The Ultimate Jonah

“ … someone came who said to his astonished listeners that he was the ultimate Jonah (Matthew 12:39-41). When Jesus Christ came to earth, he was leaving the ultimate comfort zone, in order to come and minister not just to a people who might harm him, but to people who would. And to save them, he would have to do much more than preach, he would have to die for them. While the original Jonah was merely thought to be dead, Jesus actually died and rose again. It was what Jesus called the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:31).

Consider another way in which Jesus was the ultimate Jonah. In Mark 4 we have an account from Jesus’s life that deliberately evoked the Old Testament story. There was a terrible storm and, like Jonah, Jesus was asleep in the midst of it. Like the sailors, Jesus’s disciples were terrified and woke him up to say that they were going to perish. In both cases the storm was miraculously calmed and those in the boat are saved by the power of God.

But here is the great difference. Jonah was thrown only into the storm or wind and water. Jesus on the Cross, however, was thrown into the ultimate storm—of all the divine justice and punishment that we deserve for our wrongdoing. When I struggle with my idols, I think of Jesus, voluntarily bowing his head into that ultimate storm, taking it on frontally, for me. He sank in that storm of terror so I would not fear any other storm in my life. If he did that for me, then I know my value, confidence, and mission in life all rest in him. Storms here on earth can take away many things, even my physical life, but not my Life.

God hinted to Jonah that he would love the great, lost cities of the earth in the same way that Jonah would not.

The book of Jonah ends with a question. God asks Jonah: “Shouldn’t your love be like mine? Will you come out of your self-absorption and idolatry and begin to live for me and for others?” We wait for and answer, and it never comes! Because the book ends.

It is as if God aimed an arrow of loving rebuke at Jonah’s heart, set it a-fly, and suddenly Jonah vanishes, leaving us in its path. The question is coming right at us, because you are Jonah and I am Jonah. We are so enslaved to our idols that we don’t care about people who are Different, who live in big cities, or who are just in our own families but very hard to love. Are we, like Jonah, willing to change? If we are, then we must look to the Ultimate Jonah, and to his sign, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Keller, T. Counterfeit Gods

Dutton. New York, NY. 2009


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