Languishing in the belly of the fish that had swallowed him, Jonah prayed. As Alistair Begg demonstrates, we can learn from Jonah’s example about this often misunderstood pillar of the Christian faith. Scripture explains that God is present everywhere and that communing with Him shapes and changes us. In Jonah’s case, prayer helped him realize that his watery ordeal was ultimately meant for his redemption
Father, as we prepare now to hear you speak to us through your Word, the Bible, we pray that you will grant to us freedom from every distraction, attentive hearts and minds; that you will take those of us who are wandering and wondering and draw us into your fold, those of us who are rebelling and running and seeking to hide and arrest us; that none of us may be spectators to the event, but that all of us, in a way that we do not fully even understand, may hear your voice. And to this end we seek you, in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, can I invite you to turn, then, to Jonah with me. If you’re using the books, again, that are in the pews, I think it’s 654, I said—somewhere around there. We began last week just to take a mini detour into the Old Testament and to the life of Jonah. And so far we’ve learned that God came to Jonah and said go, and Jonah said to God no. As a result of his running and seeking to hide, he found himself in the midst of a violent storm. Although it was complete panic up on deck, Jonah himself was asleep below. He had to be wakened by the captain of the ship, who inquired of him as to how he could sleep in such circumstances. And in the ensuing conversation, Jonah confessed that he had actually been running away from God, and the reason that the storm was as violent as it proved to be was on account of this fact, and therefore that what the sailors needed to do was throw him overboard, and he was pretty certain that the sea would then become calm and that they would be able to proceed with their voyage. And so they did just that; they threw him overboard, and we’re told that in the midst of that calamity, God “provided a great fish to swallow Jonah,” and that was to be Jonah’s dwelling place for the next little while.
When he gets himself inside this fish, he, we’re told, immediately prays “to the Lord his God.” And what we have here in the second chapter of Jonah is simply a record of Jonah’s prayer. It falls out in a fairly poetic form. It is the cry of one who is well acquainted with the Bible, with the Old Testament, with the Psalms in particular. And that’s why, when you’re reading it, you may get a flavor of the psalmist; it’s simply because out of the abundance of his heart he cries, and his mind has been so filled with the Bible that he then speaks the Bible to God when he finds himself in this extremity.
Now, given that we’re told he “prayed to the Lord his God,” I want to take just a moment for a brief discursus on prayer. And it is very brief, but I want to acknowledge that prayer is a pressing issue to many in these days—not simply those within the framework of the church who endeavor to pray and learn how better to pray, but also prayer is the focus amongst those whom we may not expect to be exercised concerning this matter. So that in the world of science, and particularly in the world of medicine, one is finding articles popping up all over the place concerning the restorative, the holistic, healing power of prayer. And most of what is being written, at least that I have observed, is indicative of the confusion that is surrounding the subject itself.
For example, in the Wall Street Journal, in an article entitled “The Healing Power of Prayer Is Tested by Science,” this is the way it leads off: “Kate MacPherson stands beside a massage table in Loveland, Co., praying for someone dying of AIDS.” Now, notice the word is “praying”; this is the explanation as to what she’s doing. What is it that she is then doing? Well, she is praying for somebody “dying of AIDS in San Francisco whom she has never met. With a photograph of the man in view, she moves her hands over an imagined outline of his body. In her outstretched arms, Ms. MacPherson says, she senses warmth, a connection with God.” Now, what that actually means, one is hard-pressed to deduce. Nevertheless, it is significant enough to make its way into this article. It is of enough importance for the individual who is engaging in this activity to report it, as well as for those who are on the receiving end of this activity to report some kind of response to it.
Now, as the article proceeds, not everyone is feeling the same way, and a man by the name of Richard J. Goss, the emeritus professor of biology at Brown University, has this to say about prayer and medicine: he says, “If my doctor prayed for my recovery, I’d consider a malpractice [suit].” So clearly he is deeply concerned about prayer and what it might do to him.
