(April 21, 2020)

Matthew 12:39-40 “[no sign] will be given [this generation] except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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.”

Read: Matthew 12:38-45

Today, briefly: (1) a response and (2) a reflection.

The response: in connection with yesterday’s reading, one of you asked about the “3 days and 3 nights” chronology in Jonah 1:27, and how it fits with Jesus “3 days and 3 nights” in Matthew 12:39-40. Since Jesus hung on the Cross on Friday, was in the Tomb Saturday, and was raised Sunday — how do you get to “3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth?”

Simply put, Dale Bruner summarizes it like this: A Hebrew day begins at sunset. So,

  • “3 days” = part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday (after Saturday’s sunset).
  • “3 nights” = noon to three on Friday afternoon (Matthew 27:45); then Friday night, and Saturday night.

Having said that, I think the Gospel writers would have thought the parallel between Jonah in the fish and Jesus in the tomb would be clear enough to make their point.

Some thoughts on the meaning might go something like this:

  • The reflection: The second half of yesterday’s verse, Jonah 2:9b, reads, “What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” Then, in the next verse, the fish vomits Jonah onto dry land.
  • This shows us that when we are swallowed by the problems of life and feel trapped, sooner or later we pray. Prayer often arises from helplessness.
  • When we are hurting, it is very easy to focus on ourselves, just as Jonah did. But Jonah finally says near the end of this prayer, “salvation comes from the Lord.” The word “salvation” in Hebrew is yeshuaYeshua comes from the Lord. Yeshua is also the name, “Jesus.”
  • The sign of Jonah = the very place that ought to bring death actually brought life. And deliverance. You would think being in a fish going down to the watery grave would bring death. You would think Jesus being nailed to a Cross would be the end of Him. But that place of death actually brought life.

No sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah, in other words, Jesus is saying, “Look at Me! I am the sign. Look at My Life, Death and Resurrection.” There is not another sign; that is, there is no other way by which you can be saved.

Being in the belly of the fish, even if we can’t see the good in it, can actually be a means of grace. Even the disobedient and self-centered Jonah, who certainly did not deserve it, found salvation there by God’s grace. And by grace, you will not stay in the belly of the fish forever.

If you find this season to be particularly difficult, remember you have been given the Sign of Jonah. It is enough.