As preached by Zach Thompson.
"Salvation is the Lord's to accomplish, and it belongs to him."
1) When God speaks, respond with humble obedience.
2) God fiercely pursues repentance from those who are his.
3) God will give mercy to any who turn to him because of His steadfast love and patient mercy.
Salvation Belongs to the Lord
5 of 12 in a series through the Minor Prophets
Good morning Christ Fellowship. This morning we will be in Jonah. If you are using one of our provided Bibles, that is on page 726.
As we begin, I want to spend a couple of minutes summarizing the book of Jonah. Then, when we get to chapter 4, we’ll stand together as we read. But for now, sit tight. If you look at the text you can probably follow along between looking at the text and the headings and from your knowledge of the story.
In chapter 1, God commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh and prophecy in the name of the Lord, but Jonah tried to flee in the total opposite direction. Then God caused a mighty storm to come on the sea so that Jonah and the sailors with him were terrified that they would die. They cast lots to see whose fault it was, and it fell to Jonah. And Jonah finally came clean. He said that he was a Hebrew who feared “the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). He told them that they needed to throw him over the side to be saved, but at first the sailors didn’t listen. They tried even harder to get back to land, but they found that they couldn’t win, so they prayed for God’s forgiveness as they threw Jonah overboard. But as soon as they did, the sea was calm, and it says that they “feared the Lord exceedingly” and worshipped him (1:16).
But Jonah found himself in the belly of a fish for 3 days and 3 nights. And don’t miss this detail. It was only after three days and three nights of laying there in that belly that he prayed to God and submitted his will to him.
In chapter 2, Jonah prays to God and recognizes that God saved him from death, and Jonah knows that his salvation has purpose, so before he is even out of the great fish, he says in 2:9,
9 “But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the Lord!
10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”
Then in chapter 3, Jonah is commanded a second time to preach to Nineveh, and he goes, and they repent. They hear his message from 3:4, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And they believe God. And from high king to the lowest beggar, they repented.
And now, if you are able, would you stand for the public reading of God’s Word. Look in 3:10. We’ll start there.
3:10, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
If I could summarize the book of Jonah in a single sentence, it would be this. “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” In 2:9, Jonah actually says it. “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” But it’s the clear teaching of the entire book of Jonah.
Throughout the book, we see three salvations. First, when Jonah’s faithlessness endangered the entire crew of sailors, it was the Lord’s hand that caused the sea to be at peace. And when they saw power of the Lord, they responded with reverence and worship. The second salvation is when Jonah was cast into the sea. It was the Lord who appointed the great fish to save him from certain death. And Jonah responds with thanksgiving and worship. The third salvation is when the Ninevites were living in utter evil and headed toward destruction, but the Lord prepared and sent Jonah to preach to them. And when they heard, they believed God and humbled themselves before him, and so God relented from the disaster that he had promised through Jonah.
Three salvations. Each time the guilty party is humbled by the hand of God. Each time, it results in the praise and glory of the one true God.
Salvation belongs to the Lord. That’s the central reality of the book. But what’s the point? Why was the book written?
This is why. It’s because God is after your heart. God wants you to see a rebellious prophet so you can recognize your own rebellious heart and repent. That’s what chapter 4 is. It’s God dealing a death blow to Jonah’s prideful rebellion. The entire narrative could have wrapped up nicely after chapter 3 when the Ninevites repented and God relented, but God wanted us to know what really happened. God wanted us to know how he pursued Jonah’s heart, even after Jonah persisted in stubbornness. Even after Jonah fled from the will of God. Even after Jonah told God that he was dissatisfied with how he handled the situation. God still pursued him.
God wanted Israel to know that he would forgive the wicked gentiles if they repented. And he was just waiting for them to turn to him. The Israelites were like Jonah—rebellious, proud, and hard-hearted.
As we have worked through the minor prophets, it has been the constant theme. Turn to God in humility, and he will hear you and relent from the punishment that you deserve.
God is after our hearts.
So this our purpose this morning. We want to look at the text and address our hearts.
So here is our first point.
I. When God speaks, respond with humble obedience.
Now when I say this, I want to be clear. God will never tell you to sin. He will never tell you to believe something or do something that is contrary to what he has already revealed about himself. If you have a vision and God tells you that it’s okay to have an affair, that isn’t God. That’s a deception. God will only ever speak in ways that are consistent with who He is and what he has already revealed about himself.
The word of the Lord that came to Jonah was consistent with who God is. Jonah just didn’t like it, so he rebelled.
