Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 24. Jonah
Mt 12:39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Talking about analogies is talking about similarities and comparisons. I’m not quite sure if Jesus’ reference to Jonah is an analogy or just a simply comparison, but whatever it is it is a graphic illustration, a word picture. The whole subject is provoked by the Pharisees again: “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” (v.38) to which Jesus gives the reply above. If you were in the crowd listening to this interchange you might now be thinking, “Jonah? What is that about?” and so he explains.
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (v.40) Er… pardon? Take the two parts of this. First Jonah. Most of the crowd would have learned about Jonah when they went to synagogue as a child. It is a sufficiently graphic story that it is made for children so, yes, Jonah the fleeing prophet had been thrown out of a ship in the middle of a violent storm and was saved by God from drowning by being swallowed by a large fish which, three days later, spat him out on a beach. (Jon 1:17, 2:10) For three days, to all intents and purposes, Jonah was dead. It was a miracle that he survived and was ‘vomited out’ three days later, to go on and preach to Nineveh. He is a picture of ‘resurrection’.
Which brings us to Jesus. We should not take the three days and three nights as three periods of twenty-four hours because by Jewish reckoning it included at least part of the first day and part of the third day, which was enough for this claim to have been perfectly fulfilled. So what was Jesus doing? He was comparing Jonah’s three days and nights of ‘death’ with his own, what would be happening to him. At that time, no doubt, the Pharisees would be nonplussed with no idea of what he was referring to, but rather than show their ignorance, they remained quiet.
The fact that there were prophetic scriptures that referred to death and resurrection possibly had not been recognized until Peter preached it on the Day of Pentecost when he quoted from Psalm 16:8-11 with, “you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” (Acts 2:27) which he then spelled out with, “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:29-32)
Jesus follows up this interchange with a challenge and a warning again using examples and comparisons: “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.” (v.41,42) In this double reference he first of all uses the way Nineveh repented when Jonah preached to them, and then how the Queen of Sheba come with great humility accepting the wonder of Solomon’s reign and God’s blessing on him and on Israel (see 1 Kings 10:6-9). Taking these two illustrations, he uses them to challenge them about their lack of response to him. If the Queen of Sheba responded positively to the wisdom of Solomon, and the men of Nineveh responded positively to the preaching of Jonah, how much more should the people of Jesus’ day have responded to him, who is infinitely greater than Solomon or Jonah!
Again, hidden within those two illustrations there was the implied challenge to first of all repent (as Nineveh had done) in the face of Jesus’ teaching, and second, to acknowledge the wonder of his ministry and all that God was doing through him, as the Queen of Sheba had done with Solomon. It is the challenge to any person who is confronted by Jesus’ ministry. It is utterly unique in human history and should at the very least raise interest in the human mind, and then a quest to look further until coming to a point of acknowledgement that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God who had come to take the sins of the world – including mine! And that should lead to repentance.
Then the further and further we observe the wonder of Jesus’ ministry, the more and more should we be filled with wonder and awe. Why doesn’t that happen? The blindness of Sin. If it happens in only a small degree in us, we need to pray, “Lord, please open my eyes that my heart may be moved by the wonder of these things.” One of the most terrible things on earth, must be the sight of those who come, see, observe, and turn away unmoved. Utter blindness!
Yesterday we quoted William Barclay. Let’s finish with some more of his quote: Suppose we love great music; suppose we get nearer to God in the midst of the surge and thunder of a great symphony than anywhere else. Suppose we have a friend who does not know anything about such music. Suppose we wish to introduce this friend of ours to this great experience; we wish to share it with him; we wish to give him this contact with the invisible beauty which we ourselves enjoy. We have no aim other than to give this friend the happiness of a great new experience. We take him to a symphony concert; in a very short time he is fidgeting and gazing around the hall, obviously completely uninterested and clearly bored. That friend has passed a judgment on himself; he has no music in his soul. …This is so with Jesus. If, when a man is confronted with Jesus, his soul goes out in a thrill to that wonder and beauty, that man is on the way to salvation. But if, when he is confronted with Jesus, a man sees nothing lovely then he stands condemned.