I have the privilege of serving at Vine Street Baptist Church here in Louisville. This past Sunday night I got to preach. Over the course of the semester I will be preaching about 4 times, and I decided to preach through the book of Jonah. Here’s my mostly unedited sermon notes. The actual audio should be posted later this week. This isn’t really a manuscript, but just some thoughts that I prepared for the actual sermon.
Swallowed Up in Grace
Why Jonah? 1. I’m translating it in Hebrew Class 2. It is a great treasure that teaches us as believers how gracious our God is, not only toward his children, but also to those that are perishing.
Jonah is Historical and True:
1. The OT Speaks of him in 2 Kings 14:25
“He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.” (ESV)
2. Jesus Speaks of Jonah in Matthew 12:38-41
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 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.” (ESV)
*This will ultimately leave us interpreting Jonah as a picture of the coming Christ who will put death in the grave.
Matthew Henry says, “Those prophecies (Jonah’s concerning Israel) were not committed to writing, but this against Nineveh was, chiefly for the sake of the story that depends upon it, and that is recorded chiefly for the sake of Christ, of whom Jonah was a type; it contains also very remarkable instances of human infirmity in Jonah; and of God’s mercy, both in pardoning repenting sinners, witness Nineveh, and in bearing with repining saints, witness Jonah.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible)
1. The call of God demands obedience for the sake of the gospel. (v.1-2)
The call of God to go to Nineveh was shocking to Jonah. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian nation, the worst possible enemy for the Israelites. Since taking over the Promised Land, Assyria had been a threat from the North. Not only that, but they did not worship the One True God. Their evil was an affront to God. Verse 2 says, “for their evil has come up before me.” The Hebrew means their evil had come up to the face of Yahweh. In today’s terms this would have been like God calling us, not just to the Muslim world, but to the heart of an Al Qaeda training camp. Jonah had spoken of God to Israel, the people of God, but this new assignment was more than his prideful heart could take. Could God really be a God to ALL people? Could God REALLY extend his forgiveness to the vilest of humanity? Jonah will answer this in chapter 4:2 “O LORD, is not this why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” The Lord’s grace should ready us to battle against evil for the souls of sinful men. For were we not in the same situation before the Lord snatched us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into his everlasting kingdom of light?
2. Disobedience to God’s Word…
a. Is denial of your confession (v.3,9)
Verse 3 tells us that Jonah fled to Tarshish “from the presence of the Lord.” There’s debate as to where Tarshish was. It was possibly on the western coast of Spain. Regardless of where it is, it is not only not Nineveh, but it’s in the complete opposite direction of Nineveh. Jonah was clearly trying to go so far away from where he was supposed to be that the Lord would be forced to call on someone else, to raise a new prophet, to choose anyone but Jonah. In verse 9, in the midst of the storm that God sent to bring Jonah to his senses, Jonah tells the sailors, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” As Jonah was running from the Lord, and Satan was orchestrating a master escape plan (which he will readily do), he had forgotten that God was sovereign over all things: Israel, the Mediterranean Sea, and even that unreliable ship that “threatened to break up” despite her sailors’ best efforts to “dig in” and make it through the storm on their own.
After just returning from East Asia, I found myself headed here to Louisville, after one of the hardest weeks of my life. I was certain the Lord was calling me to live in Jackson, TN, and had more than one promising job offer. All of these fell through, and I was mad at God. I had 4.5 hours from Jackson to Louisville to stew on this and yell at God. I distinctly remember pointing my finger in the direction of the sky and saying, “You dropped the ball, God! You sent me to East Asia, and now you’ve left me out to dry.” I had forgotten my confession. Sin makes us stupid, and the Word of God that has been hidden in our hearts fades away.
b. Separates us from fellowship of believers (v.3)
I want to just touch briefly on this. Primarily because I think most of you here tonight aren’t
guilty of this. If I’ve learned anything from Vine Street this semester, it’s that you certainly love being together. But notice in verse 3, “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish.” The command was to “Arise and go to Nineveh,” but instead he immediately set himself towards distant lands. When we are caught up in sin, we will forsake meeting with other believers. This is why the author of Hebrews says in 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The church was made for a reason. Together we are growing in grace. The church is the measure of grace by which the Groom is perfecting his Bride. When the temptation to sin overwhelms, run to the Cross, run to the Word, and run to the fellowship of believers. Jonah set sail with pagan sailors, hoping they wouldn’t point him to the Lord. We’ll see in a minute how wrong he was.
