God is full of Grace & Compassion to Sinners
Point 1: Jonah was a Disobedient Prophet (who deserved to die)
Point 2: Jonah was Saved (from Death & Hades) by God’s Grace
17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
2 1 [a]From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said:
“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
4 I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
5 The engulfing waters threatened me,[b]
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
7 “When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
Point 3: Jonah’s personal Experience of God’s Grace (Equipped Him for Mission)
8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Their stomach is divided into four compartments, the first of which is covered by a thick and muscular lining that can resist the assault of live prey.
The Psalm is crucial to the development of this contrast between Jonah’s attitude towards his own deliverance and his attitude toward Ninevah’s deliverance. The main purpose of this book is to teach Israelites that God loves other nations than their own – ie us too.
Don’t be like Jonah. Throughout the book Jonah displays a readiness to receive mercy and blessing himself and a stubborn reluctance to see his enemies (the Assyrians) receive the sameBut the point of the story is more than love your enemies…
But great emphasis is also on the character and power of God. Gods servants cannot expect 1) to oppose him and get away with it; or 2) that he will somehow be unfaithful to his own character of patience, forgiveness and eagerness to forestay harm.
The audience is invited to revise their understanding of God (and his grace). No on should oppose Gods mercy in receiving sinners into God’s kingdom.
The double question is 4:4 & 4:9 – “What right do you have to be angry?” is unmistakably the key to the books central message. The climax of the story comes here – not with the repentance of the Ninevites, but when God challenges Jonah to recognize how wrong he has been in his bitter nationalism and how right God has been to show compassion… Should I not spare Ninevah? – YOM KIPPUR
Intro: Well morning South Sydney Anglican Church. My name is Pastor Matt Johnson and today we are looking at one of the most famous Bible stories of all time. Now to be honest – it is a bit fishy and it involves a whale of tale. But there is a very important point to grasped. So, lets pray as we continue the book of Jonah.
Prayer: Well today I hope to give you a bit more background to the book of Jonah. As you can see – the image for this sermon series is a man with a hand over his mouth. The man is kind of preventing himself from speaking. You see God gave Jonah a message to speak to the Assyrians in Nineveh. It was a message that was not politically correct. It was a message of judgment that was not likely to be received well. In fact, it was a message from a God the Assyrians didn’t even believe in. So Jonah didn’t really want to speak God’s words to Nineveh.
And I’ve chosen to preach Jonah at this time – because I think that is how many Christians are beginning to feel in Sydney. We know we should speak the gospel and we should continue to stand for biblical truth. But its now all so hard and Sydney at times feels like a lost cause. So like Jonah we just want to run away from our God given responsibility. Or like Jonah we just want God to reign down fire and brimstone on all the woke, self-righteous Sydney stupidity. And if this is how you are feeling – welcome to Jonah’s world. That’s Jonah’s story. But today God puts Jonah back on the right path – in a pile of fishy vomit.
So as we begin (let me say) most modern secular people object to the story of Jonah on the basis that this story is impossible. They say things like a human could never survive in a fish or whale’s stomach. I get it. This is one of those biblical stories that really stretches the edges of credulity. It is a supernatural, salvation story that happens within the natural realm. But it’s not natural. Like Jesus’ resurrection, like the parting of the Red Sea or the walls of Jericho – God defies the laws of nature to do something that is not normally possible.
God can do that because he is God. But what we read today is not entirely beyond the realm of possibility… (Slide 2) In June 2021 – this report was all over the news (worldwide). Michael Packard is a lobster fisherman who dives off Cape Cod Massachusetts. Fully decked out in his diving equipment Michael jumped out of the boat ready for a days of work, just as a humpback whale was coming up from the depths (mouth wide open) chasing a school of krill. So, all of a sudden Michael was in the mouth of a humpback whale (and other people saw it). Thankfully, the Humpback whale soon realised that he had something bigger than krill in his mouth and after about 40 seconds – Michael was spat out into the air. So our fishy tale about Jonah is not so fishy…
But a humpback whale does not have a big enough throat to swallow a human being. Scientists have worked out there is only one known sea creature that has a big enough throat to swallow a human being whole and that is the sperm whale. Interestingly, the sperm whale is still resident in the Mediterranean Sea today. Also, interestingly, the sperm whale has four stomachs – and the first stomach has no gastric juices. The first stomach is simply made of hard bone and muscle – because sperm whales often swallow giant squid whole and alive. It is believed the giant squid then often fight back with their sharp beak from inside the first stomach. The giant squid actually have to die in the first stomach before being transferred into the second, third and fourth stomachs where gastric juices do their work. So could a human perhaps survive a couple of days in this first stomach? Again, scientists generally say, no! They say a human being could not survive in this first stomach of a sperm whale because the main gas would be methane. So you’d die from lack of oxygen.
