Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Jonah 1:16
It's one of the great and most significant and important truths of Scripture that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Scripture goes to great lengths in the New Testament to point out the fact that the people of God in the church of Christ are not many noble, not many famous, not many of the world's means. In fact, Scripture says that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of the needle. There is this sense in which God's mercy is extended to and is bestowed on the unsuspecting, on those that are not regarded or esteemed in the eyes of the world, and that is such a critical factor in understanding the Gospel, it is such a critical factor in understanding what it means to be saved, it is such a critical factor for someone like you to understand in the midst of your life that though you may feel broken and forgotten and isolated and not important in the Lord's eyes, to realize that that is not a barrier to you, knowing God, coming to Christ for salvation, but instead it is those very attributes that God looks on with favor. Psalm 51 says, "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." So it is essential for us to understand that the Gospel comes not to the high and mighty, not to those who are boastful in this life, but rather God extends grace to the humble who come to him in a quiet, broken repentance that is precious in the sight of God.
This is defining to the way that we view the Gospel and the way that we understand that God operates in the realm of salvation and today we're going to see an example of that from the book that we have been studying on Sunday mornings, the book of Jonah. I invite you to turn there with me. We're going to stop and spend an entire hour on a small group of men forgotten by the world but most precious in the sight of God.
We're in Jonah 1. I'm going to read to help us set the stage, verses 14 through 16, but we're really only going to focus on verse 16 here this morning. I love this text. I love the God of this text. I love the men described in this text. You will remember one of the things that we've said for those of you that are visiting, one of the things that we're trying to do in this series is to disabuse ourselves of the association that we make of the book of Jonah with the primary story about the big fish that swallowed Jonah. We understand that that's what everybody associates with the book of Jonah but what we've been trying to develop is that the hero, the focus of the book of Jonah is not Jonah, it's not Nineveh, it's not the great fish, the hero, the star of the book of Jonah is the God of the book of Jonah as he puts his sovereign compassion on display, and this sovereign compassion which Romans 9 says "He has mercy on whom He will have mercy," and that it pleases God to show mercy to the undeserving, we're going to get a wonderful illustration of that truth in the text that we are about to look at here.
Jonah 1, beginning in verse 14. We covered this last time. We remember that Jonah was running from God and his command to go to Nineveh to preach judgment to that great city. Jonah fled. God hurled a storm on the sea and the sea got worse and worse until finally the men decided that they needed to do something. They asked Jonah, "What should we do?" He said, "The sea is stormy because of me. Throw me into the sea and it will become calm for you." And we pick up the story, then, at verse 14 here this morning.
14 Then they [meaning the sailors of that boat, a group of maybe a dozen men or so] called on the LORD and said, "We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man's life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased." 15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
So Jonah as a prophet of God, instructed them to throw him overboard. They realized that this was extraordinary, that this was unprecedented, to take a passenger whose life depended on them and then to throw him into the sea would be in any other circumstance an act of murder and yet the storm was so severe, the circumstances were so extraordinary that they realized that they had no other choice. Their boat was about to break up and so they pray and they ask for mercy on the Lord as they do.
Notice those of you that have been with us over the course of the years, this is very important to recognize. Look at your text there and it says that "they called on the LORD," all caps signifying the Hebrew name Yahweh, the proper name for God. Not the generic name for God but his personal and proper name by which Israel worshiped him, and this is a great contrast as you look at verse 14,
14 … they called on the LORD and said, "We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man's life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased."
Three times in that one verse, three times in that prayer calling on the unique name of the God of Israel.
Now, beloved, I want to remind you of something. This is a big big contrast for them and their approach to so-called worship from what had just been taking place earlier in the narrative. Look at verse 5, "the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god." They had boarded that ship as the polytheists of their day, each man with a different god, they're calling out to their different gods looking for relief there but as we come, as the narrative progresses and we come here, all of a sudden the focus of their prayers is different. They are no longer calling on the gods that they had prayed to earlier, they are calling on the Lord, calling on the God that Jonah had introduced them to, and in response to their prayer, what happened next would profoundly affect them in a way that they could not have possibly expected when they left port from Joppa.
Look at verse 15,
15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.
