Matthew 8:23-27; Jonah 1:1-17
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Jonah was called by God to go and preach to the city of Nineveh, to cry out against it because of its wickedness. But Jonah wanted nothing to do with that. He found a ship going in the opposite direction and got on it. He tried to run from God, to avoid God’s will, to flee from the presence of the Lord.
We are not unlike Jonah. For by nature we also want to go our own way rather than God’s way. Our old Adam seeks to escape God’s will for our lives and wriggle out of His calling. We too run from the presence of the Lord.
Now your running may not be so obvious as Jonah’s. But it is there in subtle ways. You may not be leaving for a far away place. You may not be running from God by staying away from church and religion. But you do want religion that’s on your own terms, one that doesn’t require too much of you, one where you can keep God at a manageable distance and stay one step ahead of him and still be pretty much in charge of your own life. And when God gets too close, when His Word calls for you to go in a direction you don’t want to go, when it involves changes in your life and the forsaking of your favorite idols, that is when you run. Whatever it is that you do to avoid your responsibilities as a husband or wife, as a worker or a neighbor, as a parent or child; wherever it is that you go to hide out and escape from the stations of life into which God has placed you; whenever you engage in excuse-making for your failure to follow His words and heed His calling, that is when you are being just like Jonah here, stowing away in the belly of some ship.
Of course, you can’t run from the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. Jonah’s rebellion against the Lord caused a great storm to rage against the ship he was on. Nothing that the crew tried could save the ship from certain destruction. The only thing that finally kept the ship from breaking up was the sacrificing of Jonah. He was thrown overboard, and the sea stopped its raging. So it is with us. Our sin causes God’s wrath to rage against us. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. The judgment of the Law is that our eternal death is required. Only then will the raging cease.
But then comes the Gospel in which we learn of a new Jonah, one who takes our place under judgment and who saves us from its surging storm. For here is Jesus in the very same circumstance as Jonah, in the midst of a tempest on the sea. Just as Jonah was sleeping in the ship, so also here Jesus is sound asleep in the boat despite the commotion of the wind and the waves. Our Lord was weary and worn out from the day’s work and teaching. He took on our very flesh and blood and subjected Himself to all of the exhausting effects of sin on our behalf.
Jonah’s shipmates awakened him and asked him to call on his God, that they might not perish. So also the disciples woke Jesus with the prayerful plea, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” Jonah’s shipmates cast lots to see for whose cause this trouble had come; and the lot fell on Jonah. In the same way, the Lord Jesus took our place under the Law. Though the storm of judgment was brought on by our own doing, Jesus allowed the lot to fall on Him, that He might receive the punishment in our place. In other words, Christ became as if He were the sinner fleeing from God. He became Jonah for us, in order that we might be forgiven and brought back to the heavenly Father and restored to fellowship with Him.
Jonah was cast overboard, and the storm stopped. Jesus was cast over to death not on the sea but on the cross. In view of that impending sacrifice, and with His authority as the Almighty Son of God, Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. Christ is not only true man but also true God. He is the One through whom all things were created. By His Word the wind and the waves were called into being in the beginning; and by His Word these fallen elements of creation are subdued and tamed. “Quiet, be still!” And there was perfect peace on the water.
Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish before being vomited onto dry land. So also our Lord Jesus was three days in the belly of the grave. Having paid for our sins by the shedding of His blood, Jesus then came forth from the depths of death victorious over the grave, bringing His resurrection life to all who believe in Him. By the holy cross, the storm of God’s judgment has subsided for you. Through Jesus there is a great calm, the full forgiveness of your sins. “Be still and know that I am God.” In the risen Christ you now have perfect peace and reconciliation with the Father.
And that perfect peace is yours in the water. For it is through holy baptism that you are placed into Christ. It is by water and the Word that Christ became your refuge, like the great fish was for Jonah. Most of you know that the fish has long been a symbol in the church for Jesus. The Greek word for fish is IXTHUS, as we see in the wood carving on the wall. And those letters form an acronym in Greek for the phrase, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” So it is that Jesus is our great fish. He saves us from the watery depths of death by taking us into Himself, protecting us in His body, joining us to His death. And then He sets us forth on the shores of new and eternal life, joining us also to His resurrection.
It is written in Romans 6, “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” The old, fleeing Jonah was buried in the water, and a new Jonah came forth whose first destination was Nineveh. So also the rebellious fallen nature in us was buried at the font, and we came forth from the water as new people with a new direction, ones who share in and who are given to live the very life of Christ Himself. In fact that is the substance of the Christian life–to drown the sinful nature through repentance, so that the new man, Christ, may daily emerge and arise in us to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
As we await the day when our old nature will be put off from us forever, there will be times when our faith will be tested. There will be times when it seems as if the storm of judgment still threatens to do us in. Sicknesses and pains in our body, sorrows in our hearts, troubles in our family, strained relationships, financial problems all can make us feel as if we’re going to go under and never come up again. And as this tempest rages around us, it might seem as if our Lord is sleeping, as if He’s paying no attention to us and doesn’t even care. “Why don’t you do something, God? Don’t just sit there. The ship’s about to go down! Help me, if you care!” That’s the temptation we face: to doubt God’s goodness toward us in Christ, to fear the things that are going on around us and inside of us rather than revering and trusting in God above all things.
Jesus said to His disciples, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” At least they had little faith and called on His name in their time of need, “Lord, save us!” If their faith had been greater they would have recognized that the only way they could go down was if Jesus would go down, if the wind and the waves would prove stronger than He who created them. Jesus was unthreatened by the storm, sleeping soundly, trusting in His Father’s care. In fact, there was probably no place safer in all of Israel that night than right there on that boat. For Jesus was on that boat, He who is Creation’s Master, He who is the refuge and the fortress of His people. They are held in safety in the palm of His hand.
Remember that when it seems as if the wind and the waves in your life are going to overwhelm you. Remember who their Master is. Remember these words of faith from Romans 8, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
You’re in the same boat with Jesus. He has received you into the ship of the church. The only way that you can go down is if He goes down. And the fact is that He has conquered the storm and every threatening evil by the power of His cross and resurrection. You are safely sheltered in His holy wounds. His risen presence surrounds you as an impenetrable stronghold, so that not even death can snatch you out of His hands. Therefore, cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you. Our Lord Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling over all things for the sake of the Church. He has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love Him, for you who are the called according to His purpose. He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He has given you the Sacrament of His body and blood to strengthen you in that confidence, that you might be certain that He truly is with you, that He forgives you, that He loves you.
Believe that truth; trust in His Word. For though this fallen creation may groan all around you, though you may groan inwardly under the power of the curse, yet the Word of Jesus overcomes the wind and the waves and brings calm to your heart. We are those who live with a sure hope in Christ and a sure destiny in our voyage. We eagerly await the redemption of our body, the resurrection to come on the Last Day. And so we boldly confess with St. Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