This is the final week in our current series, and we'll be looking at how Jesus is the Better Jonah. We'll see that Jesus is the better and truer Jonah, because while Jonah faced the storm for his own disobedience, Jesus took on the wrath of the storm on the behalf of others.
This message is based on Jonah 1:1-12.
This week is the fifth week in our series titled Better. A quick recap again, if you remember back to the first week we saw the followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. He kind of played dumb with them, they didn’t recognize Him, so He walked along listening to their conversation until finally, starting with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself. And we saw that we can see Jesus in the Old Testament Scriptures, in fact, all the majority of the Old Testament stories point to Christ.
Then we looked at the story of Adam, Adam was tempted, and he gave in to that temptation. And because of that, Sin entered the world. We are all born into that Sin, we all have a sinful nature. Then Jesus came along, and was tempted just like we are, in every way we are, but Jesus didn’t give in to that temptation, Jesus never sinned. And because of Jesus’ obedience, we all have the opportunity to be made right with God, through faith in Jesus. Just as the sin of the one man Adam caused death to all, the obedience of the one man Jesus gives life to all.
Then we saw the story of Hosea. Hosea is a beautiful redemption story of how Hosea redeemed his sinful wife, and we saw several parallels to the story of God’s redemption in Jesus. And we saw that God bought us all back from bondage to sin. In Christ, we can have the life God intended us to live.
Last week we saw the story of Abraham and Isaac. We saw that there were a lot of parallels between Isaac and Jesus. They were both children promised by God, both “miraculously conceived.” Both were identified as their father’s one and only son. Both were to be sacrificed by their father. Both were sacrificial lambs to God. Both even carry the very wood up the hill that they would be sacrificed on. Both submitted to their fathers will to be sacrificed, without resisting. In the end, Isaac was spared.
And we also saw that Jesus couldn’t be spared. If God was going to deal with sin, a sacrifice was the only way. And if we were ever going to live the life God intended for us, sin had to be dealt with. So God gave His only Son as a sacrifice to deal with our sin. That’s why Christ is the only way to heaven, because if you’re not in Christ, you’re still in your sin, and you can’t be forgiven without the sacrifice.
This week we turn to the Old Testament story of Jonah. And I mentioned last week that there were two parts of this story that we want to look at. Now our reading was the first part of Jonah’s story. Jonah was one of the minor prophets, back with Amos and Obadiah and Micah. It’s a fairly short story, in my bible the entire book of Jonah is only about a page and a half.
If you know the story at all, you know that God called Jonah to go the city of Nineveh and prophesy against the city. God was going to destroy Nineveh because of their sinfulness, and He wanted to give them one last chance to repent before He destroyed them. But Jonah was familiar with the sins of Nineveh, and apparently, he was so repulsed by their wickedness, that he refused to go. He wanted to see the destruction of Nineveh. And he knew that if he went to Nineveh, there was a chance, he couldn’t know for sure, but there was a chance that they would repent, and God would spare them. But Jonah wanted to see them perish. They deserved to pay for their sin.
If you think that’s a little cold of Jonah, let’s put it in a modern context. Would you be willing to travel to the Middle East? What if you thought God might be calling you to minister to ISIS? And you know that ISIS was responsible for the beheading of every woman child in numerous small towns in the Middle East. They’ve killed countless Christians. And if you went there, there was a really god chance they would kill you, too. Wouldn’t it be really easy to think the way Jonah thought? No thanks, God, you need to just carry out the punishment for their sins now. They are just too evil, too wicked, too sinful. That’s what Jonah was thinking.
So he ran. He ran down to the port and hopped on ship heading the opposite direction, he headed for Tarshish. Nineveh would have been about 500 miles north east of where Jonah was when God spoke to him. Tarshish was at least 2,000 miles west. So he was running about as far away as he could get. Jonah hated the Ninevites, maybe even more than he loved God.
Obviously, you can’t hide from God. You can’t outrun Him, you can’t outfox Him, and you can’t ignore Him. God knew where he was, and God wasn’t going to let him off the hook. So God sends a storm that threatened to sink the ship. They threw the cargo overboard in an attempt to lighten the ship, to keep it from taking on more water, but the storm only grew more severe.
The sailors became convinced this storm was punishment for something, so they all prayed to their own gods for help. Maybe if they could appease whatever god had sent the storm, maybe they could survive. All accept for Jonah, in verse 5 we see that “Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.” Where was Jonah when all the other sailors and passengers were panicking? He was down below sleeping.
The captain found him sleeping, dragged him up on the deck so he could help, then they cast lots, thinking the gods would identify who was the blame for this storm. The lot fell to Jonah, and Jonah told his story. Then he said, in verse 12, “Pick me up and thrown me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” We didn’t read it this morning, but if you’re familiar with the story, you know that they did. And to keep Jonah from drowning, God sent a big fish to swallow Jonah. Then when Jonah repented and prayed to God, God directed the fish to return him land, to spit him out near shore.
