And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:29-32)
A Greater Than Jonah Is Here
Michael Packard has a whale of a story to tell about the day he was swallowed by a humpback whale while lobster diving off the coast of Cape Cod. Without warning, the whale engulfed Packard but then forced him out of his mouth about forty seconds later. He survived with minor injuries and a great story to tell his grandchildren. In 1891, James Bartley was swallowed by a sperm whale after the whale attacked their boat during a whaling expedition off the Falkland Islands. A few days later, he was found inside the whale, still clinging to life when the whale was killed. None of these stories match what happened to a preacher from Gath Hepher named Jonah, the son of Amittai. The Old Testament book of Jonah tells the amazing story of the preacher sent to the heathen city of Nineveh to preach, who tried to run away from God. Punished for his disobedience, Jonah was swallowed by a huge fish (the type of fish is unknown) and kept three days fully conscious of where he was. While in the belly of the big fish, Jonah prayed, and the Lord delivered him after three days.
Some doubt the story of Jonah, but to do so means that Jesus is a liar. The Son of God told the story of Jonah as an object lesson for the validity of holy writ and concerning what would happen in the life of Jesus Himself. Matthew and Luke record the words of Jesus, paralleling the three days Jonah spent in the fish’s belly to the Lord’s own entombment in the grave. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus from the cross and put Him in a new tomb hewn out of rock. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. As Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, so the Son of Man remained three days in the tomb. He rose on the third day so that He would not see corruption fulfilling the prophecy of David. As the Lord delivered Jonah from the watery grave of the sea, so the Father delivered His only Begotten Son from the tomb of Hades.
The people surrounding Jesus were not convinced He was the Son of God. They sought visible evidence to clear their clouded minds. Jesus tells them the sign of Jonah will prove His divinity as the prophet preached to a rebellious and wicked generation, so will the Son of God preach to a rebellious Israel and perverse generation. After Jonah went to the city of Nineveh, the people repented in sackcloth and ashes. One hundred and twenty thousand persons turned to God at the preaching of Jonah. A greater than Jonah came among the people of God, and they refused to listen. Jonah was displeased the Lord did not destroy Nineveh, but the people did not have hatred toward the prophet. Jesus did not come to destroy but to save, and yet the people killed Him. A greater than Jonah had come to earth, and His mission was the salvation of all humanity.
Jonah was a story of grace, mercy, truth, sacrifice, and repentance. The story of Jesus is the same. God delivered Jonah from the darkness of the deep, and He delivered His Son from the depths of Hades to show all men the greatest story is found in Jesus. Charles Bartley and Michael Packard have a remarkable story to tell. Their story pales compared to when a man obeys the gospel of Jesus Christ and is baptized into Christ for the remission of sins. Rising out of the waters of baptism is the greatest story. Sins are washed away. A covenant of grace is given between God and an obedient heart. Nothing can match the wonder of that story.