The Prophet Jonah
January 16th, 1966 @ 7:30 PM
THE PROPHET JONAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-16-66 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Now tonight the pastor is preaching on the prophet Jonah. For a long, long time, these evening services have been following the life of our Lord, and the sermon tonight, the message tonight, is the next one following the life of our Lord.
Turn to Matthew chapter 12, Matthew chapter 12 and we shall read verses 38 through 41. Matthew chapter 12, verses 38 through 41; if your neighbor doesn’t have his Bible, share yours with him. And if on the radio you are listening, get your Bible and read it out loud with us. All of us together, Matthew chapter 12, verses 38 through 41, now together:
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from Thee.
But He answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here.
There are two things that the Lord says in those four verses: one, He describes the preaching of Jonah and the incomparable result that came from it [Matthew 12:41]; and the other, He described the experience of the prophet Jonah, which He uses as a sign and a symbol of His own glorious resurrection [Matthew 12:40]. Now we shall follow those two things that our Lord speaks of in the life of that prophet.
First of all, the preaching of the prophet Jonah; there was never any other man, never any other preacher, never any other prophet who ever achieved the result that Jonah did. There was nobody in history, in time, in secular or in sacred story that even begins to approach the achievement wrought by Jonah in his preaching. He was a prophet who flourished in the Northern Kingdom, the ten tribes of Israel, in the days of Jeroboam II. He flourished from about 785 BC to 745; a period of about forty years. He was an older contemporary of Amos and Hosea. And in those days, God sent him to a pagan and a heathen city by the name of Nineveh [Jonah 1:1-2, 3:1-2], at that time the greatest metropolis in the world. It was the seat of the government of the far-flung Assyrian Empire. And in one sermon, in one sermon that man turned that whole city to God. There was never a result achieved like that in the history of the earth.
For example, at Pentecost, when Simon Peter preached his marvelous sermon about Jesus and His resurrection [Acts 2:14-40], there were three thousand who were added to the church [Acts 2:41]. In this last century, Charles G. Finney held a revival meeting over a period of about six months in Rochester, New York. Rochester at that time had a population of about fifty thousand people; yet in that revival meeting conducted by Charles G. Finney, there were more than one hundred thousand people saved and added to the church.
It was the greatest revival that we know of since the days of the apostle Paul. Yet when you compare those incomparable revivals in the days of Christendom, they do not even approach the effectiveness of Jonah as he preached at Nineveh. For example, in the Book of Jonah it says that Nineveh had one hundred twenty thousand babies in it, little children in it, who could not tell their right hand from their left [Jonah 4:11]. There must have been at least a million people that were turned to God and who were saved in that marvelous effective preaching ministry of the prophet Jonah.
Now many times there will come to pass a revival, a turning to God, in the midst of an awesome and terrible disaster. The Titanic, the unsinkable, they said, Titanic, on its way from Belfast, Ireland, to New York City, the Titanic was given over to pleasure and to gladness and to joy. And in that night the orchestra was playing and the people were dancing. But when the Titanic began to sink into the depths of that cold Atlantic sea, the last thing that was heard on the ship was the orchestra, the dance orchestra playing "Nearer My God to Thee."
There have been revivals and turnings to God in days of disaster and judgment. But this is a revival and a turning that came from the preaching of one man, the prophet Jonah. There was nothing comparable to it in the story of the world. Then the Lord speaks of it in this message as He answers an unbelieving generation. He says, "But a greater than Jonah is here" [Matthew 12:41]. However glorious the ministry of that prophet and however effective his message, no one would ever think to compare Jonah with Jesus our Lord. Yet as effective as Jonah was, it but pointed up how those people who listened to him and who turned to God [Jonah 3:5-10], it but pointed up the hardness of heart and the indifference of those who listened to the blessed ministry and the precious words of our dear Savior. It is unbelievable, the indifference of those people. I can’t realize it.
When the wise men, the magi, came from the East and announced to Herod that, "We have seen [His] star, and we have followed it, and we have come to see the King of the Jews" [Matthew 2:1-2], Herod called in the scribes and the doctors of the law, and the men of religion. And he asked them, "Where was the Christ to be born, for these magi, these kings have come from the East to bow down to worship Him, He is come? The Christ has been born! Now where?" asked Herod. And the scribes and the doctors of the law said, "In Bethlehem, in Bethlehem" [Matthew 2:3-6]; and they instructed the wise men how to get to Bethlehem. But not a single scribe and not a single doctor of the law, not one of them bothered to go down that road in order to see the newborn King!
