Tag Archives: rebellion

The Invincible Kingdom of Christ (Psalm 2)

The following sermon was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church in Barlow, KY on the 26th day of February, 2017:

“1 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

7 I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2).

Introduction: Jesus is an Invincible King

Something unique about and exclusive to Christianity is that we worship and serve a King. Not just a King, but the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. Yes, we worship Christ who is our Shepherd, Savior, Prophet, Priest, Mediator, and Lord. But something that distinguishes us from other religions is that it isn’t just a man we are worshiping. He isn’t just a good man, or even just a deity, or a God-like being—Jesus Christ is a King. He isn’t an enlightened man like Buddha, He isn’t a prophet visited by an angel like Muhammed or Joseph Smith (Mormonism). He isn’t among a host of other gods, as in Hinduism. He is a King greater than any religious figure. And He is a king greater than any political figure, greater than Caesar or any government, administration, or president (Acts 17:7).

He is the “King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17). He is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Jesus Christ is a King and His kingdom is invincible. When Jesus appeared the first time, His kingdom was inaugurated—His first coming marked the beginning of the coming of the kingdom of God, His rule and reign on the earth. When He came the first time, died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended to heaven—that’s when the administration of Jesus took over! He dominates, rules, and reigns in the world today through the Holy Spirit which He and the Father have sent to the world to carry out His purposes.

So it is clear from Scripture that the kingdom of God is invincible—and not just because the Spirit of God is here today accomplishing the will and purpose of God. It is invincible not just because Jesus is ruling in the hearts and lives of millions across the world. The chief reason that the kingdom of God is invincible is because one day, Jesus is coming back to finish what He started. One day, the King of Kings will return to gather in all His sheep, conquer anyone who stands in His way, and dominate the nations so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). He will come to rule, He will come to reign, He will make war and will dominate all nations, and conquer His enemies. And while this gives great hope for the church today, it also highlights the foolishness of anyone who might seek to revolt and fight against Him.

Scripture says that when He comes, those who are in rebellion against Him will mourn and wail—they will be put to shame, because they won’t stand a chance against Him. It is foolish and deadly to be against Jesus because, while we don’t know the day or the hour of His second advent, we are always one day and one hour closer! But oh, the folly of those who reject Him—oh the absurdity of those who are unsaved and the dangerous ignorance of those who revolt against Him! It is foolishness in the highest degree to reject Jesus because His kingdom is absolutely invincible, impenetrable, and it is impending—getting closer and closer to the time when Jesus will conquer all. And that’s the thrust of the second psalm we have before us. We’re going to see in this psalm that it is foolish for man to revolt against the Lord because of the invincible and impending kingdom of Jesus Christ—instead of revolt, one should submit to and take refuge in Jesus. This is a call to both nonbelievers and believers alike. Nonbelievers need to take refuge in Christ to avoid the terrible fury of God’s wrath, and we as believers need to continually take refuge in Christ daily so we may overcome sin and have our eyes fixed on the day when He comes again.

The psalmist writes this from an observer’s point of view and speaks of a great rebellion, and a greater king who will conquer all rebellion. The psalmist speaks of the nations of the world who are revolting against the kingdom of God, how God will conquer them all through His king, and ultimately through His Son. And the psalmist invites all who read this psalm to trust in this King who is the Lord Jesus Himself. We will see in this psalm:

I. The Revolt of the Apostates (2:1-3)
II. The Response of the Almighty (2:4-6)
III. The Rule of the Anointed (2:7-9)
IV. The Recommendation to the Apostates (2:10-12)

Let us look now at the word of God:

I. The Revolt of the Apostates (2:1-3)

First of all, we see in vv. 1-3 that it is foolish to revolt against the Lord, expecting liberation. It is absurd to rebel against the Lord, thinking that you can overthrow His sovereign rule. The psalmist expresses here that the apostates are fools to plot a revolt in order to be liberated from the rule of God and His anointed one. Listen to the underlying tone of foolishness in the way the psalmist describes the world’s revolt against the Lord:

“1 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us” (vv. 1-3).

