Jonah 2 – 8.5.18
Gravity. If you drop something it will fall-no questions about it-it’s a fact of the universe. You can say I’ve decided to jump into the air and you can do that-but in less than 2 seconds gravity is going to step in and bring your feet back to the earth. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, gravity always has the last word. And it’s odd because gravity is completely invisible even though it exerts complete control over us. I believe the concept of gravity is just one more reminder in the universe that we’re not always in control of things as much as we’d like to think we are. Outside forces are always present. We’ve all tried to make our way in this world doing one thing or another and yet have you ever found yourself saying Well, I guess fate had other plans because things happened outside your control? Or have you ever started off doing something and ended up making a great mess of it; that everything spiraled out of control and you said-That wasn’t supposed to happen like that! For example-as we’ve been getting moved into our new house I had to assemble William’s bunk bed twice, and assemble the trampoline 3 times! But I got them up and then realized they weren’t right. I couldn’t get the ladder put on the bunk bed. And on the trampoline the first time I couldn’t get the net up because the frame wasn’t right, the second time it was way crooked-so I’ve put every trampoline spring on and off 3 times-which is a lot of pulling! But as much as I thought I was in control and knew what I was doing, getting everything done-I was wrong! Or maybe you feel like that when it comes to computers and technology or even your phone-you think you’re in control and know what you’re doing but as soon as there’s a glitch and you can’t figure it out-you’re stuck! We quickly realize that our own ignorance or foolishness or even bad decisions can take us somewhere we didn’t intend to go. The book of Jonah is a very important reminder that we’re not in control-no matter how much we think we are. Jonah’s story reveals that outside, invisible forces-like gravity-are always in control, guiding us and taking us places-whether we want to go there or not. So open your Bible to Jonah-and we’ll see two outside forces at work.
The first is sin’s grasp-which we clearly saw last week. Jonah made a bad decision to disobey and run from the Lord by not going to Nineveh and where did it take him? Down, down, down-into the heart of the sea. Our story of Jonah stopped last week by saying that his sin took him to the point of no return-v. 17. How many people actually wonder if this really happened? Obviously God’s Word speaks of incredible things-and this is one of them. But Jonah’s story is a true account, in fact we’ll later read Jesus telling us it was, validating this incredible story of survival. If Jonah’s story took place today we’d read about it all over the news because getting thrown overboard during a storm is bad enough. That basically sealed his fate-death by drowning. But now that he’s been swallowed by a fish that’s reduced his chance of rescue exponentially. Pretend that you’ve never heard the story of Jonah before, how in the world is he going to be rescued? Who’s going to see him? Who’s going to hear him? Unless some fishermen luckily snags the great fish and reels it in to discover-Hey, there’s a guy inside this fish! I hear him shouting! Unless that happens, which we know won’t happen, Jonah is stuck. He’s not living in the age of cell phones so he’s not texting anybody or posting something-Get help-#insideafish! So death by drowning would have been much quicker and immediate. Inside the fish he’ll just end up being slowly digested. John Calvin said that Jonah languished in continual torment. I’m just full of questions trying to imagine this scene-Jesus Storybook pic.
I think that’s a rather tame illustration-but imagine that’s you underwater, inside the fish. What could the smell be like, how about the acids and digestive juices sloshing around. What’s it doing to your skin? Is it stinging your eyes? What kind of other fish are in there? Are they attacking you? Is the stomach full of water? Are you just staying afloat and breathe or can you sit? And my biggest question-if you’re Jonah, can you sleep in there? Three days and 3 nights-surely he was tired. Can you sleep inside a fish? I can’t imagine he did. This has to be the worst prison cell imaginable. I don’t think we can even begin to comprehend what’s going through Jonah’s mind-because at the end of all his physical suffering, there’s one thing Jonah truly realizes-no one is coming for him. Who can? Who would? He’s totally helpless; completely alone and stuck. That’s what this picture highlights so well-the fear and isolation he’s feeling because of his disobedient decision. Sin’s grasp is that powerful, outside force that brought him here to this underwater tomb. But I said there’s two outside forces at work-so look at chapter 2 and we’ll see the other one.