How far was it from Herod’s palace to Bethlehem? How far was it from Jerusalem to Bethlehem? I have stood on the Bethlehem road and I’ve seen Bethlehem right there, and Jerusalem right there, less than five miles, less than five miles, less than from here to White Rock Lake. Yet not a one of them went, not one! The colossal indifference of the people is unbelievable; and the Lord is astonished at it! "The men of Nineveh," He said, "shall rise up in judgment, and shall condemn this generation because they repented, they turned at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here!" [Matthew 12:41].
Somewhat the same thing happened to our Lord in Nazareth, as He came and all wondered at the gracious words of grace and wisdom that fell from His lips [Luke 4:16-22]. Yet the people of the city took Him to cast Him headlong to His death from the brow of the hill upon which their city was built [Luke 4:29]. And when the Lord spoke that marvelous sermon on the bread of life in the synagogue at Capernaum [John 6:35-65], every one of His followers deserted Him, and left every one of them, except the twelve apostles [John 6:66-68]. And finally, of course, they nailed Him to a tree, and He died [John 19:16-30]. Oh! what a judgment on human nature and mankind!
Now the second thing that our Lord – and He spake of Jonah, and He said, "An evil and an adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; but there shall be no sign given it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah" [Matthew 12:39]. And that is the sign and the symbol of the raising of Jonah from the dead, from the depths of the earth, from the belly of the whale [Jonah 1:17].
Now that’s one of the most interesting stories you’ll ever read in all of your life. "And the word of the Lord came to Jonah, and the Lord said, Rise and go to Nineveh," that great, wicked, pagan, heathen city; "And cry against it; for their wickedness is come up unto Me" [Jonah 1:1-2]. And when Jonah heard that from the Lord, Jonah rose up to flee in the opposite direction, to Tarshish, to Spain, the opposite direction from the presence of the Lord [Jonah 1:3]. Now isn’t that something? Isn’t that something?
The Lord call him to preach, and he does just the opposite. He strikes out in the opposite direction. He goes down to the sea. He buys him a ticket. He pays for it. He gets on that boat and away he sails from the presence of the Lord, as though a man could escape the presence of the Lord anywhere in God’s universe. And the Lord God looked down from heaven and saw old Jonah go down there to the sea, and buy that ticket, and pay for it, and get on that boat. And the Lord God saw it sail away in the opposite direction.
Oh, I tell you, it’s an amazing thing, the instruments and the servants that God has! Storm, sea, wind, elements, fire, earth, heaven, everything; and you know God can reach into His box of damnations, and He can pick out things and sow seeds of judgment all over this earth, every sea, every nation, every city, every village and hamlet, every home, and life in this earth! That’s what God can do, and that’s what He did here. He reached into His box of damnations, and He pulled out one of His winds; and He just crooked the littlest finger, and He said, "Come here, come here." And He whispered to that wind, He said, "You see old Jonah there? See old Jonah there? See he thinks he’s running away from Me. See old Jonah there? Go catch him. Go catch him. Go after him. Go after him. Go get him. Go get him. And when you get him, shake the daylights out of him! Go get him. Go get him."
That’s the Lord. That’s the Lord. And one of God’s little winds, He didn’t shake the earth, could have. He didn’t drop the stars out of their sockets, He could have. All He did, just called one of His little winds, "Go after him, go get him." Well, I tell you, when one of God’s winds gets a hold of you and starts a shaking, it’s like a bulldog, He just doesn’t turn loose! And finally, old Jonah found himself in the sea; and not only in the sea, but in the belly and stomach of a big fish. Now the Lord had prepared…Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah [Jonah 1:17].
Oh! That reminds me. I heard L. R. Scarborough – – you mentioned him in your prayer – – I heard L. R. Scarborough one time say that his little boy came to him one day from Sunday school one Sunday, and said, "Daddy, I just don’t believe what my Sunday school teacher told me today."
And Dr. Scarborough said to his son, "Well, son, what did the teacher say?" And so the little boy recounted to his father the story of Jonah and the whale, Jonah and a big fish. And the father said to him, "Well son, what’s the matter?"
