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Jonah and the Better Jonah

March 26, 2017 Series: Jonah and the Rescue of Rebels

Passage: Jonah 1:4–1:17

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So I want to begin by saying that the Holy Spirit is a master storyteller.

 

This is what I mean.

 

The Bible is one story composed of 66 other stories, written over the course of 1600 years.  Loads of people wrote the Bible - each with their own personalities, writing to their own people in their own context - but all of them were driven by the whispers of one Spirit.

 

And so when we read the Bible we read the whispers of a master storyteller.  Colors and pictures and scenes and characters are woven together across the story of ancient creation and coming kingdoms, lost rebels and future heroes.  If you look closely, you’ll see the brushstrokes of a master, wedding the narratives of orphan songs and distant wedding feasts.  If you look closely.

 

But we don’t always look closely, do we?  One of the sharp edges of contemporary Christianity is the “Quiet Time.”  I can’t remember when I was first told of that expectation, but it’s always been a part of my life.  Any man or woman worth their salt is expected to sit down in a chair and read the Bible for twenty minutes.  At least two paragraphs.  And then pray.

 

Some time ago we stopped reading the Bible like the story that it really is.  

 

When we sit down to watch movies, we come with expectation.  When we read that blog, or open that novel, we do so for one reason.  We humans are built with a craving.  Stories.  We crave stories.  And we want them to be epic, and moving, and paradigm shattering.  And, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we want them to be true.

 

That’s why we need to stop reading the bible only in two-paragraph chunks.  This is not a devotional.  This is not “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”  This is the master story, whispered by the Master Storyteller.  It is epic, and it is moving, and it is (more than perhaps anything) true.

So the Bible is an artifact of perfect storytelling.  It nods, and winks, and nudges.  And if you’re really paying attention you’ll see that wink, you’ll feel that nudge, and you’ll get it.  You’ll see that connection, and that connection will change your life.  The Bible is miraculous for that reason.  It is rich and it is dense and it is seamless.  Everything comes together into one life-changing story.

 

Let me give you a few examples.

 

Jesus is walking down the street with the first of his disciples.  He sees Nathaniel, and he looks him in the eye and says, “Behold - an Israelite, in whom there is no deceit!”  And Nathaniel is taken back.  “How do you know me?” he asks.  “I saw you when you were seated beneath the fig tree,” Jesus says.  Apparently Nathaniel was alone when he was seated beneath the fig tree, because this statement blows his mind.  “Teacher,” he says, “You are the son of God!  You are the King of Israel.”  Jesus says to him, “You believe just because I told you that I saw you underneath the fig tree?!  I promise you, one day you’re going to see heaven open, and you’ll see the angels of God descending on the Son of Man.”

 

So that’s a bizarre interaction.  Unless.  Unless you’ve read the story.  Because thousands of years before there was a man named Deceit, whose name would be changed to Israel.  And thousands of years ago that man saw a vision of the angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder.  At the top is God, at the bottom is broken creation.

 

If you knew that story, if you had read it and paid attention to it and remembered that story, you would have seen what Jesus was really saying.  He was saying that all of the prophecies of the ancient sons of Abraham were about him.  You would have heard Jesus saying that he was the way to the Father.  That’s why he would be King of Israel.  Because the reconciliation that man had always hoped for was here, right here - living and standing and breathing.  Jesus is the way to the Father.

 

All of that from a nod.  All of that from a nudge.  


Or how about when Jesus is dying, hanging from a cross and dying slowly.  And then he says, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani.”  Which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

That’s rough, man.  I can’t tell you how many times I read those words and thought that the Son of God had lost hope.

 

Until I read the Story.

Until I read the ancient song of David, the prophetic song of David, which begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

And then I kept reading.

And the song which began with the seemingly hopeless words of God’s broken savior rise and rise and rise to a victory anthem.  

 

“The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied!  Those who seek him shall praise the LORD!  May your hearts live forever!  All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD!  And all the families of the nations shall worship before you!  For kingship belongs the LORD, and he rules over the nations!”

 

Those desperate words- those words that seemed like the broken whimpers of a desperate man - those words were the first hums of a victory ballad.  Christ, hanging there and dying, was singing a victory song!

 

And do you know how that victory song ends?

“They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

 

It. is. finished.

 

That one wink, that one nod - if you had read that text, and paid attention, and remembered.  That one text radically alters how you should read the story of the dying Christ.

 

He was humming victory anthems with his precious last breaths.  What a picture of our sweet rescue.

