When we left Jonah, he was in the belly of the great fish. He was in a bad way. “Nothing clears the mind like the certain knowledge that you will be shot in the morning.” It has a way of clearing the mind of trivial details. You don’t worry about washing the car if you know you’re going to be shot at sunrise. Someone else can wash the car. You’ve got bigger things to worry about. So it was for Jonah. But first he has to come to his senses.
Lying has almost become a non-issue today. Everyone lies, and they lie all the time. It’s almost as if it’s not a sin to lie anymore. Perhaps it is a sign of postmodern relativism that we have come to accept that lying isn’t wrong. People routinely lie to cover up their sin. You can’t help a liar. You can help anyone struggling with any sort of sin as long as they tell the truth. But you can’t help a liar because you can’t trust anything he says.
Most of us, when we get caught, confess as little as possible. True repentance always involves coming clean - coming clean means owning up to the whole pattern of wrongdoing, not just to the thing you happened to get caught doing.
1. Three Hard Words
Proverbs 28: 13 - “he who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” 1 John 1: 9 -“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”Psalm 51: 6 – “God desires truth in the inward parts.” “Truth from the inside out.” It is very hard for us to come to this place of total honesty with God and with others. Most of us face a continual battle to be transparent in all our dealings, especially when we have sinned. 3 of the hardest words to say are “I have sinned."
No one wants to say that. We would rather do anything, including lying, to keep from saying those words. We’ll make excuses, we’ll rationalise, we’ll twist the facts, we’ll blame others, and we’ll say, “It’s not my fault” or “She told me to do it” or “So what? Everyone else is doing it.” The excuses never seem to end.
Let’s lay down a marker here at the start of this message. It’s a good mark of spiritual health if it is becoming easier for you to say, “I was wrong.” Good sign - taking responsibility for your own actions. It means you are ready to get your life right with God. It means you’re ready to start growing again.
Application - take a Bible, a notebook and a pen and find a quiet place. Then pray this simple prayer: “Lord, show me the truth about myself.” Those 7 words are all you need to say. Then wait for God to speak to you. The answer will begin to come from heaven. Little by little the Holy Spirit will show us our weaknesses, our faults, our mistakes, our bad attitudes, our foolish words, our pride, our arrogance, our need to be in control, our need to tell others what to do, our desire to have our own way, our anger, our bitterness, our lack of mercy, our lack of love and our lack of compassion. I know from personal experience that if you wait long enough, the Lord will always reveal the truth to you.
It’s hard to do this. God knows that so sometime he forces the issue. Sometimes God puts us in places where we have to face the consequences of our own stupid choices. He won’t take sin in His stride. He won’t say “Boys will be boys.” He is passionate for holiness. He loves us too much to let us go on in sin forever. That’s a truth Jonah found out the hard way.
So the disobedient prophet finds himself in the belly of a great fish. We know that the Lord appointed the fish to catch and swallow Jonah alive. It was a divine miracle that the fish appeared at the right moment in the right place, with the right appetite to swallow Jonah but not to kill him or maim him in the process.
Can you imagine what it was like inside that fish? It’s dark, you can’t move around, the fish is swimming constantly, salt water washes over you, seaweed wraps around you, unidentified objects knock against you. The inside of a fish really stinks.
2. Jonah’s Psalm v. 1
From inside the fish comes a prayer in the form of a psalm.
A. He cries to God for help v. 2He knows that if God doesn’t save him, he will never get out of the great fish alive.
B. He confesses that God put him where he is v. 3Jonah doesn’t blame the sailors, nor does he blame the storm or the great fish. Jonah sees clearly that behind the ship, the storm, the raging sea and the great fish - stands the Lord of the universe. Jonah bows before God, “I’m here because you put me here." It is great progress spiritually to stop blaming others for your problems.
C. He feels like he is going to die in the great fish v. 5There’s no way out unless the Lord brings him out. Apart from God, he’s Sunday lunch for the big fish - nothing he can do about it.
D. He remembers the Lord is his only hope v. 7Finally Jonah is acting like a true believer. After all the running away, all the disobedience, all the self-centred living, God has Jonah’s undivided attention. God will do whatever it takes to bring us to the place where we remember him. He’ll stop at nothing - includes calamity, sickness, loss, repeated failure and heartbreak. Whatever it takes to get us on our knees is good for our spiritual growth. Jonah is saying, “Lord, I’ve been running from you for a long time, and now at last you’ve got my full attention.”
E. He vows to serve the Lord v. 9You can see the spiritual progress he’s making – 1. He acknowledges that God put him where he is. 2. He accepts God’s discipline. 3. He thinks he’s going to die. 4. He finally remembers the Lord. Then he vows to serve the Lord. He comes to the great conclusion in v. 10 “Salvation is of the Lord.” This is the hardest lesson for us. Salvation starts and it ends with God. Some struggle a lifetime to learn that. Most of us have to learn it over and over. Some never learn it. There is no salvation, no deliverance and no getting better until we realise - if God doesn’t save us, we will never be saved.
Advantage of being in the belly of a great fish - clears the mind so you can think about what matters most. Most of us would improve spiritually if we spent a few days in a great fish, or a place without TV, radio or the Internet. In the terrifying darkness, Jonah learnt the folly of fighting against God. Wise man said, “Your arms are too short to box with God. He’s going to win every time.”
