1 February 2017
Text: Jonah 1:1-17
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
A person that is always followed by what seems to be back luck is sometimes called a “Jonah.” Of course, this comes from our Old Testament reading about the prophet who was called by God to preach to the wicked people of Nineveh in order to call them to repent. Jonah was not enamored by this prospect. Our text doesn’t give a reason. Maybe he hated the people there, or loathed their culture. Maybe he just wanted to go elsewhere, or maybe he was afraid of how they would react. Whatever the cause, “Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
His escape plan included boarding a boat in Joppa and going the other way.
And here is where the term “Jonah” comes from.
While onboard, the ship seemed to be cursed. For “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.”
This was seen as a payment for some kind of religious disobedience. Lots were cast to see whose fault it was, and the lot fell to Jonah, who confessed that he was “fleeing from the presence of the Lord.” So, they found their Jonah, the cause of their suffering, and Jonah suggested that they throw him overboard. The men, to their credit, did not want to do this. They tried rowing harder, but eventually realized that they would all perish without appeasing Jonah’s God, to whom they prayed: “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” The act of throwing Jonah overboard brought peace to the tempestuous sea, and saved their lives.
And so “the men feared the Lord exceedingly and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.”
We all know what happened next: Jonah was swallowed by a great fish from whose belly he would re-emerge on the third day.
Of course, there is a lesson in here about obeying the Lord – especially for those whom the Lord has called to preach and teach. Rebelling against this calling is not recommended. There is also an example of how disobedience not only affects the disobedient one, but others around him as well. There is also a lesson in here about the mercy of the Lord, who rescued Jonah by means of a fish.
But all of these lessons are secondary to Jonah’s pointing to Jesus. For Jesus is the New and Greater Jonah, who Himself referred to His own death and three day rest in the tomb as “the sign of Jonah.”
Jesus is our Jonah. For though He was obedient to the Father, and though He did not flee His assignment to call the wicked to repentance, and though He committed no sin, nevertheless, He became sin for us. Our Lord took upon Himself the curse of Jonah, the curse of Adam, the curse of fallen mankind. And He did so in order to save us through His own body being thrown overboard into the grave by the very people whom He came to save, those who killed Him and yet received His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and life.
No great fish came to rescue Jesus. He was swallowed up instead by death. Like Jonah, He laid down His own life rather than see others die, but unlike Jonah, He emerged from His three day sojourn by His own power and authority, conquering not only death, but also the curse of disobedience and the effects of sin and guilt. And in so doing, our Lord calmed the stormy sea of the Father’s righteous wrath against the sins of mankind.
Jonah became a sacrifice, a funnel of the Lord’s wrath, one who deserved that wrath. Our Lord Jesus likewise funneled unto Himself the wrath of God for the sins of the world – for yours and mine and all of those ever committed or to be committed, in thought, word, and deed, sins of omission and commission, the very mortal nature that we have inherited from our ancestors. Jesus suffered all of this wrath, and was willingly thrown into the grave to be devoured by the devil. And our Lord willingly became this sacrificial offering, appeasing the Father’s wrath and restoring us to the calm of communion with God.
And like the great fish, whose belly churned and ejected Jonah upon the land, Satan could not conquer the crucified Jesus, and though he had wounded the heel of the Seed of the Woman, the Lord Jesus had mortally wounded the fiendish serpent’s head. And on the third day, the Lord Jesus Christ, the New and Greater Jonah, re-emerged on the terra firma of the earth, the world He Himself had created and redeemed, populated by the very people whom He saved and atoned for, by His sacrifice upon the cross.
And we repeat the prayer of those men saved by Jonah’s sacrifice: “O Lord, let us not perish for this Man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” For the innocent blood of Jesus – far from condemning us, saves us. And instead of perishing for His life, we are saved by His death. And indeed, by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, we “fear the Lord exceedingly,” and we too make offerings and vows, thank offerings for His saving blood, and vows to support the continued preaching of the Word, of the Gospel, of repentance, and of Jesus Christ, our New and Greater Jonah. We repent at His Word and we partake of His sacrificial flesh and blood.
Since the days of the Roman Empire, the fish has been a symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ and of our Christian faith. There are many reasons for this. And even though Jonah is not an explicit reason for this, there is great value in seeing these symbols on the property and homes of Christians and calling to mind that our Lord Himself considered the account of Jonah to be a sign of His death and resurrection. For Jesus is truly our Jonah, the New and Greater Jonah, the innocent bearer of the curse of our sins, who was hurled into the grave only to rise again on the third day, having released us from the wrath of the Father, bringing us to repentance, forgiveness, and everlasting life. To Him be thanksgiving, praise, and glory even unto eternity. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.