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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:True repentance accepts the justice of a righteous God
Text:Jonah 1:14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 93:1,2,3,4

Psalm 115:1,2

Ps. 95:1,2,3

Psalm 65:4

Psalm 67:2

Read:  Jonah 1:10 – 2:10.

Text:  Jonah 1:14.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Redeemed children of God.

“Why have you done this?”  the sailors ask Jonah.  You can hear the fear, the shock, the gasp of horror coming from the sailors when the enormity of Jonah’s actions begin to hit home.  When they digest what he has told them: his running away from the presence of the LORD, his refusal to obey the LORD’s command, his defiance of the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land, the One who does what it pleases Him.  Why have you done this?

Jonah had committed the crime that every sailor of the high seas feared, only what he did was worse than they could imagine.  There was a common belief amongst sailors that if one on board ship had done wrong, they would all suffer for it.  But when Jonah tells them the truth, they are hit between the eyes.  Shocked.  Stunned.  Horrified.  Jonah:  What have you done?

“You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You!”  the sailors pray in verse 14.  The God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land is not like any god they had known or experienced before.  He’s a consuming fire!  A raging storm!  Who can stand before His blast?  How can His justice, His anger, His righteous anger, be satisfied? 

“What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”

You have to pity those Phoenician sailors.  Put yourself in their shoes and try to feel what they were feeling.  All they had seen and heard of the LORD was that He was great, powerful, and just.  They had not yet seen His love.  They had not yet experienced His mercy.  They had not been exposed to the Gospel of the God who has compassion, to the God who forgives sin, to the God who brings life, to the God who saves. 

They will get to meet this God.  But not right away.  To fully experience the love and mercy of God, they must first understand and accept the justice of God.  The Heidelberg Catechism, that Catechism of comfort, hits the nail on the head in answer 11:  His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting, punishment of body and soul.  It is through understanding the justice of God that we see the mercy of God for what it really is.  Jonah, the sailors, and all of us, must see our sin for what it really is.  We must accept that God is just and right in punishing that sin.  And then we may receive the freedom, the joy, the comfort of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This morning I wish to preach once more from the book of Jonah, this time from chapter 1 verse 14 and its context.  I have chosen the following theme and points:

True repentance accepts the justice of a righteous God.

1.    Accept the consequences of sin. 

2.    Submit to the penalty of sin.

3.    Receive mercy in the payment for sin.

1. Accept the consequences of sin.

Let’s quickly go over what has happened in Jonah chapter one so far.  Jonah was a prophet from Gath Hepher in the region of Galilee.  He was prophet during the reign on the Israelite king Jereboam II.  Although Israel was not honouring God as they should, God had Jonah preach a message of blessing and prosperity to Israel, and that came to pass.  But proud and comfortable Israel did not turn to their Covenant LORD and worship Him as they were commanded. 

Then in Jonah 1, God gave a radically different message – a message of judgment to Israel’s enemy, Nineveh.  But in that message of judgment was a call to repentance, to fear the LORD, the God of the heavens, who controls the seas and the earth.  But Jonah would not listen to that word of the LORD.  He resigns from his office as prophet, walks 100km west to the port of Joppa, and boards a Phoenician ship to flee from the presence of the LORD.  Jonah runs away from the LORD, the One who created the heavens and the earth, the One who is sovereign, who has all things in his control.  He gets into this ship and goes down into it.  And the next thing we know, here’s Jonah in the lowest parts of the ship, fast asleep while a storm, sent by God, threatens to send the ship with its occupants down to the bottom of a raging sea.

The captain finds Jonah snoring away, wakes him up and shouts at him, “Call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”  But Jonah does not call on his God – how could he, when he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD – and the storm gets worse.  The sailors, convinced that someone is responsible, draw lots and discover that Jonah is responsible. 

And then Jonah confesses his guilt.  “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”  And he told them more.  He told them he was a prophet.  He told them he was running away from the presence of the LORD.  He was hiding from God – but God had come to find him.

But when they hear the story, the sailors are not relieved.  Verse 10 literally says, “They feared a really big fear, and said to him, What is this that you have done?”  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God and as the waves crash over that Phoenician ship, all the sailors could see was an angry God about to hurl them into the depths of a raging sea.  Jonah – what is it that you have done?

