From Depths to Deliverance

Sermon Transcript

Have you ever been minding your own business when out of nowhere? A memory crashes into your brain that makes you want to hide or find a place to hide. Is that just me? No, okay, some of us? Okay, good. So there's this quirky thing about the human mind, apparently it's not just mine, thank God, that loves to replay our most embarrassing moments at the most inopportune times.

Psychologists call these involuntary memories or cringe attacks, which is a great word for it, right? Cringe attacks. So these are those flashback moments you'd rather forget, but your brain insists on holding its own special Warped film festival at 3 a. m. Of your worst moments. Now, this actually happens to me fairly often I can be talking with a friend or I can be reading to my son and then BAM out of the blue My brain decides it's time to play a memory from all the mistakes I've ever made.

It's the awkward things I've said or the embarrassing moments I've had And it's not just a memory, it's like a physical sensation, like my whole body cringes and tenses at that memory of that dumb thing I did when I was seven. And these memories, they're not related to anything that's happening in the moment oftentimes.

They're just like intrusive thoughts that came from nowhere bam, suddenly remembering that one time I called my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Ross, mom,

and my brain never chooses a good memory. Never do I ever get a sudden memory from the moments I felt proud, or the times I've triumphed, or the instances where I've shown courage. It's like my brain enjoys torturing me or something. Now maybe your brain's kinder than mine, but I think all of us have those moments when our choices and actions leave us feeling embarrassed or ashamed.

Sometimes it's 30 years after they happened. And other times it's in the days right after. And the days right after is particularly painful. And we have to face this uncomfortable feeling of acknowledging that we've messed up. Nobody likes to feel that way, right? You might be sitting here right now thinking about that one thing you did, or that one word you shouldn't have said, that one opportunity you missed because of fear, pride, or a bad decision.

The good news is that you're not alone. And in these moments when our mistakes choose to haunt us, We don't have to sink down into a sense of hopelessness because every cringy thing that we've ever done is an opportunity for us to learn and grow. We all make mistakes. We all make a mess out of things.

But it's how we respond to these mistakes that define our character. We're in week three of a series on Jonah, a prophet of God, who, like us, is really good at making a mess of things. We've seen how Jonah ran away from God's call. ended up in a storm and was thrown into the sea by the sailors whose lives he put at risk.

But today we're going to see that just when we think we're at our lowest, that we're really outdone ourselves this time, grace has a funny way of showing up. Just when we think we're done for, God says, Hold on a second. I'm not done with you yet. Look at the end of chapter one. It's taken us three weeks to get here.

But the end of chapter one, verse 17 says, And the Lord appointed a great fish. to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. So this is a mind blowing verse, right? I have established the last two weeks that this is a book of history. This happened. This is not a myth.

And so a giant fish came and swallowed Jonah as he was drowning. This is a pretty unexpected moment for Jonah, I'm sure. What we see here is that God doesn't just step in. God stages an absolutely jaw dropping rescue mission. God directs a giant fish to gulp down Jonah and save him. Now, Jonah would have assumed that when he was thrown into the sea, that was the end.

Okay? Remember, we said that at this time in history, the sea was synonymous with destruction and death. Jonah Sheol. But God had other plans. He wasn't done with Jonah yet. He provided a way out for Jonah even as Jonah was being disobeyed, disobedient, and a total failure. So just as God stopped Jonah's escape by sending a powerful storm, God once again intervenes in Jonah's life, orchestrating events to ensure that this runaway prophet would fulfill his purpose.

To deliver a crucial warning message to the people of Nineveh. Now the word appointed here in verse 17, it appears three more times in the book and it highlights God's complete control in guiding circumstances to fulfill his will. God is saying, Jonah, I'm in charge here and I won't let you off the hook so easily.

There is a purpose behind all of this and this is a beautiful picture of how God's grace works in our lives. No matter how far we may stray away, no matter how much we mess up, God never gives up on us. Amen? So by being swallowed by a fish, which I imagine would be very upsetting, here we can understand that God's actually whispering to Jonah and to all of us saying, Hold on tight.

Hold on tight, folks. Because your story is far from over. You may think that you're a goner, you may think that you're done for, but God has a bigger and better plan for you. Now the phrase, three days and three nights, is full of significance for us Christians. The phrase instantly brings to mind the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But for the original readers of this book, this phrase is only found one other place in the Old Testament. It's found in 1 Samuel, chapter 30. And there we see a sick Egyptian left for dead by his Amalekite master after eluding Ziklag. So weak and voiceless, the Egyptian had endured three days and three nights without food or water.