And the first two chapters are filled with the consequences of Jonah ignoring God’s words.
Look in 1:1, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and call out against it for their evil has come up before me.”
And what does Jonah do? Verse 3. “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Then everything else that happens with the sailors and the great fish.
Just think what this story would be like if Jonah had just gone straight to Nineveh in response to God’s call. Wouldn’t it have been ultimately easier for Jonah if had just done it?
But he didn’t. So what kept him from doing it?
I think we could point to a lot of motivations based on the context and what we know of Nineveh and their relationship with Israel.
But simply put, this is it. The reason that Jonah didn’t obey the word of God is that Jonah was proud. God spoke to him, and Jonah turned around and walked away. Because he thought there was a better way. He didn’t like what God was going to do, and so he ignored it.
In chapter 4, he made it clear. Look over in 4:2. This is right after God relented from destroying Nineveh. “And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this why I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster.” He didn’t go, because he knew that God would forgive them if they repented. And he didn’t want that. He didn’t like where God was going with it, so he fled. In his pride, he thought he knew better than God.
I make quite a bit of bread at my house. And I like to get my kids involved with it when we have time so that they can learn to love it and be good helpers. I recently did this with my son Benaiah. After we put all of the ingredients in the bowl and began to mix it, the dough started to take shape and it became more difficult to get the flour to mix in, so instead of continuing to mix it, he started to just lightly pat the dough with his hands in a way that did absolutely nothing. So I corrected him and told him he needed to squeeze it because he just doesn’t weigh enough to push down on it. He looked at me with a big smile, and he said, “Okay!” Then continued to lightly pat the dough in the exact same way. I corrected him again, and clearly, he wasn’t understanding so I ended up taking the dough and showing him how to do it instead of telling him.
This is not what Jonah was doing. Jonah completely understood what God commanded. He could see where God was headed. And he turned to run the other way because he thought that God’s work for him was flawed.
Think if Benaiah had heard my correction then taken the dough—tossed it in the trash, then dashed out of the house to run away.
That’s what Jonah did.
And God pursued him.
Just like I would run out of the house to pursue my son, God didn’t let Jonah flee.
We’ll talk about that more in our next point, but let’s stop here and think about this.
What is something God has said that you don’t like? What is your Nineveh?
Is it the Bible’s teaching on sexuality? We think things like, “Well this kind of sexual immorality is okay because of the circumstance.”
Or what about the Biblical teaching that all of us are flawed and condemned outside of Christ? Do you think things like “That person seems like a really good person, so I can’t imagine that they have to actually confess Jesus as their Lord in order to be saved.”
What about the command from Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without grumbling and disputing”? You’ve heard it before, “I wasn’t complaining or gossiping. I was just venting.”
What about the Biblical command to pay taxes to whom taxes are owed? Someone has said, “I don’t believe in what the government is doing, so why should the cash I get?
Do you try and find ways to soften these commands because you don’t like them?
The Bible is clear in so many places, and there are so many things that are really natural for you to just not like.
But listen, when you come to the Bible, and what it says makes you uncomfortable, it isn’t God’s word that is wrong. It’s us. Our hearts are so shaped by the world around us. So shaped by our own desire for comfort.
Is there something that you are thinking of right now? Something that the Lord has brought to your mind as a matter of obedience? Is there something you are doing or believing that is against the heart of God?
Resolve now. Turn to God. What God calls good, call those things good. What God calls evil, call those things evil.
And don’t delay.
Respond to the Lord with humble obedience quickly because of our second point:
II. God fiercely pursues repentance from those who are His.
In the case of the sailors and the Ninevites, we would say that God was drawing them to himself. Because they formerly had not known God, and they came to be humbled by him, and they repented and found peace.
But in Jonah’s case, it’s not just God drawing Jonah to himself. It’s discipline. God was drawing Jonah back to himself by discipline. The storm; almost drowning; teetering on the digestive tract of a fish for three days; seeing God forgive a people he hated; the conviction that came from his anger at God after Nineveh was spared.
All of it was discipline. All of it was God beckoning Jonah back to himself.
Maybe you noticed this. But everyone in this story is humbled by God. The sailors, Jonah, Nineveh. Each of the three salvations in this book are preceded by a time of humbling. They brought to their knees as they repent.
