Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Humble Yourself" Sermon: Jonah 2:1-10

“Humble Yourself”

[Jonah 2:1-10]

June 15, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Jonah was a prophet around 750 B.C. in Israel.  Israel was at peace, but they were worshipping idols, and God sent Jonah and other prophets to warn them that if they did not turn away and repent of their sin, God was going to discipline them.  Then, God told Jonah to go to the hated Assyrians – to Nineveh – to preach the Gospel to them – to call them to repentance and faith in the God of Israel – but Jonah was having none of it.

            Jonah ran away – thinking that he could escape God by going to Spain – thinking he would give God time to reconsider what He had commanded Jonah to do.  So Jonah hopped on a ship bound for Spain, but God hurled a hurricane at them, and Jonah finally admitted that he was the cause of the disaster, and Jonah recognized his sin and – to save the crew of the ship – told them to hurl him into the sea.  When they did, the sea was at once calm.

            And Jonah was swallowed by a great fish that God sent to him.

            This morning’s text – chapter two of the book of Jonah – is the record of what happened during Jonah’s three day and three night stay in the belly of the great fish.

            Last week, we said that Jonah’s being thrown into the sea to save the sailors was symbolic of the Atonement – of Jesus taking on the sins of all those who would believe in Him savinlgy – as well as the Wrath of God for those sins.

            We also noted that God sometimes uses extreme measures to get us to awaken us to our sin.  The first of these, we saw, was God hurling the storm at the ship and Jonah being hurled overboard into the raging sea.

            In this morning’s text, we see:

            Frist, when God disciplines us, the goal is that we will humble ourselves and return to Him.

            Second, God is Sovereign and forgives the repentant.

            Third, God raises believers from the dead.

            Fourth, if we return to the Lord, He will save us.

            “And Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17b, ESV).

            It is unlikely that anyone here has been swallowed by a great fish, but, perhaps, some of us have entered into sin and found ourselves in a deep and dark place and not known how we could arise out of it.

            The Psalmist experienced this, certainly, as he recorded his distress:  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Psalm 130:1-2, ESV).

            Surely, Jonah’s first thought in being swallowed by the great fish was that he was going to be eaten – this was his end – his punishment for his arrogant sin – in turning away from proclaiming the Gospel to the people that God command him to go to.  But, on the third day, Jonah truly repented and humbled himself and called out to God in prayer:

            “Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.”

            First, when God disciplines us, the goal is that we will humble ourselves and repent.

            God told Jonah to go preach the Gospel to the hated Assyrians in Nineveh, and Jonah sinned in arrogance, thinking that Israel was worthy of the Gospel message, but not the Ninevites.  He forgot the promise that God made to Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through God’s working with Israel.  As Jesus reminded His disciples:  “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’” (Mark 16:15, ESV).

            Yes, as Paul reminds us, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, ESV).  The Gospel is first to the Jews – they received the prophets and the Law and the birth of the Incarnate God, the Savior.  But then, the Gospel must go out from there to the whole Creation – to every man and woman of every tribe and country and nation – even to the people we don’t like.  Even to the people we don’t think deserve it.  Because, the fact of the matter is that none of us deserve salvation, but God is merciful to whom He shows mercy.  Our call – Jonah’s call – is to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ Alone to everyone, and God will save as He wills.

            Are you willing to obey and proclaim the Gospel to everyone?  Can you think of anyone you can’t stand to be around who needs to hear the Gospel?  Can you think of any nation or people that you don’t think deserve to be forgiven by God?  Are you willing to humble yourself and obey the call to tell everyone the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Who are you going to speak to today?  Who ought you to speak to this week?

            Jonah was right to be concerned – and even angry – with Israel for their idolatry, but he had not understood God – he had embraced bad theology – and he thought Israel better than the Ninevites – more worthy to receive the Gospel than the Ninevites.  But, now, confronted by God, having spent three days in the belly of the great fish, under God’s sovereign and loving discipline, Jonah repented and in humility, cried out to the Lord from the belly of the great fish.

            We are right to be angry with the sins of our nation – with the sins of our neighbors – with the sins of we who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.  Are you ready to cry out to the Lord and return to Him in humble obedience?  Or do you need more time in the belly of the great fish?

            Jonah cried out to God – as though in the grave – in Sheol – he cried out from the depths – from a place he could not return from on his own accord.  He cried out that God would hear him in his repentance and in his humility before the Lord, in the darkness – floating in the fluids in the belly of the great fish.

            “For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.  Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’” 

            Second, God is Sovereign and forgives the repentant.

            And as Jonah cried out, he confessed to God that he understood that he had sinned – in not preaching the Gospel to the Ninevites – in trying to run away from God – in putting the sailors’ lives at risk.  And he confessed that he understood that he was now under the Divine and Sovereign Discipline of God.

            Jonah confessed that God cast him into the deep.  God cast him into the heart of the sea.  God flooded over him with the waters of the sea.  God set the waves roaring above him.  God set the billows to pass over him.

            Jonah confessed his understanding that all he was going through was by the Sovereign Hand of God as discipline for his sin.  And he prayed that God would hear him and deliver him – that his discipline would not merely end in his humility and returning to God in repentance but that God would save him from the belly of the great fish, in the depths of the sea, under the waves and the billows of the sea.

            Jonah’s entombment in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights was the second extreme measure that God used to awaken him to his sin – and Jonah did awaken and repent and humbly call on God in repentance and prayer.

            The Psalmist also cried out in prayer:  “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4, ESV).

            When God disciplines us for our sin, how do we react?  When we know we have sinned and we suffer the consequences of it, what is our response?  Is it to stand by stoically as we receive what is due us?  Do we say our punishment is unfair?  Do we say that God is unfair?  Do we try to make deals with God?  Or do we repent of our sin and humbly call on God in prayer for His Mercy and forgiveness?

