Friday, March 30, 2012

The Men of Nineveh

Matthew 12:38-41 stood out to me as we recently went through this chapter in Matthew: Mat 12:38  Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." Mat 12:39  But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Mat 12:40  For just 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. Mat 12:41  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here."

My question was, what happened with the men of Nineveh that would condemn these Jewish men that Jesus was speaking to in Matthew.  The context of chapters 10-12 has been about the importance of deciding rightly concerning Jesus Christ; it will be a matter with eternal consequences.  11 and 12 have a lot to do with Israel as a covenant people knowingly rejecting their Messiah despite his fulfilling OT prophecies and Jesus condemns them accordingly.  In ch. 13 we see him start to teach in parables as he withholds a measure of light as their judgment.  The immediate context of the above text is the unpardonable sin.  The Jews said that the work of the Spirit was really that of Satan and thus they sin away their covenant privileges because they knowingly realize who Jesus is and refuse his kingdom.  Thus there is no hope for them "both in this age and the age to come". 

They immediately want a sign of their own choosing even though they have graciously been given all kinds of signs.  They want him to do their bidding not because they want to be sure of who he was but because they want another reason to reject him.  They have been given more light than anyone up to this point and yet refuse to believe and instead expect Jesus to perform as a circus monkey for them.  It is here that Jesus compares them with the men of Nineveh.  

Notice the similarities and differences.  Jonah was not Assyrian but Jewish and therefore an enemy.  Jesus came unto his own and his own received him not.  Jonah didn't do any miracles in front of them while Jesus did all kinds and especially the ones foretold in the OT.  Jonah didn't want the Ninevites to repent and his message was far different than Jesus'.  Can you see how different his message was from Jesus', Jon 3:4 "Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"  Jesus' message was one of grace.  Judgment was coming but through faith and repentance one could enter into his eternal kingdom.  Jonah's message was one of hopelessness.  In forty days you are all gong to be destroyed, period, so get ready!  He says nothing of repenting in order to avoid God's just wrath!

I think one point Jesus is making is that the men of Nineveh with only a display of God's wrath repented while Israel with all the miracles and the OT to shed light on what they were seeing and the gracious message Jesus brought basically said, "We aren't interested".  Notice what the King of Nineveh said at Jonah's hateful, bigoted message of certain doom, Jon 3:9  "Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish."   Of course the amount of miracles and the heart condition of the preacher has nothing to do with whether one believes or not thus Jesus downplays their desire for more miracles.  If God doesn't grant repentance no one will believe.

But I don't want the men of Nineveh to rise up and be used in judgment against me.  I (we) have been given more light by 2012 than anyone else in history.  We have the full canon of Scripture and two thousand years of exposition, debate and writings.  The gospel is written and blogged about and broadcasted at every turn.  If people were faithful to the Lord in the dark days of the OT then what excuse have we to whom the end of the ages have come upon, who "have a more sure word of prophecy".  Peter said that as he referred to his witnessing of the Transfiguration.  He saw with his own eyes the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and he gives us his eye witness report.  In particular, Peter was an eye witness to the great miracle Jesus refers to in our text, the resurrection.  

Do we live as people of the light?  If not, we will have no excuse in the Day of Judgment.  To live on this side of the greatest miracle ever done by the Lord, the Resurrection comes with privileges and responsibilities.  It should make a fundamental difference in the way we live and the way this world lives; as different as night and day.


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