Bible spine dwtx.orgContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 11:29-32

The Sign of Jonah

 29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.


If parts of this passage sound familiar to regular readers of my Forbidden — Essential — Bible Verses series, it is because they have featured previously:

Matthew 16:1-12:

1And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.

4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

‘Adulterous’ as used there implies a betrayal of God, rather than a sexually adulterous relationship. Adulterous in this context appears elsewhere in the Bible. One can love — be faithful to — God or love the world. If one loves the world, one loves Satan and sin. Hence the notion of betrayal of God.

Mark 8:11-13:

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

Luke 9:37-43:

41Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”

The last was directed at His Apostles to whom He had given the power to heal. When they later asked Jesus why their healing of the convulsive (probably epileptic) mute boy did not work, Matthew’s version says that Jesus told them their faith was inadequate (Matthew 17:20). Mark’s Gospel records Jesus as saying that certain demons can only be driven out by prayer (Mark 9:29). In both cases, faith in and reliance on God’s sovereignty is required.

In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing the crowd. Earlier in the chapter, Luke tells us that Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, told them that God is more loving than any earthly father, rebuked those who say He heals in Beelzebul’s name, warned about a cleansed soul devoid of faith and exhorted His listeners to obey the word of God.

Today’s passage quotes Jesus rebuking an ‘evil generation’ (verse 29). He was criticising the people and Jewish Sanhedrin not only for accusing Him of working in league with Satan but for requesting yet another ‘sign’ — miracle. By that point in His ministry, Christ had performed many healing miracles and had fed the 5,000.

Although the Gospels do not tell us, the reasons for their request must have been complex. First, perhaps, because they considered themselves observant Jews, they assumed that they were asking as God-fearing believers. Second, as John MacArthur posits, they probably had no idea of what sort of sign they wanted.

Jesus took issue with them and called them evil not because they were criminal or unobservant Jews. He was telling them that, despite all His miracles and teaching, the majority of them —  no matter where He went — did not or could not believe He was the Messiah, the Son of God. Therefore, what more could He do to convince them? If they did not believe by this point, they never would. And we know how His ministry ended — on the Cross.

Some readers might be puzzled by the mention of Jonah, whose story for most of us consists of having lived in a giant fish belly for three days. Yet, Jonah went on to convert the pagan people of Nineveh afterward.

Jonah 1 describes the prophet’s disobedience. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh urging that city’s people to repent. Jonah refused; as pagans, he considered them beneath him.  So, thinking that he could run away from God, he decided to board a ship headed for Tarshish, already part of the lucrative trade route with Asia. Ironically, every man on the ship was a pagan. Somehow, that didn’t seem to bother Jonah.

Once the ship set sail, God sent a violent storm. The sailors tried everything to keep afloat. Jonah was fast asleep when the storm started. As the men knew their lives were in the balance, they began praying to their gods. The ship’s captain woke Jonah up and told him to pray to his god.

As the storm raged, the sailors wanted to find out which of them was responsible for displeasing the gods. Human frailty must have caused the storm and the gods were having their revenge. They cast lots. The finger pointed at Jonah. When they asked what god he worshipped, he told them of the one true God and that he had disobeyed Him. Jonah told them to throw him overboard and God would stop the storm:

14Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” 15So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

So he managed to convert the sailors in his disobedience, the storm stopped and Jonah suffered his punishment in the fish’s belly. Jonah 2 documents his prayer of repentance, after which God made the fish spit him out onto dry land.

In Jonah 3, we find out that Jonah obeys God’s command to go to Nineveh and warn them to repent or risk His divine wrath. The people — pagans up to this point — obeyed Jonah. They fasted and put on sackcloth and ashes. When God saw their repentance, He called off His punishment.

Back now to Luke 11:29-30. Jesus was telling His audience that the Ninevites believed without having personally experienced what Jonah went through. Nonetheless, his story convinced them that there is one true God. Yet, here the Son of God was actually among the unbelievers of His generation and they did not believe He is the Messiah. What more could He have done? Therefore, they are an ‘evil generation’.

