And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:33-34 ESV)
Jonah shows us that it is one thing to believe the gospel with our minds, and another to work it deep into our hearts so it affects everything we think, feel, and do. ~ Keller – Counterfeit God’s.
Tonight, our story comes to a screaming halt. For the past few weeks we, as the audience of this drama, have been caught up in a frenzy of activity. Running, storming, screaming, hurling, fearing, and working for salvation in the midst of it all.
“In this chapter, once Jonah plunges into the waters, further events turn strangely limp… The action is about to come to a full halt in order to leave Jonah alone with his God.” In the silence, there is a sense in which we too are dragged beneath the surface of the water, uncertain and holding our breath for what will happen next.”
What is going to happen next? Is Jonah going to die? That’s what the sailors probably thought. Indeed it is definitely on the mind of Jonah. It is the prominent thought in his prayer. So tonight we too are going to take a screaming halt. I want us to slow down and ponder a few things. Remember, you are Jonah. So we need to slow down and ponder like Jonah is being forced to slow down and ponder. I think we need to ponder upon three things that we will see specifically in chapter 2. First, I think it would be a good idea to take a good hard look at death. I know that sounds like a lot of fun. Welcome to MISSIODEI. But honestly death puts so much in perspective. Jonah is at the edge of death and you can bet your bottom dollar that death is gonna put some things in perspective for Jonah. Second, we are going to have to talk about idolatry. Again, another fun subject. But I am confident that every one of us in this room needs to slow down and really think about our idolatrous ways. Finally, there is good news – and that is that salvation comes from the Lord. So, you will die, and you are an idolator – but salvation comes from Jesus and he is pleased to offer it freely to dying idolators like you and me. Another way of looking it would be like this: we are going to talk about 2 extremes, death and life, and in the middle we have idolatry which stands as a wall or a barrier separating the 2.
What would your last thoughts be if you were but a few feet from death. I don’t know why, and this may sound a bit morbid, but I think about this quiet a bit. Like for instance, if I knew I was going to die in a few days, I’m sure I wouldn’t waste anytime by going to the gym to work out – so… I don’t really work out that much. I like to live life to the fullest you know?
Okay, all kidding aside, and when we talk about death or think about our death it is very easy to make jokes because it is a very uncomfortable subject. But – this prayer of Jonah should really challenge us much like attending a funeral.
“If we are honest, we often live at a hectic velocity. This fast pace, many times marked by our own secret rebellion, means we have no time for stillness of soul, for solitude to examine who we really are and what we have or haven’t done.” (73)
So – let’s slow down – take a deep breath – sit back a little and clear your head. This isn’t yoga class but I’m serious – try to sit back, relax, and clear your head. We need to think about a few things tonight. We need to be still and know that he is God.
All kidding aside, what do you think your funeral is going to look like? What would you like it to look like?
Jonah’s prayer is obviously about death. He is crying out from the belly of Sheol (vs2). He is as low as he could go – sinking to roots of the mountains where he will be trapped forever (vs 6). His life is fainting away (vs 7).
I need to explain something about the concept of death and Sheol in the Hebrew culture. When Jonah is talking about death and Sheol, he is not talking just about physical death. Although he is drowning and physical death is imminent, the language that Jonah uses in this psalm, like all the language in all the psalms, is about spiritual death. The Hebrew concept of death is not about the heart ceasing from beating, it is about separation from God. Likewise, life is not merely the opposite of death but it is about fullness. To say that one has life is to say the he is very much alive. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the movie Braveheart when Wallace says, “Every man dies, but not every man lives.” Jesus said that he came to give life to the full. Now, the opposite of having full life is Sheol and Jonah says that he is crying out from the belly of Sheol. What is Sheol? Sheol is the opposite theological extreme of life. It is complete separation from the presence of God. So in Hebrew, the word life means a fullness, and meaning, and joy – and it is found by being in a relationship, or a covenant, with God. And death/Sheol is the opposite, it means emptiness, meaninglessness and a total separation from the presence God.
Incidentally, that is exactly what Jonah wanted. It is what he was looking for. How many times in just the first chapter are we told that Jonah was attempting to run from the presence of the Lord? Be careful what you wish for. Jonah now has it, and he describes it as the belly of Sheol. One scholar says that “this metaphor is unique to Jonah and describes a despair of the darkest kind.” (83) He is in Hell.
So listen, your gonna die. I promise. And the last thing you want is to die apart from the grace of God. He is offering it as a free gift to you today. What hope will you have with out the free gift of grace from the author and source of life. The Bible says that the wages of sin, that is the payment of sin, is death. For your sin you will be paid with death. But the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 ESV)
Interestingly, when Jesus paid for your sin on a cruel and despicable cross, he cried out to God in the exact same way that Jonah is crying out to God.
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:33-34 ESV)
Jesus, at the very moment of being separated from God, experienced the agony of Sheol. You could say, as Calvin says, that Jesus went through hell for your salvation.
One thing is for sure, you will die. Every man dies, but not every man lives. Dave Matthews, in one of his characteristically spiritual, yet possibly blasphemous songs, warns, “Don’t be dead before you die.” Death should make us think about how we live. Are you really living or are you a dead man walking? So, before we talk about life, the opposite extreme of death, we need to talk about idolatry. Jonah’s prayer climaxes at the last few verses.
Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:8-9 ESV)
If you are an idolater, then you could be a dead man walking. I say could be, because the truth of the matter is that you are an idolater. Even though you may not admit it or even know it. Jonah is an idolater and he doesn’t even know it. So what is an idolater? What is idolatry – really.
Typically, I think that most of us think about idolatry in 2 ways. First, we think of idolatry in terms of the kind that we see in the Bible. In the Bible some people worshiped pagan false gods made in the likeness of a wooden or stone statue. That way of thinking about idolatry really doesn’t help us today because none of us in this room worship statues. And then the second way that we tend to think about idols or idolatry is by sort of making a metaphor out of that concept. So we talk about worshiping money, or power, or sex. We often sight materialism or our need for acceptance or popularity as the real American idols.
When comes down to it, idolatry is essentially about worship. What do you worship. The word worship comes from the root:
From the root “worth” + “ship”. (which means ‘state of being’ like ‘ownership’)
When we think about idolatry we need to think in terms of worth. What are the things that you hold up in a state of ultimate worth? What is most valuable to you? Where do you find your worth? What is it that defines you? Now – think about that thing for a moment – and then try to imagine your life if you lost that thing. If it was taken from you.
Now let me steer your thoughts for a minute. Let’s be real here. If you thinking about your iPad or your new flat panel TV then your missing it. Our tendency toward idolatry goes far deeper than our lust for iPads or BMWs or leather. Come on. I don’t think that anyone here actually believes that we worship our stuff. We may say that. We might talk like that, especially in a churchy context, but I doubt any of us really believes that we worship stuff. I want us to go far beyond thinking about stuff and really pausing for a moment and ask yourself what gets your ultimate worship! It might be helpful to ask yourself this question. What is it that you fear? What do you tend to worry most about. That can be a revealing question. Or, “Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, pleasure, security?” Again that might reveal an idol. The truth of the matter is you may have hundreds of idols. John Clavin is often quoted,
“The human heart is a factory of idols…Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” John Calvin
Name your idols. What do I think is most valuable? Where do you find your worth? What defines you? What do you fear? Tend to worry most about? Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, security?
You see, Jonah makes a very profound statement as he gets to the climax of this psalm. He says, those who cling to vain idols forfeit the hesed, that is the grace, that is theirs. Those who are looking for life in something or someone, other than God, will only find death. Idolaters spend their life pursuing and seeking the one thing that they think will give their life meaning but, in the end, it only sucks the life from them. They’re not living. They’re dead. They are separating themselves for the only thing that gives life by trying to find life some where else. Idols stand as a barrier between death and life.
To live for anything else but God leads to breakdown and decay. When a fish leaves the water, that which he was built for, he is not free, but dead. Worshipping other things besides God leads to a loss of meaning. If we achieve these things, they cannot deliver satisfaction, because they were never meant to be “gods.” They were never meant to replace God. Keller.
“But I”, Jonah says, “will worship you… because… salvation (or life) comes from the LORD.” Tonight I want you to leave with life. A FULL LIFE – filled with HESED. You first need to know that salvation comes from the LORD. And that is the only possible place that it can come. God alone can save. We saw that in the first chapter, all of the efforts of those sailors did not save them. Their crying out to the pantheon of their idols did not save them. They working harder to row back to shore did not save them. God alone saves.
Now there are few things I want to say about the word HESED and then the word used here for SALVATION. First, lets look at the word hesed. It is such a beautiful word. One of my favorites. Hesed is often translated loving-kindness, mercy, or grace. It also is literally translated as loyalty. God’s mercy, grace, and loving-kindness endures forever. God is loyal and graciously extends love and kindness to those who are in a covenant relationship with him. When we see the term in scripture, as it speaks of God’s love for us, it is usually always followed by specific activities from God. God’s hesed acts by offering redemption from trouble, salvation from death, spiritual life, and salvation from sin. The psalmist actually calls God his hasdi or his loving god.
He is my steadfast love [hasdi] and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield in whom I take refuge… (Psalm 144:2 ESV)
So, as you can see, the word hesed is a very important word – it speaks of God’s covenantal love and redeeming grace.
Next I want to look at the word used here for SALVATION. Jonah ends this prayer by saying a motto, “Salvation is from the Lord.” And in Hebrew that word for salvation is Yeshua. Did you hear that? Yeshua! That should sound familiar to you.
The Christian reader who hears this conclusion to Jonah’s prayer in its original language cannot miss this word that sounds so much like the Hebrew name of Jesus. ~ James Limburg, Jonah: A Commentary.
When the angel announced that Mary will give birth to the Messiah, he said, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus (Heb., Yeshua), for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mat. 1:21)
This kindness and mercy of God ultimately gets demonstrated in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin. He is our salvation [hasdi]. Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish so the Son of Man suffered and endured 3 days in the heart of the earth. Again, he went through death so that you could have life. He went through hell so that you could have hesed. God wants to enter into a covenant relationship with you. He does not wish to take your lives from you. It is the exact opposite! The hesed and salvation of the LORD is offered in order to give you life. And a kind of life that you could not even imagine. Jesus calls it, “Life to the full.”
So, if you are here today and you’ve not yet experienced the life giving mercies of God through his son Jesus Christ then I invite you, as Jonah and Jesus invites you, to “call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved”.
And for the rest of us who have already called upon the name of the Lord and have already been given salvation, may we not cling to worthless and vain idols that will suck that life from us. Might we come now and confess our idolatry to the Lord. Come before the table of the LORD and purify your hearts so that you can give Jesus all of your worth-ship.