From The Sign Of Jonah To Jesus’ Family – Sermon on Matthew 12:38-49

by Kristen Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons

My husband Pastor Bobby teaches from Matthew 12:38-42. We learn that real humanity is humanity united with Christ, working from a position of gratitude, safe, secure and enriched beyond measure. You’ve got no one to impress, and everyone to bless. Full text below, as well as sermon video.
Reader: Jess Stiller

November 24, 2019 – Respond 8 – Bobby Gilles from Sojourn Collective on Vimeo.

All my life I’ve wanted to belong to a group with whom I wouldn’t have to keep up appearances, or worry about fitting in, but where I’d remain loved and safe even if I messed up. I bet you want that, too.

But there’s a darker side to human nature that needs people to be impressed by us. This goes for the people that we want to be in relationship with, and even those we don’t. Many of us need someone to fight, someone to look down on, someone that, in our fondest dreams, we hope will say, “I’m impressed by you. I admit that you are better, your culture is better, your ideas are better. You are more successful.”

Jesus probably has a cure for that. But in today’s story, a group of elite religious men don’t seem to like him at all. And to be fair, it looks like he’s antagonizing them at every turn.

Before we just write them off as being “bad guys” or fools, we should get curious about this. If we can put ourselves in their shoes, we may learn uncomfortable things about ourselves. And from there, we’ll see an answer to our longings to belong, to be safe, and to be calm and confident as we do important work that makes a difference for generations.

This antagonism we just read about didn’t begin with the events of today’s story. Everything Jesus did bugged the Pharisees.

We’ve seen this over and over throughout the fall as we’ve walked through this biography. There are so many details that are easy for us to overlook, but these details were like flashing neon lights to the Pharisees, saying “Jesus Is King,” and they hated it.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus called exactly twelve disciples? And if Jesus is Lord of all, why are all his disciples Jewish? Not one Greek or Samaritan? And why are they all men?

Jesus gives a hint later in his ministry, when he tells these twelve men:

when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you … will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. – Matt 19:28

Israel was founded upon twelve tribes, each descended from one son of the patriarch Jacob. So, twelve Jewish men each became the patriarch of a tribe that, together, formed a nation. Over the centuries this nation wandered from God, turning their back on God’s mission and saying, “We’ll do it our way.”

This went poorly, so now in today’s story Israel is a conquered nation. Ten of the twelve tribes had been eliminated hundreds of years previous; now the surviving two are ruled by Rome. They have elite religious leaders whom Caesar has granted limited power to enforce the laws of Judaism on their people. Now here comes Jesus, claiming to be God’s son, the Messiah who would constitute a new Israel and setup a new world-wide kingdom.

He walks around the country with twelve Jewish men, an unmistakable symbol of the twelve patriarchs who founded Israel. These twelve weren’t Jesus’ only disciples. Eventually we find many women, children, Samaritans, Romans, and people from all walks of life in this Jesus movement. But he starts with a callback to the twelve patriarchs. Every time a Pharisee looked at Jesus and his twelve walking metaphors, it was like they could hear Jesus say, “I’m taking over.”

This is the reason for the Pharisees’ hostility. And remember, they were thought of as the “good guys.” They were better rule-followers than we are.

So here they come,

Matt 12:38 One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.”

Jewish (by race), followers of Judaism, educated, and all male, very concerned with being “right,” and law abiding. Everyone was impressed by them and wanted to make a good impression on them.

39 But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

In other words, “Oh, I’ll give you a sign. I’ll rise from the dead after three days.” His followers from then till now continuously return to God’s sign: Christ crucified and buried for our rebelliousness and unbelief, and raised as the proof that we are forgiven and adopted into God’s family, with the promise that we will rise, too.

41 “The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent.

In the Old Testament, Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire which had destroyed ten of Israel’s twelve tribes, and carried the survivors away, never to return. So, Nineveh is the epitome of evil. Remember we said that the twelve disciples represented the patriarchs of the twelve tribes, so these guys are walking reminders of what Israel had lost.

IU and UofL fans, take what you feel about UK and ramp it up 1000 degrees. Some of you would get mad at Jesus if he said, “John Calipari will stand in judgment against you,” so don’t think you’re better than the Pharisees.

Now that’s funny, but let’s get real. If someone told me, “The Taliban will stand in judgment against you,” I’d be hot. I bet you would, too.

But Jesus wasn’t just using Nineveh as an example to upset them or make a point about inclusiveness. The Ninevites repented even though they didn’t experience the miracle of Jonah and the big fish. There’s no evidence Jonah ever told them about it. All they needed was Jonah’s preaching.

42 The queen of Sheba will also stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for she came from a distant land to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Now someone greater than Solomon is here—but you refuse to listen.

We don’t know for sure where “Sheba” was. We’ve got evidence for modern Ethiopia and for Yemen, but the historians of Jesus’ day and in the early centuries of the Church said it was Ethiopia so we’ll go with that. Ethiopia still celebrates this queen, and says her name was Makeda – here she is. She’s one of two queens in the Bible who aren’t linked with a king in any way (the other one, Candace in Acts 8, was also Ethiopian). And Makeda is the only female character mentioned in the Old Testament, New Testament and the Koran, Islam’s religious text.

For the second time, Jesus has not only failed to be impressed by the Pharisees, he has hailed the virtue of people who weren’t the right race, not the right religion, didn’t pledge allegiance to the right flag. The first were violent oppressors, and now we have a foreign authority figure. From Africa. Who is a woman.

