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The Heart of God in the Heart of the Sea

Devotion Nine

April 11, 2024

They Picked Him Up and Threw Him In

Daniel Barta

When God hurled the storm at the sea and placed the sailors into a perilous situation, they responded with religious and non-religious activity. They got to work.

In the realm of religion, they prayed, they cried out, they cast lots, they sought to appease the gods through atonement. In their understanding, the god or gods were angry, and in anger the god(s) sent the great “evil” upon them (Jon 1:7).

Immediately they launched an investigation to see “who [was] to blame for this trouble” (Jon 1:7). Once they uncovered Jonah’s guilt (Jon 1:7-8), they inquired, “What have you done… and what should we do to you so that the sea will calm down for us?” (Jon 1:10-11). They wondered, “Jonah, what does your God demand? Let us appease Him. Let us satisfy His anger so that He will stop terrifying us with the storm!”

Rather than repenting and turning to God for mercy, Jonah instructed them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea… for I know I’m to blame” (Jon 1:12). Instead of crying out to the LORD by faith trusting in His steadfast love and great mercy, Jonah determined to appease God on his own. He attempted through self-sacrifice to pay for his sin and rebellion.

‌God’s Shows Mercy without Clearing the Guilty

‌When God reveals Himself in the Bible, He shows himself both merciful and just. He says, “The LORD is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth…” (Ex 34:6), and at the same time He says, “But he will not leave the guilty unpunished…” (Ex 34:7). He “will by no means clear the guilty” (Na 1:3).

‌If by showing mercy, God spares sinners the just consequences of their sin, how does He show mercy to sinners without letting the guilty go unpunished? How does the God who pitied with compassion the evil and wicked people of Nineveh, the pagan idolatrous sailors, and the rebellious prophet act mercifully while at the same time uphold justice?‌

Each because of their sin deserved death, to be swallowed up in the storm and cast into the depths of the sea. Yet, in the story God spares the sailors, the prophet, and the wicked city. So then how does He uphold justice and make sure that the guilty do not go unpunished?

The answer given in the Bible is substitutionary atonement. That is atonement made by a substitute. In order for sinners to have hope in this world someone else must willingly and sufficiently bear the punishment which they deserve. God’s holiness demands justice. God will not for His character will not allow sin to be dismissed, swept under a rug, and merely forgotten. Thankfully, God Himself provided the substitute who would bear in His body the death sinners deserve.

Shortly after the death of Jesus, the apostle Paul wrote important words that help us understand how God showed mercy and upheld justice as He dealt patiently with the sailors, with Jonah, and with Nineveh.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. - Romans 3:23–26 ESV

The mercy and forgiveness extended and offered to those in the OT came through the death of Jesus Christ. As God offered mercy to those in the storm, He looked at the cross. He “passed over their sins” because He knew Jesus would pick up those sins and take them to the cross himself in the place of the guilty. In the cross of Christ we find our answer. God shows mercy and forgives sinners because He has punished the sins of the world through the death of His Son - a substitute for sinners.

‌Entrust Yourself to the Substitute

‌Even those who do not know God wrestle under the weight of a guilty conscience. We know deep down that absolute truth and absolute right and wrongs exists. We also know that we fall short. Though we might not have the words to articulate the brokenness, we sense we are not ok - that we are at odds with God or the gods.

‌So, we labor to justify ourselves. We seek like the sailors to appease the gods, to make them happy, to obtain their favor, to transform their disapproval into approval. We think in our hearts, “Perhaps, if we please him, he will stop the storm, turn away from us in his wrath, and act again for our good.” Like Jonah we may conclude that self-sacrifice - atoning for our own sins is our only hope to make the storm stop.

‌In the Scriptures, however, we learn that the sailors, Jonah, nor we are able to appease God no matter how great the sacrifice we make. Our sins are too great. We have nothing sufficient to offer the LORD as justification for ourselves. No one will be made right in the sight of our judge through our own work no matter how much we might sacrifice.

‌Thankfully, hope remains. A substitute offered Himself. His name is Jesus. By faith you and I may know forgiveness. We the guilty may be cleared of our sins for those sins have already been dealt with at the cross. God is just to forgive all who believe in Jesus rather than their own effort because the just punishment of our sins has been endured by Jesus in our place. Stop trying to appease the gods through slavish obedience. Instead, receive mercy by faith and turn to God knowing your are accepted and not condemned.

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