In the Storm (Jonah 1:4-17)
Pastor Jefferson M. Williams
Chenoa Baptist Church
A Whale of a Storm
This past week, Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahamas as a category 5 storm. Then it stalled. It just sat still over the Bahamas for more than. 24 hours as hurricane force winds, rains, and storm surge devastated the island.
One storm hunter said that it looks like a nuclear bomb went off.
Dorian was a historic hurricane. This morning, we are going to study a storm that made Dorian look like a spring thunderstorm.
I am Jonah
Last week, we began our series on the Old Testament book of Jonah. I would encourage you to visit our FB page or our website and watch that sermon.
In the first three verses, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire and give them a chance to repent from their brutality.
God said go. Jonah said no! Instead of going to Nineveh, which was NW of Israel, he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish, which was 2,500 miles east of Israel.
Why? Because he understood that this could be a suicide mission. And…he just didn’t want the people of Nineveh to have a chance to experience God’s forgiveness. He was judgmental, racist, hard headed, and disobedient to God.
This morning, we are going to see a prophet try to run away from God. And we will see God pursue Jonah with a storm. At the end of this section, the story gets a bit fishy.
Remember the big idea of Jonah:
God is a God of extravagant grace, especially to those who deserve it least.
Turn to Jonah 2.
“Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.” (Jonah 1:4-5a)
Jonah had this crazy idea that he could run from the presence of the Lord. God had to get Jonah’s attention. So God “hurled” a storm at him. The word used for throwing a javelin. The wind and the waves obeyed God but not Jonah.
The storm was so violent that even the ship threatened to break up. It’s as if the ship was even saying “I’ve had enough!”
The sailors were seasoned mariners who had been in many storms but the recognized this storm was different. It was supernatural.
They were afraid and began to call out to their gods. Most nations were polytheistic, which means that they worshipped many gods.
Think of those as cell towers. They were hoping that they were “in range” of one of the gods so that god could save them.
The storm was so bad, they started hurling the cargo overboard. If there was going to be a hurling contest, God was going to win.
That was their profits. While the sailors were throwing their profits overboard, God’s prophet was sound asleep down below.
A Deep Sleep
“But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 1:5b-6)
I got on the plane in Harrisburg, Penn and we taxi’d out onto the tarmac. I looked out the window and saw this storm approaching. There was rotation in the clouds and it was coming quickly. It began to rain and then I couldn’t see out the window. Then hail started bouncing off the wing. Then the plane started to rock back and forth. Even the flight attendant sat down. It was intense.
But in the row next to me, a guy was sound asleep! He never woke up, even when the plane started to move.
The rain finally moved on but a guy on my flight told that he flew a lot and he had never experienced anything like that.
I was scared. But the guy across from me slept through the whole thing!
The pagan captain comes down to where Jonah is sleeping and says the same thing God said to him, “Arise!”
The pagan captain says to the prophet, “I think now would be a good time for you to pray!”
He understands that without divine intervention, they were all going to die.
One quick point - sin will lull you to sleep…even in the midst of a storm!
The God of the Sea
“Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)” (Jonah 1:7-10)
We are not really sure how they casted lots. It could have been animal bones, or multi-colored rocks. But however they did it, Jonah’s name kept coming up!
The sailors interrogated Jonah. Who do you represent? What country do you come from? Whose people are your people?
We don’t see this in the English but they ask these questions in Jonah’s native tongue -Hebrew.
But Jonah answers them in their native tongue Aramaic. He tells them that he is a Hebrew and he worships, or fears, the Lord. (Honestly, I might have taken that off my resume if I was Jonah). This God is the God of heaven who, wait for it, made the land and the sea.
You worship the God of the sea?! And you are running from Him? Are you insane?! What have you done to us?
Numbers 32:23: “Be sure your sins will catch up with you.”
“The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:11-12)
The sailors ask Jonah what they should do and he tells them to throw him overboard. He takes responsibility for the storm. But he still doesn’t repent.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself - how noble. He will sacrifice himself to save the others. Not so fast.
The easiest way to get out of Nineveh? Dying at sea! He saw a way out.
While Jonah didn’t have much compassion for the sailors, they didn’t want to kill Jonah.
“Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and t
Threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.” (Jonah 1:13-16)
The sailors broke out the oars and furiously tried to row back to land. The Hebrew word is the word for “digging.” They were literally digging the oars into the water but the sea raged against them.
They finally gave up and gave in to Jonah’s command. They prayed. The pagan sailors prayed to the God of the Hebrews. They prayed forgiveness for killing Jonah.
Then they hurled (a lot of hurling in this story) him overboard and the sea went flat. The Hebrew is “the sea stood down from its raging.”
The sailors greatly feared the Lord and they worshipped Him.
Jonah was told to go to Gentile sinners and share His message. But he got on a ship and went the other way.
But…he ended up sharing God message with Gentiles and they got saved!
God’s Will will be accomplished, even through our disobedience!
