Jonah's Big Picture: What He Lost In Rebellion - What He Gained In Repentance
"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. 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. Then I said, 'I am driven away from your sight; Yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.' The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head 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. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!"
In Jonah's big picture scenario it is wise for us to consider and compare all that he lost in rebellion. Once we have considered the losses and compared the gains, there is logically only one solution for those of us who want to multiply the 521 (maximizing what we have been given by God). First do not rebel against God - but continue to move obediently forward in the full understanding of His calling and the blessing of His grace. Secondly, we must also maintain and nurture a right heart and fulfill our genuine intentions towards God. To do this, we do not rely solely on our expectations of Him and His grace. He has already done his part - Jesus. It is now our time to step up and be who He wants us to be and do what He wants us to do. In other words fulfill His expectations of us. We are called by God to lead in love, and to serve all people as we lead those who will follow. To rebel against that calling and opportunity is never going to produce the outcome we desire for our life and the lives of those we love. In Jonah's rebellion against God’s expectations of him, there was a lot that he lost
Consider that Jonah lost the voice of God (1:4). We don't read that "the word of the Lord came to Jonah," but that a great storm broke loose over the waters. God was no longer speaking to Jonah through His word; He was speaking to him through His works: the sea, the wind, the rain, the thunder, and even the great fish. Crazy how everything in nature at that point was obeying God but Jonah! God even spoke to him through the mercy and superstition of the crew (verses 6-10) who didn't know Jehovah God. It's a sad thing when a servant and believer of God gets called out by unbelieving pagans.
Compare how we often times believe we are not hearing God's voice. It is probably a good point to ask ourselves if there is even the slightest hint of rebellion in our hearts our attitude towards God in how we are living, loving and leading.
Consider that Jonah lost his spiritual energy (1:5). He went to sleep during a fierce storm and was totally unconcerned about the safety of others. The sailors were throwing the ship's wares and cargo overboard, and Jonah was about to lose everything, but he still slept on. "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man" (Proverbs 24:33, NIV).
Compare how we often times feel drained of faith and spiritual strength, wondering where is the voice of God and why isn't He talking when we need Him. It is probably a good point to ask ourselves if maybe he was speaking to us while we were too busy to listen, or perhaps we simply did not want to hear what He was saying.
Consider that Jonah lost his power in prayer (1:5-6). Even the unbelieving, pagan crew of The Perversus were calling on whatever gods they could think of for help while the only man on board who knew how to pray to the one true God, slept. But of course, that would mean that Jonah would have to confess and repent of his sins, while also deciding to obey what God had asked him to do. But because he was not yet ready to do that - his prayers for saving himself and the crew were useless. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18). If Jonah did pray, his prayer wasn't answered.
Compare how we often times pray for help, favor, and blessing while we are not thinking, speaking, or living like we know that we should. In that condition God is not obligated or interested in our prayer. Loss of power and righteous expectation in prayer is one of the first indications that our hearts and minds have gotten too far from God and the direction He wants us going. God does not bless, favor, or click "Like" to our personal rebellion post. We need to repent - we need to get right with Him.
Consider that Jonah lost his witness (1:7-10). He certainly wasn't living up to his name, for Jonah means "dove," and the dove is a symbol of peace. Jonah's father's name was Ammitai, which means "faithful, truthful," something that Jonah was not. We've already seen that he wasn't living up to his high calling as a Jew, for he had brought everybody trouble instead of blessing, nor was he living up to his calling as a prophet, for he had no message for them from God. When the lot pointed to Jonah as the bad-guy, he could no longer keep silent or avoid making a decision.
From an experience of rebellion and discipline. Jonah turns to an experience of repentance and dedication, and God graciously gives him a new beginning. There is no doubt that Jonah for a time expected to die in the storm at sea, but in spite of his terror, when he woke up inside the fish, he realized that God had at least for the moment, graciously spared him. Just like the story of the Prodigal Son's rebellion (Luke 15:11-24), Jonah also found his moment of mercy where God that brought him to repentance (Romans 2:4). In Jonah's repentance moment, you can see the emotional and spiritual progression as he desperately turns to God in a prayer (Jonah 2:1-2). Jonah's prayer for help came at the end of a three day hellish nightmare, at which point he finally surrendered to God's conditions, expectations, and his calling to Ninevah. The Hebrew text simply reads, "And Jonah prayed." However, it’s hard for me to imagine that Jonah wasn't praying from the very moment they threw his rebellious behind overboard to drown. To repent and pray for help would be the normal thing for any person of faith to do, and that's the picture we finally get from Jonah in verses 2-9, of chapter 2. His prayer was born out of affliction and fear, and He cried out to God because he was in danger of His judgment, not necessarily because he was delighting in His word, but because he was ready to obey His word. But it is important to note that it is always better to pray motivated by any reason or circumstance than not to pray at all. It's doubtful whether any believer always prays with pure and righteous motives - our desires and God's directions are most always in contention until we completely surrender.
