January 6, 2019

Epiphany Sunday, January 6, 2019 — Jonah 2:1-10 — Learn of Jonah How to Pray in Difficult Times

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Passage: Jonah 2:1-10
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Bible Text: Jonah 2:1-10 | Preacher: Andrew Schaller | Sermon for Epiphany – Sunday, January 6, 2019
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
Jonah 2:1–10 (NKJV)
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. 2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, and He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.
 
3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
 
5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. 7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.
 
8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”
 
10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
   Who is the Anchor of our Soul,
       During the worst storms of Life,
          Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
Whether you’ve cooked in a pan over an open fire or not, you probably understand this English idiom.  We understand it because we’ve all had days where things seemed to ‘go from bad…to worse’.  For example:
It’s a frigid winter morning and when you turn the key…the car won’t start.  Naturally, you have the battery checked and find that it doesn’t have a charge. The fellow at the auto parts store is more than happy to sell you a new battery…so you take it home and put it in the car and ‘varoom’, the car starts!  Yes!
Two days later…it won’t start again because the new battery is now without charge. It turns out that the alternator, the part that keeps the battery charged is also fried!
 
Things have officially gone from bad to worse.   
Things also went from bad to worse for the Prophet Jonah.  The LORD called him to go to Nineveh, the capital city of the enemy, the nation of Assyria.  He was to speak the Word of the LORD to that city and call them to repent of their sins.  It was a bad deal from Jonah’s point of view.  He turned away from the task given him and bought a ticket on a boat headed the other direction. He was hiding from the LORD and the work the LORD had given him.
Things went from bad to worse when the LORD steered a storm in the direction of the ship.  Before long the ship was coming apart and every sailor on board was praying to his own version of ‘god’.  The captain and his crew threw cargo overboard in an attempt to save themselves and in the process found Jonah sleeping in the hold.  They urged him to pray.  They drew lots in a superstitious attempt to determine which of them was to blame for the storm.
Jonah drew the short straw, and things again went from bad to worse.  What had been a secret between Jonah and the LORD was now known to his shipmates. If he didn’t die from the storm, he might be in peril from his shipmates!  There was only one sensible thing to do – Jonah told them to throw him overboard.  They refused at first, but then the storm got worse.
Again, things went from bad to worse.  After praying that they not die because of Jonah’s sin and not be held accountable for his death, they threw tossed him overboard. The storm stopped…they were saved.
For Jonah, things again went from bad to worse…he was swallowed by a great fish.  “Out of the frying pan, into the fire.”
This isn’t a children’s story.  This isn’t one of Aesop’s fables.  This event really took place and has been recorded in God’s Word for our benefit.  We’ve all had bad, even tragic days and weeks…but none of us have experienced the tragedy that the Old Testament Believer Job experienced and neither have we been in the belly of a great fish.
 
This may seem a strange Bible text for the first Sunday in a New Year…until we remember that this is Epiphany Sunday. One of the themes of this season in the church year is this that God sent His Son to save all men, both Jew and Gentile.  The Book of Jonah shows how the LORD sent Jonah to speak His Word to the enemy, to the Assyrians, to Gentiles, that they too might be saved from the consequence of their sin. Jonah didn’t like the LORD having mercy on the enemy.
 
In this particular Scripture we learn from Jonah how we should pray in difficult times.  When things go from bad to worse, we first address our prayers to the LORD, the True God, and we begin with thanksgiving.  We pray to the LORD because we recognize that He alone can save.
May God the Holy Spirit bless our mediation upon this word and lead us to pray more frequently, especially when things go from bad to worse.  Amen.
+++++++
 
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly.
I think it’s fair to say that in our country it is popular to pray.  Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask us to pray for them.  Especially when we come up against our own mortality, it’s natural to seek help outside ourselves, to seek a miracle.  As it was said during the World Wars, “There are no atheists in fox holes.”
When things went bad on the ship upon which Jonah had obtained passage, we are told (Jonah 1:5a):
 
“…the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.
 
