Transformed in the Storm

Sermon Transcript

Okay, we're continuing our journey through the book of Jonah. We're in week two of a series called "Messy Messengers." And what we're doing with this series is taking a look at an imperfect messenger of God. How many of you feel like imperfect messengers of God? Maybe I should ask, who here feels like a perfect messenger of God?

Okay, good. Jonah, as we saw last week, was a prophet. He's a historical character. This isn't a fictional character. The book of Jonah is not mythology; it is history. Jonah, the character, we find in the book of 2 Kings. His story is very much grounded in the history of the ancient Near East, around the 8th century B.C. Jonah, a known prophet who had prophesied previously for the Lord, makes the bold decision that this time the Lord has asked for too much. So he has decided not to answer the Lord's call.

Now, when I say that Jonah has asked for too much, what I'm referencing specifically is that the Lord is sending Jonah to his enemies. Jonah wants to see his enemies destroyed, not to see them repent. Jonah flees, and this is very intentional. We talked about this last week. Look at Jonah, Chapter 1, Verse 3. It says, "But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish.

So he paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. So we see the word Tarshish here three different times. This is very intentional. He's going to Tarshish. Anybody remember where Tarshish is? All the way west, to the far section that they knew of at the time in the world.

So he was going as far in the opposite direction of what the Lord had called him to, to a place right outside of the Strait of Gibraltar on the other side of Spain. Some of you have been to Spain recently. Welcome home. Now, we're going to continue the story with verse four. Jonah climbs onto a boat.

He's going away from where the Lord would have him go. And this is what the word of the Lord says. It says, "but the Lord threw a great wind onto the sea, and such a great storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart." Okay, so here's Jonah. He's running from the Lord. He's on a boat going as far away from where the Lord is possible.

And then the sky grows dark. The waves churn. And the wind howls. Jonah is a man called by God, who's now running away from his divine mission. The wind that rages here is not a coincidence. It's not a natural occurrence. Who's behind the wind? The Lord. This is a direct response from God to Jonah's disobedience.

So when we read about this wind in the book of Jonah, we are faced with an undeniable truth. God is not a passive observer of our lives. So many people today would have you believe that God is passive, that he is not actively involved. But here, we see that God is very much involved in our lives. He is actively involved in the world that he created.

He is actively involved in the affairs of nature and actively involved in the affairs of his people. Now, this wind is powerful. This wind is purposeful, and this wind. With the wind, God disrupts Jonah's escape. But more than that, he's disrupting the natural order of the world to realign Jonah's life that's going the wrong way.

Imagine that. Jonah's life is going the wrong way, and so God rearranges the natural order of the world to call up a storm to get Jonah back on track. That's how much God cares. God loves Jonah. That's how much God cares about Jonah. The God we worship is not distant. The God we worship is not detached. He is actively working, sometimes through nature, other times through circumstances, and often in the ways we least expect.

To guide us back to him, to guide us back to his path for us, to guide us back to our mission in our lives today. How often do we see the winds and waves around us and fail to recognize God's hands?

We face challenges, disruptions, storms, figurative, but do we pause to consider that perhaps in his sovereignty, God might be using these things to draw us back to him, to realign our paths with his purpose? Now, let me clarify something here, because there's a tension in scripture. Even though God is completely in control, the theological word for this is that God is sovereign, his intervention does not force anything.

His intervention offers an invitation. This is a choice. And this brings us to a pivotal contrast in our story throughout the rest of this chapter. Remember, Jonah is not alone on this journey. Yes, Jonah is the main character. He's a prophet of God. He's choosing to run away from his divine calling.

But then, there are sailors. Men of the sea, each with their own beliefs and gods, who find themselves caught in the midst of Jonah's divine drama. These men's ship is tossed by the same winds that chase after Jonah, but their responses to the storm and to God's intervention are different. In verse 5, the sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his God.

They threw the ship's cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep. So, in the midst of this chaos, there are two distinct reactions. You have the sailors' and Jonah's. The sailors, who should be hardened by the harshness of life on the waters, are overcome by fear.

Now, let's be clear, the ocean, the seas, are not a safe place. In fact, one section of the Bible describes heaven as not having oceans, which can be a nightmare for some who enjoy surfing. The reason why we have that description is because the ocean, the sea, was seen as a place of great danger.

