In the Belly of the Monster

1280px-Pieter_Lastman_-_Jonah_and_the_Whale_-_Google_Art_ProjectI’ve been teaching through Matthew’s Gospel for the past two months. To say that the experience has been enriching would be a vast understatement. Each week I’m continually blown away by the power of the person of Jesus.

This week I get to teach on Matthew 12-13–a passage which is largely about resistance to faith. In the middle, Jesus utters his famous oracle about Jonah (12:40), “For just as Jonah was in the belly of the Sea Monster three days and three nights, thus the Son of Man will be in the belly of the earth three days and three nights.”

The verse is slightly troubling. For one thing, while Jonah is three days and nights in the belly of the fish, Jesus is only in the tomb for pretty much one day and two nights. The math is a little fuzzy (as is all Hebrew math, for the record). But for another, and far more importantly, the association between Jesus and Jonah begs a question: what is the link between their two ministries? Jonah is a disobedient prophet–he runs the other way! In fact, he is only in the fish at all because of his disobedience! How can Jesus be like him?

The answer, I believe, is actually rather simple. Jonah, in disobedience, preaches one of the most pathetic sermons in history (it’s only five words in Hebrew: forty days more Ninevah goner), but it has one of the most astounding impacts–the whole city repents! And I suggest that the application to Jesus is this: If Jonah, out of disobedience, has a successful ministry like this, how much more successful will be Jesus’ ministry of obedience? If Jonah, because of disobedience, ends up in the belly of the fish, how much greater a miracle will it be if Jesus, because of obedience, is placed “in the belly of the earth?” Jonah preaches a halfhearted sermon and saves a city. Jesus preaches and teaches the Kingdom of God and saves the world.

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