Scripture Reference: Psalms 139:7-12, Jonah 1, Matthew 12:40, John 3:16-17, Romans 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 1:5-9
The Lord Of The StormRev. Philip Miller | October 23, 2022
Scripture Reference: Psalms 139:7-12, Jonah 1, Matthew 12:40, John 3:16-17, Romans 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 1:5-9
Selected highlights from this sermon
When we run and hide from God, God comes looking for us. Jonah tried to run, but God sent a ferocious storm and a giant fish to bring him back—because God loved Jonah.
In this message, Pastor Miller explores God’s relentless pursuit of Jonah, and His grace for undeserving people. God always comes looking for us because He never gives up on those He loves. His grace is relentless.
All right! Good morning.
Sometimes when our kids were little and they’d get in trouble, they would run off and hide from Krista and me, and they would cover their eyes with their hands. Have you ever seen a little kid do this? You know, sort of cover their eyes with their hands or they put a blanket over their head, and they thought they disappeared. You know, if they couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see them, and they thought they were safe, you know. They’d escaped and got away with it. And of course, that’s silly, isn’t it? It’s totally silly. They weren’t fooling anyone. We could see them the whole time.
But do you know what else is really silly? Trying to run and hide from God. You know? I mean He literally knows all and sees all, and is everywhere, fully present at all times, and yet, we hide from God, don’t we? We try. Adam and Eve, when they sinned, what did they do? They hid. They hid in the garden. God came after them, didn’t He? “Where are you?”
Jonah tried to flee from God. He didn’t like his assignment. He went to Tarshish, and God came looking for him, didn’t He? He used the ferocious storm, and He used the crew of sailors. He used a ginormous fish to get his attention, and when you and I run and hide from God, you know, we do a similar thing. Maybe we don’t physically run, but we hide, don’t we? We conceal our sin. We wear masks and pretend that everything’s okay. We walk around hoping no one ever finds out about that, whatever “that” is.
And God comes looking for us too, friends, because God never gives up on those that He loves. That’s why we’ve titled this series Relentless, because God is unrelenting in His grace for undeserving people. That’s true of God’s love for the Ninevites, for Jonah, and it’s true for us as well.
So we’re back into the story this week. You’ll recall from last time that Jonah had been a national hero in Israel. It was his prophecy to Jeroboam the Second that ultimately led to the securing of the national border, which then led to increased national security for the nation, and economic prosperity. And so Jonah loved this whole “God and country” thing. He was happy to serve God as long as it was aligning with his national aspirations. But when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, the most feared, terrorist nation of the day, the enemies that Israel feared the most, to warn them to turn from their evil ways or judgment would come, Jonah flatly disobeyed. He headed in the opposite direction as far as he possibly could go, because to warn his enemies was to give them a chance, a chance to repent, a chance to turn. And he knew if they did that, God would be merciful to them, because that’s just the kind of God that God is. And Jonah felt he would rather die than see his enemies receive the mercy and grace of God.
So he boards a ship to Tarshish, as far as he can possibly go from Nineveh. He’s fleeing Israel, the land of promise. He is running away from the presence of the Lord. We see that phrase twice. In verse 3 he has gone away from the presence of the Lord, because in the ancient near eastern thoughts, the sea was the one place where the gods didn’t have power. It was where chaos reigned, and so if there’s anywhere he can escape God, it’s going to be at sea. And so he thinks he can hide. He thinks he can escape. He thinks he can get away with it. But he’s about to discover the LORD of the storm, the LORD of the storm.
Grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Jonah 1:7-17 today. You’ll find this reading on page 774 in the pew Bible there by your knees. 774!
We’re going to see three big movements in this story:
- The chance of discovery,
- The sentence of death, and
- The depths of mercy.
The chance of discovery, the sentence of death, and the depths of mercy this morning.
Would you bow your heads. Let’s pray and ask the Lord to teach us today.
