Sign of the Prophet Jonah
March 22nd, 1978 @ 12:00 PM
THE SIGN OF THE PROPHET JONAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-22-78 12:00 p.m.
And, of course, to the so many visitors it is a joy to our hearts to welcome you. We try to contain the service between 12:00 and 12:30, or just a few minutes thereafter. This is a busy lunch hour for many of you; and if you have to leave, we all understand.
The theme this year is “The Signs of God, The Signs from Heaven”: on Monday, The Signs of the Times; yesterday, The Sign of the Virgin Birth; tomorrow, The Signs of the Lord’s Second Coming; and on Friday, The Sign of the Cross; and today, the message is entitled The Sign of the Prophet Jonah.
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Matthew, in the middle of the chapter, beginning at verse 38 are these words:
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.
Even the Lord was astonished at the tremendous response to the preaching of Jonah. There never was any turning in the history of mankind as that wrought by this prophet under Jeroboam II, the king of Israel, an older contemporary of Amos and Hosea, and sent of God to Assyria and its capital of Nineveh [Jonah 1:1-2, 3:1-2]. To show you the vast extent of that revival meeting under Jonah: on the day of Pentecost there were three thousand that day who turned to the Lord [Acts 2:41]. The greatest revival that I’ve ever read outside of the Bible was under Charles G. Finney in Rochester, New York. In the earlier part of the last century, he held a six-months revival meeting in Rochester. The city had a population of fifty thousand. He had one hundred thousand converts who joined the churches of all that area of upper New York. I’ve never read anywhere in my life in Christendom any revival that would excel and exceed that one: a hundred thousand people joined the church under that great revival of Charles G. Finney. Now you look at this revival: the Book of Jonah says that Nineveh had one hundred twenty thousand nursery children, Adele [Jonah 4:11]. Can you imagine taking care of that many kids, all crying and screaming at the same time? The city had one hundred twenty thousand infants. Can you imagine the population of it? Now if there were one hundred twenty thousand infants in Nineveh, the colossal capital of the Assyrian Empire, think of the people who lived there: hundreds of thousands of them. And the book says that from the king, who sat in sackcloth and ashes, down to the most menial servant in the palace, including all of the beasts, they were clothed in sackcloth and mourned before the Lord [Jonah 3:5-8]. There never was such a revival. And that astonished the Lord Himself! [Matthew 12:41].
A “sign of Jonah,” the Lord says [Matthew 12:39]. What does He say? He says, “The men of Nineveh shall arise in the day of judgment and condemn this generation: for they repented, they turned at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here” [Matthew 12:41]. To compare our Lord Jesus Christ with Jonah would be like comparing a match with the power of the incandescent sun; “a greater than Jonah.” It will be a sign of condemnation in the great and final assize; for they turned, believed, repented, got right, trusted the Lord, gave themselves to Jehovah God in repentance and faith at the preaching of Jonah [Jonah 3:10]. But what did they do with the Lord Jesus? You look at what they did with the Lord Jesus: when the wise men asked, “Where is He to be born?” [Matthew 2:2], the scribes searched through the Scriptures and quoted out of Micah, “He is to be born in Bethlehem” [Matthew 2:4-5; Micah 5:2]. The scribes were in Jerusalem, the Book says. Bethlehem, how far away? White Rock, White Rock, the distance between where I now stand and White Rock Lake is the distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This greatest of all events in human history, as I described it yesterday, occurred right there in Bethlehem; and yet they were so vastly, contemptuously indifferent that they wouldn’t make the journey from here out to White Rock Lake to see what God had done. The indifference of these people is indescribable and judgmental; the sign of the prophet Jonah [Matthew 12:39].
Same thing happened in Nazareth where He grew up [Luke 4:16]. They were offended at His learning: “Where did He go to school? Are not His brothers and His sisters here? How is it that this man is exalting himself above us? And they took Him to the brow of the hill upon which their city is built to cast Him down and to destroy His life” [Luke 4:22-30]. The colossal indifference of those people is indescribable. When He spoke in the adopted city in which He lived, in Capernaum, when He was done with His tremendous message on the bread of heaven [John 6:48-59], John’s Gospel says every one of them left Him; [Jonah 6:66]; and He turned to the twelve and said, “Will you also go away?” [John 6:67]. They were offended by the message, the gospel message that He brought [Matthew 13:54-57]. And of course, finally they crucified Him [John 19:16-30].
