The Sign of Jonah

Do not banish me from your presence,
   and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
   and they will return to you.
Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;
   then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
Unseal my lips, O LORD,
   that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
   You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
   You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Look with favor on Zion and help her;
   rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. (Psalm 51:11–18 NLT)

In Luke 11, Jesus rebukes those who continued to ask him to perform miracles as proof of what he preached was true, proof he was the Messiah and the Kingdom had indeed come. He says the only sign they would be seeing was the sign of Jonah.

As just about any good Sunday School student knows, Jonah was sent by God to preach a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh, but Jonah rebelled and took passage on a ship traveling as far from Nineveh as he could get. It was partway through the journey we come upon the storm, the casting of lots, Jonah being tossed overboard, the big fish swallowing him whole, three days in its belly, followed by Jonah spit up on dry land. This time Jonah listens to the Lord’s instructions and preaches his message of repentance to the citizens of Nineveh, who respond by turning from their evil ways. When Jesus references the sign of Jonah, he is foreshadowing his own suffering and three-day period in the grave, followed by salvation for all who would repent of their ways and follow after God.

Jesus is also pointing out to those who want to see miraculous signs and wonders that the changing of hearts and lives should be sign enough. Just as with the Ninevites who turned from their ways after Jonah preached, those who repented from their evil ways after seeing and hearing Jesus announce the Good News of the Kingdom were sign enough that God was on the move. After all, a miracle is simply another name for God supernaturally intervening in our world; it shouldn’t matter whether this takes place in plain sight, like the multiplication of fish and bread, or in the hidden places, such as a heart of stone turned into a heart of flesh.

The most beautiful part of all of this? God did not require the Ninevites or the Israelites to perform a specific set of rituals or sacrifices to qualify for his saving grace – and he doesn’t require it of us, either. All that God requires is the sacrifice of “a broken and repentant heart.” It was not the fasting while sitting in ashes and wearing burlap that saved Nineveh; those were simply the outward signs of what was happening in their hearts.

Consider your own heart. Is it broken and repentant? Or was it once that way but has since hardened in some fashion? Spend time in prayer asking God to help you examine your heart – the inner life of your spirit, mind, and soul – paying particular attention to those areas where you have chosen to be unwieldy to the ways of the Spirit.