The psalmist opens this psalm with a question: “Why do the nations and the peoples plot in vain?” (v. 1). He sees the nations and peoples of the world plotting and raging against the Lord, and asks why.  You can even hear the concern in his voice in the way he penned v. 1—he views the nations’ revolt against the Lord as absurd, foolish, and stupid. And this idea leads the psalmist to ask, Why? Why would the nations do such a thing, he asks. Of course, “the nations,” in this psalm (and the Old Testament), are those who are outside of God’s covenant family. They are Gentiles, apostates, those who are outside of the faith—those who are pagan, worshiping other gods like Baal and Molech. These are not nations which worship the true God. It is said that these nations “rage,” and “plot in vain,” meaning they are restless, raging, and conspiring to do evil. They are upset about something, restless about something. And even this far in to the psalm the psalmist views their rebellion and revolt as absolutely foolish: Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? Don’t they know they are planning destruction for their own selves?

Notice also, their raging now leads to plotting. In v. 2, they move to greater action than just raging and being restless: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed.” Now the psalmist tells us what the apostates actually do in an attempt to carry out their revolt against the Lord and His anointed. The kings of the earth come together and the rulers come to take counsel together—they meet to discuss what they must do. They draw up plans, prepare weapons, train their armies, enlist their generals, locate their targets, and prepare reinforcements. They are meeting together to conspire a great revolt, a great rebellion. But it is not against another army, not against another nation, not to conquer land, not even to conquer the world—they plan a revolt “against the LORD and his Anointed.” That’s why the psalmist views them as dimwits, and it’s as if the psalmist is saying, “Why would you revolt against God? He is all powerful, all-knowing, all-present and who destroys His enemies.”

But that’s the focus of their rebellion—they rebel and revolt against the Lord God of heaven and earth, and they rebel against “his Anointed.” The anointed one would be the king of Judah—likely David at this point. Those who ruled God’s people were considered anointed—set apart by God Himself for His purposes, namely, to carry out His rule and reign among the people. Often you will see David saying things like, “[God] shows steadfast love to his anointed” (Psalm 18:50), or “the Lord saves his anointed” (Psalm 20:6). Statements like that are references to himself because he was the anointed king who ruled in Judah. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “anointed” here is masiah, which sounds a lot like Messiah, who is truly God’s anointed One. We know that the true Messiah is Jesus, God’s Anointed One. Keep that in mind for now, we will say more on that later.

And finally in v. 3, we have the goal of their plotting. The reason they are angry, the reason they are plotting, the reason they are planning a revolt against the Lord and His anointed king is this: “Let us burst their bonds apart, and cast away their cords from us” (v. 3). They want to separate the bond that exists between the Lord and His anointed king, for if they can get the Lord out of the picture and have the king by himself, they can be victorious in their revolt. So they first want to “burst” apart the “bond” between the Lord and His anointed. Secondly, they want to be liberated from both the Lord and His anointed! “Let us . . . cast away their cords from us.” They want to be free from His restraints on them as well.

So all throughout this section (vv. 1-3), it is clear that it is foolish to revolt against the Lord, expecting liberation. And that is the first thing the psalmist tells us about King Jesus and about His invincible kingdom. It is very clear from what we’ve just read that it is deadly, foolish, and even audacious to revolt against the Lord—but let’s not make the mistake of leaving this passage in the dust of ancient time, because anytime we sin, we are declaring a revolt against the Lord as well! This idea of attempting liberation from the rule of God has been mankind’s central problem since the beginning – and it never ends well. Adam and Eve took the fruit because it was a “delight to the eyes,” so that they “could be like God.” The real sin was not mere disobedience, but idolatry of their own selves. They wanted to be like God, and they didn’t want the rule of God over them. And this is what happens when sin is committed. It is saying: “Let me be free from slavery to God!” It is declaring an insurrection upon God—declaring independence from God, saying by our actions that we do not need Him. Sin isn’t a mistake, it isn’t an accident, or a blooper. Sin is a willing revolt against an invincible King. And the utter foolishness of it is seen in that, when we sin, we are standing upon the very ground which God created and sustains – having a beating heart, breathing lungs, and a working mind – all of which are completely owned and operated by God! Sin is foolish, for we are using what God has created against Him. Sin is deadly and audacious foolishness.