3. What We Know So Far
A. He was a prophet, but it had been a long time since he had talked honestly with GodIt’s easy for church people to go through life without talking to God. Why did Jonah pray in the great fish? Nothing else to do. Without the regular distractions of life, Jonah focused on the Lord. People say, “Why doesn’t God speak to me?” “He speaks to you all the time, but you won’t slow down long enough to listen.” The loud clamour of life and the constant pressure to get things done, to meet our goals, and to cross off items on our to-do list, all of it keeps us from hearing the still, small voice of the Lord.
God knows how to speak to us - knows how to get our attention. It’s a good thing to be desperate if desperation turns your heart to the Lord. It is better to be in the fish and talking to God than on dry land boasting about your big plans. You pray inside the great fish because if God doesn’t do something, you will die there.
But - You can get into trouble anywhere. A car veers off the road - catastrophe at any moment. You can be singing a tune one moment and have a stroke the next. It happens every day. No one is immune to trouble, and there is nowhere on earth where you are truly safe from heartbreak, sadness, disease, danger and death.
B. God had to stop Jonah in his tracks in order to get his attentionIn ch. 1 Jonah acts and keeps messing things up. In ch. 2 Jonah prays and things start getting better. Often our greatest problem is slowing down enough to hear God’s voice.
C. God delights to deliver His people from impossible situationsBeing trapped inside a great fish for 3 days and nights is an impossible situation. Even after Jonah gets right with God, he’s still inside the fish. He’ll never get out on his own. So God works an amazing deliverance – v. 10.
The same Lord who appointed the fish to catch him now tells the fish to let him go. Hebrew word translated “vomit” means - vomit. One moment Jonah’s wedged in the belly of the fish, the next he’s flying through the air and the next he lands on the beach, covered with shrimp cocktail. All of it meant to teach him and us that salvation is of the Lord.
Jesus told a parable that fits with the story of Jonah. A young man said to his father, “Give me my share of the inheritance.” So the father did - the young man took the money, left his family, journeyed to a far country - spent his money on wild living - wine, women and song. It all worked out until the famine came.
The Famine Always Comes
You can have your fun and spend your money and live any way you like. When the money runs out, you find out that your so-called friends won’t return your phone calls. They were happy to party with you when you had cash in your pocket and a credit card to cover everything else. But they suddenly disappear.
Now he’s feeding the pigs. When he came to his senses - “Back home my father’s servants have plenty to eat. I will arise and go to my father and say, ‘I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ Make me one of your hired hands.” He began the long, slow, difficult journey home. Ashamed and embarrassed of what he had done. Wondering what his father would do.
Jesus said that the father saw his son a long way off. He wouldn’t give up. One day he saw a tiny speck on the horizon. The father ran to meet his son while he was still far away. He didn’t say, “Let him come all the way and then I’ll talk to him.” He ran after him. He couldn’t wait to see his son again.
After his father had hugged and kissed him, the son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” He was going to say, “Make me like one of your hired hands.” But he never got those words out.
Once a Son Always a Son
A son at home, a son far away, a son in the pigsty and a son on the way back home. The father said, “Get the sandals - find my best robe and the gold ring. Kill the fatted calf. My son who was lost has been found. My son who was far away has come home. Let’s get the party started.”
I’ve got some good news. The lights are on in the Father’s house, and the door is always open. The Father stands waiting for his prodigal sons and daughters to come back home. He doesn’t say, “Clean yourself up first.” He says, “Come on home. We can’t wait to see you again.” He doesn’t say, “Prove that you are worthy” -no one is worthy of the Father’s love. He says, “If you are tired of living in the far country, if you’re tired of running away, if you’re ready to come home, the door is always open to you.”
What’s the hardest part about coming home? It’s the first step. How hard it is to take that first step back home to God. Prodigals are scared to take that first step because they are afraid of what awaits them on the other side.
They don’t understand that Jesus has paved the way home in his own blood. His death is so great and his resurrection so complete that nothing can be added to the value of what Christ did for us. The story of Jonah points us to Jesus, and the story of Jesus tells us how far God will go in behalf of guilty sinners. He sent his Son to the lowest place on earth, to the bloody cross of Calvary. Out of that shame he brought our salvation.
Now the door to heaven has been thrown wide open. Now all the reluctant Jonahs of the world can find their way home to God. The grace of God is not just amazing. It’s outrageous! It welcomes the worst sinners into heaven. It makes a way for even super-religious people to be forgiven of all their sins. For the rebel who today languishes in the far country, feeling alone and forgotten, God’s grace reaches out and says, “Jesus has paid the price. When you are ready, you can come home to God.”
Prayer – “Father, we thank you that we don’t have to be perfect because if we did, who among us would qualify? We thank you that we don’t even have to scrape off the dirt of our own foolish mistakes. We couldn’t do that if we tried. All we have to do is turn and come home.
Lord Jesus, you are the Friend of sinners. We are so glad because you are the Friend and we are the sinners. Thank you, Lord, for this story because if Jonah can get a second chance, there’s hope for all of us. Give us grace to come and courage to take the first step. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”