Advent Devotional | Day 22: Jesus and the Sign of Jonah

Yeeshu aur yona ka chinh

Hindi / Jonah, esp. 1:17

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
– Jonah 1:17

“A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
– Matthew 16:4

Signs are all around us, giving us information or giving us directions. They are important to a city. What would it be like if we were to enter a city with no signage? A great deal of time would be lost trying to locate things, and it would be quite frustrating.

In the Bible, the birth of Jesus Christ and His mission were to be anticipated by certain signs. For example, Matthew used this expression at Jesus’ birth: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet. . .” (Matthew 1:22). Jonah is an infamous prophet of the Old Testament, a runaway prophet. His name meant dove, and he tried to fly away from the mission God had for him. A popular image of Jonah finds him in the belly of a large fish (often pictured as a whale). Jonah was not interested in carrying the call for repentance to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. The Assyrians were mighty warriors and would later invade Northern Israel and take the people captive. They were detestable to Jonah! He would rather have them die than repent.

So Jonah made an escape plan to sail to a far-off land called Tarshish. However, Jonah misjudged God’s sovereignty. Not too far from the shore, a storm supernat­urally developed, and Jonah recognized God was pursuing him. “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land”, he confessed (Jonah 1:9). The only way out of the storm was to give Jonah over to the raging sea. Unknown to his fellow sailors or to Jonah himself, a rescue was in store in the form of a large fish. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish where he repented of his disobedience. The fish then vomited him out on land. A messy affair on the outside but sanctified on the inside!

Fast forward to the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees who asked Him for another sign to prove He was the Christ. Jesus responds with a harsh rebuke, calling them “wicked and adulterous” and emphasizing that no sign other than the sign of Jonah would be given them. This sign was a reference to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—which they were about to witness! At Advent, the sign that gets the most attention is Christ’s birth. However, a little further into the Gospels, the fuller revelation of Jesus Christ is made known. Unlike Jonah, Jesus did not run away from the mission that the Father sent Him for. Jesus inaugurated his Kingdom on earth with a call to repentance (Jonah was to do that with Nineveh). Jesus becomes the full expression of God’s character which Jonah knew but struggled to embrace: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2b).

As we celebrate Christmas, we conclude a year that saw a lot of suffering and calamity. Wars, floods, famine, terrorism, persecution, economic distress, and other challenges have made their mark. Some of us are possibly still in the middle of it, and Christmas this year threatens not to hold the same joy for us. However, for the children of God, the sign of Jonah which points to Christ’s resurrection gives us true hope and joy in all circumstances. To it is attached the sure promise of God that one day all suffering and calamity shall cease because all things will be made new by the grace and power of our gracious and compassionate God.

Langham Preaching Administrator in South Asia
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