Unstoppable, Praiseworthy Grace
Topic: Morning Worship Service
As always, I’m grateful for another opportunity to open God’s Word with you all. I think it’s appropriate to thank God that Adam is not the kind of preacher who jealousy protects every teaching opportunity from this pulpit as if it were his personal property. Such is not always the case in churches that value the preaching moment, so I’m thankful for that display of God’s grace in our body.
I’m excited to begin a series now that we will return to as I have opportunity to preach. This series will take us into the murky but rich confines of our Old Testaments. As people under the New Covenant, we rightfully have fixed our primary preaching times on the New Testament. As people who believe in the inspiration of the entire Bible, however, we must also allow the other over half of Scripture to inform our thinking. OT study is typically minimalized and perhaps even feared. There are countless places in our OTs that don’t make sense to us, don’t seem very practical, are extremely confusing, and sometimes are downright scary.
We’re not pursuing this study because I am “the” or even “an” OT expert, but because we all need to allow the whole council of God to direct our thinking. All Scripture is breathed out by God and all of it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so the man of God will be entirely equipped for every good work.
The Jews divided their Scriptures into 3 categories—Law, the first 5 books of the Old Testament, Prophets, and Writings. I’d like to explore books in each of these categories on a rotational basis, and today we’re going to begin in one of the prophets. To start us off slowly and comfortably, I’d like to preach two messages on the book of Jonah. So please start finding your way to this small but powerful book. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah.
Before we dive into exploring the content of Jonah, we need to stop and consider some background information. We need to get acclimated to the context and occasion for this book, and doing this kind of background work is part of the difficulty of understanding our OT’s. We tend to get lost in dates, places, and cultural scenarios so very different from our own. When we start glossing over details and forgetting about context, we lose the ability to understand what the original author intended to communicate. And if we don’t understand why an OT book was written in the first place, or grasp significant details about it, we’ll never understand how to apply its truths today.
So the time we are about to spend is not optional or fluff. It’s vital for us to grasp so we can be equipped by Jonah for every good work.
First, let me tell you what we don’t know about Jonah. We don’t know who wrote Jonah with any degree of certainty. The book itself is anonymous, and there are no indications elsewhere in Scripture for who wrote it. There are conflicting clues within the book itself, although some specific details seem like they could have only come from Jonah. Early on the book was attributed to Jonah, but not by inspired sources.
This brings us to an important point in understanding and applying Jonah that we’ll return to again and again. If Scripture doesn’t say, neither should we. Educated guesses and imaginative speculation have their place, but that place is not in declaring “thus saith the Lord.” This is not the place for guesswork.
Not only are we unsure who wrote Jonah, we also don’t know exactly when they did it. We know Jonah lived in the 8th century BC and that Jonah was part of the Old Testament by the second century BC, so the date has to be somewhere from the 700’s to the 200’s.
As a second bit of background, let me tell you what we do know that will help us understand this book better. As for the prophet himself, Jonah was a real man who ministered during the reign of Jeroboam II. Since that didn’t ring any bells in my head either, I had to return to 2 Kings 14. In fact, you should note 2 Kings 14:23-28 in your Bible or in your notes. It’s the one other place Jonah appears in the OT. Though Jeroboam II was a wicked king, he re-expanded Israel’s borders to match what they were during David and Solomon’s reign. Jonah himself prophesied that this expansion would happen. Jeroboam’s reign in the Northern Kingdom happened from 793-753. Jonah ministered during prosperous and “successful” years. It was a good time to be a prophet.
For some more time context, Jonah was most likely alive at the end of Elisha’s ministry and the beginning of Amos’s. Jonah could also have been one of the sons of the prophets in Elisha’s school, and Jonah is the only prophet mentioned in Israel for the 40 years after Elisha.
As for the book, we know that Jonah is a true and factual historical account. Jesus treated it as historical fact, as recorded in Matthew 12 where we are studying normally with Adam. Jonah appears in 7 different NT verses, all in the context of Jesus’ words. In Luke 11:32: The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” If Jonah is not historical fact, our faith in Jesus is seriously challenged. If the book of Jonah can be treated as non-historical, so can Kings, which specifically mentions Jonah. If the details about Jonah aren’t true, how can we learn the lessons they supposedly teach?
