Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sermon on Jonah 2:1-10, Lent 4, Jonah--The Survivor Series: Part 4: "Praying in the Belly of the Great Fish"

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. 

One tribe of Native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. But on this night he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods. By himself. All night long. Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. No doubt it was a terrifying night for many. After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He had been there all night long.
Jonah also found himself in unfamiliar surroundings, and that is putting it mildly! He had reached the depths of his downward path away from God—and there was no further to go than the roots of the mountains underneath the depths of the restless sea. Rock bottom is the same destination of those who persistently flee God. Jonah was on the verge of death because of his rebellion. But Jonah was not alone in the belly of the great big fish. He realized that the LORD cast him into the depths, and therefore only the LORD could get him out (213). Jonah’s prayer echoes the language of the Psalms (p. 210-11), as he truly evaluated his desperate condition, saw the hope of deliverance that rests only in God, and then worshipped Him. Jonah, throughout the book, is like us, both saint and sinner. He is inconsistent, like us, moving from weak faith and even ignoring God, to sudden awareness and humility before God (219). Yet both Jonah and us are saved, not by our consistency or strength, but by our LORD who is always steadfast (219).
Jonah’s experience foreshadows the story of Jesus Christ. Jesus would call His own death and resurrection the “sign of Jonah”—and His One conclusive miracle. Just as Jonah faced the judgment of God, so did Jesus on the cross. Just as Jonah experienced separation from the LORD, so did Jesus. Just as Jonah was carried down in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so also Jesus would be three days and nights in the heart of the earth. Just as Jonah was vomited out by the fish on dry land, so also the grave could not contain Jesus, but He rose from the dead. But here is the point; just as Jonah prayed from the psalms, so did Jesus (Matt 26:30; Ps 22:1). And God heard and answered that prayer. When you are in the belly of the great big fish you are not alone. God’s Word in the psalms is with you—a cry in your distress.
Did you ever look at the Psalms in that way? That God even gives us words to pray to Him in a time of trouble—and still more, that Jesus prays them together with us?! God’s final Word, Jesus, is with you. In apparent loneliness, despair, in the depth of trouble, Jesus is there beside you, watching over you. His prayers become your prayers in the Psalms, and God’s answer to Him becomes yours. When the final and greatest enemy of death stares you in the face, and the yawning mouth of the grave stands open—remember that Christ has cast a light into its depths, and burst the grave from the inside out! As God delivered Jesus from the heart of the grave because of His innocence, so also Jesus promises you deliverance from your grave by His innocent suffering and death on the cross. The grave is no longer to be feared! We can shout this cry of triumph: “Death, where is your victory? Grave, where is your sting?” One greater than Jonah is here, and He has defeated you! His name is Jesus, and I am His and He is mine! This is how we survive in the belly of the “great big fish” that is our grave!

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