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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:The gospel of the storm
Text:Jonah 1:6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 29:1

Ps. 146:3

Ps. 107:9,10,11

Psalm 46:1.

Ps. 89:5,11 (vs 11 a prophecy pointing to Christ)

Read:  Jonah 1

Text: Jonah 1:6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Dear congregation of Jesus Christ.

When you get on board an airplane or a ship to leave one country and go to another, you have to fill out a departure card.  If Jonah had filled out such a card, what would it have looked like?

Ø  Family surname:  Amittai

Ø  Given name:  Jonah

Ø  Nationality:  A Hebrew.

Ø  Date of birth: Round about 800 BC, it now being about 760 BC, during the reign of Jereboam II.

Ø  Usual occupation:  . . . what to write here?  Ex-prophet of the LORD?  Better leave it blank . . .

Ø  Flight or name of ship:  The Tarshish Explorer.

Ø  Please mark “X” and answer D or E or F.  Are you D) a visitor departing, E) a Hebrew resident departing temporarily, F) A Hebrew resident departing permanently?  Better mark F) Hebrew resident departing permanently.

Ø  In which tribal region did you live?  The region of Zebulun, town of Gath Hepher, Galilee.

Ø  What is your country of future residence?  The city of Tarshish, outside the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar), Western coast of Spain.

Ø  Are you taking out of Israel more than 10,000 shekels?  Most likely not:  the fare to Tarshish would have cost a pretty penny.

Ø  Main reason for travel overseas:  Better mark box 8: Other.  Running away from the presence of the LORD.

But Jonah did not fill out such a departure card.  It appears as though he walked the 100km from Gath Hepher to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, showed the captain the colour of his money, went down into the ship, breathed a sigh of relief, put his feet up and went to sleep.

The LORD had told Jonah to arise and go to Nineveh and to call them to repentance.  But  Jonah has resigned from office.  He will no longer be the servant of the God of the heavens, the One who made the sea and the dry land.  He has packed his bags and walked out on the Lord.

And everything has gone so well . . . so providentially well.  The walk down to Joppa was a breeze.  A ship just happened to be in port in Joppa.  It just happened to be going all the way to Tarshish.  The captain just happened to be willing to take a paying passenger – a stranger at that – on board (something that was not common as the Phoenecian sailors were protective of their trade routes).  Jonah just happened to have enough money for the fare, and before he knows it, he’s on board, the ship weighs anchor, and they are away!  The perfect get-away and the perfect chance to start a new life in a new place. 

But a life away from God’s people Israel.  A life in denial of God’s claim on his life.  A life that rejected his call to be God’s servant, a prophet.  A life away from the presence of the Lord.  Jonah has run away from God.  He who had spoken a word of covenant blessing and comfort to Israel when they least deserved it was now sailing obliviously into the depths of God’s covenant curse.  Psalm 73:27 – “For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish.”

Jonah, asleep and at peace with the world, is perishing.  But he does not know it.  He needs to be woken up.  He’s lost his moorings and needs to be redirected to the God who saves.  But it’s not just Jonah.  The captain of the ship, the sailors and all of us need to be rescued from a world that is perishing and receive eternal life.

This morning I wish to preach the gospel to you, focusing on Jonah 1:6.  I have chosen the following theme and points:

The LORD sends a storm to save those who are perishing.

1.    The fear of those perishing.

2.    The blame for those perishing.

3.    The God who can save those who are perishing.

1. The fear of those perishing.

From a literary perspective, the book of Jonah is a very well written book.  It has a good structure, where various themes are developed from one chapter to the next.  Different words also come back throughout the story.  One of those in chapter 1 is the word fear.  In verse 5 we read that the mariners (or sailors, as I’ll call them in this sermon) were afraid of the storm.  Then in verse 9 Jonah confesses “I fear the LORD.”  That in turn made the sailors exceedingly afraid in verse 10, and it all ends in verse 16 with the sailors fearing the LORD exceedingly.  The fear of death leads the sailors to a godly fear of the LORD.

But Jonah does not start out with either a fear of death or a godly fear of the LORD.  Instead of arising and going up to Nineveh, he arises to go down to Joppa, he finds a ship and bold as brass he pays the fare, goes down in to it and settles in for a long journey.  That is quite the venture for a Hebrew land lubber.  The ship that Jonah went on was most likely a merchant ship.  A typical Pheonician  merchant ship was about 30 metres long and 7 metres wide, and had a crew of about 20 men.  They had both oars and a square sail on a single mast, but the oars would only be used when the winds were not favourable.  Incidentally, there is a replica Phoenecian ship that is currently sailing around the coast of Africa.  And those sailing this ship have discovered at least two things about these Pheonecian merchant ships:  they are slow with an average cruising speed of just 2 knots an hour (that’s a gentle walking pace), and below deck it is hot, stuffy and uncomfortable. 

