Men at Work. Give ‘em a Brake. Work Zone Ahead. Out on the road, these signs let us know that there’s work being done, and there’s probably going to be people where we don’t usually expect them.
These signs make us alert that something is going on, but, they don’t actually tell us WHAT KIND of work is happening. To find that out we have to look past the signs.
When Jesus performed a miracle, it was like He was putting up a “God at Work” sign. When your friend came home cleansed of his leprosy, that meant God was at work. When Lazarus came stumbling out of the tomb after lying there dead for four days, that meant God was at work.
Jesus’ miraculous signs did their job. They made the people alert that something was going on. But, the people had to look further to know how just how big a project Jesus was working on.
Today, we’re going to examine the book of Jonah, and one of the most unusual miracles found in the Bible. Jonah spent three days in the stomach of a huge fish, and lived to tell the tale.
We’ll also see how this miraculous sign foreshadowed Jesus’ most important miracle. Jesus spent three days dead in a tomb, but rose back to life on the third day – proving once and for all that He truly was the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.
READ: Jonah, Matthew 12:38-41
I’m not going to pull a “Discovery channel” and try to tell you that everything about the story of Jonah can be explained by natural causes. It can’t.
To stand here and try to explain away the miracle of Jonah as some natural anomaly would be as ridiculous as trying to explain just HOW God created the energy and matter of the universe from nothing.
Instead of “how”, let’s ask “why”. Why did God make Jonah spend three days in the belly of a fish? I’d say it was to RESCUE, to TEACH and the CHANGE.
Jonah chapter two shows us that God actually sent the huge fish to rescue Jonah from drowning.
In chapter two, Jonah describes how he was sinking down in the ocean after being thrown overboard in the storm. He was as good as dead. Jonah 2, verse 2…
“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depth of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:2 NIV).Jonah describes how the waves crashed over his head as he began to sink down into the darkness. Tangled up in seaweed he was heading for the bottom.
But then in verse 7 Jonah says,
“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple” (Jonah 2:7 NIV).And before Jonah’s life was gone, a huge fish glided through the deep, opened its enormous maw, and swallowed Jonah whole.
God MAY have wanted to rattle Jonah a bit by rescuing him in this way. And that leads us to the second reason Jonah spent three days in the belly of that fish.
God had sent Jonah on a mission to rebuke the sinful Ninevites. But Jonah didn’t want to. It wasn’t that Jonah was afraid of conflict. Jonah didn’t want to go because he hated the Ninevites.
Perhaps they had raided the lands of Israel before. Perhaps they had been cruel to someone Jonah knew. We aren’t told why, but Jonah didn’t want these people to know the LORD. Jonah knew that the LORD would forgive them.
But God was concerned about Nineveh’s people. He loved the little ones who couldn’t even tell their right hand from their left yet. He loved the adults who were stumbling around in the darkness of sin. The LORD wanted to teach them what life was supposed to be like. The LORD wanted to be their God. He wanted to teach them to trust in Him for forgiveness and for everything else in life.
God had the fish swallow Jonah so Jonah could teach the Ninevites about His mercy and love.
And through His reaching out to the Ninevites through Jonah, God also wished to CHANGE Jonah.
After being spoken to by God, Jonah ran. After being tossed into the hurricane of the ocean’s storm, Jonah’s anger remained. After being miraculously rescued certain death by the hand of God through a huge fish swallowing him whole and three days later spitting him back onto the beach - Jonah was still bitter toward the Ninevites.
After all the mercy Jonah had been shown by God, he still hadn’t changed. In Jonah chapter four, Jonah sits east of Nineveh pointing. Pouting and telling God that he would be better off dead.
Sometimes the clay is hard in the potter’s hands, and needs to be softened up a bit before it can be molded into something beautiful.
Two things come out clear in this story: the hardness of the sinner’s heart, and the patience of God.
Now, let’s talk about Jesus.
Jonah didn’t mention the promised Savior in his book, but Jesus referenced Jonah when replying to the Pharisees. In Matthew 12:38-41 the Pharisees asked for Jesus to prove that He was the Promised Savior by doing a miracle for them right there and then.