Another point about Jonah’s story is that he was captive in the fish’s belly for three days. Jesus would stay in the tomb for three days between His Crucifixion and Resurrection. Matthew Henry explains:

As Jonas being cast into the sea, and lying there three days, and then coming up alive and preaching repentance to the Ninevites, was a sign to them, upon which they turned from their evil way, so shall the death and resurrection of Christ, and the preaching of his gospel immediately after to the Gentile world, be the last warning to the Jewish nation. If they be provoked to a holy jealousy by this, well and good but, if this do not work upon them, let them look for nothing but utter ruin: The Son of Man shall be a sign to this generation (Luke 11:30), a sign speaking to them, though a sign spoken against by them.

Jesus cites another example of repentance for them, that of the ‘queen of the South’ — the Queen of Sheba — whom Solomon converted (verse 31). MacArthur tells us that Sheba is present-day Yemen. She made a long journey to Jerusalem to find out for herself. 1 Kings 10 tells us that Solomon taught her about the one true God. The queen of the South said (1 Kings 10:6-9):

6And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, 7but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. 8Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! 9 Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.”

The Queen of Sheba heard Solomon’s testimony and was converted. Until then, she had no personal experience of God. This is why Jesus says (verse 31) that her example will come to convict the unbelieving Jews to whom He had been ministering. Similarly, He cites the Ninevites condemning them (verse 32). As Henry observes:

here is preaching which far exceeds that of Jonas, is more powerful and awakening, and threatens a much sorer ruin than that of Nineveh, and yet none are startled by it, to turn from their evil way, as the Ninevites did.

MacArthur says the Jews of Jesus’s day were far too self-righteous in their observance of Mosaic Law to believe in Him. This is the danger which legalism posed then — and poses now to certain Christians.

MacArthur explains:

My, my. He had banished disease from Israel. He had banished demons from souls of men. He had conquered death and raised the dead. He had created food for thousands. He had stilled the waters in a storm. He had calmed the storm. He had controlled the fish. He had walked on the water Himself. All of it together wasn’t enough. They had all the evidence they needed and more, much more. It wasn’t about evidence, it was about the fact that in their self-righteous moralism they hated the diagnosis that Jesus rendered of their hearts. They were so self-righteous. They couldn’t deny that He had supernatural power so there was only one place to assign it. If not God, Satan. This is not lack of evidence, this is lack of penitence. And in the end, they hated the very God they said they loved

It is the most dangerous posture to take to hide under a cloak of morality, a cloak of religion and then to reject the diagnosis of your own wretchedness, your own sinfulness, your own unworthiness, your own inability to save yourself, commend yourself to God and therefore reject the work of Jesus Christ. Christendom, as we have been learning in the book of Jude in our study of apostasy, is just full of these kinds of people who are self-righteous, right in Christendom as such, as well as all other religions of the world. And they are damned by their false righteousness.

Some believers today do err by being self-righteous. They keep their distance from anyone who belongs to a different denomination. They consider themselves holy for having refrained from watching television. They consider themselves pure for not partaking of strong drink. They lord their self-righteous — ‘holiness’, as they call it — over members of their own congregations.

In closing, MacArthur warns us against being pharasaical in our so-called ‘Christian life’:

The worst state you can ever be in is a state or self-righteousness, personally imposed morality, legalism and religion in which you clean up your own life, sweep it superficially, put it in order superficially and become a haven for demons who function most effectively and most deadly in religious people. Very dangerous to be moral and religious

The bottom line is the Pharisees didn’t see themselves as sinners. Self-righteous people don’tTherefore they are unredeemable and they condemn Jesus because He met with this category of people that they called sinners in which they had absolutely no part. Jesus said of them, “It’s not those who are well that need a physician, but those who are sick.” And if you don’t know you’re sick you can’t and you won’t come to the physician. That’s why He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” There’s no point in calling righteous people to repentance. What are they going to repent of? When the rich young ruler said, “What do I do to get eternal life?” what happened? Jesus said, “Well here are the Commandments.” He said, “I’ve kept them all.” There’s a man who is self-righteous, he won’t repent. If he won’t repent, he can’t be saved. 

Next time: Luke 11:33-36