Heavenly Father, we like to see Jonah as someone other than ourselves. He is the one with the problems. He’s the one running from God. Father, I pray that you’d help us realize we all have a little Jonah in us. We all lie, and we all hide, and in your love, you chase us down. Help us to learn from Jonah how to respond rightly to you. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
So, first of all, the chance of discovery, the chance of discovery. We’ve got a storm that’s battering. We’ve got a vessel that’s shuddering. The sailors are panicking because they’ve seen storms, big storms, but nothing like this storm. The sea was angry that day, my friends, and the sailors concluded this storm must be the work of the gods. Some god must have it in for them, and they decide the way they’re going to figure it out is by casting lots.
Casting lots was like gambling. It was rolling dice, flipping coins, drawing straws, that sort of thing. They usually used bone fragments of animals or shards of pottery. They’d mark one of them specially and then they would cast them, or draw them at random, and the whole point was...this exercise was beyond human manipulation, and it was under divine influence, so the whole idea is you can’t get in the system, but the gods could, and if the gods wanted to send direction or a message, they could do it through this random event. And so it helped them divine the choice that needed to be made, in this case to discover who it was that had something hide.
So, verse 7: “They said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.’ So, they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.”
So, Jonah wins the lottery, or loses the lottery, depending on how you look at it. And here’s what’s amazing. God uses these pagan sailors and their chance lottery here to bust Jonah. Isn’t that amazing? He’s sovereign over all of this. Don’t you see? God is flushing Jonah out of hiding here. He’s exposing Jonah for who he really is. In the middle of the sea, in the middle of the storm, in the middle of all these sailors, God is saying, “Look, Jonah, you can run but you can’t hide because I am the Lord. I’m the Lord of heaven and Earth, of the land and the sea, of this storm, and these lots, and I’m the Lord of you, and you can’t outrun Me, Jonah.”
Verse 8: “Then they said to him, ‘Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What’s your occupation, where do you come from, what is your country, of what people are you?’”
“Okay, fella, ‘fess up here. What’s your story What’s going on? You got us in this mess. How do we get out of it?”Every eye is fixed on Jonah. His stomach churns, not because of the sea, but because he’s been found out. And in this moment, friends, Jonah has a choice, doesn’t he? He can play innocent: “I don’t know.” He can make up a story where he gets a little save face. You know, he can make something up. He can refuse to answer. He can plead the fifth. Right? Or he can ‘fess up. He can tell the truth, and in the grace of God, friends, Jonah in this moment stops in his tracks. He stops hiding and he starts coming clean.
Look at this. Verse 9: “And he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’”
You want the truth? Okay. I’m a Hebrew, I’m a son of Israel, and I fear the LORD (Notice capital L O R D. Remember, whenever you see capital L O R D that’s a code for...in Hebrew it's the covenant-keeping name of God, YAHWEH. It’s the name that God gave Moses in Exodus 34, and said, “The LORD, the LORD 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.”
Now, here’s my question. Why would a guy who is running from God use this name for God? Why would he use this name? I wonder if that’s significant. He continues. He says, “He’s the God of heaven who made the sea (laughs) The sea! The sea! And the dry land. This is God’s domain. This is His stomping ground, like the heavens that are raging, the sea that is churning. This is all God’s domain. In other words, Jonah is realizing what the psalmist would later write in Psalm 139:7-12: “Where can I go from your spirit, or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol in the grave, 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 hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me and the light about me be as night,’ even the darkness is not dark with you, and night is as bright as day, for darkness is as light with you.”
There’s nowhere to hide. There’s tandem. “The men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done?’ for the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD because he had told them.”
See, there’s a twist of irony here, friends. The sailors see the tragic futility of Jonah’s flight with immediate clarity. “What were you thinking, dude? You can’t outrun the Lord God, the Creator of all things. This is His province. And now, if they were afraid before, now they’re terrified. And in all of this, friends, don’t you see that God is bringing Jonah’s rebellion into the light? God brings Jonah’s rebellion into the light. The sea, the storm, the lot! It’s all designed by God to bring Jonah into the light so that he will confess out loud what he’s been hiding in secret.
