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From Grumbling to Grateful

Date: Aug. 23, 2020

Author: Michael Mark

Jonah 1:17-2:10

Key Verse: Jonah 2:9

But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good.  I will say, "Salvation comes from the Lord."

I believe we all have an idea about what it looks like to grumble.  Generally it looks like complaining or muttering.  In preparation for this message, I decided to google the definition of grumble, just to check, and the definition became more clear.  Google’s dictionary defines grumble as “complaining or protesting about something in a bad-tempered but typically muted way.”  This was eye-opening to me for two reasons: one, I hadn’t thought of grumbling as being typically muted, but it is.  This means that grumbling is generally quiet, low volume, or silent.  The second reason is, that I am a total grumbler.  My style of anger is typically quiet, complaining, and bad-tempered.  What’s even more shocking is that I was like this last night, right around midnight, so I have a testimony to share, hot off the press, and it isn’t flattering. 

Our air conditioning unit outside our home is over 20 years old, and starting to show its age, so in the past two days, we had a technician come over twice to try to fix it.  Yesterday, I thought he had finally fixed it, so case closed, everything works now.  Last night, close to midnight, Mary says the air conditioner is not working.  I said no, it’s working.  Then she said no, it’s not working, and tried to show me proof of the temperature on her phone.  This made me angry, and I really started to grumble.  Like silently in my mind, festering.  Why bring this up now?  I don’t want to pay for more service.  I definitely don’t want to consider getting a new AC unit.  The temperature’s fine.  Why is she complaining?  And on and on, all in my mind, silent, but angry.  Finally, when the AC turned back on, Mary went to the vent and she said here, look, feel the air, it’s not cold.  So, reluctantly, I got up, went to the vent, put my foot on it, and my world shattered.  I was wrong, she was right.  I grumbled and complained, but the AC was really broken.  I was horrified, and humbled, and apologized.  I was also grateful.  Grateful for a gracious wife.  Grateful for a wife who cares about her home and her husband and her daughter.  I’m not gonna lie, in my anger, I complained to God, but I also prayed to God.  I did not know how he would help me resolve the situation, but he did, by showing me my fault.  It was the Lord who changed my heart from grumbling to grateful, and in this passage we see that Jonah’s heart also, was changed from grumbling to grateful by the Lord.  Through this passage, I hope that you may learn too, how the Lord can change you from grumbling, or whatever state that you’re in, ultimately to grateful.

Last week we learned that Jonah grumbled about the mission God gave him: to preach against the great city of Ninevah.  He ran away so hard and fast that he hopped aboard a ship sailing in the completely opposite direction from the way to Ninevah.  Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea and such a violent storm arose that it threatened to break up the ship.  The sailors on board suspected it was the gods, and cast lots to find out it was Jonah’s God that was causing the great disturbance.  Jonah, in what might have been his most selfish action, advised the men to throw him overboard, perhaps hoping or plotting to get out of his mission by death.  Or, he might have realized that the only way to calm the sea was to sacrifice himself, and to save the lives of the sailors he got caught up with he advised them to throw him into the sea.  We do not know for sure his heart or motives from the first chapter, but today, we can see what went through his mind as he was hurled into the depths of the sea as we take a look into his prayer.

Today’s passage begins with v.17, “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”  Right from the start we see God’s hand in all of this.  Prior to this, the Lord sent a great wind to cause the storm.  The Lord had calmed the sea.  Now the Lord provided a huge fish.  Back in those days, maybe a rescue boat would come out to search for you and find you and save you.  These days, it might be a helicopter.  But here God sends a huge fish to scoop up Jonah.  Here’s where some people might say this story is an allegory, and the fish is figurative, or symbolic.  But Jonah was a real historical person, mentioned also in the book of 2 Kings 14:25, and Jesus says very matter of factly: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a fish,” in Matt 12:40, in a direct comparison to his being buried in a tomb, we have reasons to believe this actually occurred.  If you can believe that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego can survive a fiery furnace that blazed so hot it killed the others that went near it, and that Daniel could survive in a den of hungry lions, then it is no stretch to also know that by God’s power Jonah could survive in the belly of a huge fish without being digested or drowned in water.  His survival inside the belly of a fish was miraculous.  Now, it probably wasn’t very comfortable.  When we say something smell’s fishy, it’s generally not a nice scent, and I don’t think fish guts are any nicer.  There was no light in there, and I’ll leave it to you to imagine what sounds he might have heard also.

