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Last week the sailors found out who they were dealing with and why they were in this calamity. The consequences of our actions often affect those around us and they likely have no idea what we’ve done or what we might be involved in. Sometimes people won’t listen to us because our poor testimony gets in the way. Jonah is the cause for the sailor’s predicament and they are terribly afraid so they ask Jonah a question.
Jonah 1:11-16 gives us some insight into the heart of the sailors and the responsibility they had for the crew, its passengers, and the ship. I hope you’ll read it.
The sailors know the truth about Jonah, but that doesn’t do anything about the sea. The seas were getting rougher and rougher. Many years ago, I served aboard the USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740)(Gold). At the end of a patrol in 1996, we encountered some extraordinary rough seas on a surface transit to return to port. I’ve never been in rougher seas. The majority of the crew was sick. It was too rough to prepare and serve meals. Walking was difficult. All anyone wanted to do was dive the ship so everything would calm down. That’s what the sailors wanted here too. Jonah is the reason for the storm. “So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?” for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.” They know Jonah’s God controls the seas and it’s his fault they are about to break up, so it’s a logical question. What can we do to make the sea calm? You can hear the desperation in their voices. Jonah’s answer will likely come as a shock to you. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” Jonah takes responsibility for the storm. Something has to happen, someone has to die. I’m certain Jonah thought he was better off dead. Jonah knows enough about God’s character that since he was to blame, God would calm the seas if he would remove himself from the situation. No reason for the ship to be destroyed along with the crew when he could simply sacrifice himself. Interestingly enough, Jonah was willing to sacrifice himself for the sailors. He had compassion on them, yet had no compassion on Nineveh. He wanted the sailors to live, but notice he didn’t tell them how they could know God, just how they could escape. We see that a lot, don’t we? Just get me out of this mess I created. Just tell me what to do. I don’t care about the truth, I just want this to be fixed. I just want this to be over. We’re presented with incredible opportunities not just to help in a particular situation, but to give the life changing answer that is found in Christ.
Someone has to die in order that others might live. There does comes a time when God’s patience is exhausted. A time when grace ends and judgment begins. If there is no judgment, then the God of the universe becomes like the parent in Wal-Mart that tells his child, “If you do that one more time.” One more time never comes. Grace becomes license. That’s not how God rolls. You cannot separate God’s grace from His judgment. Rev. 3:19 says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” Ps. 94:12, “Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord.” In order to save the lives of the sailors, Jonah must die. These sailors are innocent, but they are suffering the consequences of someone else’s disobedience. Sin rarely affects the sinner alone. Its like a ripple in the water that as it spreads outs, it consumes all in its path.
Jonah is very clear that he must be thrown into the sea in order for the sailors to live, so the obvious question is, “Why doesn’t he just jump over board?” If he did, he’d definitely be taking responsibility for his actions. He’d alleviate the guilt of the sailors for causing his death. Maybe he wasn’t really willing to die. John 12:24 tells us that, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” If Jonah gets tossed into the sea which would mean certain death, there would be no salvation for the sailors, or for Nineveh. Jonah knows he has to die, but he can’t take his own life, he must offer himself as a sacrifice to save the sailors. Here’s a fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam – committing suicide is NEVER our call. In Matt. 16:25 Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Jesus is not necessarily talking about dying. He’s talking more about giving up your rights so others can hear the good news. Rom. 12:1 says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Jonah is still a prophet. He knows what’s required to calm the sea. He knows the truth. All that is needed is for Jonah to die.
The big but. Jonah tells the sailors, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea.” Such clear instructions. Save the ship and her crew by tossing one wayward prophet into the sea. After all, it’s what he wanted; it’s what he told them to do. So what do the sailors do with such clear instructions? They come up with their own plan, just like we often do when presented with clear instructions. Verse 13 says, “However, the men rowed desperately to return to land, but they could not for the sea was becoming even stormier against them.” They ignored God’s prophet and their plan failed, just like our plans fail when we ignore God’s instructions. Parenting. Relationships. Missionary dating. Sexual immorality. Finances. Daily living. At this point, the sailors didn’t consider following Jonah’s advice. Even though the sea was getting stormier, it wasn’t stormy enough. It’s just like that for us. Our lives are stormy, but they’re not stormy enough to submit to God. The sailors were so desperate to get to the safety of land that they rowed. Literally dug their oars into the water. They worked hard to get to land so they could dispose of Jonah. The harder they rowed, the more the sea battled them, the harder the wind blew. Jonah told them what to do and they didn’t do it. God told Jonah what would make the sea calm. Jonah’s God controls the sea and He was not happy with what they sailors did and that’s why the sea grew stormier. That’s why our lives get stormier when we walk in disobedience.
The sailor’s efforts were futile. So what did they do? When all else failed, after they had done all they could, “Then they called on the Lord.” This is so significant. They had no hope. Remember these were pagan sailors. They did not know Jonah’s God, but they saw what He could do. There are many good non-Christians. There are many Muslims who are very good people. We don’t do any favors for Jesus by demonizing Muslims or by making them our enemies. How many Muslims really want to know what Jesus has done for them? In throwing Jonah overboard, did the sailors wonder if they may be throwing away their only chance of knowing more about the God that controls nature? However, the sea grew wilder. Finally, to save themselves, they had to throw Jonah overboard. They did what they could to save their ship, themselves, and even Jonah. It was to no avail as the sea continued its raging. They concluded that they would follow through with Jonah’s command and they prayed, “We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased.” This is a three part prayer and I don’t want to miss one thing. First they prayed that they wouldn’t die because of Jonah. No matter the culture, taking another’s life without cause is a serious offense. Jonah admitted to being disobedient and they saw that his God commanded the seas and the wind. They wanted to avoid any consequences that might come their way. Jonah was not just a guy, he was a prophet of God, a servant of God. Second, they prayed, “Do not put innocent blood on us.” This could indicate that the sailors were not convinced the storm was because of Jonah. It could also indicate that they didn’t have a right to inflict punishment on Jonah because he hadn’t been convicted by a court. They didn’t see Jonah commit any transgression; they were going off of what Jonah told them. They didn’t want to be held liable for what would surely happen when they toss Jonah overboard. Finally, they prayed, “You, O Lord, have done as you pleased.” This is a polite way to say, “This storm is your fault God,” but they were also acknowledging God’s supreme power in controlling nature. These sailors were innocent bystanders to Jonah’s disobedience. Ps.115:3, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Pro. 21:1, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
Look what happens in v. 15: “So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.” It should come as no surprise to us that the sea did exactly as Jonah said it would. We don’t know how much time if any passed between vs. 14 and 15, but here’s what we do know. God can always be trusted. God’s Word can always be trusted. If God is telling you to do something – do it! If God is telling you to don’t do something – don’t! If God is telling you to stop something – stop! Because God did exactly as He said He would, “Then the men feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” We’re just like the sailors. We want a sign that God is working, we want some tangible evidence that God is right there. What sacrifice the sailors offered to the Lord is not known. They had no cargo; remember in v. 5 they threw everything overboard. There is no evidence in the text to suggest the sailors converted to the one and only true God. They, “made vows.” I think of the vows we carelessly make if God would get us out of some troubling situation. I don’t think these vows were any different. We leave the sailors on the ship not knowing any more information about them and now focus on what it’s going to take for God to get a hold of Jonah.
The sobering reality is that some people can witness the power of God first hand and yet still not receive the free gift He offers. Some can receive the blessings of answered prayers and still do not accept Him as Savior and Lord. How much more is God going to do in your life before you acknowledge Him? It’s a question we all must answer.