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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:Salvation Comes from Yahweh
Text:Jonah 1:16-2:10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Suggested songs:

Hymn 35

Hymn 47:4

Psalm 42:1-4

Psalm 42:5-7

Psalm 124

Reading and Text: Jonah 1:17-2:10
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

Sometimes you see it with new believers, but if we’re more established in the faith we might also see it in ourselves to a certain degree. Sometimes we seem to have this idea that salvation is in some way a cooperative effort between God and ourselves. God did his part in sending Jesus Christ; the Lord Jesus did his part in suffering and dying for you. He made salvation a possibility. Now you have to take the next step and do your part. That might include repenting and believing, but more often it wears different clothes in Reformed churches. You have to do something, live a certain kind of way – that’s your part in the salvation equation.

Now if we think about it, it’s understandable that some people might think this way. That’s because we hear over and over again that the covenant has two sides: a promise and an obligation. God gives us the promise of salvation and then he demands obedience. That sounds a lot like God doing his part and us doing ours. So, it’s no wonder that we might end up thinking and living as if salvation is a joint effort. However, this is actually a serious misunderstanding of the covenant relationship. It’s a misunderstanding of how God saved his people in history, still saves his people today, and will keep on saving his people in the future. And this misunderstanding has the ugly consequence of robbing God of the glory he deserves.

Our text gives us a powerful reminder of God’s sovereignty in his saving work in our lives. It takes us back to the basics of the covenant relationship God has with his people. It does this through the continuing saga of the prophet Jonah. You’ll recall that the rebellious prophet had received justice from Yahweh, from the LORD. From the perspective of the sailors, Jonah was as good as dead. From the perspective of the prophet himself, as he went over the edge of the ship, as his head hit the water, he was dead. Jonah was a dying illustration of the teaching of Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” In Jonah’s mind he’d gone down to the grave. However, despite, and even through the rebellious prophet, God was at work. God used this crooked Jonah stick to lavish grace and life upon the Gentile sailors so that they would worship and give God the glory. As the story of Jonah continues into chapter 2, God continues to work. Particularly, he shows himself as the sovereign Lord of our salvation. So, I preach God’s Word with this theme:

Salvation comes from Yahweh

We will consider:

  1. How God saved Jonah.
  2. Why God saved Jonah.

1. How God saved Jonah

Perhaps you’re wondering why the sermon on Jonah 1 didn’t include verse 17 and why it’s included with this sermon on Jonah 2 instead. The reason is that in the Hebrew text of Jonah, verse 17 of chapter 1 is actually verse 1 of chapter 2. The division into chapters and verses of both the English translation and the Hebrew are not original to the text – they are not inspired. When God gave us the Bible, he didn't give the chapter and verse divisions we have today. Nevertheless there is a good reason to take verse 17 of chapter 1 with chapter 2. The reason is that it fits with the theme of salvation in this chapter, particularly the salvation of Jonah.

Let’s look at how God saved Jonah in our text. There are two sorts of deliverance that we see. When Jonah hits the water, he doesn’t right away start heading down for the bottom. Verse 3 speaks of a real experience of feeling the waves swirling around him, being tossed about by the raging waters of the storm. Eventually, however, Jonah does start his downward journey. Verse 5 uses vivid language to describe the experience. Jonah says that the waters were closing in over his life, he was surrounded by the deep. With these words, the prophet wants us to feel the sensation of the water pressure against his body as he goes down. He can feel the pressure in his head, his ears feel like they’re going to explode. He even has seaweed wrapped around his head – a fact which suggests that the ship might not have been very far from shore when this all happened. Jonah was heading down to the depths of the Mediterranean.

But then something remarkable happened: Yahweh brought up Jonah’s life from the pit. Despite Jonah’s unfaithfulness, Yahweh remained Jonah’s God. Notice verse 1 says that Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. And in verse 6, Jonah speaks and says, “But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God.” In the face of Jonah’s covenant breaking, God’s faithfulness remained. Throughout the story of Jonah, we find God’s covenant name Yahweh being used -- this name is used in the Hebrew wherever you find LORD with all capital letters in the English. This is important because it shows that God is still in this personal relationship with Jonah – he has not completely abandoned Jonah.

Yahweh is also the name that’s used in verse 17 of chapter 1. Yahweh provided or appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. Note that this was not a chance occurrence, but a purposeful act of the sovereign God. The text is clear that Yahweh actively directed this event. Now, we’re not going to spend any time this morning discussing the exact identity of this fish. You can read all about that in many commentaries and study Bibles. It doesn’t really matter whether it was a sperm whale or any other kind of whale or fish or whatever. The point is God provided a way out for Jonah.

