Sermon Easter 4.16.17

Pastor Walther / April 16, 2017 / Easter Sunday / Jonah 2:2-9 / Salvation Belongs to the Lord

Jonah 2:2-9 2 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. 7 “When my life was ebbing away,I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. 9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

Dear brothers and sisters of our Risen Savior,

    How did we get here? A husband and wife look at each other in anger as they talk about the “d” word, divorce. Things seemed great 10 years ago, but today it’s awful. How did we get here? A college student wakes up the next morning next to a stranger, not their spouse, not even remembering the night before. How did we get here? A child runs screaming, “I hate you!” to their parents.  How did we get here? A young man who didn’t think pornography could hurt anybody, finds himself unable to see women other than an object and now he can’t even keep a stable relationship. Like the times that you were driving your car and weren’t paying attention for almost 20 minutes, you can barely remember what happened for that time span, our lives and our sin move so quickly that we find ourselves asking the question: how did we get here? 

    You can hear Jonah questioning himself, replaying in his mind, as he sunk to the darkest depths of the sea, crushed by the pressure, fading in and out of consciousness, drowning from all the water in his lungs, all alone, cast away from all existence. How did I get here, wherever here is?

    God had sent Jonah as a prophet mainly to call the people of Northern Israel to repentance. For the most part, the people of Northern Israel had fallen into terrible sin and idol worship turning away from the Lord God. God also sent Jonah to the city of Nineveh to call its people to repentance. But, Jonah refused to go to Nineveh and instead booked passage for the farthest place he could think of, Tarshish. While the ship was at sea, God caused a storm to put the ship at danger of sinking. Finally, Jonah told the sailors that the ship and everyone on board was in danger because he had sinned against God. He urged the sailors to throw him overboard which they did and the sea grew calm. Jonah sunk to the depths of the sea.  He was as good as dead. 

    Jonah ran to Tarshish to avoid the call of God to go to Nineveh.  He sincerely ran believing there was a place he could go where God could not find him.  In a way, Jonah got his desire! But, he didn’t have to travel the world to run away from God because He had already done so when he simply turned his back on God.  Jonah felt the lack of God’s presence from his own doing. Any finger pointing, any attempts to blame other people or blame God, were put to shame because Jonah and his selfishness brought it upon himself. He didn’t want God in his life or to listen to Him, and it cost him dearly.  We see how unimportant God was to Jonah, and he was supposed to be a prophet.  

    We hear this account, and yet our excuses not to have God in our lives are more than the fish in the ocean.  “Our schedule just won’t allow us to make it to church.  Pastor wants us to read devotions with our family, but we have to make it to band practice. I’m so exhausted when I come home from work that I want to veg out and watch Netflix for 3 hours.  The last thing I want to do is read a devotion that will take 2 minutes of my Netflix time.  We need something more entertaining for our kids. Why do I need to go to church when I find happiness in my favorite hobby? Maybe when I’m older with nothing else to do, then I’ll go to church. I would rather do what feels good now.”

    But as Jonah was losing his life, he was seeing where his ridiculous excuses landed him.  The happiness he was searching for away from God didn’t bring happiness at all.  Jonah evaluates his situation.  He clearly sees that no worthless idol could have saved him. The things that drag us away from our God can’t give hope. At that moment if Jonah was a modern man, do you think he would have thought, “Oh blessed Netflix, I’ve been so faithful to you, please save me! Oh blessed Sunday night football, save me! Oh family schedule that has all this time for practices and games but no time for bible study, save me!” Jonah’s predicament is the exact picture of our natural spiritual condition. We continually put ourselves first and get caught up in what WE think is good.  Unfortunately, our lives move quickly and our sin more deadly as it ruins our relationships with one another and with God.  We’ve abandoned our God with our pitiful excuses. Sin and Death love those excuses as they are waiting to pounce. They want to wrap and coil their tentacles around us, squeezing, suffocating, dragging us down and drowning us, filling our lungs with death.

