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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Jonah Part 3: Jonah Meet Your God
Text:Jonah 2:1-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Added:2022-07-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Psalm 27

Text: Jonah 2:1-10

 

JONAH, MEET YOUR GOD

  1. Jonah’s Predicament

  2. Jonah’s Prayer

  3. God’s Infuriating Grace

 

  1. Psalm 18: 1-3

  2. Psalm 10: 1, 2, 6

  3. Psalm 27: 1, 2, 3

  4. Hymn 80: 1, 2, 4

  5. Hymn 36:1-4

  6. Psalm 18: 6, 10, 15

 

Words to Listen For: balloon, temper-tantrum, heart attack, credit card, deader

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What does singing have to do with being a Christian?

  2. What was the fish like?

  3. What’s amazing about Jonah’s prayer?

  4. What’s frustrating about Jonah’s prayer?

  5. Why does God show us grace?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ, brother and sisters,

I once heard of a missionary from Spain, sharing his experience.  He was involved in a very small start-up church plant, and they had no church building, and so the small group of believers met in people’s apartments for a meal and a time of worship.  Because of the hot Spanish climate, they would often open windows, and the sound of their worship would make its way throughout the city.

Now, in this town, the only religious groups besides this church plant were Roman Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  You think “religion” and you think of these two groups.

It was difficult at first to explain who exactly they were, since they weren’t Roman Catholics or Jehovah’s Witnesses.  And so, as they spread the gospel in the town square, people would ask:

 “Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

     “No!”  they replied.

"Are you Roman Catholics?

     Again, they said “no.”

And then, finally, a smile of recognition…are you la gente que canta?  Are you the people who sing?

YES!  YES!  This is us!  We are the people who sing!

And since the very beginning, in the days of the early church, Christians were those who sing.  Paul and Silas sang when they were locked up in the stocks in the Philippian jail.  Paul encourages the church to address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, James tells us that the best thing to do when we are joyful is to sing…the great multitude in heaven SING A NEW SONG…

THE CHURCH SINGS.  And the church prays.  And these two are not so different from each other.  For what is a worship song but a prayer put to music?

Now, we don’t know if Jonah was a musical prophet.  We can be pretty sure that he was not swallowed with an acoustic guitar and sheet music.  But the prayer that he prays, as we will see, closely resembles that of a few psalms.  Psalms Jonah knew.  Psalms Jonah read.  Psalms Jonah sang.

Jonah starts praying, maybe he starts singing, and this is the first time that we see Jonah acting properly as a believer.  And in our text, we see that in the fish, 

JONAH, ME(E)T YOUR his GOD.  We see

  1. Jonah’s Predicament

  2. Jonah’s Prayer, and

  3. God’s Infuriating Grace

 

Jonah’s Predicament

When we last saw Jonah, he was sinking into the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.  He had fled from God when he was told to do something difficult.  He slept in the bottom of the boat, trying to escape reality.  He ignored the call of the captain to pray, he refused to repent when the sailors were terrified for their lives.  He would rather DIE than obey the word of the Lord, and so he told the sailors to throw him overboard.

And down he went.  Sinking into the depths.  Sinking into the darkness.  Only water around him, no air.  His hands grab at the seaweed…but nothing.  No solid ground beneath his feet, nothing to hold onto.  Floating down to death.

But this wasn’t the end for Jonah.  God wasn’t going to let him go that easily.  Even death will not stop God’s plan.

The God whom Jonah didn’t trust…miraculously stepped in to save him.  The mysterious, infuriating grace that Jonah finds so inexplicable, turns out to be his only hope.  Jonah does not drown, but instead, he is swallowed by a great fish.

Now, as we previously heard, this is where people start to get uncomfortable.  The more scientifically minded among us may start shifting uncomfortably in their seats, going through the various types of fish who could do this.

A whale is right out.  No whale here.  There are toothed whales, who eat various large things, and could eat a human being, but if it was a toothed whale, it would have chewed Jonah up.  He wouldn’t be a human being for long.

