Easter April 20, 2014
1 Peter 1:3-9
199, 208, 189, 193, 200
Oh, death, where is thy sting? Oh, grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our
Lord Jesus Christ!
(1 Corinthians 15:55-57)
Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 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.
In Christ the living Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
The new life of springtime, white altar hangings, fresh fragrant lilies, a bright beautiful butterfly bursting from its cocoon—all of these and more have been used as symbols of Easter.
When the Scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign that He was the Christ, the promised Savior, He gave them Easter as the sign and the prophet Jonah as a mark of that sign. Jesus told His enemies that they would know that He was the Christ, the Son of God, because He would rise from the dead on the third day just as the prophet Jonah was spit out on dry land after three days in the belly of the fish. Sadly, when Jesus’ resurrection occurred, these very same people who asked for a sign paid the Roman soldiers to lie, cover up the sign, and keep the whole thing quiet.
Thanks be to God that the resurrection is not hidden from us, but is clearly reported and recorded by eye-witnesses in the Spirit-inspired words of Scripture. The empty tomb is a marvelous sight to see. A living Savior is just how we want Him to be because that is good news for you and me.
If you are looking for a perfect Easter symbol to express the victory and joy of the empty tomb, look no further than Jesus’ own sign. The prophet JONAH IS THE PERFECT EASTER SYMBOL We find great significance in I. His three-day stay and II. His thankful song.
The city of Nineveh was huge. As large as Nineveh was in size and population, it was equally large in its wickedness. God told His prophet, Jonah, to go to Nineveh and warn the people of their coming destruction unless they would repent and turn to the LORD God. God gave Jonah a very important job. His message could not only save the city of Nineveh from destruction, but also save the people from eternal destruction.
However, Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Jonah did not want to do the work God had given him to do. Jonah went the other way to the coast, went on-board a ship, and planned to sail away from his task. The LORD had a different plan. He raised up a large storm while Jonah was at sea. When all other efforts failed to save the sinking ship, Jonah told the sailors to throw him overboard because he knew that God had sent the storm because of his disobedience. As soon as the sailors threw Jonah into the sea, the storm stopped raging.
In his prayer to God, Jonah said, “…You cast me into the deep…” [2:3] God had raised the storm and arranged for Jonah to be thrown into the sea, but He did not do this to kill Jonah because we read: Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights…” [1:17] Then after three days in the fish, “The LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” [2:10]
God sent the storm, God prepared the fish, and God told the fish to spit Jonah safely out on dry land. God had a purpose for all of this. It was necessary for Jonah to go through the fear of the storm and near death in order to teach him humility toward God and to bring him to repentance for his sins of disobedience and unwillingness. Jonah would not die in the ocean. Jonah would not die in the fish. Jonah would not die at this time because it was necessary for Jonah to live. It was necessary for Jonah to live because He was a necessary part in God’s plan of salvation for the people of Nineveh.
On Easter evening, Jesus told the ten disciples and the rest with them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:46). It was necessary that Jesus die and be in the grave—necessary to pay the penalty of our sins. Jesus died and lay in the grave until the third day but then no longer! Just as it was necessary for Him to die and be in the heart of the earth for three days, so it was necessary for Him to rise victoriously on the third day.
From the very beginning, our salvation always had resurrection at the end. God’s first promise of the Savior came in the Garden of Eden and it included that the woman’s Seed would crush Satan’s head. If Christ is not raised then Satan’s head is not crushed, and Satan would be the victor having doomed the Son of God to death. It was necessary for Jesus to be in the grave three days, but then no more.
The prophecy of Psalm 16 says, “You will not leave my soul in Sheol (death), nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10). If Jesus is not raised, His body decays and returns to dust like any other.
Isaiah 53—the chapter of prophecy that so vividly describes the agonies of Jesus’ suffering and death—does not leave the LORD’s Servant in suffering but also prophecies the resurrection. Isaiah writes, “He shall see the labor of His soul and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11).
As the time for His death drew closer, Jesus spoke of it often in order to prepare His disciples for it. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22). Likewise, what was the angel’s message to the women for the disciples? “…He is risen from the dead and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him….as He said to you” (Luke 24:7, Mark 16:7).
