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Grace Beneath The Waves

Rev. Philip Miller | October 30, 2022

Selected highlights from this sermon

Just as coal must be crushed to become a diamond, and gold must be purified in the fire, there is a brokenness we must learn if we’re ever to be useful to God. And that’s exactly what happened to Jonah. God crushed him so that he could be useful.

In this sermon, we see Jonah as he finally comes to the end of himself and the beginning of his usefulness in ministry. Pastor Miller points out four significant moments for Jonah’s redemption from this passage: recognition, remembrance, repentance, and redemption.

Alan Redpath, who was the senior pastor here at The Moody Church from 1953 to 1962, famously said this: “When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible man and crushes him.”

Pastor Redpath understood something. He understood that certain kinds of traits in our personality that might get us ahead in life are actually liabilities when it comes to spiritual life, things like drivenness, or strength of will, or self-confidence, or ambition, that these are, in fact, spiritual liabilities until they have been tempered, chastened, humbled under the hand of Almighty God.

Just as coal has to be crushed if it’s ever going to become a diamond, and just as gold has to go through the fire if it’s ever going to be refined and pure and valuable, there is a brokenness that we all must learn if we are ever to be supremely useful to the Lord. And that’s exactly what’s happening in our story with Jonah. That’s what’s happening to Jonah. God has an impossible task to be done. He wants to see the Ninevites come to repentance (chuckles), the most feared terrorist nation on the planet, and God therefore grabs an impossible man, Jonah, and He gives him this assignment. Jonah is strong-willed. He’s self-reliant. He’s a tenacious individual, and the Lord crushes him, not to destroy him, but to temper him, to make him pliable and teachable and obedient in order that He might supremely use him.

So today we join Jonah as he finally comes to the end of himself and the beginning of his usefulness in ministry. So, grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Jonah, chapter 2. Jonah, chapter 2, the whole chapter. This is pages 774 to 775 in the pew Bible if you would like to use that. Just grab that. Seven-hundred seventy-four, wrapping around to 775. Let’s reads these words together.

Jonah 2:1-10, “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord, his God from the belly of the fish saying, ‘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 floods surrounded me. All your waves and your billows passed over me. And 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, and yet you brought up my life from the pit, oh Lord, my God. When my life was fainting away I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you in this, your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love, but I, with a voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord.’ And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out on the dry land.” (Laughs)

Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His Word.

Don’t you love that drama is inspired by the Holy Spirit. That’s amazing. This is a beautiful poem, isn’t it? A song of praise from Jonah’s lips, and it is an indication as we follow this song, this poem, to join Jonah as he goes through this crazy moment of distress where he’s sinking into the watery grave. He even uses the word Sheol, which is the Hebrew word for death, the place of the dead, as he sinks into the depths of darkness. Then he cries for help against all hope when he doesn’t have a prayer, and the Lord’s salvation comes, and the embodiment of this giant fish that swallows him up that is his saving grace. And Jonah gets his life back. And he gives his life to the Lord in surrender.

It's a beautiful poem here. In many ways this is the song of Jonah’s coming home to God. It’s his moment, and I think there are four significant shifts that occur in this song, and they all begin with “R”, and I just want to point those out to you, highlights as we go through this, this morning.

So, we see first recognition, then remembrance, repentance, and redemption. Okay! Recognition, remembrance, repentance, and redemption. That’s our outline for this morning. So, let’s begin this journey with Jonah through this pivotal moment that changed his life forever, but before we do that, let’s pray and ask the Lord to be our teacher. Let’s bow our heads.

Father, repentance is hard. We’re stubborn people. It costs us our pride to admit when we are wrong. But the great irony is that when we realize our sinfulness acutely, that is also the moment when we realize your love most deeply, and so when we embrace our sinfulness we also embrace our identity as deeply loved children of God. That’s what Jonah discovers. Help us to learn this, this morning. We pray this in Christ’s name, Amen. Amen.

