Sunday, September 8, 2013

Questions God asks #7. Why seek for a sign

The sign's up

‘‘If there is a God let Him give me a sign of His reality’ is the sceptic’s escape clause for unbelief. Such thinking isn’t new. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day demanded the same from Him. From all accounts this was a persistent jibe at Him. Jesus responded: ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign?’ (Mark 8:12) In Matthew and Luke’s account something is added. ‘No sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.’ What was He meaning? Matthew 12:40 explains the cryptic statement: “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.’

Easter Lily

Jonah is a battle ground for many today. His story seems so unreal, a great piece of fiction with a spiritual application. There is a problem with such a view. The people to whom Jesus spoke accepted it as historical. Jesus endorsed the Biblical account and applied a message to His generation from it. The people of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s message and Jesus claimed that a greater than Jonah was now amongst the people. The trouble was they couldn’t see Him. Therefore one last opportunity would be theirs to have scepticism give way to faith. What would that be? A death, burial and resurrection!

The very essence of Christianity depends upon this truth. The Christian faith is rooted and grounded in Jewish history. That history is bound up with world powers such as Egypt, Babylon, Greek and Roman. The bible is the most researched and investigated book ever, by friend and foe. It has stood tall and unbowed against the fiercest of critics and the wildest of misrepresentations. How? Because, in a great measure, of the sign of Jonah. Christ Jesus’ birth, life and death on the cross are well known. How come? Because of the sign of Jonah!

Without this fact there would be no Gospel stories. Without this sign there would be no Christian faith. The disciples were not fools to suffer and die for a deluded Rabbi. Who would follow such a man unless the evidence stacked up that He was who He claimed to be; He fulfilled the predictions of the Bible from Genesis to Malachi; He experienced the typology of Jonah.

Okay, what then is the sign of Jonah? He experienced a resurrection. This is symbolised by his being vomited out of the sea monster after three days and nights in its belly onto dry ground. Jesus by associating Himself with Jonah but on a grander scale was preparing His hearers, sceptics, followers for the most crucial test. I find it fascinating that it was His most virulent opponents who had some sense that Jesus spoke the truth. That why they arranged a squad of soldiers and a Government seal placed around and on the tomb. Three days and nights after the crucifixion and entombment Jesus rose triumphant from the grave. The sign of Jonah was fulfilled.

Why then didn’t the leaders embrace the risen Lord? The same reasons why people won’t accept the testimony of Jesus and his death burial and resurrection today! Self–righteousness, pride, fear of others, consequences of belief to name a few reasons. Eating ‘humble pie’ and admitting you were wrong, especially about Jesus, is hard to swallow at first. However when a person chews and swallows such a ‘pie’ it becomes the most delicious meal of all time. People still want God to do a circus act or a talent show for them to believe in Him. He is not their clown nor their pantomime act. He is their Lord whether they believe Him or not. There are more than enough proofs about the promise of the Messiah, the revelation of Him as Jesus of Nazareth, the historical and spiritual significance of the cross. All their credibility rests upon the sign of Jonah. The very emergence, endurance and energy of the Christian faith also flows from that sign.

Paul’s masterpiece on this matter is 1 Corinthians 15. He made the journey from scepticism and hostility to ‘eating humble pie’ and faith and unbounded enthusiasm for the risen Christ Jesus. Have you made that journey yet?

(This completes the series on Questions God asks)

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