There???s a few things that I think we miss when we read the story of Jonah. ??Sure there???s his running from his calling, the violent storm, the big fish, his second chance, his preaching to Nineveh, their amazing repentance, and then Jonah???s sulking because a people hated by the Hebrews are spared rather than destroyed. ??There???s the whole story in a nutshell. ??Most sermons you???ll hear on this story will probably focus on Jonah???s bitterness toward mercy on Israel???s enemies and on God???s great desire to reach the unreachable.
But today I???m only interested in the Big Fish. ??Not for the normal reasons, though, because I really feel like we pass over the most important spiritually???relevant part of the fish event. ??We know the normal reasons for stopping and focusing on this part of the event. ??They usually revolve around questions of whether or not it???s possible:?????Well, the Bible says fish and most people think whale because of it???s size, but a whale isn???t a fish, so it must be just a really big fish.???????Then there???s,?????Well now, you tell me how a man can be swallowed by a big fish and live in it???s belly for three days and three nights without being digested????????I???m sure there???s other ideas to chat up around coffee, but let???s bring this back around to the perspective I???ve been sharing with you in all of our Old Testament lessons. ??
In all these stories we???ve read, where deeds and events of extraordinary power and circumstance have stretched our imaginations, who is the actual subject of each story? ??That???s right, it???s God. ??Whether it???s Noah???s ark, the Red Sea parting, or the mighty strength of Samson, the story is still about God and the lesson is still meant to teach us what it means to realize our created purpose. ??And now here, in the story so famous for a big fish, the story is still about God.
God had given Jonah a special purpose, one that would bring hope into his life, into Israel???s lives, and into the lives of Nineveh who didn???t yet know God. ??This call to go to Nineveh was good for everybody, as it is with all of God???s activity. ??But Jonah ran from God and his purpose, and in doing so tried to separate himself from God. ??But it???s not that easy, as the psalmist said in Psalm 139.7,?????Where can I go from your Spirit? ??Where can I flee from your presence??????Jonah thought the boat would put space between he and God, that the open seas would free him from this responsibility. ??But freedom doesn???t come from selfishness. ??True freedom comes from fulfillment. ??The heart cannot be content until it finds rest in the thing it is called to fulfill. ??Jonah???s heart was being called by God to Nineveh.
Well, Jonah???s rebellion affects the lives of the men on the ship. ??They throw him overboard to calm the storm and it works. ??And so now Jonah is left to die in the depths of an indiscriminate sea. ??In comes the big fish.
What is this big fish? ??Not what kind of fish but what purpose does this fish serve? ??Is it to gobble him up, to torture him, to teach him a lesson? ??No, for we learn very quickly in the story that the purpose of the fish wasn???t to bring harm or calamity, which is what it would mean almost 100% of the time in our everyday lives. ??No, the purpose of this fish is greater, it???s spiritual. ??You could say, it???s purpose was holy. ??I want to put forth to you today that this fish served no other purpose than to give Jonah the opportunity to reconnect to God. ??The fish saved Jonah from the seas but it also saved Jonah from himself. ??From the belly of the fish, Jonah cries out to God,?????…you brought up my life from the Pit, O LORD my God. ??As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. ??Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. ??But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. ??Deliverance belongs to the LORD!???
When this happened, the fish placed Jonah back onto the seashore, ready to fulfill his purpose. ??Getting right with God paved the way for Jonah to do what he???d been called to fulfill. ??O, God, that we might be swallowed up by a great salvation and reminded of who we are today!
The big fish, then, can remind us of Christ. ??Just as Jonah was swallowed up and placed in God???s presence, so we are swallowed up by Christ who,??"…humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death???even death on a cross"??(Philippians 2.8), so that we would experience the closeness that comes from salvation. ??What Christ did on the cross saved us from an ocean of sin and harbored us within himself that we might know his salvation and his presence. ??That salvation, the one shown to Jonah through the fish, and the one shown to us through Christ, is for the people that we have been charged with taking good news to???Jonah to Nineveh, but we to the world.
Like the big fish, the purpose of Christ???s passion and crucifixion, too, was holy. ??No matter how awful, how gruesome, how painful it was, Jesus' sacrifice was indeed ???holy.??? ??This sacrifice was set aside for God???s servant to go and give himself for a merciless and rebellious people. ??A people, who like in Jonah???s time, had no business repenting before God and turning to him. ??And yet, God in his infinite mercy shows grace in a way that seems almost not fair. ??But because God is not a God of favoritism, he has poured himself out so that?????…the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him,?????Romans 10.12. ??This is the God we serve, the one who offers?????…mercy and grace both to one nearby and to those far off?????(Barbara M. Musselman, The With-God Life, introduction to Jonah).
Though Jonah found closeness with God in the belly of the big fish, he did not continue to embody godly character, as we see in his complaining at the Ninevites repentance. ??But Jesus is the righteous fulfillment of a selfish and sulking Jonah. ??Jesus was able to not only respond to God???s call and accomplish his mission, but he also embodied the character that is reflective of a holy God who does not discriminate. ??Follow in this way, this way of mercy and grace. ??Understand that you cannot give what you do not have, therefore let the salvation of God swallow you whole, pulling you closer to him, and then give that same gift to those whom God desires know the truth about his love. ??Amen.
Rev. Whit R. Martin??
Pastor,??New Liberty United Methodist Church
Devotional Blog -??http://revwrm.posterous.com/
Sent from Whit's iPad??