But even this way out at first was not a clear sign of salvation for Jonah. Sure, Jonah was saved from drowning, but now he was going to be digested instead. Being swallowed by a fish typically means that you’re going to become fish food. But in Jonah’s case that doesn’t happen. Through God’s power, either Jonah became lodged in the throat of this fish or the digestive processes of the fish were miraculously stopped. Again, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that somehow God kept Jonah alive for three days and three nights. Jonah’s life was brought up from the pit, from the depths of the grave, from the brink of death itself, where he had finally been calling out to God for help. At the end of the three days and three nights, God again commands the fish and it vomits out Jonah.

Through all of this, we’re meant to see the God of life at work. Apart from praying to God inside the fish, Jonah was passive. God was active. God appointed the fish. God commanded the fish. God saved Jonah’s life. God brought about the full measure of salvation. Jonah recognized this and that’s why he says at the end of verse 9 that “Salvation comes from Yahweh.” Jonah finally sees that God is the one in control and that he can’t run and he can’t hide from God. When God wants to save, nobody can stop him!

That’s an important truth to take into our own lives too. From this text, we are reminded that God is sovereign in our salvation too. God is the active one. And realizing this is meant to bring the same response in our hearts that it did for Jonah – namely that we want to praise God with his people!

But there are deeper truths for us in this text. Think of what the Lord Jesus says in Matthew 12:39-40, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jonah’s salvation through the fish was therefore a sign of the salvation that has come through Christ. Jonah’s experiences are meant to point us to God and what he has done through his Son. Let’s follow that line further for a minute.

Apart from praying, Jonah was passive throughout this text. When the Lord gave himself for us, he too appears to have been passive. On the cross, he died and his body was put into the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. It appears to be a direct one to one parallel to Jonah’s experiences. But with Christ there is more. 1 Peter 3:18-19 tells us that also through his burial, Christ was actively making a kind of proclamation to the disobedient. When Jonah was buried in the fish, the prophet’s voice to the outside was silent. The outside world thought he was dead. When the Lord Jesus was buried in the earth, the outside world also thought he was dead, but the reality was that this prophet continued to speak and proclaim! The prophet announced the victory over sin and death that had been promised from the beginning. It was in that way that the Lord Jesus could refer to Jonah as a sign of his own work.

You see, God saved Jonah from the water. God saved Jonah from the stomach acids of the fish. At some point, God revealed to Jonah that he was going to remain alive – you can see that with his words of confidence in verse 4. And all of this points us to God’s sovereign work in saving us through Christ. And then somebody might ask: well, how does God save us today? As far as the means go, he saves us by graciously working faith in us by the power of his Word and Spirit. As far as the thing that he saves us from goes, he saves us from the power and slavery of sin in our lives. That means that he delivers us from the wrath and punishment that our sin deserves. But it’s more than that: he also gives us what we need to have victory over sin in our daily living. God’s salvation includes graciously giving us a way so that sin can be put to death in our lives. Say you have a habitual sin of one sort of another. God’s sovereign work in our salvation means that you do not have to continue in this sin. God will give you the means necessary to make a good start of kicking this sin. This does not mean perfection by any stretch, but it does mean coming to increasingly reflect your status as a new creation in Christ. It means growing in grace and knowledge. There’ll be more to say about this in the second point.

For now, notice that the salvation in our text is entirely God’s work. It points ahead to the fulfillment of all God’s promises for salvation in Christ Jesus. It reminds us that we too are saved through God’s efforts, not through our own. We pray for salvation, also deliverance from habitual sins, but it is God who is faithful to the promises of the covenant. God saves. And he does it so that people will worship and give him the glory – and that’s where we’re going with our second point this morning…

2. Why God saved Jonah

God could have destroyed Jonah in the waters of the Mediterranean. There would have been no injustice in that. Yet God chooses to save Jonah. Why? Well, consider what happens in this chapter. Jonah finally speaks, he does so in a prayer to Yahweh. In this prayer, he draws on his knowledge of the Scriptures. Many of the lines are lifted directly from the Psalms. Working with the old material, Jonah creates a new psalm. And the point of this psalm, like so many others, is meant to draw the readers to a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the God of the covenant.

Let’s see how that works with several things in Jonah’s psalm. At some point in the story, Jonah’s attitude of being cavalier and arrogant towards God changed. He went from being flippant to being terrified and distressed, humbled. He was finally led to pray to God and ask for help. Implicit in this is a message to God’s people: when there is a moment of distress and terror in your life, you know who you should be talking to!

In verse 7, Jonah says this: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD (Yahweh again), and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” Jonah was inside the fish and he didn’t know what was going to happen to him. From his point of view, his life was slipping away. Under this situation of stress something happened. Jonah prayed to Yahweh, his prayer rose up to the temple. The idea here is that God’s presence dwelt among the covenant people in the temple in Jerusalem. Through his prayer, Jonah again has an open line of communication to the presence of God. He was no longer trying to flee God, but sought his presence. This is strengthened when Jonah says that he “remembered” Yahweh. Now that expression “remembering Yahweh” is used elsewhere in the Old Testament. It speaks of a renewed commitment to following the ways of God’s covenant.