So first we have recognition here—recognition. Jonah’s “come to God” moment begins with a moment of recognition. As he plunges in the deep, stormy sea it finally comes home to Jonah that all of this, all of it, is from the hand of God. The storm, the sailors, the lots, the sea! All of it is from the hand of almighty, sovereign God.

Look at verse 3. He says, “For You cast me into the deep.” Oh, that’s interesting. I thought it was the sailors that threw him into the sea. But Jonah says, “You, oh Lord, you cast me into the deep.” That’s interesting, isn’t it? “Into the heart of the seas and the flood surrounding me. All your waves and your billows cast over me.”

It's interesting. All of this. Jonah is beginning to realize these are not random events of misfortune in his life, but this is the Lord’s storm. It’s the Lord’s sea. It’s the Lord’s waves. It’s the Lord’s billows. Jonah realizes these are not chance events in his life. This is the Lord’s doing. This is the Lord’s buffeting, the Lord’s chastening, the Lord’s discipline. And Jonah perceives the Lord’s discipline. Jonah perceives the Lord’s discipline. That’s why he says in verse 4, “I am driven from your sight.” And you say, “Wait a minute. I thought that’s what you wanted, Jonah. You were trying to go away from the presence of the Lord, right?” Multiple times we heard that phrase, and yet, be careful what you wish for. Jonah says, “Lord, you gave me what I wanted, and it was Sheol. It was death, it was the grave itself in the depths of the sea, and yet, I know you, God. I know you. All this distress is discipline. It’s intended not for my ruin, but for my redemption. In all of these conspiring events, You are drawing me back to Yourself, to your presence.” That’s why he says and continues in verse 4, “Then I shall again look upon your holy temple.”

“All this discipline you’ve brought into my life, God, means you haven’t given up on me. If you loved me less you would let me go, but you love me, oh Lord, enough to bring all of these conspiring events together to bring me to the end of myself, which means you have a reason you did all of those things, and you’re not finished with me.”

“I shall again look upon your holy temple.” Do you see the hope, the joyous confidence in the Lord God right there? Jonah begins to realize that God loves him enough to stop him in his tracks and bring him to the very end of himself, that these events are intended not for his destruction, but for his discipline. In other words, God is operating as a Father, and He is correcting His beloved son in this discipline.

This is the Lord’s discipline. It reminds me of a passage in Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 5 down to 11. Just listen to these words: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him, for the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whose father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this we have all had earthly fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the father of spirits and live, for they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all disciplines seem painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

This is the discipline of the Lord, and Jonah perceives that’s what the Lord is doing, and it gives him hope. God is treating him as a son. Not as a castaway orphan but as a beloved son that He’s committed to, to get him through this moment of rebellion and backsliding and running away. But the Father has never given up on him.

This is beautiful. “I am driven away from your sight,” Jonah says, “and yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.”

So that’s the first part – recognition. Secondly, remembrance! Jonah’s “come home to God moment” continues in remembrance here. Look at verse 7, “When my life was fainting away I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to You into your holy temple.”

So here he is. The depths of the sea are crushing in upon him, and everything is fading into darkness. In these final moments when he has no breath left, and his lungs are screaming, Jonah comes to himself, and he remembers the Lord. Not an “oh yeah” but like “ahh, come home.”

Notice it is the LORD, capital LORD. This is the name behind it. In Hebrew it’s YAHWEH, the covenant name of God that God gave to Moses that speaks of his steadfast love in keeping the covenant with Israel. In Exodus 34 this is what God said, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will, by no means, clear the guilty.” And in this moment, friends, Jonah remembers the Lord’s covenants. In this moment Jonah remembers the Lord’s covenant. He comes home. Notice he says, very interestingly, “My prayer came to you into your holy temple.” He's in the depths of the sea, hundreds of miles from the temple in Jerusalem. Right? Because he ran away so far. There is no way...listen, there is no way Jonah’s voice can be heard in the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. No way! What is he talking about? He’s realizing the whole cosmos is the Lord’s temple. There is nowhere he can go when God’s holy presence is not dwelling. And Jonah cries from the depths of the sea, the place where no god could rule or reign in the Ancient Near Eastern thought. That’s what they thought, and that even there the Lord is in His holy temple and can respond to the voice of his desperate child.

