The Jonah Files, Transformed!
Text: Jonah 2
Proposition: The process of transformation requires the end of what is before the new can begin. The end for Jonah is a death to self, first repentance, then revival.
Introduction: There’s a new buzz word in town… Radicalization! What it refers to is the way people, men and women, are opting to align with terrorists and extremists in an attempt to find significance for themselves and a cause to live or die for. In a congested culture of excess this might seem like fresh air until they suddenly run into the theme song, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. It’s like that beautiful piece of truth from Newfoundland, ‘ When you runs away from home you gots to take yerself with ya and when you gets there, there you are.’ There is nothing radical about sneaking around, about killing children or exploding bombs in crowds of everyday people. There’s nothing radical in shooting a a soldier who stands guard at a monument. That’s not being radical, it’s being selfish in the way that a coward is selfish, short sighted and self focused. Real radicalization is not tying yourself to some vain idol. Real radicalization is agreeing with the truth that sin exists in all of us, there is no man made organization that can correct that. It’s the theme of Scripture, it’s why Christ came to this earth. Apart from Jesus Christ there is no other way to life, no other way to navigate the fog of sin, no other place of peace or hope. The simple truth is that no one comes to God the Father but by Jesus Christ and it’s through that narrow gate that the real radicalization of forgiveness of sin takes place. It’s here and only here in the blood of Christ sacrificed for us on the cross that the radical work of transforming one who fights against God and the humanity made in His image is ultimately accomplished. The most radical act a human being can do is to repent from sin, to cry out to God, to receive the forgiveness that only Jesus can offer. It’s a radicalization that not only brings peace, gives a cause greater than yourself, it imparts a significance you never thought could exist. This is the story behind the radicalization of Jonah. Have a look at Jonah 2.
I. Radicalization Begins When You Stop Running From God.
Jonah was a misguided man, misguided by a hatred for a people he had never met, misguided by a misunderstanding of God, misguided by self justifying motive. In this sense you could say that Jonah was a terrorist, a man that would willingly see 500,000 Assyrian people, men, women and children die because he believed they deserved it. When Jonah boarded the ship in Joppa and sailed for Tarshish, the result of it would be in his mind an act against the Assyrians, an act against God and in his own soul an act against what he knew to be right. When Jonah ran away from God, and that’s exactly what he tried to do, it was not an act of being a radical, it was the act of a bigot, the act of a man swallowed up by sin. We talked about that last week and now in chapter 2 it’s three days later, three days since he was thrown overboard and three days since he was picked up and preserved by God’s appointed agent, a massive fish. How strange it is that when we finally get what we want it suddenly is clear that it’s the last thing we want. Jonah wanted to flee from the presence of God, he wanted death rather life if it meant the Assyrians would receive no help from his hand. Presto, you get both but it’s not what you thought it would look or feel like. For three days Jonah cried out to God, alive but arrested, awake but afflicted. God is sovereign and there are times when He brings us to a place of being willing to agree with His will while at the same time allowing our free will. That’s where Jonah was and in that place he had finally stopped running from God, partly because he simply couldn’t physically but certainly because he no longer wanted to spiritually. It’s when you stop running from God that prayer has a new purpose. In verse 2 Jonah says, “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.” Some believe this to be a reference to the fact that Jonah actually died in that great fish and his soul experienced the place of death, Sheol. Others would take this more as a metaphor for the depths of anguish that are experienced when you are out of God’s presence, ironically the very thing Jonah had originally quested for. Whatever the reality what he prayed at that moment is clear.
Look at verse 4, “Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ For You cast me into the deep into the heart of the seas and the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.” Who cast Jonah overboard, it was the hands of the sailors but the will of God. Who took Jonah to the depths of the bottom of the sea, it was the body of the fish but the agent of God, it’s ‘Your’ wind and ‘Your’ waves that flowed over Jonah. What’s the point, when God places you in protective custody because all you ever wanted to do was run from Him, He does so in a way that is irresistible. You can’t at that moment get out of His grip and that is a great act of sovereign grace. It’s in this place of being held by God, held not like a mother holds a child but held like a wrestler holds a weaker opponent in a Full Nelson, an unbreakable hold, that Jonah finally stopped running from God. It was at this moment that the radicalization of Jonah son of Amittai occurred. It’s at this moment that Jonah’s prayer is no longer self willed, his prayer is a prayer of submission to the right way of God, to the righteous will of God the Father. In short it is prayer of surrender to God. If you have been running from God, punishing others, punishing yourself, and find that the net gain is like having seaweed wrapped around your head, like being squeezed to a halt, like feeling your soul faint within you then perhaps you are in God’s protective custody, perhaps it’s time to surrender to God. What does that look like, what do I need to do? Let’s take our cue from Scripture, look at what Jonah was led to do.
II. Radicalization Is a Death to Self In Order to Receive Life By God’s Mercy.
In verses 8 and 9 is the cry that went up from Jonah, it was the core of repentance, the dying of his own will to self direct, it was the beginning of life again on a number of levels. Strangely enough this was not an act of Jonah being self disciplined or full of remorse. Those things were there, but where it began was in seeing God for Who He is while at the same time feeling that deep gut wrenching sense that we have made a God of our own devising. Jonah had previously thought to run from God, to disobey God, to overrule God. That would be a god of his own devising. Look at verse 8, “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.” When you create a god of your own devising, a god who tolerates sin, who has no Hell, where there is no stark truth regarding sin, where sexuality is choice, where all religious efforts are equal and valid paths to righteousness… then you have a vain idol that is dedicated to the preservation of self. To die to self is to not only forsake that vain idol but to forsake the god of your own devising. That action is an abandonment of your self preservation, a preservation tied to your vain idol. If you continue to regard that vain idol, that lesser version of Who God really is, you will forsake Mercy. The mercy here is defined in its most basic form, God not giving us that which we really do deserve. Don’t forsake Mercy, the Mercy of living LORD Jesus Christ. In Proverbs is a theme that runs through the whole book, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”. Death to self occurs when you let go of the things that are greater to sustaining your life than the God who created and sustains you is. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because it’s only when I let go of the god of my own devising that wisdom finally is given the right foundation, the beginning point. Have a look at verse 9, “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” What is it, do you think, that God wants you to sacrifice, what has He been waiting for you to give to Him? Lest you think it’s money or career or friends or fun realize that’s the stuff that makes up vain idols. No, what God is waiting for you to sacrifice is you. Remember the words of Romans 12:1,2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The sacrifice is a living one, it’s a sacrifice of your will for sure but more so of your heart, unhesitatingly given to God that you can now with clarity prove, make evident to you and those around you, what the will of God is, a good and acceptable and perfect will this true Triune God has for you. What Jonah had vowed, he would now agree by the power of God, to pay. Here is the transformation of Jonah, the radicalization of a sinner agreeing with God. With a voice of thanksgiving he cried, ‘Salvation is of the LORD.”