So when the Bible says that there won't be oceans in heaven, it means there won't be that great danger. For these men to willingly go out and sail the seas, they are the bravest of the brave. They're getting into 8th-century B.C. boating vessels, which I would never get into. I don't like water that much, and I think it's hereditary. My mother once was on a boat ride to Catalina Island when she was very small, and the boat was going down. She heard her parents talking about which of her parents was going to be with her and which was going to be with her younger brother, who was like a baby at the time.

So she heard her mother, who's a stronger swimmer, give her to her father, who was not a very good swimmer. And so my mother gets on boats, but not unless you can see land.

Here, these are guys who have been out in storms before. They have sailed rough waters, but they are terrified. Each of them cries out to their gods. They run around and throw precious cargo overboard, trying to lighten the ship to help it stay afloat. Their response here is instinctive, a blend of fear, frantic actions, something we can all understand all too well, right?

Because this is often our response in the face of uncontrollable forces, in the face of the storms of life. We see fear leading to desperate actions. Then we have Jonah. While the sailors are panicking, Jonah sleeps. Completely unreasonable. And I want to be clear, this is not physical exhaustion. Jonah's sleep is a reflection of his spiritual state. Jonah is detached, disinterested, apathetic.

So these sailors, with their limited understanding, actively seek help from their gods, as we all would if we were in their shoes, while Jonah, with his profound knowledge of the one true God, is disengaged and unresponsive. Jonah has the answers, but he's asleep. He is useless, no help to anybody.

Jonah's apathy in the midst of this storm not only endangers his life but also those around him. Jonah is a stark reminder for us of how easy it is, even as believers, to become complacent, to sleep through our spiritual responsibilities, especially when we are running from God's calling.

Are we mirroring the sailors? Running around frantically in the storm, panicking. And how often do we find ourselves mirroring Jonah? Detached, disinterested, disengaged.

The real question is, do we, like the sailors, recognize their need for divine intervention? Or are we, like Jonah, aware of God's presence, yet choosing to ignore it? Sleeping through the storms of life. In a crisis, you will either actively seek solutions, sometimes looking in the wrong places, or you will choose to ignore the issues, hoping that they'll resolve themselves. But what if, like Jonah, our indifference or our disobedience is causing this storm to rage all the more? What if our disengagement is not just a personal issue, but one that affects those around us? Our spiritual apathy, our disinterest, is a problem that the church must face.

How often do we turn a blind eye to injustice? How often do we neglect to seek God in daily decisions? How often are we passive in our faith walk? Church, we are called like Jonah to be messengers of God, yet how often do we find ourselves asleep, ignoring the call to engage with the world, to be the salt and the light?

Let's continue with verse six, the captain approached Jonah and said, "What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call to your God. Maybe this God will consider us and we won't perish." This is a captain, a man of a different faith, who recognizes the need for divine intervention while Jonah the prophet remains disengaged.

And as a prophet, Jonah was expected to be in constant communion with his creator, seeking his guidance and interceding on behalf of others. Yet in this instance, we see Jonah detached and asleep, while a Gentile sailor, a pagan, unaware of the true God, displays a greater concern for their survival.

This is a reminder that God can use the most unlikely individuals to reveal truth and impart wisdom. How often are we, like Jonah, called upon by those outside our faith to live up to the very beliefs we profess? It's a really weird experience when you're talking to a non-Christian friend, and they're the one calling you to faith. They're the one who's checking to see if this thing that you profess to believe is actually going to matter in the midst of the storm. The world is desperate for what we have. They want to see it in our lives, in our actions. They want to see what we claim to believe and preach. They are looking for a ray of hope and a glimpse of grace, which can only be found through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The captain's plea for Jonah to pray is an urgent call for us to wake up, to engage, to recognize the gravity of our current societal situation. Our global situation. We live in a world at war, in a world that's in the midst of numerous storms. And too often, the Lord's messengers, the Bride of Christ, the Church is asleep, hiding in the hull.

Does our identity as Christians align with our actions when faced with challenges? Are we awake to God's calling and presence in our lives? Or are we asleep, like Jonah, missing the divine cues and callings? Now, the sailors, they are alert, they are awake, they are engaged, and they are panicking, desperate for the answers that Jonah has.

Look at verse 7. Come on, the sailors said to each other, let's cast lots, then we'll know who is to blame for this trouble we're in. So they cast lots. And the lot singled out Jonah. Now, casting lots was a common practice in ancient times to discern divine will when human wisdom fell short. The sailors are in a desperate time, and so they turn to this method that's been around for centuries.

And this is actually a testament to their belief in a higher power. This was the old world equivalent of flipping a coin, except having more than two options. This was a random, but faith-driven method that in this instance unmasked Jonah's disobedience and put him in the spotlight. The lots fell, and the truth was laid bare.