How did that work out for the sailors?  It didn’t.  Things went from bad to worse because not every prayer is equal. Prayer isn’t a magic trick that works in every case.  Prayer must be addressed to the True and Living God in faith or it is just so many hopeful words in the wind.  God hears the prayers of those who trust in Him and His Son, and are accounted as righteous, for it is written (Psalm 34:15-16):
“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. 16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.”
Prayer doesn’t work miracles…God works miracles.  Prayer is only effective if it is addressed to the True God, trusting in Him.  The Epistle of James reminds us to ask in faith (James 1:5-7):
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”
It’s not where you pray or how long you pray or what words you use!  In difficult times pray to the LORD, the God of the Bible, trusting that He will hear and answer you because Jesus has made you a child and heir of God.
Jonah wasn’t sitting on a cushioned pew when he prayed these words. Honestly, under the circumstances we might expect Jonah’s prayer to go something like this, “Help! Help!”
Now please notice that Jonah didn’t pray that God deliver Him.  He offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to God for having delivered him from death…and he did it while still in the fish’s belly!
2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, and He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
We don’t have to ‘read between the lines’ to figure out why Jonah prayed…but for our sakes it is stated.  Jonah cried out to the LORD because of his affliction, because of the trouble that had come upon him.
Moreover, Jonah didn’t pray because He knew that ‘he’d get out of it.’  When Jonah prayed these words, he expected that he was going to die.
Well, Pastor, how do you know that?  Well, it says that Jonah prayed ‘out of the belly of Sheol.’  The ‘belly of Sheol’ doesn’t refer to the fish.  The fish’s name wasn’t ‘Sheol.’  The word ‘Sheol’ is the Hebrew word for the grave, for the place where the dead go. Jonah cried out to the LORD when he thought He had been swallowed up by death.
Jonah was drowning.  He had been cast off the ship into the deep, into the heart of the sea. The breakers and swells passed over him and he sank into the deep, pulled by the currents of the sea.
Jonah knew that He deserved to die…after all he had been disobedient to the Lord’s Command to go to Nineveh!  He didn’t blame the sailors (Why should he, he told them to throw him overboard!)!  Jonah said to the LORD, ‘You cast me into the deep’ understanding the sailors to be acting as the agents of the Lord’s Judgment.
Jonah believed that He deserved to be cast out of God’s sight. 
Why is it that this simple truth so easily eludes us?  When trouble or tragedy comes to us, we often complain, “What have I done to deserve this?”  We act as if we deserve better, as if God were cheating us or giving us a bad deal.
We should learn from Jonah!  We deserve to be judged, to be condemned for our sins of thought, word and action.  We don’t deserve God’s mercy.  Mercy isn’t getting what you deserve – that’s justice.  Jesus didn’t deserve to be saddled with our sins, scourged, crucified and left alone with the weight of our guilt. The Father was well pleased with Him.  He had no reason to forsake Him and every reason to forsake us.  Instead, God had mercy on us and settled accounts with Himself by condemning His own Son.
When things go from bad to worse, let’s not begin by asking, “What have I done to deserve this.”  Let’s recognize that we are sinners who deserve far worse.
Now notice that while Jonah didn’t ask to be saved from the fish…he was still confident that he would one day see the Lord’s Temple and offer up praise and thanksgiving.  Jonah thanked the Lord for being delivered from drowning. He trusted the LORD to do what was best for him despite his unworthiness.
We know that we have been delivered from sin and eternal death by the blood of Jesus.  We can look back on our lives and see His kindness to us.  We can be sure that we are secure whatever tomorrow brings.  We will one day see the Father’s house and offer up thanks and praise to Him.
When things seem to go from bad to worse, begin your prayer by recalling with thanksgiving God’s rescue of your soul in Christ.  So, recall the cross and know God’s love has not changed.
 
Pray to the LORD, because He alone can deliver, He alone can save.
5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. 7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.
We can almost feel the anguish that Jonah felt as he sank down in the water, expecting to drown and to die.  There was water everywhere, even within.  The deep closed around him and the sea weed growing on the ocean floor was wrapped around his head.  He felt as though he went down to the base of the mountains, submerged beneath the water and it was as if the earth closed him in forever.
When it seemed, all was hopeless and lost…the LORD saved Jonah’s life.  It wasn’t the most conventional way of saving him.  There was no life preserver and no diver, he was delivered from death by a great fish.  He was swallowed down.
So, what would you or I be thinking under similar circumstances?  It is admittedly artificial to try and put ourselves into Jonah’s sandals, but we would like to think that when we come to the door of death…the name of the LORD would be on our lips.  I would like to think that my last words would be those of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:13): “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Or perhaps you would remember the words of a familiar hymn (558:2) “Forgive me Lord, for Thy dear Son, the Ill that I this day have done.”
When we experience trouble and tragedy, when we are at our lowest, instead of speaking empty words of despair, let us learn of Jonah to pray to the LORD knowing that He alone can save!  In fact, He has already saved us by the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice…pictured in all those Old Testament Offerings…
8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”
We live in a time when it’s widely accepted that there is one god who goes by different names depending on the religion. “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you believe something, they say.”
 
There are still others who suggest that all gods are equals.  “All this world’s ills are created by religion, they say, we just need to coexist.”   
 
 These pseudo philosophical musings may be accepted by the General Public and by those who don’t know the LORD, the God of the Bible, but we cannot accept them.  There is a difference and we are urged by the LORD to steer clear of these things (Colossians 2:8):
 
8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
 
Jonah said it simply: “Those who place their confidence in worthless idols – forsake the real helper and the source of mercy, the LORD God.”  While the sailors on the boat prayed to their own gods, each believing that their own deity would deliver…still there was only one God who rescued them all…one who stopped the storm…one who saved Jonah.
10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
The LORD alone saves…for Salvation is of the LORD.  We direct our prayers to Him, for He has saved us by sending His Only Begotten Son. He alone is worthy of our prayers.
Learn of Jonah…How to Pray in Difficult Times: 
üPray to the LORD, the True God with Thanks. 
üPray to the LORD, recognizing that He alone can save. 
Amen.

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