One thing Jonah knew for sure, was that he was alive, breathing somehow, and conscious.  I think Jonah knew he was alive because he might have even been conscious when he was swallowed up by the fish as everything turned dark in some kind of really strange and uncomfortable water park ride.  But make no mistake, it probably wasn’t fun.  If this was you, and you became unconscious in the water, but woke up suddenly in the darkness inside of a huge fish, you might question if you were dead or alive.  So that’s part of the reason I think Jonah was conscious as he was swallowed up, so he could know he was alive.  Although he ended up inside the belly of this fish, he felt safe, perhaps especially compared to the storm he was thrown into; the inside of this fish may have been calm by comparison.

It is from here, inside of the fish, Jonah begins his prayer.  Verse 1 says, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.”  Notice first, the “LORD his God.”  What you might see as small capital letters “LORD” is actually the proper name of God – we don’t know the vowels, but it’s commonly he is referred to as Yahweh, or Jehovah.  Lord might seem generic, but to the original audience, God’s name is there, so the verse would read something like “Jonah prayed to Yahweh his God.”  This gives it a very personal touch: that you can know God, you can know his name, and this God is your God, and you have a relationship with him: He is your God.  Yahweh is your God, or Jehovah is your God.  Even though God sent the storm that caused Jonah to be thrown overboard, and sends the fish to swallow him up, Jonah sends a prayer to his God, the God he knows by name.

The next 8 verses comprise of this prayer, but while Jonah was in the belly of the fish, I don’t think he prayed exactly these words, but he thought these things, and later they are summarized into these verses.  He was in the fish for three days and three nights, so his prayer would have been constant throughout that time.  It takes us maybe 1 minute to read these verses, but Jonah prayed for hours if not days, but the substance and subject of those prayers are summarized and crystalized into these next 8 verses.  We will look at his prayer in 3 sections, or 3 stanzas, if you will.  The first stanza is from v.2-4.  The second is v.5-7, and the third is v.8-9.  The first two are kind of parallel to one another, but each one also builds upon the previous one, until we get to the glorious conclusion of v.8-9.

So let’s look at the prayer of the first stanza, v.2-4, beginning at verse 2: “He said: ‘In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.  From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.’”  Here’s where we begin to see what was in the mind of Jonah.  When he was thrown overboard, he was engulfed by the storm of the sea.  I don’t know about you, but I find the thought terrifying to be abandoned in the open ocean, especially in a storm.  The violent waves pounding him from every side, giving him very little time to gasp for air and catch his breath, as waters continually assaulted him.  But in his distress, in his time of deep anguish, and pain and helplessness, he called to the Lord, and God answered him.  What a wonderful realization, and what a comforting thought.  These days, when you call someone on their cell phone, 90% of the time you’ll get a voice message, and maybe a text reply back.  We don’t talk on the phone as much as we used to before cell phones and text messaging.  But God will answer your call, especially when you are in distress.  Jonah for sure thought he might surely die, because he felt he went deep into the realm of the dead.  He called for help, and he said this: “you listened to my cry.”  Wow.  We can only hear someone up to a certain distance.  According to a google search, a normal human can hear someone, in still air, is up to 600 ft away, or 180 meters, which is farther than I thought.  But God can hear you wherever you are, even as far down as deep in the realm of the dead, and according to Jonah, that is a considerable distance.

Now, as we read these verses, they sound like they come right out of the Psalms.  In fact, many of the Psalms say very similar things.  Just looking at the cross-references in my Bible, verse 2 is similar to Psalm 18:6, and 120:1.  Verse 3 is echoing from Psalm 88:6 and 42:7.  Verse 4 from Psalm 31:22.  This shows you how well-versed Jonah knew the Scriptures, that his thinking is in Psalms, and he could quote these verses, and make them his own.  I think it was said of John Bunyan, that he knew the Bible so well that if you cut him he would bleed Bibline (Bible).  Sometimes the way our missionaries speak, because they learned English from the Bible, is very Scripture-esque.  In any case, it is very beneficial and profitable to study and meditate on the Bible, for not only is it food for the soul, but it is also the sword of the Lord, a lamp unto your feet, and a light unto your path.

He continues in v.3, “You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.”  Here you can see that Jonah acknowledges that it is the Lord who has chastened and disciplined him.  He didn’t blame the sailors for hurling him into the sea, but God.  He said “You hurled me into the depths.”  He also says “your waves and breakers swept over me.”  The turbulent waters were an instrument used by God, and Jonah knew that it was his fault, as he confessed in Ch. 1.  He knew that this was a result of his disobedience, which had angered God.

