Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Sign of Jonah

In Matthew 12, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees the following:

"An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:39-40)

This turns me to the great prayer of Jonah that he prayed in the belly of the fish.  Let's read it and imagine Christ praying this same prayer during his three days in the heart of the earth:

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.

For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
yet I shall again look
    upon your holy temple.’

The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
    O Lord my God.

When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.

Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

When we hear Christ praying this, we learn:

1. As Christ was fully human, the experience of death was an excruciating one.  Just because he was also fully God does not mean he didn't experience pain and desperation.

2. Jesus had the closest relationship possible with the Father, but throughout this whole experience, he felt detached.  We hear him cry out to the Lord before he dies, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  In the heart of the earth, he cries out to the Father, and the Father responds.

3. Christ's crucifixion and death is ultimately an act of the Father, agreed upon by the Trinity, volunteered for by the Son.  The plan was set into action, with the Father allowing his only begotten son to be sacrificed for our sins.

4. The Son had perfect faith and knew that he was going to be restored to his rightful place in the Kingdom.

5. Christ descended to the dead, and the Father rescued him, raising him up.

6. Faith is always remembering the Lord as first and foremost.  Our prayers and discourse with God come bubbling out of a heart that is continually inclined toward him.

7. Those who put their faith in anything other than the God of the Bible are forsaking their hope of steadfast love.  They have rejected the salvation that only comes from the Lord.

8. The fruit of faith is thanksgiving.  We thank Jesus for saving us.  He also thanks the Father for rescuing him from death. 

9. Christ's sacrifice is to the Father and is the only sufficient sacrifice possible for the sins of the whole world.

10. Christ vowed payment for the sins of the world, and his payment was indeed made in his own blood.

Jonah was a type and shadow of Christ in his aquatic tomb, the belly of the fish.  Just so, believers in Christ experience trials and persecutions that feel like inferior copies of Christ's death.  See what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

Jonah was put through his trial to rely on God.  Christ went through his sacrifice to rely on the plan that the Trinity had conceived at the beginning of time.  Christ had the most faith, even though he was God.  He put himself into a situation where he could exercise his faith in the greatest plan ever conceived.  Trials that feel like death--even death itself--instill us with hope for the deliverance from such death.  God delivers us from the temporary failings.  He will deliver us from everlasting death into everlasting life.

Christ is our only hope.  He will deliver us.