And then there are baleen whales.  They eat only plankton.  They can’t chew.  They might look big, but they can’t chew.  Though there would be room for a prophet in a baleen whale, Jonah wouldn’t have been able to get through the mouth.  Only space for plankton.

There are other fish that maybe could do this…but you run across many of the same problems.  Those that COULD would chew the prophet instead of just swallowing him.

So…is this a case-closed matter?  The fish is just a metaphor?  It’s not really there?

BY NO MEANS!

Verse 17 says - And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.

Now, HUMANLY SPEAKING, maybe this is an issue, though there have been instances in more recent history where people have been swallowed by whales and lived to tell the story, but HUMANLY SPEAKING, where this may have been an issue…nothing is too hard for God.

Think of His track record:

  • Humanly-speaking, the ravens would have stolen Elijah’s food…but with God…they fed him.

  • Humanly-speaking, the lions would have torn Daniel to pieces…but with God…they were tame and quiet.

  • Humanly-speaking the fiery furnace would have burnt up Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, but with God, they were unsinged.

And so too…humanly-speaking, the fish would have chewed Jonah up.  But with God, Jonah was not destroyed.

Jonah was swallowed by a fish.  This is a miracle, AND it is history.

And, similar to how we sometimes view the sufferings of Christ, we view the sufferings of Jonah in a very limited way.  In some children’s Bibles, we see Jonah in a cavernous cave, sitting around a fire.  And this is how we view it.  But a whale, a fish, whatever kind of sea creature it was who swallowed Jonah…we know that these creatures are not built like a balloon, just hollow on the inside.  Yes, there is a stomach, but there are also lungs, and intestines, and kidneys, a liver, and a heart.

So the idea of Jonah being in a rather damp and smelly cave, looking up at the night sky through the blowhole, like it was a skylight…not quite.  Probably didn’t happen this way.

Jonah very likely would have been in very cramped quarters, miraculously preserved with enough oxygen for 3 days, and preserved from being completely corroded by the stomach acids of the fish.

This was not a nice contemplative opportunity for Jonah to sit down with a pros and cons list, and plan out the rest of his life.

This was a near death experience - drowning in the waves - followed by a near death experience - slowly dying in the fish.

But this was God’s heavy hand of comfort.  The action, the independence of this story, of this prophet came to a screeching halt.  Jonah, the man who listened only to himself and what HE WANTED…HE WANTED to run from God, so he did.  HE WANTED to sleep in the bottom of the boat, so he did.  HE WANTED to be thrown overboard so that he wouldn’t have to obey God, and got the sailors to do his dirty work for him.

But all of that came to a screeching halt to leave Jonah alone with his God.  Not in a comfortable armchair conversation with God, but a conversation with one foot in the grave.

And it worked.  Jonah curled up in the fetal position, surrounded by the stomach of a fish, with very little oxygen…Jonah prayed.  Our second point.

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish.

Literally, the bowels of the fish.  So, maybe even less space than the stomach.

Then Jonah prayed.

Knowing Jonah as we do, this prayer was probably not immediate.  Jonah had gone from the fire into the frying pan, so to speak.  No longer was he drowning in the sea, but he was in a sea creature.  He probably cried.  And struggled.  And raged.

Jonah had been foiled in his attempted suicide.  His attempted escape from God.  He didn’t ASK to be saved, he didn’t WANT to be saved.

But God did it anyways.

It probably took Jonah some time to humble himself before God, but when he did…something incredible pours out.

Jonah’s prayer is a work of art.  Something truly wonderful that draws on 9 different Psalms, one passage from Lamentations and one from Job.  Jonah is doing in prayer what we should all do in prayer and in song - use the words that God has given to us.  Sing and pray the words of God back to Him.  In reverence, in worship, and to remind ourselves of their truth.

And this is the prayer.  It’s valuable to read it again in its entirety

I called out the LORD,

out of my distress,

And He answered me.

