No other sign! The Lord Jesus offers the one and only sign that would ever be given to a wicked generation. What exactly was that sign? Was it the message that Jonah preached? Was it the fact that a prophet of Israel came with the message of God to a gentile nation? Was the sign to the unbelieving generation the experience Jonah had for three days and three nights in the belly of the fish that pre-figured the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus? Some have suggested that the sign of Jonah was actually the message of judgment that he was commissioned to deliver. I believe the answer is clearly identified in Luke 11:30. Jesus said, “. . . Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites. . .” The sign was not his message or the response to his message. The only sign God has given to an unbelieving generation was the person. Jonah is the sign. The man became the sign.
It seems very possible that the Ninevites knew the story of Jonah’s history with the Lord as they listened to his message. I think they knew about his rebellion; they knew about his being thrown into the stormy deep; they heard about the supernatural calming of the sea as the fish swallowed the prophet. They knew of his dark and hopeless experience at the bottom of the sea; they were aware of his cry for salvation from the depths; they knew of his marvelous and undeserved rescue from the hopeless pit — these things they knew somehow. Did they hear these things from the mariners who were present on the boat when Jonah was thrown overboard? Was there an eyewitness who testified of beholding the fish spit him on the shore? Did Jonah give his personal testimony of how the Lord had mercy on him? We have no way of knowing how much time occurred between chapters two and three of the book of Jonah, but it appears that by the time Jonah returned to Nineveh with the message, everyone was already familiar with the story of God’s undeserved mercy in his life. Jonah himself became the sign. His life story became the gospel; he was the hope of salvation for them. They could easily identify with Jonah. He became the message. When the unbelieving city saw before their eyes one who was standing there by the mercy of God, alive from the dead, they were convinced. If God could have such mercy on this rebellious prophet, and deliver him from such a horrible grave, then perhaps, they reasoned, He will have mercy on us. The situation of the Ninevites was not more desperate than Jonah’s situation at the bottom of the sea. His only hope was the salvation of God. The sign of Jonah was resurrection life. It was the sign of God’s undeserved mercy.
Nothing will convince an unbelieving generation more than a messenger who stands before them as one alive from the dead. There is power in a risen life. It was not Jonah’s eloquence or power of persuasive words that brought Nineveh to repentance.
The sign of Jonah remains God’s most powerful witness to our unbelieving generation. We are the sign. It is not what we do or say; it is who we are that is the sign. We stand before the world as trophies of God’s mercy. No other sign will be given but the sign of Jonah.
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