City Witness (Matthew 12:38-40)

Photo by Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash

Many have asked, “Apart from demonstrations of love and kindness, how do  you best  witness to the unbelieving?” Yet God’s testimony to the unbelieving is very clear, and Jesus makes it even clearer, “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

The book of Jonah is a book that drips with the revelation of God. It opens with God speaking and it closes with God speaking. The text of the book is a goldmine of exquisite Hebrew language structures that testify of its origin. The words of the book detail God acting through all manner of circumstance in Jonah’s life. It is as clear a revelation as you could ever hope for of God and His work among the unrepentant. Yet to the unbelieving, it is nothing more than a fishy story. 

Jesus says His own testimony to the unbelieving is similar. God speaks through Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. The actual words Jesus uses are a goldmine of wisdom, with layer upon layer of meaning. The text of His story (the Gospels) spell out His work through all manner of circumstance (both that of Christ and that of those He impacted). Most importantly, Jesus promises His own experience of death and resurrection will be like Jonah’s. Recall that Jonah drowned in being thrown overboard while at sea and spent three days in the fish before it vomited him to dry land. Jesus here is prophesying that He will die and spend three days in the grave before being resurrected.

The point is that God’s voice, work and words are obvious to those who have faith, but to those who refuse Him, His voice, work and words are but colorful stories without practical application. When something as significant as being rescued by a fish three full days from land doesn’t count as impactful truth, neither will Jesus’ own resurrection. There simply is no point to performing more signs and wonders for people who have already rejected Him. The physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is enough.

In this life we have but 24 hours a day and a little more or less than 25000 days. We must pour our effort into reaching those who have not rejected Jesus in that limited time. Pouring effort into those who have heard the resurrection story and dismissed it is wasting time and resources that could be better used to reach a whole generation. 

That doesn’t mean we stop witnessing to lost family and friends. No – the passion God drives us to, and the lifetime relationship we have with them allows for a much more prolonged individual witness of Christ. But if we want to reach a generation, we are far better off to preach and teach to those who have not yet heard. To those who know nothing of Him or His Words. They must be our focus if we are to reach another generation for His glory. 

It doesn’t matter how much a church may say that she is being missional; she is not fully missional in the biblical sense if she is not pursuing both mission at home (traditionally called evangelism) among her native reached people as well as being an engaged sender in support of missionaries to the unreached.

John Piper

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Every Christian has a call to both witness to the reached as well as witness to the unreached.