These men of Nineveh will rise up in the day of judgment and condemn those who have heard the gospel of Christ and have rejected it [Matthew 12:41]. The sign of Jonah is a sign of judgment and condemnation [Matthew 12:38-39]. There is a responsibility that lies upon every heart that hears the gospel message of the Son of God. What do we do with it?
It is a sign of resurrection, the sign of Jonah [Matthew 12:39]. What sign shall be given to this unbelieving generation? The sign of the prophet Jonah: as he was in the belly of the prepared fish—somebody stuck in the word “whale”; no such word—as he was in the belly of that prepared fish, a tomb, so the Lord will be in the heart of the earth, and on the third day shall be raised again [Matthew 12:40]. Now that is a remarkable sign. For it says here in the Book that the word of the Lord came to Jonah and said, “Go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it. But Jonah rose up and went down to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” [Jonah 1:1-3]. He wasn’t going to that Assyrian group of people and bring the gospel of hope, and salvation, and repentance, and deliverance to those despised and hated Assyrians. So when the Lord says, “Go east to Nineveh,” he went down to Joppa and got in a ship, and went west toward Tarshish [Jonah 1:3]. I presume that’s an ancient word for Spain.
Well, the Lord looked at that, He looked at that. You know it is amazing the agents that God has: fire, and flood, and wind, and storm, and cyclone, and hurricane, and sea, oh! And when God reaches into His box of damnations and pulls out those judgments, and He begins to scatter them over a family, or over a town, or over a nation, it’s very interesting. So it says here in the Book, “Jonah rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord” [Jonah 1:3]. Just how do you do that, flee from the presence of the Lord? And the Lord’s looking at him, looking at him down there: he’s fleeing from the presence of the Lord, and the Lord is looking at him down there. And as the Lord is looking at old Jonah down there, fleeing from the presence of Jehovah God, you know what the Lord does? He crooks one of His little fingers like that, and He says to one of His winds, He says, “Come here. See old Jonah down there? See old Jonah down there? Go get him. Go catch him. And when you get him, shake the living daylights out of him!” That’s the Lord God.
So one of the winds—not all of His winds, just one of them, His little winds—one of the winds started running after Jonah down there in that boat. And you know, when the Lord God gets ahold of you and begins to shake you, I tell you, it’s a lot to get out of that fist, and get out of that clutch, and get out of that jaw. And God’s winds just shaking that boat and old Jonah in it, until it’s about to break in two. So Jonah said, “It’s because I’m running away from God that this tragedy is happening to us. You throw me into the sea and everything will be calm” [Jonah 1:12]. So those men believed Jonah, and they threw him overboard into the sea; and immediately there was a great calm [Jonah 1:15]. Then the book says, “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow him up” [Jonah 1:17]. Now, isn’t that something? It doesn’t say a whale anywhere in the Bible; that’s some stupid, inane idiocy. It says here, “The Lord prepared a great fish.”
A little boy came into his daddy, and he says, “Daddy, I just don’t believe what I heard in Sunday school this morning.”
“What did you hear?”
“Fish, big fish swallow up Jonah, and on the third day vomit him out? I just don’t believe that.”
And the father said, “Well, son, you know I have trouble with that story too. Let’s you and I go in the library and sit down and discuss it.” So they went in the library, and the dad picked up his little boy and put him on his knees. And he says, “Now, son, what is your problem?”
And the little boy said, “Daddy, in Sunday school they told me about a big fish swallowing up Jonah and on the third day vomiting him up. I just don’t believe that.”