 

Out of the belly of Sheol

I cried

        And you heard my voice.

 

For you cast me

into the deep

into the heart of the seas,

And the flood surrounded me.

All your waves and billows passed over me.

 

Then I said

    I am driven away from your sight;

Yet

    I shall again look upon your holy temple

 

The waters closed in over me

    To take my life

The deep surrounded me

Weeds were wrapped about my head

At the roots of the mountains

I went down to the land whos bars closed upon me forever;

 

Yet

    You brought up my life from the pit O LORD my God

 

When my life was fainting away

    I remembered the LORD

    And my prayer came to you

    Into your holy temple.

 

Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love

But I

    With the voice of thanksgiving

Will sacrifice to you;

What I have vowed, I will pay.

 

Salvation belongs to the LORD!

 

What a prayer!  What an AMAZING prayer!

In this prayer, Jonah acknowledges the value of prayer - I called out to the LORD (verse 2), I remembered the LORD (verse 7)

He acknowledges the power of prayer - He answered me (verse 2), My prayer came to you (verse 7).

He acknowledges his need - out of the belly of Sheol - the grave!  The waters closed in over me to take my life, my life was fainting away.

And he acknowledges what he must do with the life he has been given - I shall again look upon your holy temple, I will sacrifice to you, what I have vowed, I will pay!

And he acknowledges the power of God - salvation belongs to the Lord!

This is a wonderful prayer.  This is a SCRIPTURAL PRAYER.  The similarities between this and some psalms are uncanny.  We sang from psalms 18 and 27 - psalms that Jonah references here.  And this shows just what is going through Jonah’s head.  When everything else is stripped away…what remains?  In a crisis, your personality is revealed.  What is most valuable to you?

It is like those we meet at the end of their life.  Not necessarily in a crisis, but with their memory nearly gone, they show what is MOST IMPORTANT to them.

For John Newton, it was two things.  My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things - that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.

Or a former member of this congregation, who, when you would speak with her, the one thing that kept coming up again and again - I LOVE MY FAMILY, AND ALL MY FAMILY LOVES THE LORD.

How wonderful.  How beautiful.  A crisis, the end of your life, shows your character.  And it did the same for Jonah.

After his temper-tantrum that started all the way back in chapter 1:3, Jonah has done and said everything he needed to, he got all that rebellion out of his system, and he is ready to worship.

He wants to act as a believer.

He wants to be a person who sings.  A person who prays.

Jonah is ready to worship.  And this is a good facet of his character.  It is a good thing for Jonah to do - to worship, even in the bowels of a whale.

But.

Worship, though one of THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE…Christians are those who sing…worship wasn’t really what the fish was for.  Worship wasn’t the response that God was looking for in Jonah.

Because what is missing from this prayer?  This beautiful poetic prayer that recognizes need, and prayer, and God’s power?  What is missing?

What’s missing...is ANY ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF SIN.

Jonah references Psalm 18, 27, 31, 40, 69, 88, 116, 120, and 130…but where is Psalm 51?

I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  It’s not there.

Where is Psalm 32 - I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity.  Jonah doesn’t say this.

The fish wasn’t there to get Jonah to worship, first and foremost.  It was there to get Jonah to repent.  To humble himself.  And THEN for Jonah to worship and obey.

There is a change in Jonah, of this we can be sure.

Jonah shows FAITH.  He cries out to God, and he knows that God hears him.

Jonah shows PERSONAL FAITH.  He cries out and uses God’s covenant name - Yahweh - 3 times.  And in verse 6 he cries out: “Oh LORD my God!”

Jonah loves the God who SAVES.  He speaks of hope, deliverance, and thanksgiving.  Jonah loves that God, HIS GOD, is POWERFUL.

Jonah is in love with the God who saves.  And this is wonderful.  This is a change in Jonah.  He moved from what may have been a cooly professional relationship with God - God is my boss, as a prophet, I am an employee, to a personal relationship.

Jonah has changed…but how much?