Friends, listen! If God loved Jonah less, He would just let him go. But it is His mercy, His grace, His undiminished love that pursues Jonah. God brings Jonah’s rebellion into the light because He loves Him, because friends, bad things glow in the dark. Isn’t that true? And when we bring sin into the light, it begins to lose its power. And as Jonah confesses out loud the sin that has been in his heart, not to God yet...he’ll do that in the next chapter. But right now he’s confessing to these human beings. It’s the first step toward his healing. It’s the first step toward his healing, because friends, confession is grace. Confession is grace.
Friends, I don’t know who needs to hear this this morning, but if you’ve been running from God, if you’ve been hiding your sin, if you’ve been wearing a mask, maybe this is God’s wake-up call for you this morning. If God is exposing you, He’s putting His finger on that thing that you haven’t said out loud that you’ve been nursing on the inside. And God is bringing your rebellion into the light because He loves you, because He’s not done with you. He’s pursuing you. He loves you too much to let you self-destruct. If He loved you less He’d let you go, but this storm is for you. These lots are for you, and in His mercy, God is calling you this morning.
The apostle John writes in 1 John 1:5b-9, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie. We do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Friends, confession is grace. It feels like a kind of death, and yet there’s life. It’s your first step toward your healing. Won’t you come into the light this morning, today?
The second thing we see here is the sentence of death, the sentence of death. Jonah has pleaded guilty. Now the question is what’s the sentence?
Verse 11: “Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you that the sea would quiet down for us?’ for the sea grew more and more tempestuous.”
Jonah, you’re the reason we’re in this mess. How do we get out of it? What punishment will satisfy the wrath of your God? What will make atonement for your guilt?
Verse 12: “He said to them, ‘Pick me up and hurl me into the sea, and then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.’”
Jonah’s response here is interesting, very revealing. At one level he’s quite correct, isn’t he? The wages of sin is death and he has openly rebelled against God, and God is bringing justice to him, and atonement must be made. But Jonah also knows that God is a gracious God, that He is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and quick to relent from disaster. He said so. We saw it last time in chapter 4, verse 2. Jonah knows this about God. That’s why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh, because this gracious God would be gracious to the Ninevites.
So Jonah knows the storm is for him, and if he would just turn and repent and cry out for mercy, God will relent, because God is unrelenting in his grace for undeserving people. That’s true of the Ninevites, it’s true of Jonah, it’s true of us. That’s all Jonah has to do is repent and cry out for mercy, and God will answer. But Jonah doesn’t do it. He doesn’t do it. He says, instead, “Hurl me into the sea. Sacrifice me. Let me go down to the depths that you might live.” Why? Because Jonah is conflicted. At one level he’s owning his sin and he’s coming clean. But at another level, he’s still running from God, isn’t he? He’s still stubborn. He’s still too proud. He’s obstinate. He knows exactly what he needs to do but he won’t do it. He’s going to go down unrepentant to the very end. But the men can’t stomach it.
Verse 13: “Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.”
So here they are. They’re doing everything in their power to save Jonah’s life, to make sure he gets a second chance. Even in his guilty state they are hoping for his redemption, but all the striving against the storm is futile.
Verse 14: “Therefore, they called out to the Lord, ‘O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life. Lay not on us innocent blood, for you, oh Lord, have done as it pleased you.’”
See, they really don’t want to do what Jonah says must be done. They don’t want to be responsible for his death. They also realize “We’re out of options. If the prophet of God, the God who sent this storm, says that the only solution is to throw him into the sea, it must be our only option,” you see. And the situation is thick with irony. Do you see this? These pagan polytheistic sailors are the ones crying out for mercy and forgiveness from God for something they haven’t even done. And the one guilty guy keeps his lips closed. And you’ll notice the pagans are calling on the covenant name of God, YAHWEH. In this moment they are closer to God than Jonah is. And here they are, making every possible effort to see a guilty foreigner escape the judgment of God and find mercy, which is the very thing Jonah refused to do for the Ninevites. These pagan soldiers are doing for Jonah what Jonah would not do for the Ninevites. Do you see that?
