Man Overboard! Thank the Lord!

Bible Book: Jonah  1 : 11-16
Subject: Grace, Amazing; Redemption; Testimony
Series: It Isn't A Fish Story

Whenever I am in Greensboro, NC, I stop by a little cemetery that sits behind a Quaker church. There in the center of that grave yard are the bones of Vance Havner, the country preacher from North Carolina who was uniquely used by God. I usually stand there and pray something like this, “Lord, give me a double portion of what this man had. Use me like you used him, and give me a word for my generation as you gave him for his.”

I wonder if perhaps there were young preachers in first century Jerusalem that would pray similar prayers. Perhaps some of them would say, “Lord, make me like Isaiah,” or, “Lord, I want to be the next Samuel, or Daniel, or, even Amos.”  I seriously doubt, however, that were any young men of God in that day who prayed, “Lord, make me like Jonah! Do with me what you did with Jonah!”

But then there came from the hill country of Galilee a very different young man, the Lord Jesus. When asked by his opponents for a sign to verify who He claimed to be as the Son of God, He answered and said, “…This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of [Jonah] the prophet.”

In other words, Jesus said that He would validate Himself by doing what Jonah did. That is an important statement, not only when we read it in the New Testament, but also when we read the story of Jonah in the Old Testament.

The book of Jonah, though best known for the giant fish, isn’t about the fish at all. It is about the wonderful, powerful grace of God. And the grace of God is most wonderfully and powerfully revealed in the person of Jesus and His death on the cross for sinners like you, me, the folks in Nineveh, and the Prophet Jonah.

The scene before us in Jonah chapter one is a turning point in the story. Jonah finally confesses fully that he is the reason the storm is blowing, and he even presents himself as the sacrifice needed to stop the storm.

In this scene we are able, more than at any other time in this story, to look beyond Jonah to Jesus and understand why Jesus would choose to tie Himself to this prophet. Though unknowingly, Jonah gives us a wonderful picture of the gospel when he is thrown overboard for the sake of those onboard.

As we look through this passage together, I want us to do so wearing our gospel glasses, and thinking of it in light of the message of the gospel. With that in mind, notice with me firstly that:


In verse 4, the Lord hurled a whirlwind after the ship on which Jonah tried to flee from Him and His call. Though Jonah was the intended target, he was not the only one who felt the fury of the storm. The mariners traveling with him were caught up in Jonah’s mess. In much the same way, the storm of sin and its consequences is one that reaches every one of us on board the ship of life. When this storm hit, these mariners didn’t know who Jehovah or Jonah really were, and yet they were caught up in the drama between this one man and His God.

Even those who do not know God or the story of man’s sin against Him are nonetheless caught up in the storm of it. Consider this principle with me as we see it in this story. For one thing, consider that:

A. They were connected to the sinner

When this ship captain accepted Jonah’s fare money, and let him on board, he unwittingly placed himself and his crew in the middle of Jonah’s mess. As God began to pursue Jonah and turn him around from his sin, these mariners were connected to Jonah’s story in a way they would only realize when their own lives were in jeopardy.

In verse 11, we find them pleading with Jonah saying, “What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?” They recognized their dangerous association with Jonah.

When you were born into the human race, you didn’t know it at the time, but you were born into a mess. The folks that first held you and cooed at you didn’t tell you right away, but they had brought you into a sinful world and passed on to you their sinful nature.

In fact, all of us are connected to the original sin of the original man, Adam. Romans 5:12 says, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

These mariners found themselves trapped on a boat with a man whose sin was going to kill them all.

Not only are you and I grouped in with the rest of sinful humanity, but we have joined in with them as well. We are as guilty as the man or woman next to us, and all of us suffer as a result.

As we think about these sailors stuck on this ship with Jonah, notice not only that they were connected to the sinner, but notice also that:

B. They were caught in the storm

Look again at verse 1It says, “Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.” Note that last phrase: “…the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.” It literally means the sea was walking and raging.

The idea seems to be that the storm just blew harder and the sea got angrier the longer Jonah stayed on board that ship. With every passing minute these sailors were feeling more and more of the effect of Jonah’s rebellion and their connection with Him. In a similar way, the longer we live in this world, the more we feel the effects of not just our own sin, but the cumulative sin of humanity around us.