The reason I bring that up is that countless critics have mocked the story of Jonah, and similar numbers of liberal theologians have attempted to explain around it. Some have treated Jonah as an allegory. An allegory is a non-historical story that makes one figure stand for another. It looks for the “spiritual” truth hidden in the literal meaning, always searching for something deeper and hidden. In allegorical interpretations I read while preparing for this message, interpreters said Jonah stood for Israel who refused to obey God. Then again, others said that Jonah was the church, asleep while storms rage in our world. And to mix it up even more, still others said Jonah was Christ, who sacrificed himself to save others and was resurrected. I read that the fish was Christ, who saved Jonah, but also that the fish equaled Hell and abandonment by God. Another writer said that the fish stood for the exile of Israel.
Just this sampling of the wide range of interpretations should highlight one of the major problems with this way of trying to read our Bibles. It leaves truth entirely up for speculation and imagination, robbing us of any kind of certainty. More foundationally, allegory destroys the way God intended us to read His Word. So as we study and we read about Jonah, we’re going to talk about a real man. The storm is a storm with waves and rain, the fish a fish, and the boat a wooden sailing vessel and nothing more.
Jonah is true, but it is unique among the minor prophets (so named for their brevity, not because they are less important or inspired than the other prophetical books). Unlike the other minor prophets, Jonah is a story and not a poem or sermon. Jonah is the only Jew in the book, and the other characters are Gentiles. The lesson or warning for Israel is never directly stated, it lacks the background information found in the others, it’s anonymous, undated, and it records things about the prophet instead of messages from the prophet. It is full of beautiful imagery, biting irony, and shocking twists and turns.
In fact, the book of Jonah is something of a roller coaster. Personally, I love roller coasters. Cathy and I even went to an amusement park on our honeymoon. Jonah begins predictably with a gentle clickety clack up the hill, then suddenly races downhill and the ride is on. Let’s go on that ride, which should leave us with this one inescapable reality—God sovereignly accomplishes His gracious plans. God sovereignly accomplishes His gracious plans. In these 4 chapters, we’re going to see 4 thrilling truths about God’s sovereign plans—they are unstoppable, they are praiseworthy, they are demanding, and they are compassionate. Today we’ll just focus on the first two. God sovereignly accomplishes His gracious plans, and those plans are unstoppable and praiseworthy.
Let’s begin in verse 1 and see our first lesson about God’s gracious plans—they are unstoppable.
Jonah 1:1 begins predictably enough. Just as with all the other prophets, the word of the Lord comes to Jonah. “Now the word of the Lord…” Jonah is identified as the son of Amittai, just as he is in 2 Kings 14. That’s more than enough data to confirm we’re talking about a real person here. Legend has provided more speculation, however, claiming that Jonah was the son of the widow at Zarapeth. Again, we should be silent when Scripture is silent. We don’t need to speculate where Scripture does not inform. We’ve been given enough to know about Jonah’s time period and to know that he was a real prophet in real history. As we study Jonah, and all our OT, we must be careful neither to stop short in seeing details we should nor to imagine and invent pointless tales.
God’s message is simple enough and straightforward. Get up, go to the great city Nineveh, and call out against it. The word “great” is used 14 times in this little book. This time, it describes the massive capital city of Assyria. Nineveh was located on the Tigris River, 220 miles north of present day Baghdad and over 500 miles northeast of Israel. Some have said Nineveh was the largest city in the known world at the time. It had 100 foot high walls, and it was said 3 chariots could ride side by side on those walls. (I have no idea why that’s the impressive stat, but lots of commentators mention it. Maybe 3 lane roads were a real rarity then.)
The reason God was sending Jonah to do this confrontational preaching of “calling out against it” was that their evil had captured God’s attention in a special way. The word for “evil” also shows up repeatedly in this book, but it can mean either morally bad or simply disastrous. It acts as a pun in this book. One commentator helps us get this pun by saying, “The Ninevites were evil, and they were in line for disaster.” This pun is one of the many literary touches of humor in the book.