The beginning of chapter 2 is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible-v.1. Straight out of the stomach Jonah prayed. He did the one thing, the only thing, he could do-and that’s cry out to God. Obviously, this is a horrible place to be. No doubt fresh air never sounded so good to him. Jonah would love to be on dry ground, seeing the sun and admiring the trees-but instead he’s here. So the reason this verse is truly encouraging is because it’s hammering home the truth that you can always pray. If you mark in your Bibles underline that phrase-from the belly of the fish. That’s telling you there’s nowhere too far, no place too deep, no problem too great or situation too bad where God won’t hear you-including the inside of a fish! Cell phone signals might not be good inside a fish-but God can hear you loud and clear. So Pt1:When was the last time you prayed from inside a fish? Clearly you’re not physically there, but maybe your situation in life right now feels like it. Maybe the trials you’re going through feel like a deep, dark prison you can’t get out of; maybe the decisions you’ve made or the ways you’ve run from God have you brought you to this place. The answer isn’t to give up and quit-but to seek God in prayer.
This is the first time that we actually see Jonah making a good decision, and doing something we ought to do. How many of us in Jonah’s situation might have said-that’s it, game over. I’m done for-and we turn to anger or despair? That’s the tempting response when we’ve hit rock bottom-but this is where we have to remember to turn to God in prayer. To realize how foolish we are when we don’t pray; to recognize that we’re not in control and we need the Lord’s sovereign and powerful hand at work in our lives. I was reading about prayer this week-and I like what Jared Wilson says-Imperfect Disciple. That’s so true, isn’t it? That’s often how we feel about ourselves in control, on top of things, capable of handling whatever life throws at us. I can put up this trampoline-and then 3 attempts later with lots of blisters it’s up! But we buy into the illusion that we’re smart and resourceful; people who can handle anything, no challenge is too great, no difficulty too impossible-until we find ourselves in the belly of a fish and everything changes. That’s when we realize we actually aren’t as capable or in control as we thought-that like Jonah we’re helpless and stuck, unable to do anything in our own power and strength; that we desperately need the Lord to intervene and lift up our life up from the pit. And let me just say that the longer I follow Christ the more and more I realize how desperate I am for Him. The longer I’m a Christian hasn’t lessened my dependence on Jesus-it’s only increased it. The longer I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I’ve got this-it just makes me remember that He’s got this. And that’s exactly as it should be! What Jonah is realizing from inside the fish is what we need to realize about all of life that we need the Lord.
Listen to how Jonah prays-v. 2. Sheol is a Hebrew word referring to the underworld-the place where people go when they die, so it literally means “out of the grave”, “out of death” and in a figurative way that’s what happening. Jonah is in a watery grave, a dark tomb in the depths of the sea-but from this awful situation Jonah recognizes that God heard his prayer. And notice how he understands the nature of God-v. 3. Jonah realizes that God is the one who’s orchestrated this. He’s not pointing his finger at the sailors who tossed him overboard, he knows it was done by God’s hand-v. 4-6a. And that really should be end of story; the conclusion to Jonah’s life. That as he was covered in seaweed, the watery depths closed in over his head like a gate. The great fish shut his mouth and Jonah was never heard from again. Death by sea. But that isn’t what happens. No doubt this prayer is partly recollection as Jonah is writing these things down long after the experience and so he remembers what happens-v. 6b-7. The Bible is so full of these transitional words-yet, but, however-and so you’ve got to notice them in the text because they’re really important. Jonah is saying I made a mess of things, I got myself into deep trouble, I was hopeless, I was doomed, I was ready to die-and rightly so-yet you saved me, Lord. Just like the crushing force of gravity, Jonah is weighed down by his sin, unable to rise up, brought down to the depths-until another outside force intervened and lifted him up. We saw the force of sin have its way in Jonah’s life to bring him down here-but now it all changes, for there’s another, much greater outside force-one that is greater than sin-and it takes over to bring Jonah up-and that’s God. In His sovereign power, He did what Jonah was totally unable to do-v. 6b-9.