But I’d say, if God can bring Jesus back from the grave, then I think there is enough room here to believe God could bring Jonah back from a sperm whale’s first stomach. But I’d also say – this is still a miracle of God. Jonah doesn’t just get super lucky. No! God saves Jonah in a miraculous way…
Point 1: Jonah was a Disobedient Prophet (who deserved to die)
Show: Jon.1:1-3 (READ)
Explain: Well I know you looked at this passage last week – with Seti – but I just want to draw out a bit of background and theological context. As you can see Jonah is told by God to go and preach in Nineveh. But instead of doing what God said – Jonah runs away from the LORD and heads in the opposite direction. Now when God tells us to do something and we then do the opposite – the bible calls that sin. Sin is disobeying God – which is exactly what Jonah did. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah went in the opposite direction. That’s sin.
Jonah is one of the most ordinary, human prophets in the entire Old Testament. Many of the Old Testament prophets come across like super-sized saints. They trust God and do amazing things. But Jonah is pretty ordinary. He’s disobedient. Like all of us – Jonah is a sinner who struggles to trust and obey God…
Now it understandable why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Let me show you a map. (Slide 3).
Now the consequence of sin is death. God told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed God (and ate the forbidden fruit) – they would die. Throughout the Mosaic Law in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers – God explains that if people wilfully disobey God they must die. The only way for a sinner to avoid death is for them to offer a sacrifice for their sin (and then the Bible says – God will forgive them). But basically, that means something else is dying in the place of the person who has sinned. As the Apostle Paul explains in the New Testament “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom.6:23)
When the world became totally sinful and everyone disobeyed God in the days of Noah – just about everybody died in the flood.
Point 2: Jonah was Saved (from Death & Hades) by God’s Grace
Show: Jon.1:17-2:4a (READ)
Explain: This is a salvation story AND an amazing grace story. As Jonah is thrown overboard – a great fish swallows Jonah. Now we know whales are not actually fish. Whales are mammals. But the ancient Hebrews didn’t have a developed zoological dictionary. So perhaps fish, simply means large sea creature, perhaps a whale. The idea of three days and three nights is simply a Hebrew idiom – that means three full days. It’s not a precise 72 hours. Jesus likens Jonah’s three days in the fish or whale, to his own three days in the grave. So, Jonah’s experience really is a death and resurrection story like Jesus.
Now whether Jonah immediately recognized the giant fish as salvation – I kind of doubt it. 1) Jonah is in a huge storm. 2) He’s thrown out – over the side the boat and 3) a giant sea creature comes up out of the deep, mouth open and Jonah goes down the throat. I’m not sure his first words would have been – “Hallelujah. Praise the Lord. I’m saved.” Truly, I doubt that was Jonah’s first response. IN FACT, of all the salvation stories in the Bible– I think Jonah’s is right up there. I mean one day when we all stand around in heaven exchanging our battle stories – you know Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego talking about the fiery furnace, David talking about Goliath, and Daniel talking about the lions den – Jonah will be like; “for crying out loud – I was in a whale, in the depths of the ocean for three days”. AT THAT POINT – I think we’ll all have to admit Jonah wins. This is a hard story to beat.
As Jonah goes under the water in the mouth of a giant sea creature – I’m sure he’s not particularly hopeful. It feels like this is the end. But the sea creature is God’s grace. Even before Jonah repents or begins to pray – God sends the sea creature to save Jonah from the sea. This is ALL God’s grace and mercy. GRACE is when God gives us something good we do not deserve. MERCY is when God withholds something bad that we do deserve.
Now like I said – I doubt whether Jonah recognized the whale was God’s grace and mercy at first. I’m sure it was just PURE PANIC and lots of ADRENALINE. But as one hour becomes two and still Jonah finds himself conscious (inside the creature) he begins to pray.
Look at verse 1. (Slide 6 – Jon.2:1-2). This is now incredible faith. They say one of the scariest things imaginable is being BURIED ALIVE in a coffin. Even when stuntmen attempt being buried alive, with good oxygen supply and knowing there are people ready to save them – most people simply can’t do it. The claustrophobia and panic sets in and people freak out. But Jonah has it even worse. Not only is he kind of buried alive. He is buried alive ON THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN. Jonah realises he is in a kind of grave. The word is literally SHEOL. He is in the place of the dead. Yet, Jonah prays from inside the fish. WHAT SORT OF FAITH IS THIS? You think God can save sinners from Hades? You think God is going to show mercy to people who outright disobey Him? You think God is powerful enough to save someone – even from a whale’s stomach? Rightio – off to the psych ward for you.