What may not strike us as unusual about God’s will on this point is that no other prophet in the OT was ever physically sent to the foreign nation they were prophesying against. The Assyrians were a vengeful, wicked, perverse society, and they were long standing enemies of Israels. Regardless, God’s plan was to extend grace to them by sending a prophet specifically to them. His will was plain to Jonah—go preach to the Ninevites that judgment is coming.
Verse 2 is where we get our first roller coaster surprise. We’ve been slowly climbing this gentle slope, fully expecting the ride to continue. Suddenly, we’re racing down a hill with our stomachs in our throats. Jonah rebels. For the first time, we read that a prophet of God says no to his assignment. We read, “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” God says arise go to Nineveh, and Jonah arises…and flees to Tarshish.
We don’t know exactly where Tarshish is, other than being somewhere in the western Mediterranean. What we do know is that Tarshish was west, and Nineveh was northeast. Jonah leaves Israel for the seaport of Joppa and is already moving the opposite direction. Notice that verse 3 mentions Tarshish 3 times, just to make sure we get the point. Jonah is intent on running away from God.
The text says “from the presence of the Lord.” As a well-studied Jew, Jonah would have known Ps. 139:7-10, where David wrote that he could not go anywhere God was not. While Jews did see God’s presence as uniquely stationed in the Temple, they also realized that Heaven was His throne. Jonah was attempting to flee God’s convicting, blessing, active involvement in his life. He was trying to cut himself off from God by disobedience and geography. He was fleeing God’s purposes and plans for him.
Verse 3 says Jonah went down to Joppa. It uses the same word when it says he “went on board.” The writer is using another play on words, because that same terminology is used in the OT for death. Jonah was spiraling down and away from God, taking ominous steps with each passing moment.
It says he “paid the fare,” a phrase used for buying a ticket. But it can also mean that Jonah bought the whole boat (translated literally, “her fare,” the view taken by the rabbis). At any rate, Jonah is intent on fleeing God’s will and escaping God’s presence.
Now in a man-centered theology, Jonah’s rebellion would be cataclysmic. After all, God couldn’t force him to do what he didn’t want to do. God would only want Jonah to exercise his free will, and since he chose to walk out on God God was left with no option but to wring his hands in heaven and wonder how He could make His gracious plans for Nineveh work out. In a man-centered theology, the success of the entire missionary endeavor was based on Jonah, who failed. In reality, however, God always accomplishes His sovereign purposes, and how He does it showcases His power and grace. God could have justifiably drowned Jonah and gotten a different prophet. But this book points to God’s sovereign and gracious plans, which cannot be thwarted by man. Not even man’s sinful actions can stop Gods’ sovereign and gracious plans. They are unstoppable.
So that brings us to verse 4, where we read, “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.” Notice the second use of our word “great,” and it describes the storm God threw at Jonah’s boat. The word “hurled” is oh so picturesque. It’s about to be used 4 times in rapid succession. It’s the same word for throwing a spear. God took the wind and threw a fastball at the fleeing boat. It was so severe, the boat threatened to break. This is another great literary word, personifying the boat as thinking she would just go ahead and split in half.
God had complete control of this storm and sent it to do His will. The storm was part of the means God used to accomplish His plans. God’s plans are unstoppable, and as the sovereign one He marshals a storm to accomplish His plans.
Scripture repeatedly points to God’s control of the sea and water as evidence of His sovereignty. From creation to the parting of the Red Sea and Jordan, the Old Testament praises God’s control over water in ways impossible for man.
Ps. 89:9: Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,â€¨your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!â€¨6 For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?â€¨Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,â€¨7 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,â€¨and awesome above all who are around him?â€¨8 O Lord God of hosts,â€¨who is mighty as you are, O Lord,â€¨with your faithfulness all around you?â€¨9 You rule the raging of the sea;â€¨when its waves rise, you still them.
In verse 5, we see these hardened sailors in complete desperation because of the violence of the storm. “Then the mariners were afraid…” They each prayed to their own gods. No doubt, these like most Gentiles of the time were polytheists, believing in a wide range of gods. Besides praying, they also starting throwing tackle and their income overboard. “Cargo” is a broad word, including goods as well as tackle and ship supplies. They were so desperate they were destroying their chance to make money as well as getting rid of necessary supplies.