Now, what we can learn from the overlaps and the parallels in these two passages and these two stories is that this expression seems to symbolize the limit of expected survival. But as Christians, we understand that it's not just a measure of time. It's a symbolic journey from death to life. In Matthew 12, Jesus himself draws a parallel, declaring, For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

So as Jonah emerged from the depths, so did Jesus rise from the grave, proclaiming his ultimate triumph over death. Both stories are awe inspiring illustrations of God's redemptive plan, reminding us that even in our deepest despair and failure, hope can rise, and life can be restored. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Jonah, here, is still engulfed in darkness. He is being held captive by the belly of a massive fish. You can imagine the stench of the sea, the cramped space, the fear, and uncertainty. But in this dark, desperate place, Jonah prayed to the Lord, his God, from the belly of the fish. I called to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me.

I cried out for help from deep inside Sheol. You heard my voice. In this dark, desperate place, Jonah cries out to God, and God heard him. Now, it's often in our darkest moments that we come face to face with our need for God. It's one of the gifts of our dark moments. It's one of the gifts of our struggles.

It's that we recognize our need for a good God who loves us. When life seems impossible, when we reach the end of our own strength and resources, that's when we realize how desperately we need God. And oftentimes, by his mercy, he reveals himself. And that's where Jonah, a seasoned prophet of God, now finds himself.

Jonah is in the darkest, most unexpected place imaginable. Jonah here is a man in utter despair. But Jonah, inside the slimy, smelly walls of his aqua of his aquatic prison, does something remarkable. He prays. Now this isn't a prayer of resignation. This is a prayer of distress. I call to the Lord in my distress, he says.

And he answered me. So from the depths of Sheol, which is a Hebrew word for hell a place of darkness and silence, a place where no one expects to hear a voice, least of all gods, Jonah cries out. How often do we? Find ourselves in the belly of our own mistakes in the dark thinking that it's all over but here's Jonah our reluctant runaway prophet Teaching us an invaluable lesson in His darkest moments.

He turns to God. He doesn't try to swim his way out. He doesn't try to fight the fish He does the one thing left to do he prays this man who has been running away from the voice of God Now turns towards him in his time of need. Often it takes hitting rock bottom for us to realize our need for God's mercy and grace.

Now remember, Jonah is the one who told the sailors to throw him into the water. Earlier, Jonah's intention seemed to be to face death for his sins. But now, he's having doubts. Instead of accepting the death that he told them to bring about, Jonah finds himself praying for deliverance. Even though, moments before, he believed that God wanted him dead, he's praying for deliverance.

He even asked the sailors to help carry out the divine justice. But here he is, praying for deliverance. Jonah's sudden desire to escape what he saw as God's judgment reveals something interesting about him. Jonah, this wayward prophet, who doesn't want Nineveh to experience any grace, is really appreciative.

of God's compassion and mercy when it's his own life on the line. Wasn't a fan of mercy when he was up on top of the ocean, but now here in the belly of the fish, he sure thinks that compassionate God's a good idea.

Jonah, despite what we've seen so far, really values his life. Just look at his prayer. Now as we've said, Sunday school often tells the story for children, but there's more to this story than what we might initially believe. Things are more complicated, just like our lives today. Because here, Jonah, who wants God to cast down judgment on Nineveh, suddenly wants grace for himself.

And Jonah, whose disobedience and running away from God shows a total lack of gratitude towards God, now is filled with genuine gratitude for God's intervention. Jonah is grateful for the fish. Now, to make sense of all this, we gotta dig deeper into what Jonah says and how he says it in his prayer. Trust me, it's quite the journey.

But first, let me point this out. Despite Jonah refusing to hear from God, God graciously hears Jonah's call of distress. In the depths of the sea, in the belly of a fish, God hears Jonah's prayer. Friends, if that's not a reason to be bold and passionate in our prayers, I don't know what is. It tells us something profound about the nature of God.

It doesn't matter how deep we've sunk, how dark our surroundings are, or how fishy the situation may seem, God is always within earshot. No matter how dire our circumstances, no matter how far we've run from God, our prayers can still reach His ears. Listen to what Jonah says to the Lord. He says, When you threw me in the depths into the heart of the seas.

