“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.” – Jonah 1:17
Jonah didn’t deserve this fish, did he? He deserved God’s wrath. But God gives his people better than what they deserve. With God—as amazing as it sounds—our sin is swallowed by his grace. As the waves swallowed Jonah, God’s grace came to the sailors. And as Jonah was swallowed by the fish, God’s grace came to him as well.
When did God’s grace come to you? Has it yet? Maybe you need to see your sin first. Maybe you need to suffer the consequences of your sin first. I know that sounds terrifying, but we can trust God with it. There’s a deep spiritual truth that we can affirm from Scripture but that it difficult for us to believe. When we cover our sins in the darkness, God will drag them into the light. Jonah is proof of that. But when we drag our sins into the light, God will cover them with the cross.
We can keep running from God, or we can stop and face him. I wonder: what about Jonah 1 proves God isn’t faithful? What about Jonah 1 proves God’s not worth trusting? What about Jonah 1 proves we can avoid him? Our only hope is casting ourselves upon his mercy and grace. Our only hope is turning away from our sin and toward him.
And what will happen when we do that? What will we find?
The greatest commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament. And in the New Testament, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus commented on this verse.
The Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign to prove himself. “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. 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.”
Jesus affirms Jonah’s prophetic voice—that Jonah speaks of Jesus. Jonah is a type of Christ. Of course, Jesus didn’t sin like Jonah. Jesus didn’t say, “Another Jonah is here.” He said, “One greater than Jonah is here.”
How is Jesus greater?
Jonah heard God’s call and said, “Not your will but mine.”
But Jesus heard God’s call and said, “Not my will but thine.”
Jonah showed no care for the lost. He didn’t care about the sailors on the ship. He didn’t care about the Ninevites in their sin. The compassion of God didn’t melt his heart, it angered him.
But Jesus came to seek and save the lost. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
– Jonah fought against God’s heart. But Jesus is God’s heart.
– Jonah brought news of God’s grace. But Jesus is God’s grace.
– Jonah was thrown overboard for his own sins. But Jesus was thrown overboard for the sins of others.
– Jonah’s sacrifice caused the storm at sea to cease. But Jesus’ sacrifice caused the storm of God’s wrath to cease.
– Jonah was swallowed by the great fish that saved him from death. But Jesus swallowed sin on the cross to save his people from death.
– God loved the Ninevites enough to send Jonah. But God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Do you see the difference? Everything thing and everyone but Jonah is obeying God in this story! But Jesus went willingly into the weakness of flesh, to make himself like us so he could save us. Jesus came to find our sin out on the cross and to pay the consequences of our sin in his death.
Here’s God’s promise to us. When we face our sins, openly and honestly, and turn to God with open hands of faith, God will swallow our sins in Christ. He will not throw us overboard because Christ has already been thrown overboard. He endured the wrath for us. And we can now have the storehouses of his mercy and grace. The grave could not hold him. And if you believe in the One greater than Jonah, the grave can’t hold you either. That’s way better than we deserve, isn’t it? It turns out that when we hurl ourselves into the ocean of God’s justice, we find at the bottom God’s mercy and grace.
Yes, we’ll have to change our lives. We’ll have to run wherever he says to run. But where did running on our own ever get us? Why not try listening to God for a change?
We see so much of ourselves in Jonah, don’t we? But the Apostle John says in 1 John 3, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Yes, we’re like Jonah. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, when we say yes to Christ, we are becoming like him.
If you feel more like Jonah than Jesus, don’t worry. God will send storms into your life. He uses them as interventions to show us who we are. And when our sin finds us out, and we face the consequences, God has a word for us that blows us away. God looks us square in the eye, without coddling us, without downplaying our sin, and presents his answer to our sin. There is One greater than Jonah who speaks a better word. His sacrificial blood can clean your sinful heart, and his resurrected life can grant you the newness you need. All you must do is listen to his word. Don’t let the Ninevites rise at the judgment and condemn you. Come to Christ now and find life!
The sign of Jonah is this. Jesus swallows your sin by his cross. Sin may belong to us, but salvation belongs to the Lord.