c. Is sin, which leads to death (v.4-16)
Jonah sets sail in Joppa, in hopes to flee from the Lord. On the open seas, though, God hurls a
storm upon the ship that will certainly leave the crew and passengers dead at the bottom of the
Mediterranean. The sailors begin to throw everything that’s not tied down overboard. Meanwhile, our brother Jonah is snoozing from sin exhaustion in the belly of the ship. The sailors begin to cry out to pagan gods to save them, but the storm only intensifies. The captain notices Jonah is missing and goes down to find him. “Get up! Our prayers aren’t working, try your God.” The men decide to cast lots, a common practice of the day, to see who’s fault this is. The sovereign God of the universe identifies Jonah, and the sailors start their questions. What’s your job? Where are you from? What people do you belong to? The truth comes out. Jonah knows he’s caught. More importantly, he knows the consequences of his actions. The men who were merely afraid at the storm, are terrified at this man, the prophet of Yahweh, the rebel of God. In verse 12, Jonah makes the best decision of the chapter, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down fro you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” This only scares the pagan sailors more, but they eventually do it. They pick up Jonah, ask the Lord’s forgiveness, and toss Jonah into the depths.
This is indeed our curse. The wages of sin is death.
3. The Grace of God…
a. Will call us to him if we are true believers (v.4ff)
There is no question that Jonah was a prophet of God. But like all men, Jonah let sin infiltrate his life and take over all logic and actions. But if you’ll think through Scripture, and even your own life, you’ll notice that God continually calls his children back to himself. Solomon, in Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” God will correct the paths of his children. In the life of Jonah, God hurled a storm at a ship on the sea. He will do no less for you. Be sure though, there is a difference in suffering for the sake of Christ and suffering under the discipline of the Lord because of your disobedience. Both bring him glory, but the only the former advances the gospel. When I preach next, Lord willing, we will look at chapter 2 at Jonah’s prayer and his last minute cry to the Lord more in depth. Let me exhort you now, though, to turn to the Lord before it comes to the storm, but if your sin blinds you until the storm is hurled upon you, the Lord will still deliver you, in fact, the storm itself is to bring back to God and make you look more like Christ.
b. Uses any means necessary to right our course, even pagans (v.6, 11, 14-16)
An interesting element to this part of the story in Jonah is the way God uses the sailors to call Jonah back to himself. They go get Jonah, and they beg him to join in crying out to God. The
Lord then reveals to them, through the casting of lots, that Jonah is the cause of this great storm. They put him on trial, and they are afraid of this Yahweh. They see his sovereignty, and in their fear, Jonah remembers the God he serves: the omnipotent, omnipresent true God. Jonah’s surrender to the Lord, will bring these men to their knees before the Lord.
c. Will rescue us from death (v.17)
Look with me at verse 17: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah
was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” We have marred the story of Jonah. As a child, a remember learning this story about a man who got swallowed by a whale because he didn’t listen to God. The truth, however, is that Jonah got swallowed by a fish because we serve a gracious, merciful God. As the sailors were bowing down in worship to the Lord on the now calm waters, Jonah was sinking to his death. We will touch more on this when we look at chapter 2 together, but just as Jonah’s body was settling on what would seem to be his burial spot on the sea, the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah, where he stayed for three days, and three nights. Does that sound familiar? I hope it does. For this is the sign of Jonah: A greater One came. He too was entombed for three days and three nights. Those who witnessed this had the same thoughts that those sailors must have had: “He’s gone forever.” But praise be to God, three days later the Great One, the Christ, the Word of God made flesh, rose from the grave, and death was put to death. God’s grace will and has rescued us from death. This is the message of Jonah.
As we close tonight, I want you to know that this story applies to you. Like Jonah, we all go astray.
There is no second of your life in which you do not sin. But thanks be to God, he is gracious, and he
continually calls us to himself. So when temptation creeps in this week, brothers and sisters, don’t flee to
Tarshish, run to God. This week, when God puts you in the paths of those that do not know him,
proclaim the gospel. This week follow the Lord your God, lest his strong hand of discipline come upon you. May his kindness and grace lead us to faithfully and joyfully serve him.