And the current overcame me. All your breakers in your billows swept over me. And I said, I have been banished from your sight. Yet I will look once more towards your holy temple. The water engulfed me up to the neck. The watery depths overcame me. Seaweed was wrapped around my head. I sank to the foundations of the mountains.

The earth's gates. Shut behind me forever. Then, you raised my life from the pit, Lord my God. Okay, this is a vivid painting of the crisis. Jonah says, you threw me in the depths, into the heart of the sea. Imagine that. The swirling chaos, the suffocating pressure of the water, the sheer helplessness that Jonah has here.

This isn't just a bad day at the beach. This is a full blown, someone called a lifeguard moment. He's gonna die. But this isn't just about the physical turmoil that Jonah is reflecting on here. There's something deeper happening here. Jonah's descent into the sea is symbolic of a journey to the very gates of death.

They say to the foundations of the mountain, he says. Now that's Bible speak for hitting rock bottom, literally. It's like Jonah saying, I was as good as dead, forgotten, lost in the abyss. And what about those earth gates that shut behind me forever? This isn't just a close call. This is Jonah standing at death's door, knocking and saying, Can I come in?

It's a powerful image of finality, of an irresistible, of an irreversible fate. But let's be clear. Jonah's prayer here is a prayer of deliverance, not a prayer of repentance.

Jonah is not repentant. Jonah here is narrating what happened to him. He's not confessing sins. He's asking God to rescue him from his circumstances, not from his wickedness. Look at verse 6. Jonah says, Then you raised my life from the pit, Lord my God. So in the depths of despair, Jonah recognizes that it was God who rescued him from the clutches of death itself.

But does he really? Does he really recognize this? Because this acknowledgement is the only time that Jonah explicitly mentions God's divine deliverance throughout the entire book. Can you imagine? Swallowed by a fish, saved from drowning, this is the only mention of deliverance? Now, this verse, this lone description of God's rescue, is sandwiched in the middle of two descriptions of Jonah's ordeal.

In fact, the rest of the prayer focuses on the role that Jonah's prayer had in this deliverance. Let me be clear, Jonah's perspective here is warped. When we look at this prayer, we see that the one praying for deliverance is more prominent than God the deliverer. Jonah is entirely focused on himself. And this is really ironic when we consider verse four, which is Jonah expressing a profound sense of loss.

He says, I've been banished from your sight. He's feeling utterly cut off. He's feeling isolated, not just from the world, but from God himself. But the reality is he's not cut off from God. In fact, he's never been closer to God than in this moment of desperation. This is a common trap that we all fall into.

Instead of recognizing and acknowledging God's power and grace, we tend to focus on our own actions. This on our own abilities, on our own faith performance. But the truth is, it is always God who rescues us. No matter how much credit we try to take for ourselves, it is God who rescues us and not us. And oftentimes, we feel distant and cut off from God in our own personal struggles, like Jonah, but the reality is that God is always with us, even in the midst of our suffering and trials.

Just as he was with Jonah in the belly of the great fish, so too is he with us in our darkest moments. Our experiences of God being distant, or having rejected or abandoned us, is often just a distorted perspective. It's not that God has left us, but rather we have turned away from him in our own pride and self absorption.

Just like Jonah does here. Look at verse 7, where Jonah, in his fishy fortress of solitude, has an epiphany. He says, As my life was fading away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, your holy temple. As my life was fading away. I remembered the Lord. Jonah's not exactly humble here. He's almost patting himself on the back.

He's boasting about his unbreakable attachment to God. Look at me, he seems to say. Even as death's cold hand was reaching for me, I remembered. Aren't I something? Like he's trying to win an award for most dramatic turn to God in a life or death situation moment. But friends, there's more to it than Jonah's self congratulatory moment.

Because, even if Jonah is full of pride in the aftermath of his divine rescue, look at verse 8. 'Those who cherish worthless idols abandon their faithful love. But as for me, I will sacrifice to you with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation belongs to the Lord. So Jonah's arrogance continues as he wraps up his prayer.

First he wraps it up with a fiery judgment. He's boldly comparing himself with those who worship idols. Now, let's remember the context here. Jonah was just thrown into the water by who? Pagans, right? They were idol worshipers. They were all praying to their own gods like 15 minutes earlier, in the midst of the storm.

And it's hard not to think about them in the context where Jonah praises himself. I'm so much better than these idol worshipers.

