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Fishy story

October 12, 2015

Luke 11: 29 – 32                                            Monday 12 October 2015

At the time of Jesus there were many people going round the country preaching, even claiming to be the Messiah. When Jesus arrived on the scene, to many Jewish people, it seemed like he was just another charlatan, trickster, false prophet. What the religious leaders wanted to know was how He would prove He was the genuine article.

The bible has many examples throughout Jewish history of signs being worked. The earliest happened when Moses was being instructed by God to go and set the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt.[1] Moses was sceptical worried that the people would not believe that God sent him, so God gave him the signs of the rod becoming a snake and his hand becoming leprous. God said these signs were “that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you. God told Moses that if the people still did not believe, Moses was to take water from the Nile and pour it on the ground, where it would turn to blood.

The signs were done by God to convince Moses that he was dealing with a really powerful God, the true God. (Remember, Moses had drifted away from worshipping God). And then the other signs described in that theophany were done to convince other people that Moses was a genuine messenger from their God.

And further on [2] God tells Moses that He would multiply His signs and wonders in Egypt, so “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

The signs and wonders were so the (pagan) Egyptian people to know that the god of Moses was the one TRUE God.

We also have stories in the Old Testament of signs ands wonders worked by the prophets Elijah (1 Kings 18: 36), and Joel (2:27)

Signs and wonders are ways to convince different people that God is present and working amongst humanity, and that the people performing such signs and wonders are genuine prophets.

Then in Acts 2:1-21, we hear about the Holy Spirit descending upon the Church and the Apostles speaking in tongues. Why? To prove to the people that the message of the Apostles was genuinely from God.

It is exactly the same with Jesus performing signs and wonders.

This is today’s gospel. When the Pharisees ask Him for a sign, Jesus’ words sound very aggressive: ‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

Two questions:

What was the sign of Jonah?

and

Why is Jesus sounding so frustrated by the Pharisees?

So, first, what was the sign of Jonah?

In the story of Jonah, God commands Jonah to travel to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. Problem – the Assyrians were sworn enemies of the Israelites and Nineveh as a very wicked city. Jonah defied God’s instructions, and travelled in exactly the opposite direction, towards Tarshish.

But God sends a violent storm, and when the crew find out that Jonah is running away from his God, they blame him for the disaster; the pagan sailors try their best to save the ship, but eventually they throw Jonah overboard as a sacrifice to Jonah’s god. And the storm immediately subsides. A sign to the pagans that Jonah’s God is a powerful, real god.

Meanwhile Jonah is desperate for God’s forgiveness, and prays for forgiveness for the wrong he has done in defying God. In response, Jonah is saved – swallowed by a whale. And note this: Jonah spent three days inside the whale, just as there were three days between the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection.

When he emerged from the whale, Jonah was a changed man. He indeed went to Nineveh, and preached to the wicked people there that they needed to repent of their sins by wearing sackcloth and covering themselves in ashes. Jonah, still a bit sceptical, and very human, didn’t think it would work (rather like Moses didn’t think anything would come of his mission). In fact, Jonah was really disappointed when he realised that the pagans were doing exactly what he preached, and repenting. Jonah even got angry that God was having compassion on them and forgiving them their sins. Jonah would rather the people who were the sworn enemies of Israel would be destroyed by God.

And now to answer my second question, of why Jesus sounds so frustrated by the Pharisees.

Well, can you see the parallels between the story of Jonah and the Pharisees? The Pharisees were well-intention believers in God, just like Jonah. They desperately wanted to please God but couldn’t bring themselves to do as they were told. The Pharisees made their own rules and regulations and did not go in the direction that God wanted them to go. And the Pharisees did everything they could to try and catch people out doing wrong, to try and make sure they would be punished by God.

Just like Jonah, the Pharisees thought they knew better than God. They were stubborn, they were judgmental, they were hypocrites. They refused to accept the signs worked by Jesus, indeed they rejected them; some evewn suggested that Jesus had power through the Devil. That really is perverse and foolish. No wonder Jesus got frustrated with them.

In Jesus they were being given a sign, a sign they wouldn’t understand until after Jesus had been offered as a living sacrifice to God; a sign of new life, a new creation, and forgiveness reaching out from God to ALL people, not just the chosen Pharisees. The sign for the Pharisees from Jonah, from Jesus, was that God offers love and forgiveness to everyone, to all people of the world, IF, like the people of Nineveh, they would just bring themselves to listen to God’s messengers, to do as they are told, and turn away from sin towards a new way of living.

This week, look out for small signs and wonders that God is leading you on your mission through life. And don’t be like the Pharisees and ignore the nudges you’re getting from God. Don’t get angry when God sends you a message. Listen, discern, and do as you’re told!

[1] Exodus 4: 1-9

[2] Exodus 7:3-5

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