The Sign of Jonah

English Service on January 21

Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison

Bible passage: Matthew 12:38-41

Title: The Sign of Jonah


Hello, everyone here today at Open Door Chapel and those of you with us online.  Thank you again to the team working to bring the message of Christ to more and more people through our church’s Web site.  We pray that this media ministry will enrich your life and help you know God in deep faith and love.


Let’s begin today by looking at the city of Nineveh.  Jesus speaks of Jonah in today’s Bible story, and if you recall the story of Jonah, you know he went to Nineveh.  Today that place is near Mosul in northern Iraq, on the Tigris River.  In Bible times Nineveh was the capitol of the country of Assyria.  Its walls looked something like the ones you see in this slide.  Apparently Nineveh was the largest city in the world for from 100 to 150 years (800 B.C. to 650 B.C.).  If it had exactly the population of 120,000 that the Bible reports, it still was smaller than, say, Otaru is today.  But for that time, it was a vast, huge city.  There have been Christian people in Nineveh since soon after Jesus’ time, long before there were Christians in, for example, Britain or the Americas.  Tradition has it that the Apostle Thomas brought the gospel to the people there.  In recent years, ISIS and other terrorist groups have driven many Christians from their homes, and ancient remains of Nineveh have been destroyed.  But more recently, with the defeat of ISIS, some Christians have begun returning.    


How about Jonah?  What do we know about him?  The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot—just that he was born in Gath Hepher, a town of Lower Galilee, about 8 kilometers from Nazareth.  His father’s name was Amittai.  Jonah was a prophet at the time of King Jeroboam.  One thing this King did was reset the eastern borders of Israel.  He announced that they ran from Lebo Hamath in the north all the way down to the Dead Sea.  II Kings 14:25 says that God proclaimed through the words of the prophet Jonah that He would re-make the boundary in this way, and that is what happened.      


Continuing with some background, various very similar versions of the story we just now read from Matthew 12 appear in the Bible.  One is later in Matthew, in chapter 16.  In chapter 12 Jesus is speaking to Pharisees and teachers of the law.  In 16 it is Pharisees and Sadducees.  Many of the words are the same, but in 16:1 they ask Jesus to show them a sign “from heaven.”  


Here it seems Jesus’ enemies are trying to make a contrast between the miracles He has been doing and miracles “from heaven” (or “from God” in a similar version in Luke 11).  They want to say that His miracles are from Satan, done with the power of evil.  If you tell a joke, then when you finish someone asks you, “Please tell us a funny story,” that’s not a simple request, is it.  It’s an insult wrapped in a request.  It is a claim against you as a comedian.     


Jesus refuses to do a miracle (“a sign”) here, “except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39b).  It’s not that He is against miracles.  He has just performed one in the sight of the Pharisees.  Yet seeing a miracle has not led them to faith.  He can see that what they need is not one more example of the same type thing.  It will not have the effect that miracles are given to have, that is, faith in God and praise to Him.  


Jesus refuses to do a “miracle on demand,” but He points His listeners to the greatest miracle of all.  It is His own death and resurrection, which many people living at this time will see if they are watching.  Jesus is not willing to cooperate in the religious leaders’ attempt to make Him look evil or weak.  But He has no problem in demonstrating the power of God’s love—even in the form of a miracle—when it is part of God’s plan and for His glory.


With this context in mind, let’s now look at the heart of the story, what Jesus tells us about His life’s purpose and what He is here in this world to do.  


It links in some important ways, He says, with the life of Jonah, who lived several hundred years before Him.  The story of Jonah is already a famous old one at the time of Christ, and children no doubt hear it as they grow up, just as many do today.  Let’s see several key ways this Bible story points us to Jesus.


1. First, Jesus, like Jonah, is sent by God to give His word of life to His enemies.  In Jonah 1:2 God tells him, “Go to the great city of Nineveh. Preach against it. The sins of its people have come to my attention.”  In Jonah 3:4b we learn more about the message when Jonah announces, “In 40 days Nineveh will be destroyed.”


