Luke 11:14-36, The Sign of Jonah

[July 19, 2009. This message was never preached. Patricia, our Princeton student intern, and a commissioned Lay Pastor, preached on this text (Luke 11:14-36) this morning.]

In the Gospel according to Luke, most of Jesus’ teaching takes place on the “way of the cross,” that is, on His final journey to Jerusalem (see Luke 9:51)), where He will celebrate the Passover and be crucified, and thus “complete His Exodus” (9:31). Luke gathered eyewitness material about Jesus from Matthew and from his own research and organized it in the way that he thought was most useful for the new churches that had formed among the nations, churches made up of Jews of the Diaspora, Gentiles who attended synagogue (“God-fearers”) and Gentiles who previously had lived under the demonic influence of idol-worship. Now the believers in these churches, churches such as the one in Philippi or Thessalonica of Macedonia, shined as luminaries in the world, “holding forth the word of life” to their neighbors (Philippians 2:15-16). From them “the word of the Lord sounded out” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

Those whose lamp was dark now let it shine (Luke 11:33), and those who had once been mute (11:14) now spoke out. The kingdom of God had come upon them (11:20) through the Gospel. Before they had been like someone beaten up by robbers and left half dead. But the despised Christ found them, bound up their wounds, “pouring on them oil and wine,” and brought them into the church where He continued to care for them, leaving them in the hands of new siblings who would minister to them through the Holy Spirit (10:25-37). There the new believers learned to gather in the home and sit at the feet of Jesus to listen to His word (10:38-42), and they learned to pray, not directly for themselves and their own wants but for the Holy Spirit to be given and for coming of God’s kingdom (11:1-13).

But the situation arose in almost every place these churches sprang up, that “some” of the Jews in their communities opposed them. Sometimes this opposition even became violent, and almost always the cause of the opposition was the conversion of the Gentiles. Gentiles were fully accepted into the Christian gatherings (which were considered Jewish) without first having converted to Judaism! This was what was intolerable to the more zealous Jews, many of them under the influence of a particular school of Pharisaism. Because of this offence, Jesus could not be the Messiah, He had a demon (John 8:48) and that is why He could perform miracles. They demanded of the Christians to see signs from heaven, but the only sign the Christians could offer was their own conversion. For the power of the God is in the cross, not in the signs that these Jews demanded nor in the “wisdom” that the Greeks spouted (1 Corinthians 1:17-31).

With this context in mind, then, let us return to Luke 11:14-36 and attempt to understand what Luke lays out before us.

A Sign is Performed but Some Reject It (Luke 11:14-23)

In verse 14 Jesus casts a demon out of a man who is mute and the man speaks. The crowd marvels. This sign is a picture of conversion. Before we were under the influence of dumb idols, whenever and however we were lead (1 Corinthians 12:2), and though we could “babel” with the Gentiles (Genesis 11:9), we were barbarians (1 Corinthians 14:11)—mute when it came to any meaningful speech. When we heard the Gospel and delivered “out of the authority of darkness” (Colossians 1:13), the crowds marveled. Who were these crowds, in the first few centuries of the church, at any rate? They were the faithful Jews, Jews who rejoiced that through the Gospel the light of Israel has become a revelation to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32).

However, as we noticed before, not all the Jews reacted this way. Some, under the influence of a particular school of the Pharisees, were ignorant of the meaning of the prophets and enamored with the idea of racial purity. They did not like the riffraff that Jesus gathered around Him. They accused Him of performing these signs through Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons (that is, Satan). Others did not accept this sign, the deliverance and healing of a man and the change wrought in his life, as a “real” sign. They demanded “a sign out of heaven,” perhaps like the manna in the wilderness (John 6:30-31). They wanted something more spectacular perhaps, more clearly an act of God and not the magical or psychical performance of a man.

Jesus points out that what they saw was no ordinary act but had to do with the overcoming of Satan’s kingdom, in other words, with the coming in of the kingdom of God. “If I by the finger of God cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). This is the crucial text here. The whole world is under the power of the Evil One (1 John 5:19). He is the strong man, fully armed, who guards his homestead and whose possessions are in peace. But Jesus is the One stronger than he. When Jesus comes into the midst of Israel, everywhere He went He cast out demons. He takes away the whole armor of Satan, in which he had trusted. What is this armor? Perhaps it is the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15), the fear of which drove Cain to murder his brother and eventually to build fortified cities to protect the possessions which he had stocked up in his denial of death (Genesis 4:1-24). The Gospel delivers people from their bondage, and thus takes the possessions of Satan away from him and distributes the spoil of conquest.

