Runaway: From Depths of Woe
What would you do inside of a fish?
Yes, that is a strange question and, yes, I really am opening my sermon with it. But humor me and think about it. What would you do if you suddenly found yourself inside of a fish?
Perhaps you’re thinking about the movie Pinocchio. Remember that? Pinocchio’s dad gets swallowed by a monstrous whale named Monstro. When Pinocchio becomes brave enough to go after him, he expects to find Gepetto, his dad, near death. But inside he finds him cooking a meal and playing some cards. Honestly, that’s not so bad. It’s sounds just like Geppetto was roughing it for a bit.
But cartoons aren’t reality. The Scriptures say that Jonah wasn’t swallowed by some gigantic whale with room enough for a king sized bed and a continental breakfast spread. It says Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. (1:17) Rather than the Pinocchio scenario, picture it more like a coffin. A smelly, fishy, vile-filled, plankton stinking coffin. What do you do in such a mess?
It sounds kind of like a horror movie. Trapped, claustrophobia settling in. What do you do? Panic? Scream? Close your eyes and wait to die? At the very least – if you can keep your wits about you, you can pray for God to "have mercy and to please save me and to do so quickly before my hair smells like tuna fish forever?”
But Jonah, well, Jonah says a prayer. But not a prayer asking for help.
Jonah says a prayer of thanks.
A prayer of thanks for salvation.
A prayer of thanks for the fish.
Today we’re going to continue our series called Runaway – and we’re going to learn about what Jonah did when he was inside the fish, and even though it’s a strange place to do so, inside that fish, we’re going to learn a lot about God’s salvation. Before we study God’s Word and hear Jonah’s words from inside that big fish, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God Brings Salvation…in Dire Situations
Take a look at Jonah 2:1. It says this, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help and you listened to my cry.”
Notice how dire the situation was for Jonah. He calls it his “distress.” He was in extreme anxiety and terror. Why? Well – remember the last chapter. Jonah was in the middle of the sea. He didn’t have any floaties. He didn’t have an inflatable SpongeBob to hold onto. He couldn’t stand up; he wasn't in the shallow end of the pool. There wasn’t a boat in sight and he was quickly running out of strength to tread water.
To help with the picture, have you ever tried treading water before? I remember we had to do it back in swimming lessons for 5 minutes. It was a tough five minutes. My thighs were burning; my arms were burning; my lungs were burning. That’s what happens when you know how to tread water. If you don’t, you panic and splash – and your body’s energy gets used up even more quickly!
Can you imagine how Jonah felt as this strength went away?
Can you imagine how he felt without any lifeguards or any kind of a wall close by?
That’s the terror Jonah was feeling!
His next phrase describes just how terrified he was. He says, “I was in the depths of the grave.” The metaphor is that his body was already laying inside a grave, dug about 10 feet deep with a headstone that read, “Here lies Jonah, reluctant prophet.”
In other words, Jonah thought he was a goner -- as good as dead! Lost in the middle of the ocean…slowly drowning…not a boat in sight…Jonah did the only thing he could do:
“I called to the LORD and he answered me…I called for help and you, O God, listened to my cry.”
And God didn't say, "It's too late."
God didn't take too long to get there.
God didn't assess the situation and determine that there's nothing he could do.
God took a dire situation and made it one worthy of His praise.
This leads to our first salvation truth.
Salvation Truth #1: No situation is too dire for God’s salvation.
That's important to remember. Because you might feel a bit like Jonah. I’m looking out right now. None of you are literally in a pool of water drowning. Sure, it’s humid, but you get the point.
Still you might feel like you’re drowning.
Drowning in bills and mortgage payments.
Drowning in doctor visits and cancer medicines.
Drowning in relationship struggles and family feuds.
Drowning in guilt and sadness.
Drowning in loneliness – even depression.
Drowning in sin that leads you to sin that makes you feel so bad you sin some more!
He reaches out. He grabs your hands. He pulls you to safety. He rescues from the direst of situations.
To be fair: that’s what he’s already done and in the direst situation of all time. Remember the Colossians 2 passage from last week? Let’s look at it again this week. God rescued us from the dominion of darkness. (Col. 2:9) The dominion of darkness. That’s a dark place. The darkest of dark places. It’s a place of sin. A place of guilt. A place where you are alone with only the thoughts of how you have failed God and how you deserve his punishment! (It’s a place where we’ve all been. And if you think you aren’t there, then that’s proof that you been slurping up the abysmal water of death a bit too long).
Because being in that dominion of sin darkness is a lot like being in the middle of an ocean without a boat in site. We can’t tread water forever. We can’t swim to shore. No amount of good deeds will empower us to do a Michael Phelps and get out of there. The only thing left for us to do is die!
But while there was nothing for us to do, there was plenty for God to do. God brought us into the kingdom of the one he loves in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 2:10)
That’s when he sent Jesus. Jesus is a lifeguard. A spiritual life guard. He saw us drowning and hopped off his lookout chair in heaven. He came to earth. He went into the depths of darkness on the cross. He reached out his arms for you and grabbed a hold of you – just as a nail was drive through his palm.
And then – as we waited on the other side, our hero returns to life. Three days later he bursts forth from the dominion of darkness. He resides in the safety of the light. He grabs our hand and promises to take you with him –safely home.
If that’s what God did in the direst of situations, then what will God do in your situation?
There’s no situation too dire for God.
Your situation is not too dire for God.
II. God Brings Salvation… When I don’t Deserve it
But Pastor. I get it. God is big. God is powerful. Nothing is too dire for him.
But why would he want to help me? I haven’t been exactly listening to him very much lately. I’ve ignored his warnings. I’ve barely worshipped him. I’ve mostly acted like he didn’t exist. When I do that stuff to my friends, they don’t even respond to my messages on Facebook. Why would God ever respond to me? I don’t deserve his help.