“We’re fine with some African lady traveling all this way to be impressed by our culture and submit herself to our king’s wisdom, but now you’re turning it on us? You’re saying she is better than us? We should be impressed by her example?”

Jesus says, “She recognized wisdom. Now the one who is Wisdom personified is here, and you don’t get it. You’ve got me.” He tries to explain it another way:

43 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. 45 Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”

That last sentence is the key. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus was zapping demons left and right. Although he was expelling demons from Israel, its leaders were setting it up to be demonized again by rejecting a relationship with Jesus.

The Pharisees want Jesus to go away and leave the house empty. And if he does, guess who’s coming back for lunch? Demons. Guess who will be lunch? Israel.

Now remember, we said in the beginning that we all long to be in a relationship with someone for whom we don’t have to keep up appearances, we don’t have to worry about fitting in, and we’ll remain loved and safe even if we mess up.

And this is what Jesus is saying here. “You don’t need the miracles. You don’t need the ancestry. You don’t need to have the right color skin. You don’t need to be male or female, or have a certain amount of money, a certain degree of intelligence, or a certain standing in your community.

You don’t need any of that; you have no one to impress. You’ve got me. Someone “greater than Solomon” is here. Someone “greater than Jonah is here.” I am the one that the entire Old Testament pointed toward.

And who can be in my family? Anybody.”

46 As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 47 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.”
48 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”

Again, Jesus says something culturally offensive. To disavow family members was not only against custom but against the Law of Moses.

49 Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. 50 Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” – Matt 12:49-50

What is the will of the Father? “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Repent is so much more than saying, “I’m sorry for the bad I’ve done.” It’s turning around and coming home to God. It’s following Jesus as his disciple throughout this life and into the next. We don’t have to be male, or Jewish, and there’s a whole lot more than twelve of us.

If he could come down into a body like ours, live, die and rise from the dead for us, and then take that human body up into the Father’s throne, then our bodies can join him because his father is now ours – we are family.

The one who created the world stepped into our shoes and said, “I am here. There is no one for you to impress. You are fully accepted and loved already. I want you, I’m here for you, and I’ll never leave you.”

The more we marinate in the truth of God’s love, the more our insecurities melt away, till we no longer feel the need to belittle or be jealous of anyone. We have no one to impress.

Together you and I who have turned to God are united in Christ, in the deepest sense. It’s not just that he is in our heart – he’s this little guy inside giving us some good advice – but that we are in him. He’s big enough for all of us: black, white, rich, poor, male, female, Republican, Democrat.

Because of this, you have no one to impress, and everyone to bless.

That includes those whom you don’t particularly want to bless. Who are the Ninevites in your life? Who is your Queen of Sheba or John Calipari? Who would you have trouble blessing with your friendship, breaking bread with? Nothing wrong with writing a “charity check” but would you be willing to rub elbows with the Ninevites in your life?

One of the many reasons Jesus is greater than Jonah is that Jonah didn’t want to obey God’s command to preach repentance to Nineveh. He didn’t want them to repent because he knew God would forgive them. Jonah didn’t want “those people” in God’s family.

Maybe there’s someone that you’d rather see get divine judgment than mercy. That’s how you feel now but trust me on this:

The act of consistently blessing them out of gratitude for Christ will change your heart and make you happy. They will be blessed but you will be doubly blessed. The Church has 2000 years’ worth of examples that prove Jesus’ point:

the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive. ” Acts 20:35

Real humanity is humanity united with Christ, working from a position of gratitude, safe, secure and enriched beyond measure, with no one to impress and everyone to bless.

Monday Challenge: How many people can you bless this season?

Not only does the Spirit empower you to bless the John Caliparis in your life, but even those you love but take for granted. Jesus says everyone will know we are Christians by the way we love each other.

Can you send a card to someone in this room who has blessed you or been a good model to you, but you’ve never told them?

And consider the ways we can partner together this season to bless our neighbors. Check out the Affordable Christmas table in the lobby, and the winter coat rack. Help serve a Thanksgiving meal to those in need this Wednesday.

And join us for Christmas Caroling on Wednesday, Dec 11.
• It’s easy, low hanging fruit.
• You’ll be in a big crowd, standing back on the sidewalk.
• You’ll have a lyric sheet. It’s just one verse each of three carols.
• Try this any other time of the year and people will think you’re crazy.


You have no one to impress and everyone to bless. This is the one time of the year when people are most open to the blessing of an old but never-ending story:

“The good news is that God himself has visited us, dramatically and decisively, in the One who is God-with-us. Jesus, our Lord, has been baptized into the deepest elements of our world, has lived our life perfectly, has died our death righteously, has conquered death in resurrection, and has ascended to the Father, taking up human flesh in triumph and glory.” – Edith M. Humphrey

He took on human flesh so he could take up human flesh. Because “one greater than Solomon” came here, all we who are like Solomon can go there.

We’ll explore this more fully next week as we begin Advent, that season where we remember Israel’s longing for a savior, one who had created the universe but came to us (pick up the bread) about this size, and nearly as helpless.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took a loaf of bread, like this one. (Communion Slide) And after giving thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

Then he took a cup of wine like this one, and he said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Drink this to remember what I’ve done.”

Take the bread into your body, knowing that the Spirit has taken you into Christ’s body, along with countless others. As I’ve said before, we are united in Christ with each other to the Father by the Spirit because of the cross. In this way we participate in the triune life of God.

We have no one to impress, and everyone to bless.

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