While I was reading recently, I was struck by something Jesus said in Luke 11:29-32. Here's the full account:
"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. For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 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. 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".(Luke 11:29-32 ESV)
Take into account the story of Jonah for a moment. The Ninevites were despised by the Jews for their violent ways and human eating habits. They were in the Jewish mind: the scum of the earth. Jonah, a Jew hated these people so much that he fled from sharing the Good News of God with them because Jonah knew they would turn to God and repent once they heard the message.
Jonah thought they were undeserving of Salvation, that's how jacked up the people of Nineveh were.
Here, Jesus makes a GIANT statement to the people listening: something greater than Jonah is here and you are missing it! Jonah was a mere SHADOW compared to me and the people of Nineveh got it. I am here in the flesh, dwelling amongst you and you have your religious blinders on! You are missing what is in front of you!
Jesus goes a bit deeper and stabs a knife in by saying that the people of Nineveh will condemn those who fail to respond to Jesus because Nineveh was better than those who fail to repent at the words of Jesus because they repented with much a lesser prophet than Jesus: Jonah.
Jesus is constantly attacking the sin in the lives of all people, but in particular the religious "elite". They assume they have it all together. They feel that their seat in heaven is pretty much a guarantee because of their "righteous living" but here God says that even the "foulest of human" by the standard of the Jew will stand in judgment against them!
This, like many more statements to come in Luke from Jesus; is a personal assault against the religious leaders who reject Christ and ignore his call to repentance. They feel so secure in their salvation through their works that they ignore God Himself when he shows up.
These religious leaders failed to see the sin in their own lives and in doing so arrogantly rejected God in the flesh.
Sometimes, we reject the Holy Spirit's whispering of our own sins in the same way. We all have stuff rooted deep within us that the Holy Spirit desires to bring to the surface, expose and destroy.
We, like the religious leaders of Jesus' day can tend to reject the need for our own repentance or we simply don't hear nor feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit revealing the truth about our sins.
What makes this story a bit odd is that this speech from Jesus was all sparked by the crowds desire for a sign. They wanted to see Jesus prove himself and desired God to use Jesus to show them a sign. Have they not been paying attention at ALL up to this point? Jesus has done miracles, exorcism and many more "signs" yet these people MISSED IT ALL. They were still demanding a sign from Him so He could prove himself.
Jesus then says: "You want a sign? I'll give you a sign! How about the sign of Jonah!" I can see Jesus wanting to relate to Jonah at this point, just so sick of these people, not really wanting to be among them any more because of their foolish hearts...yet Jesus stayed and remained with a good attitude (unlike Jonah). Even so, the people largely still missed God in the flesh.
They were out-classed by violent, man-eating sinners. Heaven it seems is for the messed up, broken, defeated person and not the put together, "sinless" saint. This fact encourages me because I know I am a messed up broken person and I need Jesus.
I know I need to repent, I know I have messed up thoughts, attitudes and motives but the Holy Spirit within me can change that...nothing else can but Him.
Let us confess our sins, listen to the words of Jesus and not be out-classed by the People of Nineveh!