When the Gospel goes out into the Gentile world, Satan’s kingdom is attacked and his possessions are taken for Christ. Jesus says to those Jews who opposed the mission to the Gentiles, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23). Unwittingly they were fighting for Satan against God.

Historical Consequences (11:24-26)

Jesus warns those who oppose Him of what the consequences of their actions are going to be. Jesus is sweeping the house of Israel clean by casting out demons. But in the days to come, if Israel does not repent and turn to God, and give up its nationalistic fantasies and dreams of racial purity, the demons will return with sevenfold strength and things will become much worse than they have already been. Specifically, Jesus is talking about the influence of the Zealots in Galilee and their activity in Jerusalem. They demanded that Jews have nothing to do with Gentiles and, began to organize the overthrow of the Romans. In Jesus’ day this was only talk, but after He left, talk became action. Eventually the Jews of Palestine revolted against the Romans and the Romans retaliated, destroying Jerusalem and leveling the temple (in 70 ad). They revolted again in 135 and again, and for the last time, suffered a humiliating defeat.

The Sign of Jonah (11:27-32)

A woman cries out and exclaims how blessed Jesus’ mother must be (Luke 11:27). Indeed, Elizabeth said to Mary under the influence of the Holy Spirit, “Blessed are you among women” (2:42; see 2:48). But here Jesus renounces any blessedness that is due to ethnicity. Mary was blessed because of her fidelity to God and His word. Blessedness only belongs to “those who hear the word of God and keep it” (11:28). The election—even the election of the Jews—is inseparable from faithfulness, as Paul explains in Romans 9-11.

Those who reject Jesus are an evil generation, He says. “They have a zeal for God, but not according to full knowledge; for because they were ignorant of God’s righteousness and sought to establish their own righteousness, they were not subject to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:2-4). “Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not attain to that law … because they pursued it not out of faith … They stumbled at the Stone of Stumbling. As it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling, a rock of offense, and he who believes on Him shall not be put to shame” (9:31-33).

This does not mean God has rejected His people. The fact that so many Jews embrace Jesus as the Messiah is proof of this (11:1-6). But those who rejected Jesus (before Christians made the Gospel obnoxious to the Jews by their hatred, anti-Semitism and Marcionism) were hardened and their eyes blinded (11:7-10). As we know, apart from messianic Jews, the majority of Jews to this day do not recognize Jesus as their Messiah. Their hearts may or may not be hardened against God—indeed many of them are faithful to God, though blind to the claims of Jesus—yet the window of opportunity has passed for so many of them because they cannot disassociate the Gospel from the offensive history of Christianity among the Gentiles.

What then is left? In Romans 11 Paul describes the conversion of the Gentiles to the God of Israel as a sign to Israel that Jesus is indeed the Messiah of Israel. This is the sign of Jonah of which Jesus speaks in Luke 11:29-32. Jonah went to Nineva, the capital of the Assyrian empire, to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and they repented. Jonah was very upset by this, which is why he at first tried to escape his calling, so he sat and sulked until God showed him how hard his heart was. Jonah was both the Jew who resisted the Gospel going to the Gentiles and the one who also brought the Gospel to the Gentiles. The sign of Jonah is the conversion of the Gentiles! The queen of Sheba also was a Gentile who came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Christ is our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30). Her turning to the God of Israel speaks of the same thing. They both point to the turning of Gentiles to God.

While the conversion of the Gentiles is a sign to Israel, Gentile Christians also need to recognize that the continuing election of the Jews is a sign to the church. Let us not become arrogant and forget that we are saved by grace alone. Else we too can be cut off (Romans 11:17-24)!

The Light that Is in You (11:33-36)

Believers must not remain mute (11:14) but should let their light shine that all may see it, for their faith is a sign to others that they too may believe.

But let us be careful about our “eye.” If we look at things with a skewed eye, our body will become dark. The body speaks of the form with which we present ourselves to the world, the expression of our soul, our behavior. Our eye needs to be generous and see clearly; it needs to be focused and neither scattered (farsighted) nor stingy (nearsighted). Our eye, in other words, needs to see Jesus. If it does not, then we need to beware that “the light that is in you is not darkness,” or in other words, that what we think is light is not light at all. Our light is false, pretending to be light. It is really darkness.

But if we keep our eye focused on Jesus, if spiritually we see clearly, then our whole body will be full of light, and eventually it will not have any dark part. A spirit full of revelation will lighten the soul so that it becomes a lamp, and the body itself (our expression) will become luminous. Then … “those who enter in may see the light.” The light is the glory of God. Those who rejected Jesus hardened their hearts and became blind, in effect, damning themselves.

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