 

That’s how the Bible works.  The master storyteller is weaving together ancient stories and eclectic prophecies and moving letters.  He is whispering, always whispering of the coming King and a great coming Kingdom.  But you have to pay attention to the nods and the winks and the nudges.

 

Now the reason I say all this is because our passage is a major nudge.  We’ve got some pretty amazing winks here, and I want to explore what they mean.

 

Let’s get started.  Open your bible to Jonah 1.  Start in verse 1.

 

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh,that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him,“What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dryland, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

 

Okay.  Now I want you to turn to Mark 4.  Start in verse 35.

 

On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another,“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

Okay, so let’s back up a bit, and start at the beginning.

First thing you need to know: the character of Jonah is fascinating.  He is always playing two roles.  He is always us, and he is always Jesus.  He is always rebel Israel, and he always anticipates true Israel.  He is a picture of rebellion, and he anticipates faithfulness.

 

So when you read the book of Jonah, you’ve got to be looking in both directions.  You’ve got to see that he is a representative of foolish, faithless Israel.  He is broken and hateful and proud.  He runs from God, and he ignores God, and he hates when God is merciful.

 

And that’s what you see on display in chapter one of this story.  Remember last month?  Two characters - God the merciful, and Jonah the merciless.  God spoke through Jonah once before, do you remember?  He spoke through Jonah a  message of mercy.  “Though you rebel against me, though you worship idols, I will restore your land.  I have not forgotten you, faithless Israel.”   Jonah is the voice of this message of hope to faithless Israel.  And yet Jonah hasn’t the least amount of mercy toward the people of Nineveh.  He is merciless and he is hateful toward this people.  His running to Joppa was a death sentence, a judgment of wrath.

 

What do we see here, just at the beginning of this story?  God’s mercy is stronger than the hatred of men.  And God is not only merciful to rebel Nineveh.  God is merciful to Jonah.

 

How do we know?  When Jonah runs, God stirs the sea.  He ushers the wind and the waves.  And he stirs the hearts of pagans.  God’s mercy is on display in the storm.

 

Read again from verse four.

 

But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.

 

This is a major storm.  And that’s (sometimes) how God works in mercy.  Great winds, and powerful waves, and the fear of perishing.  Jonah ran, as fast as he could, away from the merciful work of God.  And how did God orchestrate the rescue of his people?  Storms.

Bad ones.  Look at this.  These are sailors.  Professional, career sailors.  They spend their lives at sea.  And what do you see here?  Sheer panic.  They are afraid, and they are shouting out prayers, and they are tossing their stuff overboard.  

 

But Jonah’s sleeping.

 

But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

 

Jonah was fast asleep.  Literally the only person on board who could calm the storm  and right the waves is sleeping in the cabin.  Are you beginning to see the parallels? And notice the captain’s words.  “Bro, seriously?  Wake up and pray.  Perhaps the gods will have mercy on us.”

 

Keep reading.

 

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him,“What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

 

This is a stroke of real irony.  Listen to Jonah’s words.  “I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”  But does he really?  Does he fear God?

 

In this passage, who is fearing God?  Right now, when the storm is raging, and the waves are beating, who fears God?  Not Jonah!  Look - as soon as these pagan sailors hear that they may have offended the God who crafted the sea and the dry land, what do they do?  They were terrified!  And in that terror they look to the heavens and cry out to whatever gods they can think of.  Just at this moment in the story we see two pictures: a disposition of pride and a disposition of humility.  You see these pagan sailors, terrified and fully aware that if the waves crash and the wind blows it’s because of an act of god.  Sure, they didn’t know the true God.  Sure, they hadn’t met the God who spoke into existence the heavens and the earth.  But they knew that they were in trouble, and they knew their only hope was divine intervention.  

 

And what is Jonah doing?  He’s sleeping.  Jonah, the recipient of untold mercies, who know perhaps better than anyone that the lives of men hinged on the will of God.  He’s sleeping in the cabin.

 

Who fears God in this story?  Not Jonah.  Not the prophet of God.  He didn’t fear God at all.  But these pagans did.  And they pled with Jonah to cry out to God.  But he doesn’t.

 

Keep reading.

 

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dryland, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.  Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.”

 

Listen to the prayers of these pagans, cast against to prayerless, faithless, merciless Jonah - the prophet of God.  And these pagans - weak, hopeless, forsaken pagans cry out to God for mercy.  Why did they wait?  Why did they wait to throw Jonah into the sea?  Because they were merciful.  The irony of this story is ripe.  Jonah is the representative of God’s chosen people.  Israel  had seen the mercy of God on display over and over and over and over again.  They had seen his rescue, they had seen his love, they had seen his promises and his restoration and his steadfast care.  And yet they looked upon the lost nations with hatred.  He is actually running to Tarshish in order that the nations would perish.  And these sailors risked their lives to keep this rebel breathing.

