On the Plains of Moab Blog
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February 10, 2013, 3:38 PM

Sermon Text - I, Jonah: "Saved by the Ichthus" Sermon #3 of 7


Text: Jonah 1:17-2:10

Coming now to the third sermon in this series on Jonah.

Jonah, the prophet who said "no" to God.

Jonah, the prophet who ran from God.

Keep in mind that Jonah is a prophet of God.  In familiar Christian lingo, he is "saved."  He has been raised right.  He knows God.  He knows God's Law.  He is a good Jew.  And yet, he shows himself to be a miserable failure when it comes to living out his faith.  He knows the right things to say, but that's about it.  He knows that God expects him to love his neighbor just as he loves himself; but he won't do that.  He knows Samuel's famous words to King Saul, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. 15:22 ESV); but he doesn't seem to care.

Consequently, Jonah pays for his sins as we saw in last week’s sermon; the judgment is being thrown overboard into the waves of the stormy Mediterranean Sea where he will drown.  This is real justice.  You sin, you pay the price.

However, Jonah gets something else, something that exceeds his expectations.  Instead of drowning, the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jon. 1:17 ESV).  He opens his eyes expecting Sheol, the place of the dead.  …But he is still alive!  He thought God wanted him dead.  But, for some reason, God has shown him mercy!

I used to think that the great fish was part of the judgment from God.  After all, that’s a pretty disgusting thought, getting swallowed whole by a fish!  But it is the fish that actually saves Jonah’s life even though he deserved death.  The great fish is an instrument of grace from God.  Jonah did not deserve grace – but then again, that’s the point of grace in the first place!  Grace is simply undeserved.  Grace is gratuitous.  Grace is in the end, unexpected favor.

For some reason, God determines to show mercy…and Jonah recognizes it for what it is.  His prayer/psalm of praise in 2:2-6 recognizes the goodness of God in saving him.  "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol [the sea, not the belly of the fish!] I cried, and you heard my voice.  For you cast me into the deep [judgment!], 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' [i.e. I will return to the land of the living].  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 [death]; yet you brought up my life from the pit [of death into the safety of the belly of the great fish], O LORD my God." (ESV).

That’s the good.  This is the bad and ugly:  Jonah continues, "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!" (Jon. 2:8-9 ESV).  A little of the old Jonah comes through here.  O Lord, you have saved me.  But those foolish sailors above; how futile in their thoughts and hearts?!  Those pagan fools.  But, I will serve you forever, my God, for you are indeed Lord of all.

Note well the good, solid theology there:  Worshipping other gods is a terrible affront to a holy God.  And, Salvation [really does] belong to the LORD!  But, his heart still seems far removed from God.  Jonah is willing to give God thanks for sparing his own life; but he doesn't seem to extend that wish that for anyone outside Israel.  He is thankful for the grace in his life; but still (here in the belly of salvation!) seems to begrudge it for anyone else.  What a mixed bag this guy seems to be!

And yet, and here's the bottom line: God still preserves him alive and gives him another chance at life.  As we heard a little earlier in the kid's Veggie Tales clip, God is the God of second chances!  And so it says, the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out [safe and sound] upon the dry land. (Jon. 2:10 ESV).

The heart of God is on display in his dealings with a reluctant, angry rebellious prophet.  If justice were done, Jonah would be dead, the compensation for his sin.  But Jonah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Far too often, this message of God's grace gets muddled in the debates over the fish.  Did a great fish really swallow the prophet?  Come on now, you can't really believe that now?  How could he survive?  That just doesn't happen.

Well, as far as that's concerned, how realistic is it to say that God came to us as a baby, wrapped in human flesh?  That kind of defies all categories of the way the world works.  God becoming one of us and dying for us to deal with our sin.  What’s up with that?  And yet the Christian church has for centuries unashamedly and boldly professed that Jesus is a man and yet God.  It works the other way around too:  Jesus is God, and yet a man.  How about Jesus dying for our sins?  Taking it even further; people don't rise from the dead when they are really dead, do they?  And yet, saints down through the ages have placed their hope in the reality of the historical, in space and time, resurrection of Jesus and the promise that he only the first fruits of many more to come.

For myself, I believe that God provided a great fish that saved Jonah.  If you can’t swallow that just yet, then at least grasp what Jonah and the great fish communicates about God.

I can’t help but see in God’s provision of a great fish for Jonah a picture of what he provides for us in his Son, Jesus.  Some of you may have picked up on the double entendre in the title of the sermon this morning: “Saved by the Ichthus.”  Ichthus is simply the common Greek word for fish.  However, the early Church adopted the fish as a symbol for Jesus.  Each Greek letter in the word ichthus represents a name for Jesus:  Iesous (iota, “i”); Christos (chi, “ch”); Theos (theta, “th”); Uios (upsilon, “u”); and Soteros (sigma, “s”).  Acrostically, ichthus literally spells out, “Jesus Christ, God, Son, Savior!”

What God did with that great fish that rescued Jonah is what he does with the world.  Our sins deserve death.  Our sins, just like Jonah’s, deserve eternal separation from a holy God.  And yet, for some reason known only to God himself, he sends an even greater fish, Ichthus, to rescue us from certain death.  It is all of grace.  We don’t deserve it.  Using Paul’s language in Romans 6, we have rightfully earned our “wages.”  Apart from God’s provision, justice will be done.

If I may push this analogy a little further.  After we are saved by the greater Ichthus, we like Jonah, are still a mixed bag.  We still have sin that remains that needs to be put to death.  We still have sin that we cherish and refuse to let go.  We still have much to learn.  We still have much room for growth.  We have an imperative to be led by the Holy Spirit.  We have a non-negotiable mandate to be changed from the inside out.

You have heard the Word of God.  I ask that you consider it so very well.   Amen


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