These verses also seem to condemn the sin of Nineveh as well.

I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation belongs to the Lord, not to those pagan heathens, but to us good Jews.

When we examine this prayer, Jonah portrays himself as a devoted worshiper of God, faithfully fulfilling his vows. Meanwhile, those who worship false gods are left without hope of experiencing God's salvation. Jonah firmly believes here that he is superior to non believers, but he seems to have forgotten that his own lack of faithfulness is what landed him in the belly of the fish in the first place.

This is quite a bold stance for Jonah to take, right? To assert his own moral superiority while conveniently overlooking his own shortcomings. Jonah has no self awareness of himself here. Now, when you look at this prayer, the theology that Jonah is espousing is sound, it's orthodox, there's no doubt. But when we look at it in context, it paints a whole new picture, one that's not so flattering to Jonah.

Jonah thought his relationship with God was rock solid while he dismissed the sailors idol worshipping connection.

But when we look at how the narrator handles this book, the narrator reveals a stunning twist. The truth is nearly the opposite. And the irony only increases when Jonah promises that he will sacrifice to Yahweh with a thankful voice and fulfill his vows. Because these are the exact things that the sailors just did on the surface of the water.

And thanksgiving for what the Lord has done. So here's Jonah thinking he's got it all together. Those pagans on the surface are in trouble. But the exact opposite is true.

How often do we live like that? So busy condemning other people that we have no idea what's going on in our own hearts. No idea how hypocritical our prayers actually are. We might say the right things, we might believe the right things, but we're not living in reality. And it's making us a fool.

We can't deny that Jonah's act of remembrance His calling out to the Lord is a testament to a deep seated faith that he holds, even while he's running from God, something that he seems to have forgotten.

That's an opportunity for us to reflect. We have a deep seated faith that comes out of us, a deep seated faith that is in there, but a deep seated faith that maybe isn't prevalent in our entire lives, that isn't prevalent in the way we behave, isn't prevalent in the way that we look at the world and look at others.

Jonah's faith is not easily shaken off. When everything else fails, when the lights go out and you're in the belly of despair, that memory of God's faithfulness, his love, his power, it flickers back to life. Thank God. Thank God that in our moments of weakness, despite how hypocritical we are, how hypocritical we've been, God's mercy, he allows that root of faithfulness to take hold.

Jonah here is a man of great faith. He's a man of great pride. He's a man of faith and a man of flaws. Jonah is a mess, just like you and me. Jonah's prayer is self focused, but still remembers God. And that's the beauty of this story, because it speaks to our own moments of faith and pride, our struggles with humility and doubt, our messiness.

None of us serve the Lord. None of us come to the Lord whole and perfect. We come to Him a hypocritical mess, desperate for His grace. Jonah is not your typical faithful prophet. From the very beginning, Jonah's been playing a game of hide and seek with God. He's been intentionally disobedient, resolute, even in his rebellion and his attempt to make God's fulfillment of his call impossible.

He's out there sabotaging God, but thinks that he and God are on good terms. When we look at Jonah, he can talk a great game, just like many of us can. But when it comes down to it, he's a coward and a sinner, just like many of us. Jonah's deepest convictions are completely opposed to God's gracious character, just like many of us.

It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that when we see this prophet pray to God in a way consistent with all his other behavior,

How could a consistently disobedient prophet's prayer life be on the, on any other level when his actions completely are out of line with what God desires? Now why is Jonah like this? Why are we like this? It's because of the consequences of sin warping our beliefs. Warping our self perception and distorting our view of reality.

Jonah views God as unconditionally committed to Israel, and especially to himself, despite, even regardless, of their sin. But when it comes to Nineveh, Jonah wants God to exercise immediate judgment. And when God challenges that expectation, Jonah's reaction is nothing short of a temper tantrum. It's hardly surprising that an individual so mistaken about his own and God's character Would have a worldview quite at odds with reality, as God knows it to be.

Haven't we all been a Jonah at some point? Haven't we found ourselves fleeing in the opposite direction of where God is calling us? Haven't we been oblivious to the ways where we are at odds with God, convinced that God is on our side? The human heart is an idol factor. What we often do is we create God in our image.

We want to serve a God who agrees with us. And we'll twist scripture and we'll twist our faith around so that we don't have to acknowledge when God's ways are different from our own. Lord, help us.

