The Sign of Jonah

January 15, 20246 min read

Several times in the gospels, Jesus referenced the sign of Jonah.

But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Matthew 12:39-40 (NKJV)

Jesus compared the three days and nights that Jonah spent in the belly of the great fish to the three days and nights He was delivered over to the powers of the earth. This began with His betrayal, continued with His crucifixion, and concluded with His death.

The sign of Jonah is the moment when all hope seems lost. For the prophet Jonah, as he sat trapped within the great fish, he was as good as dead. For the early followers of Christ, He appeared defeated, dead, and gone.

We will all encounter moments in this lifetime when all hope appears lost. Defeated and confronted with despair, our responses within such moments are critical.

Let us look at how Jonah responded.

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. And he said:

“I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction,

And He answered me.

“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

And You heard my voice.

For You cast me into the deep,

Into the heart of the seas,

And the floods surrounded me;

All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight;

Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;

The deep closed around me;

Weeds were wrapped around my head.

I went down to the moorings of the mountains;

The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;

Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,

O LORD, my God.

 “When my soul fainted within me,

I remembered the LORD;

And my prayer went up to You,

Into Your holy temple.

 “Those who regard worthless idols

Forsake their own Mercy.

But I will sacrifice to You

With the voice of thanksgiving;

I will pay what I have vowed.

Salvation is of the LORD.”

So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Jonah 1:17 – 2:10 (NKJV)

In the moment of hopeless despair, when all seems lost, we should aim for a response of thanksgiving.

How is that even possible? How can we thank God when everything around us is falling apart? Part of the answer is that thanksgiving to God represents who we truly are in such moments. When we strip away the comfort, tear away all the goodness of life, beneath everything that can be taken from us lies the heart of thanksgiving before God.

Of course, such a heart is not our default state of being. Born into sin, we must be transformed and rebuilt according to the standards of God. A heart of gratitude is critical to that rebuilt and born again state. We must diligently strive to incorporate thanksgiving into our hearts and lives so that even if we lose everything, the true heart of thanksgiving remains.

During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, I remember considering what lay ahead. We did not know what the future held, and as a husband and a father, I wanted to ensure I carried my home properly as a spiritual leader. One morning, I contemplated the future and considered all the worst that could possibly happen in the face of the unknowns. If the worst things came to pass, what would my response be?

A verse from the book of Job came to my mind as I considered these things.

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

Job 13:15

Even if the worst things I can imagine should come upon me, I will still trust God. What else could I do? That is the one certainty I must always hold to. And the sound of such trust, as it was for Jonah in the belly of the great fish, is the sound of thanksgiving. When all is taken from me, I will still trust God, and I will express that trust with the sounds of thanksgiving.

These are things worthy of occasionally rehearsing in our minds. How far am I willing to go with God? How far is too far? Is there such a thing? Is there any line in this earth or this life that is of higher value than my trust and walk with God?

If and when the darkest hour comes, I will trust God. That trust will be displayed with the sound of gratitude rising up from my heart.

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