You have a guard of soldiers,” Pilate told them. “Go and make it as secure as you know how.” 66 They went and secured the tomb by setting a seal on the stone and placing the guards.
The sign is period of time “three days and three nights” The question everyone asks and that must be asked is, is this pointing to a literal 72 hour period? If so then Jesus would be resurrected in the late afternoon and not the early morning. How do we account for this discrepancy? We move the date Jesus died or we understand that “three days and three nights” is an expression of speech that didnt require a literal 72 hours but any part of three days.
Jesus died approximately 3:00 PM Saturday (Day 1)
Jesus was in the grave Friday night - Saturday Day (Day 2)
Jesus rose Sunday Morning (Day 3)
Jesus said on the third day He would arise - to follow literal 72 hours would mean Jesus rose on the fourth day. Another consideration is found in the wording of what Jesus said in Luke
Luke 24:7 CSB
7 saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’
betrayed into - when Jesus was subjected to the men as Jonah was subjected to the fish being swallowed the night in which He was betrayed (Night 1)
Friday - they day of actual crucifixion and death (Day 1 and Night 2)
Saturday in the tomb (Day 2 and Night 3)
Sunday rising again - on the third day
Jesus as Jonah may not have died on the first night but it seemed as death all the same - no longer under His own control and authority Jesus had been handed over.
It isnt speculation that the Pharisees wouldnt believe the sign but its what happened. They had been given the sign but they rejected it.
Matthew 28:12–14 CSB
12 After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money 13 and told them, “Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him while we were sleeping.’ 14 If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.”
They understood the significance of what had happened, it is why they bribed the guards.

Proper Response

Matthew 12:41 CSB
41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s preaching; and look—something greater than Jonah is here.
Jesus reminds the Pharisees that Nineveh had repented at the appearance of Jonah. This generation has not and in the coming judgment Nineveh will stand and condemn this generation for all they had was Jonah but look something greater than Jonah is here and yet they do not repent. The gentile nation turns to find the Lord but how sad the Jews do not.
Nineveh received its message from God through Jonah a minor prophet who was sinful rebellious and foolish. This nation was receiving its message from Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the promised Messiah without sin.
Jonah preached a message of only doom. “40 days and Nineveh will be destroyed”
Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God with mercy grace and salvation.
Hendriksen put it this way “Less enlightened people obeyed less enlightened preaching, but more enlightened people refused to obey the Light of the World.”
You are going to be held accountable for what information you are given
Luke 12:48 CSB
48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected.
John 15:22 CSB
22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now they have no excuse for their sin.
You need to repent - the sign is to show you who I am and to listen to my message - message of Jesus was repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. To repent is to change direction and turn to God and His leading.
Acts 3:19 CSB
19 Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out,
Romans 2:4 CSB
4 Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Any one can be saved - that’s the truth behind referring to the Ninevites.
Romans 1:16 CSB
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.
God’s faithfulness and mercy on display in spite of our own rebellion. God doesnt want any to perish but would rather all come to repentance. He works to rescue, forgive and restore us.


In truth the sign of Jonah reveals the Savior of the world - the one through whom there is forgiveness of sin. The sign of Jonah is not the miracle of the burial - but that in the resurrection there was an end to the period of death - in three days.
The sign of Jonah is also a sign of God’s sovereignty - He is in control and it is all according to His plan. Jonah from the storm to the stomach as God had prepared in advance. Jesus went to the cross and then to the grave so that the stone could be rolled away all as according to God’s sovereign plan.
Romans 1:2–4 CSB
2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures—3 concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh 4 and was appointed to be the powerful Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.
1 Peter 1:20–21 CSB
20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was revealed in these last times for you. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
The sign of Jonah is a sign of salvation. The resurrection is the reason for our hope. Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead in three days so we might be saved from our sin and hope in the resurrection of the dead.
Easter Sunday is a reminder of Christ’s resurrection - the sign showing that because He rose from the dead so shall we and we shall be with Him forever.
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