We’re continuing to look at the book of Jonah today. We’ve gone through the whole book together, and we looked at each chapter individually, and now we’re spending a little bit more time just meditating and contemplating the book as a whole.
Last week, Mike did an excellent job of presenting a whole bunch of really cool ways Jonah relates to the rest of the Old Testament. The story of Jonah is a historical account, but it also serves as a parable for Israel, and ties in themes from the other prophets in really clever ways!
Originally, Mike & I were going to cover both the Old and New Testaments together, in one sermon. But there ended up just being way too many connections to cover in one morning in a reasonable amount of time! So today, I get to swing the spotlight over to the New Testament & Jesus, and we’ll look at some of the ways Jonah is a prophecy and parable and reflection looking forward to the messiah.
Jonah is set in the 8th century, 750-800 years before Jesus was born. But when we look at the life of Jesus, we find some striking parallels, and even a direct reference to Jonah by Jesus himself.
Chapter 1: Nature/Sovereignty.
First, I want to read just an excerpt from chapter 1 of Jonah. We’ve read through the whole thing in full enough times that I’m just going to skip around a bit to summarize what happens in verses 3-9:
Jonah 1:3–9 (CSB)
Jonah got up to flee from Yahweh’s presence. He found a ship going to Tarshish. He went down into it to go with them.
But Yahweh threw a great wind onto the sea, and such a great storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep.
The captain approached him and said, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.”
The sailors said to him: “Tell us who is to blame for this trouble we’re in. What is your business, and where are you from?
Jonah answered them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.”
Then of course, they eventually throw him over, and the storm immediately stops, which shows that Jonah’s god Yahweh is indeed sovereign over creation. That was one of the big takeaways from chapter 1.
Now, the first New Testament passage I want us to look at is an account that occurs in all 3 of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I’m going to read from Matthew, chapter 8 starting in verse 23:
Matthew 8:23–27 (CSB)
23 As he [jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly, a violent storm arose on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves—but Jesus kept sleeping. 25 So the disciples came and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to die!”
26 He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!”
WOW! Surely, you see this! We have a boat, people in the boat, and a sudden, violent storm! Mark even uses the word “Great” to describe the storm, in a different language but still...the concept is exactly the same.
And then we have this guy Jesus sleeping in the middle of the storm. Just like Jonah was! And he’s woken up by the panic-stricken disciples, just like Jonah was woken up by the captain. “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! DO SOMETHING!”
Jesus’s calmness, and his chiding of the disciples for being afraid does actually relate back to King David, and shows his faith in God, and points to him being a perfect king. But that doesn’t directly relate to Jonah that’s as far as I’ll go on that.
What happens next is what’s truly amazing. After he chides them for being afraid, he simply speaks, and suddenly everything is calm.
When Jonah said to the sailors “I worship Yahweh, who created the sea and the land” and then his instructions saved their lives, they realized that Jonah’s god, Yahweh god, truly is the creator god, sovereign over his creation.
When Jesus displays command over the waves and the storm, he’s being identified as the creator and ruler of creation.
I’m going to go back to the Old Testament for a moment, because this concept is all over the psalms. Check out
Psalm 89:9 (CSB)
9 You rule the raging sea;
when its waves surge, you still them.
I found at least half a dozen different references like this in psalms.
To go a step even further, I think there is significance in the method by which Jesus calmed the storm. Nobody got thrown overboard. He didn’t strike the water with a staff. No sacrifices were made. He didn’t even pray to God. He spoke. Matthew & Luke both say he rebuked the storm, Mark actually provides the quote, Jesus said “Silence! Be Still!” Some versions have “Peace! Be Still!” either way, it’s a command, it literally means “be muzzled” and it was spoken directly to the forces of nature, and the command is obeyed. I think it’s significant that Jesus used his voice to speak into his creation, and his words were obeyed. How did God create the world in the first place? He spoke. And it was. Again, look at Psalms:
Psalm 29:3–4 (CSB)
3 The voice of Yahweh is above the waters.
The God of glory thunders—
Yahweh, above the vast water,
4 the voice of Yahweh in power,
the voice of Yahweh in splendor.