Now, what is it that helped Jonah remember the Lord? He remembered the Lord, but what triggered his memory? It wasn’t the distress or the fear. He dug down deep. Something rose up in him in this moment. What brought Jonah’s remembrance of the Lord’s covenant faithfulness to mind? And I think Jonah’s giving us a clue in the way that he writes this poem, this song, because if you’ll notice, these phrases sound really familiar, don’t then? If you know your Bible, this poetry is echoing something we’ve read before. It’s a paraphrasing of the Psalms of Scripture.

Let me just give you a snapshot. This is not even all of them. I don’t want to waste your time but listen to all of these elusions.

Psalm 34, verse 6: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.”

Psalm 61:1 and 2: “Hear my cry, oh God. Listen to my prayer. From the end of the earth, I call to you when my heart is faint.”

Psalm 18:4 through 6: “The cords of death encompass me. The torrents of destruction assailed me. The cords of Sheol entangled me. The snares of death confronted me. And in my distress I called upon the Lord. To my God I cried for help, and from his temple he heard my voice. My cry leads to his ears.”

Psalm 69, verses 1 to 2, and 14 to 16: “Save me, oh God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold. I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. Deliver me from sinking in the mire. Let me be delivered from my enemies, and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deeps swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, oh Lord, for your steadfast love is good. According to your abundant mercy, turn to me.”

Psalm 86, verses 12 to 13: “I will give thanks to you, oh Lord, my God with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever, for great is your steadfast love toward me. You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.”

Psalm 139, verses 8 to 10: “If I ascend to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me. Even there your right hand shall uphold me.”

Psalm 31, 6 and 7: “I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love because you have seen my affliction, and you have known the distress of my soul.”

And then finally, Psalm 3, verse 8: “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”

So in the moment... (applause) Do you see what’s happening? In Jonah’s moment of greatest distress, when all hope seems lost, and he comes to the very end of himself, there’s something there. He falls, but his fall is caught by something. And it is the Word of the Living God. It is the promises and poetry of the worship of God’s people that upholds his soul in its moment of utter collapse. God’s Word brings the Lord’s faithfulness to mind. It is the anchor of his soul, and he remembers the Lord, His covenant, His promises. In his utter helplessness, he finally cries to the Lord, and the Lord answers him, which the Lord always does, friends. In our moments of greatest distress, we are never too far gone. He will come. He will answer the moment we cry to Him.

And now we see repentance, repentance. Jonah’s “coming to God moment” continues with repentance. It’s very interesting here if you look through this poem, this song, it’s kind of...It’s hard to pinpoint the moment where Jonah repents. As you read through and you’re looking for something like King David’s confession. You know, “Against you, oh Lord, and you alone have I sinned.” He never does that. He never says overtly that he’s repenting. He never confesses his sin specifically, and yet it is obvious throughout the entire song that he is repentant. It’s kind of hidden between the lines, you know. But I do think his clearest moment of repentance is found down in verse 8. And this is what he says there, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.”

“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” And at first we probably would think he’s talking about pagan people. You know, pagans and their idol worship! You know, those people really are missing it, but I’ve got it right! You know, that’s how we would assume that he means this, but the word here for “steadfast love” is hesed. Some of you will remember the word hesed from our study in the book of Ruth. Hesed is the word for God’s covenant faithfulness, His loyal committed love within the covenant of Israel.

So, he’s talking about those who have been enfolded into that hesed love of God, His covenant faithfulness, and yet are forsaking that love for idols. So, he’s not talking about pagans on the outside of the covenant. He’s taking about confessing Israelite people and that are part of a covenant of God, and who are forsaking their hesed love of God within that covenant as they chase after idols.