The sailors test their strength against God by trying to row against the storm, and they fall short. They can’t beat the storm. Then God demonstrates his surpassing power by calming the storm and after they are humbled by his power, they turn to him in worship. They repent. Jonah is at the point of death when he is swallowed by the fish. But he is still in the belly of the fish for a full three days and nights before he is broken to a point where he would pray to God with thanksgiving. Humility marked his repentance because he had been dragged to the point of death and then he laid alone in the belly of a fish for three days. The Ninevites call a city wide fast and period of mourning as an overt act of humility before God.
All of them were humbled as they repented.
The sailors show reverence. Jonah offers thanksgiving and goes to Nineveh. The Ninevites turn from their wickedness and debase themselves before God. But for all of them, the moment of repentance is marked by humility. Repentance is marked by humility.
James 4 and 1 Peter 5, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Have you considered the word of God and ignored it? Abandon your pride. Because God opposes the proud.
And discipline is the best case scenario here. Because we know that God disciplines his children, so if someone is left without discipline, it reveals even more. It reveals that they aren’t even one of his children, and they need to wholly throw themselves on the grace of Christ.
I one of my children lays on the ground at the grocery store and throws a tantrum, they will surely be disciplined. But if we walk by another child at the grocery store who is throwing a tantrum and beating the ground with their fists, I won’t discipline that child. I’ll skip to the next aisle and hope that his parents love him enough to him.
God disciplines his children, but those who are not his may go without discipline and find an even greater pain at the end of their path.
Are you stubbornly delaying repentance and obedience?
Are you putting it off when you already know what God would have you do?
As you indulge in the sweet morsel of sin that lasts for a moment, do you just assume that there will be grace for you. Do you even plan on it.
“Let’s see, I can fit in some sin here, then that should give me time to get right with God before I go take communion on Sunday.”
Would you presume on the patience and mercy of God? Why?
Friend, there is a living God who is just. And every single word and thought will be addressed by his justice. He knows our hearts even better than we do. Don’t think that you can fool him because you can fool people around you.
Brother and sister, it may be that you are under the clear discipline of the Lord. It may be a circumstance where you find yourself in an unending loop of despair. It may be simply that you feel downtrodden and guilty because you know that have sinned. God’s discipline may take many forms.
But listen to this. When you consider confessing your sin and abandoning it, is there a pit in your stomach that consumes every emotion and hope that you have? One that leaves only fear and shame and regret.
Listen, if that fear is keeping you from turning to God, then that fear is not of God.
I’ll say it again. If that fear and shame and regret is keeping you from God, then it isn’t from God.
Discipline hurts. But in discipline, God draws you to himself. Think of the gentle questions he asks Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” He isn’t pushing Jonah away. He isn’t heaping shame on him. He is beckoning him to himself.
Even in the rebuke that ends the book, God is beckoning Jonah to to share in the generous and steadfast love of God rather than to stay in his hatred.
Salvation belongs to the Lord. Turn to Him, and He will relent. There is mercy. And this is our next point.
III. God will give mercy to any who turn to Him because of His steadfast love and patient mercy.
Do you think that you are beyond mercy? Do you think your sin is just too bad? Or that you have sinned for too long?
Because if you do, know that you are believing lies. If you think that you have done too much to anger God or that for whatever reason you think you are beyond mercy, then you have submitted to a demonic lie.
The fact that you are hearing this is proof that God is calling you to himself.
Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians were known for flaying their prisoners. They were known for chopping off heads and other body parts and leaving them in piles by cities where they wanted to cultivate fear. And this is only a small taste of the violence that characterized their entire culture. This was a wicked people.
And they were the enemies of Israel. Jonah was not unique in hating them. For an Israelite, it probably would have been something similar to patriotism to hate the Assyrians. And as a prophet of God, Jonah probably had a good idea that God would eventually use the Assyrians as an instrument to punish Israel, so he wanted to see them fall.
And you probably wouldn’t be different if had been born as a Jew at the same time as Jonah. What if the people of Ogden were known to kill and mutilate people then pile them in Salt Lake to try and make people fear them. Would you think that there should be mercy there? Should they receive a federal pardon for their crimes?
Let’s get a baseline here. How many of you have murdered someone and mutilated them? I’m assuming that none of you have. If you have, then know that there is mercy, even for you because this is the type of thing that characterized Nineveh.
When people turn to God in humility, he responds. Listen, every example of repentance in this story is from people who seem too far gone. Polytheistic Phoenician sailors? A prophet who rebelled against God not once, but twice? A city that had been characterized by a lifetime of violence and bloodshed and immorality?
If the Lord is calling you. Come to him, and he will show you mercy. He will give you rest.