When I went back through my notes, I found that I had made a copy of something that the gentleman Robert Fulghum, the best-selling author from Seattle—you will know him most by the fact that he has shared with us that most of what he learned, he learned in kindergarten. And he shares a little with us about what he learned concerning prayer, and this is what he has to say: “I do not pray to an entity. My thoughts are of being at home in the universe. If you don’t think of the ultimate meaning of things as being separate from you, then there is no ‘other’ to address.” So at least he’s saying we’re not talking to ourselves. And then he says, “It’s like fish trying to decide whether to relate to the ocean. They’re in it.”
What do you think? Find that helpful? Tomorrow morning when you awaken, you say, “Now, I feel a bit like a fish in the ocean; I’m not sure whether I should relate to it.” It’s not particularly helpful. And it’s hard to know, what in the world are these people are talking about?
And somehow or another, unless those of us who believe are able to articulate an understanding of what prayer is, means, and does, then we are going to be swept up in this great milieu of confusion whereby prayer means whatever you want it to mean as you engage whoever is out there wherever, and provided you can report some kind of psychosomatic benefit to it, no matter who it is to or what it is about, nevertheless, there is a benefit that needs to be reported.
Now, there is a confusion that still exists within the framework of the church. And that’s why I take just a moment to remind you of a little concerning prayer before I move on. William Still, who was a Presbyterian minister in Aberdeen for some fifty-plus years in one church, was renowned for his exposition of Scripture and also for the length of his pastoral prayers. It was not unusual for him to pray for some twenty-five minutes. And the children in his church—and they did not go out to Sunday school—would time him and make notes on his prayers and so on, and apparently most of them have lived successfully through it.
I’ve been greatly helped by some of the things that William Still said concerning prayer. I want to say them to you this morning, recognizing that once they’re on tape it will be a benefit to those who then listen to the tape. This is what he says: “Prayer for the Christian is a matter of believing that God is, and that He does respond to those who believe in Him.” That’s the start. In other words, there is nothing vague, there is nothing amorphous about the notion with which the Christian begins to approach God. We approach God believing that he is, and that although we cannot see him, nevertheless he hears our prayers, and he also is the God who responds.
Now the real Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is God, and is, naturally, [therefore] in vital touch with the Father and the Son. On the basis that we know something about this God from the Holy Scriptures, we begin to speak to Him internally, and should do so as naturally, in a sense, as we speak to ourselves—our “better” selves, born of God in Christ Jesus. That’s prayer. But we have to believe that He is there and listening.
Not that by believing we make him there; but we have to remind ourselves that this is not an exercise in futility. We’re not speaking out into the night; we’re not simply getting things off our chest. We’re not simply meditating, you know, and sort of doing an exercise in deep breathing with some words that go along with it. No, we remind ourselves that God listens to prayer, that he is there and that he does hear us. He neither slumbers nor sleeps.
Now, he says,
If you[’re] real about this, and believe in what you[’re] doing, prayer, instead of being a matter of times and seasons and special or routine occasions,
which, of course, are important, and were important in his church; they had a prayer meeting that lasted from seven until nine o’clock every Saturday evening of the year. But, he says, if we understand this, we won’t think first of all about prayer in terms of special places and special seasons and so on—special occasions—
but prayer becomes a life … it becomes such a vital part of life that it re-focuses one’s whole outlook. This becomes so positive and creative that it lifts our spirits far beyond any doubt or depression or pessimistic attitudes. One of the things that such an attitude to prayer does is to free our minds from the narrowness of thinking of God as simply the supplier of our needs. That comes into it, very much indeed, but there[’s] far more to it than that.
Now listen to this; I find this tremendously helpful: “We become interested in Him,”
in the same way that you become interested in someone with whom you establish ongoing conversations. That’s my parenthetical statement.
We become interested in Him, His ways, His doings, His words. And all the time this is going on we are quite unconsciously building a new character. We are being affected by our conversations and discussions with Him; seeing His point of view better and agreeing with Him about perhaps a great many things we were tempted not to agree about before. And the very humility, which unselfconsciously comes with such an attitude is one of sheer delight. This, I believe is what Genesis speaks of about Enoch walking with God and he walked with God to such an extent that God said in the end, “Oh man, come away up, you’d be better here than there because all your interests are here.” It’s hardly likely to go as far as that with you and me but there were others who walked with God in this way and their lives shone with the glow of living in such a positive world of grace that, despite all trials, life could be nothing but full of joy.