Since the Fall, we have been in a revolt against God and His rule—it is deeply threaded within the very fabric of our existence to rebel against God and His dominion over us. We want to rule, we want to be in control of our lives and our decisions. The only solution to this problem is to have God be Lord over us again—and this happens through the gospel. This happens as God uses His anointed King Jesus to conquer the rebellion in our hearts and have us joyfully submit to Him by His grace. But even as believers today, when we sin against God it is a revolt. Do you view your sin that way? Pray that God would help you view your sin as a revolt against Him. We could certainly use more help in viewing our sin for what it really is. And the more we are sanctified through the word of God, as the Holy Spirit applies it to us, we will naturally view sin as “exceedingly sinful” (Rom. 7:13). Our distaste for sin should continue to grow, so that anytime we come in contact with sin or a tempting situation, we will see it as a bitter poison. If your distaste for sin isn’t growing, it’s because you don’t view it as an attempt to overthrow the rule of God on your life. It is foolish to revolt against the Lord, expecting liberation.

II. The Response of the Almighty (2:4-6)

But how does God respond to this? Does God get enraged with anger at their revolt? Does He open up battle plans on a table? Does He worry about the well-being of Israel and Judah? Does God stop their revolt because of the threat it poses to the kingdom which will one day bring forth the Messiah?

Not only is God not bothered, but He laughs:

“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill” (vv. 4-6).

God is not bothered by men’s revolt because of His established King. The psalmists notes that God is unaffected by their revolt and responds with laughter, terror, and confidence in His appointed king.

The psalmist says, “He who sits in the heavens laughs.” God laughs at them. God scorns and laughs—He is unchanged by their conspiring and plotting. God is He who sits in the heavens—He is in control of all things and He is far above them. He could wipe them out in a second. The ground upon which they stand could swallow them up to Sheol at any time—just as soon as God gave the command for it to do so. So of course, He laughs. 

Not only does He laugh, but “The Lord holds them in derision.” He views them with contempt—a scornful laugh comes from His throne as He sees apostates attempting to throw off His rule over them. The one who sits in heaven is the Master of the universe—He isn’t bothered by a tiny spec of humans on one planet in His universe who attempt to overthrow His rule.

Secondly, God terrifies them by His word. “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury” (v. 5). Instead of being terrified, God terrifies. God speaks and terrifies them when He speaks. Isn’t that amazing? What God does in response to their revolt and uproar is He speaks. When He speaks, the peoples are terrified by His words.

What does God speak? He says, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (v. 6). This is the most interesting verse in the passage, in my estimation. I mean, you might expect God to say, “I will make an end to you,” or “My judgment shall quickly come upon you.” You would at least expect some other pronouncement of judgment on the nations as retribution for their plotting against the Lord! Instead, God Himself points to His established king as the very thing that should terrify the nations. What terrifies the nations of the earth is that God has installed His king. The king is God’s solution to the world’s revolt against Him.It is the establishment of this great king that should terrify the nations, it is this king who “is set on Zion, my holy hill.” “Zion” or Jerusalem, was God’s chosen dwelling place. That’s why it’s referred to here (as many other times) as His “holy hill.” Zion is God’s territory—it is the city which God had sanctified by His presence. God wasn’t limited by a city or a hill, or a temple—but He chose to carry out His rule in the world through Israel and through Zion. Zion is truly then, God’s “footstool.”

The nations were right to feel terrified, for God would empower any king who sat on the throne of David—it’s what God promised. The rebellious nations stand no chance against a king who has God on his side. God is not bothered by men’s revolt because of His established King. What is so great about this king? Well, let’s look at vv. 7-9 for that answer.

