Jesus and Jonah

At B21 one of our great passions is Christ-centered preaching. Every time we open God’s Word–whether public teaching or private reading–we strive to faithfully proclaim Christ from all of Scriptures. And so we wanted to start a new series on Christ-centered preaching–to show what it is and how we do it.

To begin our series Peyton Hill put out 6 Helpful Clarifications for what “Christ-centered” really means. As we continue, we’ll be offering samples of how we would preach certain texts to point to Christ. May we all, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, show how it was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory! (Luke 24:25-27)

Jesus and Jonah

Jesus clearly linked His life with the prophet Jonah. When some of the Pharisees challenged Jesus to give a sign that He was the Messiah, He rebuked them and said that they would only receive the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:38-39). But how was Jonah a sign? How can we see Christ in the account of the runaway prophet?

Similar Baptism

When Jonah fled from the Lord’s presence in a boat towards Tarshish, God sent a mighty storm that threatened the lives of everyone in the boat. Jonah knew this was God’s judgment and that the only solution was to throw him into the waters. Jonah knew that God often pours out his wrath by way of water. Whether it’s the global flood of Noah’s day, or the Red Sea crashing on the Egyptian army, or a prophet thrown overboard into the storm, water consistently pictures judgment in the Old Testament.

That is why Jesus refers to his cross as a baptism (Luke 12:50). All of humanity has sinned, and the wages of that sin is death, but the good news is that Jesus drowned under God’s wrath against sin at the cross and walks away alive three days later so that all who believe on Him would be forgiven. We picture this gospel in baptism. The baptismal waters symbolize judgment and salvation – death and resurrection. In baptism, the church announces to the individual in the water, “You have already died, been buried and walked away from death to new life in Christ.” Baptism replays Noah’s flood, the Red Sea crossing, and Jonah’s rescue from the fish because it tells the story over and over again of a God who rescues His people through the water of judgment.

Jesus basically told the Pharisees, “Alright, I’ll give you a sign, but it’s not the sign you want. It’s a sign of judgment!” That is the sign of Jonah. Jonah almost drowns under the wrath of God, spends three days in the belly of the fish, and then he is brought out alive on the other side to carry out His commission to the nations. But Jesus, the true and better Jonah, drowns in His own blood under God’s wrath at Calvary’s cross, spends three days in the belly of the earth, then comes out alive on the other side to carry out His commission to the nations through His followers (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus Is Ultimately Greater

Though Jesus is similar to  Jonah, he is much greater!

  • Whereas Jonah was a disobedient prophet who ran from his mission to the lost,
    • Jesus was the true, obedient prophet who came to seek and save the lost.
  • Whereas Jonah was thrown into the sea to calm the wind and the waves,
    • Jesus told the wind and the waves to shut up, and they obeyed His voice!
  • Whereas Jonah received judgment for his rebellion,
    • Jesus takes the punishment for our disobedience
  • Whereas Jonah experienced a figurative death and burial in the fish,
    • Jesus was literally crucified, proclaimed dead, and buried in a tomb.
  • Whereas Jonah was vomited out on dry land symbolizing new life,
    • Jesus walked triumphantly from the grave!
  • Whereas Jonah proclaims coming judgment
    • Jesus proclaims forgiveness of sins through his death

Ultimately Jonah experienced judgment for his own sins, and by his judgment the sailors were saved. Jesus lived a life without sin, but at his death he experienced judgment for the sins of the world in order to save the world.

Jesus gives his opponents the sign of Jonah to tell them that His mission of salvation is not the mission of political and military power they expect. The sign reveals the nature of His mission – the salvation of the world will come by the Son of Man being judged, buried, and then raised from the dead in vindication.

Jon Akin is the Senior Pastor at Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN.