Session 2: Jonah's Prayer - Radical

Secret Church 23: Jonah

Session 2: Jonah’s Prayer

In this session of Secret Church 23 on Jonah 2, Pastor David Platt teaches Christians that God is able to bring life to the dead. He explains that God is merciful toward the most underserving sinners like Jonah. Despite Jonah’s rebellion, God lovingly and forcefully corrected his path. Jonah responded to this mercy with repentance.

  1. Jonah experienced judgment for his sin.
  2. Jesus experienced judgment for our sins.
  3. Jonah was alive after three days in a fish.
  4. Jesus was alive after three days in a grave.

All right. Are you ready for Jonah 2? We left off with Jonah hurled into the sea, presumably to his death. The wind and waves are now quiet and the sailors from the nations are worshiping the Lord.

Let’s pick up at Jonah 1:17. As I mentioned, there’s a bit of disagreement on this verse. The Hebrew Bible actually has this as the first verse in chapter two. The scene totally shifts to the water, where Jonah is apparently not dead. So just imagine being in Jonah’s shoes now. You’ve hit the water with a splash and are suddenly immersed in waves as they pour over you.

We don’t know if Jonah was able to swim; it’s certainly possible that he wasn’t. But regardless, at some point a panic sets in. Before long, you find yourself struggling to stay afloat and gasping for breath as you ultimately sink into what is starting to feel like a calm, quiet tomb of water all around you…until verse 17. “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

Well, that’s quite a verse! “The Lord” —Yahweh— “appointed…”—provided. Circle that word because we’re going to see it more in the future. “…a great fish.” Let’s pause here. We’re not told what type of fish this was, or really any details about the fish. Like I mentioned at the start, it may be the main character this book is known for, apart from Jonah, but it’s only mentioned in passing in three verses. Which seems kind of strange to us, right? Because we’re all thinking, “A what? A fish swallowed Jonah and kept him in its belly for three days? A little more explanation, please.”

We now have this man inside a digestive tract of fish intestines, surrounded with fat and blubber and waste, which leads to all kinds of questions about what type of fish this is, or how it would be humanly possible for a man to survive in a fish for three days. But here’s the deal. The author of Jonah doesn’t seem to focus on answering our questions. The Lord is clearly in control of this scene, including this fish that he’s appointed. The author accepts that this is clearly a miracle and is not trying to give us any further explanation. In other words, this doesn’t happen every day. It was a divine act beyond human replication or explanation. So we don’t need to try to explain it or imagine how to replicate it.

If this happens to you and you suddenly find yourself inside an aquatic animal, that should be your first clue that things are not in your control at that moment. Prayer would probably be a good option for you also. So God in his Word is not as interested as we are in the drama that’s playing out in a fish’s belly. God is interested in the drama that’s playing out in Jonah’s heart.

Besides, God obviously could have brought Jonah back to shore another way, right? God could have provided a piece of floating wreckage that had been thrown overboard, or a million other things that Jonah could have held on to until he eventually washed up on a beach. Instead, God appoints a fish who swallows him. So circle that word ‘swallows,’ because we’re starting to get a clue behind God having chosen this way to save Jonah.

When we see this word ‘swallow’ that’s used other times in the Bible, it’s specifically to describe judgment. Look at Psalm 21:8-9 with me: “Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.” So this picture of a fish swallowing Jonah seems like a picture of God’s judgment. At the same time, this fish is keeping Jonah alive. So it also seems like a picture of God’s salvation.

Jonah 2 is a Psalm of Thanksgiving

Remember in the last chapter we talked about God’s mercy sometimes seeming severe? The way we might describe this is “salvation through judgment.” The picture here is God is showing judgment at the same time he’s showing salvation—salvation through judgment. That’s a pretty common theme throughout the Bible.

Just one quick example from Deuteronomy 4:26-31, as God’s people were preparing to enter into the Promised Land. He says to them:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.

That’s a picture of judgment. But then see the salvation that God is promising through it.

But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

We’ll talk more about this when we get to the takeaways from this chapter.

Remember this picture of salvation actually coming through judgment—in a way that being swallowed by a fish depicts—as well as this language of being in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. This phrase is interesting because, yes, it’s obviously a reference to three days. But this phrase was also a popular way to express the journey toward death. It was almost cliché in ancient times to say that going to death was a journey of a few days, three days, kind of similar to how we—at least where I live in the US—might refer to someone as being “six feet under.”

I could say, “Man, I thought that person was six feet under,” meaning literally six feet underground, or it could mean I thought he was dead and buried. In a similar way, this phrase—“three days and three nights”—is like you went to death and came back to life.

Then think about this. Three days illustrates a different picture in other places in the Bible.

  • In Genesis 22, Abraham and Isaac go on a journey for three days to Mount Mariah, where Isaac almost dies, but comes back alive.
  • In Exodus 15, God’s people journey into the wilderness. They don’t have water for three days. They’re about to die, until God miraculously provides water for them and they live.
  • In 2 Kings 20, Hezekiah is about to die, but he prays, God tells him he will live, and on the third day he goes up to the temple.
  • Then Jonah’s contemporary is Hosea. In Hosea 6:1-2, we read, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

God Rescues Jonah

So this picture in Jonah is helping us connect God’s rescue of Jonah from death with how God brings his people from death to life. And in it, we’re realizing that obviously God did not want Jonah dead. Instead, God wanted to bring Jonah to a place where he would be alone with himself and experience salvation through judgment. It’s fascinating how the author sets this up. You’ll notice a period in the middle of verse 17. That’s intentional, because in the original language, there’s actually what’s called a “pausal accent” right here in the middle of the verse that’s intended to lead us, as the hearers of this story, to pause.

The action has now dramatically slowed down. We’ve had Jonah running. We’ve had a storm. We’ve had all these conversations. Now it’s slowing down and it’s time for us to watch this encounter between Jonah and the Lord. Jonah 2:1, “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish…”

This is the first time we see this Hebrew word for “pray” in the story. Until now, it was just the sailors saying, “Call on your god.” If you’ll remember, Jonah didn’t do that. In fact, throughout the first chapter of the book, not one time did Jonah say anything to God. But now, for the first time, Jonah communicates with God, setting up a pretty powerful moment in the book, as he prays this in verse two: “…saying, ‘I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me…”

Apparently being thrown into the water had an effect on Jonah. He “called out.” This is the same word that was used by the sailors in verses six and 14 in chapter one. So he finally did it. He called out to God. Why now? Because he was in “distress.” The word means in dire straits. And the Lord answered him. Doubtless Jonah would have been familiar with these words from different Psalms, Israel’s songbook:

  • Psalm 18:6: “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”
  • Psalm 120:1: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.”

Then, in what is pretty common in Hebrew poetry, Jonah basically repeats this same idea, but he elaborates on it with different words:

“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.”

This language is significant on a couple levels. One, Sheol here is a reference to the abode of the dead, a place of utter, complete hopelessness, from which there is no return.

  • Job 7:9 says, “As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up.” It’s a place of total separation from God and his goodness.
  • Isaiah 38:18 says, “For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness.”

Jonah 2 Cries out to God for Help

Basically, Jonah saw himself headed, not just to death, but to eternal hopelessness. In that moment, with no breath in the Mediterranean Sea, it hit him—“I don’t want to go there.” Jonah knew God was his only hope for not going to Sheol.

Another thing that’s significant about the language here is the way Jonah refers to “the belly of Sheol.” It’s the only time we see this phrase in the entire Bible. Just reading the English, you might think “belly” is the same word we see at the end of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two, with Jonah in the belly of the fish. But it’s actually a different word here that means womb. Here’s why that’s significant to know.

With that information, go back with me to Jonah 1:17. The first time we see the fish mentioned, the word there for ‘fish’ is a masculine noun. So it’s used to refer to a male fish. But then in Jonah 2:1, the author changes this and the word ‘fish’ is a feminine noun. Which begs the question: why the change?

Well, a feminine noun would carry a more maternal connotation and paired with the word “womb of Sheol,” later here in verse two, the author is subtly but beautifully pointing out how Jonah was in the throes of death and hopelessness, yet when he called to the Lord—much like a baby being born from a mother’s womb— the Lord was making a way for Jonah to be brought to life again, to be in a sense reborn from death and utter hopelessness. “Out of the womb, the belly of Sheol, I called to you, and you heard my voice.”

This leads to verse three: “For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.” Just look at this wording. Jonah attributes everything that has happened to him to God. Actually, notice that Jonah goes from talking about God in verse two, to talking to God here in verse three. “You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.”

In other words, “The sailors didn’t throw me off the boat. The wind and waves didn’t just happen. You did this. The flood surrounded me, not of its own will. It was your waves and your billows that passed over me.” This is identical language to Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”

Then in Jonah 2:4, Jonah says, “Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’” Cast into the deep part of the sea, surrounded by flood, waves and the billows of God, Jonah concludes, “I am driven away from God’s sight.” The word for ‘driven away’ here is the same word we see in Genesis 3:24 after Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. Remember what the Bible says? God “drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Jonah saw himself as banished from God’s presence, on the way to death, until he looks again to God’s holy temple, the place where God dwells. It’s a powerful image and the turning point. When you think about this whole story, starting with Jonah fleeing from the presence of the Lord, now he’s turning toward the presence of the Lord as he’s drowning, which he elaborates on more in verse five: “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head.”

Jonah 2 Describes Deliverance from Death

Jonah is describing the journey he was experiencing toward death by drowning, “The waters closed in over me to take my life…” As he sank, “The deep surrounded me.” What imagery! Just imagine the darkness of the water circling around him as he sinks to the bottom of the sea, where seaweed wraps about his head, like grave clothes for burial.

In verse six, he’s “at the roots of the mountains.” Picture the high mountains which basically extend all the way down to the bottom of the sea, to the ocean floor, where “I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever.” The word for land here has the sense of the underworld, a place from which he could never escape, where bars would close upon him forever, without end.

“Yet you…” I love this. I put a lot of exclamation points there. “Yet you!” It’s one of the many places in the Bible where everything seems lost and hopeless, even forever…yet God. But God, “You brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” ‘Brought up’ is the same word that Amos, Jonah’s contemporary, uses in Amos 2:10: “Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” Just as God brought up his people from slavery in Egypt, Jonah says, “You brought up my life from the pit.”

Even this picture of ‘bringing up’ is a major contrast from what we saw at the end of Jonah 1 and the beginning of Jonah 2, where Jonah is continually descending down, down, down—from Israel down to Joppa, down to the bottom of the ship, down to the sea, down to the deep, down to the base of the mountains. Everything Jonah has done has been downward, to the lowest depths possible, to the bars of death and Sheol. But the Lord his God meets him there and brings him up from the pit—a word that also means grave.

Then he continues in verse seven: “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.” Again, just picture Jonah drowning. He’s at the point where he has no breath left in him, “when…the Lord” Now “the Lord” actually comes first in the Hebrew here, “The Lord I remembered. I remembered Yahweh. My prayer came to you.” The phrase, “into your holy temple” is such a powerful image. Jonah is in the depth of earth, as far as he could possibly be from Mount Zion and the temple, but God hears Jonah’s prayer.

He says in verse eight, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” The most plain reading of this verse is that Jonah is very glad he has not put his hope in vain idols at this point. The word for ‘vain’ is so good. It’s the combination of breath and emptiness. From the depths of the ocean floor, Jonah is completely out of breath and saying that idols are empty and offer no hope for breath for him. They’re vain. They are idols.

The Deceptiveness of Idols

The word for ‘idols’ here literally means a snare. Idols are deceptive snares. They promise you so much, but when you most need them, when you’re at your lowest point, they prove completely empty. Our only hope in the depths of despair, Jonah says, is the “steadfast love” of the Lord. This is one of the greatest words in the Old Testament. The way it would sound in English is hesed. There’s really no one word in English that sums up this Hebrew word. It’s like love, kindness, loyalty, faithfulness and mercy all wrapped into one. It is a beautiful word.

“This,” Jonah says, “is my only source of hope, the hesed —the love/kindness/loyalty/faithfulness/mercy—of the one true God.”

Then in the next verse Jonah contrasts himself with idolators, saying, “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay…” Jonah says, “In contrast to idolators, I will sacrifice to you, Lord. I will pay vows to you.”

Then we come to the five English words that many would say are the theme of the entire book: “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” Mark that. The Lord saves. Salvation belongs to him, meaning the Lord is sovereign over salvation. He alone is able and he alone has authority to save. And he saves completely.

Look at verse ten, “And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.” This fish had apparently traveled all the way back toward Joppa. Can we just pause and point out here, amidst all we’re talking about with Jonah, this was an uncomfortable three days for the fish.

Not a lot of people read this book and express sympathy for the fish, but I think we should. Nobody likes a stomachache, especially one that’s caused by a living organism inside you. So let’s at least pause for a moment and feel a bit for the fish, whom the Lord—the sovereign God over the fish—speaks to and it vomits. The word the author uses there is intentionally pretty disgusting, so I’ll tell you what’s in my mind here. This will be a bit of an aside, but I promise it won’t be too graphic.

Fairly recently, somebody had brought our family some food for dinner. It involved some chicken. We ate it. It tasted great. /when we’re going to bed, one of my children, I won’t mention which one, came to me and said, “I’m not feeling very good, Dad. My stomach’s not feeling very good.” I said, “Ah, okay. Let me set you up. Here’s a bucket. We’ll put it by your bed, with a towel. If anything goes wrong, just, you know, use the bucket.”

I promise, I’m not going to make this too graphic. Well, he later came up to our room and said, “Dad, I threw up.” I was like, “Okay, did you hit the bucket.” He’s like, “No. I went running past the bucket.” So it was everywhere, all over the bathroom. I was like, “Buddy, that’s what the bucket was for. But it’s all right.” He obviously wasn’t feeling good. So I got him situated back in bed. “All right, here’s the bucket. Use the bucket.” Then I started cleaning up.

Heather usually does all the hard stuff around the house, but throw up she just doesn’t do. So this is my assignment. I’m cleaning up the bathroom and it’s a mess. I finish doing all that, then I go back toward our room. On the way back to our room, I see one of our other kids’, who will remain unnamed also, has experienced the same thing the other sibling had experienced.

He’s done the same thing in his room but he didn’t have a bucket. I go into that bathroom and it was like a war zone. I’ve never seen anything like it. So I’m cleaning him up. Clorox wipes all over his body, then his room, then I get him set up with a bucket. I start cleaning the bathroom and that’s when it hit me. I’m not feeling good. I thought, “Oh, no. This could make its way through the whole house.” We’ve got five kids in the house. Thankfully, the baby had another meal that night.

So I know what’s coming. I get more buckets. By this time, I’m literally crawling on my hands and knees into different rooms, waking up kids and my wife Heather. I’m like, “It’s coming. You’re going to need this; just use this bucket when it comes.” Sure enough, we all went down.
All this to say, that’s the picture I have in my mind when I picture vomit here in Jonah 2:10. Nobody likes this.

Nobody thinks, “Oh, that’s a great story; I would love to have been a part of that.” No, let’s make sure we get the picture here. It’s not pretty. Again, if you put yourself in Jonah’s shoes, this is a humbling scene. Not that you’re vomiting, but that you were the vomit. You just got spit up on shore and you’re laying there with fish vomit all over you. That’s how Jonah 2 ends.

Jonah 2 Emphasizes the Power of Prayer

Now, here’s the deal. Before we get to some incredible takeaways from this chapter, I want to ask a few questions, looking back at this chapter. I put it this way intentionally because I genuinely want to ask questions, not draw conclusions at this point. When you read commentaries on Jonah, you find a variety of views on Jonah’s prayer in this chapter and they don’t all agree.

So let’s ask if you notice anything odd in Jonah’s prayer? Anything that doesn’t seem quite right? Anything that seems to indicate Jonah’s heart is not yet where it needs to be? Anything that’s missing? When you look back over all these verses, you notice, first, at no point does Jonah confess his sin or express a desire to repent. Not once. This is a pretty significant contrast with every other Psalm where sin is recognized as the cause of distress. The person praying will confess and repent. Let’s look at a couple examples:

  • Psalm 32:5:
    I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
    I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
  • Psalm 51:1-4:
    Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
    according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!
    For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
    Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
    so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.

There’s none of this language in Jonah 2. Jonah at no point acknowledges his sin or guilt, or even asks for forgiveness. Could it be that Jonah may not be taking responsibility for what has happened to him? Particularly notice that his language is all about what God has done to him: cast him into the deep, hurled him into the sea, surrounded him with a flood, passed over him with waves and billows.

Then let’s this to another level. Notice the only things Jonah does mention about himself are positive: he called to the Lord, he looked toward God’s temple, he remembered the Lord, he makes sacrifices and vows. There’s a sense in which this prayer seems to be a lot about him. Let’s just go back to these verses and underline the number of times personal pronouns are mentioned. How often does Jonah talk about himself in this prayer?

“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

That’s 23 times in eight short verses that Jonah talks about himself; he actually talks relatively little about God and his mercy. At the beginning he says God heard him and answered him. Then in the middle he says God brought his life up from the pit. So that’s three phrases in this entire prayer focused on what God did for him. Then did you notice in all three of those phrases that Jonah actually focuses on the good things he did to bring that about? I called; you answered. I cried; God heard my voice.

God brought up my life from the pit because I remembered the Lord. Even that phrase in verse seven, “I remembered the Lord…” is different from what we see everywhere else in Scripture. Almost every other time in the Bible that we see this picture of remembrance, with one exception, it focuses on the Lord in his mercy remembering his people, not his people in their piety remembering the Lord.

Contrast Between Prayer and Idol Worship

One commentary I read compared this story in Jonah 1 and 2 to Noah’s story in Genesis 6-9, pointing out the central phrase in Noah’s story: “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided” (Genesis 8:1). That’s the whole point of the Noah story. God remembered Noah. And the whole point of the Jonah story should be that God remembered Jonah. So is Jonah missing the point?

Then when we get to the end of verse seven and into verses eight and nine, as Jonah talks about his prayer and contrasts himself with idol worshipers, it makes you wonder, “Who is Jonah talking about here?” In context, it’s quite possible that Jonah is referring to the pagan sailors on the ship who were calling out to their various gods. Then we start to think, “Wait a minute. Is Jonah saying he’s glad he’s not like those guys, kind of like the Pharisee’s prayer in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:11-13?”

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Is Jonah saying, “I’m glad I’m not like those sailors?” Then he talks about how he’s going to give sacrifices and pay vows to God. But remember, Jonah doesn’t know what happened after he was thrown overboard. He doesn’t know that these sailors actually feared the Lord with great fear, that they offered sacrifices and made vows. Yet again, even with Jonah’s words here at the end of chapter two, we’re wondering: who really fears the Lord? Jonah or those sailors? Whose sacrifice and vows were authentic? Jonah’s or those sailors’?” Remember what God has said in his Word about sacrifices in 1 Samuel 15:22-23:

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.”

Whoa. Do you hear that? Here’s Jonah, talking about sacrifices and vows, when he has said nothing about how he disobeyed the voice of the Lord. Here’s Jonah, contrasting himself with idolators, when he is guilty of rebellion which is iniquity and idolatry. Is it possible that Jonah is presuming upon God’s grace, mercy and willingness to rescue him, completely apart from repentance of sin and obedience to God

It’s kind of like the people of Israel were doing in the days of Jeroboam. Remember the context of the whole book? Remember God’s word through Jonah to King Jeroboam? It was a word of blessing. Even though the people were sinning against God, they weren’t repenting. They were presuming upon God’s mercy, apart from repentance. “God will be merciful to us,” they thought. “We’re his chosen people. We don’t need to repent of our sin.”

Again, I’m just asking these questions. There’s more story to come. It’s possible that Jonah’s prayer here was completely authentic, albeit imperfect. Praise God that we don’t have to be perfect in our prayers. We often come to God with so much more need for his grace than we even realize. I think we’d have to conclude though, at the very least, that there’s still more work to be done in Jonah’s heart. And this actually leads us to the takeaways from this chapter which are glorious because they’re all about God.

God is Merciful Toward the Most Undeserving Sinners

We see this in chapter one with God’s pursuit of sinful pagans. Now we see it all the more in chapter two with God’s pursuit of a selfish prophet. Here is Jonah, running from God, then praying to God in ways that may even seem self-centered and self-righteous. Yet God is still pursuing him. God doesn’t let him die. God does hear his cry. Even if Jonah thinks it’s all about him, we know this story is all about God and his mercy toward him. Jonah doesn’t deserve it, but God is giving it.

I want to point out what I hope is obvious to you and me: we need the same mercy. We are undeserving sinners, each one of us. We have all rebelled against God. We are all prone to cover up our rebellion in all kinds of ways, including self-centeredness.

How easy is it for any of us to rebel against God and then focus on all consequences of our sin as if we had nothing to do with it. We’re even prone to self-righteousness, thinking we’re not like this person or those people. Thinking we’re better in this way or that way, when the reality is we are all undeserving sinners. You are, I am, we all are. The good news of Jonah is that God is merciful toward the most undeserving.

Please hear this. I know some of you who are part of this Secret Church right now are running from God. You’re rebelling against God in all kinds of ways, maybe in public ways that others know about; maybe in private ways that only you and God know about. That’s the point: God knows. God sees. God remembers. Yet God loves you.

Hear the good news of the Bible. God’s capacity to forgive is greater than your capacity to sin. Right now, God has brought you to this Secret Church, to this moment, to hear this good news. He loves you and he wants to save you from the pit of sin and all its consequences, and from ultimately death. You are not too far gone for God.

God is Able to Bring Life to the Dead

We see this imagery over and over again in Jonah 2: out of the belly of Sheol, cast into the deep, down into the pit, in the land whose bars will close upon you forever. God is able to bring you from the lowest depths to the highest heights, from death to life. This is where we can’t leave Jonah 2 in the Old Testament, because Jesus references this story in the New Testament when some self-righteous religious teachers are questioning him. This is Matthew 12:38-40:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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.

Oh! Do you remember we talked about this phrase, “three days and three nights,” this journey to death, the finality of death, being six feet under? So Jesus, when he’s talking about going to the cross, said, “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.” In other words, “You’re going to think I’m six feet under, gone and dead, when the reality is, I am coming back to life.” This is the gospel. Just think about the comparisons—or even the contrasts here—between Jonah and Jesus.

  • Jonah experienced judgment for his sin. All that Jonah experienced was the result of his disobedience to God. We talked about how Jonah was experiencing salvation through judgment for his sin. But with Jesus, the picture is totally different. Yes, it’s salvation through judgment, but not for his sin.
  • Jesus experienced judgment for our sin. Jesus died on a cross and went to a grave to pay the price of sin that you and I are due. Jesus was forsaken by the Father, as he paid the price for our rebellion against God. On the cross, Jesus took the judgment and the holy wrath of the Father that we deserve so we wouldn’t have to, for the sake of our salvation, salvation through judgment.
  • Then, after those three days, think about the contrast. Jonah was alive after three days in a fish, but Jesus was alive after three days in a grave. This picture in Jonah is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. God is able to take what ought to be a place of death and turn it into a place of deliverance and life. The good news of the Bible is that God is able to do this in your life.

Remember that we put exclamation points after Jonah 2:6. This is one of the many places in the Bible where we see the phrase, “Yet God…” or “But God…” I want you to think about these Hear them. Believe them. See them in Scripture. We saw where Jonah said, “Yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” Let’s think about other places in the Bible where this phrase is used.

  • Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
  • Psalm 49:14-15: “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”
  • Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
  • Matthew 19:26: “But Jesus looked at [his disciples] and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”
  • Romans 5:7-8: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
  • Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  • Ephesians 2:1-9: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

    That’s a pretty bleak picture, until you get to verse four: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

  • All of that, because of Acts 13:29-30:. “And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree,” —talking about the cross— “and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead.”

I wrote a forward for a book recently called But God: The Power of Hope When Catastrophe Crashes. It’s the story of Caleb Freeman, a teenager who was in a devastating car accident with a 10% chance of survival. His dad, Jeremy Freeman, tells the story of God’s mercy, provision and redemption through Caleb’s life. It all revolves around this phrase: But God.

God is able to bring life to the dead which means, no matter how low things get for you, no matter how hard, heavy or hopeless things feel, with God there is always, always, always hope because God is able to bring life to the dead.
This leads to the last takeaway from Jonah 2.

God is Sovereign Over All Salvation

God is merciful toward the most undeserving sinners. God is able to bring life to the dead. And God is sovereign over all salvation. We saw in Jonah 1 that God’s sovereignty is absolute. God has ultimate authority over all things, including nature. We saw that in the wind and waves in chapter one. We see it again in chapter two as God speaks to and directs a fish. But the emphasis in this takeaway is on God’s sovereignty over salvation. The phrase this chapter closes with is, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

So follow this. God alone is the author of salvation. In the words of Peter in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” That word for salvation here and in Jonah 2:9—“Salvation belongs to the Lord!”— is from the root word Yeshua which means “The Lord saves.” This is the name for Jesus in the New Testament. That’s what his name means. In Matthew 1:21, the angel tells Joseph that Mary “will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

I want to pause right here and say, I’m not assuming everyone who is a part of Secret Church is necessarily truly a follower of Jesus. I would ask every person right now: have you trusted in Jesus as the Savior of your life? He alone is able to save you from your sin, based on his death on the cross for you and your sins, and based on his resurrection from the grave. I urge you to put your trust in him as Savior. Let this Secret Church be the time when you say, “Yes, I want you to be the author of my salvation.”

God Alone is the Giver of Salvation

Know that God alone is the giver of salvation. And he loves giving it. He wants to give it to you. The picture we’re seeing here in Jonah is that he freely gives salvation to whomever he desires.

  • Exodus 33:19, when God speaks to Moses and says, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’”
  • Then Paul quotes from this verse in Romans 9:16, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

We read the same thing a few minutes ago in Ephesians 2, seeing that salvation is a free gift from God, not based on man’s works. Salvation is all of grace, and that grace comes from God alone. Ephesians 2 says we were dead in our sin. Dead people don’t choose to come to life. Dead people have to be brought to life and only God can do that. We cannot save ourselves. From start to finish, God saves us.

When someone asks, “How did you become a Christian?” don’t start with, “Well, I ___________”—fill in the blank. No, it starts with, “God did this. God changed my life.”

In one of my favorite quotes from Charles Spurgeon, he said, “One weekend, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it.” I’m not sure what that means. Apparently the preacher wasn’t doing a very good job that day. He went on:

But the thought struck me “How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray?

I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith.” So the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine, I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”

I think of a new believer I met in Buddhist Thailand who had just been baptized. He said, “I am so happy. I didn’t even know to search for God, but God came searching for me.”

This is my story too. I think of all the people whom God put in my life to point me to Jesus, all the circumstances God used to open my eyes to his love for me. This is the story of every follower of Jesus. It’s the story of some people who are realizing God is doing it in their life right now.

God has brought you to the place where you are at this moment because he loves you He’s pursuing you. He’s writing a story in your life. Maybe you have given up on him, but he has not given up on you. He loves you and wants to save you from your sin. He wants to draw you into a relationship with him and experience eternal life with him. his will be our song for all of eternity: “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” This is not just Jonah 2:9, This is Revelation 7:9-10. We’ve already read it once, but let’s bring it back. Notice the language.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Do you see it? God is the giver of salvation. It belongs to him and he has chosen to give it to people from every nation; from all tribes, all peoples and all languages. That’s his prerogative. God has ordained for all the nations to enjoy the salvation he gives, in such a way that for all of eternity, people from every nation will be singing, “Salvation belongs to our God!”

This is a good stopping point and a good time to encourage each other to give for the spread of his salvation to the nations. This is a good time to celebrate how this salvation is spreading. Let me pause here and turn it over to Stephen to talk about the opportunity we have to give, then to learn what God is doing in the church in Iran right now. Then I want to come back and lead us in prayer.


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!