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Sermon, July 5, 2020 | Grace Reformed Church

Salvation Belongs to the Lord
Sermon Series: 
Jonah 2:1-10
Matthew 8:23-28
Date: 
Sunday, July 5, 2020

Salvation Belongs to the Lord

Jonah 2:1-10

Last week we began a several week series on the book of Jonah. We looked at the first chapter and remembered this remarkable and very familiar story, not really believable at times, though we do believe it because here it is, written down in the bible for us. And in that first chapter, the first part of the story, it covers the most dramatic and memorable parts of the story, doesn’t it? Jonah is called, then Jonah runs, and then the Lord chases after him, because, as Jonah knew the whole time, that there is nowhere he can run that the Lord will not find him. He doesn’t even have to look for him, because the whole of history, from beginning to end and everything in between is an open book to him.

And at the end of that episode, of course, we find Jonah in the belly of a great fish, a great fish that God appointed to save Jonah from being hurled into the sea. So today we look at chapter 2, which is the prayer of Jonah from inside the belly of the fish. So if you will turn with me, let’s read together Jonah chapter 2, all ten verses. Listen, this is God’s Holy Word. 

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 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.

3 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.

4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away

    from your sight;

yet I shall again look

    upon your holy temple.’

5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;

    the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped about my head

6     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.

7 When my life was fainting away,

    I remembered the Lord,

and my prayer came to you,

    into your holy temple.

8 Those who pay regard to vain idols

    forsake their hope of steadfast love.

9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving

    will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

    Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

 

10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

 

The Word of the Lord.

 

You might want to keep your bibles out, because there is more reading to do. In order to properly understand the prayer, understand what Jonah is saying by it, we need to back up a bit into chapter 1 again. Last week we spent the vast majority of the sermon looking at the idea of calling, and how important the call of God is. It’s important for us not only to recognize the many calls that we have from God, the life-changing ones and the ones that seem mundane, but also to act on those callings with obedience.

We took from Jonah the example of exactly how not to respond to a call from God. Everything about the call he had—and it was a clear call, absolutely—everything he was supposed to do he did the complete opposite. And in the end we talked about how we don’t often do the opposite of what God calls us to, we more often just do most of it, but sometimes leave out the most difficult parts. And also, in the end, as we take from the example of Jonah, we know that the calling of God is unavoidable—if he wants you to do something, he will find a way to do it. In Jonah’s case, that came in the form of a great storm.

So if we received from Jonah a great example of how not to respond to God’s call, here in chapter 2, and the close of chapter 1 we get another example, but this time on the positive side: we see an example from Jonah of how to respond to God when he comes and gets you. How we should react when we are confronted with our sin, when it is laid at our feet. When we are called out of it by God.

So to get this example, let’s back up to chapter 1, and look more closely at how the storm sequence unfolds. We spent almost the entire time last week mainly looking at the first three verses of that chapter, so let’s pick up in verse 4 and see how this unfolds. Jonah, asleep in the inner holds of the boat, down, down, down. And God comes to get him.

4 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. 5 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.

We often gloss over this a bit, but see the great power this storm had, and how truly perilous the situation was. There are three things here that show us the level of emergency. First it says that the mariners, these hardened seafaring men were afraid. These men, on a boat heading into the Mediterranean Sea, this wasn’t their first venture. It was probably a regular one. This was not a case of sailors getting in over their heads. They had cargo and passengers. It must take quite a storm to shake the confidence of such men.

It reminds us of another time that there was a great storm, like we read from Matthew earlier, when Jesus was sleeping in a boat, and his disciples had to wake him. Now that story has very different applications than this one, but think of the disciples, many of whom were experienced fishermen—it would take an intense bit of weather to frighten them.

So the sailors were afraid, and that led to two other things that even more greatly emphasize how perilous this was. It says that they all cried out to their own gods. They must have tried everything with oars, with rudders, with sails, all to no avail. Their only hope left of being saved is to cry out to their gods, they’ve exhausted every other thing that they could do. Lastly the narrative tells us their truly last ditch effort—to throw all of the cargo overboard. What would make someone do such a thing? Only if their life was lost otherwise.

So that’s the situation, a boat full of people more than any others that should be calm in the face of bad weather at sea, and they are throwing their livelihoods into the sea in the form of cargo, and they are calling out to their many, various false gods. It makes the next line so much more shocking:

But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 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.”

Do you remember the Dr. Seuss story “Horton Hears a Who?” In some ways this is like the climactic moment in that book. The who’s are so small, living on a speck, their entire civilization, so small that the jungle animals can’t hear them, and the animals are about to destroy the speck. And their only chance at survival is to make enough noise that they can be heard. Everyone is making as much noise as they possibly can, but they still can’t be heard. Until the mayor goes through the town and finds one who shirking, bouncing a yo-yo and not making any noise at all. And when that who finally makes a sound—I think it was a “yopp,” that’s enough to save the entire who civilization.

