A Russian Orthodox icon of Jonah (Wikipedia)
This is a continuing series on the gospel stories of the Bible.
(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4)
4. Jonah and the Whale
So far, we have been looking at the Gospel through the 'lens' of different stories in the Bible that each shed light on a particular aspect or truth about it. The story of the bronze snake illustrated for us the idea of "looking to Jesus for salvation" ; the blood of the slain lamb on the doorposts on the night of the Passover introduced the idea of sacrfice, how we can be saved from a certain death by having someone else die in our place. And the story about Naaman and his leprosy? That story told us that the truth (and truth of the Gospel, in particular) can be and often is something quite different from what we expect.
In all this, we need to remember what the Gospel is really all about. What, or who, is the Gospel all about? It's all about Jesus. Remember: about the bronze snake, Jesus said: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
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What else did Jesus say?
One day, some Jewish religious leaders came to Jesus and said: "Teacher, we want to see a sign from you." They had heard of all the things that Jesus was doing, and they wanted to see for themselves.
What comes next is quite a shocker: Jesus rebukes them, calling them "a wicked and adulterous generation". Moreover, hes says that no sign will be given to them, "except the sign of the prophet Jonah."
Who was prophet Jonah? I'm glad you asked.
Prophet Jonah is most famous for being swallowed by a whale. This is the story that we will be looking at today.
No, not that whale! ;-)
Today, let me just quote the entire Bible passage from Chapter 1 of the Book of Jonah in the Bible, because it's actually really readable! (the Translation is NLT, or New Living Translation)
The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish.
But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.”
Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the LORD. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?”
“Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”
Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it. 14 Then they cried out to the LORD, Jonah’s God. “O LORD,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O LORD, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”
Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
Now the LORD had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Then the LORD ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach. (Read on)
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So why did Jesus say that the only sign he will give is the "sign of Jonah", i.e being swallowed by a whale? The answer is clear: just like Jonah's going into the belly of the whale meant salvation for the rest of the people on the boat, Jesus' going into the very depth of death itself brought about salvation for the rest of the people on planet Earth. Moreover, just like Jonah was spat out onto the ground and lived, Jesus conquered death and on the third day rose again, completing his work of salvation for mankind.
Bonus: What did Jonah do for three days and three nights inside the Whale? He prayed.