Sermon Notes – January 21, 2018

The Greatest Miracle in the Book of Jonah

And the people of Nineveh believed God. – Jonah 3:5

   Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, writes in his recent book, Win Bigly[1], that when he was eleven years old and attending Sunday School he was flabbergasted by the story of Jonah and the big fish.  To him it was nonsense that a man could survive three days in the belly of a fish.  He told his mom that all believers (including her) were being duped and he never went to church again.  To have some initial doubts about miracles is not itself tragic—but for an eleven year old to separate himself from all religion on the basis of one extraordinary story is tragic.  It also sets a very low bar for thinking that you’re being duped.

   Believe it or not, Jonah, a Hebrew prophet, is told by God to “go to Nineveh, that great city, [populated with non-Hebrew pagans] and cry out against it” (Jonah 1:2).  God wants Jonah to warn them (they have hit the maximum level of evil) and call them to repentance.  Jonah gets up, buys a ticket on a ship, and heads in the opposite direction of Nineveh.  [There’s a “great wind,” nervous sailors, and Jonah is thrown overboard.] Spending three days in the belly of a “great fish” specially engineered and appointed by the omnipotent God to punish Jonah and to turn him back in the right direction is not the greatest miracle (or, in Scott Adams’ case, the greatest offense to his intelligence) in the book of Jonah by a long shot.

   Believe it or not a greater miracle occurs when the reluctant prophet finally does what he is told. He preaches repentance to the pagans of Nineveh, warns them that God’s judgment will overthrow them in forty days, and “the people of Nineveh believed God.  They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.”  They repented!  [Hawaii alert glitch]  Nineveh didn’t ignore the warning.  Nineveh didn’t scoff at the message.  Nineveh didn’t make excuses.  Nineveh repented!

   Believe it or not a greater miracle than their repentance occurs when “God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, and He did not do it.” (verse 10)  This was exactly what Jonah was afraid would happen! “It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.  And he prayed to the LORD and said, “…that is why I made haste to flee…for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (4:1-2) Jonah is so angry that he asks God to kill him.  (Jonah was in the wrong line of work.)  Jonah is as misguided as the detractors of his story.  Jonah wants God to kill him when God does everything to give him (and Nineveh, and us, and the world) life!

   Believe it or not the greatest miracle in the book of Jonah is that it is a historical prophecy of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed, “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.” (2:2)  “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD…” (2:7) Jonah learns and Jonah confesses, “’Salvation belongs to the LORD!’  And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.” (2:9-10) That’s a death and resurrection scenario if ever there was one. 

   Jesus believes the whole story of Jonah and He considers it the one sign that would be given to “an evil and adulterous generation.” (Matthew 16:4)  When some of the scribes and Pharisees asked for a sign, Jesus told them, “…no sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For 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.  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:38-40)  Yes, Jesus, dead and resurrected is here for you!  When He was resurrected Jesus didn’t say, “Believe it or not.”  He said to Thomas, “Do not disbelieve, but believe!” (John 20:27)

   [Romans 6:3-5]  Do not disbelieve, but believe!

   [I John 1:8-9]  Do not disbelieve, but believe!

   [1 Corinthians 15:12-13, 17, 20]  Do not disbelieve, but believe!

   Through the Holy Spirit the Church, when it does its job, is always being fishers of men.  Its job is to preach the greatest miracle of all for the benefit of all.  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  (Mark 1:14)

[1] Portfolio/Penguin Books, New York, ©2017, page 40.


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