We have walked with the Lord Jesus on the road in Jerusalem. On this journey our Lord has;
Taught His disciples the cost of following Him: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
He has sent out the 72 with power.
He has gently spoken to Martha who was anxious and frustrated with her sister.
He has taught His disciples to pray and taught them about true blessedness: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
Today we take the next step on this journey to Jerusalem with our Lord.
The story of Jonah;
• the whale/great fish;
• The prophet of God, called to go to Nineveh - the capital city of Israel’s enemy, Assyria;
• Called to tell his enemies to repent and turn to God. But Jonah flees in the opposite direction, not because he was afraid to go to Nineveh, but because he did not think that God should have any mercy on the people of Nineveh.
• The LORD sends a big fish to swallow Jonah before spitting him out and Jonah eventually goes to Nineveh.
• Now what makes this all the more interesting is geography. Jesus Christ grew up in Nazareth and Jonah too came from the same area – a place called “Gath-hepher” – only 3 miles from Nazareth. So straight away there are some similarities between the two of them.
The story about the Queen of the South or the Queen of Sheba is less well known. Sheba is probably in the middle of what we would call Yemen. It is over 2500 km south of Jerusalem... Yet, 1000 years before Christ Jesus, this queen travelled that great distance to test and to listen to, and to see for herself the wisdom of Solomon.
Now in these verses today, as the Lord Jesus travels to Jerusalem He mentions Jonah, the people of Nineveh (Jonah’s enemies) and the Queen of Sheba - and He contrasts them to the people of His own generation with strong words of condemnation: "This is a wicked generation.” … Imagine the shock and the anger of the people as they heard that.
What is it that sparks such strong words from the Lord Jesus? The answer is found in what has just happened…. Come back to chapter 11 verse 15. Jesus has healed a man with a devil that made him mute. But some people did not praise God at all, instead they said about Jesus that it is, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Others tested Him and asked him for a sign from heaven. Elijah had called down fire from heaven, Moses had brought the ten plagues on Egypt. What will you do, Jesus? Show us a sign from heaven?
You meet people like that. They want God to show Himself and do a miracle, and then they will believe… or so they think... Do you think if Jesus had given into their request and performed another miracle, then they would have believed? No. The people had just seen a mute man healed - able to speak - able to praise God. They did not need any more signs. Instead they needed to believe the signs - or rather believe what/who the signs pointed to!
Every miracle that our Lord performed was for a purpose, such that He never performed miracles for the sake of performing miracles. They were all signs that either draw out a response positive or negative from people – and they all show us something about the Kingdom of God.
1. The sign of Jonah is Christ’s resurrection
Look at verse 29;
29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.”
Two questions – one flows into the other;
• One, what was the sign of Jonah?
• Two, what then, was this sign supposed to teach the Ninevites?
To answer the questions think about what happened to Jonah? And if you were to turn over to this corresponding passage in Matthew’s Gospel- Matthew 12:40, Jesus says: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” A clear allusion to His coming death and resurrection.
When all else is stripped away, the resurrection is the truth that we constantly return to – it keeps drawing us back again and again – such that you can’t escape it. The whole of the gospel hangs on it – that Jesus Christ is indeed risen! In a way He was like Jonah, only Christ’s sign was infinitely greater, because it was a true, bodily, glorious resurrection from the dead never to die again…
Do you have doubts – maybe like the people here? Or doubts as a believer? All Christians have doubts. What must I do? I must come back to the sign – to Christ Himself. When a doctor examines a patient, he or she is searching for signs or the source of the matter – and all the symptoms – the signs should lead the doctor to the source.
2. The lesson of the Queen of Sheba
Now Jesus goes on and He has further words of condemnation. He tells them to learn from the Queen of Sheba. Verse 31;
31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.
Solomon was wise. He is renown for his wisdom. Solomon understood the world we live in- he understood its fallenness and yet he knew the Lord and that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
The Queen of Sheba heard something of his wisdom and travelled to see him. In the first place she came to test him - was Solomon as wise as he is reputed to be? She is sceptical, perhaps, to begin with. Yet in the end she was not disappointed. It says at the end of her investigations there was literally, there was “no more breath in her.” She was overwhelmed. She saw that Solomon understood life and she responded in a right way to Solomon - she left a believer, in one sense. But Jesus is greater - greater than Solomon, and the people should have trusted Him instead of testing Him.
And in this way, this ancient Queen is a model for us for how we are to respond to Jesus. As well as that - verse 32- even the people of Nineveh, “will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it.” Why? Because they too responded rightly - Jonah 3:5, “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” And repentance is painful, but in a very real sense what keeps me from God is not my sin, but my failure to repent of my sin and to turn to God and to live and be forgiven.
Well now, something far greater than Jonah is here and the people of this generation don’t get it. In God’s courtroom two witnesses will be called;
• the men of Nineveh come forward to tell about how they repented.
• the Queen of Sheba steps into the stand to tell of how she responded to the truth – the light - that she had.
Well, then, why do you people not respond to the greater light of Christ Himself? Jesus Christ won’t let me off the hook. He won’t let me brook any excuses.
We know who Christ Jesus is - we have His word. We know about true wisdom, about repentance before God and salvation. Don’t let Christ Jesus be a stumbling block where you fall… instead to come to Him, for here comes the promise of a cure. Look at Verses 33-36. Jesus Christ promises light to the whole of your person - every part of it. Verse 33;
3. Christ brings light to the whole person
33 "No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light (Imagine an ancient lamp- a hand-held lantern, fuelled with oil and a wick that was lit. What is its purpose? To give light to a room so that you can see. Now elsewhere, Jesus will say that we are to lights in the world. But here it is not we who are the light. Look at verse 34).
34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness (In a sense your eyes give light or darkness to your whole body). 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you."
What is the explanation of the parable? Surely, the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of the gospel is the light. He Himself is the light that is to fill us, and to close your eyes is to let darkness fill your body. If the eyes are right - that is, if the source of light is good, Christ Jesus, then the light flows through to the rest of the body and it will be lighted.
And so, the question is what fills us? In a sense, what is it that you allow to enter you? Is it on the one hand the truth of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you believe His death, His resurrection- do you stand on His side- trusting Him for salvation? Or on the other hand, do you reject this and like the people of Jesus’ generation that is to allow darkness to enter you. You see the possibilities that He gives.
This week I was reading the story of Corrie Ten Boom – the Dutch lady from Harlem who was arrested for helping to hide Jewish people in occupied Holland during WWII. At one point she is in prison, awaiting her sentence. A German Officer had the task of getting information out of her, but the poor fellow was lost in life – he knew his whole way of life was wrong and at least he had the honesty to admit it. In the course of their conversations, he – the Officer – admitted to her, the prisoner: “Dear lady from Haarlem, I am the one in prison. A prison far stronger than this one.” And Corrie spoke to him: “A Light has come into this world, so that we need no longer walk in the dark… Jesus is the light.”
What happened to the Officer? I don’t know. She doesn’t say. Did he ever progress further with the truth – the light that he had been directed to? He had and opportunity to receive the light and to let it fill him – what happened? I don’t know.
Jesus is saying, something will fill us. Either light or darkness. There is no third option here- it is either light or darkness. You either have the truth of Christ Jesus and that changes and orientates your whole life or you don’t.