Doing what Jonah had told them to do, more specifically, doing what the prophet of Yahweh had told them to do, instantly delivered them from their danger, instantly delivered them from their plight. They saw that the God of whom Jonah had spoken to them about in verse 9, "I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea," they saw instantly the truth of what Jonah had been saying. They saw it on full supernatural display.
Now let's just step back for a moment and just realize that we didn't know these men, we don't know these men from any other portion of Scripture. We've just kind of introduced them in seemingly a passing way in chapter 1. We are introduced to them, what happens to them happens, and then they move on and they are never heard from again. You could look at that and say these men were insignificant. You could look at them and say they are just incidental characters in the greater drama of redemption playing out with Jonah and Nineveh and God, but oh, you would miss so much about the nature of this book, so much about the nature of the God of this book, you would miss so much about the nature of his sovereign compassion if you did not stop and consider what was in front of us here.
What happened when the sea stopped its raging? The men are left in the boat and they who had been tossed back and forth, they who were concerned that their boat was about to shatter under the weight of a supernatural storm the likes of which they had never seen before, they who now were on a peaceful sea, on a plate of glass, as it were, having just witnessed something totally foreign to their prior experience before they got on the boat. Look at verse 16, we see what happens,
16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
Before the story moves on with Jonah and what happens to him as he sinks down into the sea, the author pauses, he makes a statement, he wraps up the story surrounding the sailors before he moves on to say what happens next in the life of Jonah and what he describes here has been interpreted differently by men over the course of the years. What is going on here in verse 16? What is going on with these men who boarded the ship as polytheistic pagans from a land that was outside the covenant promises that God made to his people Israel? What's going on here? Why does Scripture even mention this when it's obvious that the story is about Jonah, it's about Nineveh? Why this seemingly random remark upon these group of, let's say, a dozen sailors or so?
Well, some men look at this and say that there is nothing significant spiritually that's going on here. "Nothing to see here, let's keep moving along." Let me quote from a couple of sources like that. One commentary resource says this about Jonah 1:16 and I quote. Oh, listen to me closely, beloved. Listen to me closely through this because what this is going to do over the course of the next 45 minutes is give us a perspective on sovereign compassion far beyond anything that we might find elsewhere in the Old Testament. I realize that's a very bold statement. But one writer says this and I quote, "The vows acknowledge that the sailors had experienced an act of divine power. The text in no way suggests that they had abandoned their gods and accepted the monotheistic faith in Yahweh; acknowledging the power of one God did not preclude the worship of others." What's he saying? He's saying this, he's saying these men just worshiped this God like they did every other God that they had ever worshiped. They already had many gods. They added Yahweh as one more god to their pantheon of deities but it's not a recognition that they had actually been converted. Another commentator in a like spirit says this about Jonah 1:16, and I quote, "This would hardly mean to the ancient audience that the crew had been converted to monotheistic Yahwehism. They had, however, been so convinced that Yahweh really could do as he wanted that they added Yahweh to the gods they already believed in."
So this common, if not dominant strain of interpretation, not exclusive but there are these commentators who look at this and say, "Look, these were just pagans who were used to worshiping multiple gods and they added one more to their collection," and you move on and there's nothing else to consider here. And why do they say that? Why do these men say such things about this text? Well, they base their understanding, they are basing their position on the nature of ancient cultures. The sailors who boarded the ship were men of their times, they say, to which we say, fair enough. We're all people of our times to one degree or another. They say that being men of their times, they were polytheistic and ancient cultures routinely added new gods to their worship without abandoning their prior ones. So from that perspective, they are telling us today in the Christian church that we should not look at these sailors as men where anything supernatural happened to them spiritually. They experienced the storm, they made an emotional reaction to the end of the storm, and then they went back to their old ways and that's their perspective on this, to which I say this: even if it is generally true that that's how ancient cultures responded to the introduction to new gods, generally speaking people in these ancient pagan cultures gladly added other gods to the gods that they worshiped and they had many many gods that they tried to respond to, even if that's generally true, we still have to stop and consider what's happening here in Jonah 1. We have to consider what's said in the text here. We need to think about this carefully. We need to stop and think about what the text says and to consider what the text and what it says might be saying about the God of the book of Jonah and what it might be saying about the God who is a God who does not despise the broken and contrite heart.
We need to consider what all of Scripture says about the supernatural nature of true biblical salvation and consider that as we assess what happened to these men. Did these men simply add the God of Israel to their pre-existing galaxy of deities, is one question to ask. And if I were new to this church, if I were visiting, I might ask this question, a completely different question to the speaker. I would ask this question, "Who cares if they did or not? What makes the difference? Why does it matter now today 2,700 years later? Why are we even having this discussion? Don't you understand, preacher, that there are pressing problems of the day that you need to speak to? Don't you understand, preacher, that there is social injustice in the world? Don't you understand that I have problems of my own today? So why are you occupying our time with such seeming trivialities?" To which I say, "Okay, fair enough. Fair question." I say, "But maybe, maybe," I say in response to that fair question and challenge to my teaching, I say, "Maybe our perspective is not what should define what we think is important. Maybe a text that has endured for 2,700 years under the providential superintendence of God is more important than we think it is. Maybe it's more important in the big picture of things than what's happening in our day to day lives or in the day to day world in which we live. Maybe, maybe this text, maybe these sailors illustrate something about the very nature of the God who rules the universe and in whose hands alone is the possibility of sovereign redemption from your sin." If that's true, and I obviously think that it is, then it is worth our time to consider what's happening here. Maybe in a book that is dwelling on the theme of God's sovereign compassion, maybe there's something far more significant here that would give us a deep and a profound insight into the nature of God, the nature of his salvation, and the extent to which it reaches, and if that is the case, then there is nothing that could be more relevant and pertinent to anything in our lives that we could consider today because then we're talking about things of eternal consequence.
You know, I like to read history from time to time when I've got a little bit of time to do it. I'm reading a weird book right now, weird in one sense, it's about a guy who was the governor of Mississippi back in the beginning of the twentieth century, over 100 years ago. You say, "Why are you reading a book like that? That makes no sense." To which I say to you, "I agree. It's bonkers. It's crazy to be reading about something like that." But at the time, this man was a man of influence, this was a man who had a lot of impact on the course of things in the state of Mississippi, and he was a man prominent in his own time but he's a man now just 100 years later utterly forgotten. Big important man, forgotten so quickly. Don't you see, beloved, that our lives are passing? That we just walk across the stage, we play our part and we're gone and forgotten so very quickly? All of Ecclesiastes is about this. We should not when we gather together as the people of God, we should not when we gather together to study God's word, to tie it into our circumstances of the day because it transcends all of that and what we want to do is not bring God's word into our thing today, here today, gone tomorrow, as if we're the center of the universe, what we want to do is plug our lives and plug our thinking into the eternal matters that transcend it all and then we will properly discern the other things that abound.
I think all of that's at stake in what we consider in verse 16 here today and so I want to lay out for you the reasons that I am utterly convinced that these men were genuinely converted to true salvation in the one true God, I think the text makes this very very clear for us, and then we're going to draw out why that's important, why that matters to us today, what it says to us about the nature of the God that we love and worship and whose word we look to week by week. Why would we disagree with those men who say they just added God, this was not true conversion, move along, there's nothing to see here? Why would we reject that and consider things differently? Well, let's look at three different things in the text here today.
First of all, if you're going to take notes, first of all I want you to see the progression in their fear. The progression in their fear throughout chapter 1. Now even in our English language, we use the word "fear" in different ways. We've studied the fear of God in the past here at Truth Community. We understand that fear is a word that can be used for the everyday fear of physical safety or just a fear of what's happening around us. "I squeal when I see" – I don't really do this, but I'm talking about generally speaking. I'm using "I" in an impersonal sense. Someone could say, "I squeal when I see a big bug on the floor. I'm afraid. I fear. Ah!" And you step back in fear from that thing. "I'm afraid of what the doctor is going to tell me. I'm afraid of what's going to happen to my loved ones." And that sense of fear for the physical safety or the perils of life that are tied to the circumstances of what's happening around us, we use the word "fear" that way in English. We also use it biblically informed in a far more transcendent way to speak of the fear of God. "I fear God. I reverence him. I love him. I worship him. I follow him. I'm obligated to him. I submit to him." And you fear in a vertical way like that that far transcends anything about seeing something that goes bump in the night. So there's this distinction even in English in how we use the word "fear," right? You can see that. You understand that. Well, the word "fear" is used to describe the sailors early on in the book of Jonah.
Look at chapter 1, verse 5 of Jonah where it says, and this is all using the same underlying Hebrew word, even though sometimes it's translated "afraid" or "fear." Chapter 1, verse 5. Great storm on the sea. The ship was about to break up. Now in verse 5 you see it, "Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god." Why were they afraid? What was their fear in response to? It was in response to their circumstances. It was in response to the horizontal events that were surrounding them at that particular moment. They were afraid of the peril that they believed their lives to be in, and so they were afraid in their early response to the storm and so they cry out to their god.
Verse 10, Jonah said in verse 9, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land." In verse 10 what happens? "Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, 'How could you do this?'" Again, a horizontal dimension to their fear. They are directing their fear and directing their response to Jonah. They're afraid of what Jonah had just said to them. They were afraid of the storm. They're afraid even more of what is happening. God hurls the storm and they're afraid. Jonah discloses that he served the God who made the sea and the men become extremely frightened.
But that's not what we see in verse 16, beloved. Go back to that passage with me. Verse 15, "they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging." And what was their response to that? Verse 16, "Then the men feared the LORD greatly." They feared the storm. They were afraid in verse 10, but here's what you need to see. This is so very crucial and is evidently obviously, the author of this book is showing a progression in their fear. At first they were afraid of circumstances but when it comes to the concluding part in verse 16 – watch this or listen to it – the object of their fear changed. They had been afraid of the storm but now they were fearing the Lord. The object of their fear had changed from circumstance to Yahweh and the change in the object of their fear reflects a change in the fundamental nature of their fear. It is now not a statement of concern about circumstances, it is now a term of worship and devotion. In the same way that you and I use that term differently, so it is being used differently in the context.
You say, "Well, where did they pick this up?" Well, go back to Jonah 1:9 here. Remember verse 16 occurs in a broader context. Jonah had said to them in verse 9, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land." Jonah using the word "fear" not because he's afraid of his physical circumstances, but using it as a statement that, "I follow the one true God. I follow the God who made the heavens and the sea. I follow this God." Or the sea and the dry land, he doesn't refer to the heavens. Oh, I guess he does, "I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land." Comprehensive statement of the universal sovereignty of this God. So we see even in the text this word "fear" prior to verse 16 being used in a different way.
So what has happened here as we see this word of faith unfolding? What has happened here? These sailors have been given a divinely orchestrated crash course in evangelism toward the true God even though Jonah was in a disobedient state of mind as he was doing it. Jonah had introduced them to the name, to the character of the one true God. He had introduced them to who this God was, he was the God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land. They had been introduced in a short compact timeframe, to be sure, they had been introduced to all the elements of the true God during their brief interaction with Jonah. The words of God's own prophet had given them the basis for true faith.
Now watch this. We are making a much bigger point than what we're at right now so stay with me here. Notice that in these verses, in verse 14, three times they call on the true name of God, they call on the true God. Look at verse 14, "they called on the LORD and said, 'We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish... for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased.'" Three times for emphasis they say, "We're not praying to our other gods, we're praying to you. The focus of our worship, the focus of our prayers, the object of our prayers has changed. We are calling out to you in a way that is new, that is different, that is a reflection of something that has changed inside us." And we know from broader Scripture and biblical history, that what they knew in the moment was connected to broader things that were true even though they didn't have the fullness of that in their mind. They're calling on the true God. And look at verse 16 where it, again, uses the Lord's name, "the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD."
Beloved, five times in three verses the name Yahweh is put at the center of their worship. What are we supposed to make of that except that they had been converted? They were calling on the one true God in what they did. They were fearing God in the same way that his own prophet said he feared him. The progression in the fear and the change of the object of their fear points us to the fact that they had been genuinely converted.
Now listen, that's not the only thing that's at stake here. That's not the only reason that we believe it. Secondly, it's not just the progression in their fear, secondly it's their sacrifice and their vows. Their sacrifice and their vows. The sailors expressed their faith through sacrifice.
Look at Jonah 1:16 with me again. "The men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD," not just in general, they didn't just burn a general thanksgiving offering to whatever god was up there, there was an object to their sacrifice. This was a sacrifice made to the one true God identified by his one true name and they were doing it to him in contradistinction to the other gods that they had prayed to. Look, look, stay with me. I know, I'm animated about this. That's all right. I think this is really important. They offered their sacrifice to the one true God even though earlier in the chapter they had prayed and sought relief from other gods. They were rejecting by offering a sacrifice specifically to Yahweh, they were rejecting all of those prior gods that they had been praying to earlier. This was an act of repentance on their part. They did not sacrifice to the pagan deities of their recent past, they were sacrificing to Yahweh. Beloved, follow the train of thought: different God, different worship, different faith.
