The Sign of Jonah
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,' and 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. A 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. -- Matthew 16:1-4
Two nights ago I went for a walk. To be honest, I hesitated to go out because it was so cold. But I needed it; so, I bundled up, put on my heaviest coat and my gloves and my ski mask, and out I went.
Last night, just 24 hours later, I went out for a run. This time out I wore a t-shirt. In the short time from one night to the next, the temperature had changed dramatically. On Saturday night it was 23 degrees, on Sunday night 54. Today it has been even warmer.
Weather changes, sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly. I find the same is true of my mood. I can be going along feeling great, and then the smallest thing can irk me. Or I can be feeling sad about something, but then my wife or one of my daughters says something kind and I’m out of it. Sometimes I can see a shift coming, but other times it take me by surprise.
The spiritual life can be like this also. I can have moods that creep along, and others that change. I can go from praising God for this faithfulness to doubting whether or not he is even real. Sometimes, this change can take place quickly. A bill will come in, or an unexpected phone call, or a flip comment from a friend. All of these can not only affect my emotions, but my trust in God as well.
What I sometimes want is a sign. A sign from God that he is paying attention, that he has not forgotten me. Advent is a time when I look for signs. I pay attention to where Christ might be, where he might appear. Often times I am looking for him because my mood has shifted in a dark direction. Things aren’t going so great, and I would like to know that he cares.
When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day looked for a sign, they were testing Jesus. They angered him because they were supposedly looking for the Messiah, but there he was standing right in front of them. Sometimes we might be like that, we are testing God because we are angry. Other times, though, we are honestly searching. In either case, we are given the Sign of Jonah.
The Sign of Jonah is a reference to the Book of Jonah. Jonah the prophet is swallowed up by a whale for three days, and then spit back up. Christ was swallowed up by death for three days, but then he burst back forth.
When I am looking for Christ, it helps me to remember that he is already here. It helps to recall that he has already won the victory, that he has already conquered my greatest enemies: Sin, Death, Hell, and the Devil. While I may not be feeling his presence at this moment, he is very present. He has given me a sign, one that reminds me that he will never leave me or forsake me. That sign is his Cross and Resurrection.
Rather than looking for a good event or a happy feeling, by focusing on that sign I can find myself comforted today. In this way, I may find myself uplifted even if my circumstances are not so great.
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