How evil and godless are the people of this day! You ask me for a miracle? No! The only miracle you will be given is the miracle of the prophet Jonah. In the same way that Jonah spent three days and nights in the big fish, so will the Son of Man spend three days and nights in the depths of the earth.
As soon as Jesus gets done smacking down the Pharisees for saying that he works for the devil, some teachers of the Law (scribes) and Pharisees come up and ask him to perform a miracle for them. They say, “Teacher, we want to see you perform a miracle.”
Even though they address him somewhat respectfully by calling him teacher, they disrespectfully ask him to perform for them like a trained circus dog. They want him to put on a little magic show. Jesus is pissed. Once again he engages in little name-calling by calling them evil and godless. I’m not sure that’s absolutely fair; they probably believed in God. They were just ignorant and negative and disrespectful.
After calling them names Jesus tells them that the only miracle they will get is the miracle of Jonah. So who was Jonah? Wasn’t he swallowed by a whale? According to scripture, it was technically a fish not a whale. Not as though that makes any difference but Christians seem to like to discuss those kinds of things. The main theme of the story is that even though Jonah wasn’t a very nice guy, God still used him to save a city.
Jonah was an Old Testament prophet of Israel who was called by God to preach to the residents of the city of Nineveh, the capital of the rival nation of Assyria. God says, “Go to Nineveh, that great city, and speak out against it; I am aware of how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He didn’t want them to be saved because they were enemies of Israel. He wanted to see them suffer and die, so he boarded a ship and took off in the opposite direction from where God wanted him to go. A great storm rose up and the sailors ended up throwing Jonah into the sea to save themselves. After they did this, the storm immediately stopped.
Jonah was then swallowed by the big fish, where he spent three days and three nights in the belly of the beast. Finally Jonah repented. He cried out to God and the fish spit him out on dry land. The Lord then repeated his command for Jonah to go to Nineveh, so this time he went even though he didn’t want to. He preached to the people of Nineveh that God was going to destroy their city if they didn’t straighten up, so the king ordered everyone to pray and fast. God saw that they were sorry for their wickedness and so he forgave them and spared the city.
This made Jonah so angry that he wanted to die, but God asked him, “What right do you have to be angry….After all, it [Nineveh], it has more than 120,000 innocent children in it, as well as many animals.” That’s the way the Book of Jonah ends. It doesn’t say that Jonah ever got over his anger or that he ever felt any compassion for Nineveh. He didn’t want to accept that God loved those people even though they weren’t Jews. God even felt compassion for the animals.
So what’s the miracle of Jonah? I think Jesus is saying, “I’m really upset and I’m reluctant to help the likes of you. However, God has not given up on you and he is going to use me to get you to change your ways. I will be buried for 3 days and then I will be resurrected. At that time, if you are wise, you will repent.” That’s what I think he’s telling them. He may think they are evil and godless, but he understands about the mercy and love of God. So they asked for a miracle, and Jesus gave them a prophetic word. If you look at it that way, Jesus actually did give them a miracle even though it would take a while for them to understand the significance of it. It wasn’t the kind of miracle they wanted, but it was the one they needed. The miracle of Jonah.
What does this scripture say to you?