Now, while this practice we see throughout the scriptures, this is not how we should be making decisions. Please do not cast lots to decide how you're going to live your life. Also, no need to lay out a fleece. I didn't flip a coin when I was discerning God's call to come serve as your pastor. I sought the Lord.

So, while the Bible does record instances of casting lots, it is not an endorsement. As believers in the gospel of grace under the new covenant, we have the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to guide us in making decisions. Look at verse 8: Then they said to him, "Tell us who is to blame for this trouble we're in."

"What is your business, and where are you from? What is your country, and what people are you from?" Jonah answered them, "I'm a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land." When the lots fall on Jonah, he's compelled to confess his identity. He admits to being a Hebrew.

In worshiping Yahweh, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. This confession is significant because it's not just an acknowledgment of his nationality or his religious affiliation. It's a declaration of his faith. It's an acknowledgment of God's supreme authority over all creation. Which is ironic.

Because his actions show a complete disregard for that authority. He's running away from the God he claims to serve. The God that he claims is all-powerful.

Jonah's identity is rooted in his relationship with God. "I'm a Hebrew and I fear the Lord." His identity is rooted in his relationship with God, but his disobedience puts that identity into question.

How often do we do the same thing?

We declare ourselves to be Christians, followers of Jesus, but our actions and choices betray us.

Now, Jonah's example here is not all bad. It's not all bad. Yes, he's a runaway from the Lord. And yes, he's facing a storm largely of his own making. But in confessing his identity, he offers us a valuable lesson. We need to be transparent in our walk with God. We need to be real and authentic. Jonah believes in the Lord, but it's not that simple.

Jonah was authentic and real with the sailors from the very beginning, actually. Look at verse 10: "Then the men were seized by great fear and said to him, 'What have you done?' The men knew he was fleeing from the Lord's presence because he had told them." The men knew he was fleeing from the Lord's presence because he had told them all along.

And probably when he was on that dock and he was looking to see what ship was going the farthest away, they probably just dismissed him and took his money. But suddenly, Jonah's confession on that dock is very relevant. He is running from the Lord. So yes, Jonah proclaimed his belief in God, but he was also transparent about running away.

Now, when we're transparent in our spiritual journeys, when we're honest about our struggles, when we're honest about our doubts, when we're honest about our failures, that's an opportunity for transformation.

Tracy and I were talking last night about a previous church that we were at where some things happened and. I looked at her and said, I felt like I had to hide, like I couldn't be real. I couldn't be my true self. That is no way to grow in your faith. It is no way to allow other people to encourage you.

That is no way to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. When you are too busy looking perfect, when you're a mess inside, we must be a church that is authentic. There are no perfect people here. We are all a mess.

We're going to see here that Jonah's transparency leads to the conversion of the Gentile sailors. They are in awe of God's power in the storm. They are in awe of his pursuit of Jonah. Now, for us, being transparent means being honest about our need for God's grace and guidance. No one benefits when we're pretending or have it all together.

Amen? We live in a world where image often trumps the truth. Where social media often portrays an idealized version of our lives. But Jonah's example invites us to be real with God and with each other. The story of Jonah is more than a narrative about a prophet trying to escape his calling.

It's a story about God's pursuit, about divine revelation, and about the transformative power in acknowledging who God is. And who we are in relationship to him. We are, apart from him, a mess.

As Jonah reveals his identity and the sailors witness his confession, a new understanding of God's power begins to dawn on them. Look at verse 11: "So they said to him, 'What should we do to you so that the sea will calm down for us? For the sea was getting worse and worse.'"

These sailors were already freaking out. They were already throwing their cargo over the side of their ship. They're like, "What must we do?" They are desperate. And so Jonah answers them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea so that it will calm down for you. For I know that I'm to blame."

"For I know that I am to blame for this great storm." Now, Jonah's solution is crazy, and let's be clear, his solution is not born out of repentance. Jonah does not have a repentant heart here. His solution is born out of resignation. Jonah knows that he's the cause of the storm, but his solution isn't to turn back to God, it's to abandon ship, quite literally. To end his life, almost for sure, by jumping into the dangerous sea in the middle of a storm.

This is not the heart of one seeking forgiveness or looking to make things right. It's the heart of one who's given up, who sees no way out but through self-sacrifice. And this is the critical distinction for us today. The difference between resignation and true repentance. Resignation is giving up, accepting the inevitable without seeking change.