Now, I find this tremendously liberating. I say to you again: it is not that we are dismissing the notion of the importance of time and place and purposeful encounters with God, but that those things emerge from the kind of communion to which William Still is referring. That it really means something to say, “He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me that I am his own.” That when we’re driving in the car and we see something—for example, those cows round the corner there on Geauga Lake Road, or whatever it is, black on the back, black on the front, and with a white band all round their middle, just amazing creatures!—we don’t simply say, “Oh, those are interesting cows,” but we say, “Father, I praise you, for what an amazing Creator you are!” Just as we’re driving in the car! And he says, “You know, you’re right! In the beginning I made all these things.” When we’re reading a book and it’s full of nonsense, we say out loud, “Oh, Father, this is so contrary to what your Word says.” And we engage in communion with God.
Now, do you know God in this way? Do you pray to God in this way? Have you cultivated his presence in this way? Has he been with you in the car and everywhere you go? I can’t even tell you—one day, when I’m very old and I’ve earned the right, I’ll tell you some of the places I have these conversations, but for now I can’t tell you them all. And some of the things I thank God for, I’m not ready just to tell you what they are. You would be amazed at some of the places I have conversations with God and some of the things I commend him for.
Now you see, when we then gather together in prayer, and we have nothing to say in prayer, or when you put fifteen people together in a room and you say, “We’re gonna have a time of prayer,” and everyone sits in total silence, you find yourself saying, “What is this? The art of meditation? I mean, are we here to have a conversation? And if you have a conversation, does somebody speak, or do you all just sit?” And you’re tempted to wonder whether the very absence of my words is due to the stoniness of my own heart and the fact that I can’t initiate a conversation because I haven’t been talking with him in the hours and days that have led up to the event. But if we have come out of communion with him, then it makes all the difference. That is why, you see, Jonah has as his reflex action, prayer. Now we find him crying out to the very God that he’s running away from. And look where he is: he’s in the fish!
There are some of you have come out of a background where you think you can only pray using certain words, you can only pray using a certain place, you want to turn this into a certain place, and so on; you want to make it all shrined up so that it can be a “place of prayer.” Do you think you can’t pray anywhere? Is God not “everywhere that man should be, as God is present there”?
When I looked at this and I thought of him tumbling around in the belly of the fish and starting a prayer meeting with God, it reminded me of the little thing that I’ve kept in my file for some time, where people get all concerned in Christian circles about the way you pray and the posture of prayer and so on. Will you allow me to read it again? I like this so much. Well, you can’t stop me, so I’ll just go ahead.
“The proper way for … man to pray,”
Said Deacon Lemuel Keyes,
“… The only proper attitude
Is down upon his knees.”
“No, I should say the way to pray,”
Said Rev. Dr. Wise,
“Is standing straight with outstretched arms
[With] rapt and upturned eyes.”
“Oh, no; no, no,” said Elder [Snow];
“Such posture is too proud:
A man should pray with eyes fast closed
And head contritely bowed.”
“It seems to me his hands should be
Austerely clasped in front,
With both thumbs pointing [to] the ground,”
Said Rev. Dr. Blunt.
“Las’ year I fell in Hodgkin’s well
Head first,” said Cyril Brown,
“With both my heels a-stickin’ up,
My head a-[pointing] down;
“An’ I [done prayed] right [there] an’ there—
Best prayer I ever said,
The prayingest prayer I ever prayed,
A-standin’ on my head.”
Now, one final thought on prayer before I move on. If there’s one question I’m asked continually, it is this: “Why would you ever pray? If God is a sovereign God and he works all things according to the purpose of his will, is there any point in praying at all? If God has already established what is going to happen, why would we ever pray?” Let me commend to you a book from the bookstore called Concise Theology by J. I. Packer. It’s a terrific primer on theology, and in the little section on prayer, which runs for about two and a half pages, you will find that he addresses the matter in this way, and let me read it to you: “There is no tension or inconsistency between the teaching of Scripture on God’s sovereign foreordination of all things and on the efficacy of prayer. God foreordains the means as well as the end, and our prayer is foreordained as the means whereby he brings his sovereign will to pass.”
