NKJ Jonah 2:2-9
… 8 "Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD."
Freedom. It’s the thing in society that we Americans value above all else. It’s the subject of our music, art, and poetry. People have written songs and books and poems about it. People have painted paintings and carved sculptures in honor of it. It’s the thing that we are most willing to fight and die for as a nation: our freedom.
Yet when we think about freedom—about the most basic freedom we possess, it isn’t a freedom that we could take or make for ourselves. It isn’t political freedom or socio-economic freedom. It’s the freedom that flows purely from God’s grace and mercy. It’s the freedom that we received as God’s free gift on the first Easter, when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It was for that freedom that He died and came back to life. In the imagery of Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish, we are reminded of the fact that “Salvation is of the LORD” (v. 9); we are reminded that Christ was raised to save us, that He is risen to set us free.
- Free from the death that we deserved.
The prophet Jonah believed that people ought to get what they deserved. That was why he dragged his feet—even worse, ran the opposite way—when the Lord had sent him to preach judgment on the people of Nineveh. It wasn’t that he was afraid to go; but he was afraid of what would happen if the people of Nineveh took his words to heart and actually repented. He was afraid that God would have mercy on these people and that they wouldn’t get the judgment they had coming to them.
Ironically the one who was so worried about others getting what they deserved was now getting his just desserts. Jonah in his arrogance and his petulance, had directly disobeyed God! He hopped a boat in the city of Joppa that was headed as far away from Nineveh as possible, headed for Tarshish. You know what happened next. You can’t run from God. A storm blew up and the crew tossed Jonah overboard. Then the Lord sent a great big fish to swallow Jonah up and drag him to the bottom of the sea.
Jonah knew what he had done. In his prayer he uses the imagery of going down into the depths of the sea to talk about the death that he thought was coming. “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” (v. 5-6).
In Jonah we see a bit of ourselves. Who of us hasn’t thought, “I know better,” when it comes to people getting what they deserve. The con artist who robs the elderly of their retirements, the mass murderer, the sex offender—they all deserve to rot, right? But they’re not the only ones who rot. We rot—we die—too. What does that say about us? We’ve strayed from God’s will too. For our disobedience we deserve to die—not just physically, but eternally—going down into the depths of hell, to live forever in the darkness that is the absence of God’s light.
But Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish was more than just Jonah getting what he deserved. It was a picture of Jesus. Just as the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah up and drag him down into the depths of the sea, so also Jesus in His death at the cross was swallowed up. Jesus said it Himself: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt 12:40). God punished Jesus for Jonah’s sin—and our own sin—sending Him to our grave, putting on Him the death that we deserved. But then on the third day, Jesus came back to life again! He emerged from His tomb alive just as Jonah emerged from death to life after three days in that fish!
So now, like Jonah, we don’t get what we deserve. Christ’s resurrection is the living proof that when it comes to all your arrogance, all your reluctant foot-dragging, all the times you thought you knew better than God what needed to happen—when it comes to all of your sin—the Lord has forgiven it all! Out of all the prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus chooses to compare Himself with arrogant, whining Jonah. How can this be? Because Jesus took Jonah’s place! He took the place of the sinful man who deserved nothing but death and judgment. Thanks to Jesus’ resurrection, Jonah now stands before God as His redeemed child! And so do we! Together with Jonah we can sing God’s praises, saying, “You have brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God!” (v. 6). “Salvation is of the LORD” (v. 9); it’s who He is and what He does. Christ is risen to set us free from the death that we deserved!
And our freedom in the risen Christ is even greater than that! It’s more than just “freedom from”; it’s also “freedom to.” Christ is risen to set us free—
- Free to live with the Lord forever.
Thanks to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, not only is Jonah a picture of Jesus, he’s also a picture of us! By sending the fish to swallow Jonah, the LORD wasn’t trying to kill him. He was leading Jonah to repentance. He was killing him spiritually. That way when Jonah emerged from the waters—when that fish finally vomited him back up on the land—he would come forth as a new person, with a new life.
And the lesson of repentance wasn’t lost on Jonah; we see his penitent heart in the prayer that he prayed: “I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple… When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You… I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving” (v. 4, 7, 9). He was sorry for what he had done and now he wanted to change his ways. He wasn’t trying to bargain with God; he wasn’t trying to work his way out of the trouble he was in. He already knew he was saved! He already knew that “Salvation is of the LORD” (v. 9).
Christ by His resurrection has set us free from sin and death! And in the power of that resurrection, we—like Jonah—are killed spiritually in the waters of holy baptism. “We were buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should also walk in newness of life” (Ro 6:4). On the day of our baptism, our sinful nature was put to death and we were raised to new life in the risen Christ. The life that came forth that day still lives even now as we return to our baptisms in daily sorrow over our sin and trust in Jesus as our Savior.
And in that new life we have through Christ’s resurrection, we now have the freedom to join Jonah in proclaiming that “Salvation is of the LORD!” We have the freedom to offer our entire lives as living sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God. Those sacrifices are sometimes small; sometimes they’re big. This past week three guys got together and pulled the garden hoses out of the shed out here, and arranged them in the pattern of a big fish—not knowing they were going to hear about Jonah today. They sacrificed a little warmth and comfort, a little time out of their day, simply because they thought it would be cool to have a Christian symbol for the aerial photographers as they took pictures of the Howard area this week.
But that small sacrifice represents an attitude that governs their hearts and lives—and ours. An attitude that sets our minds on things above (Col 3:2). There are still days when we’ll feel like Jonah—in the fish’s belly, with seaweed wrapped around our head, headed for no man’s land. Yet even in the midst of the worst trials and temptations, we can still remember the Lord. We can still recall His goodness; we still trust in His grace and mercy. That’s because we know Jesus lives! We know that when Christ our life appears—no matter what happens—we also will appear with Him in glory (Col 3:4). It’s because we know that we’ve been set free from the death we deserved that now we’re free to live with Him for all eternity!
“Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy,” Jonah says. Our freedom in the risen Christ is a freedom that’s meant to be enjoyed as we live in it each day. Yet there are so many things, so many worries, so many cares that wind up taking priority in our lives to the point that they keep us from enjoying that freedom. Stay focused in faith on this freedom first, and you will find true joy in every circumstance. Freedom from sin and death; freedom to live with Jesus now—and forever. Christ is risen; He is risen indeed, alleluia! Amen.