 

Why tell this story to the nations of Israel?  Why speak of the softened hearts of these pagan sailors?  Why tell the story of repentant Nineveh?  

 

The story of Jonah is a rebuke.  It is a hopeful and loving rebuke of those who take for granted the mercy of God.  And the sharp irony of this story is highlighted because the people of Israel are just like Jonah, and they should be just like these pagan sailors.

 

When God speaks, it is a miraculous work of mercy and love.  God’s commands are grace.  God’s movement is care and restoration.  When God sends storms, he does so to rescue his people.  And the reaction of the pagan sailors is the only appropriate reaction to the work and words of God.  Fear and submission, hope and gratitude.

 

Keep reading.

 

So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

 

So we learn here what Jonah knew all along.  He had the power to calm the storms.  What was required to quiet the raging thunder?  What was necessary to quiet the terrifying waves?  What was required to satiate the wrath of God?

 

Sacrifice.

 

Jonah knew that the lives of these men would be spared if he were sacrificed.

 

“Throw me to the depths.  My death is required to calm this raging storm.”

 

Okay, now let’s look at Mark 4.

 

On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another,“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

So the first thing to notice is that the construction of this episode is almost identical to the Jonah story.  There’s your wink.  That’s when you should start making these connections.  Here’s what I mean.

 

In both stories, a group steps on board.  

In both cases they set sail.

In both cases a great winds accompany a storm.

In both cases the waves compromise the vessel.

In both cases seasoned sailors panic and fear death.

In both cases the one individual who has the power to stop the storms is sleeping.

 

That’s where the similarities end.  And that’s why this story is in the gospel of Mark.  Look for a moment at the words of Jesus’ disciples.

 

And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

 

So much theology packed into one sentence.  You wanna know what they thought of Jesus?  It's right there, on display in technicolor.

 

First.  Teacher, not Lord.  In this moment of sheer panic, the faithlessness of the disciples is on display?  How do we know that?  Because Jesus looks to them in just a moment and says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 

We know from all four gospels that the disciples have begun to call Jesus, “Lord.”  They have begun to suspect that he is the messiah, the anointed King who will rescue his people.  But not here.  Not now.  Not when the wind blows and the waves break.  At this moment he is teacher.  And notice something.  This is where the similarities between the two stories cease.  When the pagans fear for their lives, they cry out to heaven.  When they wake the sleeper, they plead with him to cry out to God.  

 

What do the disciples say?

 

“Teacher, DON’T YOU CARE THAT WE’RE DYING!?”

 

These twelve disciples have seen impossible things - first row spectators of the miracles of the Son of God.  They have seen, living and breathing and walking and speaking, the promised savior of Israel.  The prophets of God have yearned jealously to be these men, to see firsthand the redemption of God’s people.   They know this sleeper.

 

And oh, what a sleeper.  This sleeper is the Anointed Messiah.  This sleeper is the true Israel.  This sleeper is the better Adam, who walks and talks with God.  This sleeper is covered and full of the Spirit.  This sleeper and the Father are one.  Before Abraham, this sleeper says “I AM.”  This sleeper is the God to whom these men should have been crying out.

 

So much faithlessness on display just at this moment.  Because the fear of death at this moment meant something.  Jesus had come for a reason, and his works were a promise of redemption.  So when these disciples cry out in despair they are making a statement.  Jesus isn’t the anticipated messiah.  He isn’t the King of Israel.  He isn’t going to redeem the people of God.  Jesus is going to die, right here with us in this storm.  

But that’s not all.  They don’t even cry out to God like the faithless pagans.  Maybe they hadn’t suspected yet that Jesus was literally God in flesh.  Maybe they had doubts as to the nature of God’s rescue of his people.  But at least they’d know to cry out to God, to pray and ask for rescue.  No.  They don’t.

 

The actions and words of the disciples is a picture of faithlessness.  When the storm hit, all semblance of faith was swept away.  These men broke at the thought of peril.  Me too.

