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The Heart of God in the Heart of the Sea

Devotion Eleven

April 15, 2024

Three Days and Three Nights

Daniel Barta

Only death could appease God's great wrath, for "the wages of sin is death" (Ro 6:23). Sin and rebellion require the life of Jonah. Justice demanded Jonah's being cast into the sea. While the sailors worshipped God with right fear and joyful gratitude, Jonah sank towards the bottom of a calmed sea.

With sovereign authority over creation, God "appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah" (Jon 1:17). This fish acting in obedience to the Creator came not to destroy Jonah but to execute God's mercy according to God's purpose. For three days and three nights the fish preserved Jonah in the depths of the sea (Jon 1:17) until, at the command of the LORD, the fish vomited Jonah up on to the safety of dry land (Jon 2:10).

Many years later, Jesus looked back on the story of Jonah and interpreted his three nights in the belly of the fish at the bottom of the sea as a picture of death and resurrection (Mt 12:40). In a very real way, Jonah died. On the boat, he accepted death as he gave himself to the sailors' hands and they tossed him into the sea of God's wrath. Surely Jonah possessed no reason to believe that his life would continue. He died a death that day. As he sunk and then as he was swallowed up, Jonah's life suffered a death. He sunk deep down to Sheol - that is the place of the dead. Jonah was a dead man.

But God in mercy - mercy that reached all the way down to the depths of the sea - snatched up Jonah. For three days he sat in the stinky stomach of a great fish, but after three days, the fish carried him to shore and spit him out at the LORD's command. He died, but God brought Him back again to the land of the living.

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! - Jonah 2:6 (CSB)

God, Rich in Mercy, Resurrects Dead Men

The scriptures teach that all men come into this world guilty before God. The descendants of Adam are rebels. They like Jonah run from God's authority and reject God's Word. Under God's judgment, all are "dead in [their] trespasses" (Ep 2:5). Though they might still have lungs that inhale and exhale along with a heart that beats, they are "by nature children of wrath" and have died a death from which they need resurrection (Ep 2:3).

Thankfully, God is "rich in mercy" (Ep 2:4). He showed His mercy by raising Jonah up from the depths of the raging sea, and He continues to show mercy by raising sinners from death to life today.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ... and raised us up with Him... - Ephesians 2:4-6 (ESV)

This mercy comes to men through Jesus, who unlike Jonah did not figuratively die but who really died. He went down in the depths of death after being unjustly executed at the hands of the Jews and the Romans. They did not take His life, but He willingly laid it down. He did so for sinners, so that like Him all who believe might with Him be raised from death. Because of His mercy made known in Jesus at the cross, men dead in their sins may know resurrection for God, who is rich in mercy, resurrects dead men.

Do Not Despair

If the pagan sailors and the rebellious prophet all received mercy, you too may know the mercy of God. Their stories serve to encourage us and convince us of God's character and richness in mercy so that we might not believe the lie that our sins are too much.

Perhaps your sins indeed are great. Perhaps you might find it easy to believe you have crossed the line one too many times. Maybe you too have sunk down deep into a place of despair and hopelessness. To you I bring the good news of God's mercy. His grace, his steadfast love, and his abundant mercy are greater than all your sins.

Repent. Entrust yourself to Him. Call out to Him for salvation. He is able and willing and ready to raise you from death and bring you again to life.

This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. - 1 Tim 1:15-17 (CSB)

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