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I. Scene 2: Onboard the ship. – vss. 4-5b
1. The curtain opened on this incredible story of God and His prophet last Wednesday. Scene 1 was entitled: "God Calls Jonah," and it read as follows: Read 1:1-3.
– God called His prophet to go to Nineveh which was to the north and east. Jonah headed for Tarshish which was to the south and west.
– Jonah's purpose was to flee from the presence of the Lord – 2x.
2. Scene 2 takes place onboard the ship that Jonah chartered to take him as far from the presence of the Lord as possible. We're not told how far the ship sails westward across the Mediterranean Sea. All we're told is that the voyage is suddenly interrupted with a big, loud "But…"
– That's the sound of God saying, 'My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.' And 'My will be done,' even if it is contrary to your will.
B. The Sailors
1. If you've ever seen the movie, "The Perfect Storm" you can picture the scene taking place. "great wind," "mighty tempest," "ship threatening to break up."
– The sailors are "afraid." That tells you something. If you're ever out on a whale watch or vacation cruise and the experienced sailors are "afraid," you know it's bad.
2. Someone once said that there's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. Well, there's no such thing as an atheist onboard a ship "threatening to break up."
– "Each cried out to his god." The word for 'god' here is the Hebrew word 'El.' It's the generic word for god. In Genesis 1, we read, "In the beginning, God…" The word there is 'Elohim.' It's the word 'El' with a plural ending to it which automatically distinguishes it from every other 'El' out there.
– "Each cried out to his god." That should sound familiar to our 21st century ears. Everyone has their own god, their own idea of god. That's Luther's definition of a 'god,' 'El.' Whatever you believe and put your trust in, that is your god.
– These sailors prove that St. Paul had it right when, writing to the Romans, he said, (Rom.1:19-20), "For what can be known about God is plain to them, (pagan sailors), because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."
– Even these pagan sailors call upon their gods, whom they perceive to be at work through "the things that have been made," in this case, the wind and the sea.
– There are 2 defects built into this type of knowledge of God however.
1) You can't tell anything about God's intentions, will or desires. Is he good and gracious? Does He desire the death of sinners or not? Does He want to relent from bringing disaster or does He delight in destruction?
2) You can't identify the true God from the false god. Each cried out to his god. Which one was responsible for this storm? Can't tell.
– The true knowledge of the true God and His desires and intentions and will comes only by the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth to us through God's Word. This is where the true God reveals Himself and His heart to us.
– Apart from the Holy Spirit, we always get it wrong. We see god in things that are not god and we put our trust and hope in the false gods that cannot help or save us. And we always fail to see the true God and reject Him. Which is exactly what happened with Jesus Christ. Apart from the Holy Spirit, no one recognized that the true God was dwelling amongst us and He was rejected. It's the same today too.
C. Cargo overboard
1. The fact that they throw the ship's cargo overboard tells you what they believe about their gods. They believe he's an angry god who wants to destroy them.
– This is as much of a spiritual act as it is a practical one. They are trying to appease the angry god by giving it gifts. Cargo now. And as we'll see, human beings later.
– The one who knows the true God however knows that His intentions are not to destroy but to save. Not to tear down but to build up. And so the response of faith that trusts that God is love is to wait for the Lord.
– Psalm 27:14. " Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
– Romans 8:23 "And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
II. Jonah Asleep – vs.5c – 6
A. "Fast Asleep"
1. The storm continues, the ship continues to threaten to break up. But now the scene shifts to the ships hold where Jonah, the prophet of God, is "fast asleep."
– You would think that he'd be on deck lending a hand to the sailors, taking the opportunity to speak the name of the one, true God to them, saying, "fear not." "God is love." But no, he went down to his bunk and was "fast asleep."
– Jonah is a man who is "fleeing the presence of the Lord." As we'll see, he knows why the storm is raging as it is. God has found him. But Jonah is a man with a mission of his own. He will flee the presence of the Lord one way or another. His deep sleep is his escape.
– St. Matthew records the episode when Jesus was at sea with his disciples and a vicious storm hit. Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat. But unlike Jonah, Jesus is not asleep because his conscience is burdened with his guilt and he wants to flee from God's presence. Jesus is asleep because He is at perfect peace with God.
– There are two ways to cope with a guilty conscience. One is to escape. Flee the presence of the Lord. Some try to do that with drugs, alcohol, sex, work, pleasure. Some with sleep.
