MATTHEW 12: SOMEONE GREATER THAN JONAH IS HERE
PREPARING TO READ MATTHEW 12
What if you were a doctor and you spent your whole life dedicated to people finding wholeness and healing? And all you could think about was how a few people want to sue you for your missteps. That's modern day doctors. Jesus healed and a certain group of religious and political people wanted him dead. But he told them someone greater than their plots and places of power was among them.
The photo in this post is how I imagine Jonah felt after getting spit out from that horrible experience of being inside a bigger-than-a-man-sized fish three days and nights. The reason I'm showing you this excellent photo by Jakob Owens is to illustrate one of the three ways Jesus said he was ushering in the Kingdom of God.
- First, Jesus said "Someone greater than the temple is here!" Jesus healed a man on the sabbath, a sacred time God himself initiated in ancient times, but radical Jewish groups wanting to bring the messianic age by keeping Torah thought Jesus was a heretic by healing on the sabbath, a day of rest when no activity like this should occur, in their view. Jesus simply said, "Suppose one of your lambs falls into a pit. Wouldn't you go down and get it, though it was the sabbath day, so it didn't suffer or worse, die?" He went on: "Aren't people more important than animals? Then it's permitted to heal on the sabbath day." Once again Jesus says, "Go figure out what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice." This has stumped people for years, but we're trying too hard. Over and over again in prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus' teaching, we get this message: Your worship, sacrifices smell like fetid maggot infested trash when I see you mistreating other humans. I desire you to be merciful to one another--that's true worship. Yes, I told you to bring sacrifices, but in place of mercy.
- Because of Jesus' insistence that he was above the law, sabbath, the temple, the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus! After all we've seen in human history, this doesn't surprise us, but I'm still shocked when I read this again.
"If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
- The Pharisees, to prove they are right and get people on the "kill Jesus bandwagon," start to demonize him, literally, saying he's healing by the power of Satan. Jesus rebuffs this. Crazy talk, no demon is going to enslave people by freeing people, and that's what Jesus was doing: liberating people from the power of Satan.
"But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."
"For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
"For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."
"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters."
- Even so, some of the same group -- the Pharisees and teachers of the law -- ask Jesus for a miraculous sign. Because of their plot to kill Jesus, we suppose this request is not because one of them is sick and needs healing, a Pharisee is lame and needs to walk, is deaf and needs to hear, is blind and needs to see. Yet they are truly the spiritually blind, deaf, and lame. And Jesus says, "I've got nothing for you, unless you count the future sign you will see: the sign of Jonah. You remember he was in the belly of a big fish three days? The Son of Man (that's how Jesus often referred to himself) will be in the belly of the earth three days. Someone greater than Jonah is here."
- Finally, Jesus referred to how great Solomon was, that even the Queen of the South went to sit at the feet of wise Solomon. Then he said, "Someone wiser than Solomon is here."
- The kingdom had come, one greater than the temple and sacrifice, a kingdom greater than the sabbath, greater than the reluctant missionary Jonah (so bitter the fish spit him out, by the way), greater than the legendary Solomon.
- In this story Jesus says something that scares diligent Christians today. He said blaspheming the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. It's understandable how this freaks people out. We ought to be freaked out about saying bad things about any member of the Trinity, but this statement of Jesus is referring to what is taking place in this story: they are crediting Satan for the actual work of the Holy Spirit, Christ, and the Father. They are calling healing the work of the devil. They are refusing to accept the work of God among them.
- Be careful not to read family neglect into Jesus' question to those passing the message that Jesus' family were looking for him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Nowhere do we see Jesus storming past them on his mission. He probably said this then went out to see them as requested. It's more of a point about what it means to be a disciple than what it means to be a family member. He speaks about being a good family member at other times, faithful to father and mother and sister and brother, but the kingdom brings a new family of people who "do the will of my Father in heaven" -- these are our family members, too, and taking the kingdom seriously means loyalty to the family of faithful. They too are mother, father, sister, and brother.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.