But Jonah runs away from Nineveh instead of going there to tell God’s message.  Why?  The story does not tell us clearly, but he probably is terrified because Nineveh is in Assyria, a country that is Israel’s enemy.  Their military has been the most powerful in that part of the world at points in history.  Jonah no doubt knows that nation’s reputation for cruelty.  Its military is known for cutting off heads of its enemies and putting them in a pile, cutting the skin off of men, raping and then killing women, and so on.  The idea of going to tell these people that they are going to die unless they change their ways probably frightens Jonah terribly.  Think of how it would feel to you if God told you to go to the people in ISIS and tell them to repent.  It would take a mighty faith in a mighty God to obey the call to go there.  That is fully possible with the help of God.  But we cannot too quickly blame Jonah for his lack of love for the people of Nineveh or his unwillingness to face what looked like certain suffering or death for going there.  Would we be different if we were in his situation?  


Thank God, He is.  He sends the message of amazing grace—another chance if the people of Nineveh will repent.  That is basically the same thing Jesus came to this world to do, the Bible teaches.   Colossians 1:21-22a says to 

Christians, “At one time you were separated from God.  You were enemies in your minds because of your evil ways.  But because Christ died, God has brought you back to himself.”  That is a beautiful part of “the sign of Jonah.”  


So we celebrate the simple but powerful teaching of God, “The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (I John 4:14).


2. Second, Jesus—like Jonah—offers himself willingly in following God’s plan of salvation.  Again, Jonah does not freely choose to cooperate with the Lord’s plan at first.  He goes in the exact opposite direction, toward Tarshish, or today’s Spain.  Jonah makes a lot of trouble for himself and others when he tries to go his own way in life instead of following God’s leading.  But the Lord does not give up on him.  He sends a great storm and huge fish to turn Jonah around and set him on the road to Nineveh.  And it is in fact Jonah’s acts of disobedience that God uses to show the news of His salvation in the most vivid way.  


In what ways might you be running away from God, going your own way instead of following His leading in your life?  Could it be through allowing your schedule to be so full that you have no time for the habits of prayer, Bible study, and other disciplines that God teaches His people to practice?  Is there someone you know God wants you to forgive, or from whom you need to ask forgiveness, but haven’t yet?  Maybe it’s through avoiding the people who need your help, even though Christ teaches us that in loving and serving them, we actually are loving and serving Him?  Whatever it is, in that particular part of life, the way to peace and victory is through repentance.  It seems Jonah has to experience this truth for himself before he is ready to tell it to the people of Nineveh.  But finally he does.  The good news for him, them, and us is that it’s not too late.  Whatever mistakes you have made, God says that with His help, you can admit them, receive His forgiveness for them, turn away from them, and move ahead together with Him into a brighter future.    


Jesus does not run away from the calling God has given Him.  All His life, even in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He goes to the cross, He chooses to walk the difficult path God has set before Him.  And because He does, we have been given the gift of life.  Through faith, no matter what comes our way in life, we can always know that we are deeply and profoundly loved.  Its because the one and only Son of God loves us enough to give up His own life so that we can live. 


3. Third, Jesus dies, going down into the grave and Hades, much as Jonah has gone down into the sea and the great fish.  When a storm hits the ship headed for Tarshish, Jonah is asleep, much as Jesus will later be asleep during a storm on Lake Galilee.  The sailors wake Jonah up in hopes of being saved, much as Jesus’ disciples will wake Him and desperately ask for His help.  Jonah tells the men, “. . . Throw me into the sea” (Jonah 1:12b).  After they eventually do, they are the only ones in the world who have an idea where Jonah is.  If you could ask any one of them what has happened to him, there is no doubt what that person will say: “He’s dead.”  