However, in spite of the fact that he repented out of desperation, Jonah repented and prayed. No he still wasn't happy about what God expected of him, but because of his unique mission and message Jonah's would always struggle with what God asked. The lens of history will forever can show that Jonah's repentance was primarily motivated because he wanted God's intervention and rescue from his life-threatening circumstances (the belly of a fish somewhere in the western Mediterranean). The comparisons to us today are familiar enough to make a connection. Jonah saw the will of God as something to turn to in case of an emergency or crisis, not something to be lived out in his love of God and neighbor in surrendered obedience every day of his life. Does that not sound familiar? However, God got from Jonah what He wanted - the message delivered to the people He wanted it delivered to. When Jonah repented he got what he wanted - to live and not die. Here is a few of the things that Jonah gained in repentance.
In Repentance - Jonah could Pray in Good Conscience for God's Favor and Help.
In Repentance - Jonah could Accept and Receive God's Discipline not Resent and Resist it.
In Repentance - Jonah could Trust God's Purposes and Promises for not only His Life, but also the Lives of Others.
In Repentance - Jonah could Surrender and Embrace God's Will, Taking it on His Own.
In Repentance - Jonah could Save not only Himself, but Thousands upon Thousands of his Enemies.
The Final Connection: Jonah-Jesus-521
The mission of our day is God’s mercy made available for people of all color, creed, and culture. From every dark and hidden corner to every great and wicked city of the world. The message of that mission is that God cares for all people, and He loves all people, and He has made a way of hope for all people. As noble and glorious as that sounds, there is also a painful reality that comes with it. Not everyone wants God's mercy, nor will they love Him back - most will reject His gift to them. The word about that rejection for us on the inside is this... in spite of what we think, feel, or want, God loves and cares for the ones on the outside too - and until such time as we hear differently (like Jonah) that is our mission and that is our message! He loves (as we all sang the song growing up) all the little children of the world - and He wants us to tell them, sometimes over and over again!! It is not far from what Jesus said,
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God."
Jonah, as everybody at Reunion knows by now, is a story about a prophet and about a “great fish,” which, by the time Matthew wrote his biography of Jesus, had been transformed in the popular imagination into some species of whale (Matthew 12:40). In the Good News Bible, for example, a series of twenty-one sketches trace the course of Jonah's story—but there is no picture of the whale! Such a huge creature, however (as we have learned), cannot be so easily dismissed from the prophetic themes and messages of Jonah. There are spiritually significant connections to Jonah and his story everywhere.
The most significant is a primary connection of the Jonah story with our hope in Christ, and then our call from Christ that comes from the New Testament. Jesus said,
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
Jonah’s experience of being swallowed and then delivered is understood by most all non-liberal theologians as a type of preview of the death and resurrection of Jesus - it is called a Christo-logical interpretation. This interpretation of the Jonah story gives us a pretty clear preview of the story of Jesus. It is also called it a "type and shadow." Let me explain.
Front and center of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, is Michelangelo's Jonah and the Great Fish. Knowing that the bible is filled with people of much more significance and impact, I wondered how did the little and bizarre story of Jonah occupy such an important position in historical art and the creative mind and beauty of Michelangelo? The answer of course was in the words of Jesus... "behold, something greater than Jonah is here." By now I hope that we have all agreed that there is something extremely unique about Jonah in the Bible and his story to us. Think for a moment about the four weeks we have invested into Jonah. Let me tell you what has been happening - it has been Jonah's connection to Christ, the connection of Christ to us, and then the connection of us back to Jonah. Jonah is the only Hebrew prophet (Old Covenant) called by God to address and deliver a salvation message to a nation other than Israel, making him (in this context) a pre-cursor to the New Covenant to be revealed to all people of all nations and through the person of Jesus Christ. Jonah was the first “ecumenical” of the Hebrew "Old Covenant" prophets, reminding not only Israel but all peoples that God the creator of all exists, loves and cares for all. When I look at Michelangelo's painting it says far more to me than... "here is a painting of the rebellious prophet whose God caused a great fish to swallow him because he refused deliver a message that would save the enemies of his people." What I see is the heart and Spirit of the same God who not only raised Jesus from the dead, but also the same God who created the heavens and the earth, and the God who spoke not only through the Hebrew prophets, but also through the sacred writings and self-sacrifice of generations of believing gentiles - of all race, creed and country. I see the God who spoke through the thinkers, the orators, the artists, the poets, the musicians, the singers and songwriters, and through men and women both willing and un-willing, approved and unapproved to show His unfailing and unending love for all mankind. That is a type (reflection of) and shadow (of things to come) of Jesus and His unrestricted and unending love.
The Bible has never been the exclusive property of rabbis and, theologians, scholars and priests, professors and preachers. It has never been the sole possession of nations, religions, kingdoms and cultures. Though many have tried to lay exclusive claim to its content and universal authority and influence, it's only possessor and authority is itself and the God who inspired it by His Spirit. Christ remains the Word of God, given to all, and for all.
The Bible and its stories, its lessons, its truth, its meaning, and its hope has always been the book for all the people. Red, yellow, black, and white. Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic, and Christian. Heterosexual, homosexual, gay, straight, gender-specific, gender-not or gender-neutral. Accepted or rejected, obeyed, disobeyed, believed or not believed - the Bible is the everlasting word of God for all people. And that is our 521 Multiplied connection. What God has given to all of us at Reunion is not just for us - it is for all the people and must be multiplied.