While repentance, on the other hand, is turning back, seeking to restore what was broken and moving towards God. In our own lives, when we face the storms of our making, do we resign ourselves to the consequences? Like Jonah? Or do we turn back to God, seeking His forgiveness, seeking His grace? Repentance is more than just acknowledgment of wrong.

It involves a change of heart, a decision to turn from our ways and to embrace God's ways. And ultimately, to embrace God Himself, because we can't do it without Him.

Embracing God's ways means embracing God, clinging to Him, and asking for His help. Now, despite Jonah's suggestion, the sailors first try everything else to save the ship and spare Jonah's life, but nothing is working (Verse 14). So they called out to the Lord, saying, "Please, Lord, don't let us perish because of this man's life. And don't charge us with innocent blood, for you, Lord, have done just as you pleased."

At first, the sailors were hesitant about throwing Jonah overboard. This reveals their deep respect for human life and an increasing reverence for God. These men, who used to pray to their own gods just minutes ago, now hesitate because they feared the Lord and they're talking to Him.

They understood the preciousness of life, and they understood the gravity of such a decision. The sailors here highlight a crucial balance in our spiritual journey. We have a balance between taking personal responsibility. Yes, we must do all we can, but there comes a point where we must surrender to God's will, trusting in Him.

As believers, we're called to fulfill our responsibilities. We're called to make wise decisions. We're called to act with integrity, but we're also called to rely on God, to trust in His plans, and to surrender to His leading, especially when our human efforts fall short. So the sailors who once called out to their pagan gods now turn their prayers to the one true God.

And this shift is monumental because it's not just a change in the direction of their prayers; it's a significant spiritual awakening. They're recognizing Yahweh's sovereignty. This realization is brought into sharp focus by Jonah's confession and their fear of the great storm. Their prayer here is profound and heartfelt.

They plead with Yahweh not to hold them accountable for Jonah's life, recognizing His ultimate authority over their actions. This recognizing they're doing is a significant transformation from a polytheistic, pagan faith. This is a powerful testament to how God can use even the most chaotic situations to reveal Himself to those who do not yet know Him.

And this is a chaotic situation. It's ironic. Jonah, not wanting to share God's message with pagans, is used by God through his disobedience to reveal Himself to a different set of pagans.

God's grace cannot be limited by our disobedience or reluctance. That's good news. God's grace cannot be limited by our disobedience or reluctance. God can use anyone and anything as an instrument of His grace and mercy. Amen. Even when we're disobeying God, even when we're causing storms in our lives and the lives of others, God will use it for our good and His glory. Amen. That's amazingly good news. That's such good news. Lord, use my mess. Use my mess for your glory.

We come to verse 15: “Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea. And the sea stopped its raging.”

When the sailors finally decide to throw Jonah overboard, it's a moment charged with resignation and fear, but really, it's a moment fueled by obedience. It's important that you realize that this act is not like their desperate attempt to lighten the load of the boat when the storm first hit. They're not throwing Jonah over because they've already gotten rid of all their cargo. They're throwing Jonah overboard because Jonah, speaking on behalf of the Lord, tells them to throw him overboard.

So when they throw him overboard, this is a symbolic gesture of submission to God's will. A crazy first act of submission to God's will, right? The sailors recognize that Jonah's presence is the cause of the storm and that only by surrendering him to the sea can they hope for salvation. Their act is a leap of faith.

They show that they trust in the words of Jonah and they throw the prophet into the sea, believing that his God, our God, Yahweh, is just and powerful, and that their obedience to His will might result in their lives being spared. Their act of throwing Jonah into the sea mirrors the decisive actions that we sometimes need to take in our spiritual lives.

There are moments where we must let go, surrender things, or even relationships that cause storms and turmoil in our lives and that get in the way of our relationship with God.

I'm not telling you to go out onto the bay and throw loved ones in. I don't care how much they're pestering you.

When we surrender, we must trust God enough to take difficult steps, believing that His plans for us are for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. Trust and obedience often require us to step out of our comfort zones to make choices that might seem daunting or even counterintuitive.

In our faith journey, this might mean letting go of certain habits, stepping into roles we feel unprepared for, or leaving behind environments that hinder our spiritual growth. In seeking God's will, we are called to prayer, to immerse ourselves in Scripture, and to seek godly counsel. And then we must align our hearts and actions with what we discern to be God's direction for our lives.

Trusting in God doesn't mean we won't face storms, but it does assure us that He is with us through those storms, guiding and leading us to His peace. So as the sailors make the difficult decision to throw Jonah overboard, a dramatic change occurs. As Jonah plunges into the depths, the storm that threatened to tear the ship apart suddenly ceases.

