As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Luke 11:29-32 NASB)
When I think if my favorite prophets or stories from the Hebrew Scriptures, Jonah only makes the list because of he’s so amusing. I don’t know of anyone who uses him as an example of how to live or as a positive example of any sort. Yet Jesus uses this prophet as a “sign” of His ministry to this generation. So, how is this reluctant prophet a sign of anything but “DANGER! Grumpy Preacher!”?
In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says the “sign” of Jonah has to do with Jonah’s time in the fish, and Jesus’ time in the grave being 3 days. Mark just says Jesus refused to give a sign of any sort. Luke seems to “split the difference” and refers to the sign of Jonah, but explains it a it differently. I think that by coupling Jonah with the Queen of the South, Luke redefines the way Jonah is a sign to the generation of the people to whom Jesus ministers.
On a side note, I think that Matthew simply defines the sign one way and Luke another. I think what happened is Jesus merely says, “No sign will be given to this generation except the sign of Jonah” and Matthew interprets it one way and Luke another. I don’t think either is wrong, and I think a good case could be made that Jesus meant both ideas in the sign.
Luke seems to understand the sign of Jonah relating to the reception of the Ninevites versus Jesus’ reception by this generation. Whereas Jonah preaches what has to be the worst sermon in Scripture and the Ninevites repent, Jesus preaches and the people reject Him. The Ninevites are pagans, and the people to whom Jesus preaches are supposed to be God’s people. It’s possible that Luke wants his audience to see the inclusion of Gentiles by God, but I think it is more directed at those who should know better but still reject Jesus.
So, the application is really for those of us who should know better but still seem to reject the testimony of God. In churches today, this happens way too often. But I don’t think we need to look around to see examples. Even the church I attend, where it’s mostly healthy, we still have examples of those who seem to be more in love with their own ways than interested in hearing of Jesus’ ways. Who wouldn’t be more comfortable with the ways they have always addressed and lived in this world versus the ways Jesus taught? The alternative may require them to reject the ways of their righteous parents, change how they treat certain people-groups, or even what they do with their money.
One of the most difficult things to accept could be the context of this passage where Jesus is casting out a demon of muteness from a man. The miraculous often makes modern American believers very uncomfortable. But we don’t even need to go there to find other elements that make us uncomfortable. Love your neighbor as yourself coupled with turning the other cheek works just as well. Forgive seventy-time-seven perhaps will drive some to squirm in their seats. “What, give up my resentments? Why, I’d rather give up my children!” It’s crazy, but seems sane for those encumbered with resentments. Been there, have the tee shirt, discovered “denial” isn’t just a river in Egypt. But that’s just me, right?
What do you learn from the sign of Jonah?