Greater Than Jonah

They were great men whose deeds for God are recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, and not the least among them was Jonah. He was a prophet with an extraordinary experience, and a ministry of unparalleled power. He had been thrust down into the very "belly of sheol" and had cried to the Lord from those depths and been heard and delivered, and the queen city of the world, vast and haughty, and hostile to his people and his God had heard his lone preaching, and been terrified and subdued by it, and had humbled itself to the dust, and repented of its foul sins and pride and been saved from a swift and overwhelming judgment. No prophet in the world's history had ever descended to such depths as Jonah, nor been raised to such heights of success as he had. But a greater than Jonah is here.

It is with the keenest interest that the Christian considers such a man as Jonah, for he sees in him a shadow of his Lord, not the very image, but a shadow. Whatever of greatness there may have been in him or his experience and achievements was but a type of the greater greatness of Him whom we love.

His is the glory; the surpassing greatness is His.

There was not much that was loveable about Jonah, unless it was his fierce patriotism. This may have accounted for much in him that to us appears repellent. He did not want to carry any message from God to Nineveh, "bloody city, full of lies and robbery," for he knew enough about the God he served, to know that if they hearkened to His word and repented of their sins, they would be forgiven and spared, even as it turned out. And he had no wish except that Nineveh should perish utterly without a warning. Why should the oppressor of his people be spared? So he fled, not from Nineveh, for he was no coward; it was not men that scared him from the will of God, it was from the presence of the Lord that he fled. What he feared was an out-pouring of the mercy of God upon an alien and guilty foe. In his concern for his nation and his own reputation, he was selfish, miserable, without compassion, and despicable — as unlike his God as he could possibly be.

Jonah carried out God's will in the end, but what discipline he had to pass through before he did it, only when he discovered that the will of God was powerful and irresistible did he submit to it. What a contrast to this we have in our Lord. He needed no discipline to prepare Him for service. There was no need for yoke upon His neck, for He was not rebellious nor turned back. Our hearts are charmed as we turn from Jonah to Him, He was the perfect Servant. "Lo, I come," He said, "in the volume of the book it is written of Me. I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within My heart" (Ps. 40). "A greater than Jonah is here."

The great storm that threatened the ship in which Jonah sailed should teach us something. It was a mighty tempest, the wind that caused it was from God. With giant strokes it smote the ship so that it "was like to be broken." And nothing that those pagan sailors could think of could appease its demands. They cast their costly wares into it but still it raged, they laboured hard to escape its clutches and come to their port, and they cried to their gods, but it heeded their toiling and anguished cries as little as it cared for their wealth. It wrought against them and was tempestuous and reduced them to despair. That storm required a great sacrifice; its claims could not be ignored, and there was only one price that could turn it to a calm and procure peace, Jonah must go into it, he must sink down into that raging flood; nothing else could avail. So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: "and the sea ceased her raging."

Many of us were like those mariners of Tarshish; we had no peace. We discovered that we were guilty before God; we had sinned against Him. His righteous judgment was against us and we could not meet its demands. We looked back upon a guilty past with dismay and the future loomed dark before us. No price that we could pay could win our deliverance from judgment or purchase our peace, and our labour to establish our own righteousness was in vain, for salvation is not of works lest any man should boast. There was but one way, one hope. One greater than Jonah must go into the judgment as our representative and substitute; He must face the storms for us, in our stead. There could be no compromise in this, it was a matter of eternal justice, of the very character of God and His throne.

We do not waste much admiration upon Jonah, and yet there was a nobility about him as he stood upon the heaving deck of that ship, calmly facing the storm at its worst and saying, "Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm to you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." In that hour his selfishness had dropped from him and he was a submissive man, great his submissiveness, and bowing to the judgment of God upon him as a righteous judgment because of his disobedience to God. That one gleam of moral rectitude and surrender of self makes him worthy to stand with the greatest of the prophets, but a greater than Jonah is here,

Behold our Lord Jesus. He stood forth in the hour of need and offered Himself in an absolute sub- mission to the will of God to suffer for our disobedience; "The just One for us the unjust." And having become the Son of man there was no escape for Him if the storm was to be stilled for us: He must go down into the depths. In a deep, inscrutable, spiritual sense He had to say, "Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterspouts, all Thy waves and Thy billows have gone over me." "The waters compassed Me about: the depth has enclosed me round about." Only divine love could fathom those depths into which He went for our sakes, the sinners' Substitute.

We do not wonder that those sailor men, "feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and made vows." So great a peace secured at such a price was enough to open the blindest eyes, and reach the hardest heart, and make the most dense of infidels exclaim, This thing is of God! But what of the great reality of which that was a shadow and a contrast? Those men saw Jonah no more; he had perished while they were saved. That was all they knew; but a greater than Jonah is here. "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." "But the Lord spake to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land." And just as surely came our Lord forth from the dead. "He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 4:5).

The gospel that we have believed is the gospel of peace, a peace that shall never be disturbed forever for it is the result of the eternal settlement of every question that could disturb it. And the Lord Himself proclaimed this peace. He stood in the midst of His disciples on the resurrection day and said to them, "Peace to you" and He showed them His hands and His side. It is ours now to wonder and offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name."

There is another side to this story of Jonah. He was an effective sign to the sinners of Nineveh, and a sign also to that evil generation to which the Lord witnessed. He was a sign that the man of disobedience must pass under the judgment of God, it was one man's disobedience that brought death upon the human race, and death has passed upon all, for all alike are disobedient, it is the nature of every individual member of it. And not only must the acts of disobedience be atoned for but the nature that produces them must be judged. And it is here that God has displayed His amazing love and wisdom. Divine wisdom devised the way, divine love stood forth to carry it out, power too, the power of God has completed the wonderful story. Christ the obedient One came down into death. By Adam's disobedience the condemnation of death passed upon all, by Christ's one great obedience many are delivered from death, made righteous, and shall reign for ever in life by one, Jesus Christ.

Christ raised up from the dead, is the last Adam, the head of a new race, to every member of which His own nature and life is imparted. But to know the blessedness of this it is necessary that the truth as to the old life and nature be acknowledged "if one died for all then are all dead." Christ not only died for us, but in our baptism we acknowledged that we died with Him, and that death, His death, was the only way of life for us. It is the acknowledgment also, that from the old nature can spring no good thing, and it becomes our privilege in consequence of the death of Christ to reckon ourselves dead to the whole course of the disobedient life in which once we wholly lived, and live to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Christ as the greater than Jonah has secured this for us, and now He lives as greater than Solomon, the One to whom we may turn for all direction in life, the very wisdom of God for us, who can solve all our hard questions, as Solomon solved the Queen of Sheba's, and who can so entrance our hearts by His personal greatness and glory that we desire nothing apart from Him.