The God of Second Chances
Text: Jonah 1:17-2:10
Introduction: In the late winter of 1891, the whale-ship Star of the East was in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands when it came within sight of a whale. Two boats were dispatched with harpoons to snare and kill the beast, but the lashing of its tail capsized one of the launches, spilling the crew into the sea. All were accounted for except for a single sailor, James Bartley. Ultimately the whale was killed and the carcass drawn alongside the vessel to begin the process of salvaging valuable resources. By the next day good progress had been made in removing the layers of blubber from the beast, so a tackle was attached to its stomach to hoist it on deck. Sailors were startled by spasmodic life within the belly of the whale, and upon further inspection the missing sailor was found. Bartley was quite mad for two weeks, but upon recovering his senses he recounted what little he could recall of being dragged under the water. Struggling for his life he had been drawn into darkness within which he felt a terrible and oppressive heat. He found slimy walls that gave slightly to his touch, but could find no exit. When his situation finally dawned on him Bartley lost his senses completely and lapsed into a catatonic state. During his time inside the whale the gastric juices affected his exposed skin. His face, neck and hands were bleached a deathly white with a texture like parchment, a condition from which the skin never recovered. Bartley believed that he would probably have lived inside his house of flesh until he starved, as breathing was not a problem.
To be fair, though this story was confirmed by Sir Francis Fox and two French scientists, others have disputed Bartley’s claim. This shouldn’t surprise us. Many skeptics have argued the impossibility of the story of Jonah as well! I’ve often wonder why some Bible scholars find this so hard to accept. Even some conservative scholars argue that is nothing more than a parable meant to make a point, rather than provide us an accurate account of an historical event. Why is it that people can believe the Bible when it speaks of the incarnation of the Son of God, His miracles and His resurrection from the dead, but they cannot believe that God could cause a large fish to swallow a reluctant prophet and spit him back out again alive three days later? Jesus believed it and used this incident with Jonah as a sign to explain the events surrounding His death, burial and resurrection (See Matthew 12:39-41).
There is a common parallel between these two events that I would like us to consider this morning. Just as Christ brought salvation to us by going to the belly of the earth and rising again in three days, having conquered death and brought life to those who believe, so Jonah went down in the belly of a fish and was raised to new life three days later. The similarities between the two stories is no accident! Don’t miss the message that God has for us in this passage: Salvation is available to everyone. What we learn from Jonah is that it is only a prayer away! Let’s take a few moments and break down the prayer of Jonah so that we can have a better understanding of how salvation comes to us.
I. The reason for Jonah’s prayer (See Jonah 1:17-2:2). Jonah uses the word "distress" to describe his emotional state inside the whale. The verb form of the word actually is used to refer to the pain that a woman experiences while giving birth (See Jeremiah 49:22). The reluctant prophet was obviously going through a pretty difficult time, and it was his pain that drove Jonah to his knees. Application: I don’t know if this is what you have seen, but it has been my observation that people often come to Christ when their lives are coming apart. God seems to use adversity to draw us to Himself (See Job 36:15-16). I cannot tell you how many opportunities I have had to share the Gospel (the foundation for our hope) with those who are suffering intense personal pain. It is natural that when people go through adversity they look for someone or something that can bring relief. Consider how many people came to Jesus in but two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew for this very reason...people who were inflicted with disease and physical infirmity (See Matthew 8:1-2; 5-6, 9:1-2, 9:27); others who were in danger from nature (See Matthew 8:23-25); some were the victims of spiritual conflict (See Matthew 8:28); and still others who faced the stinging pain of the death of a loved one (See Matthew 9:18). There’s nothing quite so effective as distress and adversity to cause us to look to heaven! It worked for Jonah. He had been running away from God’s divine purpose for his life, but as a result of being swallowed by a great fish things were changing.
