Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Jonah Chapter 2



Today we are celebrating Ellie’s baptism, and continuing our study of the book of Jonah.  At first you may not think there is much to connect Ellie’s baptism and the story of Jonah, but I believe there is, and I’ll come onto this in a short while. 

Last week we looked at chapter 1, and saw how Jonah was sent by God to go and speak to the people of Nineveh, and call them to repent of their sins. But the people of Nineveh were Israel’s great enemies, and so Jonah tries to run away from God by jumping on a boat that would take across the sea, far away from Nineveh. 

But as Jonah slept, God sent a mighty storm which threatened to destroy the boat and everyone on it, and finally realising that he was at fault, Jonah instructed the sailors to throw him overboard.  But rather than letting him drown, God provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.

Reading this story, there is one obvious question did Jonah really get swallowed by a big fish? 

There was a teacher in school who said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though they were a very large mammal their throat was very small.

A little girl said “But Jonah was swallowed by a whale.” 

The teacher reiterated a whale could not swallow a human; it was impossible.

The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah."

The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?"

The little girl replied, "Then you ask him."

Jonah was a real historical person, but the question of whether he was swallowed by a fish or not, isn’t actually that important, what is important is what this story teaches us.

Chapter 2 of this story is the turning point for Jonah.

Being inside the fish for three days and nights for Jonah was the equivalent of time out.  It gave Jonah time to think and reflect on how he had disobeyed God and was trying to run away from him.  But he also starts to realise what God has done for him, and that God had saved him from drowning, and so even though he is still trapped inside the fish, Jonah starts to pray, and to thank God for all he has done. 

In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.  From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” (Jonah 2:2)

Quite literally Jonah had sunk as far as he could go, but he realised an important lesson:

It doesn’t matter how far we sink, it doesn’t matter who we are, what we have said or done, or where we are in life, we can call out to God and he WILL hear us.  Even if we are calling out to him from the stomach of a fish! 

The words of Psalm 139 would probably have been familiar to Jonah.  ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.’ (Psalm 139:7-8)

Jonah realised that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love and mercy, not even him.  Today there may be people here in church that need to know just how much God loves them.  To know that no matter what you are going through at the moment, you can call out to God and he WILL hear you. 

People have different reactions to crises. I've seen people in terrible situations that turn to God, and their relationship with him grows stronger through the trouble, and I've seen people in similar situations turn away from God completely. Perhaps they blame their problems on him. Two contrasting reactions, but Jonah does the right thing. In trouble he returns to God; he knows there's nowhere else to go.  When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” (2:7) 

Then Jonah makes this wonderful statement of faith, Salvation comes from the Lord.” (2:9)  Here Jonah probably recalled the words of Psalm 37, which says ‘The Lord protects his people, and they can come to him in times of trouble.’ (Ps 37:39)  He recognised that only God can rescue him, no one else.  Hope, joy, freedom and peace ultimately comes from God alone

Jonah’s prayer is not only one of thanksgiving, but also one of repentance, turning back to God, and with it God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah on the beach.  After three days inside the fish, it must have felt as though he had been rescued from the grave, that he was born again.  He had a fresh start, a new beginning. 

This is one of the central themes to this story and a consistent theme throughout the Bible, that with God there are always second chances.  So today, if you are sitting there wondering if God can love someone like you, the answer is an unequivocal YES.  And when we open our hearts and lives to God, he offers us a fresh start, a new beginning. 

 

Today as we baptise Ellie, we see some important parallels between Jonah and baptism.  For Jonah going into the depths of the sea inside the fish, it was as if he had died and gone to the grave, and baptism also symbolises death, death to our old way of life, a life without God, death to sin, in order to be born again, raised to new life with Jesus. 

This is what we are celebrating today as we bring Ellie to baptism.  It is the start of a new life with God, in which we hope and pray she will grow to know and love God, and serve and follow him throughout her life.