– The second way to cope with a guilty conscience is to confess your sin. This is the way that Jesus is inviting us to take when He says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:28-29
– Jonah is faced with a dilemma. Do I remain in my sin and try to escape the punishment? Or do I confess my sin and accept the punishment? Jesus says, the second way is the only way to find rest for your soul.
B. Captain… Arise… Perhaps
1. The captain of the ship awakens Jonah from his sleep. And "arise."
– Interestingly, this is the same word that God spoke to Jonah in verse 1. "Arise."
– Jonah can't even escape from the call of God. It's just that where God had called Him directly, now He is speaking through the captain of the ship – a pagan at that.
2. "Call out to your god. Perhaps he'll give a thought to us, that we may not perish."
– The irony here is incredible. Here's a pagan ship captain calling on the prophet of God to pray. Everyone else was praying but Jonah.
– And the pagan ship captain even confesses that Jonah's god may have the power to save them from perishing.
– "Perhaps…" Not exactly the kind of faith and trust you'd like to see. More of a "what's to loose" sort of faith. But ironic that the call of faith should be coming from this pagan to the man of God instead of vice versa.
III. The Sailors and Jonah in Dialog – vss.7-12
A. Cast lots.
1. Now, the whole crew has come below deck to interrogate Jonah. They "cast lots" to see who among them was the guilty one.
– "Lots" were usually pieces of broken pottery. Each one would put his name on a piece and they would throw them somehow until there was just one name facing up. That name was "Jonah."
– Here again, we notice just how religious these pagan sailors are. They believe that the storm is divine wrath against someone who is guilty of something against god. And they believe that god will identify the guilty one through the casting of lots. After all, if they believe that god has the power to orchestrate the winds and sea, then certainly he can orchestrate a few little pieces of broken pottery.
– What do you think was going through Jonah's mind as the lots were being cast? He knew who the guilty one was. Why didn't he just admit it? Jonah is still holding out hope that he can escape the punishment by withholding his guilt.
– And what's even worse – much worse. Jonah is willing to take his chances that the lot just may fall on someone else instead of him. Not that any of the others were 'innocent.' But we get a glimpse at the selfishness and self-centeredness of this prophet of God.
B. Jonah on Trial.
1. Having been identified, the crew says, "tell us…" And they fire four questions at him.
– They already know he's the guilty one. But they want to hear him say it. This sounds to me like Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam hid from God. God said, 'where are you?' It's not that God didn't know right where Adam was crouching behind a tree. He wanted to hear Adam say, "I'm guilty. Have mercy on me." "Why are you hiding?" says God. God knows exactly why Adam's hiding, but He wants Adam to confess his sin. "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." The sailors are the voice of God calling Jonah to confess and 'find rest for his soul.'
– "Tell us…" they demand. Listen, when unbelievers come to you and take you by the collar and say, "tell us" about your god and what He's like and what it's like to follow Him, you better be ready to give an answer. How ironic that these pagan sailors are begging Jonah to tell them about His God.
– Maybe that's the way we ought to see the world we live in too.
C. Jonah's confession
1. So Jonah spills the secret that he's kept under lock and key so far. "I am a Hebrew. (We would say, "I am a Christian), and I fear the Lord the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." First words that we hear from Jonah in this whole story – a confession of faith.
– First of all, we notice that when Jonah confesses faith in God, He doesn't use the generic word for god but the personal name that God gave to Moses to give to the people of Israel so that they might call upon God by name. "Yahweh." "I am who I am." Now in these last days, He has given us the name of Jesus by which we should call upon Him.
– Jonah identifies "Yahweh" as the God of the sea and the One who is behind this storm. That's my God, says Jonah.
2. What strikes us hard right here is that Jonah's confession is such a contrast to Jonah's life.
– Jonah's a religious man who believes in God but doesn't want to hear God's Word or do God's will. He's got good theology. He knows his doctrine. But he's a hypocrite and a bad example. He's a believer and he's unfaithful. He's a saint and he's a sinner. He's just like us isn't he? What we know is one thing. What we do is, too often, something different.
– But he's God's prophet. And, even against his will, God is using Jonah to speak His name to these pagan sailors.
3. Then the men were "exceedingly afraid." They are more afraid at having this guilty man of God on their ship than they are of the storm itself.
4. Interestingly, they ask Jonah to determine what his punishment should be. He ought to know what it will take to appease this God of his. To which Jonah replied, "Throw me into the sea. Then it will calm down. I know it's because of me that this great tempest has come upon you."