Unlike the panicked sailors, Jonah was peacefully sleeping below deck. So the captain came to him and, in an ironic echo of God’s command in verse 2, order Jonah to arise and call out. The captain wanted Jonah to pray to his God too, in the off chance that Jonah’s God would listen and do what none of the other gods were doing at the moment.
Apparently nothing was working, and the superstitious sailors decided to live out some of their theology. They assumed the vengeful gods had been angered by someone on board and decided to cast lots to figure out whose fault it was. Lots were not an uncommon or even unbiblical way of getting information in the OT. The promised land was divided up by lots in Numbers 26:55, and in Joshua 7:14 Achan was revealed as the sinning Israelites through lots. Just because lots were used, however, does not mean this is prescriptive for how we can find out the will of God today. You should neither be trusting fleeces nor rolls of your dice to discover God’s will. In this age before the fullness of written revelation, however, the Israelites had assurance like Proverbs 16:33—“ The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” The lots themselves were probably made from sheep’s anklebones or small rocks, and they rolled them in their robes while they sat down. (Hence the lots being cast into the lap. Doesn’t work well with pants, does with a robe).
This provides yet another point for us to marvel at God’s sovereign and unstoppable hand in accomplishing his purposes. “No no,” you say, “don’t cast lots. It might end up on the wrong guy! They’ll never figure out it’s Jonah. This is going to totally derail figuring out the right cause of this storm. What are the odds out of all these sailors Jonah will be picked?” Well, the odds were 100%, because a sovereign God was working out His will. Jerome helpfully wrote, “The fugitive is taken by lot, not from any virtue in lots themselves, least of all the lots of heathen, but by the will of Him who governs uncertain lots.” God’s gracious plans were not going to be stopped by a mistaken identity.
Jonah was chosen, which led to a flurry of panicked questions. Jonah became the focus of their fear and desperation. He was to blame, and they wanted to know all they could about why.
Jonah’s explanation did little to calm them. He explained, ““I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the sailors went from scared to really really scared, because Jonah said his God had control over the sea. Given their polytheism, they believed him and responded in fear. Perhaps they had even heard of the power of the Hebrew’s God. Their response is no measure of true faith. They just realize a god who is said to control the sea is controlling it to kill them all. They say to Jonah, “What is this that you have done!” It’s an exclamation, not a question, just as it’s marked in the ESV.
The sailors then ask Jonah a follow-up question. “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” Again, their polytheism directed their questions, not their belief on the one true God. They wanted to know how to appease this God in particular, and since He was Jonah’s God Jonah would know how to make Him happy.
Jonah’s answer: Pick me up and hurl me (there’s that word again too) into the sea. Jonah was keenly aware that the storm was there because of him. He was well aware of God’s sovereign hand, and he was sure the sea would quiet if he were thrown overboard.
Now, sometimes I’ve thought this was kind of noble for Jonah to say. He’s willing to die and spare the sailors. He knows God is interested in him, not them, and he assumes God will show grace to them. Because if Jonah is thrown overboard, he will die. Most people couldn't swim them anyway, but even if they could in a storm they couldn't turn a boat around and rescue you. No outboard motors or rescue choppers were coming, so if a sailor fell overboard he was dead. But knowing that’s what Jonah assumed, consider what he’s saying.
“I’d rather die than do God’s will. That’s the best option open to me right now.” “Repent, turn the boat around, pray? Nope, the best option is for me to just commit suicide.” Jonah is speaking as one who knows the justice and wrath of God. Jonah won’t repent, and God won’t relent, so he figures death is his only option. Luther commented, “Because Jonah was sorry that God was so kind, he would rather not preach, yea, would rather die, than that the grace of God, which was to be the peculiar privilege of the people of Israel, should be communicated to the Gentiles also…”
This is the height of stubborn refusal to go God’s ways. But even that stubbornness could not thwart God’s sovereign, gracious purposes, as we’re about to see.
Despite his advice, the sailors try to struggle on anyway. No amount of rowing could get this ship out of the storm (apparently land was relatively near), and the storm just got worse and worse. God’s purposes in the storm could not be thwarted by human effort. God sovereignly accomplishes His gracious plans.
At last, the sailors realize it’s hopeless, so they pray to the Lord. “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.” They weren’t saying Jonah was innocent, they were saying it wasn’t their judgment that marked him as worthy of death. The Lord did as it pleased him. Notice that the sailors recognize God’s sovereign hand and decision in this storm. God is clearly in charge.
