Jonah 1:11-17- Sacrificial Love
When we think about love what comes to mind?
Perhaps we might think of romantic love? We have plenty of cultural examples of this – the classic romcom tells us that love is about finding that special someone to spend the rest of our lives with.
Or Perhaps we might think of our family and the way we feel about them.
Or perhaps we might think of friendship, and the people we share our lives with.
Or perhaps we might think about things we are passionate about, things we love doing for example.
But what does love really look like when we encounter it?
What is the shape of true love?
Think for a moment of people you know who truly love you…think about what it looks like. How do you know they love you?
Today we meet Jonah once again and in this part of his story we get a glimpse of the shape of genuine love. We’ll come back to this question soon but first let me take a moment to set the scene.
So far Jonah has been called by God to go and preach to Nineveh, a city that was wicked and corrupt and was full of Jonah’s enemies. But a city that God loved nonetheless. So, Jonah is called to go and preach to them that they may turn to God. Jonah runs in the opposite direction, takes a ship to get away and finds himself caught in a storm at the hands of God.
In the midst of all of this Jonah is asleep to the reality of his situation, but the captain and the sailors wake him, haul him up on deck and they figure out the mess they are in is really his fault after all.
And so, as we continue our series in Jonah we begin today with the desperate words of the sailors. They say What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”
Jonah has revealed his identity, and he has shared with them about what he has done – he has run from the God of all creation and is now in a spot of bother.
What is happening all around them at this point is that the pressure is building, the story gives us a sense of impending doom. We hear in verse 11 that the “sea was growing more and more tempestuous” Then in verse 13 we hear “the sea grew more and more stormy against them.” (Insert dramatic music here)
Things are getting desperate and Jonah offers a desperate solution.
He says: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.”
Here Jonah really fesses up. He knows this is all his fault and he wants them to finish this. Why on earth would he want this?
We can't be sure at all of Jonah's motives - perhaps he has given up on his mission to the point where he wants to die, perhaps he has genuine love for the sailors and doesn't want them to perish, perhaps he feels overwhelmed with guilt, or maybe a complex mix of all three.
What we can see is that Jonah admits blame and he wants to be thrown in so the sea will quieten down for the sailors. So, there is a sense here of Jonah sacrificing himself for the good of the boat.
The sailors rightly think this idea is somewhat mad and do all they can to avoid it. They seek to row to land and they cry out to the Lord asking that they will not be held accountable for what they perceive as blatant murder.
They pray saying “O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” Once more we see the incredible contrast between Jonah and the sailors. The irony abounds. Here is God’s prophet, constantly running from God’s will, constantly seeking to avoid God’s will and at each turn the sailors are learning of God’s will and as soon as they do, they are responding faithfully. They want to be obedient and do the right thing.
But the storm continues and we might imagine that Jonah is insistent, so with some fear and trembling the men throw Jonah overboard and the sea quietens down.
What are we to make of this?
It’s not entirely clear if Jonah has had a deep change of heart and now has compassion on these sailors and is acting as a noble hero or if he is simply wanting to ultimately get away from his responsibility by seeking death. The story leaves this open for us to interpret.
What is clear in this story is that God will have his way. He won’t be thwarted by Jonah’s disobedience.
God doesn’t let Jonah die, he rescues him via a big fish – finally the famous fish appears – it took us a few weeks to get there right?
What is also clear in this story is we see a demonstration of the shape of love, and it involves sacrifice. It is ironic that through the whole story so far Jonah has run away from his mission which involves sacrifice. And now he himself is sacrificed so the mission may be accomplished.
For Jonah to go to the Ninevites involved him sacrificing his loyalty to his nation – after all these people were his enemies. If God forgives them what might happen?
Yet the price was too high for Jonah. He wasn’t keen. Only now do we see as things get desperate Jonah is sacrificed so that the sailors may live. Later in the story, Jonah will have to make more sacrifices so that the Ninevites might live.
What we see in all of this is the shape of love and we see that true love involves sacrifice.
Tim Keller puts it well saying:
“All life-changing love is some kind of substitutionary sacrifice…whenever we keep a promise or a vow to someone despite the cost, whenever we forgive someone whom we could pay back, whenever we stay close to a suffering person whose troubles are draining to her and to all those around her, we are loving according to the pattern of substitutionary sacrifice. Our loss, whether of money, time, or energy, is their gain.”
