The Sign of Jonah | Matthew 12:38-40

April 12, 2014

Book: Matthew

Scripture: Matthew 12:38-40


This is one of the strangest sights human eyes ever gazed upon. It was in OT times somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, on a beautiful sunny day, a great fish appeared from the sea on the beach. As the people watched as this large fish spit out of its mouth a man. You may say, “That’s unbelievable!” God did this. Almighty God brought about this event which under normal circumstances no human being could ever survive.

I think as he lay there like he was dead; he must have shown the effects of the trauma he had undergone. His skin must have been reddened, wrinkled, bleached, and the weeds of the sea around his head. He appears on the beach, but he is not dead, still alive. This man is able to continue his journey which had been interrupted by his volition.

His name was Jonah. He was a prophet of Israel. He was a man who enjoyed preaching to his people, Israel. God gave him a command one day that he was to go to the enemy of his people, Nineveh, and preach to them the judgment of God because God was going to judge and destroy Nineveh, that great city.

But you know God is so good, the Bible tells us that he is not willing that any should perish. He does not want you to perish. Even though the people of Nineveh were his enemies and the enemies of his people, Israel, God did not want to destroy them. We understand from here God is a judge but God is also forgiving, so He told his prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to them. Jonah, who enjoyed preaching to his own people, did not want to go and he refused and went another way. Sometimes God asks us to do things that we do not like to do.

A great storm came up and it became clear that Jonah was the reason for that storm. Those shipmates were displeased with the fact that he was onboard. I have observed in life that sometimes some of the most difficult people to be around are believers, Christians who are out of sorts with the Lord Jesus Christ, living in rebellion. Sometimes it is tough to be around them. So, it was with Jonah. After Jonah identified himself as the cause and the lot they cast proved Jonah as the cause, these pagan shipmates just dumped him overboard. Well Jonah would have thought, “It’s better to die than preaching to the Ninevites.” There can be times when people, family, and friends can give up on us. Thank God, he never gives up on us, Amen!

Jonah was dumped overboard but God was not finished with him. God had a purpose for his life. The Lord was going to see that his purpose for Jonah’s life was fulfilled. The Bible tells us that God had prepared a great fish. I do not how it was possible but I believe God can make anything possible for us. It happened literally and Jonah was swallowed by that fish. He went down into the fish’s stomach. He was there for 3 days and 3 nights.

For a long time in the belly of that great fish Jonah was still resisting God until finally God broke his will. That was a blessing for Jonah. He did not see it at the moment. It was because God was willing to work and deal with him and break his will that Jonah was usable again in God’s hands. Finally, Jonah cried out to the Lord in repentance. I think he acknowledged his sin to God, his rebellion, refusing to do what God had told him to do. So that great fish vomited Jonah out there onto dry land. Jonah went on his way to the city of Nineveh. He preached to that city with hundreds and thousands of citizens. They repented from the king down, they called out to God and God spared them.

This real incident has great lessons for man and his relationship with God, especially the relationship of a believer with God. But there is something even greater in this account that Jesus himself told us that we need to understand.

Come with me to the Gospel of Matthew 12. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day didn’t really acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Most of them were convinced that Jesus was not the Messiah but an agent of the devil. In two separate incidents, different religious leaders came to Jesus making the same demand: “Prove that you’re the Messiah right now.” But again, they weren’t looking for proof from Jesus, they were looking for proof against Him, so they could take action to get kill Him. See how Jesus responds to these people.

Matthew 12:38-39 The Sign of Jonah
38Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

The message of Jonah has a reach far beyond his day. It reaches 2000 years down to the centuries today with a great message for you and I.


Matthew 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The sign of Jonah is the proof that Jesus will offer himself as a sacrifice and after 3 days he would be raised from the grave. The sign of Jonah is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The people of Jesus’ time had to believe that Jesus would rise from the grave and accept his message; however, we have the historical and biblical proof that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Lessons from the Sign of Jonah today.

  1. Man is sinful and wicked.

Look at the condition of man in Jonah’s time and Jesus’ time.
Jonah 1:2 Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.
Matthew 12:39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign!”

The condition of the people both in Jonah’s time and Jesus’ time were wicked, evil, sinful, and adulterous. Man’s condition even today still remains the same. Man’s heart has always been wicked because of sin.

Jesus said about his generation – A wicked and adulterous generation. It speaks of 2 ways – Bad moral lives and nonspiritual people. So it is in our day. Look around and moral lives of people have come down. People are far from God spiritually. So we need Jesus.

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is not a soul on this world who can set himself apart and say, “I measure up to the glory of God, I am holy.” That cannot be said by man because we are all descendants of Adam and the Bible says when he sinned, we all died, spiritually and physically.