So he says something interesting in his prayer in v.4, “I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’”  He goes even as far as to say “I have been  banished from your sight.”  He knows that he has done wrong, that he has sinned against God, and cannot remain in his sight.  But look again at what he says next: “yet I will look again toward your holy temple.”  This is a bright and shining statement of faith.  Jonah feels lost, banished, hopeless, helpless and abandoned – but despite all this, he knows the one place that he can find help.  He knows the one place he can find refuge, and that is the holy temple of God.  In Jonah’s time, the Israelites prayed in the direction of the temple, and expected their prayers to be heard.  The temple was where God dwelt, and where he was seated.  Today, there is no temple like that in Jonah’s time, but there is a place God dwells, and where he sits on a throne.  He is seated in the heavens, and he is seated in the church, and he is seated in the hearts of those who believe in him.  Where Jonah looked toward the holy temple, today, we look to Jesus.  And that’s all it is.  Wherever you are, whatever state you are in: whether in distress, even as far as the farthest depths of darkness, you only need to look.  How easy that is, something anyone can do: look toward the holy temple, look toward Jesus.

In the next stanza, verses 5-7, we see kind of a parallel thought to verses 2-4, but also a forward progression.  Look at v.5: “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.”  He again recounts his distress, so that he can magnify his deliverance.  The waters were engulfing, the deep surrounded him, I imagine maybe somehow, the undercurrents pulled him in, and swept him under.  Seaweed was wrapped around his head, again, a frightening experience.  Think of being pulled underwater, and then being stuck there by seaweed wrapped around your head, now being unable to free yourself.

Here’s a little bit of progression in v.6: “To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.  But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.”  This is how deep he went.  We can only see mountains above ground, or above water.  But he sank down to the roots, to the base of the mountains under water, the roots he says, like roots of trees.  He says “the earth beneath barred me in forever.”  Think of a door, one of those old medieval doors that you lock with a giant wooden bar.  That’s what he’s describing, except this door is the earth.  The earth has locked him out – it has shut him out, barring him into the sea.  He is saying he has no hope of ever getting back onto dry land.  But there is a rescuer, as he says in v.6b, “But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.”  In the first stanza, he spoke of the Lord hearing him, and how he looked to the temple.  In this second stanza, he says the Lord brought his life up from the pit.  When God answers, he delivers.  And when I say deliver, I mean he brings you up.  Think of this pit like the abyss, like a bottomless pit.  Sometimes you feel like you sink down into that when you’re in distress, but perhaps death is very much like that also.  God is able to lift you up from that pit.  Jonah wasn’t on dry ground yet – but he knew the Lord was working.  The Lord has saved him from the violent waters above and below, and Jonah knew soon, in a matter of time, he would be walking on solid ground again.

Verse 7 references the temple again, like verse 4, but with a different approach.  Look at v.7, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”  In your deepest, darkest times, don’t forget this – but remember the Lord.  Even when you feel you have backslidden too far, you have gone days, weeks, months having forgotten the Lord, and your life is ebbing away in dissipation, don’t despair, but remember him, remember the Lord.  And your prayers will rise to him, to his temple in heaven.  When Jonah’s life was in jeopardy, when it was fading away, he remembered the one who could bring his life back up from the pit.

So Jonah comes to this magnificent conclusion to his prayer, in v.8-9.  Let’s look at v.8 first, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.”   This word “cling” means to depend on, to hang on to, to look to worthless idols.  Idols are false gods, put another way, anything that is not the one true God, is a worthless idol.  Anything that you are trusting in for life, anything that you put your hope in instead of God will fail you.  This was evidenced by the sailors in the previous chapter.  None of their gods could help them in the storm.  The same with people who do not cling to God, but make it their life’s goal to pursue anything: money, a pleasure filled life, recognition, material things, in the end cannot take these things with them.  After death, they literally are worthless.  But also note what Jonah says: those who cling to these worthless things turn away from God’s love for them.  Jonah knows the love of God.  He knows that God’s love enables him to hear us from our distress, or from the deepest depths of darkness.  He knows that God’s love will listen to anyone who looks to him, even if God was angry with them.  Even Micah says in Micah 7:18, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”  So why, why cling to what is empty, deteriorating, and ultimately unsatisfying, when you can turn to the one who loves and delights to show mercy!  Why forsake this wonderful love for something vain?  Those who cling to worthless things, turn away God’s love for them.