And the dad said, “Well, son, you know I’ve had trouble with that story all my life, too. But my problem is just a little different. My problem is this: I can’t understand how God could make a man, and I can’t understand how God could make a fish. You know, son, if I could understand how God could make a man, and how God could make a fish, it’d be very simple for me to understand how God could put the two together.” I’m that way too. Before we begin stumbling at some of these tremendous stories of miracle in the Bible, let’s start first of all just explaining the ordinary things that are around us. You can’t explain anything: all you do is just look at it, you just observe it; you don’t explain anything, you can’t.
The book says the Lord prepared a big fish to swallow up Jonah [Jonah 1:17]. Well, let’s don’t limit the Lord. Why, the Lord could have prepared that fish with a suite of beautiful rooms in it. One room could have been pale pink, one of them could have been pale yellow, one could have been baby blue, could have been paneled on one side, and maybe vinyl on the other, carpeted from wall to wall. In fact, the Lord could have put an antenna from the fin of that fish on the back tail to the flipper on the left hand side. You see, when you start limiting God, oh dear! you’re going to have trouble in the world in which you live, because we live in a world of incalculable, inexpressible, indefinable, indescribable mystery! And this is just one of them of all the works of God: He prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah [Jonah 1:17]. And down there in that fish, he repented himself; and when the fish pushed him out on the land, he was ready to go and preach to Nineveh [Jonah 2:1-3:3].
Now the Lord uses that wonderful story: “That is the sign,” He says, “that is going to be given to this unbelieving generation; the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was buried for three days and then raised again, so the Son of Man shall be buried and shall be raised” [Matthew 12:39-40]. Now what is that sign that the Lord refers to as a confirmation of His own life and death and resurrection and ministry before the Lord? It’s this, number one: the resurrection of our Lord is a sign of the authentication of His ministry, of His messenger status, of His ambassadorial appointment from heaven. If the Lord Jesus Christ crucified had remained dead, He was not God’s messenger. The authentication of every word that the Lord spoke and everything that He did is His resurrection from the dead [Romans 1:3-4].
Let me show you: when the Lord—and you know this is an inexplicable thing to me, how one Man—there must have been a majesty and a strength about Jesus that is beyond anything we’ve ever known in the world—when the Lord came into the Court of the Gentiles, a vast area covering acres, and He pushed out, absolutely cleaned out all of those who were trafficking and all of those bullocks and bulls and goats and lambs, they were sacrificial animals, cleaned the whole thing out; just one Man, and did it majestically [John 2:13-17]; all they could do was, they came to Him and said, “By what sign do You do these things? What sign showest Thou?” And His reply was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” [John 2:18-19]. Of course, they thought, “Forty and six years this great edifice has been building.” But John says, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” [John 2:20-21]. And when the Lord was crucified, the wags who walked up and down in front of Him scorning Him, scoffing Him, ridiculing Him, said, “You that destroys the temple and raises it up in three days, come down from the cross, and we will believe You” [Matthew 27:39-42]. And it was quoted again when the Lord was in the sepulcher, “We heard that deceiver say that the third day He would rise again” [Matthew 27:63]. You see, the authentication of the words and the message and the deeds of our Lord is the sign of the prophet Jonah, the sign of His resurrection from the dead <<. This is the true Word of God. When I open the Bible and read what Jesus says, this is what God says; and its authentication is found in His resurrection from the dead [Romans 1:3-4].
Number two: it is a sign and authentication of His deity [Matthew 12:39]. How do you know Jesus is the Son of God, deity? The apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:4, “Declared to be the Son of God . . . by the resurrection from among the dead.” And haven’t you heard me expatiate on that Greek word translated “declared,” horizō, “horizon,” where the line is marked out, where the earth meets the sky, the horizon. The Greek word horizō means a marked out line, a declaration, a marking out. And if I can translate Romans 1:4 exactly, it’d go like this: “He is marked out among all men, He is marked out and declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from among the dead.” How do we know He is deity? The third day the Holy Spirit raised Him from the grave [Romans 1:4].
