Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Sign of Jonah

One thing I have come to appreciate while living Texas is the fascination Texans have with “things big”. It’s always “bigger and better” in Texas, isn’t it? At least, that’s what advertisers seems to play upon to sell their merchandise around here. There is actually a company named “Bigger in Texas Apparel”. The famous Amarillo 72-ounce steak You can go to a fast food restaurant here and buy a “Texas-sized burger.” You can go to a car lot in town and see advertisements like: “A truck big enough for Texas.” Texans are fascinated with things big! Guys buy big hats. Girls wear big bows. We all drive big cars; did you know that the only two states that can sell Suburbans are Texas and Oklahoma. The fact is: We like big! But, we are not the only ones enamored by the spectacular.

I guess different regions of the world are intrigued by different forms of the spectacular. In Texas, we like big! In New York, they like the lights! In Mexico, they like the dazzling colors! Humans, I believe, have an innate desire to be impressed. We are attracted to the spectacular. We get bored by the routines of life. But over time, even the most amazing things become commonplace and ordinary and unimpressive. The fact is, when we get used to the big, we want bigger!

Did you know that Jesus once ran into a crowd who longed for something more spectacular than the Son of God?

READ LUKE 11:29-32 (CEB)

I have one question for the crowd who was increasing around Jesus: “What is it that you are waiting for?”

Let’s backtrack a few moments and take a glimpse at what this man Jesus had done thus far. Since Jesus began His ministry, according to Luke’s gospel. Witnesses saw a strange site at Jesus’ baptism. He goes into the water and comes out: nothing new here. But how many of your baptisms were accompanied by a voice from heaven? When the clouds start saying things like: “You are My Son whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” When that happens, people pay attention. And they did! And the people were amazed!

While Jesus was at Capernaum, He was seen driving out an evil spirit from a man who was in the synagogue. When He did this, the demons said before everyone, “I know who you are; the holy One of God.” Luke says the people were amazed, and the news of Jesus spread. Still later, Jesus is seen healing people. Then, when He is in a tiny village called Nain, he raises a little boy from the dead! While His disciples get caught in a storm, then they realize even the winds and waves obey this guy!

A few of them see Jesus transfigured before their eyes and see him sit down with Elijah and Moses! Not everyone was there. But tell me honestly that you believe Peter, James, and John kept that a secret!

Now, most recently, He was seen driving out a demon from a mute man. Here is a guy who could never talk before. Jesus comes in contact with him. And he opens his mouth and begins speaking! Luke says the people were amazed! And who wouldn’t be? But still, this group, a few weeks later, says, “Give us a sign!” And to these people, I repeat my question: “What is it that you are waiting for?” Jesus has just cast out a demon!!!  And they say, “Oh yeah, what else do you got? We’ve seen that trick; do something bigger and better! If you can’t do it, maybe you’re not that great after all!” Luke says they were waiting for a sign.

Jesus tells these people very plainly that they will not be given any sign, except that which has already been given them. The “Sign of Jonah” Maybe you are like me and that phrase really doesn’t do much for you. What is the “sign of Jonah”? Some of us want to jump to Matthew’s gospel here. There a comparison is made between Jonah’s three days in the belly of the great fish and Jesus’ three days in the grave. The idea being: the Ninevites saw that miracle. You will see a greater miracle when Jesus comes out of the grave. They believed because of that sign, and so should you!

But Luke doesn’t mention those three days in his gospel. I believe Luke wants us to see something else about Jesus’ ministry. One of the most spectacular things about Jesus has nothing to do with raising someone from the dead, even if it is His own body! One of the most spectacular things about Jesus’ ministry is His message! I believe the “sign of Jonah” Jesus’ is referring to here in Luke’s gospel is the content of His preaching.

Look down at verse 32 if you are unconvinced. Why did the Ninevites repent? What was so amazing? What was the “sign” Jonah gave to them? “For they repented at the preaching of Jonah.” Jonah spoke to the Ninevites, and they believed. Solomon spoke to the Queen of the South, and she believed. Now someone greater than either Jonah or Solomon speaks to the people of Israel, but for them this is not good enough. Jesus’ point here is this: Even the pagans heard the wisdom from God and believed, but now my own people want something more.