So this is, I think, a very obvious parallel between the message and themes of chapter 1 of Jonah and the story of Jesus calming the storm. It’s an implied parallel. It’s not like Jesus then said “Remember the story of Jonah? Yeah, I was there, too.” He just kinda let them sit in their amazement.
Chapter 2: Buried and Resurrected.
Chapter 2 brings us to an explicit reference made by Jesus, and reveals another layer to the prophecy of Jonah. If you’re still in Matthew, turn forward a few chapters to chapter 12.
We’re going to start in verse 38, but you should understand a little about the events leading up to this. The chapter begins with Jesus declaring himself the Lord of the Sabbath, which we don’t have time to get into, other than that’s an incredibly bold statement of his authority. Then he heals someone’s hand, and casts out demons, and calls out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. And of course they’re already ticked off, and that’s where verse 38 picks up:
Matthew 12:38–42 (CSB)
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”
39 He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
Jesus has been making bold claims about who he is. He’s God’s chosen one, the Messiah, so the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign. Basically, “if you are who you say you are, then prove it!” They don’t really get what they’re wanting; Jesus says “nah, y’all are horrible you don’t even deserve proof; the only proof you get is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And he even explains exactly what he means by that!
Jonah, in chapter 2, has been thrown into the depths of the ocean...his death literally surrounded him, and the belly of a fish became his grave. Jesus is predicting his own death and burial, and even uses similar language as Jonah did in his prayer: “the heart of the earth.”
But Jonah’s “grave” wasn’t permanent, was it? By God’s power, after 3 days and nights that fish returned Jonah, literally to the land of the living. Jesus knew that no grave would hold him forever, and that after 3 days he would, with God’s power, emerge, resurrected and triumphant! Though I have to say, as humbly as Jesus came I think his resurrection was a bit more glorious and graceful than Jonah’s...angels rolled away the tomb and there was no spitting or vomiting involved!
But by the words of Jesus himself, the story of Jonah is a prophecy...a prophetic parable, as Mike mentioned last week, of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How cool is that? So far, we’ve had direct parallels between both chapters 1 and 2 of Jonah, so what about 3?
Chapter 3: Ninevah Condemns Israel.
What happens in chapter 3 of Jonah?
Jonah finally goes to Ninevah, preaches his 5 word sermon, and the wicked, violent people of Ninevah repent! Even the king steps off his throne and sits, fasting, in sackcloth and ashes, and demands everyone and the animals do the same!
Let’s keep reading what Jesus said to the Pharisees, picking back up in verse 41, he says:
41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s preaching; and look—something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the south will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and look—something greater than Solomon is here.
Wow! He actually makes references to 2 different Old Testament stories, starting with Jonah. He’s continuing his original thought, comparing himself to Jonah, and saying that the men of Nineveh, that great and horrible city, will stand up and condemn this generation. Why? Because they repented at a 5 word sermon from a bratty prophet with a bad attitude. Jesus, the actual messiah, has come in power, doing miracles, showing love and preaching repentance, something, someone FAR greater than Jonah ever was. And yet the Jews will kill him for it. Which is what we would have expected Nineveh to do to Jonah, bringing the irony and the satire full circle.
As for the second reference Jesus made, do you remember the story of when the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon? It’s in 1 Kings chapter 10. She wanted to see for herself if the rumors of his wealth and wisdom were true. She saw that not only were the rumors not exaggerated, they didn’t even do justice to reality! And because of that, she, an Ethiopian queen, praised Yahweh, the god of Israel. Jesus is saying “I’m greater than Solomon, and yet your response to me is nowhere near as glorifying to God as that queen’s was to Solomon”
The men of Nineveh, and the queen of Ethiopia. Two examples of non-Jews behaving in a way that puts the Pharisees to shame, and he’s saying this to the face of the Jewish, religious, elite, who prided themselves in being better than everyone else!