 

How often were you broken by trial?  How often does your faith crumble when the storm hits?  When you lose your job, or when your spouse fails you, or when the test results come in and your doctor calls?  Do you cling to Jesus in hope, or do you (like me) waiver?  The storm has a habit of pulling away the facade.  On Sunday morning we all have great, noble, shining faith, don’t we?  On Wednesday night we are the great, lasting bastions of faith in a dark and desperate world.  But when the storm hits, it often reveals who we really are.  And often, in the face of great winds, and powerful waves, we run to the cabin and shout, “DON’T YOU CARE THAT I’M DYING!?”

 

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

 

Take heart, brother.  Christ came to save the weak.  Take heart, sister.  Christ came to save the broken and the frail.  And sometimes he gives us the storm to teach us how to cling to Jesus.  

 

Christ stands up and speaks.  That’s all.  He stands up and says, “Quit it.”  And the storm stops, and the waves stop, and the disciples are there, soaking wet and dripping with tears and red eyes and distraught faces, surrounded by perfect peace.

 

It was God in that boat, sleeping.  Perfect faith would have looked into the storms and said, “Well, this is quite inconvenient, but obviously we’ll be fine.  God’s there, sleeping in the cabin.  God, the author of the sea and the dry land.  God’s here, with us.  I don’t really like great winds and towering waves when I’m sailing, but this too shall pass.  And we’ll be fine, because the son of God is here, and he’s made promises that don’t include us dying here on this boat.”

 

Jesus was there, and with a word he calms the storms.  And then he looks to his little brothers and he says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 

Does it fill you with hope to know that Jesus is actively working to kill your fear?   The end of our faith is fearlessness of death.  Perfect courage in the face of massive storms, great enemies, desperation and death.  To the degree that you look to Jesus, you will fear nothing else in all creation.  Because Jesus breaks the storm with a word.  


A word.  “Peace.  Be still.”  

 

And they were filled with great fear and said to one another,“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

You know the answer.  We just read it, in Jonah.  Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

 

Jonah said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him,“What is this that you have done!”

 

This is Jesus, through whom were made the sea and the dry land.  This is the LORD, who has authority over all creation.

 

That’s the magic of the scriptures.  The structure of this story, step by step, follows the structure of the first passage of Jonah.  And the meaning of this passage is captured in what it doesn’t say.  The question that the disciples asked was a question answered centuries ago.  Who commands the waves and the winds?  The LORD!  He’s the one.  The LORD is the one who speaks a word and calms the storm.  

 

One more connection, and then we’ll talk about us, and what this means for you and me.

 

In both stories, the winds and the waves are shut down in a moment.  Miraculous rescue, in a moment.  And in both stories, the overwhelming fear of death shifts to an overwhelming fear of God.  

 

Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

And they were filled with great fear and said to one another,“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

I point this out for one reason.  I want you to know, without a doubt, that God sometimes sends great storms to work in your heart great fear.  Not a fear of death, but a fear of God.  There is such a thing as good fear, and every one of the faithful brothers and sisters of the King are characterized by it.

 

There’s a story called, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”  If you haven’t read it, you should.  A brilliant Christian named C.S. Lewis wrote it to teach children what Jesus is like.  And in this allegory, Jesus is represented by a great and powerful lion named Aslan.

 

Very early in the story, Mr. Beaver is telling Lucy (one of the main characters) about Aslan.  And naturally Lucy is a bit nervous to meet him, because he’s a great and powerful lion, with all the trappings of great and powerful lions, like teeth and claws.  And, trembling, she asks Mr. Beaver whether this Aslan is safe.

 

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

 

When we learn that the waves obey him, we must fear King Jesus.

 

Look, sometimes we get caught up in all the theological intricacies of Christianity, and sometimes we focus so closely on this or that feature of our faith that it shifts to the abstract.  Our faith can become an idea - a thing to be studied, and even perhaps marveled at - but an idea.

That’s not bad, necessarily.  But you need to remember.

 

At the end of the day, there is - right at this moment, right now - a living and breathing King.  He is out there and he is jealous for his people, and his is at the edge of his seat waiting to claim his Kingdom.  And when he returns we will see terrifying mercy.  There is no power like the power of our King.  

 

He is coming.  And when he comes, the only thing that will matter is how you relate to him.  He is not safe, but he is good.  And he will, in a word, destroy all that is wicked in this world.  You need to be on his side.  

 

Live in the good fear of our powerful King.  It should keep you from sin, it should keep you from faithlessness.  The good fear of our powerful King is a stunning gift of grace to the sons and daughters of God.




More in Jonah and the Rescue of Rebels

June 18, 2017

Pity in the Lives of the Rescued

May 28, 2017

Mercy & Doing Well

April 16, 2017

Christ and the Sign of Jonah