I picture the captain of the boat, like the mayor of Whoville, running around trying to find that one person who is shirking. And he finds Jonah asleep! Notice—unlike Horton Hears a Who—that he doesn’t get Jonah for more manpower. He doesn’t ask him for help pulling oars or sending cargo over the edge, no. He tells Jonah to pray to his god. Because this group of sailors was convinced, absolutely convinced that this storm was not happenstance. They were convinced that they were in this peril directly because they were being punished for something specific, or at least one of them was. So it was imperative that everyone call out to their gods and make whatever amends needed to be made. Which is why the next thing we read, as soon as Jonah is awoken and with the rest of the people on the ship, they cast lots to see who it is who is the cause of this.

So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 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?”

They ask him four questions trying to get to the bottom of all of this. Whose fault is this? What is your job? Where are you from? What is your country? This is the moment where Jonah has a choice. Have you ever offended someone quite terribly, someone you are close to, and when you find out about it you are nowhere near that person? It’s terrible because you don’t have an opportunity to make it right, to apologize right then. I’ve done that for sure, I can think of several times. There’s a pit that forms in your stomach, a very unsettling feeling, and it makes you extremely anxious until you can speak to that person. Not so with Jonah—at this point he was so comfortable in his sin before that he was perfectly comfortable sleeping in the hold of a ship being tossed by a storm that made sailors greatly afraid. So here is his choice.

This is the moment that he’s been confronted by God. It’s a little arresting that this great prophet of Israel is called out on his sin by whom? By heathen sailors. That is the vehicle God chose. It’s not like David, who was called out of his sin by Nathan, a prophet himself. Nathan was a prophet, so he had automatic clout when addressing David. Here God confronts his prophet, not with another prophet or someone of automatic stature. So here is Jonah, called out by the heathen sailors, and he has a few choices. How he deals with this confrontation is the major lesson for today.

He could deny that he has anything to do with the storm, and perhaps the lot was wrong. He doesn’t need to justify himself to these sailors! That’s one option. He could also have gone with a partial truth, something we’re so experienced with in the human race. He could tell them that the lot fell on him for some lesser sin, or something else, but there’s certainly nothing that he’s done that would warrant this.

Or option 3, full disclosure. Repentance and throwing himself at the mercy of God. This is the path Jonah chooses, and it is the right one. He answers their questions a little out of order from how they were asked, but he begins by saying

“I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

This makes the men not just afraid, but we’re told, “exceedingly afraid.” And they’re afraid the second Jonah says that he is a Hebrew, because the God of the Hebrews was well-known throughout the pagan lands. This is what caused Israel to have such constant trouble. They lived in a time and place of religious relativism. In the realm of religious truth, there was no truth that was true for everyone—they all had their own gods. But YHWH, the God of heaven, of the Hebrews, was an exclusive God, was the God above any other gods. Not only greater than all the other gods, but the only god that is actually real.  When the Israelites confessed that, it didn’t make them any friends. What’s more, Jonah reminds them that YHWH made the sea and the dry land, so that definitely puts winds and waves under his purview.

And Jonah lays it all out. He tells them that he is a prophet of this God, YHWH, and he is running from him. They knew that what he said was true, and that the God he was fleeing from could certainly do all of this.

Now Jonah has made his confession, and tells 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.”

Jonah knows that he is the cause of all of this, and that if he does not sacrifice himself as payment, they will all die. There is no way that he would assume any of the rest of the story, what’s going to happen. This is the end for him. He ran from God, and he deserves to die, not all of these men. The men of course didn’t want to do this, because they knew that the punishment for taking a life was death to them. So they tried to row and it only got worse. Then they called out to God – the real God – and asked to be spared of the punishment for taking Jonah’s life. And so finally:

15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

And that leads us to the great fish. Jonah assumed that he would die, and that was a 100% certainty unless something miraculous happened. And it did. And through this prayer we have a record of how completely humbled Jonah was in his turning from his sin, how completely he repented. On the boat he didn’t dither, didn’t complain, didn’t seek a lighter punishment, he humbled himself before God.

This is the context of Jonah’s prayer. He has sacrificed himself for payment of his sin, and then God chose to return him to the path he was supposed to be on. Now, that does not mean that Jonah is entirely at peace yet. This prayer is a record of three days and nights of his thoughts and prayers inside the fish. And in a way, it reads exactly like the account of someone who processes through all of this.

