Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 5 2013 - Luke 11:14-36 – The sign of Jonah

Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man who had been mute, giving him the power to speak. The crowds were amazed at what he had done, but some began to speculate that he was able to cast out demons because he possessed superior demonic power. Nevertheless, the crowds were eager to see Jesus do more that would amaze them. Perhaps with more signs they might revise their opinion of him.

Jesus tells them, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation..." (Luke 11:29-30).

In what way was Jonah a sign to the Ninevites? Jonah had been a rebel against God. God had given him a clear command, "Go to Niveveh...", and he had fled in the opposite direction. His rebellion had nearly cost him his life. He had been thrown into the sea and would have drowned had God not prepared a great fish which swallowed up Jonah and three days later spat him out on the sea shore. It's a remarkable story and the experience must have left its mark on Jonah. Certainly it persuaded him to walk the 500 miles to Nineveh to preach God's message to its inhabitants.

And don't you think they may have asked him why he had come? And he would have told them of his experience. Perhaps it was this experience of Jonah as much as his words "Repent or perish" that persuaded the Ninevites to turn to God. They had a sign in Jonah of the awful reality of the judgment that falls on those who rebel against God; but they also had evidence of God's remarkable saving mercy – "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs... Salvation comes from the Lord" (Jonah 2:8-9). If God could rescue Jonah using a great fish, maybe he would have mercy on them if they would only turn to him. Never underestimate the power of personal testimony.

Jesus tells the crowd that he is the sign that ought to bring this generation to repentance; he is for them the sign of Jonah. Elsewhere we read that Jesus likens Jonah's three days in the sea and the fish to the three days he will spend in the tomb. His death and resurrection is the sign that should bring this generation – our generation – to repentance. Here is evidence of the reality of God's judgment against sin and rebellion – he did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Here also is the evidence of God's saving grace – he did not leave him to suffer corruption but raised him to new life for our sake. Judgment is not some tale made up to frighten us into conformity; it is an awful reality which has been made plain in the middle of history in the cross of Jesus. But neither is grace some vague hope; it is grounded in Jesus' resurrection from the dead:

Jesus our Lord … was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification... Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! (Romans 4:24-25; 5:9).

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the sign of Jonah. We give you thanks that our Lord Jesus suffered for us a cruel death on the cross, bearing the punishment for our sins. But, most of all, we praise you that he is risen – raised for our justification. He is more than a sign; he is our hope and our Redeemer. Strengthen our faith that we may never turn from him who is our life; keep us trusting him, following him and glorying in him. And may our testimony draw many others to him.

Apr 5 2019 - Judges 2:6-23 – Rebellion and salvation

Joshua died and the generations that followed soon forgot what the Lord had done for them in bringing their ancestors out of Egypt and into the Promised Land – just as many years earlier, Pharaoh had forgotten the blessing Joseph brought to Egypt. The Israelites were surrounded by people who worshiped fertility gods whom they believed could secure a good harvest for them. Israel was soon enticed into worshipping these false gods. They lost sight of their calling to be different from those around them – to be a light to the nations. Instead they imitated them, perhaps hoping that this would ensure their acceptance among their neighbours and that they would be able to live peacefully in the land. 

But they had forgotten that the Lord was the source of their blessing and that turning their back on him was to invite disaster and defeat. They found that their neighbours became a threat to them and that there was no-one to help them. So, at last, they cried out to the Lord to save them.

Today's passage provides us with a neat summary of the cyclical storyline of the rest of the book:

The LORD raised up judges, who saved them... Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived... But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. (Judges 2:16, 18-19)

Judges underlines not only the need for God's people to be faithful to him but also their need of good leaders. But the problem with human leaders is that they die. Moses is dead; Joshua is dead; even the best of the Judges will die. The book of Judges will end with the hope that kingship may offer a better model for leadership in Israel; hereditary leadership will mean that there is always a successor when the king dies.

But the history of the Judges, and of the kings that follow, shows us that two problems remain unsolved; all human leaders – even the very best – are flawed and all human leaders die. Such leaders are no better than the people they lead. What is needed is a leader who, while made of the same stuff as those he leads, is quite unlike them – a saviour who is without sin and who has conquered death. The flawed judges and kings prepare the way for the coming of Jesus, the Christ.

We still need good leaders among the people of God. Self-effacing, Spirit-empowered leaders encourage and inspire faithfulness and boldness among the people of God and are used of God for the significant advance of his kingdom. But the cause of the kingdom does not depend on fallible and mortal leaders; it is dependent upon the risen power of our eternal Saviour. He has conquered death and, by his Spirit, creates a people who gladly submit themselves to God and serve the cause of his kingdom.

Father God, help us never to forget what you have done for us in the Lord Jesus. We live among a clamour of voices calling us to come and find our satisfaction in the life they are offering. Through the clamour, help us to hear the clear voice of Jesus calling us to follow him and find contentment in him. Thank you that in Jesus you have provided us with a once-and-for-all Saviour who has conquered death and who always lives to lead and direct the life of his people. Raise up more leaders among your people – men and women – who will be stamped with the image of Christ and will give themselves to the cause of your kingdom. And help us not only to follow their lead, but, taking our lead from them, to follow Christ and serve him with all our heart and mind and spirit.

Peter Misselbrook