Verse 15—So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea. Instantly, the sea is calm.
Verse 16 records the response of the sailors. “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” Clearly, Jonah’s God was in control of this storm and was upset enough at Jonah to kill him. This was a God to be scared of. There has been no shortage of debate about whether this verse indicates the sailors were converted. The Midrash, a Rabbinic commentary on the text written from 100 BC to 300 AD, states that the sailors threw their idols overboard, went to Jerusalem, and became proselytes. More textually, some commentators point out that sacrifice and vows are the exact response expected from people who fear the Lord. Their vows came after the danger subsided, not during.
On the flip side, polytheism and syncretism have always gone hand in hand. In other words, it makes good sense in a polytheistic world to add gods to your worship repertoire, especially the notably powerful ones. They certainly gathered that Jonah’s God really was in control of the sea. But know that God does not settle for being worshipped along with other gods. He is either exclusively worshipped or not at all. The Israelites themselves were about to be punished for adding Baal and countless other false gods to their worship of Yahweh. Jesus, and the one true God, is not another figure to be added to Buddha or Mohammed or Mary or moral living. He demands exclusive worship. Remember too, this is not about conversion to Christianity. For the sailors to become true believers, they would have to turn from all their false idols and embrace Yahweh only, becoming Jewish proselytes in every sense. In short, we just don’t have sufficient evidence to see if the sailors became true OT believers. So again, where Scripture is silent, so are we.
Our roller coaster has rocketed down the hill of rebellion and took some unexpected twists and turns as the storm comes, Jonah is thrown overboard, and the storm stills. With Jonah presumed dead, our roller coaster has come to a stop on the tracks. How will God accomplish His gracious plans now? What can He do? Has Jonah’s stubborn suicide foiled God’s plan to preach repentance to the Ninevites? Has Jonah’s desperate suicide move ended God’s will for him to preach in Nineveh? Obviously, you know it hasn’t, because God’s gracious plans are unstoppable. We all know what comes next, but read it as if it were the first time. Be freshly amazed that, just when you thought Jonah was a dead man, God supernaturally intervened. God’s plans could not be thwarted by man. Not by Jonah’s idea of suicide or the sailors helping him do it.
In verse 17, our roller coaster rockets off again with a new twist. We read, “and the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” “Appointed” highlights God’s sovereign control over creation, and this word will appear three more times to make the same point.
The sovereign God who always accomplishes His purposes appointed a fish. This is no ordinary fish, it is a great fish. What kind of fish was it? How big? Is this possible? Could it happen today? How could Jonah survive once inside? Where did the oxygen come from? What about water? All the theoretical questions and mockery that have been made of this verse fall before childlike faith. Our God is sovereign, and He always accomplishes His purposes. Nothing is impossible with Him. His plans are unstoppable, even in the face of human rebellion, hopeless scenarios, and almost unbelievable conditions. Our God reigns. So how do we understand verse 17? We understand that Jonah was swallowed by a fish, where he was for a prolonged length of time.
As we move into chapter two, we discover that not only are God’s gracious plans unstoppable, but they are also praiseworthy. Verse one of chapter two finds Jonah inside the fish. Remarkably, what he is doing is praying.
Jonah’s prayer is sandwiched between the only two mentions of the great fish. Jonah’s prayer contains no mention of the fish. Veggie Tales notwithstanding, there’s no indication that Jonah was immediately swallowed by the fish. To the contrary, Jonah prays about nearly drowning. He may not have even known where he was at this point, but he did realize he wasn’t dead. “He can hardly have known what caused the change from wet darkness to an even greater dry darkness.” For whatever reason, in my mind I’ve always pictured this great fish leaping out of the water like a hungry trout to snap up Jonah before he even hits the water. Jonah’s prayer reveals that such was not the case.
This prayer is vitally important to the story, considering how short the book is. There are two notable features of Jonah’s prayer that I want to call your attention to. The first is that his prayer is Word-saturated, the second that it is a prayer of thanksgiving.