We see a problem, a flaw, not only in what Jonah does NOT SAY, but in what he DOES SAY.

Verse 3 - For you cast me into the deep.

Was it GOD who did this?  Really?

God told Jonah - go to Nineveh.

There is no part of that command that would require Jonah to go anywhere near the sea.  From Jerusalem to Nineveh was an all-land journey.

God wasn’t the one who whispered to the sailors - throw him overboard!  Do it!  This was Jonah.  Yelling at them.  Screaming at them.  They didn’t want to, but Jonah forced their hand.

Now, does that mean that Jonah is completely wrong here?  Does God have NOTHING TO DO with the ocean waters?  Well, of course not.  God is sovereign.  He is behind everything, and it was His will for Jonah to be forced to stop running, and pray.  But, given Jonah’s lack of repentance, this doesn’t seem to be a deep reflection on God’s ultimate plan and how the sovereignty of God works alongside the sinful will of men.  Jonah’s just blaming God.

And then secondly, verse 8 - Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.

Though this verse is truly the message of the book of Jonah…though this is the lesson that Jonah must learn for himself…though this message is completely 100% biblically and theologically correct…hearing it come out of Jonah’s mouth?  Knowing what he thinks of the Ninevites?

Knowing that, before too long, he will become so angry with God for showing mercy because the Ninevites USED TO BE PAGANS (but were actually pre-believers)?  This is offensive.

God!  Remember!  ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE don’t serve you.  THEY have no hope of your love!  THEY didn’t earn it!  Not like ME!

Suddenly Jonah claiming God for himself…Jonah using God’s covenant name…it casts doubt on whether this was a humble sinner saying “I need God.  I need a Saviour.”  This isn’t Jonah crawling to the foot of the cross saying: “Jesus Christ, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes, please cover me with your saving blood.”

Instead, this is Jonah saying: God is a mighty Saviour to Israel.  Thanks be to Him that I wasn’t born as a pagan.  Because pagans don’t get steadfast love.  Pagans don’t get grace.  Pagans don’t get mercy.  Offensive.  And DEEPLY WRONG.

Jonah has come so far, but he has so much further to go.  And yet…God shows him grace.  Inexplicably, God shows him grace.  Our third point.

God shows infuriating grace.  Now, we’ve had this exact wording of a sermon point in the last two Jonah sermons, and you might be wondering about that.

But this is very intentional.  Because, as we see God peel back layer after layer of Jonah’s preconceived notions and humble him…we have to do that ourselves too.

God didn’t immediately destroy Jonah as soon as he disobeyed.  There wasn’t fire from heaven that consumed him, he wasn’t eaten by worms, he didn’t die of a heart-attack.  God let Jonah run from Him.  Inexplicable grace.  Infuriating grace.  Grace that makes us rather mad.

BUT GOD had a plan.  BUT GOD followed Jonah to Joppa, and onto the boat.

God didn’t destroy the sailors to get Jonah into the water.  It wasn’t because the sailors cried out to God…they were those who paid regard to vain idols.

BUT GOD had a plan.  BUT GOD worked through Jonah to bring these sailors to faith.  They prayed to Yahweh by name, they feared Yahweh, they made sacrifices to Yahweh, and made vows.

And we read these, and layers are being peeled off.  “Okay…God is having patience with Jonah.  Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”

“Okay…God is using Jonah, even his bad example, to bring more people into His kingdom.  All believers are former pagans.  Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”

And then we get to Jonah 2, we look at this prayer, and at first glance we see a cause and effect.

Jonah prayed, and therefore, God spoke to the fish.

We think that verses 1-9 CAUSED verse 10.

It’s like an exchange.  We put our prayer coins in the divine vending machine, and blessings come out.

The blessings come down as the prayers go up.  We do our part, God does His part.

But…I’m sorry…THAT’S NOT GRACE.  THAT’S NOT GRACE.

That’s “what can I do to be right with God?”

And when we look at this prayer and see…WAIT A SECOND…THERE’S NO CONFESSION HERE!  And then we are confused.