Do you remember this famous story? A fellow was trying to start a new religion, and went to Napoleon Bonaparte and said, “I’m having a very difficult time. I can’t get anybody to believe me. What shall I do?” Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Very simple, you just get yourself crucified, and the third day be raised from the dead. And then people will believe you. Very simple thing. Very simple thing.” The resurrection of the dead: there has never been thus far but one resurrected; all the rest have been resuscitated. There’s only been one resurrected, immortalized, glorified, and that’s the Lord Jesus. And that is a sign of the prophet Jonah [Matthew 12:39], it is a sign of the deity of the Son of God: “declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from among the dead” [Romans 1:4].
Just to name the other two, and I must close, the sign of the prophet Jonah: the sign of the resurrection is the sign of our standing in the presence of the great Glory someday. Do you know the meaning of Romans 4:25, “He was delivered for our offenses, and He was raised for our justification.” What does that mean? Or take again, Romans 5:10: “If, when we were sinners, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, how much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life?” What does that mean, “saved by His life”? Justified by His death, saved by His life? What does that mean? It means this: that to those who find refuge in the Lord Jesus, He lives in glory to see to it that we make it some of these days. How do you know but that now and between the hour of your death you may fall into hell, you may so stumble as never to be lifted up, you may so sin as never to be forgiven? How do you know you’ll make it? How do you know you’ll be there someday? Because the Lord God omnipotent lives at the right hand of the Almighty: now to make intercession for us [Hebrews 7:25], and then to be our great Mediator [1 Timothy 2:5], and to justify us in that hour of the judgment of the Almighty [Romans 4:25]. He was raised for our justification: we are saved by His life [Romans 4:25]. Because He lives, we shall live also and forever [John 14:19].
And last, the sign of the prophet Jonah [Matthew 12:39], the sign of the raising of Christ from the dead [Romans 1:4], it is the pledge of our own resurrection [2 Corinthians 4:14]. Do you ever wonder when you look at the grave of your mother, the grave of your father, the grave of somebody you love, you ever wonder maybe, “In the time of my own burial, reckon the Lord will forget me? Reckon He will?”
You know, I have been on foreign fields where missionaries have been buried, and the years have so wasted away nobody knows their names, who is there. But He knows. He marked the place. And He is the earnest, the Bible calls it, the firstfruits, the Bible calls it; He is the pledge [Romans 8:11], the Bible says, of our own resurrection [1 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Corinthians 4:14]. He is the firstfruits, and we in our order [1 Corinthians 15:23]. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who believe in Jesus will God bring with Him” [1 Thessalonians 4:14]. The great sign and seal of God’s remembrance of us, if we fall into the dust of the ground, into the heart of the earth, is our Lord’s own resurrection from among the dead [Ephesians 2:5-7].
Our Lord, in infinite commitment, in everlasting assurance do we commend to Thee our souls in death, our days in life, and the eternity that is yet to come [Romans 10:9-13]; believing that God is able to do all that He says, and no word of His promise will ever fall to the ground. Happy, Lord, in Thee. Blessed, O God, in Thee. Send us away with a song on our lips, and praises in our hearts.
OF THE PROPHET JONAH
I. Incomparable work of this prophet
A. Never such a revival
in history of mankind as that wrought by Jonah
1. All of Nineveh
turned – hundreds of thousands(Jonah 3:5-8)
B. Jesus was astounded
at Jonah’s work
II. A sign of Jonah
A. Sign of condemnation
The people repented at preaching of Jonah, but what did they do with Jesus?
Scribes sent Magi to Bethlehem, but did not bother to go themselves (Matthew 2:1-6)
Nazareth so offended they sought to kill Him (Luke
was left alone after His message on Bread of Life (John
Finally they crucified Him
B. Sign of resurrection
1. God prepared a
fish to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:1-3, 12, 17)
God raised Jonah from depths of sea, Jesus from the grave (Matthew 12:39-40)
III. The resurrection of Christ a sign from
Authenticated His ministry as being truly from God(John
2:18-21, Mark 15:29-32, Matthew 27:63)
B. Declaration of His
C. Open avowal of our
justification(Romans 4:25, 5:10)
of our own resurrection(1 Corinthians 6:14,
15:23, 51-57, 2 Corinthians 4:14, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)