That question, posed by the sailors, is asked a number of times in the Bible, and usually to bring the sinner to see just what a bad thing he has done!  The first time is in Genesis 3.  The serpent tempts Eve.  She takes and eats the fruit, and gives some to Adam, and he also eats.  Then the eyes of both are opened, they see that they are naked, they try to cover up.  And then they hear the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden.  “And Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”  (Gen. 3:8)  Adam and Eve tried to do what Jonah would try to do many years later.  They ran away from the face of the LORD. 

But when you run away from God, He comes after you!  And God has just one question for Eve:  What is this that you have done?

And now the sailors ask Jonah that same question.  “What is this you have done?”  Eve tried to explain away her guilt.  She deflected the blame on the Snake.  To his credit, it appears that Jonah did not.  To the question of the sailors, he has no answer.  To choose to flee from the presence of the LORD, to turn your back, to walk away, to reject God’s call, his claim on your life . . . what is there left to say?  By means of a storm and a group of Phoenician sailors, the LORD brings Jonah to his senses, he lets Jonah catch a glimpse of the enormity of his sin, his guilt.  And Jonah has nothing left to say.

But Jonah does have an answer to the next question posed by the sailors:  “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”

Jonah knows what kind of God he serves.  He knows what he deserves.  “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you.”  God hurled a storm at the ship on account of Jonah’s sin, and now the only way for God to stop the storm is for Jonah to be hurled into the sea.

There has been a lot of speculation as to what Jonah’s motives were for telling the sailors to hurl him into the sea.  The question posed is, was this a death wish, or was it a heroic sacrifice, where the one gave himself up for the good of many?  Those arguing that it was a death wish say that in Jonah 4 he is still bitter and angry that he had to go to Nineveh, so this was yet another attempt to run away from God:  if he could not escape to Tarshish, he would escape his prophetic calling by sinking to the bottom of the sea.  However, I do not think that is convincing.  In Jonah 2, Jonah is truly thankful that the LORD had delivered him.  He praises God, saying, “You have brought up my life from the pit.”  (Jonah 2:6)  He promises in verse 9 to sacrifice to the LORD with thanksgiving, for salvation is of the LORD.  That hardly sounds like the song of one who would rather die!  That’s the song of one who deserved to die, who thought he would die, but was rescued by the grace of God!  No, this was not an attempt at suicide on the part of Jonah.  This shows us that Jonah was a human being, a complex character.  He had his spiritual ups and downs, and it would take more than a storm for Jonah to be right where God wants him to be.

But nor was it necessarily one of heroic sacrifice.  Was Jonah suddenly full of compassion for these heathen sailors?  Did he offer to give himself up in order that they might be saved in the manner of bravery that deserved a Victoria Cross?  Once again, that could be reading too much into the text.

Nor do I feel that it was what we call a “vicarious sacrifice” – even though in some ways the sailors might have seen it as such.  A vicarious sacrifice is where God transfers his wrath from the guilty to an innocent party, and then treats that innocent person as if he was guilty.  Was Jonah a type of Christ?  Could the words that Caiaphas the high priest spoke concerning Jesus apply to Jonah?  When he said, “It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish”?  (John 11:52)  Not entirely, for Jonah was being punished for his own sin, not the sin of the sailors.  As Jonah himself confessed, “I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

Why then did Jonah instruct the sailors to pick him up and throw him into the sea?

First of all, Jonah was a prophet of the LORD and try as he might, he could not escape the fact that God had called him to prophecy.  So when he says with great certainty in verse 12, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you” he is giving the sailors not his own opinion but a word from the LORD.  And this in turn is acknowledged by the sailors in verse 14 when they say, “for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.”  So then we should not first look at what was going on inside Jonah’s heart, but at what God is teaching us here.  It was God who gave the death sentence to Jonah.  And what the LORD is insisting on here, is for Jonah – and all of us – to accept the consequences of sin.  Jonah has disobeyed and has fled from the presence of the LORD.  God’s justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting, punishment of body and soul.”  As Romans 6:23 puts it, the wages of sin is death.

But in the second place, we can still say something about Jonah.  When The LORD gave Jonah a message to speak to the people of Nineveh, he not only kept quiet, but he ran away.  But now that he is brought to his senses, Jonah accepts the word of the LORD, he accepts the consequences of his actions.  “Pick me up and throw me overboard.”  Jonah knows that he has sinned.  He knows that he deserves to die.  Earlier the captain had woken him up and shouted, “Pray lest we perish!”  And now Jonah realizes that he must perish.  That he deserves to die.