Interesting! And I think he’s describing himself. Think about it! Jonah forsook the hope of steadfast love because of his idols. He had made idols out of good things—his popularity and ministry, all his access to the king’s inner circle, his vision of national prosperity for the people of God, his love for his nation. He had taken all of these good things that may have become to Jonah more important than obedience to God, hadn’t they? So, when God called him to this gospel assignment (“I want you to go to your nation’s enemies, your most feared enemies, and call them to repentance so that they might receive the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord.”) do you realize it’s threatening everything in Jonah’s world? It would have trashed his popularity. It would have threatened his status in the inner circle with the king. It undermined his nation’s political/geopolitical agenda. And so, Jonah ran. See, Jonah was okay with serving God as long as it advanced his political agenda, but the moment God called him to love his political enemies, it exposed his idolatry. He couldn’t do it. He took good things, his nation and all of this, and he turned it into the ultimate thing, made it more important than even obeying God and bringing the good news to his enemies.

And I think this is Jonah’s confession. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. “That was me. That was my story. That’s why I ran, and no more,” because in this moment Jonah is returning to the Lord’s steadfast love. Jonah returns to the Lord’s steadfast love. He lays down his idols, and he comes back to the hope of steadfast love. And here's the irony, friends. In this moment where Jonah feels the acuteness of his sinfulness in the greatest degree he’s ever had, he also experiences the love of God in a way he never experienced before. Isn’t that amazing?

Simultaneously deeply sinful and profoundly loved! This is the Gospel, that we are far more sinful than we ever dared realize, and yet far more loved than we ever dared hope at once. So, we have recognition, remembrance, repentance, and now the final moment in Jonah’s coming home journey, redemption.

Redemption! Look at verse 9, “But I, with a voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord.”

And once again, we have to kind of read between the lines here because Jonah never tells us what his vow was. He says, “I will pay my vow. What I vowed I will pay.” But if you read through this psalm you won’t see a vow. It’s not in there. It’s between the lines, kind of like his repentance is sort of between the lines. His vow is sort between the lines. And yet, in the context it’s not hard to figure out what he’s saying, is it?

He's laying down his idols, he’s stopped running, he’s returning to the hope of his steadfast love of God, he’s coming back to the covenant, and he’s choosing to obey, isn’t he? He’s saying, “Okay God, I give in. Whatever you ask I’ll do it. Whatever you want, I’m all in. Wherever you send me I’ll go. You can give me my life back, and so I give you my life in return. This is my thanksgiving. This is my sacrifice. This is my vow. I’m all yours.”

Do you see? In New Testament language he’s offering himself as a living sacrifice. It’s the only appropriate response to the mercies of God. And I love how he ends this song. “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” Salvation belongs to the Lord. (applause) Jonah glories in the Lord’s salvation. Jonah glories in the Lord’s salvation. I mean if you think about it, the only thing Jonah contributes to his salvation is his sin, his rebellion, and his distress. Right? Every ounce of his salvation belongs to the Lord, and the Lord alone. It was the Lord’s storm. It was the Lord’s sea. It was the Lord’s lot, the Lord’s casting, the Lord’s ways, the Lord’s discipline. It was the Lord’s Word that brought back the Lord’s memory. It was the Lord’s Scripture, and the Lord’s promises. It’s the Lord’s steadfast love and His kindness. It’s the Lord’s mercy and His attentiveness, His compassion, the Lord’s grace, the Lord’s fish, the Lord’s rescue, the Lord’s redemption. From the beginning to the end, salvation belongs to the Lord. (applause) And in this moment Jonah finally gets it. He finally gets it.

In verse 10 (I love it.) the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out on dry land. And Jonah gets his life back, doesn’t he? And this time he’s ready to obey. God’s impossible man is now ready for God’s impossible task. It’s all mercy. It’s all grace. It’s all of the Lord.

