Thursday, March 01, 2012

Sermon on Jonah 1:4-16, for Lent 2; Jonah, The Survivor Series: Part 2: "Saved in the Storm"

The following Lenten series I will be preaching on is adapted from Dr. Reed Lessing's series on Jonah the prophet. Dr. Lessing is professor of Old Testament at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. 

“For this job,” said the personnel director, “we are looking for a responsible man.” “That’s me,” said the applicant. “Everywhere I’ve worked, whenever anything went wrong they said I was responsible.” This is Jonah! He is responsible for going down to Joppa, going down into the ship, lying down in the innermost recesses of the ship, and he is even responsible for the sailors lifting him up and throwing him into the raging sea! He was responsible for what went wrong!
In spite of this the LORD does not hire someone else; he didn’t let Jonah get away with it. Jonah may have won the battle, but God will win the war. To do so he sends in the big gun, “the perfect storm.” The storm will bring a sudden halt to Jonah’s escape plans. God had called Jonah to arise, go to Nineveh, but in response Jonah had gone down to Joppa, now goes down to the hull of the ship, lays down in a deep sleep—and will yet further go down to the depths. Jonah goes down into the hull of the ship while all this chaos is going on, and falls into a deep sleep of death, snoring on—oblivious in his sin (p. 104). What kind of person goes to sleep in the bottom of a ship during such a storm, while others are scrambling for their very lives? (p. 103).
Do you have a Tarshish? Do you have a place that you run to because you know it’s the exact opposite of the place where God wants you to go? Eventually, you know, it’s going to be found out. The LORD will send the perfect storm. It is foolish to run. The LORD who can calm the troubled waters of your life is the same LORD who can stir them up to a great frenzy. So when we persist in our disobedience, he gets rougher. He begins gently, but in the end he sends the tempest. If you are on the run, don’t believe God is going to ignore it. Are you sleeping through your sins? He is going to work to wake you up to see the consequences of your actions.
Running is useless. Pretending that everything is okay before God is pointless. We cannot escape God’s notice. We cannot hide where he is not (Psalm 139). He’s omnipotent. There’s nothing he cannot do. He’s omniscient. He knows everything. And, he’s omnipresent. The LORD is everywhere. There are times when we have all wanted to escape. This is Jonah!
The sailors’ impulse to pray was the right one—the problem was none of their gods were anything more than dead & mute idols, with no power to save. No appeals to their false gods worked. The answer must lie in another. They needed the true God—the One Jonah believed in, but was running away from! He was so blind and deaf to God that the pagan captain had to admonish him to pray to God! (p.122). When they cast lots to see who’s responsible for this trouble, God directs the lots to fall to “unlucky Jonah” whose last shred of a hiding place is blown away with the storm. And in astonishing hypocrisy, and without admitting his guilt, he essentially says “I worship the God who made this sea—on which I’m running away from God!” How could Jonah or the sailors hope to escape one part of God’s realm and reach a destination beyond His control? (p. 135) Even he realized he was still in God’s domain!
The storm drove the sailors go through a transformation, from fear of God, to great fear of God, to great fear and worship of the LORD. Their conversion from fear to faith happens because Jonah finally confesses he fears and worships the LORD, the God of heavens and earth (p. 101). At this point, through the same faith and worship, both Jonah, the Israelite, and the Gentile sailors have equal standing before the LORD—ironically the very fact that Jonah finds intolerable when God later shows grace to the Ninevites. He asks to be thrown overboard. And so it was done. Was Jonah thinking that death might finally be his only escape from God’s call? Was his motive to save the sailors? To appease God’s wrath? Remember, he had no idea that the whale was going to swallow him. Once again, if escape was his design, God denied him even that possibility! The LORD doesn’t want Jonah to die, He wants him to preach! (p. 131). And what an amazing fear of God the sailors had, that they even feared the responsibility of having innocent blood on their hands! Where has that sense of conscience and awe of God gone?
There was another man who fell asleep in the bottom of a boat, in the midst of a raging storm. But that man was not fleeing from God, and His sleep was one of peace, not of oblivion—He was God’s very Son, Jesus Christ. The One who had the power to calm the sea in Jonah’s storm, calmed the storm again at Galilee—to the amazement of the sailor-disciples aboard the fishing vessel. Jonah was lifted up by the sailors and cast down sacrificially into the depths of the sea, plunging down because of his own guilt. Jesus Christ was lifted up by the hands of sinful men, nailed to a tree, and plunged down sacrificially into the depths of the grave, bearing no guilt of His own, but all the heavy guilt of the world. Jesus does so freely and willingly, to save all those aboard the vessel of His church. Both Jonah’s and Jesus’ sacrifices stilled the wrath of God’s storm (p.133). God sends other storms to awake us to faith, but then when we cry out to Him He calms the storm through His love for us in Jesus. He is our Savior and through Him we survive the storms of life, even those we bring to ourselves! Gentile sailors, Jewish fishermen, and we alike are moved to confess: “Who is this, that even the wind and the seas obey Him?” And the answer is clear—He, He alone is God! Amen. 

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