Ultimately, we can see from both chapter 3 of Jonah, and Jesus, a twofold teaching: There is NOBODY so horrible or wicked or different from you who God does not love and who God’s spirit cannot transform, and there is nothing you have done that God cannot forgive. On the flip-side you can also go through all the motions of being a “good person” and “religious” and totally miss when God’s standing right in front of you (in the pharisee’s case) or totally resist who God is (in Jonah’s case).
Chapter 4: The Mercy of God Revealed.
And that brings us to chapter 4 of Jonah. We’ve covered connections to the first 3 chapters, what do we do with the 4th? Well, I’m not giving you a completely comprehensive list of every single connection to the New Testament, this is a broad strokes overview. And that’s probably especially good when it comes to chapter 4 because it’s such an odd chapter of the Bible, but it’s loaded with so much symbolism we could be here all day discussing it!
Mike already covered a lot of the symbolism, so I’m going to focus on what I think is the main thematic element of the actual narrative is. The story is telling us that Jonah resented God’s mercy. He knew about it from the beginning, ran away from it in the middle, resents it in the end and would rather die than witness it. We’ve been over this already I know, how does it relate to Jesus though?
Jesus was himself the ultimate manifestation of God’s mercy. There were, and still are, two basic responses to Jesus once you’ve encountered him: acceptance or rejection. The Pharisees looked God’s mercy right in the face and said “oohh I don’t like that. Kill that.” His own people, the ones he called to be his partners in bringing grace and peace and forgiveness and love to the whole world, those people turned on him with bitterness and resentment. Remember how Mike said the person of Jonah can be seen as representing the whole people of Israel? Jonah was chosen to be God’s partner in bringing grace and peace and forgiveness to Nineveh. But when that mercy came, he turned on it with bitterness and resentment.
How will YOU respond to God’s Mercy? We all know that we all need it for ourselves. If you don’t know, I’m telling you now, it says it here:
Romans 3:23–24 (CSB)
23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Not a single one of us can live up to God’s standard, any more than the Ninevites did, or Jonah did, or the Pharisees did. ALL have sinned, indebted to God beyond hope of repair. And yet he gave us hope. FREE justification by his grace. Jesus bought us out of our debt. And we know why he did it:
John 3:16 (CSB)
16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
God loved the WORLD. The whole world. John did not say “For God so loved Israel.” He certainly didn’t say “For God so loved America.” The world. He loves people of every size shape and color from every nook and cranny of the globe, SO MUCH that he would give his one and only son for us. He wants you to be a part of HIS kingdom which will last forever, not in a city that will be destroyed.
If you haven’t yet experienced God’s mercy, it’s time to humble yourself in your heart like the Ninevites did, to acknowledge your sin. Thankfully, you don’t need to put on sackcloth and sit in ashes though! Jesus made it much more simple:
Romans 10:9 (CSB)
9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
The journey of following Jesus certainly doesn’t end there, and it’s not always easy, but it’s absolutely the most important decision you can make in your whole life. If you haven’t taken that first step, there’s no magic prayer, it’s as simple as confess and believe, BUT if you have any questions or want to discuss it further with someone, please do!
If, like most of you, you are already on that journey, whether it began recently or you’ve been a Christian for years, I still have the same question for you: how will YOU respond to God’s mercy?
Do you act like you’re grateful? Have you actually repented of the sin in your life or do you just ignore it? When God’s mercy is standing in front of you, do you see it? And do you realize that God has made YOU his partner in bringing grace and peace and love and forgiveness to the whole world? Are you being used by God while kicking and screaming, to your own downfall, wallowing in self-righteous self-pity? God is doing amazing, redemptive work all around, are you going to join him and give of yourself to be a part of it, or are you going to watch from a distance while whining about your comfort?
Jonah is the best example of the worst response you can have to God’s Mercy. Jesus IS God’s ultimate expression of mercy, and he demands a response.