At the Bottom of the Sea

  • At the Bottom of the Sea
  • Jonah 2
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • June 4, 2017
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6-4-17 Sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

Last week we entered into the story of Jonah. The story begins with God calling Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to preach against their wickedness. Nineveh was the last place that Jonah wanted to go, so he hopped on a boat headed to Tarshish, which is the direct opposite direction from Nineveh.

 

Jonah thought all of his troubles were behind him once the boat made it out to sea. He fooled himself into believing that he could out run God, that he could hide, and that he could have life with God on his own terms.

 

No sooner did Jonah make it out to sea than his rebellious ways began to catch up with him. A storm began to brew, a storm that was able to scare the saltiest of sailors. While everyone on board scrambled to throw any extra freight overboard to stabilize the boat, Jonah was down underneath in the hull of the ship sleeping away until he was finally awakened by the captain.

 

In an act of desperation, the sailors decide to cast lots to see who is responsible for the storm that has come upon them and the lots fall on Jonah. With no choice left, Jonah is forced to come clean about how he is running from God and how this storm they are in is his fault.

 

Jonah tells them to throw him overboard and the storm will stop, but being upstanding guys, the sailors refuse to do so. Instead they try to row all that much harder to make it back to the shore. Finding their efforts to be futile, finally they agree to throw Jonah overboard, but not before praying and asking God to forgive them for doing so.

 

When they do, God provides a great fish to swallow Jonah. This is the place we pick up in our story today – Jonah 2:1-10.

 

1Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish. 2 He said,

“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,
and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead,
and Lord, you heard me!
3 You threw me into the ocean depths,
and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
4 Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’

5 “I sank beneath the waves,
and the waters closed over me.
Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
6 I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.
I was imprisoned in the earth,
whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
snatched me from the jaws of death!
7 As my life was slipping away,
I remembered the Lord.
And my earnest prayer went out to you
in your holy Temple.
8 Those who worship false gods
turn their backs on all God’s mercies.
9 But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
and I will fulfill all my vows.
For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.”

10 Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.

 

Being shocked by electricity can be very dangerous. Just ask anyone who has ever been struck by lightning and lived to tell about it. A quick Google search reveals the stories of people who can tell such a tale.

 

Most of their stories go something like this, “It bolted through my arms and legs and jerked me off the ground.” Then to a fault, each of them say, “I thought I was dead.” So to be certain, being shocked by electricity is most certainly dangerous.

However, if you were to ask a heart patient you might find that contact with electricity can be lifesaving. If your heart stops beating in the middle of a procedure and doctors decide to make use of a defibrillator, a heavy shock is sent into the body in an effort to restart the heart. For many people, this contact with electricity can be lifesaving.

It’s important to keep this in mind when we look at our circumstances. Some circumstances that we think are deadly might be used by God to wake us up and to rescue us.

 

That is exactly what happens to Jonah in chapter 2. Normally, being in the belly of a great fish would be a deadly circumstance, but in this case it is that circumstance that provides Jonah’s wake-up call.

 

If chapter one of Jonah is about Jonah’s rebellion then chapter two is about Jonah’s repentance.

 

We serve the God of the second chance and this proves to be true with Jonah, just as it has been with many of us in this room. God is gracious and gives Jonah the opportunity for a new beginning.

 

No doubt Jonah was expecting to die when he was thrown overboard; instead, he finds himself having a heart to heart conversation with God. It seems to me that in order for Jonah’s story to be beneficial to us today the best thing we can do is to examine this prayer of Jonah’s from inside the belly of the fish.

 

We know that Jonah began to pray. We don’t know when. We just know that he prayed. Some people have speculated that surely he began to pray the minute he hit the water. Other people think Jonah was such a stubborn sort of person that he waited until after he had been inside the fish for three days before he was willing to give in and pray.

 

Isn’t it amazing what a little desperation can do for a person? Jonah’s prayer was born more out of his affliction, than out of love for God. Let’s just call it like it is. Jonah cries out to God because he is in danger, not because he finds delight in God.

 

It was better for Jonah to be compelled by a less than stellar motive, than to not pray at all. We don’t always pray with the purest of motives and somehow I doubt that Jonah did either. Jonah’s desires and God’s direction hadn’t yet matched up.

 

Let’s not forget that Jonah still isn’t happy with God’s will for his life. He had been afraid of God’s will and had rebelled against God. The only reason he is open to the will of God at this point is that it would appear to be the only way out of the mess he has gotten himself into.

 

Like too many of us, Jonah saw the will of God as something to turn to in an emergency, not something to live by in everyday life.

 

I’ll never forget when my niece was born at twenty-five weeks in my sister’s pregnancy. Katelynn Grace entered into the world at 1 lb. 14oz. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything more pitiful than the way she looked in that NICU room at the hospital.