The sailors also made vows. Vows were integral to the culture of that time. The vows expressing their commitment to continued devotion to Yahweh after he delivered them from the storm. They sacrificed to God and they made vows, vows that were in the context of this faith in Yahweh; vows that were in the context of a sacrifice to Yahweh. Look, what is a vow except a promise that I'll do something in the future made to God? In their vows, they are expressing that there is a permanent intention in our hearts, there is a changed direction in our hearts, that we're not simply thanking you that the storm is out of the way, now we're going to go back to life as we knew it before. We're going to make vows to show that there will be a continuation of this expression of faith that we make now, it's going to continue into the future. These vows are significant compared to other vows made in the course of ancient false worship. These vows are significant in this context because they are offered to Yahweh.
There is a bit of a commentary in Jonah 2 about this as well. You know, Jonah 2, we haven't quite gotten there yet but you've read the book in the past. Jonah's praying inside the fish that delivered him, fish acting as kind of a primitive submarine to deliver him from drowning. Jonah spends three days, three nights in that fish. He has some time to think it over. Jonah repents and how does he express his repentance? A true prophet of the true God expressing his repentance that leads to his release from the fish and sends him on ministry to Nineveh, how does he articulate his repentance in prayer to God? We know Jonah is a servant of the true God, even though he's not on his best behavior here in the book. What does Jonah say? He says in verse 8 of chapter 2, "Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, But I," in contrast to them, "I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD." Jonah repenting inside the belly of that fish says, "God, I'll sacrifice. What I vowed, I'll pay. Salvation is from you alone." And God accepted that repentance from Jonah. Verse 10, chapter 2, "commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land." We'll get to that in a couple of weeks.
Here's what you need to see, beloved: Jonah's repentance which we know is true because God released him from the fish on the basis of it, Jonah associates vows and sacrifice with repentance. His coming back to his true worship of God involved vows and sacrifices, and with the same terms, in the same way these men, these sailors in verse 16, look at it now with me with that perspective in mind, they "feared the LORD greatly," this is a statement of worship, "and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows." The sailors, in other words, are showing the same fruit of repentance in chapter 1 that Jonah shows in chapter 2. What does this say about the souls of those sailors? They had the same faith, expressed in the same way, in the same God as the prophet of God did. Early in distress, the sailors had called on their own gods. After the storm, they call on Yahweh as the true God. I'll say it again: five times, five times in verses 14 through 16 the covenant name of God is used for emphasis.
What's happening here? Could these men actually have been converted like that? There's a third aspect that we're going to look to in a moment but to the extent that men would hesitate over this, is to miss the very point, the very nature of biblical salvation, the fact that it is a supernatural act of God in the hearts of men; that God is sovereign in his dispensing of his salvation and he can dispense it upon whom he wishes, when he wishes, regardless of their prior religious convictions, their prior cultural associations.
Look at chapter 2, verse 9 with me again and let this leap off the page to you. Chapter 2, verse 9, "Salvation is from the LORD." The fact that their prior associations were all mixed up didn't limit the power of God to save them.
Let's bring this into the present and make a personal application here, those of us that are saved. Now looking back prior to our conversion, isn't it true, I can speak autobiographically here, isn't it true that in one manner or another you were in bondage to sin that showed itself in different manifestations of life: in drunkenness, in immorality, in thieving, in lying, in total disregard to Scripture, no love for Christ in your heart whatsoever? Isn't that true of what you were like before a Christian? Scripture says it is. I'll believe Scripture over anything else about this. You were dead in your trespasses and sins. You had no claim on God. There was no merit, no righteousness in you that attracted him to you. Some of you were bound in the false worship systems of Catholicism for so many decades and you had violated true worship at the altar of Mary for so many long years and your mind was darkened by all the falsehoods that had dominated your thinking for so long, and then somewhere at some point, God in mercy brought a word of the Gospel to you, brought a clarity of mind to you. You started to see Christ in a different sense. You understood that it wasn't a priest to whom you would confess your sins, it was directly to Christ himself; that Christ alone would be your Savior; that it was not a church that could save you, those of you just drilled in your own self-righteousness and self-esteem, recognizing, "I have no righteousness of my own." And for some of us, the dawning of that happened really quickly. All of a sudden things just came together in a time, in a moment maybe where God opened your mind. It's not like that for everybody but it's common enough to recognize that a clarity of understanding can come on the human heart because there is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel that changes everything and your mind is opened, your heart was opened like Lydia's was in Acts 16:14 so that you believed the things that were being spoken to you by the word of the Apostle Paul. God can do that really fast. He can do that. He can change a heart in a moment and he does it. This is what he does in salvation. This is what he does in the new birth. It's what he does in regeneration.
