Sunday, July 3, 2022

Sunday Sermon: "The People of God in the World" (Jonah 1:5-6)


SERMON: “The People of God in the World”

SCRIPTURE: Jonah 1:5–6


Then the sailors became fearful, and every man cried to his god, and they hurled the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down below into the innermost part of the vessel, lain down, and fallen deep asleep. So the captain came near to him and said to him, “How is it that you are deeply sleeping? Arise, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.” — (Jonah 1:6)

The book of Jonah also tells of a man who lost his identity. Jonah the prophet flees from the presence of the Lord to avoid God’s command to preach in hated Nineveh. Boarding a ship for distant Tarshish, Jonah hopes to hide beneath the decks. 

What is our “high calling” as the church? The Lord gives us that calling in what is called The Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to keep all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

When you think about that calling today, how do you think we’re doing? Are we doing great? Is there room for improvement? Are we, like Jonah, asleep below decks, while the storm rages around us? Let’s think about the answer, as we consider the sleep prophet this morning. Our sermon begins with…


Remember that, fleeing from the Lord, Jonah paid his fare for the journey to Tarshish. As the boat pulled away from shore, his plan to run from God seemed to be a success. But Jonah had not reckoned on the sovereign persistence of the Lord. Jonah 1:4 tells us, “But Yahweh hurled a great wind on the sea, and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship gave thought to breaking apart.”

It would be one thing for passengers to be frightened by a storm on the sea, but sailors are used to quite violent winds and waves. The mariners’ alarm shows that this was a terrific storm, very dangerous, threatening their ship and their lives: “Then the sailors became fearful, and every man cried to his god…” (Jonah 1:5).

We notice here the sailor’s tendency to think of God only in a crisis. You might have heard the saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes…” And this actually explains one of the reasons for the trials of this world: in his mercy, God seeks to gain man’s attention through crisis, and natural disaster.

Of course, the true spirit of prayer is not one that is summoned only in the midst of terror, but one that daily rises up from our loving relationship with the God we have come to know and trust.

But we see that the sailors did more than simply pray: “…and they hurled the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.” (Jonah 1:5). It was likely a great deal of cargo that they threw overboard. The whole purpose of such ships was to convey goods from one place to another, so the mariners were throwing out not only their possessions but also their profit.

With their lives at risk, the sailors did not hesitate to jettison their possessions to gain only a slightly increased chance of safety. England’s King Richard III cried out in the midst of his defeat in battle: “My kingdom for a horse!” Likewise, many people would give up any amount of money or possessions to save their lives.

Of course, the root problem here was not the weight of the cargo, and not even the violence of the storm. The problem with the ship bound for Tarshish was the sin residing under its decks. Likewise, mankind’s problems arise from the guilt and misery incurred by sin. Like the mariners in the storm, natural man seeks God’s help in removing danger but seldom gives any thought to removing sin. “We are casting overboard the ware and cargo, but the storm continues to rage because sin continues to rule in the hearts of those aboard the ship of life. Nothing weighs a man down as heavily as the burden of sin.”


The example of the storm-tossed mariners provides a primer on natural religion and reveal to us important limitations of religion apart from the one true God. We see this in the actions of the sailors. Let’s consider these limitations for a moment. 

First, it shows that unregenerate men and women are aware of God. Why is that – how is it possible that unbelievers, even atheists, might be aware of the existence of God?

It’s because the natural world displays God clearly. The sailors, most of whom were probably Phoenicians, realized instinctively that a personal divine power stood behind the storm raging about them. The reason that nature reveals the existence of God is that God created it for this purpose. 

Paul says, 

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, both His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the likeness of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. — (Romans 1:18-23)

The simple fact is, there are no true atheists. Only those who suppress and rebel against a knowledge of God. In reality, the simple fact that almost universally people pray in the midst of storms is testimony to the fact that mankind knows God not only exists but is able to help.

That’s what the sailors are doing here. But I want you to notice something about their beliefs. While men know that God exists, they do not know God. “Each cried out to his god” (Jonah 1:5). This is another way of saying that each sailor cried out to whatever god he thought might help him. They were like the Athenians of Paul’s time who not only built idols to every god of their imaginations, but also tried to cover their bases with an idol “to the unknown god” (Acts 17:23). Their attitude is revealed in the ship captain’s plea to Jonah: “Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:6). He meant, in other words, “Maybe you know a god who can help. So give it a try!” 