Now, that can keep you going for a little while, keep you up at night, thinking the implications of that out. But I commend the book to you; I’m sure there’s one or two there. And we’ll start a run on the bookstore on George’s last Sunday; it will be a great encouragement to him and to us.
Now, with that discursus on prayer set aside, let me get back to the subject before us and to this matter of Jonah calling out in his distress to the Lord. The emphasis in these verses is not so much upon the predicament of Jonah as it is upon the provision of God—not so much about what Jonah has done to get himself in this situation as it is upon what God has chosen to do to save his servant in the situation. Jonah ends up on dry land at the end of the chapter, verse 10, and it is clear that he ends up there not because he deserved to but because of God’s grace. What we discover is that the extremity facing Jonah was the opportunity for God to show quite clearly what we’re told there at the final sentence of verse 9: that “salvation comes from the Lord.”
And there is little doubt that Jonah would have had, in the immediate aftermath of these events, many occasions to rehearse what had happened to him and to repeat again the summary which is contained in verse 2. The people met him and he said, “Where have you been Jonah?” and then immediately followed up with, “And why do you smell so bad?” I mean, he must have been really fragrant for a significant length of time coming out of this. I’m not a fisherman, but there’s something about fish; once it gets on you it’s just almost impossible to get rid of the pong. And so here he must have been quite a… not exactly the person you wanted to sit next to at the local symphony concert. And his friends would have said to him, “What in the world has been happening?” And then he would have said,
In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
[And] from the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
He was in the water, half-drowned, suffocating from the seaweed round his head, and he had cried out to God. He cried out to the very God from whose presence he’d sought to run.
He was then to discover that the psalmist is true:
O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit down and when I [stand up];
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Where can I [go] from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you[’re] there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
And as he plowed around in the water, in this most graphic circumstance, he discovered that God had answered his cry, even as he had fallen from the side of the vessel and down into the depths of the water, and he had cried out for help, and God had listened to his cry. He was discovering in the deep what many of us have discovered when we’ve tried to run away from God: that you can run but you can’t hide. And with one foot, as it were, already in the grave, he had called out to the Lord, and the Lord had listened.
Now, we ought not to miss the fact that there is a great encouragement in this for those of us who today find ourselves in distress, who may find ourselves in the dumps, in the depths, and the reason for it is one word, and the word is disobedience. It may not be known to those who are nearest and dearest to us. We may have managed to hide it from all but God himself. And yet, as we sit within the framework of this congregation, we know that the reason we are in the predicament in which we find ourselves is because God has said go and we’ve said no; because God said, “I want you to do this,” and we’ve said, “I’d like to do that”; because God said, “This is my way,” and we said, “And I like this way.”
And the immensity of the wonder of God’s dealings is found in the fact that God in his grace and in his kindness is determined to complete the work in our lives which he has begun—Philippians 1:6. And that is why he comes to the young prodigal in the pigsty and he meets him there. That is why he comes to Jonah in the stomach of the fish and he meets him there. Both in stinking situations, literally. One surrounded by pigs and all that they do, the other engulfed in the very gut of this large fish. And both in the pigsty and in the fish’s stomach, God was coming to pluck them, to clean them, and to restore them to his purposes.
Loved ones, those of us who have walked any time with Christ know that is the case. And we can be a great help to those who are struggling at the moment by acknowledging that we have been in the pigsty, and that God has come to us in all kinds of amazing ways, and he has arrested us, and in our distress we’ve called out to the Lord and he has heard us and he has answered our prayer. For us, the Christian life has been a series of new beginnings. It has not all been plain sailing. We have not done everything right every day. We have not proceeded in the right direction every time. We know ourselves to have been, at least metaphorically, with the seaweed wrapped around our heads and suffocating as a result of our own disobedience. Thank God that he has chosen not to say, “Fine, if that’s the way you want it, go ahead and drown.” Now that’s the mystery and the wonder and the encouragement of what we find.
Look at what he says in verse 3: “You hurled me into the deep.” And I just want to identify these phrases for you. “You hurled me into the deep.”
