Address to the Students of Patrick Henry College
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Jonah 1:1-17; 2:10
What’s your “Jonah moment?” Think about that for a moment. If you were to insert yourself into the verses we just heard, about this prophet, where would it be? What’s your “Jonah moment?”
Perhaps, like we heard in the opening verses, you feel called by God like Jonah was. We don’t know anything about Jonah before this, he maybe was just minding his own business and going about his life and maybe things were going pretty well . . . when God interrupts and tells him to go to Nineveh and preach His Word to the people there. Call them to repentance. Maybe you feel called like that. To preach God’s Word, or to serve the Lord in some other way. Yet while that may be true for you, no - that’s not your “Jonah moment.”
So maybe your “Jonah moment” is in what Jonah did next - run away. Maybe like Jonah, you’ve rebelled against God and His Word and are running away from what you should be doing. It’s actually easy to do at college - even a Christian college - when you have a bit more freedom than you had at home and maybe you’re using that freedom to run away from restrictions, to run away from some responsibility, to run away from authority. And like Jonah, plot a new course for your life. Yet while that may be true for you, no - that’s not your “Jonah moment” either.
Or what about sleeping through the storms of life instead of helping out your neighbors in need? Too concerned about yourself to pray for them or go out of your way for them?
Or maybe your “Jonah moment” is to be hurled into the sea - giving your life for the sake of others. But no - these are not your “Jonah moments” either.
So, there’s really only one thing left. Only one other thing that happened that could be your “Jonah moment” - and that is being swallowed by the great fish. Yes, that’s your “Jonah moment.”
Now, here’s why. Because maybe you’re thinking: He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know who I am or how I am or how God is working in me and my life. He doesn’t know what my “Jonah moment” is! Oh, but I do - not because it’s my opinion or your opinion, but because that’s what Scripture says. And that always has to be the basis and foundation of truth.
So what does Scripture say? Two texts will tie this all together. First, in Matthew chapter 12 we hear these words of Jesus: “For just 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.”
The story of Jonah, you see, isn’t just about Jonah - it’s a pointer to Jesus and a foreshadowing of His work for us. It wasn’t an accident that God decided to send that fish and it wasn’t by chance that Jonah had to be in it three days and three nights. God didn’t have to scramble for “Plan B” when Jonah wasn’t thrilled with His idea to go to Nineveh and preach. Like, what am I gonna do now? No, this is God weaving history and the story of His people together into a perfect union, that we know Him and His work for us.
But I said there are two texts that tie this all together, so here’s the second. For just as what happened to Jonah isn’t just about what happened to Jonah, so too what happened to Jesus in those verses I just read isn’t just about Jesus. It’s about you too. And so St. Paul says in Romans chapter 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried - or, swallowed up! - with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
And so there it is: You in Christ and Christ dead in the tomb, swallowed up by death and the grave. But then you in Christ and Christ risen from the dead, alive again after three days.
You see, Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish was, in a sense, his death and resurrection. It was the powerful medicine that changed him. And that’s what the death and resurrection of Jesus has done for you. For while you weren’t thrown into the waters of the sea like Jonah, St. Paul said that when you were thrown in the waters of Baptism, that was the same thing - that was your death and resurrection. For you were joined to Jesus in His death and resurrection. And just as that was the power that gave Jonah a new life, that’s the power that gives you a new life. That changes us from scared, reluctant runaways into children of God.
For once you spend three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, your perspective changes. You begin to see things a little differently. You begin to say with the psalmist: What can man do to me?
And so it was for Jonah. He goes from one “belly of the beast” to another, going into the heart of the beastly city of Nineveh to preach to them and call them to repentance. For what can man now do to me?
And so too for you. Baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, already getting death over with in Him and receiving a new life, a resurrection life, a life that not even death can now end, what can man do to you? But not only man, but in Christ, you need no longer fear sin, death, or satan. Jesus has defeated all of these for you. For truly, He was the one thrown into the “belly of the beast,” the gaping mouth of death and the grave, and thrown there not because of His sin but because of your sin, and then emerged victorious. Victorious over your sin, your death, and your evil foe, that in Him, that be your victory too. A victory you could never win, but He could, and did, and now gives to you.
So while you may not ever be called to go preach in Nineveh, you have been called to be the Lord’s blessing to others, in the callings, the vocations, you have been given. Right now as a student, a friend, in your families, in your churches, your jobs, and wherever you are. Maybe like Jonah you don’t like them very much right now. But these are the places your Lord wants you and where He has put you, to live that new life you’ve been given. A life of repentance, a life of forgiveness, a life of blessing.
And maybe you’ll feel like you’re in the “belly of the beast” where God puts you - in a place like Nineveh, where the sin is great and the people evil. Look around at our beastly world today with its troubles and sins, with its evil and idolatry, seeking to devour anyone or anything in their path. But God did something great in Nineveh.
But don’t look only in the world and the “out there” - look at the person next to you, and what they need. And then look inside yourself and see how great your need! And then rejoice that God did something great - not just in Nineveh, but in His Son, for you. To take you who were dead in your trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2) and raise you to a new life. To take you who was a rebellious sinner and make you a child of God.
For yes, a Jonah has come to us. A prophet. The greatest prophet. To preach to us repentance and the forgiveness of sins. To preach to us a resurrection to a new life. And to do it. To go to the cross and bring the cross to us. That joined to Him and He to us, we be as He is, and we be where He is.
That’s your “Jonah moment.” What Jesus has done for you.