So, two final thoughts as we wrap up. First, there’s more mercy in Christ than sin in us. Aren’t you thankful that there’s more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us? The mercy and grace that Jonah received in the salvation that was his in the belly of the great fish is a foreshadowing of even greater mercy and grace that we have received in the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ. And just as Jonah discovered that God’s mercy was greater than all his sin, we, friends, know there is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us.

Remember that description the Lord gave of His name to Moses that the Lord’s grace is merciful, slow to anger, willing to forgive, and all of this? There’s a weird line it ends with: “but will not let the guilty go unpunished.” So, the Lord is merciful and gracious. He’s going to forgive. He’s going to accept you. He’s going to forgive your sins. He’s going to give you a second chance, but He won’t let the guilty go unpunished. It's interesting. How does God do that? How is it that Jonah gets away with his sin? How does Jonah get mercy and grace and forgiveness and compassion from the Lord, and yet his sin goes unpunished, doesn’t it? Who makes atonement for Jonah’s sin?

See, in all of that, God is being patient and forbearing with Jonah’s sin because one day He will send Jesus Christ, who will die on the cross in our place and for our sake and bear all of our sin and shame. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we in Him might become the righteousness of God.

So, Jonah is saved 700 years before Jesus on the basis of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. All of history, all of humanity, Jesus bears the sin of the world in His atoning death on the cross. Jonah is saved by grace through faith in the coming Messiah, the promise, the reality of whom is found in Jesus Christ.

Just like we, two thousand years after Jesus. Our sins are covered and atoned by the blood of Jesus Christ, who dies for the sake of the sins of the world. Amen? (Applause) which means… (This is so comforting) which means that all your sin, past, present, and future, Jesus knew it all when He went to the cross for you. There is no sin in your life, past, present, or future, that Jesus did not die for, which means nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

I love the song earlier, “His Mercy is More.” The Getty’s wrote it. Just listen to these lines. They’re so good.

What love can remember no wrongs we have done?
Omniscient, all knowing, He counts not their sum.
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more.

What patience would wait as we constantly roam?
What Father, so tender, is calling us home?
He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor.
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more.

What riches of kindness He lavished on us?
His blood was the payment, His life was the cost.
We stood 'neath a debt we could never afford.
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more.

Praise the Lord, His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness, new every morn.
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more.

Our sins they are many, but His mercy is more. (applause)

Which means, friends, that salvation belongs to the Lord. Right? Salvation belongs to the Lord. The only things we contribute to our salvation are our sin, our rebellion, and our distress. Every ounce of our salvation belongs to the Lord, and to the Lord alone.

Ephesians 2 says this, “When you were dead…” How much help can dead people bring? Nothing! “When you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved, and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one (no one) may boast.”

Friends, Jesus is the hero of our stories. Amen? Jesus is the hero of our stories. (applause) If our life was a fairytale, and we would be the damsels in distress. Got it? Jesus is the hero. He rides up on the white horse, He slays the dragon, He scales the tower, He wakes us from our death sleep, and He sweeps us off our feet, and rides us into the sunset. All we do is swoon. That’s all we do. We swoon in the arms of our hero who is Jesus because, from beginning to end, salvation belongs to the Lord (applause), which is why in the end of all of history in Revelation, chapter 7, “A great multitude that no one can number from every nation, tribe, people and language are standing around the throne of God, and they are saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and unto the lamb. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (applause)

Friends every ounce of our salvation belongs to the Lord, and the Lord we love alone.

Amen? Amen.

Let’s give Him thanks.

Father, we glory in Christ Jesus, in the salvation that is ours by grace through faith in Christ alone. You are our only hope. In all of our sin a mask in our lives can do nothing under the atonement of Jesus Christ to separate us from the love of God, that it is finished in Him. You deserve all the praise, all the glory, all the fame, all the majesty, for you alone are our salvation from beginning to end. We worship you. We give you praise in the glorious name of our Jesus.

And everybody said Amen. Amen.

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