Jonah: Lesson 4

The Futility of Works

Jonah 1:12-18

In a previous message we learned that the only way the storm that threatened the sailors could be calmed was for Jonah to be cast overboard. There was no other way, no other alternative. In the same way, there is no salvation apart from the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, but proud and stubborn humanity is slow to believe God’s Word. Instead they seek to save themselves through their own efforts and works. Most men and women will exhaust their own devices until they are utterly lost, and then will accept God’s remedy for sin.

“When you have tried everything, read the instructions.”

This principle is illustrated in our narrative. There were at least two things the sailors tried before they would submit to God’s command to throw Jonah overboard. The first attempt to save themselves is found in Jonah 1:5, “They cast forth their wares.” They thought that by getting rid of their cargo they could survive the storm. Their efforts were of no avail.

Similarly, many people today try to reform. They stop lying, stealing, swearing, killing, and lusting. This is the way of religion – live a decent life, join the church, etc. [Describe at this point, reformation - Use the example that can be seen through the evil spirit cast out, who later returns and brings six others (Matthew 12:43-45).]

The second attempt of the sailors to save themselves is found in Jonah 1:13. “Nevertheless” - this word could be rendered “in spite of.” In spite of Jonah’s message they still tried to save themselves. They rowed hard, but it was of no avail. Their labors and efforts were entirely in vain. Had they persisted in their efforts, they would have perished. If anyone insists on a course like this, then they should have the proper standard.

God’s standard is the Law. [Quote Exodus 20:1-17] The Law is a perfect expression of God’s requirements for holiness and perfection. It was a good law but sinners could not keep it. It was a holy law, but unholy sinners could not live up to it. It was a perfect law, but imperfect man fell far short of its demands.

For 1,600 years Israel tried to be saved by keeping that law. Instead, they were condemned by it. Romans 3:23 says that “All have sinned.” This then is the lesson that is graphically illustrated in the story of Jonah. The sailors tried everything in their power to save themselves by their own efforts, but there was only one way they could be saved – and it was not by their works. Jonah had to die.


The Doctrine of Substitution - The Lamb

So they took up Jonah and cast him forth into the sea; and the sea ceased from her raging. There was peace at last. Immediately after they obeyed God’s word, they were saved (see Jonah 1:15). In a moment of time they were saved. When they ceased their struggling and “believed” God’s Word, salvation came in an instant. (Examples: the jailor, Saul, Matthew, the leper, and the dying thief to name a few) This is still God’s plan of salvation.

    Titus 3:5 - “Not by works of righteousness […]”

    Isaiah 64:6 - “All our righteousness acts are as filthy rags.”

Our virtues or good works are no substitute for the blood of Christ.

[Present the plan of salvation]

Now notice an interesting thing: Jonah 1:16 says that the sailors proved their faith by their good works. After they had been saved and the sea had been made calm, they “feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows.” Compare this with Jonah 1:5, which says “Every man cried to his god.” Works must accompany genuine conversion.

Now we come to the heart of our story. In Jonah 1:15, “they took up Jonah and cast him forth into the sea.” The first miracle here is that “the sea ceased from its raging.” Jonah 1:17 reveals the second miracle, which is that “the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah.”

When a dog bites a man, it is not news, but when a man bites a dog, it is news. In the same way when a man catches a fish, it is not news, but when a fish catches a man, it is news. Most fish stories are exaggerated, notorious prevaricators. Here is a story recorded by God, who cannot lie. [Describe its swallowing] Jonah, the prophet of God, spent three days and nights in the stomach of a fish and came forth alive and well, and preached effectively to the wicked city of Nineveh. Jesus Himself vouches for the truthfulness and historicity of it in Matthew 12.

Well-meaning, but misguided, champions of the Bible have searched to find a fish with a throat large enough to swallow a man without crushing him and a stomach so spacious it could contain sufficient air to furnish oxygen to sustain a man for several days and so devoid of gastric juices that it could not digest such a tender morsel as a fleeing prophet. Complete digestion takes place within 18 hours. Some have taken the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 12 and say without fear that it was a whale. The word here is “ketos,” which means a huge fish. A whale is a mammal which has lungs and breathes through its nostrils. It was not a whale. It was a specially prepared fish, prepared by God.

Would it be presumption to say that God made it for this special occasion?

If we take the miraculous out of this story, we literally deny the death and resurrection of Christ. Jonah 1:17 says, “Now the Lord had prepared…” Before Jonah was thrown overboard, God had prepared a great fish. He even had a room prepared, awaiting his occupancy. If the fish had not been there, Jonah would have drowned. Jonah could not get away from God. He tried to run away, but God followed him. He said to the sailors, “Cast me overboard and destroy me.” But God brought him back from death into His service. You can flee from God, but you cannot hide from him (see Psalm 139).

Jonah was given a commission, which he refused and paid dearly for it. We too have been given a commission. It can be found in Mark 16:15, which says, “Go ye unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Have we accepted this commission?

What would you think of me if I were a doctor, and lived in a city where thousands were dying from a dreaded disease, and I had the remedy which had never been know to fail? Suppose I had an unlimited supply of that remedy, but instead of offering it to the dying, I just rejoiced it had cured me and kept it to myself. What would you think of me?

Beloved in Christ, multitudes are dying around you. You have the remedy - the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Is it possible you have never offered this to a friend who is dying in sin? Oh, that the Lord may grip your heart and show you your personal responsibility.

“Rescue the perishing, care for the dying;

Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.

Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,

Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.”