Jesus Christ is the only answer for the wickedness. Jesus is the only answer for man’s sin. Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. So the sign of Jonah tells us that all men are wicked and sinful and Jesus is the only way man can be cleansed of their wickedness.

  1. The sign of Jonah authenticates Jesus is God.

The resurrection authenticates the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus had been introduced by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. Jesus had preached that he had come as that Passover lamb for the sins of the people. Jesus invited people to believe in him for salvation. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. I am the door. No man comes to God the Father except by me.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and life.” That was his message.

When Jesus rose from the grave on that Sunday morning, that sign of Jonah, authenticated the teaching of Jesus Christ. It was a public declaration that Jesus is God.

Do you believe Jesus is God? Do you believe Jesus in control of your life? If Jesus is God there is nothing in heaven and on earth that is impossible by my Jesus. If God can prepare a fish for Jonah, he can prepare anything to same me on time. Therefore, if Jesus is my God, he will lead me, he will guide me, he will protect, he will bless me. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Therefore, I will not be afraid. The sing of Jonah authenticates Jesus is all powerful. He is the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God. Jesus Christ is God.

  1. The sign of Jonah authenticates our resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
1 Corinthians 15:20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Jesus’ resurrection is spoken of as the first fruits from the dead. He was the first one to rise from the grave never to be subject to death ever again. He had raised some people from the dead during his earthly ministry but those people went back to the grave, later they died again but not Jesus. He rose with the keys over death and hell in his hand, victorious. Jesus was the first fruit. 1 Corinthians 15 says since Jesus was the first fruit, I know that we will be raised also.

We all have some sorrow in heart over someone that we have lost in death. If you have lost a loved one who was dear to you, if they had put their trust in Jesus before leaving this life, they will raise from the grave again.

The Bible teaches that there is a day coming, When Jesus is going to come in the clouds, there is going to be the sound of the trumpet and those loved ones you know who have put their faith in Jesus will be raised bodily from their graves, their bodies will be reconstituted, their bodies will be recognizable. We who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the air to meet the Lord Jesus Christ and we will forever be with him. He is going to take us to heaven. The sign of Jonah authenticates our resurrection.

  1. The sign of Jonah challenges us to know the times.

The religious leaders came to Jesus at least 2 times and asked him for a sign that he is the Messiah. At both the time Jesus said that no sign will be given to you but you need to interpret the times.

Matthew 16:1-4 The Demand for a Sign
1The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. 2He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’3and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

Jesus rebuked the spiritual leaders because he said, “You can read the face of the sky and can predict the weather from that. In our terms you can predict politics, the stock market, the result of a match. Jesus said, “You are supposed to know the spiritual signs and seasons.” Their Messiah was among them and they did not recognize him.

We are supposed to know the times and seasons of our day. If you see the amount of increasing wickedness, advanced technology, and world politics around us, it shows us from the Bible that the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is very, very near. The first century Bible scholars missed Jesus’ first advent, and if not careful we too can miss his secret coming. Jesus is going to come in the clouds. His saints will be secretly taken away without warning. We need to be prepared. Jesus Christ is coming soon. We are to know the times.

But as we see these things happening, we should not be discouraged, we should be encouraged. We should be challenged to share the gospel with everyone we meet. This week you are going to encounter people who are still lost in the darkness of sin. God is putting you in front of those people so you can be a part of His rescue mission.


  1. Forgiveness for those who believe.
  2. Judgement for those who reject.

When Jonah spoke to the Ninevites, they received the message repented from the head, king down, fasted and asked God to forgive them. God is compassionate and forgave them from their wickedness the Bible says.

Now, look at the Pharisees and the scribes in the NT. They did not believe Jesus, so they rejected his message. They were judged and cast into hell.

Matthew 12:41-42  41The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. (There is testimony time in the Great White Throne Judgement.) 42The Queen of the South (Just a quick historical note here: the Queen of the South is the Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon and was blown away at his wisdom. The Bible says she believed in God.) will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

God is going to forgive those who trust in Jesus and judge those who reject Jesus Christ.

The Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba are going to say to the Pharisees at the judgment, “Hey we listened and we believed Jonah and Solomon. But you had JESUS, for crying out loud, and you didn’t listen and believe.”

And today, if we reject the words of Jesus they could say, “Hey we listened and we believed Jonah and Solomon. But you have the entire BIBLE, for crying out loud.” I hope that no one will ever be able to say that about you.

I pray with all my heart that not a soul sitting here, not a person from the city of Bangalore would refuse or would fail to come to the Lord Jesus Christ and believe him as Saviour.



Just as the account of Jonah in the belly of the fish for 3 days and thereafter his message to the Ninevites and their repentance and God’s forgiveness is true; Jesus’ death and resurrection is true. His forgiveness is true for those who repent of their sins and believe on Jesus. The matter of eternity and spiritual things are much bigger than you and your earthly needs. So, what is your response to the sign of Jonah?