The sea, which moments before was full of violent, raging waves, now lies still, a serene expanse of water. This immediate calm is nothing short of miraculous. It is a powerful testament to God's control over the natural world. In a single act, God silences the storm, displaying His sovereignty in a way that is both unmistakable and awe-inspiring.

This dramatic change from chaos to calm is a symbol of what God can do in our lives, in the storms in our lives. He can bring calm to them. It reminds us that no matter how crazy our circumstances may seem, God has the power to bring peace and order. That's what God does. In our lives, we often encounter storms, challenges, uncertainties, conflicts, and fears that threaten to overwhelm us.

Just like when Jesus calms the Sea of Galilee, the calming of this sea invites us to acknowledge God's power to bring peace into these chaotic situations. It is a call for us to trust in His restored order and balance, even when things seem out of control. Just as the sea responded to God's command, so too can the storms in our lives be calmed by His sovereign hand.

Now, I don't want us to simply believe in God's power. I want us to live expecting His intervention, to seek out His peace in the midst of our storms. I want you to live with the understanding that the God who calmed the sea for the sailors is the same God who calmed the sea for His disciples and is the same God who can bring peace to our hearts and lives today.

The immediate calming of the sea results in a significant spiritual transformation, a transformation that is available to all of us today. Verse 16: The men were seized by great fear of the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. The sailors who began this journey praying to their pagan gods out of fear now stand in awe of Yahweh's power, power to grant them the calm they longed for. And they offer Him sacrifice and make vows to Him. Their experience in Jonah's storm leads them to a profound realization and a transformation. They move from polytheism to faith in Yahweh, the one true God. And this transition is remarkable.

The sailors, who likely had little to no previous knowledge of Yahweh, now offer sacrifices and make vows to Him. Their actions reflect a genuine change of heart seen in their behavior, a shift from fear and confusion to reverence and commitment. Look at what the Lord has done despite Jonah.

Our God is not a God just for the select few. He is not the God of America or Europe. He is the God of the entire world. He is a God who wants His name to be proclaimed to every tribe and nation, who wants to speak calm over our chaotic world, who wants our chaotic world to know His grace.

He is the God for all humanity, extending His grace, His mercy, His power to all, regardless of background, culture, or previous beliefs. The conversion of the sailors is a powerful testament to the fact that God can reveal Himself to anyone, anywhere, using any situation, including a disobedient prophet. It shows that encounters with God's power can lead to life-changing, life-altering changes in belief and practice.

And this is the essence of the gospel, that through Jesus's sacrifice, we can all receive God's grace and be transformed by it. Our disobedience may lead to storms in our lives, but God's grace and power are greater than any storm. And like the sailors, when we encounter God's grace and power, it should compel us to offer our lives as living sacrifices for Him, to make vows to follow Him, to serve Him, to live our life on a mission as He called Jonah and as He has called you. He has called you to a mission, not just your pastors, not just your elders. You have a mission to go and proclaim the love and grace of God to a world that desperately needs it.

The church needs you. We need you to join us, to be the hands and feet of Christ wherever you are, showing His love, His grace, His truth. For some of you, that might mean that you need to become a missionary to a foreign land. Trust the Lord. For most of us, it's going to mean a mission-oriented life right here in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities, in this church. The Lord has given you talents, resources, and time to be light in darkness, to be salt in the world, to be a person of calm in the midst of the storms of life. You might need to leave here today being more open to God's leading, even when it takes you out of your comfort zones. It could involve being more intentional in your prayers, seeking God's guidance in your decisions. It might mean being more active in our church or community, volunteering your time and talents where they are needed. It could also mean being more vocal about your faith, sharing your stories of God's work in your life with others.

You need to be attentive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit and to the storms that engulf us. You need to be ready to say yes to God's call, be willing to be used by Him in ways we might never have imagined. Living under God's sovereignty requires humility and trust. You must be humble enough to acknowledge that God's ways are higher than yours and trusting enough to follow even when the path seems uncertain. Then, find peace in the knowledge that you are in God's hands and that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Our journey through Jonah's story is a reminder that our response to God's call can have far-reaching effects, not just on our own lives, but on the lives of those around us. Just like the sailors' lives were transformed through their encounter with Jonah, our obedience to God's call can be a catalyst for change in others' lives.

Let us be like the calm sea after a storm, a testament to God's power to bring peace and order, a symbol of the transformative journey of faith that each of us is on.