Jonah differentiates himself in v.9, and closes this prayer with a wonderful and glorious truth.  Verse 9 says, “But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good.  I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”  “But I,” he says.  He is not one who clings to worthless idols, but he does this: with shouts of grateful praise, he sacrifices to God.  Maybe he was referring to, as was common in his time, of the animal sacrifice at the temple, which was an offering to God.  There is no physical temple today to offer animal sacrifices, but there is another sacrifice we can offer, as mentioned in Heb 13:15-16, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.  And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”  Praising God with your whole heart is an offering that is pleasing to Him.  You can even interpret Jonah’s sacrifice this way too.  His sacrifice to God are shouts of grateful praise.  Look at Jonah.  He went from grumbling, to shouting grateful praises.  I’m not sure if he actually did this inside the belly of the fish too, but definitely in his heart, even in the weird place of a fish’s belly, he praised God with shouts of grateful praises.

This is also his vow.  He vows, what he said he will do in the beginning of v.9, to give sacrifices of shouts of grateful praises.  Of course, this can also mean other vows he has made too.  He is so thankful to God that he will do what he promised for him.  But as for us, our vows to God need not be complicated, it can be as simple as vowing to give praises to him.  And here is the greatest reason why – at the end of verse 9:  “I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”  Jonah was saved out of his distress.  Jonah was saved out of the violent waters.  Jonah was saved out of the pit of the earth.  But how?  This was all by God.  The sea is so vast, how could he save himself?  The waters are too deep, the waves too powerful – Jonah was utterly powerless.  Moreover, he deemed himself unworthy.  He said, “I have been banished from your sight.”  But he remembered God.  He called out to God, and God answered his prayers.  God demonstrated his great love for Jonah by saving him, and so Jonah could pray this prayer at the end.

This is how God saves us.  Rom 5:6-8 says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Like Jonah, we are powerless in our sins.  They cause us so much grief and distress, plunging us into darkness.  We are lost, swept away, and apart from Christ we will be swept up in the violent sea of the wrath of God to come.  But again, Rom 5:8-9 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”  Christ died for us!  How much more shall we be saved from the wrath of God!!  I love that “How much more.”  How much more means it cannot not happen.  If Christ died for you, you cannot not be saved, but because Christ died for you, you will absolutely, 100%, most assuredly be saved from the wrath of God!!  And if saved from the wrath of God, then that means you have entered into the grace of God.  Who else can save in such a way?? Who else can die for our sins??  No one, but Christ alone.  So we shout in grateful praise, Salvation, Salvation only in Jesus Christ!!

God had turned Jonah’s grumbling into grateful praise, because of his great love, overflowing grace and abundant mercy.  But how does grumbling turn into gratefulness?  How can you, my dear brothers and sisters, turn your grumbling into gratefulness?  It is achieved by the powerful word that begins with an “R”, “Repentance.”  Repentance will turn grumbling into gratefulness.  Consider again Jonah’s story here.  He acknowledged his sin and his guilt, but he looked toward the holy temple.  He did not consider himself worthy, but he looked to the One, the only One who could help him.  Though he fled away, in his times of distress, he turned his head, and looked to the holy temple, where God dwells.  He did not perform any good works, he could not as he was being swept away by a violent sea, but he did this: he remembered his God, and he prayed to Him, more, he called to Him.  And that is repentance.  It is turning to the Lord.  Jonah said those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.  But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.  That is repentance.  You must be the “But I.”  Turn away from worthless things, and turn to God and call out to him.  Then you may say, “Salvation is from the Lord.”  And you will be saved.  But not just in matters of salvation, but in all matters, repent, and turn to God.  That is also how I went from grumbling last night, to being grateful.  I repented of my anger, and I was forgiven.

Very very quickly, to conclude and cover the final verse of the passage, after Jonah had repented, look what God did.  “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”  Jonah was delivered!  By the power and command of God.  Although a little slimy, he was brought out of the fish, and back onto solid ground.  This here is a picture of the resurrection, and I believe that ours will be a little more clean, and a lot more glorious: but this is the hope we have when we repent, and believe in Jesus Christ for our salvation – it is the resurrection from the dead.  God be praised!

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The Greatest of These is Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Key Verse: 13:13b

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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