III. The Rule of the Anointed (2:7-9)

We’ve seen the revolt of the apostates and the response of God – notice now the rule of God’s anointed. Listen to the psalmist in vv. 7-9:

7 I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

What is it that makes this king so great? Because he is God’s anointed who will rule all the earth. This anointed King is God’s Son who will rule the earth by His might. The psalmist interjects to explain the decree which God has spoken to His anointed king-Son and the promises included in it.

The psalmist reaches back into the past and declares: “I will tell of the decree,” meaning it was one which was previously spoken. And it is likely that this decree is a retelling of the decree which God spoke to David in 2 Samuel 7,

“Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” (vv. 8-16).

In this decree, God promises David that His throne will go on forever. God will be a father to him, and David would be to him as a son. It is this decree which David is recalling, and it has many implications for the Messiah who is truly God’s Son, and who will also sit on David’s throne. And the psalmist is saying here, “I remember this exact decree, and here’s what it said.”

So in this decree, notice first the identity of the anointed in v. 7. “You are my Son,” says the Lord. The anointed king is God’s son. God would father King David as He loved and disciplined him, but this also looks forward to Christ who is God’s Son, His only begotten. Secondly, notice the rule of the anointed. In v. 8, the anointed king is promised worldwide rule and his kingdom shall extend to the ends of the earth: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” God invites the anointed king to just ask of Him and He will make Him the ruler of all the earth. The anointed king will have the nations, the very nations who have rebelled against him—he will have them as his heritage. The ends of the earth shall be his possession. In reality, this worldwide domination points beyond any earthly king because David, Solomon, and all other kings after them failed to do this. It doesn’t mean God’s promise had failed—it means that Someone greater would one day fulfill it completely. And notice finally how this anointed king will conquer all things: “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” He shall break them, and dash them in pieces like pottery. Certainly the might of this king is very great! Again, it is clear that the dominion and rule of this anointed king looks beyond any earthly king. The language used here is elsewhere used in the Bible when talking about God and His judgment, His wrath, and His power. No earthly king will make the ends of the earth his possession. No earthly king will destroy his enemies like pottery—but a heavenly King will. Any nation or person that rebels against this Davidic King, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lord Jesus Christ—He shall one day be conquered. One day Christ will fulfill completely what is spoken of in this psalm—He will return and claim what is rightfully His, He will dominate the nations. The psalmist is recalling it now as his confidence that his enemies will not prevail over the kingdom of Judah, but it is also a confidence in the future installment of the King of kings who will wipe out all who stand against Him.

Believe it or not, Jesus Christ will one day rule over the United States of America. Some folks like to say that the USA is a Christian nation, but just wait until He comes. He will one day rule in the poorest places of India, He will one day rule over any tyrant such as Kim Jong Un. He will one day terminate ISIS and terrorist groups from the face of the earth. He will one day make every nation, tribe, and tongue His inheritance. He will one day rule and reign from the east to the west, from the north to the south—for He will diminish His enemies with a rod of iron, and He shall break them like pottery smashed on the ground. Revelation 6:15-17 says that this day will be so severe that people would rather be crushed by boulders than to face Jesus: “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Sorry if you don’t like it, but this is who Jesus is—a conquering King. He’s not some sissified, needy Jesus who is just begging you to come to Him. He is a judge called Faithful and True who will one day return to bring all things to their rightful place. And for believers today, this speaks much to how we deal with worldliness, worry, persecution, and perspective. If Jesus is coming back to conquer, then this carries many implications as to how we deal with problems in the world today. Here’s a few things Jesus’ return in this psalm means for us today:

1. We should avoid worldliness at all costs. There is no logical sense in building up earthly possessions and being concerned with worldliness, if Jesus is going to make a new world. Certainly, obsession with accumulation of possessions should be avoided because you can’t take it with you after death, but even more so because it will all be destroyed! Jesus warns us about this in Matthew 6, saying that we should not exhaust ourselves in worldliness because there will one day be no world such as the one we are in (Matthew 6:19-21).

