As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. (Luke 11:29-30 NIV)
After a long detour, we have finally made it back to the passage in Luke, but don't forget all we learned about Jonah. In this passage, Jesus was talking to the crowds about "signs" and the "sign of Jonah." We will need everything we learned on the Jonah roundabout to understand these verses.
Before the detour, we looked at the people's quest for yet another sign. Jesus had given plenty of signs. He had healed the sick, restored sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes, and raised the dead. As if those signs were not enough to convince them, the people continued to ask for another sign.
The problem was not that the signs weren't authentic or that they were not convincing on their own. The problem was, at least in part, that the people liked the entertainment of the signs. If you were present when Jesus performed a sign, you could tell about it for years to come. It gave a kind of notoriety that was appealing, at least to some.
Another reason to ask for a sign was that it was much easier to watch signs and wonders than it was to listen and learn when Jesus taught. He spoke radical, hard words. We've smoothed the edges off those words because of our familiarity with them, but there is nothing easy about "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me". If you don't believe me, give it a try. Denying myself is harder than I'd like to admit, and it must be done on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Jesus said "no signs will be given except the sign of Jonah". We've spent the last few days learning about the sign of Jonah. Jonah was a runaway prodigal who spent three days in the belly of a fish. Inside that aquatic God-imposed retreat, Jonah surrendered his will to God's and determined to obey. He left the watery prison transformed, and headed straight to the work God had given him. His time in the belly of the fish impacted the city of Nineveh in the most powerful way imaginable. The entire population of 120,000 people repented and turned to God.
Jesus told His listeners, "Just as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation." Jesus was speaking of the time to come when He would spend three days in the grave. When He emerged, He would be transformed. His release from the grave would have an even greater impact than Jonah's release from the fish. Conquering sin, death, and the grave was all the sign we would get because it was all the sign we would need.
Jesus was right. His resurrection is a sign, and it should have a radical impact on our lives. Just as Jonah's eight word sermon had a radical impact on Nineveh, the words of Christ should have an even greater impact on our lives. But do they?
Someone has said, "It's not the parts of Scripture I don't understand that give me trouble. It's the parts I do understand." I've found that to be a true statement. Loving my neighbor as myself is more than I can do. Don't get me wrong. I can love some of my neighbors as my self, at least for a little while, but loving all my neighbors in this world of ours, including the least lovely, as myself, 24/7/365 is another matter. I can deny myself on occasion, but all the time? I'm not there yet.
The problem with indulging my self-centeredness, though, is that Jesus rose from the grave. He conquered sin, including mine. He left His Holy Spirit so that I have a Helper. The Spirit has the power to help me overcome my sin, my bent toward selfishness, pride, lack of love. The possibility of obedience is real. My desire for obedience, however, is not real enough. If it were, I'd do better. I'd love more, give more, obey more.
The problem is not Jesus. It's me. It's you. It's all of us. Jesus has come. He has given us words of life. He wasn't kidding. He wasn't making optional suggestions. He told us what He expected and He meant it. He gave His life to make it possible. If we have been redeemed, we need to live like it so that the world will know the truth.
What is truth? Jesus. "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me."(John 14:6) Our lives will reveal what we believe, no matter what we claim. Let's be sure our lives demonstrate faith in Christ and the power He gave to conquer our sin. Let's take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him.