The wages of sin is death.  God is just in all his judgments.  As was pointed out in our first sermon on Jonah, “all we like sheep have gone astray.”  And for that, we all deserve to die.

The lowest point of our spiritual journey is when we finally come to our senses and learn just who we really are.  When we discover that our attempts to cover up with fig leaves just does not work.  When our spirit is broken, our heart is contrite.  When, to use those harsh words in our forms for baptism, profession of faith and Lord’s Supper, we detest ourselves and humble ourselves before God.  That’s  a low point in our spiritual journey.  It is a dark place.  It can give you a feeling of absolute horror.  “I deserve to die.  I am guilty as charged.  Pick me up and throw me over the side.  I accept the justice of a righteous God.  The wages of sin, of my sin, is death.

That is where God wanted Jonah to be right now, in the middle of that storm.  And – and I say this carefully – that’s where God wants us.  He wants us to understand the consequences of our sin.  That your sin and my sin brought death.  But I say this carefully, because it is only half of the picture.  God also wants the light of His gospel to shine through our tears of guilt, so that in our hearts there might always be a rainbow of hope.  Knowing your sin and misery is not an end in itself, but the beginning of something glorious.  The beginning of an understanding of the grace, of the free and undeserved favour of our covenant LORD.  That He should save a wretch like you and I.

2.  Submit to the penalty of sin.

When we say “I’m sorry” we don’t always do a good job of it.  Sometimes we are sorry because we got caught out, because it makes things inconvenient for us.  So we give a quick sorry, assume we have a right to be forgiven, and then want the clock turned back so that we can all go on as if the sin had never been committed.  Unfortunately it does not work that way.  Sin does have consequences.

Jonah runs away from the presence of the LORD.  The LORD sends a storm.  The lot falls on Jonah.  He admits his sin and he tells the Phoenician sailors exactly what he had done wrong.  But the storm does not go away.  Rather, after Jonah tells them what he did wrong, the sea grew even more tempestuous.  Jonah had to accept the consequences of his sin, which meant that he would have to be thrown overboard.

But the sailors also had to see sin for what it really was.  When Jonah told them to throw him overboard, they were afraid to do it.  Human sacrifice was, in all likelihood, nothing new to them.  The god Molech was a Phoenician god, and the people offered children to this god.  But sending this Hebrew Jonah, the cause of the storm, to the bottom of the sea, was too frightening.  What if the LORD, Yahweh, would be angry with them?  What if they were condemning an innocent man to a watery grave?  What if the LORD would then turn on them on account of their sin?  And so the sailors rowed hard to return to land.  Even though these Phoenician ships could be beached in a pinch, this was a very risky thing to do.  When there is a storm, it is safer to be on the high seas than to risk being smashed to pieces on the shore.  And as you come closer to shore, the rising seabed and backwash make the waves bigger and steeper.  But the sailors were prepared to have their ship wrecked so long as they could send Jonah off on his way.  Perhaps they felt that they must do all they could to ensure that Jonah could now obey the word of the LORD and go to Nineveh.  But they could not do it.  The more they dug in with their oars, the harder they tried to battle against the storm and get to dry land, the fiercer the storm became and the more the seas raged.  In His time, the LORD would set Jonah back on dry land.  But the time was not yet right.  The sailors can not save Jonah.  They must carry out the sentence of death that the LORD Himself had spoken through the prophet Jonah.

And so the sailors pray, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.”  (Jonah 1:14)  “We do not want to do it!”  the sailors cry.  “We are afraid to send a prophet – even a wayward prophet – of the LORD to what appears to be certain death.  But LORD, this is what You have ordained.  You oh Lord have declared that the wages of sin is death.  It is Your decision that Jonah, who tried to flee from Your presence, must be punished by being thrown into the stormy seas that You have sent.  We are trying to do Your will, O LORD.  Do not hold the blood of this man against us!”

How different this confession is to the actions of Jonah.  Jonah who had refused to do the will of the LORD.  And how different this prayer is to the words of the Jews 700 years later who cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children!”  (Matt 27:25)  The people of Israel who were present at the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus rejected the Christ and assumed full responsibility for doing so.  Those who rejected the Christ turned in a deliberate way from the presence of the Lord.  His blood condemned them.