You know, one moment I was standing in the mirror loving my sin, the next moment I was filled with the fear of God and crying out to Christ for mercy. November 20, 1983. In a moment. How does that happen? Because it's supernatural. Because there is a power of God at work in salvation which is able to save men to the uttermost regardless of their prior association. He takes his truth, he applies it to the heart with power and that heart is changed and the man rises up in repentance and faith and follows Christ in new life. Why am I animated about some sailors in Jonah? Because to dismiss their conversion on the basis of those presuppositions would lead you to dismiss most of biblical salvation. So what we're defending here is more than just the personal salvation of these sailors, we're defending, we're explaining, we're seeing illustrated the supernatural power of God to save men who are lost in sin and darkness. That's why this matters. Nothing could matter more than to expound the power of God to save, the power of the Gospel to save, the power of Christ to save. Nothing could matter more than that.
So we get a little here in Jonah 1 with these sailors who were Gentiles, who were in their own dark of night, spiritually speaking in their own lives, and not only that, beloved, not only that, they were in a dark of night historically. Israel wasn't taking the Gospel to the nations. There was no one explaining to the Gentiles the way of God, to look for a coming Messiah who would be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. No one was telling them this. It was utter dark midnight, so to speak, historically speaking in the unfolding of the plan of redemption. The Gentiles as we have studied in Ephesians 2 years ago, without God, without hope in this world.
So do you know what you see here in Jonah 1 that bears directly on each one of us in Christ here today? There's a single ray of sunrise piercing the darkness. There is a single beam of light coming across the horizon here, and there is a dawning of hope for Gentiles like you and me. There is a ray of hope that says there is light in the darkness for men like this, men who are not heirs of the promise made to Israel, have not received the word of God, it hasn't been given to their people. You see a ray of light, God stepping beyond Israel and extending mercy and grace to ones like that, and in a general sense, what we see is an indication of mercy on men just like us.
Their true saving faith is confirmed by an even broader point. Thirdly, there is no alliteration to my points today and I couldn't care less. If any of my former seminary profs are watching, hey, you tried. Thirdly, the message of Jonah. Now stay with me, beloved. Stay with me. What have we been saying all along about the theme of this book? Jonah teaches us that God in sovereign compassion brings salvation to unworthy sinners. He saves them. He takes away their sin. He relieves the judgment that they deserve. He brings them into his family. He forgives them of all of their iniquity and imparts to them, or I should say imputes to them, he imputes to them a righteousness not their own, and he does this, he did this 2,700 years ago, he does it today. He did it for you if you're in Christ. He offers it to you if you're not in Christ this morning. He does this not because men deserve it, not because they are born to the proper parents, not because they share the right blood in their veins. It's not of man. It's not of the will of man. It's not of blood, John 1. God has mercy on individual men and women, boys and girls, in complete, utter, sovereign compassion that is apart from their deserving. That's the message of Jonah and he brings salvation to sinners who completely do not deserve it, sinners just like you.
Look at chapter 2, verse 9 again. Jonah says, "I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD." It finds its origin in God, not in man. It comes from God's holy, righteous, sovereign compassion, not because man deserves anything, not because man is good enough. He's not. You're not. No one ever has been. No one ever will be. There has only been one righteous man and that was Christ alone, the rest of us born in Adam, guilty by nature, guilty by choice, dead in trespasses and sins. So how can any of us be saved, then? How can those who deserve judgment find mercy? Can't earn it. It has to be an act of sovereign compassion from God.