The pagan sailors were worshiping on the deck of the boat while the prophet of God treaded water waiting to drown.
But God had other plans. We’ll get to that in just a minute.
God pursued Jonah with a storm. The storm was not a punishment. It was the hound of heaven pursuing in love.
Greg Laurie has pointed out that there are at least three types of storms that come into our lives.
Jesus did this many times with His disciples. After He fed the 5,000, He told the disciples to get into a boat and let’s go to the other side. The people wanted to make Jesus king and the disciples’ egos were probably getting bigger by the minute. He sent them across the sea, into a storm, to make sure that they trusted Him alone.
These are the trials and hardships that are part of our Christian journey that God allows.
God is not really interesting in making you healthy and wealthy. He wants to make you more like Jesus.
We love to quote Romans 8:28 but we rarely go on to verse 29:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:28-29)
Paul told the Christians at Corinth that it was all a matter of perspective:
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor 4:17)
We may not always understand the purpose of the storm we are in but Charles Spurgeon said:
“God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”
These storms don’t last forever and we can be sure that God is up to something in the storm for our good and His glory.
c. Correcting Storms
Jonah brought this storm on himself. But this storm was not punishment. It was mercy. It was a Father’s heart pursuing a disobedient child.
God disciplines those He loves. It’s a mark of being His.
Tim Keller writes:
“The Bible doesn’t say that every difficulty is the result of sin - but it does teach that every sin will bring you into difficulty.”
Have you been in a storm like this? I have.
I believe the storm that Maxine and I went through the five years before we came here was a combination of all three kind of storms. He was preparing me to be your pastor, which I became one year ago this weekend.
I remember riding my bike and singing along with Casting Crowns:
“And I'll praise you in this storm / And I will lift my hands / That you are who you are/ No matter where I am / And every tear I've cried / You hold in your hand / You never left my side / And though my heart is torn / I will praise you in this storm"
Your sin doesn’t just affect you.
The sailors were innocent bystanders in this drama. But their lives were in danger because of Jonah’s disobedience.
There’s Old Testament story that haunts me every time I’ve read it. It’s the story of a guy named Achan in Joshua
In the battle of Jericho, God told the Israelites to destroy everything. Don’t loot. Don’t take anything back with you.
But Achan did. He took some clothes and gold and hid them in his tent.
When the Israelites lost the battle of Ai, God said it was because of Achan’s sin.
“Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”
Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day.” (Joshua 6:24-26)
Did you catch that? His sons, daughters, cows, donkeys, and sheep died with him! We could argue about whether this was fair, but it is hauntingly obviously that this sin didn’t just affect Achan. His entire family paid the price for his disobedience.
This happens all the time. Many times we are caught in a storm because of someone else’s sin. The sailors just happen to be on that particular ship.
I’ve worked with students that have FAS, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This means that their mothers drank heavily while they were pregnant, causing emotional and physical disabilities in the child. These kids live with the results of their mother’s sin.
We have a friend whose husband embezzled money from his company. It was a billion dollar company. Who would miss several thousand dollars? He went to jail and his family went from living in a million dollar house to an apartment on food stamps. They did nothing wrong but they were caught in his storm.
The Sea Monster
We have one more verse in this chapter before we finish today.
“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17)
First, let’s see up front that it doesn’t say a “whale.” It literally says a “sea. Monster.”
Second, there are people who discount the entire Bible because of this story. They say that whale can’t swallow a human and, even if it could, the human could survive.
Well, that’s actually not true. James Bartley, was a sailor whose boat was attacked by a sperm whale. He fell overboard and was swallowed by the whale. When the whale was killed, he was found inside, unconscious but alive.
His skin was bleached by the stomach juices and he was blind the rest of his life.
When he died, his tombstone read, “A Modern Day Jonah.”
But, even if that wasn’t true, I will still believe this fish tale. You know why? Because I believe God raised Jesus Christ from the dead! That’s the mash potatoes - all the other miracles of the Bible are the gravy.
G. Campbell Morgan said,
“Men have been looking so long at the great fish, they have failed to see the great God.”
The third reason why I believe this story is because Jesus did!
“He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:38-41)
In Mark 4, we see Mark intentionally recapping the Jonah episode.
Tim Keller writes,
“Both Jesus and Jonah are in a boat. Both are in storms that are described in similar ways. Both boats are filled with others that are terrified of death. Both groups wake the sleeping prophets angrily, rebuking them. Both storms are miraculously calmed and the companions are saved. And both stories conclude with the men in the boats more terrified after the storm is stilled than before.”
Jonah is thrown overboard to satisfy the wrath of the God and save the sailors, although he was more interested in escaping God call to Nineveh.
“Jonah is thrown into the storm for his own sin, but Jesus is thrown into the ultimate storm for our sin.”
Are you in a storm? Does it feel like Jesus is asleep? He’s not. He endured the storm of God’s wrath on the cross so that you know He will will not abandon you in the smaller storms of your life.