Now, the average boy or girl who is here this morning that was present last Sunday morning, their ears are immediately going to perk up at this, and they’re going to say, “What does he mean, speaking to God in that way and saying, ‘You hurled me into the deep’? We were here last Sunday, and we know who hurled him into the deep. It was the sailors who hurled him into the deep. The sailors threw him overboard. Jonah said, ‘I’m running from God, throw me overboard,’ and so they threw him overboard. And now here he is in the heart of the fish, and he says, ‘You hurled me into the deep.’ Now, what is this?”
Jonah is recognizing that what had taken place was under the determining hand of God—that the sailors, in fulfilling Jonah’s instructions, became the instruments of God. In the same way that the brothers in the story of Joseph, as we saw it in the chapters in Genesis, who acted according to their own willful passions—their jealousy and their spite, their desire to be rid of Joseph—they sold him into the hands of the Ishmaelite traders, they banished him off to Egypt, and when they are finally encountering [Joseph] again in Genesis 45, and they realize with alarm that they are face-to-face with the brother that they had banished, what does Joseph say to them? He says, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Now, what did he mean by that? That they somehow or another were automatons? That God was working them the way a person would work a puppet with the strings? No! They fulfilled their own willful desires, and in the exercise of that, God as the primary cause was taking the secondary cause and using it to fulfill his ultimate purpose.
And the same is true with the sailors. And as he went flying over the side of the boat, thinking to himself, “I’m done for now,” it was God that threw him off the ship—not to destroy him, but so that he could continue to use him. Because it was impossible to make use of him while he was buried, silent, underneath the deck, a backslidden nuisance to everybody, not least of all himself. Tempted to say, “I love sleeping down here! This is terrific! Now I’m on my own. Now I can do what I want.” And God pursues him in the ocean, throws him over the side, says, “Jonah, we’ve gotta talk.” And as soon as he has him in the position where he’s ready to talk, Jonah says, “And I called to the Lord in my distress.” But what was he doing under the deck? Sleeping!
When [Anne] Cousin wrote that tremendous poem—thirty-eight verses or so—out of the memoirs of Samuel Rutherford, she pens in there this wonderful stanza:
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustred by His love;
I’ll bless the hand that guided,
I’ll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
Ill that He blesses is our good,
And unblessed good is ill;
And all is right that seems most wrong,
If it be His sweet will.
And he steps back from the event and he says, “You know what? It was you that hurled me into the sea. That’s why I was swirling, tumbling, sweeping, being engulfed, being wrapped with the seaweed. That’s why I was sinking.”
But notice what he says in verse 4: not only “You hurled me into the deep,” he says, but “I have been banished from your sight.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but this picture of him going down in the water scares me half to death. Swimming is not my forte. I mean, I can stay afloat, but I’m not about to, you know, try and swim for Catalina Island from the West Coast or something like that. And so the idea of this is absolutely horrendous to me. I can almost feel this experience. But I can get scared like this in a swimming pool, so this is no surprise.
But do you think that it is this physical thing that really creates the terror for him? Do you think this is the thing? It isn’t! These circumstances and all of their devastating impact are only and ultimately devastating inasmuch as they represent a more terrifying situation, and the terrifying situation is this: “I have been banished from your sight. I’m no longer in communion with you. We’re not on speaking terms. We’re not talking.”
Now, let me point out two things. First of all, for those of you who are here today and you do not believe in God, you have not come to lay hold of God’s great and precious promises, for me to tell you that the ultimate terror and the ultimate anguish is to be found in the fact that he is banished from the sight of God, you’re saying, “Well, I’m prepared to take your word for it, but it means nothing to me. I don’t see any sense of terror. I don’t see any sense of anguish of that.” And you know why? Because you’ve never known God. Because you have no sense of being in his presence. And since you’ve never been in his presence, you’d never know what it was like to be out of his presence. Since you’ve never been drawn into the love that is his in the Lord Jesus Christ, since you’ve never come to know him in all of his fullness, since you’ve never trusted in him and rested in him and known what it is for him to love and to care for you and to provide for you, the idea of being banished from his presence is like, “Hey, what’s the big deal?” And in your circumstance you need to cry out to God, “Oh, that I might seek you and that I might find you when I search for you with all of my heart.” Because you’re able to take this information this morning and say, “He’s clearly concerned about it. I can see that just from his posture. But I don’t know why in the world he would be so concerned.” The reason is, you’re a stranger.