"Why," said the little boy, "I just don’t believe that. I don’t believe a man could be in a whale’s stomach and be swallowed and then come out alive. I just don’t see that."
And the father, Dr. Scarborough, he said, "Why, son, you know, I’ve been having trouble with that story all my life too. Now let’s come in my study in here, and let’s sit down man to man and face to face, and let’s talk about our trouble."
So Dr. Scarborough said he went into his study, and he sat down, and the little fellow sat down dangling his feet, you know, off of the chair. And Dr. Scarborough said, "All right, now son, what’s your problem?"
And the little boy repeated, "I just don’t believe that. I don’t believe that!"
And Dr. Scarborough said he said to his little boy, "Well, little fellow, son," he said, "I don’t, I’ve got troubles with it too." And he said, "I have a hard time believing it too."
But he said, "Son, my trouble is not that. My trouble isn’t like yours. We don’t have the same kind of a trouble." He said, "Son, my trouble is, I don’t understand how God can make a man. And my trouble is, I don’t understand how God can make a fish. And if I could understand how God could make a man, and how God could make a fish, then that God could put the two together would be very incidental, be very beside the point, be just nothing."
We’ve all got problems, isn’t that right? No man, however wise he is, can understand, for the mark and the sign of the presence of God is un-understandableness! It is mystery! No man can enter into anything that God does. We just see it. And let’s don’t limit God, don’t ever. For the Bible says, "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah." God prepared that fish to swallow up Jonah.
And let’s don’t limit the Lord. The Lord could have done anything preparing that fish. He could have had suites of rooms on the inside of that big fish, suites of them; yeah. And this is the pink room, and this is the baby blue room; and He could have paneled it in walnut and mahogany, and put wall to wall carpeting on it, and covered all of the chairs with beautiful upholstery. In fact, the Lord God could have swung a television antenna from the back fin to the left flipper in order for Jonah to be entertained while he’s down there on the inside of that fish! The Lord prepared a great fish to swallow him up. God did it. The Lord did it.
And when the Lord saw that Jonah came to himself, after three days, the Lord spoke to the fish, and it threw up Jonah on the dry land. And when Jonah came out of that fish, he came a-walkin’ to Nineveh [Jonah 2:10]. He was on the way. He was ready. He was ready. Enough’s enough, isn’t that right? And he was ready to go. And then, the marvelous and incomparable result came from it.
Now, oh, may the Lord help me in just a moment or two to sum up. "And the Lord said to those scribes and those Pharisees and those cynics, The only sign that will be given you is the sign of the prophet Jonah" [Matthew 12:39].
Now briefly, there are four things, there are four things that accrue in the resurrection of our Lord from the dead; the sign of the prophet Jonah, the sign of the resurrection from the dead. First of all: the resurrection authenticates the ministry of our Lord. "And they came unto Him and said, What sign showest Thou, seeing Thou doest these things? And Jesus answered and said, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" [John 2:18-19]. And when the Lord was crucified they remembered that, "Thou that destroyest the temple, and raises it again in three days, Come down from the cross" [Mark 15:29-30]. And when He was killed and crucified and laid in a tomb, then they remembered again, "That deceiver said, After the third day He would rise from the dead" [Matthew 27:63]. The authentication, the sign of the authentication of the heavenly nature of the correctness and rightness of the ministry of our Lord is the resurrection from the dead.
Second: the sign of the prophet Jonah [Matthew 12:39], the resurrection from the dead, is the declaration of His deity. Romans 1:4, "Declared to be horizo," isn’t that an unusual word? Our word "horizon" comes from it, that marks out the boundary between the earth and the sky. The thing that marks out, that marks out, that points out Jesus Christ as the Son of God is the resurrection from the dead; "declared to be horizo, marked out to be with power the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead! [Romans 1:4]. This is God our Savior!"
The third thing that accrues from the sign of the prophet Jonah [Matthew 12:39]: the third thing is an open avowal of our justification. "He was delivered for our offenses. He died for our sins; but He was raised again for our justification" [Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. In glory, the risen Lord shall say, "These are Mine. These are Mine. These have placed their trust in Me, and they are saved forever. The Father, who gave them Me, is greater than all; no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I have given them eternal life; and they shall never perish!" [John 10:27-30]. Raised for our justification, to see to it that we’re saved forever! [Romans 4:25].