One of the first things he prays is a reflection on what he had just experienced.

3 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.

 

He is clearly still gripped by the fact that he did this terrible thing, and God is angry with him, appropriately angry. He is grief-stricken over his sin, and saddened by being out of God’s favor, out of his sight. And the path out of that is when he remembers the promises of God, that God is good, and he works through it, verse 4:

 

4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away

    from your sight;

yet I shall again look

    upon your holy temple.’

5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;

    the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped about my head

6     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.

7 When my life was fainting away,

    I remembered the Lord,

and my prayer came to you,

    into your holy temple.

 

And lastly, he prays a thanksgiving to God, reminding himself that God’s love is steadfast, unchanging and unmoving.

 

8 Those who pay regard to vain idols

    forsake their hope of steadfast love.

9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving

    will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

    Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
 

So what are the lessons for us here and now when we read this story of a man, not just any man, but a prophet chosen by God, when we read the story of him falling so far into sin. And then, when God calls him back, he lays it all out. When reflecting on the conversation between Jonah and the sailors, Calvin had this application:

“If at any time the same thing should happen to us, if God should subject us to the reproaches of men when we seek to avoid his judgment, let us not wonder. But as Jonah here calmly answers, and raises no clamour, and shows no bitterness, so let every one of us, in the true spirit of meekness, acknowledge our own sins.”

Like I said last week, God doesn’t always confront us so dramatically as he did Jonah, but that doesn’t mean that his sin was so much greater than ours. Jonah was called out in the midst of a terrible storm by heathen sailors, but he calls us out of our sins in smaller, regular ways all the time. And it is done primarily through people.

So, like Calvin says, what is our response to this? What should it be for the Christian? Calvin says “let us not wonder.” By that he means, don’t be surprised! You are going to be called to account for a great many things as you go through your life, and our response should be humility, just like Jonah showed.

We all struggle with this, I know, but God has provided us with two primary institutions to keep us humble and to show us our faults: the family, and the church. What two better places to receive correction than the family and the church? Your family is full of people who love you, and who want to correct you to make you a better person. The church is another close family of people, all admitting that there is still sin in our lives, and we’re all working on it.

These two places are where we should feel most comfortable admitting our faults to one another and correcting each other when things are wrong, and we often don’t use them to the full advantage that God has provided. Even in our families and our churches we like to hide behind shallow conversation about weather, current events, sports, work, what have you. We stay up near the surface because it’s difficult down there in our difficulties, in our failings. But like I said, the home and the church are the places of the most available refuge.

Now sin has affected those too on a massive scale, and they may not always feel like the safest spaces to be vulnerable, but we should make them so. We should endeavor to have a church family where we talk about our sins and our struggles with one another, bear each other’s burdens. God works through people to direct our lives, so let’s listen to that leading and not shut ourselves off to it.  

But then next, when we dive deeply into our relationships with each other and with God, it gets dangerous, doesn’t it? How do we respond to correction from God through people when it comes? We so easily respond to correction using one of the other two responses that was available to Jonah. We say it’s nothing, or it’s not a big deal. When we should be saying, my sin is a big deal, because I’ve been called to something far greater by someone far greater.

I am glad that our liturgy so prominently features a time of confession. It is an important time to silence our lips and take time to confess our sins to God. There are actually very few Protestant churches that have a particular time of confession in their liturgy. It is good, and we should keep doing it, but getting back to this idea of being humble with our church family, maybe our confessing shouldn’t always happen in silence, it should also be out loud to each other. I’m not saying let’s all air all of our dirty laundry all the time, but let this be a place, this church, where we can truly be vulnerable with one another, building each other up in love.

You may remember from our study of Philippians that Paul kept circling around to one key to true fellowship, and it is humility. Humility like Jonah showed when he was called out by the sailors. Humility is the key to both relationships, the vertical one with God and the horizontal one with our neighbor. Humility always works, counting others as better than yourself. Because in the end, we’re all here to serve Jesus, the ultimate example of humility. Our whole lives are his, and there is nothing that we contribute to our worthiness, it’s all him. That’s humbling. Jonah tried to do it himself, tried to have a better plan than the one God had for him, tried to save himself by fleeing. But in the end, at the end of his prayer, he got to the main point, and it was proven to him again and again in the story. Salvation doesn’t belong to you, or me, or sailors on a boat. It doesn’t come through money, or physical health, or safety, enjoyment, or anyone else. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and no one else.  Amen, let’s pray.

Dear heavenly Father,

We thank you for your Word today. Thank you for the example of Jonah, showing us how running from you is futile, and that you are really all we ever need. Help us to rely more on you each day, and work in us the desire to build each other up in love. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

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