The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - God's Unique Miracle

Having spoken of Jonah as a sign of that which is not acceptable to God, and which has to be cast into the depth of the sea, we now proceed to regard him in the light of that which is for the Lord.

When the Lord Jesus told the unbelieving people of His day that no sign should be given them save the sign of the Prophet Jonah, He was introducing that which for the rest of the age should be the one ultimate basis of relationship to Himself both as to faith and experience. In fact, He was setting forth that which changed the character of the dispensation and marked the passing from one age to another. This "sign" we know to be the Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That which it signified was and is that He is the Son of God.

Let us at the outset make one all-inclusive and fundamental statement which is the cumulative testimony and declaration of the Word of God. It is this: that the abiding attestation of the Sonship, Saviourhood and Sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ is found in the meditation, impact, experience or challenge of the power of His resurrection by the Holy Spirit wherever the forces of spiritual death are encountered. This is the ultimate test and issue for everything that ostensibly represents Him on the earth.

Secondary Lines

There are some very clever moves of the enemy to turn this testimony off and change the nature of the test. "Fundamentalism," as such, may meet the arguments of rationalism as to the Person of Christ, the inspiration of the scriptures, etc., and serve a good purpose for those whose faith obtains largely in a mental realm, and who must have an intellectual counter to intellectual assault. Such may have a place of value, but it is completely secondary and is never the evidence of truth. Neither "Christian Evidences" nor "Fundamentalism," nor "Apologetics" are the final proof of anything. Sometimes, and very often, these are cold, cruel and spiritually dead and ineffective, even though pursued with zeal, intensity and fierceness. At best they are in the realm of the soul (psuche), and therefore the "natural man" (soulical man), and are outside of the realm of the "spiritual man," that is "the inner man of the heart" (always treated in Scripture as another and different man from the "soulical").

No, the real testimony after all is the fruit of the Risen Lord as borne in a garden of death. The real monument which is irrefutable evidence is lives and places which were once bound in fetters of iron, held in the grip of "him that had the power of death," "the habitation of dragons," transformed, raised and throbbing with the life, love and joy of a living Christ. It is this to the building of which all the attention of God's true people should be given. Many a great spiritual force is lost to the church, by this turning work of the enemy from primary to secondary things; from the building up of a real spiritual life to the championing of that which is after all in the safe custody of the Holy Spirit. One of the greatest tragedies of our day is that of men who were once used of God to build up the spiritual life of His people and the making of saints, has turned to be "fundamentalist" leaders, caught in the intellectual current of the times to meet the age on its own ground. Too often the result of this is that those taught have an argument from the head without a deep experience of the heart; a daily and ever deepening heart knowledge of the Lord.

Watertight Teachings

Then again there are those turnings from the ultimate and primary test and proof which take the form of "teaching" as teaching. There are all sorts of watertight "teachings" about. Companies of the Lord's people occupied with some interpretation, line of teaching, wonderful vistas of truth. The doctrine may or may not be right; it may be more or less right, but the point is this, does it work out in a definite and mighty impact upon and destruction of the forces of death as these forces hold lives in their grip and deny the active sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. Too often the effect of this kind of thing is to turn the people concerned in upon themselves, and curtail their effectiveness in the larger sphere of testimony. It is the power of death, the spirits of death, the prince of death with whom the church has ultimately to reckon. It is the triumph of the Lord Jesus in that realm which is the final witness of the Lord's people. The more spiritual a people or a work are, the more intense will be the pressing in of death and spirits of death. These will sometimes come like a thick blanketing cloud; descending upon a gathering or upon an individual spirit like the vultures upon Abraham's sacrifice. They seem sometimes to paralyse prayer, muffle praise, destroy fellowship, give lying impressions, create hatred, baffle testimony, confuse ministry and throw back utterance. Sometimes it is as though the bottom of everything has fallen out, and there is an overwhelming feeling of unreality, as though everything was a myth. Because of a touch of this many have decided to seek "safer ground" (?) and have gone back to what they call the "simplicities" of the gospel. And yet, and yet there it all is in the Word. This was the common experience of the Lord's people and servants in the New Testament times. But, they had a secret and they triumphed.

Their testimony was not only a doctrinal and objective truth, but a living and inward reality. The Holy Spirit had brought the death-conquering Christ into their hearts, and He made even death the instrument of His sovereignty. This brings us back to the sign of the Prophet Jonah. In the first place then the sign - not only the Signified - is in the hands of God alone.

God's Unique Miracle

Resurrection from among the dead is something peculiar to God. It is God's doing, and wholly of God. There are many things in which there might be an imitation or a counterfeit, as in the case of the Egyptian magicians, but the power of life and death is in the hands of God alone. That is, that to give life either by birth or from death is only in God's power. Thus this sign stands in a place by itself, and that place is inseparable from God.

Thus this resurrection is a standing where Satan and death have been rendered impotent. The ground of their power and authority has been dealt with and removed. Life reigns because of righteousness triumphant. It provides a basis upon which a superior authority and an indestructible life can be ministered and mediated, it secures the power and jurisdiction of witnesses which brings the spiritual impact of the Risen and Enthroned Christ upon spiritual forces opposed to Him, and makes for a recognition of the sovereignty of His name amongst "principalities and powers." It is a fellowship into which believers on the Lord Jesus are called; united with Him through death in resurrection by the Holy Spirit.

Thus we come to recognise two further fundamental things. One is that the Lord Jesus is dead and always will be dead to unbelief - that is, so far as any personal saving experience or knowledge is concerned. It is not faith that makes Him live, but it is faith that brings Him as the living One into experience. The evidences which are the substance of the testimony are possessed alone by men of faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord did not show Himself alive after His resurrection to the world, but to chosen witnesses, and thus forever the knowledge of Him as alive is not by ocular evidence but by faith in a testimony concerning Him. This then means that (a) the nature of relationship to Christ which alone means salvation is experience through faith; and (b) the only preaching which is according to the New Testament is that which is out of a living knowledge of Christ as alive, possessed through faith.

The words of the Master to the unbelieving generation were "There shall no sign be given it except the sign of the Prophet Jonah." In other words, "There shall be given it the sign of the Prophet Jonah." But if He never appeared to it after His resurrection, how could the sign have been given to it? There is only one answer: through the living experience and testimony of witnesses, and that to be proved by the obedience of faith! Does this not then establish the truth that the Lord Jesus depends for His vindication upon nothing less nor other than the living experience of His resurrection, Person and power in the lives of such as are thereby constituted witnesses unto Him?

The Adversary who would keep Christ dead to the world and the unbelief which is his means of so doing can only be met and overthrown by experimental possession, knowledge and outgoing of "the power of His resurrection." This is in and by the presence and fullness of the Holy Spirit. The other thing which is linked with this is the necessity for each servant of God to have come so much to the place of death as to himself or herself, and in all personal resources and confidence, as to be this sign in their very being. The Lord would have all His witnesses to be, not just givers of objective evidence, but themselves personifications of the truth; a "manifestation of the truth"; an embodiment of the principle of life triumphant over spiritual death. Resurrection is life for ascension and impartation. Ascendancy and transmission are features of the witnesses. This is the test of all profession, representation, claims. It is all too terribly true that there can be "a name to live, but dead." In the ship's company chiding Jonah there may be a type of the world rebuking the church for its slumber. We are called, constituted and privileged to bring the fact of the Lord Jesus as living in the power of absolute sovereignty home to all that challenges Him.

And unless the powers of darkness and death feel and recognise the reality of His mighty victory over them, the mission of the Church has broken down, and there is no substitute for that object and purpose of its existence. There must be a crucified and resurrected Church to evidence the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

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