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Jonah II: Tempestuous Mercy - Jonah 1:4-16

The central question driving the book of Jonah is about how we respond to the mercy that God has for sinners. When Jonah rejects his prophetic commission, God hurls a violent wind after His runaway prophet, hiding mercy in the disguise of a great tempest. This powerful storm is God’s merciful reply to Jonah’s sin, and in what follows, we see four wrong responses to God’s mercy before Jonah finally responds the right way.

The first wrong response is on the part of the sailors. The storm is threatening to break the ship apart, and so each sailor cries out to his god. They are right to call for divine help; they just have the wrong gods, and gods who cannot hear cannot help. For us, our idols come in disguise, but when God comes to rebuke your sin, you find out the hard way that an idol in the form of a new law, a pill, a rule, or a therapy cannot quiet a mercy-storm!

The second wrong response also comes from the mariners when they start throwing the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. In many storms, this would be the right response, but what’s burdening this ship isn’t the cargo; it’s the runaway prophet. We can make this mistake too, when God sends storms into our lives. We rush to clean up our act using spiritual life hacks and self-improvement techniques, doing all sorts of good things other than repenting. When we do this, though, we’re just throwing the cargo overboard; calm won’t come until we deal with the real issue.

The third wrong response comes from Jonah, who tries to ignore the mercy-storm by acting like nothing is wrong and sleeping in the bottom of the boat. But ignoring a mercy-storm and quieting a mercy-storm are two very different things. When we refuse to allow that the troubles that we are experiencing just might be God’s efforts to get our attention and call us back to Himself, we are sleeping in the bottom of the boat. Any peace that this sleep brings is a false peace, and it will not end well.

After the Lord guides the lot to call out Jonah as the cause of the tempest, Jonah prophesies the only right response: “Kill me,” Jonah says, “and you will live.” Now, this isn’t an atonement: Jonah isn’t paying for their sins, or even his own; he’s receiving justice. But it is a sacrifice that will save the sailors’ lives. Jonah is willing to die so that these men might be saved. Despite his initial disobedience, we’re starting to see why Jesus likes Jonah so much!

But the sailors are understandably hesitant to kill the prophet of Yahweh, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. They don’t want this powerful God mad at them, and so they give us the fourth wrong response to the storm: they try to row harder. This wrong response might be the one that Christian are most tempted to fall into: try harder, so that God will forgive you and take away the pain! But the lesson of tempestuous mercy is not “try harder!” Your trying is what landed you in the middle of the storm; you need mercy to get you out! So stop rowing, start believing God’s Word, and cast yourself directly into the ocean of His mercy!

But after the storm intensifies in direct response to their rowing, the mariners realize that they have no other choice. Just as God hurled a great wind upon the sea, the sailors hurl Jonah into the sea, and instantly, the storm stops. After this, the sailors go from fear to exceeding fear. God in His dangerous mercy has brought the fear of the Lord to a ship full of Gentiles through the disobedience of his prophet. If that’s the result of disobedience, what will the result of obedience be?

The mercy-tempest accomplished the work that God gave it to do. Jonah at last found the right response to God’s mercy: don’t ignore it, don’t avoid it, don’t try to earn it: just throw yourself into it! Like Jonah, we run from God. God in His mercy sends disciplinary storms after us, and He wants us to respond in the right way. Jonah’s response was to submit to God’s justice, only to be surprised by mercy. In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus responded with faithful obedience, which enabled Him to calm that storm with a word. Your response must be to trust yourself to the mercy of God in Christ, who sacrificed Himself in your place on the cross so that mercy can be yours.

Posted on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 by CJ Bowen