Look at chapter 4, verse 11. As we've said multiple times, this is the whole point of the book of Jonah. Why did God send his prophet outside the boundaries of the nation to go to a foreign city to preach? Why would he do that? Chapter 4, verse 11, "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" The whole message of Jonah is that it pleased God to have compassion on an unworthy foreign city. It was his sovereign choice. It was his prerogative to bring a city to repentance, to save them from their sins, if that's what he wanted to do, and the whole message of the book of Jonah is about that sovereign compassion. Think with me, beloved. After the events of Jonah 1, in Jonah 2, what happens? God saves Jonah in mercy. He saves him from the belly of the fish. In Jonah 3, he saves the city of Nineveh. In Jonah 4, he shows mercy to Jonah with a plant, with his words, by not taking his life when Jonah was demanding to die.
Beloved, think with me. This is so important and I just feel like I'm utterly failing at making it clear just how important this is. Woven throughout this book is the sovereign compassion of God. The whole reason that he sent Jonah in chapter 1, verse 2, was because he wanted to show compassion to Nineveh. It starts with compassion, it ends with compassion. Compassion is woven all the way around it, woven all through like a golden cord that binds these four chapters into one great book. Beloved, I'm emotional about this because the message of sovereign compassion is at stake in what we think about what happened to these sailors. The message of sovereign compassion, of unmerited grace that is woven throughout Jonah 4, would be utterly contradicted if sailors who are told that they worshiped him, that they feared him in a fivefold emphatic statement with sacrifice and vows, if men like that responded to the true God like that and nevertheless perished in their sins, were confirmed in their polytheism and ultimately perished in hell with all the rest, the message of sovereign compassion of Jonah would be utterly contradicted by that. It would diminish the message if sailors who are recorded as fearing the Lord nevertheless perished in their sins. We are supposed to understand, to interpret a book not simply by an individual verse out of its context, but to let the whole message of a book inform the way that we understand it. This is a basic principle of hermeneutics, the science and art of biblical interpretation. Beloved, the whole book is a manifestation of the sovereign compassion of God.
Now, the emphasis is on Jonah and is on Nineveh for sure, but incidentally along the way, God showed sovereign compassion to a small group of men who never saw it coming, but when it came, God opened their minds, they responded by faith. Let me state it in the form of a question: would it be more consistent with the book of Jonah, would it be more consistent with a message of sovereign compassion, to think that these sailors were truly saved or that they simply were confirmed in their polytheism and died in the end and went to hell? Which is more consistent with the message of this book? I'll gladly stand before God and give an account that says, "God, I believed in the context here that you saved those sailors. I believed that to ask the question is to answer it." What's going on here was not the routine mechanisms of ancient culture in their polytheism where those who worship false gods were introduced to more false gods and just added them to their pantheon of deities. No, no, no, I mean, do we even have to have this discussion? Apparently since based on what I was quoting to you earlier. Do we even have to have this discussion? Look, God in the book of Jonah in this time in the eighth century BC was doing a unique work. He was doing something outside the stream of the ordinary through the prophet Jonah, and that shapes how we understand the spiritual response of these sailors. God intervened into their world and we should love him for it. We should bow in weeping adoration that he is a God of that kind of great sovereign compassion even to the salvation of nameless sailors who are otherwise incidental to the story that's being told. God intervened into their world not only to save their physical bodies from storm but to save their eternal souls from their sin and their false worship. Yeah, their conversion was contrary to the culture of the day. Do you know what? That's always the nature of true conversion. If you're converted today, it's contrary to the culture of the day, of our day. It's contrary to the message that everyone goes to heaven in the end. That's the nature of salvation, that it's contrary to the spirit of the age, not in conformity with it. Salvation is of the Lord, it is not of this world.