The wages of sin is death. When Jesus died on the cross He paid that price for all sinners. Death could not hold Him permanently because He had defeated it. The grave could not keep Him because the grave is not a home for the living. Jesus’ resurrection puts the final seal on our salvation. It demonstrates that Jesus is the Son of God and that God’s promises are fulfilled. Jesus’ resurrection declares that He has indeed defeated sin, death, and the Devil and bought each of us back from them. “If,” Paul wrote, “Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But Christ is risen! Rejoice and be glad!
Three days Jonah spent in the fish according to God’s purpose, and then the fish could not hold him because he had work to do. Three days Jesus spent in the grave according to God’s saving purpose, and then the earth could not hold Him because He was the victor over sin and death as promised by God. “He was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised again because of our justification” (Romans 4:25).
Jonah’s prayer while he was in the fish was a song of thanksgiving for his deliverance from the sea and death. By the time He was in the fish, Jonah knew that he was no longer in danger. The danger and Jonah’s great need for help was while he was drowning. It was when the seaweed was wrapped around his head that Job needed help and cried out to the Lord. God plucked out from the jaws of death by miraculously saving him with the fish. Once inside the fish, it was clear to Jonah that God had delivered him.
Jonah’s words are very similar to a number of verses from the Psalms. Like others in the Bible, Jonah spoke his repentance and trust through the words of Scripture. Jonah’s prayer of worship and thanks is a symbol of Easter for us because we similarly worship the LORD and give him thanks for the victory we have in Christ Jesus. We praise Him for having plucked us from the jaws of eternal death.
Jonah’s prayer describes his fearful time in the sea and how near to death he was. “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…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.” [v.3,5-6]
While facing a watery grave, Jonah repented of his sin and remembered the LORD who could help him. Jonah cried out with a plea for help to the Lord: “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…When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.” [v.3,7]
Even though Jonah was facing consequences because of his sin, he trusted that the LORD would rescue him and save him. Jonah had confidence that he would yet live to praise and worship his God again. “Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’” [v.4]
A repentant, humbled, and thankful Jonah made this conclusion from the fish’s belly, “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.” [v.8]
Jonah had first-hand experience that the LORD God is the God who can and does rescue and save His people. Anyone who follows after another god is not only following a worthlessly helpless god, but is forsaking the true God of mercy and rejecting His salvation.
God has shown mercy to all sinners by sending Jesus to be the Savior of all. This gracious mercy and free-salvation belongs to every sinner. God offers His grace in Christ to each and every sinner without exception. Every sinner can claim this mercy as his “own” mercy. Therefore, when some of these sinners follow worthless gods, they are forsaking and despising the salvation offered by God. They are forsaking the mercy offered to them. They are throwing away their own gift of mercy just like the Jewish leaders and the soldiers threw it away. Just think of what witnesses they could have been!
When you walk through a cemetery you see monuments to great people. In some places, the grave sites of these individuals are even shrines and places of worship. There is something that the burial places of all these people have in common: they are still there. The bodies of these men and women are still there, decayed, rotted, and returned to the dust which still lies beneath the monument. There is one exception. Jesus Christ is no longer behind His stone. The tomb is empty. He is different from all other “great men” for He is the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. Those who follow other gods forsake their own mercy and forsake the One who alone has proven power over death.
“But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” [v.9] Only with our God and LORD is there victory and what a victory it is! It is Salvation. It is salvation from sin and its guilt, salvation from death and the punishment of Hell, it is salvation for life now and forever. The empty tomb is salvation, your triumph, your confidence that you will rise. The empty tomb is your confidence that you will be in the heart of the earth for x-number of days or years, but then no more because Jesus Himself will raise you to life to be with Him forever. Along with Jonah, we offer thanksgiving to the LORD who has delivered us—the God of our salvation.
There are two periods of time for the Easter message. The first of these times is right now. The Easter hymn, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” speaks of no fewer than 18 different things for which Jesus lives. “He lives to…dry my tears…calm my fears…” and eighteen only scratches the surface. Jesus lives right now for you, to care for you, to shower you with His love, to protect you with His power, to care for your soul with His Word.
Secondly, Jesus lives so that we are able to live after death and will indeed live with Him forever in Heaven.
Jonah faced despair and death. He was plucked from the jaws of death by God’s grace. Jesus has done the same for you. Take the angel’s invitation, peek into the tomb and see that Jesus is gone. He lives! HE IS RISEN! The words ring through the empty tomb announcing to you that your salvation and life are sure. “The LORD has done great things for us and we are glad” (Psalm 126:3). 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.