Dwelling on the Mercy of God

(c) southern seminary magazine

Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
      And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
      Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.  Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’  The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head  at the roots of the mountains. 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. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 1:14-2:9).

Remember the story of Jonah up to this point?  In verse 1, chapter 1: God calls his prophet, Jonah, to go preach to the city of Ninevah, to declare his righteous judgment against their sin.  But he doesn’t go.  Instead, he pays for a ride on a boat going in the opposite direction of his call. But God isn’t finished with Jonah. So, he stirs up a storm at sea that incites panic in the crew of sailors Jonah is with, even as the boat begins to break apart because of this violent storm. Jonah refuses to repent and instead allows himself to be thrown overboard.

Commenting on this point of the story, the old preacher in Moby Dick says, “Behold Jonah, taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea.”  It’s a good image. Why?  Because Jonah doesn’t bob and up and down on the surface of the sea, trying to tread water—he sinks!  In his prayer, Jonah recounts his situation and says to God: “you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.”  Jonah isn’t put in the shallow end, nor is thrown into calm water.  He tossed into the open sea in the middle a violent storm.  He goes in and immediate waves crash in over his head, driving him down into vastness of the water.  Verse 5:  “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head 6at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever.” All of this churning sea has dredged up all kinds of things, all of which are now wrapped all around Jonah. Sea vegetation is swirling around, even around his head, in his eyes.  He can’t breathe, he can’t see, all he can do is flail around and sink farther and farther into the salty depths of death.

At this point, you’d think that this would be the end for Jonah.  After all, God doesn’t need a disobedient prophet.  He doesn’t need Jonah.  He doesn’t have to tolerate his wretched, rebellious attitude. He should be a goner and no one would be able to judge God for letting it happen.  And when you read Jonah’s description of his descent into the sea, it seems pretty clear that he thought he was a goner as well.

But remember this passage from chapter 2 is Jonah’s prayer of thankfulness for God’s salvation.  God had mercy on him.  He says, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.”  Jonah says, as he was descending towards death—towards the land whose bars would forever close upon him—he called out to the Lord.  What did he say?  Did he repent?  Did he beg for mercy?  We don’t know.  All we know is that God saved him from drowning in the sea.  God saved–not because he was obligated to, not because it was just to save him, not because Jonah deserved to be saved–God saved Jonah because he is a God of mercy.

And it’s that same God of mercy who has saved you, dear Christians.  Because of your sin and rebellion against God, because of your offense against the most unimaginably beautiful and glorious Being in all the universe, you deserve death (cf. Romans 1-3).  Apart from God, your life was sinking towards death and hell.  Through you lived in apparent freedom—even happiness—your life was ebbing away. You were gasping your final breaths as the waves of God’s wrath were crashing down upon you.  You were sinking in the mire and muck of your own undoing, as the stench of death wafted up from your position of just condemnation (cf. Eph 2:1-3).

And for you God came down. To you who deserved the sentence of death that had been passed upon you for your sins, God came powerfully to you through the preaching of the gospel.  By his Spirit, he called you to turn away from your sin and look to Jesus—the Savior who died for your sins and was raised to life again.  Rather than live for yourself in rebellion against your King, you were called to give up your life and live in obedience to your King.  And this life-giving call, came not because you deserved it or earned it or could even repay anything for it.  This divine salvation came because of a God who shows mercy to sinners.

Have you dwelled on this lately?  Not just acknowledged that God saved you, but meditated on the very sinfulness of your sin and the fact there is nothing in you that warrants the death of Christ for your salvation?  Have you allowed your thoughts to be soaked in the sea of God’s kindness and mercy towards you?  Loved ones, it’s not about the number or nature of our sins that will make us grateful for our sin, for any offense—even our very being as sinners—is worth of an eternity in hell.  Rather, it’s the great mercy of God that should move us tears of gratefulness.  It’s understanding the great loving mercy of God in our salvation that will give rise to a deep love for God and an increasingly joyful obedience.

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