The storm of man’s rebellion against God pounds upon the head of every one of us. We feel the chill of its wind whenever we stand over a coffin and stare into the face of another one taken by death. We hear the clap of its thunder when we see the violence that plays out every day in our world. The storm of sin is global and all of us are touched by it.

Last month, some 3,000 people were stranded for almost a week on the Carnival cruise ship, Triumph, after an engine fire crippled the ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. What they thought would be a pleasure cruise turned into standing in line like prisoners to use the bathroom or eat a meal. The brochure said it was a “fun ship” – not so much.

Not all of life is miserable and hard, but the longer you’re on board, the more you will realize that we are all facing danger and ultimately death in the storm of man’s sin and rebellion against God. It is a reality that touches all of us.

With that being said, as we look further at this scene, we see not only that the storm reaches everyone on board, but notice also secondly that:


The sailors asked Jonah, “What do we need to do to you in order to save ourselves from the storm?” Notice the answer Jonah gave them in verse 1It is one of his few bright spots in this opening chapter. He said, “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” In Jonah’s statement there is a confession. He said, “I know it’s my fault that this storm is blowing on all of you.” But there is also here a solution. Jonah said, “Throw me overboard,” which, as far as they all knew, meant that Jonah was going to have to die if they were going to be saved.

Now a picture of Jesus emerges, even through the roughness of a character like Jonah. Someone, in this case Jonah, was going to die for the sake of those around him. Do you see it?

Consider this solution, and notice that:

A. It was the sole option

These sailors asked, “What do we have to do to you in order that the storm will not kill us.” Jonah answered, “Pick me up and throw me over into the ocean.” As we will see, this was an extreme measure, but it was the only thing that would work. Notice that there was no other plan.

After Jonah told them what needed to be done, verse 13 says, “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.” The men dug their oars down into the water and tried to save themselves, but they could not. The storm just raged the harder against their efforts. Likewise, men may dig in and try to save themselves from their sins by their own efforts, but our works are useless in the face of God’s righteous judgment.

Notice that there was also no other person. The captain could have volunteered to go down on behalf of the crew and the ship, but his life would not have made any difference. Only Jonah going down would keep them up. Similarly, only the death of Jesus is sufficient to stem the tide of God’s wrath and save us from our sins.

Yet unlike Jonah, Jesus was the only innocent one to ever stand on the deck of humanity’s ship, and it is His innocence before God and man that makes Him a worthy sacrifice on our behalf.

And now, as Peter said, "there is no other name” whereby we can and must be saved apart from the name of Jesus.

He is not merely a good choice among many other religious options. He is not just some icon on a “coexist” bumper-sticker. He is not a Savior among a number of saviors. He is the only option!

In this solution that was offered to these sailors, we realize not only that it was the sole option, but notice also further that:

B. It was the severest option

Notice how the sailors acted when they realized they were in fact going to have to throw Jonah overboard. Verse 14 says, “Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.”

Why were these sailors so hesitant and fearful about throwing Jonah overboard? It is because they had not yet read the rest of this story, as we have. In their minds, to throw Jonah overboard was to kill him. They were going to participate in the death of another man. They recognized the severity of what was going on. I love how Spurgeon described this. He said: “This was one of the most solemn funerals that ever took place. Into the raging billows the living man was cast as into his grave…”

As we hear these sailors cry to God for mercy before doing what had to be done with Jonah, our hearts ought to be reminded of the severity of the cross on which Jesus died.

A preacher and author by the name of Russ Reaves writes that we often feel somewhat like these sailors did when we are confronted with the brutal reality of the cross. He wrote:

“Every time we watch a film about the life of Jesus, or see a drama in which His story is portrayed, we come to that brutal scene depicting the cross, and we watch men take hammers and nails and begin to torture the Lord Jesus…and we want to cry out, “Stop it! Don’t do this…There must be some other way!”i

The death of Jesus seems shocking to us at times, and yet it is the picture of horrible reality of our sin and the high price that was paid to rescue us from it. We, therefore, like these sailors, must learn to see the brutality and severity of the cross and say, “…thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.” We must embrace the cross as the only way! We must submit to it and thank God for it, even as we plead His mercy upon us for our part in it!

