“I’m operating out of grace right now”. This is what one of my youth leaders constantly says when I am running late or not quite prepared to start on time. I am highly grateful for his grace in dealing with me and others, and I often wonder who people think deserve such an expression of grace. Who is it that you think of or often offer grace to? Is is good people? People you have relationships with and love? People who are just having a hard day? Who do you think deserves grace? Furthermore, who do you think should not be given grace? Those who are never on time? Those who never seem to offer it back to you? Maybe those ungrateful people we all encounter? If the question came up about offering grace to someone who had run away from you when you offered it, what would be your reply? Would you offer grace or not?
Last week, we saw the prophet Jonah do just that, run from the One who had offered him grace. And we learned by Jonah’s example that Resistance is Futile. Jonah, however, learned the hard way–by running the opposite way God called him to go, getting into a boat heading further in the opposite direction, and then finally getting thrown into the sea. It was through that experience we saw a God who Came, God who Controls, God who calls us to Clarify, and God who calls us to Care for others. Because of his prejudice, Jonah was in the sea. And we will see today that it is God’s grace that causes a Rescue that is Fishy. Let’s examine the Situation of the Rescue, the Salutation during the Rescue, and the Salvation of the Rescue.
We find our “hero”, Jonah in a situation where he needed a rescue. He is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea after being thrown overboard by his “caring” shipmates (Jonah 1:15). He has no flotation device, and therefore is not likely to last long. But what happens?…God appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah (vs. 17). There are many who have mocked this story as simply fictional and as a sort of parable for teaching God’s salvation. But if that is what we believe, we find ourselves in direct contradiction with Jesus’ teaching and the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 12:39-40). So what we have here is Jonah in a B.C. penthouse for three days and three nights. Needless to say, this was probably not the best place to be, but it was better than the other option. It is similar to a baseball trip I took in college. We stayed in a very “economy” hotel (think doors that go directly outside and creepy red light district like atmosphere). It was so “economically friendly” that we witnessed drug deals and prostitution rings, and other uncomfortable situations as well. The water came out of our facet brown and yellowish, and worst of all, there was no continental breakfast. However, it was a bed for the night, and, in light of other options (being outside with the drug dealers and prostitutes), it was alright.
The same is true for Jonah. While the fish may not be the Ritz, it is a safe haven for Jonah from the storm and Mediterranean Sea. But more than that it forces Jonah to do something…pray (Jonah 2:1). The fishy rescue of God draws Jonah to the Lord he has been running from this entire time. This shows the hope and encouragement of God’s judgment and discipline…that it will draw people back to Him (Psalm 76:7-9; Hebrews 12:5-6, 10)! God disciplines to draw us back to Him because He loves us. It worked for Jonah, has it worked for you?
As Jonah finds his situation for rescue a little fishy, he responds by Salutation. Look at the attitude Jonah expresses in vs. 2-6. “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress…out of the belly of Sheol,…heat of the seas and the flood surrounded me…waters closed in…weeds were wrapped about my head…land whose bars closed upon me”. Jonah finds himself in a situation where he was as good as dead. He was hopeless. It would be like standing in a corn field at dusk and beginning to hear howls all around you. It would be realizing that you are standing in the middle of a pack of hungry coyotes at the end of a day. It would be recognizing there is no way out, no turning around, and no out running them. This is how Jonah feels.
Jonah has no hope in the Mediterranean Sea left all on his own. There is no where to go, no way to swim to shore, and no life preserver to save him. He is soaking wet, without help, lost, and hopeless. And in the middle of that Situation, Jonah cries out a great Salutation. Jonah expresses similar thoughts and prayers as the Psalmists (Psalm 42:6-7; 18:4; 69:2-3). But most importantly Jonah comes to a reckoning moment in vs. 8. He prays to God and says, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love”. What is Jonah doing here? He is realizing the only place true hope, salvation, and love come from is the Lord. So Jonah gives a great Salutation to God in the midst of a fishy Situation. What about you? Are praying and praising God despite your circumstances? Are you recognizing Him as your only hope? Jonah does and finally sees God’s great Salvation come to fruition.
In the final verses of Jonah 2, the prophet not only recognizes God’s Salvation, but we see the Salvation of God in the fishy rescue of Jonah. The method of salvation God provides the praying prophet must not outweigh or overshadow the fact that God does provide salvation. Jonah does not remain in a state of utter despair and depression. His emotional response toward the circumstance in which he finds himself does not change the reality of the God of hope and salvation he serves. Jonah sees this truth and gives great thanks in vs. 9. Jonah realizes his SALVATION IS FROM THE LORD! The truth is that we are all in the same boat (or lack of boat) as Jonah. We are hopelessly lost and without aid from others because we are sinners who do no good and are not righteous (Romans 3:10-18, 23; Isaiah 64:6-7). But the great news is that it is not about our power or ability. It is all about God’s power and sovereignty (Habakkuk 2:18-20). It is God who offers salvation to those who were once dead (Ephesians 2:1-5). It comes through His Son Jesus Christ being offered on the cross of Calvary in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21). God just calls us to believe and confess (Romans 10:9-11), recognizing Christ as the only name given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
You see, God did not offer grace to an individual prophet because he deserved it. God offered grace to an undeserving, disobedient, running from God Jonah. He did not give it to him because life was peachy keen and all was going well. He did not even do it because Jonah spoke some nice words about Him. God gave grace to Jonah in a terrible Situation, after Jonah’s Salutation, in the form of Salvation. And He has done the same for each of us in and through His Son Jesus Christ. So while Jonah’s rescue is fishy it is a revelation of a gracious God!
Come back next week for part 3 of Jonah: Repentance is Favored. If you missed part 1 Jonah:Resistance is Futile make sure to catch up. See you next week!