2. We should not worry about anything earthly. We have no reason to worry, because everything will one day be in dominion under the rule of Christ, the King (Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:6-7). Why worry about things of the earth, when one day, there will be no things of the earth?

3. We should be joyful in persecution. We know nothing of real persecution in the United States, but what persecution we do know – bring it on. Kill us, persecute us, do what you want – you aren’t slowing Him down from destroying you. We as believers literally have nothing to lose. We are soldiers in battle waiting for our king to return—even if we die on the battle field, He is still coming (2 Tim. 3:12).

4. We should have a heavenward perspective. Those of us on Jesus’ side should earnestly look forward to that day when He returns (Titus 2:13). We should have a perspective looking towards heaven, as we wait for Him to return in the same way He was taken up (Acts 1:11). But for those who don’t know Him, look toward Him in repentance and faith! If you do not, your fate is so terrible and dire that no description in language can capture what you will suffer.

This is the rule of the anointed and nobody will be able to stand in His way.

IV. The Recommendation to the Apostates (2:10-12)

Finally in this psalm we see a recommendation from the psalmist to those who revolt. The foolishness of their revolt has already been explained in this entire psalm. A man is a fool who revolts against the Lord because He has an installed and powerful King, His anointed one, who will conquer not only those who rebel, but the whole world. So then, the kings who revolt should be afraid, they should abandon their rebellion, they should be terrified that God has a mighty, invincible king who will conquer them with one swipe of a sword. So, the psalmist gives them a warning:

“Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (vv. 10-12).

It is clear that the only appropriate response to God’s king is service and submission. The psalmist concludes with a warning for the apostates—they should serve and submit to the Lord. First of all, he exhorts them to be wise and be warned. They would be wise to heed the warning of this psalm. “O kings, be wise,” he says, and “be warned, O rulers of the earth” (v. 10). Instead of foolishness, the wisest thing to do would be to view this decree as a warning, and heed it with all their might. Secondly, they are exhorted to serve the Lord: “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (v. 11). They should serve Him rather than seek to subdue Him. And they should “rejoice with trembling,” taking pleasure in God while fearing Him for who He is. And finally, they are called to take refuge in the Lord Himself. Now this is where the psalm is at its highest peak. They are exhorted: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him!” Embrace the Son if you are among those who revolt against the Lord and His anointed! Embrace Him or face Him! Notice this is the Son of God, indicated by His powerful wrath and the capitalization of the word son. Obviously, this is no ordinary king, if His wrath is quickly kindled. This is a Son who can be angry, cause His enemies to perish, and have His wrath stirred and kindled. They would be very wise to embrace Him. The psalmist concludes with a final invitation saying, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him!” Instead of revolting foolishly, take refuge in Him! 

Let me encourage you, if you are not submitting right now to the lordship of Jesus Christ, these are His terms of peace – take refuge in Him right now. Surrender to Christ if you haven’t—instead of revolting against Him, take refuge in Him. Turn to Him right now.

Conclusion: He Is Building a Coffin For Your Empire

Flavius Julianus was a Roman Emperor for a short period of time, and he was known for reinstating pagan worship which had been abolished under the rule of Constantine. With great fury, Flavius opposed the followers of Christ and he viewed them, in his own words, as “powerful enemies of our gods.” With fanatical resolve, he sought to remove Christianity from the face of the earth. But he never realized the stupidity of his endeavor. Still, history records that Flavius persecuted many Christians and took the lives of many who stood for their faith in Christ. One day Flavius was taunting a Christian believer named Agaton, in an attempt to entertain some of his friends. With so many Christians being put to death, the emperor asked him, “So, how is your carpenter of Nazareth? Is he finding work these days?” Without hesitation Agaton replied, “He is perhaps taking time away from building mansions for the faithful, to build a coffin for your Empire.”