You see, this word here is a word to the believer. It is a word to the running believer, it is a word to the backslidden believer, it is a word to those of us who are prepared to admit to the power of sin in our lives. It is a word to those of us who understand the trial of having our spirits awakened. It is a word to those of us who are haunted by the anxiety created by my own disobedience. For, you see, hell is to be banished from God forever! That’s why Jesus in Luke 11 says, “You shouldn’t be concerned about those who can kill the body. That’s nothing. Be concerned about the one who can cast you down into hell.” And Jonah says, “I have been banished from your sight.” And this dreadful sense of separation and isolation will only mean anything to the individual who knows what it is to live in God’s presence.
If you saw the film The Patriot, the most poignant piece in the whole movie for me is the dissonance between the patriot and his tiniest daughter, and how she clams up and won’t speak to him, and how, as he gets ready to go off to battle, as she stands away and he kisses his wife goodbye and goes down the line, and still she stands there, and as he turns his horse to go, and she comes after him, she goes, “Oh, Daddy! What do you want me to say to you? I’ll say anything to you! What do you want me to say?” There’s not a father in the house says, “Agh! Agh!” It’s that painful. But I guess the average seventeen-year-old’s going, “Oh man! That’s so cheesy! Goodness gracious. This is pathetic! Let’s get outta here,” you know? What’s that about?
But once you’ve known communion you understand banishment. And if you or I today are playing the game of two sides of the fence, trying to ride the escalator up and the escalator down, God comes to us in the storm, and the sense of isolation and the sense of separation is an act of just judgment on his behalf in order that we might realize, “This is not where the child of God is supposed to be. This is not what God has for me.”
And just when he thought he’d been abandoned for good, he’s swallowed by the fish. Not a great place to live but a wonderful place to learn. And there in this new little bed and breakfast accommodation, his affliction becomes a source of good to him as he realizes that if God had wanted to just deal with him for good and forever he would have let the seaweed wrap itself a final time around his face, and at the root of the mountains, as he sank, he would be barred in forever. But he has “remembered [the] Lord”—verse 7—and he has looked to the Lord, represented in his meeting with his people in his “holy temple.” And so he says, “You hurled me into the deep. I’ve been banished from your sight.”
Then finally, verse 6b: “But you brought my life up from the pit.” “But you brought my life up.” Who else could bring his life up?
He went down to Joppa, he went down below the deck, he went down into the depths. And here God intervenes divinely. Remember the psalmist: “I waited for the Lord my God, and patiently did bear.” This is the metrical psalm. “At length to me he did incline my voice and cry to hear. He took me from a miry pit and from the sticky clay, and he set my feet upon a rock, and he established my way.” The hymn writer then follows the psalm writer, and he says,
I was sinking deep in sin,
Sinking to rise no more,
Very deeply stained with sin,
Far from the peaceful shore.
Then the Master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry,
And from the waters he lifted me;
And now safe am I.
How are you going to get yourself out of your mess? “Oh, I’ll fix it,” you say, “I’ll get to it. I’ve got a number of approaches.”
Well, look at the observation that he then makes in verse 8: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” Those amongst his own people in Israel who were tempted to cling to these worthless idols, who were tempted to worship the Baals, if they continued in that direction, then they would have forfeited an awareness of the Lord’s gracious help.
One of the most tragic things is to see the way in which the contemporary church is tempted to cling to the worthless idols that are offered to us. And we look so pathetic in the world, hiding below the deck, talking to ourselves, being wakened up by the pagans. They’re saying to us, “Why are you down here? If God is such a great God, why are you running and hiding from him? Don’t you have something to say for yourself?” And finally, thrown into the midst of all of this confusion, then we start to get smart and say, “You know, I think there’s a number of ways we can get ourselves out of our predicament.” There’s only one way: “I called to the Lord, and he answered me.”
So his observation is that. His consecration is there in verse 9: “I’m going to sing a song of thanksgiving. I’m going to sacrifice to you, and I’m going to see it through. What I have vowed I will make good.” In other words, an attitude of repentance and faith that will not simply mark this moment in his life but will mold his life for the future.