Jesus retells the story in Matthew 12:40, “. . . Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish. . . .”  Reading this, you may remember that Christ dies on Friday during the day, then by early Sunday is resurrected.  That seems closer to two days than three.  But this really isn’t a problem.  It is just a matter of the way you use to counting days.  The Hebrew language does not make it necessary for this to mean a full 72 hours.  If something happens somewhere inside three different days, it is not strange to say it happened for three days.  


Likewise, Jonah goes in the sea, whereas Jesus goes into the earth.  But the basic point is the same—God’s work to bring life out of death, God’s power to save, the power of His love.


In Jesus’ time of distress, He calls out to God in prayer.  He cries (Matthew 27:46), “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?”  In these words we hear an echo of Jonah, saying God from the belly of the great fish Jonah 2:4, “I have been driven away from you. . . .”  When we read that soldiers have twisted a crown of thorns and placed it on Jesus’ head (Matthew 


27:29), we recall Jonah saying that he has seaweed wrapped around his head (Jonah 2:5b).  In Jesus’ final words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (NIV, Luke 23:46), we remember Jonah saying (Jonah 2:7), “When my life was nearly over, I remembered you, Lord. My prayer rose up to you.”


4. And Jesus, of course, comes back to life in the resurrection, as Jonah escapes death by being vomited out of the mouth of the huge fish.  Jonah talks about this in his prayer (Jonah 2:6b), “I thought I had died and gone down into the grave forever.  But you brought my life up from the very edge of the pit.”  What we count as impossible and too much to hope for, God shows to be fully possible for Him.  Here is the basis for a deep hope to take with us into the troubles we face in life, joy for the journey of our lives each day, the well-spring of a vivid imagination, and much more. 


5. Fifth, Jesus announces God’s word, which begins leading to salvation for many people.  After the resurrection, He tells His followers, “. . . I am always with you. . .” (Matthew 28:20), then sends them out in His power with His life-changing message of salvation through repentance from sin.  Soon we are reading things like “About 3,000 people joined the believers that day” (Acts 2:41).    


When Jonah finally was ready to obey God and told the message the Lord had given him (Matthew 12:41), “The men of Nineveh . . . repented. . . .”  Surprise!  Who expected that to happen?  Probably no one but God—not even Jonah, really.  The people of Nineveh seemed like the last ones who would repent and come to believe in God.  But it happened, His word tells us.


We have to be careful not to decide too quickly that people who hear the news of Christ will reject it.  We can easily end up stopping God’s word from spreading just by our own decisions that it’s not quite the right time and place to tell it.  Sometimes people will say no to it, but other times they will surprise us by accepting it willingly and readily.  


For example, though some of the strongest resistance to the message of Jesus is from people of Muslim cultures, there are also surprising numbers of people from Muslim backgrounds in recent years who have accepted Christ.  Some of you may remember my mentioning before a book called A Wind in the House of Islam, by Dr. David Garrison.  In it he reports on a research project he conducted.  After doing a large amount of traveling and interviewing all over the Muslim word, he found various times in history when entire communities of Muslim people (not just a various individuals but whole groups) changed from being Muslim believers into followers of Christ.  It took over 1,000 years for that to happen the first time, in the 19th century, Garrison found.  Then 10 more movements like this appeared in the late 20th century.  Now, in the early 21st century, there have already been 60 movements of entire Muslim communities becoming Christians.  God led the people of Nineveh to faith in Jonah’s time, long before Islam appeared there.  Now He is doing an amazing work there and around the Islamic world once again.  


His plan is to give the message of salvation in Christ to the world’s people, and in His amazing wisdom, He chooses to do it through ordinary people like you and me.  God is in control of what happens, when it happens, and how it happens in the events of our lives, both Jonah’s and Christ’s stories tell us.  He is the Lord over time, historical events, and all parts of life.  That is good news for those of us who, like Jonah, may still have quite a few weak points in our faith, our personalities, our attitudes, and our ways of treating people.      