Apply: But this is faith. In the stomach of the whale (or whatever creature it is) – Jonah begins to comprehend 1) God’s mercy, 2) God’s love and 3)God’s power afresh and he chooses to believe God can still save him. LOOK AGAIN at verse 7 (Slide 8 – Jon.2:7). This is AMAZING. As Jonah’s life is literally ebbing away (perhaps from too much methane gas) he remembers what the LORD God is really like. The LORD is a God who saves sinners. The LORD is a God who shows mercy and grace to the least deserving. The LORD is a God who is powerful to save people from the most dire and desperate of situations. And the LORD is a God who hears people’s prayers. (And if Jonah, why not Assyria?) In that moment – Jonah begins to realise that if God could and would save him, perhaps God could and would yet save the terrible Assyrians. What’s the difference? BOTH ARE terrible sinners. BOTH ARE in dire situations, in need of mercy and grace… and, and, and… all of a sudden Jonah finds himself back on dry land…
Point 3: Jonah’s Experience of God’s Salvation, Equips Him for Mission
Show: Jon.2:8-10 (READ)
Explain: Note the last line in verse 9 – “Salvation comes from the LORD – Yahweh.” The LORD in capital letters like this is Gods personal name – YAHWEH. The God of the Bible is named YAHWEH. And the fact that Yahweh saves – from sin, from death AND from impossible situations is probably the fundamental truth of the Bible. Of all the supposed gods – whether Buddha, Allah or Shiva – there is only one true God who can save sinners from the death they deserve as sinners. THAT GOD IS YAHWEH – the Creator of heaven and earth.
GOSPEL The one God who is powerful enough to save sinners from the grave is Yahweh – who ultimately revealed Himself to be the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. THE PENALTY for sin and disobedience – as I said – is death. All those who sin and disobey God – deserve to die and go down to Hades. But instead of sending a whale to save us, God sent His beloved Son to earth (the man Jesus Christ) to die in our place, for our sins. Jesus literally took your punishment, for you, so that you can be spared. Instead of you being thrown out of the boat for disobeying God; instead of you dying and going to hell for your sins – Jesus did it for you. And the Bible says that if you 1) believe Jesus died for your sins and 2) you thank him for dying for you and 3) you commit yourself to follow him – God will forgive you. Yahweh God will come into your life and will begin to help you – no matter how impossible the situation.
You may be a DRUG ADDICT OR ALCOHOLIC and you may think you can never get clean. You may be an EX-CON and you may think God could never turn you into a decent fella. You may just be a greedy, self-righteous, materialist and you may think you don’t need God. But one day you are going to die and who’s going to save you? The story of Jonah and the story of Jesus’ tells us – there is a God who continues to love sinners and is powerful to help sinners. And when you truly take the LORD God by the hand and cry out to Him in prayer – there is no situation He can’t help you get out of – if you truly trust Him.
Look again at verse 8 (Slide 9 – Jon.2:8). In Jewish thinking – “Those who cling to worthless idols” means Gentiles. The phrase WORTHLESS IDOLS gets used a fair bit in the Old Testament – and those who cling to worthless idols are non-Jews, non-Christians. You see, everyone worships something. Everyone puts their faith in someone or something when difficulties come. Some people put their faith in Allah, or Buddha or Shiva – but these gods are just worthless idols. They cannot save from sin or death or Hades. The modern secularist might put their faith in Artificial Intelligence or Money or the United Nations to save them. Again, these are just modern, man-made idols that are powerless to save. They are worthless in terms of real good. So as Christians we need to continue telling the world; “Salvation comes from the LORD.” Not green policy. Not the WEF. Not Trump.
Apply: Jonah realises (through his personal experience of Gods mercy and power) that he has to take the good news; “Salvation comes from the LORD” to anyone and everyone who is clinging to worthless idols. Those who cling to worthless idols are forfeiting the grace that ONLY God can give. If you do not call out to the true God, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ – you will eventually perish. You will not be saved. IT IS A LIE that everyone ultimately goes to heaven. No! There is the reality of God’s judgment. If people cling to worthless idols – (whether Jews, Gentiles or nice western church goers) and do not turn to the one true God – they will forfeit the grace that could be theirs. ITS NOT AUTOMATIC. People have to trust in Jesus to be saved. People have to cry out to Jesus for salvation. And as people who have tasted and seen that JESUS is good – we should share with others what we know. As CHRISTIANS who have personally experienced Gods love in Jesus – and seen God changing us personally – we need to take this good news to others – even if (like Jonah) we think there is no point.
Now I know in Sydney – some of us are thinking what is THE POINT? People scoff at us. People mock Christianity. So why bother?
But maybe God can still work miracles. Maybe God could yet bring Sydney to its knees, bring it to a place of humility and salvation – IF ONLY we could find the courage to take our hand away from our mouth and speak. The fact is – it is still possible. Nineveh also seemed like a lost cause and beyond hope. But as we’ll see next week – Jonah finds his courage, he speaks the truth that “Salvation comes the Lord, Yahweh” and an entire pagan, idol worshiping city is brought to its knees. What is the bigger miracle? Jonah in the whale or Nineveh repenting? The question is – do we still have the faith to believe God can and might still work miracles if ONLY we would speak (and stop running)? The fact is – we still worship the God who is powerful to save people from whale belly’s and powerful to save entire, idol worshiping pagan cities. We just need to find our voice and conviction again – that “Salvation comes from the Lord” and everything else is a lie…