If we are to think of how we have experienced love throughout our lives I am sure that for all of us the deepest moments of being loved have been when we have experienced someone offering us this kind of love – a love that gives of self and that costs something for the lover.
Substitutionary love is at the heart of the good news of Christianity.
Here in the midst of the storm Jonah is sacrificed so that the crew of the ship might live. Throughout the history of this books interpretation many readers have seen in this story of Jonah, the clear prefiguring of the sacrificial death of Jesus.
This story of Jonah tips its hat to the one who will give himself, not to the belly of a fish for three days but to a tomb. This story points to the one who will die not because of his own sins but who will take upon himself the sins of the world and die bearing them. In the story of Jonah, three days after being swallowed by a whale he is spat up on a beach, and in the story of the Gospels three days after being swallowed by death Jesus is raised again and appears to his disciples with the good news.
There is a beautiful foreshadowing of Jesus in this story of Jonah. The one who is “greater than Jonah” (Mt 12:41) will come.
Jonah when thrown into the sea appeases the wrath of God toward himself, he appeases God’s anger and displeasure and in his sacrifice leans into God’s purposes and mission. Jesus when he dies upon the cross takes upon himself the wrath of God and bears God’s anger directed at our disobedience and our running and stands in our place as a substitute.
Paul, one of the earliest Pastors of the Christian church commented on what Jesus did by dying on the cross in his letter to the Romans.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Paul makes the point that God’s love is shown for us in a substitutionary way – it deeply cost God something to love us. In the story of Jonah, God chases Jonah done relentlessly and in the story of the Gospel we see Jesus, God incarnate, pursue us with love, ultimately paying the price of our own disobedience and facing the consequences of our own sin, death itself.
Front and centre once more is the action of God in this story. God is sovereign, and he will have his way.
God cares enough about Jonah, enough about the sailors and enough about Nineveh to be deeply involved.
If there is one thing you take away from the sermon today I hope it is this: God deeply cares about you. He loves you so much that he gives himself sacrificially for you, he reaches out on the cross.
The good news of Christianity is that God cares – God isn’t some disinterested deity, God isn’t just a divine scorekeeper keeping an eye on our morality, God deeply cares. God cares enough to love us sacrificially.
So how might we respond?
It’s interesting to see what the sailors do.
They respond to what God does with awe and then with worship.
After this encounter it says, “the men feared the Lord even more.” They were struck with awe – they recognized the significance of what was going on.
And so, they offered sacrifices to the Lord and made vows.
They must have pulled ashore somewhere to find a place to offer a burnt sacrifice. They worshipped.
That’s the beautiful thing about the shape of love we see in the Gospel – it draws us in.
If we truly see who Jesus is and if we truly understand what happened on the cross then it will elicit more than “oh that’s cool.” It will draw us into a profound sense of awe and wonder and worship.
When we understand the sacrificial love of Jesus, our lives will take on the shape of sacrificial love – our response and our worship will be lives that share this shape.
What’s so great is in my role as a Pastor I have the wonderful privilege of getting to witness all kinds of way this shape of love plays out in our Christian community.
There are so many stories of sacrificial love in our community.
The man who nurses his sick wife and holds here hand while she is dying, the mum who stays up all night catching buckets of spew and reassuring her little one it will be ok, that really busy person who has a million things to do but takes time to make a meal for someone who is lonely and depressed. The person who takes time to pray even if they naturally they would be tempted to judge or admonish.
There are countless examples in our midst and there are countless examples of sacrificial love in the history of Christianity.
When we get a sense of what Jesus has done for us in his death our lives will be profoundly shaped by a love that gives itself fully to others. Not just because Jesus gives us a nice example to follow – it’s much more than this.
Our lives will be transformed by sacrificial love because Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit will work in us and through us.
So, today as we consider Jonah - that Prophet who never quite got it. May we know that even when we don’t get it, even when we run and mess it up – Jesus gives himself for us, he pursues us with sacrificial love because he cares. He meets us here today, as we break the bread and drink the wine and remember his death once more. May we come in awe and wonder with grateful hearts, Amen.