And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
In the name of + Jesus.
Many of us have been familiar with the story of Jonah even from our youth. It’s one of those Sunday School stories. The prophet Jonah flees from God because he doesn’t want to go to that terrible city of Nineveh. And Jonah had a good reason for not wanting to go to Nineveh; Nineveh was the blood-thirsty capital of Syria, which was known for conquering cities and making pyramids outside of the conquered city walls by stacking the skulls of those they had killed in the process. Who would want to go to a city with that reputation?
As the story goes, you remember Jonah fleeing, getting on a boat, a terrible storm, and finally, Jonah offering to be thrown overboard to calm the waters. But he’s really trying to calm down God. His own guilt tells him why the storm has come, and the reason is judgment; judgment on him. And he knows that the LORD will not stop until Jonah is brought to justice for his disobedience.
So Jonah is thrown into the sea, where he expects to die. Except that he doesn’t die. The LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. And then, as the passage above tells us, “The LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”
For most of us, that is where the story has ended. Sure, our Sunday School teachers will tack on a bit about going to preach to Nineveh, and having Nineveh be saved through repentance and faith in God’s Word and promise. But the emphasis for us is typically on the fact that Jonah lived in the belly of a great fish for three days…and lived. We’ve been taught that the point of this story is that God can do the miraculous…even for people who are disobedient.
But how does Jesus teach this text? That’s right, Jesus actually did some teaching on this text of Jonah, and teaches us what the story of Jonah is really all about. You can find this teaching recorded in Matthew 12:39-41 and Luke 11:29-32. Jesus mentions the “sign of Jonah” again in Matthew 16:4. And what does he say is the point of the story of Jonah? His own death and resurrection!
Yes, Jonah was a real man, and there was a great big fish. There was a city of Nineveh, and its residents were evil enough to scare anyone away. Yes, Jonah was rescued by the hand of God, and yes he would go to Nineveh to preach to evil people, who would repent and be saved by faith. But the entire historic event was intended to point us forward to one who would be “greater than Jonah (Lk 11:29).
Jonah fled from sinful Nineveh. Jesus humbled himself, and took on the flesh of the sinners to whom he was sent. Jonah offered himself up to death to satisfy God’s judgment. That’s what Jesus did on the cross, but in the case of Jesus, it wasn’t simply for the sake of the temporal life a few crewmen on a boat—it was for the entire world, a once-and-for-all death for all sinful people. Jonah was buried in the belly of that great fish, and Jesus was buried in the tomb—and each were buried for three days! After three days, the LORD commanded the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land. After three days in the tomb, the Father commanded to tomb to be opened, and for Jesus to come out, alive and well.
And all of it happened, in the case of Jonah and Jesus, so that the Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation could be preached to those who would die without it. For Jonah, it would be the Ninevites. For Jesus, the Gospel of His death and resurrection would begin being preached in Jerusalem, extend to Judea, and finally, make its way to the ends of the world. Christ died for sin, was made alive in victory, and He comes to bring that Good News to sinners who will also be spared through repentance and faith in the one who is like Jonah, but even greater!
Jonah is a wonderful story; it’s a miraculous story; it’s a mission story which we can all relate to, for we all have turned from the call of God. But more than that, Jonah is a story that points us to the miracle of the one who would die and be raised for all sinners. Jonah is chiefly a story that reveals the redemption of Christ. Jonah is most of all, a story that seeks to remind us of the one who is even greater than he—Jesus Christ, the risen one!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Gracious God and Father, thank You for redeeming me from sin, death, and the power fo the devil. Move my tongue to glorify You in praise and witness. Amen (TLSB, p. 1482).