And as this situation goes from bad to worse for Jonah, he’s coming face-to-face with the reality of his rebellion, isn’t he? He’s coming face-to-face! God makes Jonah own the deadliness of his sin. That’s what’s going on here. Jonah has to own the deadliness of his sin because the wages of sin is death. And as Jonah looks out on this storm of God’s wrath, and the watery grave that is awaiting him, I think in this moment the weight of his sin must have sunk in. And Jonah felt conviction for what he had done, and friends, conviction is grace. Conviction is grace.
Friends, have you ever been overwhelmed with conviction for your sin, the deadliness of your sin? Do you realize that’s grace? Right? It’s grace that the Lord would put His finger on your problem and force you to deal with it because it’s under the weight of conviction that we cry out for mercy, and it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), and that repentance leads to life. Confession feels like death, but it is grace that leads to life. Conviction feels like death, but it is grace that also leads to life.
And now the depths of mercy, the depths of mercy.
Verse 15, “So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.” (laughs) I love this. So, God remembers He hurled the storm. They hurled the cargo. Now they’re hurling Jonah. Right? The sea ceases from its raging, just like that, and the sailors realize YAHWEH is the Lord of the storm.
Verse 16: “The men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.”
Notice their fear has transferred. First they were afraid of the storm. Now they fear the Lord of the storm. It reminds me of another group of sailors in the New Testament with another man who was sleeping through a storm. Do you know the one I’m talking about? Jesus, asleep on the boat and the disciples wake Him up and say, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?” They were afraid of the storm, and Jesus stood up and He spoke to the wind and the waves and said, “Peace, be still,” like He was hushing a little baby to sleep, and the sea became calm just like that. And Mark says they were terrified and said to one another, “Who is this man that the wind and the waves obey him?”
They were no longer afraid of the storm. They were afraid of the Lord of the storm. That’s exactly what’s happening here with these sailors in Jonah’s day. And they respond (Right?) by offering a sacrifice, thanking God for sparing their lives, and they make vows. We don’t get the contents of their vows, but it’s likely that they are promising to worship the Lord God as the one true God, that they are vowing to seek to serve and honor Him with all of their lives. Ang again, such irony! Don’t you see this? The pagan polytheistic sailors are more rightly responding to God than His own prophet (it’s amazing) who is, at this very moment sinking in the depths of the sea with stubborn unrepentance in his heart. But God’s mercy, friends, knows no depths, and His fathomless grace is beneath the waves.
Verse 17: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
My mom used to send me to my room when I got out of line. She’d say, “You go in there, and you think about what you’ve done. You think about it. You think about it.” And I had to stay there until I had a change of heart. And that’s basically what God is doing with Jonah here, only instead of his room, He’s sending him to the G.I. tract of a giant fish (laughter). It makes your parents look awesome, doesn’t it? Yes. And he has to stay there until he has a change of heart. But don’t you see? This fish is again mercy and grace because with this fish God rescues Jonah from a watery grave, doesn’t He? Instead of an instant death, Jonah gets more time, a chance to repent, to cry out for mercy, and discover that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and quick to relent from disaster.
Friends, Jonah needed time to find repentance (didn’t he?) just like the Ninevites needed time to find repentance. It turns out Jonah and the Ninevites are actually in the same boat. Both are desperately in need of God’s unrelenting grace for undeserving people, and instead of treating the Ninevites and Jonah as their sins deserved, dropping the hammer, and bringing down immediate judgment, in His mercy, God gives the Ninevites and Jonah more time to find repentance. Instead of stopping the clock, He lets the game continue into overtime, because continuation is grace. Continuation is grace.