Jonah knew this to be true. And he didn’t like it. Remember? Look back at 4:2. Half way through that verse he says, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Then what does he say? Keep going in verse 3, “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
This was why he fled in the first place. He knew that God was gracious and patient, and he didn’t want the Ninevites to experience that, so he fled. And now exactly what he feared has happened. He preached condemnation to the Ninevites and they turned! The people whom he hated were forgiven. And justice was delayed.
And so he asks God to kill him. “It’s better for me to die,” he said. Isn’t it comforting to know that God only gives good gifts to his children? Even when his children ask for a bad gift, he will just say no.
In this case, He just ignores Jonah’s request and he asks, “Do you do well to be angry?” Then Jonah just gives God the silent treatment. He just turns and goes out of the city, and he sets up a booth where he can watch the fireworks because he hopes that God will change his mind. He hopes that God will turn from his patience and decide to destroy Nineveh. That’s what it means in 4:5, “till he should see what would become of the city.”
Then God allows Jonah to walk through a circumstance so that God can teach Jonah something. God appoints a plan to grow up over him so that it gives Jonah shade and relief from the sun (4:6), then, God appoints a worm to destroy the plant and take away the shade (4:7), then God appointed a scorching east wind and the sun beat down on Jonah (4:8), and then Jonah broke his silent treatment. The last time he spoke to God he said, “it’s better for me to die than to live.” Now he says the same thing again. “It is better for me to die than to live.” And God responds in the exactly the same way, except this time, he is specifically talking about the plant. Look down in 4:9, God said to Jonah, “ Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” [Then Jonah actually responds this time] “he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” Then verse 10, “And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
And that’s the end. Jonah is left speechless, I believe, because he knows he has been wrong. When a people might have been destroyed because they don’t know God, he was eager to see it happen. He was angry when they weren’t destroyed. But when Jonah’s comfort was removed, he was ready to die with anguish. He wanted his enemies destroyed, and he wanted his comfort to last.
Are there comforts in your life that God has removed? Are there good things that you think you should have that God has withheld?
God doesn’t withhold good gifts without purpose.
There are a lot of things that God may be teaching you, but here is at least one clear example from our text. When you consider the sheer number people around you who are headed to eternal torment, do you care? You may not hate people the way that Jonah hated Nineveh, but when it comes to the gospel that affects eternity, complacency might as well be hate.
Who is your Nineveh? Who are the sinners that God would have you engage with the gospel? Who are the people that you don’t like? The ones who make you uncomfortable because they are awkward or they have different interests or whatever.
Remember that exercise we did in Obadiah? Who is someone who has hurt you? Someone that whenever you think of pain and trauma, a specific name comes to mind. In Obadiah, one of the comforts from God’s word was that the Lord is just, and we can pray for justice to be done to our enemies. But Jonah looks at the same reality, and it calls for compassion.
God knew the desperate wickedness of the people of Nineveh before they were even born, and still he prepared Jonah. God knew the details of your sins from before the foundation of the world, and still, God the Son took on flesh to be reconciled with His enemies.
Consider the urgency of the gospel. Consider the desire of God that all peoples would repent. Consider the overwhelmingly patience and grace of God toward you, a sinner. Consider that we live in a city where vast majority of people think they know God while they worship a deception.
And now think about the things you want. What is your plant? What is the thing that you think you deserve that God has withheld? What is the thing that you used to have that you don’t have anymore?
Is it your family relationships? Your friends? A marriage? A car? A house?
How do those things compare to the weight of eternity? They don’t. Are you so angry about the plant that has died that you are ignoring the city that is dying? Are you so concerned with the pain of your past that you are filled with hate where God’s heart is filled with compassion?
Maybe this has been you. But take heart, because even in this, we can turn. Turn to God and walk in what he has for you.
And remember this. It’s a major theme in Jonah. God is faithful, even when we are faithless. God will even use ours failures to bring him glory. Remember the sailors? They came to worship God because Jonah was disobedient and God pursued him with the storm.
There is no past that God cannot redeem, because salvation belongs to the Lord.
In Matthew 12, Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 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. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Friends, Jonah was a shadow of something greater. Jesus is the substance. Where Jonah fled the will of God, Jesus submitted to the will of God. Where Jonah was forced into the belly of the fish, Jesus willingly walked to his death. He carried his own cross. And where Jonah hated that the unworthy enemies would find forgiveness, Jesus knew he would die for his enemies from the very beginning. And he rejoices to call us his own.
Jesus is the fulfillment of everything that the book of Jonah points toward, and he beckons us to turn and come to him.
This is what we remember every week as we come to the table together.