II. The timing of Jonah’s prayer (See Jonah 2:3, 5, 6). Jonah did not pray when the sailors did as the sea was raging around them (See Jonah 1:4-5). He only called out to God (1) after he was cast into the water, (2) after the waves and breakers swept over him, (3) after he found himself at the bottom of the sea wrapped in seaweed, and even (4) after he was swallowed by a great fish and it looked as if all was lost. Application: When it became apparent that there was no where else to turn Jonah prayed. Now before we think too critically of him, it would be wise to recognize that Jonah is not that different from many of us. Just like the rebellious prophet, many of us will not call upon God until we have exhausted all other possibilities for deliverance and completely abandoned all hope of rescue. Illustration: I’m reminded of a story that James David Ford, chaplain of the U. S. House of Representatives since 1979 told: In the spring of ’76 I sailed the Atlantic Ocean with a couple of friends. In a 31 foot vessel, we sailed from Plymouth, England to New York, 5,992 miles. My father advised me, "Don’t go. You have five children. Wait till they’re grown." During the trip, we hit a real hurricane with some of the waves 35 feet high. Frankly, I was really scared. As the hurricane went into its third day, I thought about my father’s words and wondered if I’d ever see my children again. The skies were black and the clouds were hurrying by. I wanted to pray for God to stop the storm but I felt guilty because I’d gotten into this of my own free will. I didn’t have to go across the ocean. Finally, I prayed 7 words: O God, I have had enough. Amen." Within half an hour of that simple prayer, the sky in the west lifted like as a screen in a theater and the sky was blue once again. It seemed that Jonah had had enough too! There was simply no lower depth to which he could sink. With no where else to turn, he cried out to God.
III. The composition of Jonah’s prayer (See Jonah 2:4-7). When we call on God we must do so with a broken and repentant heart. Jonah prayed, "I have been banished from Your sight." Having attempted earlier to flee to Tarshish from God’s presence, he now finds himself destined for Sheol (i.e. the place of death), where he will be permanently isolated from God. Jonah is fully aware that he has earned his fate (See Romans 6:23) and there is nothing he can do about it. Application: Before anyone can experience salvation, he must be convinced that his rebellion before a Holy God has earned him only death, judgment and separation (See Hebrews 10:26-31). But this is only half of how salvation comes to us! Just like Jonah anyone seeking salvation must also acknowledge that apart from a gracious work of God on his behalf, he is doomed.
And so it was with the prophet. Jonah not only came under conviction of his sin, but he then repented of it and looked to God for his salvation. Consider his words: "I will look again toward Your holy temple." "I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to You, to Your holy temple." These are words of repentance and renewed faith...of turning from a life of independence and self-will to a life of dependence and submission. Illustration: I have found that most people at one time or another suffer sorrow over their sin. But the Bible teaches that sorrow by itself is not enough. Godly sorrow, we are told, leads to repentance and salvation (See 2 Corinthians 7:8-10). Suppose that you shared your faith with someone. As you did, you were diligent to explain carefully the wages of sin and the free gift of God in Christ. The person agreed with everything you said. At the end of your presentation, however, the individual to whom you were speaking looked at you and said, "If this means that things are going to have to change in my life, then I’m not sure Christianity is for me. Don’t get me wrong, I want to go to heaven when I die, but I want to have my fun while I live." How would you respond? I think most of us would say "I think you understand the implications of becoming a follower of Christ. Now you it is up to you to decide if living with the Lord is better than dying without Him." Jonah made the right decision and it made all the difference.
IV. The outcome of Jonah’s prayer (See Jonah 2:6-10). What happens when we call on God with a broken, repentant and believing heart? We are not disappointed. Salvation came to Jonah just as it does to all who call upon God (See Psalm 145:18). "You brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God," he said. "Salvation comes from the Lord." Jonah ends his prayer by contrasting those who cling to worthless idols (Perhaps referring to the sailors who had prayed to their gods. Remember that Jonah would not have known that they had turned to faith in Yahweh since they did so after he had been thrown overboard) and those who turn to the God of heaven who made the sea and the land. The former forfeit grace (favor), while the latter are filled with thanksgiving and the desire to obey. Application: How about you? Do you need to repent of your sin and return to God today? Have you been living a life characterized by rebellion and self-will? Are you ready to renounce your ability to deliver yourself and call out to God? There is no better time do so than this very moment.
Conclusion: One of the largest department stores in our nation took on a commercial venture that proved to be disastrously unsuccessful. It was a doll in the form of the baby Jesus. It was advertised as being unbreakable, washable and cuddly. It was packaged in straw with a satin crib and plastic surroundings, and appropriate biblical texts added here and there to make the scene complete. It did not sell. The manager of one of the stores in the department chain panicked. He carried out a last-ditch promotion to get ride of those dolls. He brandished a huge sign outside his store that read: Jesus Christ--Marked down 50%--Get Him while you can! Maybe this isn’t a very good way to sell baby Jesus dolls, but it is a pretty good way to help people grasp the importance of looking to Him for salvation now. GET HIM WHILE YOU CAN. None of us know what the future holds. Perhaps, like Jonah, we’ll find ourselves moments away from destruction sometime in the near future. The best time to decide for Christ is this time. Salvation is only a prayer away.