    Jonah felt that he was already lost, that he had already been separated from God’s loving presence forever, gripped by his sin and death. Yet, strangely enough, he was still alive.  He realized that he was no longer drowning at the bottom of the sea, but was in a much more fantastic, more disgusting, more filthy belly of a horrible monster of a fish, sloshing around in the fish’s stomach as if he was curdled milk.  God could have killed him with the waves and the water for his sinfulness, for his stubbornness, for his selfishness. But God didn’t.  God could have sent Jonah to hell eternally because he had turned his back on God, literally trying to run away from God. But God didn’t. Jonah realized that even though he tried to run away and distance himself from God, God was still there for him lovingly watching over him.  Even though Jonah had been unfaithful to his God, the Lord remained faithful to him.  Jonah saw this ray of hope, yes even in the stomach of a fish, because of where he put his trust, in whom he put his trust.  Our God is the God that saves. 

    Only when we see where we lie, the depravity of our situation, how we’ve put ourselves first and turned our backs on God, only when we see our spiritual nature for what it is, an unlovable sin infested death walker, only then can we truly see that God saves. In spite us trying to dismiss God, he never turns his back on us.  His love for us never changes. 

    God’s love is different from your and my love. Human love is usually caused by its object.  I love people because they love me back. I love Kwik Trip glazers because they are delicious. However, God’s love is different. God loves us not because we the object are lovable, but because he is loving.  In fact, He is so loving that he didn’t let us drown in our sin, but he reached down into the murky waters of sin and death and saved us, but it was at a cost. 

    In order to save us from our sin, Jesus took our punishment.  He swapped places with us.  Jesus sunk to the depths. He felt God’s breakers crash over him as he suffered our punishment on the cross. He cried out but there was no response because it was God’s will that he suffer for our failures. He felt his life slip away. Facing the ultimate punishment for humankind, God turned his back on Jesus for our sakes.  Jesus felt the pain of death willingly, in our place. He was barred in by the earth as the stone was rolled across his tomb. The murky waters of Death swallowed him up.  The only person I know who willingly drowned themselves was the kid with the coke bottle glasses from “The Sandlot” so that the beautiful life guard would save him, but that was still to that kid’s advantage! There was no advantage in this for Jesus.  He died saving you, worthless selfish people that we are. It was all for you.  It was because he loved Jonah, and because he loved you and me. 

    That deserves a shout of thanksgiving! That deserves a jump of joy! Well, Jonah couldn’t do those things. He was still sloshing back and forth in the fish.  But even though Jonah was stuck in the belly of a fish, he could still pray in thanksgiving because he had been saved.  Yes, he was saved physically from drowning, but even better was that he was saved spiritually.  He recognized that God delivered his soul from hell and damnation.  God delivered Jonah from his sins of selfishness and disobedience. 

    That is what our God does for us. In spite of our selfishness, in spite of our disobedience, in spite of us continually turning our backs on God, God is always faithful. His love never changes.  Whether or not God saves us physically from the pain of this life, we can thank God that he has saved us spiritually.  Just as Jonah was as good as dead sitting on the ocean floor and God brought him back to life, God brings us back from the dead and gives us new life!  I don’t want to die in the ocean of my sin. I don’t want to go back to my old way of living and turning my back on God. I want to stay away from that old life. I don’t want to die, but I want to live. I want to proclaim what my Lord has done! I want to proclaim that my God did what Jesus’ name literally means: “he saves.”

    The Pharisees had asked Jesus for a sign that He really was a Messiah, as if all the other things Jesus did and said weren’t proof enough. Jesus simply pointed to Jonah as the sign.  We hear about that in Matthew 12:38-40, where it says,“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

    In only a few words, Jesus not only verifies the account of Jonah as a real event in history but he also states that this unique miracle of Jonah (being swallowed by a fish) was performed for a very unique purpose. Christ himself connects his unique rest of three days in the grave with Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish to foreshadow THE greatest miracle on earth.  Death could not hold Jesus down.  Jesus rose from the dead and His resurrection is proof that Jesus really is the Christ, that our God really does love us, that his promise of the forgiveness of our sins really is true, and that we will one day be with him in heaven.  Today, we might question how we got here, but Jesus fixes our eyes on that empty tomb.  Today, we celebrate the victory that is ours because of what our God has done for us.  Thank the Lord and sing his praises because Salvation belongs to the Lord! Amen.