These ships were sailed by Phoenecians.  The Phoenecians lived in the coastal cities near Israel.  They were the descendants of the Philistines and some Canaanites.  Now these Phoenecian sailors were hardened men.  When it came to sailing, they knew what they were doing.  They travelled where no other ships dared to go.  In fact, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus writes about how these Phoenecians spent 2-3 years sailing right around Africa - starting at the Red Sea, down the East Coast, around the Cape of Good Hope, up the West Coast, through the Straits of Gibraltar and back to Egypt.  If Herodotus can be believed, that means the Phoenecians circumnavigated Africa 2000 years before Vasco de Gama did.  But whatever the truth of the matter, the point is that the Phoenecian sailors were hardy, experienced sailors who knew what they were doing and were accustomed to long sailing trips in all types of weather.  They were the experts of the sea.

When Jonah went on board this ship headed for Tarshish, therefore, he was about to embark on a slow, uncomfortable journey through the length of the Mediterranean Sea.  He could expect some rough weather and to rub shoulders with the heathen Phoenecians – Philistines the were – for a year.  And that did not bother him.  He was not afraid.  So long as he could run away from the presence of the LORD.

And then comes verse 4 of Jonah 1.  “But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.”  One wonders what the sailors felt when the storm was approaching.  If they were sailing in late Summer, then tropical storms did occur from time to time.  There is a scientific reason for it:  The sea water around Israel and Egypt heats up  over the Summer months and so you get this “hot spot” in the Mediterranean Sea, and then when there is a cold and isolated depression at the medium and high levels of the troposphere, bang! you’ve got your storm.  Anyway, storms were nothing new to the Phoenecian sailors, and so we can imagine that they let down the sail, pointed the ship into the direction of the waves, and determined to ride out the storm.  Meanwhile, either before or as the storm breaks out, Jonah disappears down below and goes to sleep.

But this was no ordinary storm.  It can not be explained away scientifically, nor can we say the storm was a chance, freak event.  This storm was an act of God!  It says in verse 4, “But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea.”  Literally it says that the LORD hurled a great wind on the sea.  The Phoenecian ship, with Jonah skulking in the bottom, was in God’s sights, and He threw a storm right at them!  This was no ordinary tropical storm; it was a big one!  So big that every one of those 20 or so Phoenecian sailors, including the captain himself, are being thrown around, are scared out of their wits like never before.  Like we sang in Psalm 107, God caused “the waves to rise like mountains that roared and fell and broke into wild, foaming fountains.”  These sailors “like drunken men they stumbled in terror and dismay.”  These big brave sailors are struck with awe and terror at the power of the storm.  They feel the ship crashing into the waves, the timbers groaning in protest and in danger of breaking up.  And those big brave sailors become afraid.  This is no ordinary storm.  This is the finger of God!

And every man, every last one of them, cried out to their god and threw their cargo overboard to lighten the ship and increase their chances of survival. 

Every man cried out to his god.  I do not think we are taking things too far to say that the Phoenecian sailors did not just have a fear of death; they have a fear of perishing.  They had a fear of what might happen when the ship broke up and they were all plunged into the depths of such an angry sea.  The gods they were crying out to were not particularly nice.  These sailors most likely came from different cities, and each Phoenecian city was independent, and had its own customs and religious practices.  Each city also appears to have had its own names for the sea gods.  But there were also similarities in how they saw the various gods interacted with each other.  One Phoenecian name for the God of the Sea is called Yamm (which, incidentally, is similar to the Hebrew word for “sea”).  Yamm and Baal used to fight for power over the universe.  While Baal was a relatively good god, Yamm was the god of chaos, and could be experienced in the power of the sea, untamed and raging.  Yamm was the brother of the god of death, Mot.  Yamm’s palace was the abyss, the depths of the sea.  And so it was a fearful thing to be thrown into the raging sea, and perish at the hand of the evil god Yamm.  If this ship was to break up in the middle of the storm, the sailors would all perish in the most frightening circumstances.  This would be the closest the Phoenecians would have come to understanding the concept of hell, of eternal death.  And so the sailors were so afraid, you could have smelled the fear.