And this is the moment when Jonah is wanting to remind his people that idolatry never works. For the bulk of the OT, idolatry was Israel’s main sin. They kept getting swayed by the different idols and gods of the surrounding nations. So Jonah is telling his fellow people how foolish that is. He’s saying-Look, if there’s one thing I know stuck down in the guts of that fish it’s that statues of wood or gold weren’t going to accomplish anything. I didn’t need some false god or vain idol-I needed the Lord God of heaven and earth Himself because only He was powerful enough to do something to save me. And it’s no different for us. Obviously we’re not bowing down to golden statues or wood that’s been carved into gods or goddess, but we do worship the idols of success and wealth and popularity and good looks. We worship the gods of comfort and leisure and romance and money and technology-and when we find ourselves in a place like Jonah, stuck in the inside of a fish, those gods won’t do anything for us either. They can’t, they’re helpless and silent. And sometimes it takes an experience like this to realize how powerless they are. Think about what gods you bow down to, what idols you worship. We all have them-but why do we think those things will save us? In our hour of greatest need they won’t. Why are those the things we hope will pull through for us or give us the help we’re desperately seeking? Because the reality is they can’t. They’re just as helpless as a golden idol or statue inside a fish so Jonah says forget about them-don’t even regard them-v. 8-9. Because only He is powerful enough to save us-and look at what He does. This is what we’ve all been waiting for-v. 10. Nothing short of a miracle brought Jonah back to life-the miracle of a vomiting fish! Do you remember seeing footage or pictures of the Space Shuttle. The last launch happened in 2011-but I remember being fascinated by this as a kid, watching some of the launches in school. To get the shuttle into space it requires one huge booster tank and 2 side rockets to give it the necessary energy to overcome gravity and blast through the earth’s atmosphere. Without those rockets it can’t do it on its own, the space shuttle would just fall back to earth. The same is true of Jonah. What did it take for him to rise from the depths in which he’d sunk? How could he get out of the fish? Not by himself! Jonah didn’t climb his way out, he didn’t look for the blowhole to squeeze his way out. It was God’s power that caused the fish to vomit which propelled Jonah through the air for his rescue.
And that’s Pt2:God is in control from start to finish. Because that’s what’s been going on here. There’s never been a moment in Jonah’s story when God hasn’t been in control. He’s sovereign-and that very word sovereign means supreme power or controlling influence. So whoever is sovereign is top dog. Nothing else has power over the one with sovereign power. The one with sovereign power controls all else. That means the whole time Jonah’s been sinning and running away, God’s one step ahead of him, working all things out. In fact God is much further ahead than one step. Look at Isa 46:9b-10 NIV. When’s the last time you remembered that? God’s purposes will stand, that He knows what will happen every step of the way. Now you and I sometimes try to do this when it comes to books. Have you ever skipped ahead to the very end of a book, to the last chapter and read it first? Whether because you waned to know the ending-or needed to know it for a book report that was due. But when you do that you’re basically acting then as the sovereign authority knowing exactly what’s going to happen in the lives of the characters. You know how it will all turn out. God knows how it’s all going to turn out too. He knows what will happen, but there’s one major difference-He controls what happens. You and I can only read the end of the story and be spectators of the plot. God-as the author of our lives-is directly involved in the plot, shaping and molding it according to His will. And that’s what He did in Jonah’s life-1:4, 7b, 17, 2:10. God was directing every part of Jonah’s life. Now God didn’t force Jonah to sin and disobey Him, that was Jonah’s action, but God has been slowly and sovereignly drawing Jonah back to a place of restoration. The belly of the fish wasn’t just a punishment from God-although I think Jonah began to learn his lesson in there! The belly of the fish was ultimately the means of God’s salvation. We all thought Jonah was done for and humanly speaking he was at the point of no return, but God wasn’t done with him. And neither is He done with you. Back to Pt2. The very fact that you are here this morning, with your Bible open, hearing what God wants to say to you means He’s working in your life. God knows the beginning and the end of your life. You might not always see what He’s doing, you might not be sure of the reasons why something’s happening or how it will all turn out, you may question God and wonder-and even panic at times, but you can rest assured that He is at work, doing all things according to His perfect will. That He’s completely in control even if you don’t see it. Jonah couldn’t see God’s hand at work in his life until he flew through the air on a wave of vomit. But it was God’s sovereign grace that caused that fish to vomit.