Today we’ve seen how Jonah, and later Jesus in an even greater way, are used by God in the Bible stories, in His time, in His way, for His work of salvation.  There is no record from documents outside the Bible to show that large numbers of people there became followers of the God of Israel.  The people of Nineveh repented, the book of Jonah tells us, but it is not clear how long they stayed in a spirit of repentance and faith.  It may be that their sudden turn to God was kind of like the events we saw in the U.S. soon after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.  Large numbers of people cried out to God for help, and the churches on Sundays were overflowing—for a time.  But as the days, weeks, and now years have passed, many people have gone back to the life they had before that time of crisis.  It’s hard to say the U.S. as a whole has turned to God in faith.  


In Nineveh’s case, it does appear clear from the Bible and history in general that the country of Assyria, which had Nineveh as its capitol, is the one that defeats Israel and takes away many of its people as slaves in the 500s B.C.  But even focusing on that is missing the point, the Bible’s God tells us.  Jonah’s story points past all the troubles in this world and to the hope that can take us through them.  It directs us toward Christ.  It assures us that God, through His Son, is in control over the timing, circumstances, and impact of the events in our lives.  He is doing things that we are too short-sighted, self-absorbed, and faithless to see.  Learning to see as He sees and be more aware of His presence can enable us to rest in, enjoy, and share the reality of His continuing work of salvation in our world.  


That’s the good news I have to share with you today!  Amen.  Let’s pray, shall we?  


God, thank you for reminding us again today that you are powerful to save all who turn to you in faith.  Through Christ’s death and resurrection, you have demonstrated the power of your saving love once and for all.  So there is nothing that will happen in our lives which you cannot turn around and use for something good.  In response to recognizing this, God, help us again today to place our lives in your hands.  Help us, as Jonah struggled to learn, to freely and actively follow you step by step, trusting you to use us in your good work of bringing salvation to many people all around your world.  In Christ’s name, amen. 




CyArk. (n.d.). “Nineveh Region.” Retrieved January 11, 2018 from

Easton, M. G. (1897). “Gath-hepher.” Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition. Thomas Nelson. Retrieved December 30, 2017 from

Garrison, D. (2018). A Wind in the House. “Muslim Movements to Christ.” Retrieved January 17, 2018 from services-view/muslim-movements-to-chris/

Holman Bible Dictionary. (2001-2018). “Lebo-Hamath.” Retrieved December 30, 2017 from hamath.html                                     Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., and Brown, D. (1871). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Retrieved January 5, 2018 from own/matthew/matthew-12.html                         

Mark, J. J. (2014, August 11). “Assyrian Warfare.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 13, 2018 from

Wikipedia. (2018, January 6). “Nineveh.” Retrieved January 11, 2018 from



マタイによる福音書  12章38節〜41節





























 これは、イエス様の生きた時代から数100年前に生きたヨナの生涯について、イエス様が語られる仕方(方法)において 重要な接点があります。ヨナの物語はキリストの時代において既に有名な古いものでした。子供達は間違いなく、この物語を聞いて育ったでしょう。それは今日でも同じですね。



1 イエス様は、ヨナと同様、神様から、神様の言葉を神様に敵対する者へ届けるために送られて




 しかしヨナはニネベへ神様のメッセージを告げに行かず、逃亡してしまいます。何故なのでしょう? 物語には明確な理由が述べられていません。で、きっとヨナは恐れたのではないでしょうか。何故ならニネベはアッシリアにあって、イスラエルの敵国だったからです。歴史上、当時の世界でアッシリアの軍隊は世界最強でした。ヨナはアッシリア国の狂気の評判について知っていたに違いありません。その軍隊は敵の首を切り離して積み上げ、皮膚を剥ぎ、女性をレイプして殺すなどというものでした。そんな国へ行き人々に「生き方を変えないと死んでしまうぞ」などと言うことはヨナにとって酷く恐ろしいことだったでしょう。自分の身となって考えて見てください。もし神様がイスラム国へ行きそこの人々に悔い改めるようにあなたに言ったとしらどうでしょうか?それをするには全能の神様に従うという全き信仰が必要となるはずです。神様の助けがあって、やっと可能となることです。しかし私達だって単純にヨナのニネベの人々に対する愛のなさやヨナがニネベに行くことでほほ明らかに生ずるだろう苦痛や死に直面したくないという態度を責めることはできないと思います。私達が彼の立場であったなら、私達は彼と違った行動をとれますか?