But not Jonah.  The wind howls.  The waves crash.  The spray hisses.  The ship shudders.  The sailors reel.  But Jonah . . . sleeps.  Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship.  He had laid down, and was fast asleep.  How Jonah could sleep in a ship that was being tossed about in the waves, how he could even stay in his bunk without being thrown out, I don’t know.  The Bible says he was not just sleeping off a bit seasickness; he was fast asleep.  Snoring away, as an old Greek translation put it.  What caused him to sleep so heavily is not so clear.  But what is clear is that Jonah is both denying and avoiding the implications of his disobedience.  Sleep is his way out of avoiding the implications of him running away from the presence of the LORD.  Jonah’s sleep was evidence of a careless feeling of self-security.  He was running away from God, and did not consider the possibility that the hand of God could and would reach him even on the sea and punish him for his disobedience.

And so God gives Jonah a wake-up call.  The captain of the ship comes to him and roughly shakes him awake.  “What do you mean, sleeper?  Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”  Jonah had been called to preach to the heathen of Nineveh, but now a heathen Phoenecian, a Philistine, is preaching to him!  “Arise, call on your God!”  All of these heathen sailors have a god to go to.  They all believe that there is a Greater Power somewhere that can perhaps help them in this frightening situation.  But when it comes to specifics, who exactly to pray to, who has the control, they don’t know.  They don’t know if the the gods they are praying to are responsible for the storm, and they don’t know if they can help.  And here is Jonah, the prophet and servant of the LORD, but running from His presence, the only one who could direct them to the One True God.  And Jonah is silent.  “Jonah, wake up!  Call on your God!  Don’t you care if we perish??”

Many years later, there was another Prophet from Galilee who also slept in the middle of a storm.  He slept in the bottom of a boat while the storm raged about Him.  And while Jesus was asleep in the boat, his disciples were panic stricken around him, and they shook him awake and shouted to him through the storm, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  (Mark 4:38.)  But there is a vast gulf between Jonah and Jesus.  Jonah, a mere man, seeks to escape the will of God and the storm by going below and falling into a deep sleep.  But Jesus, more than a mere man, sleeps through the storm because he has fully embraced the will of His heavenly Father.  Jonah runs away from his prophetic office.  But Jesus fulfills the duties of his office and calling.  He rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith, for their fear that they might perish while under His care.  But He also rebukes the wind and the waves, and calms the raging sea.  Jesus was all that Jonah was not.  With Christ in our vessel we can smile at the storm.  He is our refuge and strength.  In Jesus we find our safety and security.  In Jesus we need not fear the storm.  In Jesus, we will not perish.

2. The Blame For Those Perishing.

We need to digress for a moment.  There is this Pheonecian ship, 30 metres by 7 metres, with 20 sailors on board and at least one passenger, in the middle of a storm that’s bigger than any storm they have ever experienced, a mighty tempest on the sea that was sent, or hurled at them by the LORD himself.  Now who’s fault was it that this storm had come?

It was Jonah’s fault, right?  He was running away from God, and now God was out to get him back.  When the sailors cast lots, the lot fell on Jonah.  And when he was thrown into the sea, the sea ceased from it’s raging and all was calm.  Jonah and Jonah alone was the one responsible for this violent storm to come and threaten to break up the ship.  But that then leads us to a problem with God’s justice.  If the sailors were not at fault, why did God send a storm that punished them, that caused them to lose their cargo and almost their ship and their lives?  And what if there were other ships also caught up in this storm, ships that might have sunk?  In other words, if God is just, why do bad things happen to good people?

The sailors quickly decide that this is no ordinary storm.  Then they all pray to their gods imporing them to save them from the evil god Yamm, or whatever name they gave him.  The sailors are accustomed to making sacrifices and taking vows.  They accept that they are not perfect, and they might have done something to offend the gods.  But none of them believed that they were such wicked sinners that they deserved a storm such as this to come upon them.  “Nobody is perfect!” they would agree.  But they can not or they will not acknowledge that they are sinners, that their sin means that they deserve to perish. 

It must be someone else’s fault.  And that is a feeling that runs wider and deeper than in the hearts of those Phoenecian sailors.  It is something that affected the nation of Israel.  It is something that affects you and me.  “What did I do to deserve this?  It must be someone else’s fault!”

Underlying this is a low view of sin, and a limited view of guilt.  We find it hard to accept the fact that none of us are innocent.  That none of us can say “we don’t deserve that:  we deserve something better!”  But there are no innocent people.  Every child of Adam is a sinner.  And we are all responsible sinners.  And God has every right to deal with each and every one of us according to His good purpose. 

In other words, the sailors on board that Phoenecian ship were sinners.  And God was not unjust in sending a storm that affected them also.  They, and all of us, deserve to perish.