The payment wasn’t right!  How can God give the end result of the transaction, if the payment wasn’t right?

It’s like you try to pay for something with a credit card, and the machine says DECLINED, but you get the product anyways.

That’s not right!  That’s not how things work!

That’s not how things work WITH US…because we don’t understand grace.  Because we still have so much more to learn.

Verse 10 doesn’t happen because of verses 1-9.  Verse 10 happens because God wants verse 10 to happen.

And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

This happens, not because Jonah caused it with his prayers, but because God willed it.

Pastor Tim Keller writes, in a reflection on Jonah - we mistakenly believe that with hard work and fastidious religious observance, we can repair our relationship with God and even put Him in a position where He can’t say no to us.

But that’s not who God is.

That’s not what GRACE IS.

We will see this afternoon that the fish humbled Jonah to the point of OBEDIENCE…but not obedience with a smile on his face.  Not willing obedience to a God Jonah LOVES, but reluctant obedience to a God that Jonah FEARS.  If I don’t…He might put me back in that fish again, and I’m not going back.  I can’t go back.

It’s like the quote from the playwright Tenessee Williams - I’ll RISE, but I WON’T SHINE!  I’ll RISE…but I WON’T SHINE.

I’ll go to Nineveh, but I will grumble, I will complain, I will gripe the entire way.

But this was enough.  For now.  The fish had done SOMETHING in Jonah…and grace made up for the rest.

It was God’s GRACE that brought Jonah out of the fish.

     He didn’t earn it.

     He didn’t deserve it.

     But God gave it anyways.

It was grace that caused Jonah to be raised, from death to life.

He was languishing in Sheol - the grave, the underworld.

BUT GOD.

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

YOU WERE DEAD.  COULDN’T BE DEADER.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, 

REMEMBER…THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU…YOU WERE DEAD…A DEAD MAN DOESN’T EARN ANYTHING!!  A dead man can’t put coins in the divine vending machine!

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved — 

IT’S ALL GRACE!  IT’S ALL GRACE!

And raised us up with him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

BUT THAT’S NOT WHERE IT ENDS!  THERE’S MORE GRACE COMING!

So that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

Why?  Why does God show us His grace?

So that He can show us MORE GRACE.  It’s grace…ALL THE WAY DOWN.

It is by GRACE you have been saved, so that in the coming ages, He might show you MORE GRACE!

It was grace to Jonah in the belly of the whale, so that God would be able to show Jonah more grace.

It was grace to Jonah in the belly of the whale so that God would show grace to Nineveh.

It’s grace…all the way down.

And we must remember and never forget the COST of this grace.  The COST of God’s grace to Jonah was the blood of Christ.

The COST of God’s grace to Nineveh was the blood of Christ.

The COST of God’s grace to you and to me was the blood of Christ.

For grace does not forget justice.  Jonah’s rebellion and pride, and refusal to repent…this was offensive to God.  It had to be paid for.

The Ninevites, as we will hear next time, though they turned from their evil ways…the evil HAD ALREADY BEEN COMMITTED.  A LOT of evil had been committed.  And it was paid for by Christ.

The evil that we commit today…it’s all covered by grace…and that grace is free to us…we can’t pay for it but that grace isn’t CHEAP.

That grace came at the highest cost - the DEATH of the SON OF GOD.  God’s grace is FREE, but it’s not CHEAP.

God’s grace is inexplicable.  God’s grace is infuriating, God’s grace is costly…but God’s grace is AMAZING.

And when He looks at you, like He looked at Jonah, He does so, never regretting His grace for an INSTANT.

For you, because of His great love…our God is willing to pay the highest cost.  He will never stop pursuing you.  He will never stop loving you.  He will go to the ends of the earth and even sacrifice His life to show you grace upon grace.

It is this grace that we must respond to in praise and worship, all of our days.  Let us be known as the ones who have received grace.  Let us be known as the ones who respond with worship.  Let us be known as those who sing.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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