So yeah, we're going to meet these men in heaven, I believe, and let's step back and think and apply this now, and I want you to have a sense for how precious this story is, how precious these souls are, how precious the sovereign compassion of God is. Hours earlier, these pagans, hours earlier, beloved, hours earlier, these men were in total darkness. They were excluded from the promises of God. They were without hope in the world. They were ignorant. They were unknown faceless men, polytheists. You could not have men more unlikely to be converted than they, and yet in sovereign compassion, God providentially orchestrated their lives, their world, their training, their trade, to bring them to Joppa at just that time, to just that ship, so that they were on board with Jonah at the time. God in sovereign compassion brought himself to bear on their lives and they were unsuspecting when he did, but he did it in a way that secure their repentance and faith. In sovereign compassion, God saved them to the uttermost. In sovereign compassion, God saved them through the words of a defiant prophet who went to sleep on them in the midst of their hour of extremity. That's how great the power of God is. That's how great his compassion is. That's how certain his purposes are. And these sailors foreshadowed a broader work of the Gospel among Gentiles that Scripture plays out in the book of Acts and that we are now on the receiving end of here as we join together in Christ.
Look, beloved, one man has said that God is doing a thousand things in every thing that he does. The purposes of God are beyond our searching out and understanding and God's purpose in sending Jonah to Nineveh was that Nineveh might be saved, as we'll see in chapter 3. But God's mind, God's power, God's purpose is so expansive, so great, so unlimited, so infinite in his ability, so broad in his compassion as that central primary purpose is being carried out, and equally certain, equally important purpose in the eternal plan of God was being played out so that dozen or so group of sailors could be saved. In a period of utter darkness in midnight, a ray of light shined in their lives that is still burning brightly and shining throughout all of eternity for them.
In sovereign compassion, God saved them to the uttermost and, beloved, here's what I want you to see and pastorally this is why I make such a big point of this. What I want you to see here today, my Christian brother, my Christian sister, what I want you to see is that it is that same kind of particular, kind compassion that God showed to you to save your soul. We don't have any kings in here. We don't have any princes. We don't have any people in here of stature but God reached down into your life and showed you mercy in Christ, showed mercy to you in your darkness, showed mercy to me in my darkness. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Do you know where I'm from? Do you know where my parents are from? My roots are in the hills of Eastern Kentucky ancestrally. My roots are in a cave in Jennings County, Indiana. That's where I'm from. There's nothing about me and yet the King of kings, the Lord of lords in my utter nothingness of life, the King of kings and Lord of lords had compassion on me by name and said, "I will have you as my own." He brings me to Christ and did that for me and for those of you that are in Christ, did that for you after all your drugs, and after all of your immorality, and after all of your false worship, and all of your indifference to God, and all the times that you blasphemed Christ, and he had compassion on you. Such mercy. Such mercy from the hands of a holy God. Here we were ignorant, rebellious and lost, people of no account to the world, and here we are today in Christ. Such mercy. Such compassion. Such sovereign love bestowed upon us.
Is that mercy yours in Christ? Have you received Christ by faith? The God who saves like this offers Christ to you right here, right now. In the words of Scripture, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent because he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom he has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead. Are you here without Christ? Sovereign compassion is offered to you. Come to Christ in repentance and faith and be saved. Do you lack assurance of your salvation? Look at sovereign compassion. Forget about what you've done, the praise you've praised in the past. Forget about all of that and focus your thoughts on what's ultimately true, what we ultimately know to be true, that God is a God like this, he is a God of sovereign compassion who has expressed it and accomplished redemption at the cross of Calvary when the Lord Jesus Christ shed his own blood for the forgiveness of sin for everyone who would repent and believe on him. Sovereign compassion raining down upon our minds as we contemplate these things. Start there and realize what God has done and who he extends this to and come to him in confident faith.
But you say, "But I'm too insignificant. I've sinned too much. I'm too far gone." Don't you see, beloved, don't you see, don't you see that it is precisely on people like you that God has mercy? That it was on unknown faceless sailors 2,700 years ago that he showed mercy? If he showed mercy to them, he'll show mercy to you. You say, "But I've sinned too much." Paul said, "I persecuted the church. I'm the chief of sinners and yet I was shown mercy in my unbelief and God saved me, saved a wretch like me, saved a wretch like her, like him." He's a God of sovereign compassion and he'll show that same mercy to you. Come to Christ. He invites you because it's his intent to receive you. Let us all glory in the sovereign compassion, bow in grateful worship in response, and in adoring majesty of response, realize that the great God of eternal glory looks down on men and women like us and shows mercy, such mercy for which we will ever praise him.
Our God, thank you for the mercy that you show on unworthy sinners. Extend it further to those here without Christ today. Those of us that are in Christ, O God, help us to respond in trust, in obedience, in loving worship of which you are so richly deserving. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.