  コロサイ人への手紙1章21節から22節aでクリスチャンに、「  」と言っています。






2  イエス様は、ヨナと同様に、神様の救いの御計画に従うため御自身をすすんで捧げられました。 ヨナは最初主の御計画に協力する選択を自主的にした訳ではありませんでしたが、実際、彼は、正反対の方向のタルシシュ(現在のスペイン)へ行きます。ヨナが神様の導きに従わず自分自身の道を進もうとする時に、他の人を巻き込んで多くの困難を作り出してしまいます。しかし神様はヨナを諦めません。ヨナに回れ右をさせニネベへの道に戻すために大嵐をと大きな魚を送ります。実際、ヨナの不従順な行動を、神様は、最も鮮やかな方法で神様の救いの技を示すために使われたのです。


  あなたが、神様から逃げてしまうことがあるとすれば、それはどのようなことでですか。人生において神様の導きの替わりに自分自身の道を行くことでですか? 祈りの習慣、聖書の学び、その他神様が実行するように教えている訓練をする時間がないほど、自分自身を忙しくしてしまう(スケジュールを一杯にする)ことによってでしょうか? 神様があなたに赦すことを求める誰かがいるということででしょうか? それとも、あなたが許しを請わなければならない誰かがいて、それをまだしていないことででしょうか?







3 イエス様は死なれて、ヨナが海と大きな魚の中に降りて言ったように、墓とハデスに降られま 










4 そしてイエス様は無論のこと、ヨナが巨大魚の口から吐き出されて死を免れたように、復活され命を再び得るのです。ヨナはこの体験を祈りの中で「私は死んで墓の中に永遠に降っていったと思いました。しかし、あなたは私の命を穴の淵から引き上げてくださいました。」(ヨナ書2章6節b)と言っています。




5 イエス様は、神様の言葉を告げ知らせ、多くの人々を救いに導き始めます。復活された後、イエス様は従う者達に「私はいつも共にいる。」(マタイ28章20節)と言い、御自身の権限によって、罪の悔い改めを通して救われるという人生を変えるメッセージを持たせて、送り出します。







 私が以前、紹介した、デビット・ギャリソン博士の著書「A Wind in the House of Islam」を覚えていらっしゃる方がいると思いますが、その本の中で、博士が行った調査プロジェクトを報告しています。博士は数多くのイスラム諸国を旅し、多くの人々をインタビューして、歴史上の多くの時期においてイスラム教を信仰していたイスラムの人々がコミュニティー全体で()単にさまざまな個人ではなく、グループ全体といった集団で)キリストに従った、という例があることを発見し、19世紀にそれが最初に起きるまで、1,000年という時間が掛かったことを見つけたのです。20世紀後半には、同様の事象が10回以上起こっています。現在の21世紀初頭においても既に60例以上、イスラムコミュニティー全体がクリスチャンとなっています。



















CyArk. (n.d.). “Nineveh Region.” Retrieved January 11, 2018 from http://archive.cyark. org/nineveh-region-info

Easton, M. G. (1897). “Gath-hepher.” Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition. Thomas Nelson. Retrieved December 30, 2017 from dictionary/gath-hepher/

Garrison, D. (2018). A Wind in the House. “Muslim Movements to Christ.” Retrieved January 17, 2018 from movements-to-chris/

Holman Bible Dictionary. (2001-2018). “Lebo-Hamath.” Retrieved December 30, 2017 from                                     Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., and Brown, D. (1871). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Retrieved January 5, 2018 from                         

Mark, J. J. (2014, August 11). “Assyrian Warfare.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 13, 2018 from

Wikipedia. (2018, January 6). “Nineveh.” Retrieved January 11, 2018 from https://en.