Jonah’s prayer contains about 20 recognizable quotes or allusions to specific psalms. The response of critics who have noticed how Word-saturated this prayer is has been to deny Jonah actually prayed it while in the fish. Surely he just wrote out a fuller prayer later to build on his abbreviated prayer inside the fish, they say. The response of the believing heart, however, is to marvel that in his darkest moment, Jonah’s intimate knowledge of God’s Word flooded his mind. The Psalms he had memorized and sung repeatedly influenced the words he used to God.
The second notable feature of this prayer is that it is a prayer of thanksgiving. Jonah never asks to be rescued from the fish or spared. He is rejoicing that he has already been spared. Jonah quickly put two and two together. “I was drowning, my lungs were filling with water, I was sinking, and now I’m not dead. God must have spared me. His plans for me were gracious, and not deadly.” Jonah’s instant response, even in the bizarre confines of the fish, was to return praise to God.
As we look at this prayer, we need to understand some basics about Hebrew poetry. This is poetry, as helpfully indicated by our Bible translators by changing the visible format of the verses. Hebrew poetry is not built on rhyming and meter like our poetry is (and I had the grades to prove it). Instead of looking for rhyming words, we need to look for parallel thoughts. Basically, lines of poetry can be followed by other lines that are either similar or opposite, or that build consecutively on the previous line. At times, they also criss-cross in a very intricate but beautiful way. The reason I say all that is that it will help us understand this prayer. Let’s look at the second verse, which is the introduction to the rest of the poem.
Notice that “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,” and “out of the belly of Sheol I cried” express the same thought in mirrored form. “I called out” is the same as “I cried,” and “out of my distress” is the same as “out of the belly of Sheol.” “And he answered me” is parallel with “and you heard my voice.” There are two important exegetical points here. The first is that Jonah’s distress is the same as the belly of Sheol. Commentators argue whether or not Jonah actually died or not. In my mind, this verse sets the stage to say Jonah did not die. Instead, he’s describing his incredibly distressed, near death experience.
Secondly, notice that God answering is the same in Jonah’s mind as God hearing. How can that be? God was not just aware of Jonah’s prayer. His hearing was a responsive action toward Jonah. There is a difference between hearing someone audibly and actually listening, as any irritated parent or offended wife know all too well. Jonah is praising God’s grace for not just being aware of his prayer, but of sovereignly responding to it.
Verse 3 moves on to describe what happened to Jonah. These lines say the same thing, as one builds on top of the other. “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.” Notice again God’s sovereign action. God cast Jonah into the deep. The sailors had done it, but Jonah recognizes God’s sovereign hand ultimately as the one at work.
In verse 4, Jonah says even though I am driven away from your sight, still I will look toward your holy temple. This is a verse where the lines are opposite. God is driving Jonah out of His sight, but in contrast Jonah is turning to look for God. Just like Muslims pray toward Mecca, Jews pray toward the Temple. So as Jonah was sinking into the sea, assuming God was done with him, he finally was repentant and began to pray in desperation. Verse 5 shows how desperate his situation really was. Humanly speaking, Jonah was in an impossible situation. He was sinking into the bottom of the sea, seaweed was tangling his head, and he was on his way to a prison he would never escape. Verse 6 is the Jewish equivalent of Davy Jones’ locker.
In a sudden display of grace, however, God brought Jonah’s life from the pit, from the brink of certain death.
Verse 8 starts the conclusion of Jonah’s thankful prayer, as he turns to application. Anyone who pays attention to vain idols, like those of the sailors, abandon any chance of getting loyal love from God. Jonah has been brought back to reality. His God is the only one worthy of praise and worship and service. Because he’s so aware of God’s grace and sovereign plans, Jonah says he will sacrifice with thanksgiving. He promises to pay what he vowed, possibly going to Nineveh or submitting his entire life as a prophet to God’s control.
Jonah’s prayer ends in one glorious praise to the gracious sovereignty of God. “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” This is the triumphant conclusion of Jonah’s entire prayer. God is in control of salvation. It belongs to Him to give or withhold at His good pleasure. Jonah verbalizes God’s sovereign graciousness. Salvation does belong to the Lord, and He wanted to extend it to Jonah and to Nineveh. Nothing would thwart that plan, and it was right to praise God for extending salvation when He did.