Jonah's story is not just a historical account. It's a reflection of our daily struggles. We, like Jonah, are prone to stumble, to falter, to lose our way. It is our nature to be fearful, to let pride cloud our judgment, or to misunderstand the path that God lays before us. And acknowledging that even a prophet can stray, we discover a truth about God's grace.

God's grace is there, waiting, not just for the faultless, but for the fallen,

the fearful. Just like Jonah, in our moments of running away, God is patiently waiting for us to turn back to him. God's grace, ever present and unrelenting, doesn't rely on Jonah's perfection. Thank God. Thank God that God's grace does not rely on our perfection. Because I don't know about you, but I am not perfect at all.

Not perfect at all. I need the Lord to transform me. To help me to live the way that he would have me live. To help me to see the world the way that he sees the world. Jonah, in his disobedience and arrogance, was still met with God's rescue. God's grace is a gift. It's boundless and free. It's offered to us in our messiest moments.

When we feel unworthy, when we are lost in the belly of our own mistakes, God's grace is still there, whispering, You're more than your failures, even when our prayers are still wrong.

Take a pause.

I want to invite you to do some reflecting, and because we know that we often deceive ourselves, let's ask God to do some reflecting with us, to help us see the truth of our heart, to see the truth of our situation.

Think about the areas in your life where maybe, unknowingly, you've been running from God.

Lord, do we have blind spots?

Are there areas where we think that we're living faithfully, but we're living far from you?

You have calls on my life. I've been avoiding.

Are there directions that I've been dodging?

Lord, we come to you aware that we might be living in the belly of denial, fear or pride. We ask you to reveal the truth in this moment.

Lord, where does our life not line up with your will?

Just as Jonah. Spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. So too did our Savior, Jesus Christ, lay in the tomb before his glorious resurrection. This isn't just a coincidence in scripture. This is a divine echo of redemption and hope throughout all of scripture. Christ's victory over death transcends time and narrative.

It's the beacon that guides us through our darkest moments. When we falter, when we fail, it's easy for us to feel entombed by our mistakes, to cringe, trapped in the belly of our own despair. But here's the beautiful truth. Just as Jonah emerged from the death, Christ rose from the grave, conquering death once and for all.

And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live. the life that God desires for us to live. We can see the world the way God sees the world. We are not left to be hopeless hypocrites. Through prayer, the Lord can open up our eyes and give us his heart. This resurrection power is our ultimate hope. It's the assurance that no failure is final.

No mistake is beyond God's redemption. In Christ, we are offered a new beginning, a fresh start. So when you're wrestling with your shortcomings, remember that empty tomb. Remember that in Jesus, you have the victory that empowers you to rise above your failures, embrace His grace, and hope for a resurrected life.

Right now, you may feel caught in the belly of your own fish, and you might suspect that you are missing some really important perspectives. You might be trapped in the depths of despair or running far from where you know you should be. But hear this. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is reaching out to you at this very moment.

God's grace doesn't just brush over the surface. It dives deep into the darkest parts of our lives to bring us back to life. This morning, I

have an invitation. Anyone who feels lost in their own depths, you can step into a new beginning with Jesus. No matter how deep your despair, no matter how far you've run, no matter how blind you are to the truth, there is a hand of grace extended to you. It's time for you to emerge from the shadows of the past, to embrace the hope and the new life that Jesus offers.

Trust that Jesus's grace is sufficient, that his love is unending, and his arms open wide. This morning come, rise from your depths, and step into the light of a new day in Jesus who has delivered you, even when you struggled with repentance.

Although the Sunday School version of this story might be a little bit easier to swallow.

It's easier to think that Jonah asked for deliverance out of a pure heart and you gave it to him. But the truth is, Jonah asked for deliverance from a place of pride, and you still delivered him. Lord, how much hope can we bring this morning when we realize that it's not about our efforts, it's about what you have accomplished on the cross.

We don't earn your love. We don't earn your forgiveness. We don't earn your deliverance. It's all a gift.

Lord, as we reflect on our messes, may we not be deceived into thinking that we're blameless, but may we see the truth and Lord, may we not just see the truth, but may we see your Holy Spirit at work in our lives. May we submit to your Holy Spirit that we might be transformed. Transformed into the image of your son, that we might not live hypocritically, but that we might live aligned in faith and compassion.

Lord, we look to your son, our only hope, amen.