It's a reminder that at the heart of all idolatry is the tragic problem that while mankind knows that God exists, man does not know who He is.

Now, I want you to notice a second limitation of religion apart from God is seen in the sailor’s approach to prayer. Just as they do not know to whom they should pray, unbelievers also do not know on what terms their prayers may be answered. They are praying, but they don’t really know if they will get anything from their prayers, so they just repeat them and cry out over and over, and yet, are not sure whether these prayers are just passing into thin air or if they will really come to God.

It is these two great problems of mankind that Christianity alone is able to address. Natural revelation, though displaying that there is a God, does not tell us who he is. This is why God gave us special revelation in the Bible and in the appearance of Jesus Christ. God, having revealed himself through the prophets and apostles, has given an ultimate revelation of himself through his Son, Jesus Christ (see Heb. 1:2). 

To learn of Jesus in the Bible and have the Holy Spirit impress his truth upon your heart is to come to a personal knowledge of God. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Paul writes that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).

The believer in Christ therefore knows the God to whom he prays, for his salvation involves a personal relationship with the heavenly Father. And not only that, but the Christian knows on what terms he hopes for his prayers to be heard. Since God’s Son died for our sins, reconciling us to God the Father, the believer who prays in Jesus’ name knows that his prayers are received by God as those of a beloved child. Praying in Christ’s name, we say, “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9).

Now, this leads up to a question…


I want us to notice the prophet Jonah again. On the ship bound for Tarshish, it was Jonah alone who could tell the mariners what they needed to know. The problem is that while the pagans were praying, what was Jonah doing? Jonah was asleep at the wheel: “But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep” (Jonah 1:5).

This is a remarkable situation, given the violence of the storm. It is hard to account for the fact that in this great tempest Jonah was soundly sleeping below. Some commentators have suggested that the strain and anxiety of his flight from God had utterly exhausted the prophet. Deep in the bowels of the ship, he had somehow managed to continue his sleep despite the violent storm.

However we account for it, Jonah’s sleep is remarkable in what it says about his spiritual state. Thinking he had escaped God’s presence; Jonah was unaware of approaching danger. 

How many others are like him? They think themselves safe in their rebellion against or neglect of God. Life seems good; their affairs seem secure. Yet all the while a storm is fast approaching. 

The mere fact that we may enjoy a spiritual state of peace says nothing about our actual situation with God. Jonah had plenty of peace. He was sleeping like a baby. At the very time when he was running from the will of God, he had great peace. 

Yet at the time of God’s choosing the terrible storm struck his ship. Like Jonah in his boat, many people today—Christians and non-Christians—think themselves safe from God simply because they keep away from church. But God is able to strike in the world as well as in the church, at sea as well as on shore.

So, what happens to the world when the church is asleep?

Let’s look at the situation with Jonah. Ask yourself: with the storm blowing, why were the mariners in such danger? It was not because of their sins, but it was because of the prophet’s sin! 

In like manner, the condition of the world in any age may be traced to the condition of the church. When the church is actively awake, exercising its duty of godliness, prayer, and gospel witness, the world around the church is blessed. In fact, wherever the footprints of Christian disciples have marked the earth, they lead to an increase of peace, prosperity, and well-being.

Conversely, the neglect of God and his Word, and especially the abandonment of fidelity to Christ, invariably foreshadows looming clouds of darkness and storm. 

And like Jonah in the Tarshish-bound ship, doctrinally wayward Christians too often have sought refuge in the findings of science, the fashions of secular academia, and the waves of trendy culture, instead of standing fast on the solid rock of the Bible. The result is trouble not merely for the church but for the entire society.

But I want to compare Jonah with the apostle Paul in a similar situation. Acts 27 records that Paul’s ship was caught in a storm so violent that the crew tossed their cargo overboard (Acts 27:13–20). 

13 When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore. 14 But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; 15 and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along. 16 Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. 17 After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along. 18 The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; 19 and on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.

But whereas Jonah neglected his duty to arise, pray, and preach to the others, Paul busied himself in these very tasks. The apostle stood before the sailors and reported God’s counsel. 

21 When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on a certain island.” 

Jump down to verse 30..

30 But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it fall away. 33 Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish.” 35 Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. 36 All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. 37 All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. 38 When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea. 

They continued sailing on…then jumping down to verse 41 

“But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim away and escape; 43 but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, 44 and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.