Observation, verse 8. Consecration, verse 9. Liberation, verse 10: “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” I look forward to hearing the details of that, don’t you? Whoo! Uph. Do you think anyone helped him, you know, clean up or…? What did he do? He go looking for those big leaves, like you do when you fall in stuff when you’re out in the country? Wiping it off. People looking, saying, “Isn’t that the prophet Jonah down there? What the dickens is he doing?” Someone says, “Well, I saw a fish. Spat him up.” “Yeah, sure. Okay, fine, fine.”
Because when they asked him, they would have said, “How did you get here? And how did you get back?”
And he would have said, “Well, a fish swallowed me and spat me up.”
They said, “Don’t be ridiculous. Just don’t be so stupid.”
Isn’t that what our friends say to us, when we tell them? That the way that we got out of our predicament was as a result of the death of a Galilean carpenter on a Roman gibbet two thousand years ago, and that by the shedding of his blood, God poured out his wrath upon sin, and he took the punishment that we deserve, and because he died in our place we are now get vomited up, and we’re free to go about and live life. And our friends say, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
And between trying to clean himself up and 3:1, he must have wondered to himself, “Am I all washed up?” He knew he was literally washed up, but was he going to be washed up as far as God’s servant was concerned? “Has he got someone else in my place? I’m sure I don’t deserve to go back to Nineveh now. I’m sure I’ve been put down to row nine.” And “then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”
Some of us may be here this morning with a deep sense of failure and regret. We’ve done our own running. We’ve done our own attempt at hiding. God has come to us in various storms, and he’s wakened us up, and he’s set our feet back there. And the devil comes to us and says, “You’re finished now. You’re all washed up.” Tell him to go to where he belongs, and remind him that God is the God of the second chance, the third chance, the fourth chance, and the fifth chance too. And “salvation comes from the Lord,” saving me from the penalty of my sin, saving me daily from the power of sin, and saving me one day from the very presence of sin. And Jonah is an unforgettable reminder of this essential truth.
Father, out of a multitude of words we pray that we might hear your voice. I pray particularly for some who are here today, and the idea of being banished from you is no consideration to them at all, because they have never known a sense of your presence. They remain in the condition described in Ephesians 2: enemies of God, “dead in [their] trespasses and sins.” Why would a dead person ever be concerned about these matters of life? And so we pray that in your mercy you will come and make them alive, that they might hear your truth and that they might respond to it and believe in you.
For those of us who have been going our own way, seeking to run and take our own cruises, all away from the direction of your appointing, we pray that in your mercy and in your love you will come and throw us overboard. Grant to us such a sense of isolation that we will cry out to you, that we might be known of you afresh, and that you will pick us up and set our feet back on the pathway of your appointing.
Hear our prayers and let our cry come unto you.
And now unto him, the one who is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion, and power, now and forevermore. Amen.
 Joseph Pereira, “The Healing Power of Prayer Is Tested by Science,” Wall Street Journal, December 20, 1995.
 See Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things (New York: Villard, 1988).
 Psalm 121:4 (paraphrased).
 C. Austin Miles, “In the Garden” (1913).
 Isaac Watts, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” (1715). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Sam Walter Foss, “The Prayer of Cyrus Brown,” in Dreams in Homespun (Boston: Lathrop, Lee, and Shepard, 1897), 64–65.
 See Ephesians 1:11.
 J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (1993; repr., Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2011), 189.
 Psalm 139:1–2, 7–8 (NIV 1984).
 See Luke 15:11–24.
 Genesis 45:8 (NIV 1984).
 Anne Ross Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857).
 Frederick W. Faber, “I Worship Thee, Sweet Will of God” (1849).
 Jeremiah 29:13 (paraphrased).
 Luke 12:4–5 (paraphrased).
 The Patriot, directed by Roland Emmerich, written by Robert Rodat, Sony Pictures, 2000. Paraphrased.
 Psalm 40:1–2 (paraphrased).
 James Rowe, “Love Lifted Me” (1912). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Psalm 120:1 (ESV).
 Jonah 3:1 (NIV 1984).
 Ephesians 2:1 (KJV).
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.