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Number one sign

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Luke 11:29-30,32
As the crowds increased, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

The University of Illinois' Assembly Hall has a new video scoreboard above the basketball court this year. Since the first game in November, the powers-that-be play a video clip from the movie Ali just before the start of each game. Mohammed Ali beats on some congas and shouts, "The champ is here! The champ is here!" He beats on them some more and shouts it again.

Now that the Illini are 25-0 and have been the top team in the country for eleven weeks, those words ring true. When the players burst onto the court a few seconds after the video, thousands of Illini fan egos burst with them. The cheers are deafening. Over and over the Illini have won their games, not with talk but with walk, and no one questions them now. (Well, almost no one.) No signs necessary now.

True too in Nineveh. Jonah stalked the streets in spite of himself, resenting his assignment, angry with God even though he'd been saved from certain death in the fish's belly. He prophesied death and destruction for the city and all its people. He expected them to treat him like a religious freak. But instead Jonah watched the hearts of immoral, godless men and women turn upside down at his words. They knew Jonah's story, that he had survived three days and nights in a large stomach full of digestive acids. God treated his prophet like that and then saved him to speak to them. His reputation preceded his words, and they listened.

Jesus came with stunningly effective talk and walk; his miracles, the wisdom of his words, and even that sweet gentleness he had with those who suffered could have been far more persuasive than anything Jonah said to the king of Nineveh. He sounds surprised that the people were so cynical, so unbelieving, each one so greedy for their own personal sign.

Finally he told them what they wanted to hear, that he would give them the greatest sign, one never before seen. Like Jonah he would return from certain death after three days. Like no one else, he would raise himself from that death.*

During these winding-down days of the Age of Reason things have only gotten worse for Jesus. Charlatans, poor teachers, parody and ridicule fill the airwaves and muddy our minds. I don't know what to think if I listen to all of that. It's when I keep my eyes and mind focused on Jesus-risen, and know how close he is to me right now as he lives on ... then my mind is clear and my heart is full.

Thank you, Jesus, for not getting disgusted and abandoning me, leaving me to death and dying. Because of you, I live.

* Here's a comprehensive and fascinating study of the sign of Jonah:

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