 

I know that her birth certainly deepened my prayer life. I cried out to God in desperation for my niece’s life as did many other people. It is amazing what comes out of people when they feel desperate. I remember one person placing a medal of a saint at the head of Katelynn’s crib.  Although this person was a kind person, I would not consider them to be a God-fearing person.

 

Here was a person who, to my knowledge, isn’t involved in a church and doesn’t study the Bible, but in a moment of pain and desperation, this person was calling out to God in a time of crisis hoping that this saint he’s probably never heard of would somehow cause a miracle to take place.

 

Maybe you’ve done something out of a similar motivation?

 

Jonah was now experiencing what the sailors on the ship were experiencing during the storm – he felt as if he was going to perish. He felt as if he was going to die. They were lost and were without hope.

 

I think that when God decided to drop Jonah to the bottom of the ocean, God was trying to help Jonah understand what life was like for the people of Nineveh. They were living in their sinful condition. They were lost and hopeless.

 

In the midst of Jonah’s mess God hears Jonah’s prayer, his cry for help.

 

At first glimpse it might appear that it was the sailors who threw Jonah overboard and into the ocean; but if we look at the story closer, I think we would have to see that it was God. Ultimately, Jonah came to understand this:

 

3 You threw me into the ocean depths,
and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.

 

When Jonah said those words, he was acknowledging that God was disciplining him and that he deserved it.

 

How we respond to discipline determines how much benefit we receive from it. According to Hebrews 12 we have several options:

 

  • 5 we can despise God’s discipline and fight.
  • 5 we can be discouraged and grow weary.
  • 9 we can resist discipline and invite stronger discipline, possibly even death,
  • 7 we can submit to the Father and mature in faith and love.

 

You see, discipline is to a follower of Christ what exercise and training are to an athlete. It enables us to run the race with endurance and reach the assigned goal.

 

As a father I didn’t take any joy in having to get onto to my daughters when they were little. If I reprimanded them, it was because I loved them and I wanted them to know what was right.

 

God treated Jonah this way. He treats us the same way. Because he loves us he takes the time to discipline us so that we can find the right way.

Jonah was headed one direction and one direction only – down. In fact, he had been going in that direction since the moment he first began to rebel against God’s plan for his life.

 

He was going down to Joppa. He was going down to the lowest part of the boat. He was going down to the bottom of the sea. He went down into the belly of the fish. When we turn our backs on God it seems that the only direction we end up going is down.

 

What saved Jonah? His faith in God’s promise saved him. Jonah claimed the promises of God when he prayed. Scripture is filled with God’s promises and Jonah had known this from the time he was a young boy.

 

When Jonah was headed down, he was at least smart enough to begin to look up. By faith we are told that he began to look upon God’s temple. (The only way to look was up.) He asked God to deliver him and God kept his promise and answered his call.

 

Jonah comes clean and he admits that there were idols in his life and that these idols have robbed him of the blessing of God.

 

An idol is anything that takes away from God the affection and obedience that rightfully belong only to Him. One such idol for Jonah was his intense patriotism. He was so concerned for the safety and prosperity of his own nation that he refused to be God’s messenger to their enemies, the Assyrians.

 

We might hear this part of Jonah’s story and think what does this have to do with me? I don’t have any idols in my life? Don’t be so sure about that.

 

If an idol is anything that takes away affection and obedience that rightfully belongs to God, then many of us have idols we serve.

  • Many of us spend more time in front of the television set mindlessly watching shows rather than spending time with God.
  • How about our homes and cars? Many of us are much more intentional about how we handle them than we are about our relationships with Christ.
  • How about our children’s activities? I know a lot of people who place their children’s sporting events and extracurriculars as a greater priority in life than to make time for worship.

 

When we think about idols we aren’t talking about a television singing competition. We are talking about anything that vies for our time, attention and resources to a greater level than we allow God to be part of our lives.

 

Reality is that Jonah couldn’t save himself. Nobody on earth could save Jonah. In v. 9 Jonah states the truth that “my salvation comes from the Lord alone.”

When Jonah is able to be that honest with himself and with God it is then and only then that the fish spews Jonah out of his mouth and back onto the beach.

 

Some of you are here today and you’ve been living life on your own terms. You’ve been doing everything the way you want it to be done. If there is one lesson that Jonah teaches us it is that our way is never the best way.  When we quit trying to be God, when we quit trying to act like we know what is best for the world, it is then that God can move. Jonah was a control freak. He wanted to call all of the shots.

 

If you find yourself in a situation where you have been trying to call all of the shots, if you have been trying to control your life and the lives of others, then I want to ask you one question: How’s that working for you?

 

Something tells me that the answer is that it isn’t working for you. Let me invite you to do something else. Pray like Jonah did. Yield to God. Look up and acknowledge who he is. Only when we place our trust completely in him can everything begin to turn around.