Jonah had paid for a ship to take him across the sea to flee the Lord but he discovered that you can’t run away from God. A great wind storm had threated to tear apart the ship and drown everyone on board until the captain and crew threw Jonah into the sea. But before throwing Jonah down into the water they had prayed to the Lord to spare their lives and prayed that the Lord would not hold them guilty for casting Jonah in the sea. Then the Lord answered their prayers – the sea ceased from its raging.
But the story did not end for Jonah. The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Unable to flee from the presence of the Lord, Jonah prayed in the belly of that great fish and God answered his prayer.
Last time one of you asked if he died and I said that the answer might surprise some of you. Jonah says he was dead. His prayer came up to God out of the belly of Sheol, he tells us. Sheol just means the place where dead people go. Jonah was using poetic language to say that he was dead. Later in the poem he says, “I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” Again the land whose bars closed upon me forever and the pit are more poetic ways of saying the place where dead people go. He was dead. Yet God answered his prayer. God heard his voice. “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” The Lord raised him from the dead.
Jonah remembered the Lord and then the Lord remembered Jonah. The Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. He was alive again. Moving from the chaos of the sea to dry land appearing is the language of creation in Genesis 1 for now Jonah was a new creation – He had experienced resurrection from the dead. Jonah points us forward to Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day.
And like Jonah today there are people who are dead in their sins but God will give them eternal life in Christ Jesus. He gives them faith in Jesus and they pray and ask God for forgiveness and life. Salvation belongs to the Lord…they cannot save themselves, but He lifts up those who come to their senses seeing they are dead on the bottom of the sea – those whose lives are chaos and they know it and they surrender to Him.