            Hear this encounter with Jesus:  “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1-5, ESV).

            Peter preached, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:19-21, ESV).

            And Jesus said to the Church, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5, ESV).

            Even if we are in the belly of the great fish, if we humbly repent of our sin, God will hear us, and God will restore us to a right place with Him, so we can come before Him in His temple and worship Him – just as Jonah did and looked forward to, even as he was still in the belly of the great fish.

“The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains.  I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”

Third, God raises believers from the dead.

Jonah’s discipline for his sin sent him down, deep into the sea.  It was as if he was wrapped in seaweed – tied to the bottom of the sea – as if he was closed up in Davy Jones’ locker.  He was effectively dead.  Without God’s intervention, he was dead.

But, as he confessed, God brought his life up from the pit.  God received his humble repentance, forgave him, and raised him from the dead.

Jonah’s being in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights is symbolic of the time that Jesus would spend in the grave between the crucifixion and the Resurrection.  During that time, Jesus was really, truly dead, and there was nothing that He or anyone could do to bring His body back to life, unless God chose to bring Him back to life.

Jesus prophesied that this would be the case – as we remember from last week:   “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’” (Matthew 12:38-40, ESV).

We, like Christ, will be raised in our physical bodies, as Paul tells us:  “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5, ESV).

Jesus’ Resurrection was a physical – bodily resurrection – which we know because He could be touched and eat.  So, we, after we have died – if the Lord tarries – will be raised in our physical bodies, perfected and glorified as Jesus’ body is.

For now, we have the glorious gift of the resurrection of our spiritual bodies – all we who believe in Jesus the Savior.  As Paul explains, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7, ESV).

            This is what Jesus meant as He talked with Martha about the death of her brother, Lazarus:  “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’” (John 11:23-27, ESV).

            Yes, there will be a future resurrection of our bodies, but now, there is a spiritual resurrection of all those who believe in Jesus – and if you are in the depths due to your sin, God is able to raise you from that death, if you humbly repent and believe and call out to Him in prayer.

            Do you believe?  Do you repent of your sin and promise to strive towards living in all holiness?  Are you willing to lay yourself aside and cry out to our God – the only life-giver – and pray that you would be restored from the depths to which you have gone?  God will hear the cry of the believer.

            That is not to say that everything will be all peaches and cream the moment you cry out to God.  Jonah had to spend three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish.  Even for the Sake of Christ – and not our sin – Jesus tells us that we may have to spend a (relatively) short time in duress – and we may have to physically die to become completely free:  “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10, ESV).

            Whatever the case may be – but especially if we, like Jonah, find ourselves in the deep – in the belly of the great fish – God will raise us from the dead – but it may not be according to our timetable.  As we wait on the Lord for His time to be right, let us cry out with the Psalmist – and have hope: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:5-6, ESV).
             Fourth, if we return to the Lord, He will save us.

“When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.  Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.  But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay.  Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

What joy is it – when darkness is all around us and all hope seems to be lost – to cast our eyes upon the Lord and pray to Him in His Holy Temple!  Wherever you are, you are in the presence of the Almighty God Who – in love – sent His Son to save all those who would believe.  You are in the Temple of the Lord, and whether God’s good plan is life or death for us – He is there – our hope and our future.

When it looked like God was going to allow Jonah to die in the great fish for his sin, he looked to the Lord – he saw the Glory of the Lord in the plans that the Lord had made and in the discipline that he had received.  Whether he lived or died in the great fish, he was reconciled to God, and he joined with God in communion – praying to God, lifting up his praise and prayer to God his Savior.

Jonah confessed that he had received the steadfast love of God in all of God’s dealing with him – something those who continue in their idol worship will never have.  The only hope of every man, woman, and child is to repent and believe in Jesus – the worship and belief in anything or anyone else will only end in the opposite of steadfast love – in the Wrath of God for sin.

The hope of every believer – every Christian believer – is that God loves us with a steadfast love – a love that continues eternally, because we are those whom Jesus came to save.  John makes it clear:  “           We love [God] because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV).

And Jesus promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).

Does that make you well up with thanksgiving?  That God loves us with an everlasting love and will save us now spiritually and in the future – whether in life or in death – He will raise us physically so we will be like our God and Savior, Jesus Christ?  Are you holding back saying, “Thank you, Jesus”?  Or are you saying it to yourself?  We ought to be thankful for this promise – for this love.

Jonah was thankful and responded as we ought to – with the sacrifice of praise, with the promise to be obedient to God’s call on his life – confessing that “salvation is of the Lord!”

The Psalmist wrote, “O Israel, hope in the LORD!  For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:7-8, ESV).

 Salvation is all of God, as God has mercy.

Our text ends with the historic event of God’s response to Jonah’s prayer:              “And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”

Jonah had risen from the dead!  He who was dead in the belly of the fish, was alive and walking on the land.  A new man.  A new prophet.  Forgiven by his God.  Restored to his call.

As God says of each of us who believes in His Gospel, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24a, ESV).

Let us pray:

Almighty God, our Savior, we thank You for the gift of salvation.  We ask that You would forgive us for our sins in the Name of Jesus Christ.  We ask that when we do sin, we would quickly and humbly come before You in repentance.  Help us to seek You out as our loving Father, even when we sink into the depths of sin in rebellion against You.  Help us receive Your discipline, acknowledging the rightness of it, as the discipline of our loving Father.  Help us to be the men and women You have called us to be.  Cause us to do those good works that you planned for us.  Especially we ask that you would cause us to proclaim the Gospel to the whole Creation.  For it is in Jesus’ Name, we pray.

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