At this point, I want to take a side trip and look at a new story that seems almost parallel. It’s not the same story, but it’s very similar. Let’s look at Mark 4:35-41:
That day, when even came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over the other side.’ Leaving the crown behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’
Both Jesus and Jonah were in a boat, and both boats were overtaken by a storm. In fact, the descriptions of the storms are almost identical. Both Jesus and Jonah were sleeping while the rest were panicking. In both stories, the sailors woke up the sleeper and said, “We’re going to die!” And in both stories, an act of miraculous intervened and the sea was calmed instantly. And in both stories, the sailors seemed even more terrified at the end, after the storm had been calmed, after they had seen God at work, than they were during the storm.
Very similar stories, with one big difference. In the midst of the storm, Jonah said, in effect, I’m paraphrasing, “There’s only one thing to do. If I perish, you survive. If die, you will live.” And that doesn’t happen in the New Testament story in Mark. Or does it?
I think if you take this story in the context of the rest of the story of Jesus, I think you’ll find that Mark’s story is the same. That Jesus does effectively say the same thing. Well, He doesn’t say it out loud, but He knows what He has to do.
In Mathew’s Gospel, Matthew 12:41, we see, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” But they didn’t repent. They had Jesus, in every way better than Jonah, but they didn’t listen, they didn’t repent.
In Tim Keller’s book, Jesus the King, he wrote that when Jesus said that one greater than Jonah was here, “He meant this: Someday I’m going to calm all storms, still all waves. I’m going to destroy destruction, break brokenness, kill death. How can he do that? He can do it only because when he was on the cross he was thrown – willingly, like Jonah – into the ultimate storm, under the ultimate waves, the waves of sin and death. Jesus was thrown into the only storm that can actually sink us – the storm of eternal justice, of what we owe for our wrongdoing. That storm wasn’t calmed – not until it swept him away.” Jesus is the better Jonah because Jesus’ death has the power to calm the storms in our lives.
Back to our story in Jonah. Jonah was running because he wasn’t willing to minister in Nineveh. He didn’t think they deserved the chance to repent. They didn’t deserve grace. They were so wicked as to be beyond grace. So he ran. As far as he could in the opposite direction.
But Jesus’ entire ministry and purpose was to save those who didn’t deserve grace. And before you think about siding with Jonah, remember that you were once one of those wicked people. You were sinful, and there was nothing you could on your own to save yourself. You just wouldn’t have known enough to come to Jesus, until Jesus came to you, and drew you to himself, and taught you truth. Gently and lovingly. Until you got it. And you saw yourself as the wicked sinner you were. And you saw your need for Jesus, and for grace, and for forgiveness.
Everybody deserves a chance at grace and forgiveness. The Ninevites deserved that chance as much as Jonah. As much as you. As much as me. As much as the homeless in our community. As much as the poor, the destitute, the widows, and the orphans. It’s easy to look down our noses at those that aren’t like us. Just remember where you came from. You were once a sinner saved by grace, by a God who wants to save all sinners. He didn’t save you because you were great, because before he saved you, you weren’t great. In fact, I think I can safely take this one step further by saying, I’m still not great, it only Jesus in me that’s great. And the more of Jesus I can get in me, the better.
So we left Jonah on the beach. Soaking wet and smelling of fish. Actually, smelling worse than fish. When I said he was spit out on dry land, I was being kind. The story used the phrase, “vomited onto dry land.” Jonah is sitting in a pile of fish vomit. Not exactly the image of a great man.
But God speaks again. In Jonah 3:1, it says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’” Would you be surprised to hear that this time he went? I imagine this time he ran toward Nineveh.
So Jonah witnessed to the people of Nineveh. And they repented. Now you would think at this point in the story, after all that Jonah had been through, that he would be happy. God used him to help save an entire city. An entire city repented and turned to God because of his efforts. I’d be on cloud nine! I’d be ecstatic!
Jonah 4:1-2 tells us how ecstatic he was, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home?’ That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.’” But we heard what happened when he fled. God did whatever had to be done, to get Jonah to Nineveh, so they could hear his message, and have the chance to repent.
God loved Jonah. But God also loved the Ninevites. Even though they didn’t deserve it, even though they didn’t follow God, even though they lived in sin, even though Jonah didn’t love them.
God loves you, too. But He also loves your neighbors that don’t come to church. He loves your co-workers who don’t know Him. He loves the poor, destitute, helpless, and drug-addicted. He loves those you don’t. He saved us before we knew Him, and He calls us to reach out to others who don’t yet know Him. And He’s using you to do that.
What are you doing to follow that call? Don’t wait for the storm to come.