As a result of Paul’s good work among them, the mariners arrived safely on land despite the destruction of their vessel. In Jonah’s case, as well as Paul’s, it was the conduct of believers that determined the fate of the whole ship’s crew.

This illuminates a tragedy in our own time, for like Jonah in the ship, the church today is largely asleep in the world. We see this in the neglect of prayer, the lack of interest in theology in favor of lifestyle or therapeutic teaching, the casualness with which so many believers approach worship, and a lack of concern to witness the gospel to the surrounding world.

This is why it is such a mercy whenever God sends an awakening storm. It was grace that sent Jonah’s storm! God could have let him sleep all the way to Tarshish, to a successful end of his rebellion, but in His grace, God did not let him go. 

Even today, the Bible reveals that famines, plagues, wars, economic depressions, and persecutions are often God’s remedy to awaken people to the reality of a coming judgement. 

We must be awake in these end times, my friends. It is not a time for the church to be asleep.

Let’s notice one more thing.

The book of Jonah is filled with ironies, and one of them is the sight of the pagan ship captain crying out to awaken the prophet. Jonah was there, after all, because he refused God’s call to cry out to pagan Nineveh. Now, in his rebellion, it is an unbelieving voice that calls him awake: “The captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish’ ” (Jonah 1:6).

This was a deserved rebuke. To the captain’s eyes, Jonah presented a remarkable instance of sacrilege, sleeping at a time when everyone should be calling on God! 

There are so many opportunities right now in our world to show people the better way of the path of Christ. In every time of trial or adversity, we have a chance to show the world how the grace of God, how the faith of Jesus, how the fellowship of the Spirit, can suffice to keep our souls in perfect peace and perfect patience.

To speak plainly, the world does not need the church for worldly things. But there are things for which the world urgently needs the proper witness of the church. 

The world does not know God. The world does not know the truth of God’s ways. The world does not know how to find salvation from heaven. It is for these purposes that the church exists in the world. How great is the lament when the sleeping church becomes like the world! Let us take up this urgent calling, and, as Jonah was exhorted, let us arise before the world. Let us tell the world about God. Let us pray to God on the world’s behalf and teach the world to pray. Let us preach the gospel of Christ, the one way by which the sinful world may find the blessing of heaven’s God.


How can you find the blessing of Heaven’s God this morning? You we must remember another prophet—indeed, the Lord of the prophets—who also slept on a storm-tossed boat. The Gospels tell us of Jesus in the boat with his disciples, crossing the Sea of Galilee. The disciples woke him, crying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” (Matt. 8:25). But unlike Jonah, Jesus slept not in rebellion against God but in the great peace of his sovereign might. So, unlike Jonah, who does not seem to have either risen or prayed, Jesus did arise. Mark 4:39 says, “He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

Dear friends, Jesus could do what no one else could, not even a prophet like Jonah. Jesus could still the storm because of his divine and sovereign might. Jesus can also still the storm of God’s wrath on our sin. Jonah’s sin had caused Jonah’s storm, and likewise it is our sin that brings God’s wrath. It was for this that Jesus died on the cross, paying the penalty our sins deserved and achieving for us an eternal peace with God.

Do you want to know what the mariners did not understand? Do you want to know how to pray so as to gain God’s help and salvation? The answer is to pray in the name of Jesus, through faith in the shedding of his blood for our sins. God has made Jesus the way to salvation. John writes, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). As children of God through faith in Jesus, the Lord of the storms, we may know that our prayers are heard and that God is on our side.

If we realize this and have come to God through faith in Christ, then let us heed the world’s and the Bible’s cry to the church. Let us be active in worship, prayer, service, and witness. Paul exhorts us: “Walk as children of light … and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.… ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’ ” (Eph. 5:8, 10, 14).

Let’s pray.

Father, we are grateful to you for the love and mercy of Christ. We have a sign, we have a signature moment in history seen at the cross of Calvary that puts your compassion on full display, that puts your love on infinite unchallengeable grounds. Christ died for the ungodly. Christ died for sinners. Christ died for us. We who are your people, Father, respond in worship. We thank you for this mercy that we know that we did not deserve and we honor you as the great holy God of compassion and we pray for those under the sound of our voice who are still outside of Christ. Father, may the love of God, may the kindness of God that has been on full display from your word here in this past hour, may that kindness of God lead them to repentance today. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.