The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 11:29-32....
When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!"This passage strikes me as another example of how Jesus' ways are so different from the ways of the world. Just when the crowds were increasing, just when Jesus was becoming more popular, he said something designed to decrease his popularity.
How different this is from the way the church functions in so many quarters today! I would dare say that in almost any church, if attendance was increasing, the leadership would perhaps praise God for it, but then they would also see how they could build on that increase, ride the wave, and try to produce even more numerical growth.
But Jesus, in this passage, does not seem interested at all in numerical growth. He wants people coming to him for the right reason. That seems to be what is most important to him. If people are coming to Jesus only wanting signs, only wanting the spectacular, then he is not pleased.
Jesus says the only sign that he will give them is the sign of Jonah. Matthew explains this by saying that just as Jonah was three days in the belly of a great fish, so Jesus will spend three days in the heart of the earth. The crowds wanted Jesus to do something spectacular, but the spectacular thing he did for them ran counter to all their expectations. The most spectacular thing he did was to die on a cross for our sins and spend three days in the grave. Of course, as the Scripture says, he rose again from the dead. That indeed was spectacular by any reckoning. But this greatest "sign" was vouchsafed only to his closest disciples. Again, Jesus wanted people to come to him and trust in him for the right reasons. He wanted not to force faith but to see people drawn to his heavenly Father by love.
I wonder: do we come to Jesus looking for spectacular signs? Or are we willing to be identified with him even in his death?