Agaton was right—centuries have passed and the Roman Empire has risen and fallen, but only one kingdom has withstood time, persecution, bloodshed, heresies, splits and divisions—and it is the invincible kingdom of God, ruled by King Jesus. And the Son of God still takes time away from building mansions to build coffins for those who reject His lordship. This is a rebellion you don’t want to be in.

It is foolish for man to revolt against the Lord because of the invincible and impending kingdom of Jesus Christ—instead of revolt, one should submit to and take refuge in Jesus.

Do you understand that you sin is a revolt against God? Do you view it that seriously? If not, pray that God would help you to see that way. As you get more into the word, by His grace, God will increase your hatred and sorrow for sin. Are you expectantly awaiting the return of Jesus Christ? Is the promise of His return affecting your perspective on worldliness, worry, and persecution? And do you know Him today as your Savior and Lord? Are you taking refuge in Him this day? If not, realize you are a sinner, turn away from sin once and for all, and place your faith in Jesus Christ. He is a conquering King whose kingdom is invincible – don’t reject His lordship over you, lest you wind up in a coffin He has prepared for your empire.

Jonah: Something Fishy (1:3-17)

Jonah: Something Fishy (1:13-17)

The Text

“13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. 17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:13-17, ESV).

Out of Options

We now read about what these sailors do as a result of their deadly situation. Even though Jonah asks them to throw him overboard (1:12), they do not want to kill God’s prophet so they attempt to get back to dry land. “Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them” (v. 13). They know Jonah is a serious problem, but they do not want to be held responsible for killing the prophet of such a powerful God (1:14). Dry land is where they want to be, and you can visualize the back-breaking, vein-pumping rowing of the sailors as they try to fight against God’s storm. But does that work? No because, “the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.” This storm was growing more violent, more dangerous, and more terrifying. So what happens next?

“Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD have done as it pleased you” (v. 14). They do not want to die simply because they have taken on a passenger with a pursuing God. They have run out of other options. They have tried calling on other gods and lightening the ship (1:5), asking Jonah to pray (1:6), casting lots (1:7), interrogating Jonah (1:8), and rowing (v. 13). Their fear is that they will die for doing something they really don’t want to do: participating in God’s judgment on Jonah.

Realizing that they are out of options, they reluctantly proceed with Jonah’s request: “So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging” (v. 15). You can picture it, about three or four strong-armed sailors picking up the prophet and throwing him into sharp waves—and after that, hearing sigh of relief as they see that the waters are now calm. And in v. 16 we read an amazing statement: “Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows” (v. 16). They fear God exceedingly. These men aren’t terrified of dying like before (1:5), they are no longer afraid of a God they don’t know (1:10). This is a different type of fear. Because this fear results in that they “offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.” This fear was a reverence for a sovereign God that resulted in their changed lives. Now this text does not tell us whether this new appreciation for the Lord of heaven, land and sea is lasting (whether they keep their “vows”). Nonetheless, this passage describes something new for the sailors in relationship to Yahweh, Jonah’s God. They fear God because they have witnessed His power over creation and because He has honored their prayer for deliverance. Even in Jonah’s disobedience, God has made him effective in his calling as a prophet: bringing people to faith in God.

Readiness to Receive

These sailors provide us an excellent example by their readiness to acknowledge their helplessness, hear Jonah’s witness, act on it , and worship the true God. They hear Jonah’s witness to Yahweh and believe his witness. They, like Jonah, run from the difficult action required of them (throwing Jonah overboard) but realize the futility of rowing against God’s storm. They surrender, believing a seemingly impossible word from God, that God’s appointed man will actually die for their salvation. They believe and worship God.

When we acknowledge that we are helpless without God (Rom. 5:6), hear the gospel witness (Eph. 1:13), and act on that gospel witness—our lives will be changed forever. But will we? Apart from the grace of God we won’t, according the the Bible. The Scriptures teach that our rebellion against God is total, and we are unable to submit to God and do good to His honor. “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8). We have deceitful hearts (Jer. 17:9), and “we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of [our] evil heart[s]” (Jer. 18:12).