Why is it so often the case that those farthest from God see & are amazed and for some reason those of us who spend our entire lives basking in the love of the Father demand something bigger & better?

You and I live in a world where people are not easily impressed. If you don’t believe me, do something for me this afternoon. Go dig in the box in your closet and pull out your old music. For some of you, that box will be filled with: CDs, Tapes. Others of you: records, 8 Tracks. Take out that big box, and then take your children and grandchildren, and “force” them to listen. I say “force,” because that is exactly what many of you will be doing! The generation today is not impressed by records or 8 tracks. They have iTunes! Music today is not simply vocals and instruments. It’s computerized & synthesized, it’s bigger and louder and some would say, better!

If you don’t like the music analogy, compare your teenage entertainment to the teenage entertainment for today. I grew up in the “Nintendo age.” Not Xbox, Xbox 1, but Nintendo. The first Super Mario Brothers. Duck Hunt with the little plastic gun. Just before me was the “Atari age”. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q-bert. Compare those games to the games our teenagers play today. The games today look like TV or even real life! The graphics are unbelievable! Some of you say, “None of that makes sense to me. We didn’t have video games at all when I was younger.” Well, doesn’t that prove my point even more? Our world is rapidly changing. Things that were “impressive” a generation ago are not impressive today! The big is getting bigger! The spectacular is becoming more spectacular! We live in an age where people are not easily impressed!

And most of you can see where I’m going with this, these same patterns have carried over into the church.

For some of us, the simple message of God is not enough anymore unless it is wrapped in a golden ribbon and delivered to our doorstep. Our consumer-driven world has led to consumer-driven churches. I saw once an advertisement that a church on Easter Sunday would drop 10,000 Easter eggs from a helicopter! There is a church in Lubbock that used to advertise itself on the radio. They could say anything they wanted about themselves in 30 seconds. They chose to let people know you could wear jeans on Sunday! We live in the “me-culture,” and sometimes, church is no exception.

Have you ever noticed the pattern? This congregation gets a new preacher, people flock. This congregation gets a new worship leader, people flock. This congregation gets a new program, people flock. But wait a minute, this congregation has a glitzier worship, people flock. This congregation is just using songbooks!  People leave. This congregation doesn’t have a dynamic children’s worship! People leave. This congregation doesn’t have the bells and whistles to my liking!  People leave.

I have to admit, sometimes I look around at us, and I ask the question: “What is it that we are waiting for?” Are we waiting for the “perfect” congregation? Where everyone is perfect? Where every last one of your needs is met, regardless of how anyone else feels? Where evangelism takes place naturally? Where new members flock to your doors? Where everyone is happy & no one ever fights! Are we waiting for God to come down from heaven to confirm our actions?

Perhaps on one Sunday, Jesus will just appear. He’ll say, “You’re doing it right here! I know no one else gets it, but you do!” Are we, like those ancient people of Israel waiting for some sign from heaven that what we do here is really from God?

Church, let me be honest. There is nothing wrong with staying with the times. I think this screen is great. I think our youth ministry should try to seek ways to make God relevant for this generation. I think our children’s ministry should try to incorporate technology and media into their lessons. We’ve always done this! Songbooks were a novelty at one time—cutting edge technology! At one time four-part harmony was unheard of—people sang in unison chants. There’s nothing wrong with staying with the times, BUT let us not ever allow the message of Christ to get lost in our desire for bigger & better.

A congregation’s ability or desire to meet your personal needs is only secondary to preaching and teaching the message of Jesus Christ. If we ever let these secondary items dictate our personal allegiance to God. If we ever allow these secondary items to dictate our allegiance to this family. Let us repent now, because, we are no better than those people of Israel. Who saw Jesus do so many mighty things. Who heard the pure message of the Father. And who still demanded something bigger and better.

Jesus said that those who look for a sign are a wicked generation. Church, in a world that hunts for the bigger and better, let us be the harbingers of God. Let us be the ones who stand up in this wicked generation and hold up the pure, unadulterated message of Jesus Christ. That message is simple. God loved us so much that He refused to leave us in squalor. He loved us so much that He came to redeem us. From the struggles of this life. Even from the defeat of death. Our world is amazed by the spectacular, yet right before our very eyes is the greatest, most spectacular and life-changing story ever told!

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