Yes! It is an old, rugged cross! Yes, it is the emblem of suffering and shame! But, we cherish that old rugged cross! We glory in that cross! It is our only hope!

Looking once more at this scene in Jonah’s story, looking with gospel-focused eyes, we see not only that the storm reaches everyone on board, and the solution requires someone on board, but notice also that:


Look now at verse 1It says, “So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea…” Fearfully, tearfully, they took Jonah, believing the prophet’s word to them, and they heaved him over the side of the ship and into the raging sea.

Jonah, who had ran from the thousands of pagans in Nineveh, now gives up his own life to save the handful of pagans on board this ship. And just as Jonah’s plunge into the raging sea saved those who had placed their hands upon him, we who touch Jesus by faith, find in His plunge into death at the cross rescue from our own death.

Notice how this plays out in the text. For one thing, as we look at these sailors we see:

A. The danger from which they were spared

Again, they placed all of their hands upon the body of Jonah, hoisted him up, and tossed him over into the dark ocean around them. And as quickly as the splash from Jonah’s body rose up from the surface of the water, the text says, “…the sea ceased from her raging.” The storm immediately stopped when the sacrifice was offered. The men were instantly spared from the wrath that threatened to swallow all of them up.

When we go by faith to the cross and see the Lord Jesus hanging there, drenched in His own blood, drowning in His own fluid, we suddenly hear Him cry, “It is finished!” And as His thorn-crowned head falls against His chest, the veil in the temple is torn in two, the blood of the Lamb of God is splashed on the mercy seat, and the storm of God’s wrath is quieted by the death of His Son! And we, who had stood trembling just moments before in the presence of God and His holy judgment, now begin to cry, “Abba, Father!” The storm clouds disappear and the light shines upon our faces as we are reconciled to our God and spared from the wrath that is to come! The mouth of hell closes before us and the gate of glory has swung wide to receive us, and all because of Him who died in our place!

Notice though, not only the danger from which they were spared, but consider also further:

B. The devotion to which they were saved

Instantly the thunder and lightning are stopped, the sea grows calm and still, and the sun begins to shine. Jonah’s sacrifice has rescued these men. And what is their response? Verse 16 says, “Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.”

These men, who in verse 5 were crying out to a host of false gods, now fear and worship the one true God - the God who nearly killed them all while trying to track down His own servant.

God used Jonah, even when He didn’t want to be used, not only to save these men from the storm, but to turn them from their false gods and empty religions to a saving faith in Himself. In a similar way, when we look to Jesus in faith, we are not only spared from the wrath that is to come, we are brought into a new and vital relationship with the living God. We are not only rescued from the hell to which we were headed, but we are reunited with the God from which we came – the God who loves us and longs for us to know Him. And when someone truly understands the gospel, they are never satisfied merely to see Jesus go down into death for them.

In the gospel they find that He who went down into death for them, after three days, rose from that grave to give them a new life in which they walk with and worship Him forever! True faith never walks away from the cross only saying, “Thank God I didn’t die there!” It says, “Praise the God who died there for me!” When the sacrifice of Jesus rescues us, we are compelled not only to say, “Jesus paid it all,” but also to say in the same breath, “…all to Him I owe!” There is a devotion to which we are saved.

What is really interesting about this section is that it is Jonah – rebellious, running, resistant Jonah that gives us the picture of Jesus and the gospel. And yet, that shouldn’t be all that surprising, because we too are like Jonah. We resist God. We fail Him. We often hurt others by our sin. And yet, in grace, God works through us to proclaim the message of Jesus! He takes sinners like us and tells the story of what His grace can do by conforming us to image of Jesus.

See Jonah drop into that ocean, and first of all know that Christ has entered into death for you so that you might live! He became the Man overboard for us, and praise the Lord He did! But look again at this text and see yourself in Jonah’s place and ask yourself this question, “When is the last time anybody ever saw anything of Christ and the gospel in me?”

Maybe it’s time for you to open your mouth! Maybe it’s time for you to give your life that others might know Him who alone can give life to dying sinners!

Just remember, it’s not about the fish. It’s not even about Jonah. It’s not about you either. It’s about God’s grace and the gospel that can save you and me, and anyone else on board that believes it.

i Reaves, Russ, Jonah: An Expository Commentary, (The Lockman Foundation, 2011), Amazon Kindle edition