– So we wonder, what was Jonah's motive in this?
– Was he ready to be honest with himself, these men, with God, confessing his sin, ready to accept his punishment in peace?
– Or was this an act of sincere love for these men, his neighbors? Was he offering his life to death so that they would not die but live?
– Or, was this Jonah's final, desperate act of escape? Assisted suicide.
– We know that Jesus Christ gave Himself up to death, even death on a cross, so that we would not die but have eternal life. Jesus took even the sin of Jonah upon Himself, and for Jonah's sake, suffered death that he would not perish. We know what Jesus' motives were – "for God so loved the world."
– But what were Jonah's? And what would you have done and why?
IV. The Sailors Act – vss. 13-16
1. You've got to admire these sailors. They're faced with a real ethical dilemma. Do they throw Jonah overboard to save themselves or do they try harder to save themselves and Jonah by their own power?
– "The men rowed hard to try to get back to dry land." Jonah seemed willing to let the boat sink and everyone drown, but these men do all they can to save Jonah and each other.
– Or was it that they didn't want Jonah's blood on their hands? What was their motive?
– Whatever their motives might have been, God's will would be done. "The sea became more tempestuous against them."
2. They realize that their actions to try to save themselves have only made matters worse. And so, what do they do? "They called out to the Lord."
– This is remarkable. Don't miss this! They prayed. And to whom do they pray? Not "EL." Not to "their gods." They pray to "the Lord," to "Yahweh." They call upon the God of Jonah.
– This is the great surprise of the story. These pagans call upon the one true God through the witness and testimony of Jonah – that unfaithful and disobedient prophet of God. God is having His way and His will is being done, even through His sinful and fallen servant.
– Or as St. Paul puts it, the power of God made known in weakness. The wisdom of God made known in foolishness.
3. So, we want to stop right here and turn our attention to Jonah for a minute. While these sailors are praying as they are, what was Jonah thinking? What was going through his mind?
– Keep in mind that we know more than Jonah does. We know about the great fish and the vomiting up on dry land and the upcoming trip to Nineveh. But Jonah knows none of this. Jonah doesn't know that he is going to be saved. The only thing that Jonah sees is his death.
– Luther says that at this point, Jonah must have felt like his soul was being suspended by a silk thread over hell itself.
– If only Jonah could have seen his deliverance in the midst of his death. What a difference that would make for him. If only he could see life in the midst of death. If God would just show him the rest of the story of his life and how He's waiting to meet Jonah on the shore where death will spit him out alive.
– If Jonah could have only seen that, then he would not have been afraid of dying. Then, death would be nothing more than crossing a shallow stream from one firm bank to the other.
– What was Jonah thinking about his death? The difference between a peaceful death and a terrible death has nothing to do with the circumstances of our death. Lot's of men and woman have died violent deaths, much more violent than drowning at sea, and yet have died peacefully.
– The difference is to be found in the conscience. A conscience that is burdened with sin and guilt before God is afraid to meet God in death. But a conscience that is free of sin because it has confessed it and believed that God in His mercy and for the sake of Jesus Christ has forgiven it all by His death on the cross, that person lives in peace and dies in peace with God.
4. The sailors pick Jonah up and hurl him into the sea. And no sooner does Jonah hit the water than the winds stop and the storm ceased from its raging. Now, notice carefully the sailors reaction.
– "They feared the Lord exceedingly." They were more afraid now that the sea had grown calm than they were when the boat was threatening to break apart.
– Their reaction is much the same as the disciples in the boat with Jesus on the stormy sea. Mark says that after Jesus stilled the sea by His command, the disciples who had been afraid, were "filled with great fear."
– Solomon, gifted by God with a special measure of wisdom wrote, "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord." (Proverbs 9:10). These sailors were learning true wisdom.
1. That brings us to the end of scene 2. The sailors disappear from the scene. We're not told what happened to them after this. Did they head back to port in Joppa and take other passengers and cargo for another voyage? Did they tell others about what took place in this "perfect storm?"
– What would you have done?
2. So, let's conclude with the same two questions we concluded last scene with.
1) What will become of the prophet who flees from the presence of the Lord? I think we've been given a hint of that answer in scene 2.
2) What will become of the people of Nineveh if the prophet doesn't go to them and "call out to them?" Maybe we've been given a hint of the answer in the sailors onboard this ship.
3. Next week, the curtain will open on scene 3 – "Jonah In The Belly Of The Fish."