DUNCAN/The sign of Jonah
Please turn in your Bible to Matthew 12:38-45, where we come to the sign of Jonah. We will see four things from this passage. First, unbelief manifests itself by refusing to accept the proof at hand. Second, the divine proof that Jesus is the divine Messiah is the resurrection. Third, our judgment will be according to the measure of our light. And fourth, a Spiritual void is the most dangerous thing possible for a human being.
I. Unbelief Manifests Itself by Refusing to Accept the Proof at Hand
Jesus has already issued a stinging rebuke to the Pharisees. Though they were respected as the most moral and most godly religious leaders of the day, the Lord Jesus tells them that their words and their actions betray a heart that is not at peace with God, and is not in fellowship with God. In verse 38 they came to him and said, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” This is a polite but disrespectful response to what Jesus has said to them. We learn in verse 38 that unbelief manifests itself by refusing to accept the proof at hand.
Their problem is not that Jesus had not supplied them with enough evidence, or even with enough spectacular evidence. Their problem was in their heart. They did not want to believe and so no amount of proof could convince them. It’s not that the evidence is not there. It’s not that the truth is not clear. It’s not that there’s insufficient proof. It’s that they do not want to believe. And let me say that this unbelief in God has terrible consequences. The Lord Jesus in this passage shows that the Pharisees problem is not that they haven’t had enough evidence of the truth. It’s that they don’t want to believe the truth even though it is as plain as the nose on their face.
II. The Divine Proof That Jesus Is the Divine Messiah Is the Resurrection
In verses 39-40 Jesus gives us the great sign of the Messiah. He answered them and said, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.” In this passage we see that the divine proof that Jesus is the divine Messiah is the resurrection. Then He responds by saying that the only sign that will be given to this generation is the sign of Jonah. That’s a curious thing to say. He takes you right back to the Old Testament prophet Jonah, swallowed by the great fish. Why does He call it the sign of Jonah? Well, because Christ was in the grave as Jonah was in the belly of the fish. Because Jonah was expelled from that fish to preach repentance to Nineveh, so also Jesus Christ was raised from the dead to confirm the gospel and to preach that truth to the nations. The resurrection is the great truth that Jesus is the Messiah. The great proof of His divine Sonship is in the resurrection. The resurrection is central to Christianity.
III. Our Judgment Will Be According to the Measure of Our Light
In verses 41-42 Jesus speaks to the Pharisees with some very strong words. In fact, the Lord Jesus makes some astounding claims. In those verses we see that our judgment is going to be according to the measure of the light we have. Jesus says stunning things to the Pharisees here. He says in verse 41, “Something greater than Jonah is here.” Then He tells them a story of the Queen of the South coming to hear the wisdom of Solomon. He says in verse 42, “Something greater than Solomon is here.” The Lord Jesus knows that they are not going to accept even the sign of His resurrection. He knows that they are going to reject Him even after He is raised from the dead. And so He is building a case against them. He is pronouncing judgments, you see, against the scribes and Pharisees and the unbelieving Jews of His generation. Don’t miss Jesus’ important claims here. His claim to be greater than Jonah and to be greater than Solomon is a clear claim of deity. These men, He said, would be judged by their rejection, because though they had much greater light than the sons of Nineveh or the Queen of the South, yet they have rejected the truth.
IV. A Spiritual Void Is the Most Dangerous Thing Possible for a Human Being
In verses 43-45 Jesus utters a curious story. Jesus is not giving here a discourse on demonology. He’s explaining something to us that has happened to the people of his generation who heard John the Baptist. He’s telling us here, in verses 43-45 about the peril of spiritual emptiness because there is nothing more dangerous than a spiritual void. Jesus says in verse 43-45, “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” Jesus is warning about the dangerous spiritual consequences of the partial awakening that had occurred in the lives of some of these very people to whom He was speaking under the preaching of John the Baptist. Many of these people had gone out in the wilderness to hear John the Baptist. They were outwardly changed, but inwardly they were still empty. And so He tells the story about the demon. The demon leaves during their time of spiritual renewal. He decides it isn’t so good in the desert. He comes back and, lo and behold, everything is in order in their house. They look good. There’s been some moral reform. There’s been some external behavior change. But the heart is empty. In fact, the room is swept and the demon says, ‘This is great, I’ll bring back seven of my friends.’
What’s the Lord Jesus saying? He’s saying it would have been better for them never to have made any external profession of faith that was false than for them to be deceived that they were truly in fellowship with God and yet be dead in formalism. They appeared to be changed but they are empty. Our hearts will either be filled with the fellowship with God which is only through faith in Christ or they will be desperately empty and the haunt of demons. Christ’s call to you today is to trust in Him. The truth is clear. The proof is plain. It’s indisputable. Trust in Him.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at email@example.com.