Easter March 23, 2008
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
187, 191, 192(1-5), 200
To Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20).
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. And he said: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; And my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple. Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, the Risen One:
Jesus, in His ministry, frequently predicted His resurrection. Every time He announced that He would die in Jerusalem, He would finish the statement by saying that He would rise again. But He went beyond merely claiming it would be so. He also stated that the legendary adventure of Jonah, who spent three days and three nights in the belly of a fish, was a sign of His own resurrection. It was clear that Jesus took Jonah’s experience as a Spirit-guided prophecy of His own.
Something else Jesus said, shortly before His suffering, was in response to a query by some Gentile worshipers who wanted to meet Jesus. His reaction didn’t seem to have a lot to do with the requested meeting. He answered: “Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24). What all this means is that the resurrection of Jesus, so well-attested in Scripture, has a meaning beyond the mere fact that Jesus is no longer dead. There are times where it is important for us to look at the Resurrection from the Inside-OuT, and who better to lead us than Jonah, who tells a resurrection story from the belly of a fish. I. Jonah’s predicament tells the terrors of death, II. Jonah’s prayer tells of God’s deliverance, and III. Jonah’s mission signifies the ultimate plan of the Gospel
There’s not much point talking about a resurrection—a return to life after death—unless we give some thought to death. Jonah found himself giving a lot of thought to death when he found himself swirling in the depths of the sea, alone, dragged down, totally helpless, and forsaken. Jonah’s predicament tells the terror of death.
Remember how Jonah came to his predicament. He was a prophet of Israel, who was sent to preach repentance in the heathen city of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire. Jonah disobeyed the Lord’s command, and fled the other way by westbound ship to Tarshish.
The Lord sent a terrible storm, which threatened the survival of the whole ship. Finally, Jonah confessed that it was because of him that they were in such trouble and told the sailors that they must cast him overboard if they were to be saved.
As we read the first lines of Jonah’s prayer we can easily imagine the terrifying scene—he’s thrashing about in the water, the ship fades from view in the storm, the waves and wind-chop toss him around like a cork, seaweed wraps around his head, and he begins to sink, helplessly, to the bottom—to the “moorings of the mountains.” [v.6]
Most of all, Jonah felt the Lord’s wrath. He doesn’t blame the sailors for throwing him overboard. He acknowledges that the Lord “cast [him] into the sea.” [v.3] This was the terrible hand of the Lord against those who disobey His holy will.
This is death—to be separated from God, to be severed from His life-giving influence. The Old Testament often localized the idea of death. You have words like Sheol—the grave, or Bor—the pit. For Jonah it was to be a watery grave shutting him out from the land of the living: “the earth with its bars closed behind me forever.” [v.6] For those who die there is no turning back, or so death would lead us to believe.
But Jonah’s prayer tells of God’s deliverance. The very fact that Jonah was relating these thoughts and retelling his experience came as a wonderful surprise to him and to us all. God saved Him from this death. He woke up in the dark belly of a fish that had swallowed him. To Jonah this was evidence enough that he wasn’t lost, that the Lord had been merciful toward him, and that the Lord was going to preserve him alive to see another day.
There is no way around the fact that the preservation of Jonah was a miracle. Even after the fish swallowed him alive, for a man to spend the next three days in the belly of a fish conflicts with so many “realities”— the lack of oxygen, the digestive juices of the fish. But our God is the “God of wonders, power, and love” (TLH 19:1). A somewhat similar miracle took place with Jesus’ body which David prophetically said: “did not see corruption” (Psalm 16:8) even during His three days in the grave.
Jonah had turned to the Lord in faith. Repenting of his disobedience, surrounded by death and judgment, the prophet remembered the Lord God of Israel. “I have been cast out of Your sight, yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.” [v.4] Despite God’s holy wrath because of his sin, Jonah knew that the Lord is a gracious God who forgives the sins of those who cling to His covenant of grace.
God’s temple signified all that God would do to redeem mankind from sin. It zeroed in on what the God of Israel wanted the whole world to know about Him and what distinguished Him from all the false gods (idols) and demonic delusions in the earth. “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.” [v.8]
Jesus’ own body was the Temple in which our redemption took place. With His own innocent death Jesus purchased life for all of us in this dying world. Jonah relates his final thoughts as his soul fainted amidst all his anguish and turmoil: “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.” [v.7]
We learn from the story that Jonah, although a prophet, wasn’t a real gem of a person. He had flaws as do we all. But like Jonah, many people have come to the last moments of their earthly life and closed their eyes in the sleep of death remembering, not their meager accomplishments nor their many faults, but Jesus’ finished work and His timeless promises. What a blessing it is to live our lives and finish our course confident that we fall asleep in the care of a living, merciful God and Savior. Because we believe that Jesus Christ has risen from the grave, we join Jonah and all the saints of the Old Testament and New Testament to say:“Salvation is of the Lord!” [v.9]
But there is more to the story of Jonah’s deliverance from death. His mission signifies the ultimate plan of the Gospel.
We are told that following Jonah’s prayer and after three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, the fish vomited him out onto the dry land. That may not seem like a delicate way to describe what happened, but then I suppose there is no very pleasant way to describe it. The resurrection of Jesus, on the other hand, is much more pleasant to describe. We don’t really know the mechanics of it. We know of the empty tomb, the opened door, the abandoned grave clothes, the missing body. We know that Jesus physically appeared to His followers many times. We know that He had the same body with which He was buried, but now in a glorified state. But one of the most elegant descriptions Jesus gave is the one we mentioned at the start: a seed of grain, falling into the ground, and dying. It springs forth, not all by itself, but ultimately bearing an abundant harvest of grains like itself.
This is where the miracles of Jonah’s deliverance and Jesus’ resurrection can be compared. Jonah, in a sense, died and rose again because the Lord still had a mission for him—a mission that went beyond the borders of Israel and beyond the Israelite nation. He was to go to Nineveh and preach God’s judgment and repentance. The Spirit of God would work with great success sparing the city from God’s judgment for a time and perhaps sparing many souls eternally.
Jesus, who spent His ministry seeking “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24) would rise again and His gospel would be proclaimed, not just to the Jews, but to the Gentile world. The message of the resurrection would reap a glorious, awesome harvest among the nations of the world and it still does! People who live under the curse of sin, who live in spiritual death and darkness, are coming into the light of God’s love and salvation. They are finding His mercy and escaping the depths of sin’s despair. They are forsaking dead idols to worship the living God. More than that, believers across the world facing death and sorrows, temptation and tragedy, cling to the message of a risen Savior knowing that in Him they also live, and that nothing in this life can take that away. Death, the last enemy, will be abolished when Jesus comes again and calls us forth from the graves, from the seas, from the ashes and dust scattered across the earth.
What a powerful thing the Gospel of the risen Savior is! “It is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). The ancient church, while celebrating the feast of the resurrection, was always quick to point out that it cannot help but have an impact on our inner life and outer behavior: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
This is the day that the Lord has made. Therefore, let us mark this day with a spirit of charity and kindness toward one another, and with the dedication to walk faithfully before our living God with a commitment to proclaim His resurrection from one day to the next!
Now let the heav’ns be joyful,
Let earth her song begin,
Let all the world keep triumph
And all that is therein
Let all things, seen and unseen,
Their notes of gladness blend;
For Christ the Lord hath risen—
Our joy that hath no end. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.