In Matthew 12:40, Jesus said:
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (NIV)
When God sent that big fish to swallow Jonah, He already knew He was going to keep Jonah in the belly of the fish for 3 days and nights to one day link to Jesus being in the grave for 3 days and nights. The question is why use Jonah of all people to be a pointer to Christ? The two men could not be more different:
Jonah did not want to see the enemy of his people saved from destruction. (1)
Jesus willingly died to save His enemy, the fallen human race. (2)
During his 3 days and 3 nights, Jonah asked God to save him. (3)
Jesus went through His 3 days and nights, to save us. (4)
Jonah was angry when the people of Nineveh repented from their sins. (5)
Jesus calls us His co-heirs and family when we repent from our sins. (6)
So why Jonah?
The answer lies in the ending of the book. The book does not end with Jonah finally calling Nineveh to repentance, and the city repenting, which would have been a logical end to the story. It ends instead with the account of the One-Day Plant.
It went like this: “Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint.
He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left [don't know the difference between right and wrong]—and also many animals?” (8)
And herein lies the similarity - and the difference, it has to do with who you regard as yours:
We as people get angry and upset when harm is done to our people, be it our family, friends, our nation, or whoever else you regards as ‘yours.’
Jonah was no different, he only regarded his family and his tribe as his. The Ninevites were enemies of his people, therefore he hated them and wanted them dead, not saved.
Jesus regards all of us as His, regardless of race, gender, status, age, enemy or friend.
To summarize the lesson of the one day plant: Begin to think of all people as your family, your brothers, your sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, grand-babies. It will go a far way in helping you to keep, not only the Old Testament command, summarized by Jesus as: loving your neighbor as your self (9), but to keep Jesus' more difficult new command: To love your neighbor as He loves you. (10) Which means even if you don't like yourself, you're not off the hook, for how we love ourselves is no longer the standard to which love others by.
He loved us so much, He laid down His life for us. We often don't even want to give someone else in traffic a break. But if you see it is someone you know and care for trying to get into your lane, how would you react then? Wouldn't you then be happy to wait a a few seconds and waive them in with a smile?
The shift to thinking of all people, regardless of race, gender, age or status, as your family that you care for, will make the whole command to love a whole lot easier. Besides, it is actually the truth, we are one family, the family of God. And all those who belong to Him will one day spend eternity together. By making the shift from seeing people as strangers to family members, you will not only please your Father and Brother, you will also pull down a bit of Heaven to your daily life. It just makes a day a great deal nicer living it among family members (even if some are not on their best behavior), than living it among strangers.
May you walk in peace with the One who loves you, and may you love one another, as He loves you.
References: (1) Jonah 4:2 (2) John 10:11 - 18 (3) Jonah 2:1-9 (4) Romans 6:23 & 2 Corinthians 5:21 (5) Jonah 4:1-3 (6) Romans 8:17 & Luke 8:21 (7) Image courtesy of biblevector.com (8) Jonah 4: 5-11 (New International Version - NIV)
(9) Matthew 22:39
(10) John 13:34