We struggle at the injustice of this world.  We fret over the suffering of so many innocent people.  But God is just and good in all His dealings.  For who of us is good?  We all deserve the wrath of God to be hurled at us on account of our sin.  We all need God to “consider us”, that we might be delivered from sin and its consequences.  We must all understand and accept just how enormous our sin and rebellion against God is.  We must confess that redemption can only come by the free grace of God.  And then we too will confess with Ezra 9:13, “And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, . . . You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve."

But Jonah was guilty.  When the sailors caste lots, the lot fell on him fairly and squarely.  For he was running away from the LORD, and the Lord had sent this storm to call him back.  God had given Jonah the calling to preach a message of repentance, but Jonah runs away.  And now on board this Phoenecian ship, Jonah alone knows the words to eternal life.  He knows the words that would save the Phoenecian sailors from perishing eternally.  But when the captain calls him to pray to his God, Jonah can not, for he has removed himself from God’s presence.  Yes, Jonah is to blame for those who were perishing.

But here is the grace of God:  When God sent the storm to call back Jonah, He also sent the message of new life to the Phoenecian sailors.  He also wanted His Word of grace to come to them, that they too might not perish but receive eternal life.


3.  The God who can save those who are perishing.

As soon as the lot has fallen on Jonah the sailors raise their voices above the howling wind and the ocean’s roar to ask him, “How come this trouble has come upon us?  What is your job?  Where do you come from?  What is your country?  And of what people are you?”  The sailors are desperate to know.  For such a ferocious storm to blow up, Jonah must be an evil person!  Indeed, what kind of person can this be who does not pray for deliverance, but sleeps like a baby in the hold of the ship?  What kind of thing could Jonah have done?  And underneath all these questions is this:  What kind of god does Jonah serve?  What kind of a god would hurl such a great wind, would send such a mighty tempest upon the sea?  What kind of behaviour would provoke such a disaster?  What kind of god was Jonah representing?

And now Jonah has a choice.  He knows that it was God who had sent the storm, and he knows why God sent it.  He knows that he must now remain quiet and perish along with the Phoenecian sailors, or confess his guilt.

And then Jonah finally opens his mouth.  “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 

“I know and worship the true God, the One who made heaven and earth, the One who created the sea, and who really controls it.”  The sailors wanted to know which local deity they had offended, which little god they had made angry.  But Jonah tells them that it is the Great God, the one true God who knows every man and everything.  The One who has made the heavens, the sea and the land.  The One who sends the storm and the roaring sea.  Jonah is saying, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear Yahweh.  I am not superstitious.  I don’t believe in those struggles between Yamm and Baal and all those other false gods.  I am a child of the LORD, a child of the covenant.  God has made Himself known to me since childhood.  He placed His sign and seal upon me, claimed me for His special possession.  But when He sent me to do His will, I ran away.  I am the guilty one, who has forsaken the one true God.  I deserve all of this – and more.”

Jonah comes to his senses when he says, “I fear the LORD.”  Jonah stops fleeing from the presence of the LORD when he is challenged by these heathen Phoenecian sailors.  Jonah confesses that he fears the One who has hurled this storm at them, and who alone has the power to save those who are perishing.

And that’s the Gospel of the Storm.  For the LORD sends a storm to save those who are perishing.  Yes, He sent it to call Jonah back so that Jonah might obey and go to Nineveh.  But in this storm, His grace and mercy extended to the Phoenecian sailors, to those Philistine heathens.  In the storm he is calling them to deliverance in Him. 

Sometimes it takes a storm to really know the light.  Sometimes it takes pain to help us see things right.

But the storm was not too big.  It was not too strong.  God did not deal with Jonah, and nor did He deal with the Phoenecian sailors as their sins deserved.  He sent a storm not to destroy but to save those who were perishing. 

Both Jonah and the sailors deserved much more than a little storm being hurled at them.  They deserved to perish, to perish eternally.  Jonah is running away from the presence of the LORD.  Well, let him go! we might say.  The Phoenecians were Philistine barbarians.  Let them and all God’s enemies perish, we might cry out.

But God is not like that.  God’s wrath against the sin of Jonah and the sailors, and God’s wrath against the sin of you and me, did blaze in all it’s fierceness.  But His wrath blazed not in a storm, but on Calvary.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  It is the cross of Calvary where the finger of God is ultimately pointing.  It was at Calvary where the wrath of God was poured out upon Jesus of Nazareth and it is to the cross that we must look so that we might not perish but have eternal life.

The same God who sent the storm is the God who sent His Son.  And in the storm he is calling Jonah and the sailors, he is calling you and me to turn around, to come to Him through His Son and have eternal life.  Praise God for the storm!  Amen.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2009, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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