Friends, do you realize how much extra time God gives us? When Adam and Eve sinned, they had one rule. They broke it. Right? They wrecked the universe. Right? If you were driving a really nice car and you wrecked it, there would be consequences. Right? Well, they wrecked the whole universe. Okay? It’s pretty bad. And at that moment the whole thing could have ended. The whole human story, the human project, the human experiment could have just been over. Right? Done! Forget it! And yet, God gave them time, didn’t He? Time to repent, time to return, time to reconcile and come back! When the Ninevites conquered the world with brutality and terrorism. God could have dropped the hammer. He could have ended it. They were evil and they deserved it, but God gave them more time, time to repent, time to return, time to reconcile.
When Jonah said, “Forget you, God, I don’t want to do what you told me. I’m done with you,” God could have let him sink, couldn’t He? He would have deserved it, but God gave him more time, time to repent, time to return, time to reconcile.
Friends, when humanity rose up and crucified the Son of God, cosmic treason, it could have ended right there. You kill the Creator? There are consequences, and yet God gave humanity more time, time to repent, time to return, time to reconcile. And friends, as bad as this world gets, with all of our sin and all of our rebellion, and all of our culture’s “in your face rejection” of God, do you realize that at any moment Jesus can return and put everything to right and bring justice and put an end to all wickedness. He can do this, but God gives more time, time to repent, time to return, time to reconcile.
Do you know why Jesus hasn’t come back? Second Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Because friends, continuation is grace. Another day, another chance to repent, to cry out for mercy, to discover God’s own relenting grace for undeserving people. That window of time won’t stay open forever. That’s why the Bible says, “Today is the day of salvation.” “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts but repent of your sin.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” because friends, on the cross Jesus faced the storm of God’s wrath, and He died in our place and for our sake. When we deserved to sink to the bottom of the sea for our sins, He said, “Throw me in instead so that you might live. Let me go to the depths for you.” And on the cross, friends, Jesus offered Himself as our substitute. He was swallowed up by our watery grave (There was no great fish to rescue Him.) so that we might live on the calm seas. “Peace, be still.”
As Jesus says in Matthew 12:40, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” And on the third day, friends, Jesus rose again, and with His resurrection life, He gave us more time, time to repent, time to return, time to reconcile because God is unrelenting in His grace for undeserving people. And no matter how far we run or how much we try to hide, no matter how stubborn and proud and obstinate we are, friends, our God always comes looking for us because God never, never gives up on those He loves.
Amen? Amen. (applause)
Friends, God’s grace is relentless. Relentless! John 3:16 and 17: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Friends, won’t you turn to Jesus while there’s still time? “Today is the day of salvation.”
Would you bow your heads and pray with me?
Father, I want to pray for two groups of people in this room this morning. I want to pray for people who are like the sailors in our story that, for the first time, are encountering the living God, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, and all that there is, who are encountering the name of God for the first time, the covenant-keeping name of God.
Father, there are people here maybe this morning who want to come home, who want to respond to your grace, to your saving work in Jesus Christ, who are ready to admit that they are sinners, and believe that Jesus is their substitute, and commend all of their lives to you. Father, I pray for your saving work in their lives this morning. I pray that you would grab ahold of them, that they would say yes to you.
And Father, I want to pray for those who are here who are like Jonah in our story, that there are secret sins hiding in the dark places of their lives, and they’re not being honest about what’s going on. They’re not confessing their sin. Father, would this be the moment where they stop running, where they realize the weight of their sin, the deadliness of what they’re playing with, and that they would be bold and courageous to say it out loud to come clean and come home.
Father, only you can do the work of transforming our hearts. Help us, we pray.
Father, the hope for Jonahs and the hope for sailors alike is the mercy and grace that you offer to us in Jesus Christ, our substitute, His life for ours when you died on the cross for us. We cling to Him as our only hope. So, Father, we admit that we are sinners far from you. Father, we believe that Jesus has done everything to make us right with you, and Father, we commit ourselves to you as our Savior and our Lord. We come clean. We come home. We come to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.