Among those ways is a proper understanding of God’s call to worship him alone. In verse 8, Jonah speaks about those who cling to worthless idols. Maybe he makes that statement with his recent experiences with the Gentile sailors in mind. Remember in chapter 1? They prayed to their false gods. If that’s what Jonah means, it’s ironic that the sailors actually received a measure of grace, while he received a measure of justice. On another level, this verse surely speaks of Jonah’s failure to accept God as he has revealed himself. This was a form of idolatry. In doing this, it was Jonah who forfeited grace! The message is that when God’s people believe in God as he has revealed himself, there is grace for them – and of course, that includes us who believe in God as he has revealed himself, especially in Christ. So, God saves Jonah so that he can deliver this prophetic message to God’s people, so that they believe in God as the only God, as the God who has shown himself to be gracious and full of mercy.

Such a God will be worshipped by his people. Allusions to that fact are sprinkled throughout this psalm. In verse 4, Jonah speaks of his conviction that he will again worship God in the temple. Salvation is meant to lead to this worship. Verse 9 goes further and speaks of Jonah making a song of thanksgiving (likely this psalm). He speaks of making sacrifices and fulfilling vows – things that are done in worship. Finally, Jonah is at the same place that the Gentile sailors were at the end of chapter 1. Finally, Jonah realizes that salvation is given so that God’s people will worship and give glory to their Saviour, so that they will live in the ways of the covenant!

So, where was and is God leading his people by giving Jonah this new life, this renewed relationship? We should look for the answer to this question in the bigger picture of the purpose of the book. The whole purpose of this book of Jonah is to speak prophetically to the covenant people. To convey to them a richer understanding of who God is through Jonah’s prophetic ministry to Nineveh. Through this, God wants his people to be drawn into a fuller relationship with him. In Jonah, we see God providing a fuller picture of what he is like. We see God leading his people’s understanding of him closer to the fulfillment of all the promises in Jesus Christ. In this, God’s people get a better idea of what it means to be in a relationship with God.

God is the one working through all this – working to repair the broken relationship, working to bring salvation to his people and also to the Ninevites. And so, when we apply this to our lives, we also have to keep a God-centered perspective. At one level, Jonah’s life was saved by God so that he could continue prophesying, also to the people of Nineveh. At this point in the story, we expect Jonah to do as he’s told and head for Nineveh and faithfully deliver the message. And at another level, Jonah’s life was saved so that God’s people would worship and live for him. All of this was not going to earn anybody anything from God. It was simply the natural thing to do, the expected outcome of this relationship.

From a New Testament point of view, we know that our following God’s ways is not a matter of doing our part so that God will save us. The covenant is not like that. Why not? Because the obedience that comes with the covenant is also a gift of God’s grace in our lives. When we follow God’s ways, that is the work of the Spirit in us, creating a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for the salvation he has brought us. In fact, it is the further work of Christ in us. Think here of the teaching of Scripture summarized in Lord’s Day 32: “Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit to be his image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits, and he may be praised by us.”

What we’re talking about here is sanctification, the process by which we more and more become who we are in Christ. We usually have no trouble seeing justification as something we don’t earn. We know that God declares us right with himself only because of what Christ has done. Justification is God’s work. But with sanctification, we often can’t see that this too is God’s work in us through the Spirit.

Keeping all that in mind, our text is a reminder that we have to keep praying for God’s undeserved, ongoing work in our lives. We have to go on praying that God will work in us, so that as long as we have life and breath, we will continue as prophets where God has placed us. God has saved us so that we will confess him, worship and give glory to him with our words and lives. God has saved us so that we will be agents for his glory, so that his name will be lifted up through us, both inside our church and outside. When we pray from our hearts for that work of the Spirit in our lives, we can be sure that God will do this work in us. Let the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:23-24 encourage you: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

Does this Scriptural teaching make God’s people spiritually lazy? No, it can never be that way. When we are redeemed by grace, we’ll naturally want to bring sacrifices of thankfulness to God. Using the Scriptures, we can outline what that thankfulness will look like (also through the preaching), but it can never become a condition of our salvation. Brothers and sisters: the obligation side of the covenant is totally misunderstood when it becomes connected with something you have to do in order to be saved. The covenant is not about a task. It is not a legal, contractual agreement anymore than your marriage is. The covenant is a relationship with Yahweh, your God. And just like with human relationships, there are expectations, there is a framework within which the relationship exists. But when love is there, you don’t look at these as legal rules, but things you do out of love and thankfulness for the other person. You shouldn’t have to earn the love of your husband or wife, or your parents, or your children. The relationship should be based on unconditional love. In Jesus Christ, the covenant of grace is the same way. In Jesus Christ, Yahweh, the LORD loves us unconditionally and promises to continue his work in us and through us to his glory. He promises to work in us so that we want to live according to the expectations of the relationship he has with us and so also live with him eternally. Brothers and sisters, this is your God – and that’s good news! AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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