In some of our Sunday school groups this last week and in some of our other classes, they were asking me, "Pastor, what does that mean, that the Lord Jesus redeemed us by His death [1 Peter 1:18-19], and now He saves us by His life? [Romans 5:9-10]. What does that mean?" Why, I said, "That’s a very simple thing. We are washed from our sins [Revelation 1:5], and we are forgiven in the blood of the Crucified One [1 John 1:7]; but we are saved forever by the sovereign hand of the Lord God who was raised from the dead [John 10:29], and who sits at the right hand of Power on high [Hebrews 1:3]; saved by His life forever, kept forever, because Jesus lives, we shall live also" [John 14:19]. "Wherefore He is able to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him" [Hebrews 7:25]. It is an open avowal of our justification.
And last, it is a harbinger. It is a pledge. It is an earnest. It is a promise of our own ultimate and final resurrection. "Knowing," says the apostle Paul, "that He who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, out of our graves, and from the dead" [2 Corinthians 4:14]. Because He lives, we shall live also [John 14:19]. Praise His name!
"Brethren," wrote the apostle,
I would not have you without knowledge concerning them that are asleep, that ye sorrow not as others who have no hope;
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that trust in Jesus will God bring with Him.
For this we declare unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them that are asleep.
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first!
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-16]
Jesus! We shall rise first who fall asleep in the dust of the ground. "And we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; so we may ever be with the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
"My brethren," said the apostle,
It is not possible that flesh and blood inherit the kingdom of God . . .
But I show you a mystery: We may not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment; in the twinkling of an eye, in the twinkling of an eye . . . for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality.
And when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and when this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? . . .
Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
[1 Corinthians 15: 50-57]
"Knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus from the dead shall also raise us up too" [2 Corinthians 4:14]. "He is the firstfruits," says Paul, "of us who sleep" [1 Corinthians 15:20]. He is the promise, and the harbinger, and the earnest, and the sign, and the symbol that God shall bring life and immortality to us all [2 Corinthians 1:22]. The whole redeemed possession, not my soul and spirit only, but this body of flesh and of bone. Oh, hallelujah!
Lifted high He was to die;
"It is finished, did He cry,"
Exalted in heaven, now on high;
Hallelujah! What a Savior
And He’s coming again, our gracious King
All of His redeemed and saints to bring
And anew shall all of us sing,
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
["Hallelujah! What a Savior"; Philip P. Bliss]
Oh, our glorious and victorious faith! If we live, glory to God. If we die, glory to God. Whether we live, whether we die, glory to God [Romans 14:8].
Do you know the Lord? Have you given your heart in trust and faith to Jesus, have you? Have you gone down an aisle before God’s people and openly, unashamedly confessed Him as your Savior? Have you? Have you said: "Lord, I know I don’t live forever. Someday, sometime, I shall face Thee. Lord, forgive my sins, and save my soul, and write my name in the Book of Life. And if I die tonight, if an accident were to take me from this earth tomorrow, O blessed Jesus, stand by me. In the hour of my death, as I enter the eternity to come, as I stand at the judgment bar of God, as I face an inevitable eternity, Lord, be unto me salvation, and forgiveness, and grace, and mercy. Save me, precious Jesus. Remember me." Do it. What would you lose doing it? Lose some of the darkness of life and the judgments of life. Lose things bad. But you’d gain everything good and wonderful and precious. This is the one investment of your soul in which you can’t lose. Come. Come. Come.
"I need the Lord." We all do. "I need the Lord. I shall die someday." We all are. We all are going to die someday. "Lord, I’m going to die someday, and before I die, O God, that my life might be a blessing to Thee. And here I am, Master. A lot of things I don’t understand; but You understand them. A lot of things I’m not able to do; but You are able, Lord. And I just trust Thee for every answer and for every way and for an open door. And here I come."
Do it tonight. Make it tonight. A family coming, a couple coming, or one somebody you, while we sing this song of appeal, when we stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Make your way to that stairwell on either side, down here to the front. "Preacher, here I am; I make it tonight." The throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I come, pastor, giving my life to Jesus." Or, "Putting my life in the family of this church," or, "Dedicating myself to the Lord," as God shall open a way, follow. Come. Make it now. Make it tonight. On the first note of this first stanza, come, come, come. And God bless and be with you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.