Verse 10 ends the chapter with the second mention of the fish. The creator God spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out on dry land. Graphically, this verse describes how Jonah got out of the fish and ironically, it shows that unlike Jonah, the fish immediately obeyed God’s will. The book never says where the dry land was. It was not necessarily anywhere close to Ninevah. We have no indication that the fish was submarine transport, so again it would be fruitless to speculate where Jonah got spit up to. It was all part of God’s sovereign and gracious plan, however, and that’s what should attract our attention. It certainly caused Jonah’s glowing praise.
So where does the end of these two chapters leave us? How do we take Jonah and live it out on this side of the cross? Well, we see what is true about our unchanging God, and we allow that truth to effect our lives. Let me just give you a few possible applications, starting with the clear revelation that God’s sovereign plans are unstoppable.
Christian, are you truly confident today that God’s sovereign, gracious plans for you are unstoppable? Maybe in the struggle against sin and in your own frequent failure, you’ve actually lost sight of the reality that God’s gracious plans to make you like Christ are unstoppable. You’ve started to wonder if you’ll ever grow and change. You’ve looked at the financial circumstances you’re in, the family chaos that marks your home life, your weariness in doing good, your debilitating health issues, and you’ve started to wonder if God can possibly complete the good work He’s begun in you. You’ve started to wonder if your sin is greater than God’s ability to accomplish His plans. Know from Jonah that God’s gospel plans of sanctification, like all of His gracious plans, are unstoppable.
Maybe you’ve started to wonder if God’s gracious plans to save others will work out. You wonder if the hypocrisy of the Christian church, the overwhelming tide of false and deficient gospels, your own feeling of inadequacy when you have presented the Gospel, the open display of sin all around us, if all these things mean that people in our community will never turn to Christ. God’s gracious plans to save His elect cannot be thwarted, not by easy believism or your fumbling attempt to share the Gospel with your neighbor or all the opposition of Hell. God’s gracious plans are unstoppable.
Maybe you’ve started to wonder if God’s gracious plans to build His church are failing. Maybe the tide of doctrineless, weak, shallow churchianity will undo God’s plan to prepare a fit body for its head. It will not. God’s gracious plans are unstoppable. It is true in Jonah, and still entirely true today.
God’s sovereign purposes cannot be thwarted. I long for you to know the hope and peace in believing in this kind of sovereign God. His gracious purposes cannot be stopped or turned aside. He will have His way. He will do whatever it takes to accomplish His will, and He has unlimited resources at His disposal. God will and can do whatever it takes to work out His gracious plans.
Our second main point today was that God’s sovereign plans are praiseworthy. Have you been actively looking to see God working out His gracious plans? Jonah was in the stomach of a fish when he praised God for his grace. He saw his situation, dire as it was, for what it was. It was a display of God’s grace, and he had to respond in praise. So can you look at God’s working in your life, and in the lives of others, and praise Him even before the fullness of that plan is worked out? Do you recognize God’s gracious plans in progress, allowing you to respond in praise and thanks? Are you regularly praising God for working out His incredibly gracious plans for your salvation in the Gospel?
I cannot speak to you all today about the gracious plans of God especially in the Gospel, without wondering how many here do not savingly believe the Gospel. Maybe you don’t like the idea of a sovereign God and are unwilling to praise Him. Maybe you think, “If God is in control but let happen to me and my family what He did, I don’t want to believe in Him.” I implore you to forsake your worthless idols of skepticism, or trust in your own goodness, or confidence in your church attendance, or outright unbelief, and turn to trust Jesus. A sovereign God is only a fearful reality for those who are not protected in the cross of Jesus Christ.
It is not a far step from considering the God whose gracious purposes are always accomplished to celebrating the Lord’s Table. The gracious sovereignty of God is most fully displayed at the cross. Jesus Christ is called the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Acts 2 tells us that he was handed over for crucifixion by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. He was the sacrifice for the elect, those who were graciously chosen for salvation before they even existed. Those saving purposes could not and cannot be thwarted. And they are the ultimate cause for praise. Today, we’re going to remember the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. We’re going to declare the unstoppable, praiseworthy cross plans of our Sovereign God. Let’s close this preaching time in prayer and then turn our hearts to celebrate our Lord’s Table.
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