And let’s be honest, any chapter in the Bible that contains vomiting is exciting. I remember as a kid in church hearing this story thinking-the fish barfed that’s awesome! Now it wasn’t pretty in the least. I mean think about it-when was the last time you threw up? Was it pleasant? Enjoyable, with a lovely fragrant odor? I don’t think so-there are few things worse than vomiting-now imagine a giant fish vomiting so much that a person comes flying out too! That’s really gross-but it was the rescue Jonah needed. How else would he be saved? So Pt3:God’s salvation isn’t pleasant, but it’s absolutely necessary. What do I mean by that? Just like Jonah’s rescue, his salvation, was based on something really unpleasant and disgusting, so our salvation is based on something really unpleasant. There’s no kinder way to say it but crucifixion was horrible and violent and bloody. Jesus was tortured and ridiculed and shamefully put to death with a crown of thorns shoved onto His head-watching such an event would make you want to turn aside and gag-just like the sight of a vomiting fish would probably make us gag. But if that’s the degree to which God was willing to reach down and pull Jonah out of the depths in which he’d sunk, than it’s no different for you and me and the depths we’d sunk in our sin. God the Father was willing to do whatever was necessary to save us-no matter how awful or unpleasant. What does it say in Rom 8:32a. That’s not an easy, pleasant thing to do; it’s extremely painful and horrible, but God was willing to do it for you and me. The prophet Isaiah predicated Jesus’ crucifixion and said 52:14 NIV. Too many of our pictures of Jesus on the Cross are tame and peaceful, without a hint of blood, the expression on His face is serene and pious-but that wasn’t the case at all. Isaiah is saying that people were appalled by His appearance because his face was marred and destroyed. And Isaiah goes on to tell us why-53:5 NIV. Notice all those vivid words-pierced, crushed, punishment and wounds. It sounds like war, it’s nothing any of us would want to endure. Maybe you’re someone who hates getting shots because you don’t like being pierced by needles, Jesus was pierced by long nails driven into his hands and feet-and it happened because of our sin, our iniquities, resulting in our peace, our healing. That which was gross and violent and painful was the only way you and I could be saved. Back to Pt3. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re in a better place than Jonah. Obviously our daily life doesn’t stink as bad as the inside of a fish-but spiritually speaking we’re no better off, spiritually speaking before coming to Christ our lives stunk. Just like Jonah couldn’t save himself, neither can we save ourselves-so unless you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus to be rescued and saved-you’ll eventually die, just as Jonah would have died if God hadn’t saved him. The bottom line is that we need the Lord’s rescue. And maybe you have come to Christ and trusted him-but through a series of bad decisions and sinful mistakes you’ve sunk to the depths and find yourself stuck. I go back to the theme of our VBS this year-Jesus Rescues. No matter how far or how bad, Jesus rescues you.
And Jesus makes the connection between His death and Jonah being inside the fish-Matt 12:40. The story of Jonah serves as a vivid picture of death-as Jonah was inside the fish for 3 days-so Jesus was dead and buried in the tomb for 3 days. Yet Jonah being vomited out after 3 days is simply the picture of a man being saved by God, Jesus rising from the dead after 3 days is the Savior in whom we must trust. And He’s very clear in speaking about Himself-Matt 12:41. And that’s Jesus. He’s come to give up His life-to die on the cross, be dead and buried for 3 days-so that we could be forgiven, saved from our sins and live. The story of Jonah is so important in showing us Jesus-don’t miss it. Jesus saves you not because of anything you’ve done, but in spite of all you’ve done. Jonah was a disobedient sinner, running from God, wanting to do the opposite of what God wanted, and yet in His love and mercy God saved him. He should have let him die, Jonah was ready to die, he knew he deserved death-but God said-Jonah, I will bring you back to life-v. 6.
The story of Jonah teaches us one of the most important lessons about the gospel that you’ll find anywhere. God saves sinners. Sinners don’t save themselves. But unfortunately the world hears that later message, that’s what’s wrongly woven into our thinking. If I’m good enough, I’ll be okay and get into heaven. Let me work really hard to be obedient and God will accept me. Or, on the other hand, we think, Let me feel really remorseful for my mistakes, let me get down on myself and prove to God how bad I feel and He’ll accept me. But that’s not the gospel either. It has nothing to do with how we feel about ourselves. The gospel doesn’t have anything to do with what we do or how hard we try to be a better person. The gospel is about the sinner who honestly and humbly admits his need and trusts in what God has done for him-Eph 2:8-9. God doesn’t save us because we worked hard to follow Him. He saves us because in His bottomless grace He loves us. It’s a glorious truth-and it leaves us with nothing to boast about. What did Jonah have to boast about? Certainly not himself. After Jonah landed on shore and crashed into the sand, as he stood up and started wiping the vomit off himself, what could he say to other people standing on the beach, with eyes wide open, totally shocked that this guy just got spit up? Was Jonah going to say-You should have seen me battle my way out of that fish. I fought with him and pried open his jaws-and leaped my way to freedom 3 days later! No-of course not. The only thing Jonah could say is exactly what he said in v. 9-Salvation belongs to the Lord! And that’s the only thing you and I can say too. We have nothing to boast about-but everything to worship about because salvation belongs to the Lord. His sovereign power and grace have set you free from sin and death. And that’s what brings us to a time of communion this morning.