But the blood of Jonah did not condemn the Phoenician sailors.  They acknowledged the penalty of sin, obeyed the Word of the LORD as spoken through His prophet, and so were saved.

But they were not saved by the blood of Jonah.  He was not a human sacrifice to appease an angry god.  Through the storm the sailors were also confronted with their own sin.  Their sin too must be paid for, as they too deserved death.  To be saved not just from the storm, but from the gates of hell, they need to turn to God and ultimately to His Son.

We too must submit to the penalty of sin.  We too must see our sin for what it really is.  We too must confess that the penalty for sin is death.  But that the penalty for sin has been paid – in the death of the Son.

The sailors would never understand the miracle of salvation as well as we are able to do so.  For they lived in a heathen land before the coming of our Saviour.  But the truth of Romans 6:23 was true also for them:  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


3. Receive mercy in the payment for sin.

As soon as the sailors threw Jonah into the sea, the storm stopped, the sea ceased from its raging.  And then you get that word fear again, as I pointed out in the last sermon on Jonah.  The sailors feared the LORD with a great fear, they feared Him exceedingly.  They offered a sacrifice, and took vows, no doubt vows to continue serving Him perhaps in a special way in the future. 

But was this true repentance?  Was this a godly fear that would lead to salvation?  We don’t know.  Let God be the judge of that.  But the Bible gives us no reason to believe that their faith was not genuine.  And there is something in the text that indicates that a real change had come upon these Phoenician sailors.  For they say, “You, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.”  There are three other times in the Bible where this is confessed:  Psalm 115:3, Psalm 135:6 and Isaiah 46:10.  Read these verses in their context when you get home, or take it from me:  in each of these cases, the confession that the LORD does as He pleases is in the context of comparing the LORD to idols, to false gods.  In each case we see that the One LORD, Yahweh, is sovereign, is in control, is omnipotent, has the power to do what He intends to do.  The Phoenician sailors, therefore, do not simply accept Yahweh as yet another god to add to their list, but they confess Him as the LORD of the heavens, the One who made earth and seas, the One True God who alone is to be glorified.

If only Jonah could be on deck now!  (And praise God, assuming Jonah wrote this book, the LORD let him know.)  He had run to the ends of the earth to avoid seeing the heathen converted.  And what does he get as a result?  He gets the heathen converted.  And what is more, these sailors have taken vows, and now they are sailing on to the West, all the way to Spain, to Tarshish.  Truly, the Word of the LORD will never return empty but will accomplish what He purposes!  These sailors became forerunners of another missionary who wanted to get all the way to the ends of the earth, to Spain – the apostle Paul.  (Rom. 15:24)  We see too a foretaste of the grace that God would later show to Nineveh.  And this picture of the sailors praising the LORD looks forward to the fullness of the new covenant in Christ, when the salvation of the Lord will come to the whole world.

And what about Jonah?  Jonah had submitted himself to the justice of a Righteous God.  He had nothing to offer the LORD.  Nothing to bargain his way out.  The wages of sin is death; Jonah had sinned.  He deserved death.  But then comes the Gospel!  Jonah, who had run away from the presence of the LORD and hid himself in the bottom of a ship, is sought out by that same LORD.  “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”  (Jonah 1:17)  Jonah would receive mercy in payment for sin.

But here’s the rub.  Although Jonah was saved, he did not pay for his own sin!  He could not!  He was spiritually bankrupt!  He could not do a thing to redeem his life, much less be received once again into God’s favour.  It was all grace, from beginning to end.  As Jonah was led to confess in chapter 2:9, “Salvation is of the LORD.”

Yes, the wages of sin is death.  But that’s only half the story.  Because those wages were paid by Jesus.  His death on a tree means that you and I can be free.  “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Would you like to try putting yourselves in the shoes of those Phoenician sailors one more time?  They first learned that the LORD was great, powerful and just.  A God to be feared, to be afraid of.  But now through experiencing the justice of God, they are confronted with His mercy!  He is the God who saves.  True repentance accepts the justice of a righteous God.  But the justice of our Righteous God is satisfied not by us, but by Another.  Jonah’s sins, the sailors’ sins, your sins, and my sins are all so bad that God’s justice demands that they be punished.  The sentence is death.  Praise God that He has made a way.  Praise God that the wages for our sins have been paid in full!  Jesus has died, so that we might have life.  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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