Who can surrender to such difficult demands in faith? Indeed, we cannot. But God in His mercy calls us by His Spirit. Martin Luther writes, “I believe that I cannot, by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called be by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. . .” Similarly Basil of Caesarea says, “You have not known God by reason of your righteousness, but God has known you by reason of His goodness.”

The Great Fish

The pagan sailors have experienced salvation under difficult demands and this is great for the sailors, but we are left asking, what happens to Jonah? Is this the end of the story for God’s prophet? In v. 17, the author concludes this chapter and says, “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah was in the sea, and God saved him from death by appointing a great fish to swallow him. Was it a whale? Probably, but we cannot be dogmatic and say that it was, even if a large sperm whale would’ve had no struggle swallowing a man of Jonah’s size. The point here is that God appointed it to happen and it was a miracle.

Was Jonah Really Swallowed by a Great Fish?

There are many skeptics who say that this story is fictional because that could never happen. Some people conclude, then, that the account of Jonah isn’t really historically true. Some say that this event wasn’t literal. That’s what I want to examine briefly. Can this event be logically true?

First, many just do not believe that miracles happen. Some reject all supernatural claims and so when they read an account like this, they feel justified in thinking that the story of Jonah is a made-up story. Don’t be surprised when you encounter people who are naturalists and reject all supernatural.

Secondly, miracles are not common things. We shouldn’t expect to find too many other people (if any) surviving being fish food. But just because something happens rarely or only once in history is not reason to reject that it ever happened. After all, how many times was Abraham Lincoln assassinated? Exactly as many times as we know of people being swallowed by a fish and surviving.

Thirdly, 2 Kings 14:25, which is clearly a history book, mentions Jonah as a prophet who really existed. Since there are no reasons to think 2 Kings mixes real history with characters from fanciful tales, we have good reason to think Jonah was a real person.

Finally, the best reason for believing that Jonah’s being swallowed was actual history is because Jesus believed it to be true. In Matthew 12:39-41, Jesus used Jonah’s entombment in the fish as a way of verifying His own authority and teaching. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (v. 40, ESV). If Jesus’ genuine bodily resurrection is to be understood in light of Jonah, then Jonah’s experience must have also been genuinely historical. If Jonah’s story is not real history, then Jesus’ reference to it makes no sense. Of course, those who reject Jonah as real history most likely reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus for the same anti-supernatural reasons. But the evidence for Jesus’ bodily resurrection powerfully supports it as real history. So for Jesus’ parallel work, Jonah’s experience must also be real history.

Also, Jesus said that the men of Nineveh, who repented at Jonah’s message, would stand up and judge the current generation for not repenting at Jesus’ proclamation (Luke 11:32). This is an empty threat unless the people of Nineveh did in fact repent. Here again, the non-historical view falls apart. So we have good reasons to accept Jonah being swallowed by a “great fish” as real history. The rejection of this account as history is the real fish story (for further scientific study see Jonah and the Great Fish)

Don’t Get Distracted

The focus however, should not be on Jonah’s miraculous residence inside the fish. The focus of the author here is on the fact that God delivered Jonah from death in this way. God rescued Jonah from drowning. Through the agency of this big fish, Jonah is forgiven and saved (Jonah 2). Also, the storm is stilled and the sailors worship the true God, and eventually the Ninevites receive the message from Jonah, repent, and are saved. In this way the bigness of the “unbelievable” fish is finally about God’s saving way in the world. The great fish makes a specific point of God’s extravagant, unrelenting, pursuing, and saving love.

Conclusion: God’s Mercy

The storm is God’s severe mercy for Jonah and the sailors; it is necessary in order to deliver them from their own lives. I say that God’s mercy here is severe because God will wreck your plans when he sees that your plans are about to wreck you. And that is for your good and for His glory. God does not let Jonah go or leave him to wallow in his rebellion, but He quickly brings him to repentance. He pursues him through the storm and gives him an opportunity to fulfill his prophetic calling before the sailors, to good effect. God assigns a fish to rescue Jonah from drowning, saving both Jonah and his aborted mission.