Neither did Jonah. Remember chapter 1? God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah ran away from Nineveh and didn’t preach. Then, Jonah got onto a boat and planned to run away from God. He betrayed God and did the exact opposite of what God wanted.
And Jonah understood that! Look at verse 3-4, “You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, “I have been banished from you sight.” Jonah doesn’t write any excuse. He knows that he turned his back on God and he knows that he deserves to have God’s back turned on him. He uses the word banished – meaning that he didn’t deserve to ever set a foot in God’s kingdom again. He knew it.
But read Jonah’s next words. “Still I will look again at your holy temple.” From complete despair to confidence. Why?
Because Jonah stopped looking at himself.
Because Jonah started looking at God.
It's like the old Magic Eye page. Do you remember it? It's a page of abstract art that if you look at it long enough without blinking it uncovers a secret 3D image of a ball or a potroast. Sometimes if you can't find it, you have to change perspective. Back up. Look at something else and return to it.
It's the same thing with salvation. If you're struggling to see how God might save you -- change perspective. Back up. Look around. Stop looking at yourself and start focusing on God.
Because of Salvation Truth #2: God Brings Salvation, even when we don’t deserve it. Consequently, that’s all the time. Yet God keeps bringing it. He gives us salvation even when we don’t remotely deserve it.
If you think that God couldn’t possibly bring you forgiveness and salvation, you’re too busy looking at yourself.
If you think that God doesn’t need to bring you forgiveness and salvation, you’re looking at yourself.
Stop it. Look at God.
Jesus says in John 6:47, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” That’s his love. Whether you are a drunkard or a pornographer, a gossip or a liar, a thief or an abuser, an adulteress or a homosexual offender. Whatever you are, whatever you were, whatever you’ve done to sin.
Receive God’s incredible salvation!
III. God’s Salvation is Complete
That sounds nice, Pastor. That sounds nice. But will it be enough? Will Jesus be enough? My situation is so big, so large, I wonder if He’ll be enough?
Have you ever gone to a fancy restaurant? I’m not talking about just a sit-down restaurant, but a sit-down and wear nice clothes restaurant? A five-star restaurant. A celebrity chef restaurant. It’s quite the experience. The ambience is gorgeous and the wait staff is extra polite. They might even bring out warm little towels to wipe your fingers on.
But then comes the meal – which you’ve been waiting for – and voila! It looks great. At least, the 4 inches of the plate that actually has food on it. You eat it; every bite about $2. You savor it, but…It’s not enough.
On the way home you stop at McDonald's for a few items off the Dollar Menu.
Do you ever wonder if God’s salvation is like that? Like it seems fancy and nice, but is it really going to be enough? It’s why we still feel so icky and still feel the pressure of trying to be perfect as if -- Jesus did a lot of this, but unless I become perfect it’ll never be enough!
Look at what God did for Jonah. It was more than enough. “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweeds was wrapped around my head." Understand how massive Jonah’s problem was. It was a problem that would cause almost anyone to come up short on. "To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.” (v.5-7)
What seemed impossible to Jonah – was no problem for God. He simply reached down and plucked Jonah up from danger.
God was enough. More than enough.
Salvation truth #3: Jesus is enough for you. No matter your situation, no matter how far you’ve fallen, no matter how long you’ve been gone – Jesus is enough.
He was enough for a man who had stolen and lost friends his whole life.
He was enough for a woman who had committed adultery and prostituted herself.
He was enough for a thief who was literally dying next to him.
Jesus is enough for you.
1. Throw Out Your Idols.
That was Jonah’s conclusion. He said, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” An idol is a little statue. Something that people would take and worship. They’d carve; they’d cut; they’d paint. Then, they’d say, “Save me O god (aka piece of wood that I spent hours making).”
Idols aren’t super prevalent in America. At least not this kind. We’ve got other idols. Idols in the shape of money. Idols in the shape of Instagram followers. Idols in the shape of family. Idols in the shape of whoever stares at me in the mirror.
An idol is anything that tempts you to trust in it more than God.
Jonah’s advice – The guy who was literally drowning in the water and God saved him with a fish?
Drop those idols. If that’s who you trust for salvation, you will be disappointed.
Throw out your idols. Stop trusting in other things and stuff to save you. Get rid of the bottle of Jack Daniels. Block the porn website. End that ungodly relationship.
Stop trusting in them. Start trusting in Jesus.
2. Thank God for Your Fish.
Again -- this is so interesting. Because where was Jonah when he prayed this? He was inside the fish. Yet he wasn’t complaining about the fish. He wasn’t frustrated that God didn’t send a yacht for him. He wasn’t mad that he wasn’t on the beach.
He was thankful – for the fish. Look at verse 9 “Salvation comes from the Lord.” He started praising God and thanking him – even when he was inside the fish!
What’s your fish? What’s your something that’s normally bad – that God used to accomplish great good?
A job loss?
A relationship spoiled?
A health issue?
Thank God for it. Thank God that he used it to bring you back. Thank God that he used it for your salvation!
And that’s it. Jonah’s prayer ends and the final verse says, “The Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah unto dry land.”
Of course that’s what makes this story very unbelievable. Truth be told thousands of churches and pastors that would never preach on this text, because “It’s insulting. It’s unbelievable. It has a nice moral, but in the end it’s a myth because no human could be inside a fish that long.”
Lots of people don’t believe it. You might run into people like that. You might be tempted not to believe it. You might be tempted to not believe anything about God’s salvation.
But…do you know who did believe it?
Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three day and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so I will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)
Jesus didn’t just believe that the Jonah story was real.
He believed his resurrection would be real too.
And it was.
And he did.
And he will accomplish your salvation.
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