Jesus told them “no”. The Pharisees had already circulated the idea that the reason Jesus could do miracles was because He was in league with the demons. They weren’t looking for the truth here, and Jesus knew it. They would find some way to twist and turn any miracle of Jesus into something to discredit Him.
Instead of doing an instant miracle, Jesus pointed them to a miraculous sign that was to come. A sign that would prove that He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. The sign of Jonah.
Jesus would spend three days in darkness. Not in the belly of a fish, but in the belly of the tomb. Instead of being “as good as dead” like Jonah was, Jesus would actually BE dead. But after three days He would leave the tomb, alive. Resurrected.
Again, I’m not going to waste any time trying to explain how this could be a natural phenomenon. In our day of modern medicine people can be shocked and pumped back from the edge of death’s precipice, but they can’t be revived after days of being cold, rigid and breathless. The resurrection was simply a miracle. God the Father brought Jesus back from the dead.
And better than how, is the question WHY. Why did Jesus have to spend three days in the tomb? Hadn’t He already earned forgiveness for sinners? Yes! On the cross Jesus suffered the punishment for my sins, for your sins, for all the sins of the world. The Bible clear says this in passages like 1 John 2:2.
“2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 NIV).Before Jesus died He said it Himself, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Our sins stand forgiven because of the sacrifice of God’s Son.
But here’s why Jesus spent three days in the tomb. On the cross our forgiveness was earned. By the empty tomb, our forgiveness was confirmed. The forgiveness earned for all sinners on the cross only becomes our possession through faith in Jesus. Jesus spent three days in the tomb so we’d believe.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, God gives us a test to use on people who claim to be prophets from God. If someone comes and says, “I’m from God” but what they predict doesn’t come true, we don’t have to fear them. They’re not from God.
Numerous times throughout His life Jesus told others that He was going to die and rise from the dead. At first, this statement was veiled. Turn to John 2, verse 18…
“18Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”As the cross and the tomb got closer, Jesus spoke more openly. In Mark 9, verse 31 Jesus told His followers…
19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:18-19 NIV).
“…The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31 NIV).In Mark 10, verse 34 Jesus got very specific…
“We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise’” (Mark 10:34 NIV).After Jesus was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had foretold His own death and resurrection. Then they understood and believed all that the Bible and Jesus had said. (John 2:22)
But the resurrection is more than a sign to make us believe. It is also a miracle that changes everything for us.
The resurrection changes our perspective on life. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we know that there is more in store for us than this life.
The resurrection of Jesus means that our sins have been forgiven. We don’t need to trudge along feeling guilty and burdened anymore. Our Creator has saved us. We are forgiven.
We don’t have to give in to our sinful desires anymore. The Holy Spirit who brought us to faith promises that He’ll help us to resist temptation, or to flee from it.
But just like Jonah, sometimes we’re so slow to change. So slow to change. So slow to accept that we’re no longer under law, but under grace. So slow to accept that there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make Him love us less.
You know, sometimes they leave the traffic cones and signs out even after the work is done. You drive into the “work zone” and find that it’s all finished. That’s what the tomb is all about when we find it on Easter morning. It’s empty.
The miracle of Jesus resurrection says, “Hey! Something huge is going on here”. And behind the sign we see – the work is finished. Our road to heaven has been paved. Our sins removed, through Jesus. The tomb is empty because there’s no work left for us to do concerning our salvation.
The only work left, is the same work God gave Jonah. To help others see the empty tomb too.
Prayer: Father in heaven, you have rescued us from sin. You have taught us who you are, our Creator, our Savior and the one who sets us apart for your own plan and purpose. Help us to honor the resurrection of Christ. Help us to see this sign and believe the message behind it. That we are forgiven. That we have new life. That since we are forgiven, sin has lost it’s power over us. Help us to live the message of the resurrection. Help us to live up to the salvation you have given. Change us, Lord. Make us wholly yours. Amen.