The fish that has become a symbol of Christ and Christians. You see it on someone’s car. Others wear it as a bracelet or a necklace. Showing that “I am a Christian!”
But why a fish? A cross, okay. But a fish?
It is a very old symbol. In the 1st century the church in Rome was persecuted. The Christians had to go underground. And there in the tunnels they carved their symbols in the walls. A cross, an anchor and a fish.
The sermon today will help you understand.
This is a remarkable story. Do you believe this?
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
This is only a story, isn’t it? Like the serpent in paradise and Balaam’s donkey. It is a myth with a message. But you can’t believe seriously that it happened like that, do you?
I believe it. Like Jesus did in Matthew 12:
Jonah spent three days and nights in the big fish … the people of Nineveh turned from their sins when they heard Jonah preach …
That really happened. And in the same way Jesus will be in the grave and rise on the third day. – Or is that just a story as well?
I know many people don’t believe that Jesus has risen. But if it’s just a fairy tale like Snow White, we better close the church …
Easter is reality. Jonah is history.
No, I can’t explain it. Was it a whale? Or was it a shark? – It was God. The Lord provided a fish. The Lord commanded the fish to swallow and to vomit.
Yes, this is a remarkable story. Because of what God did to Jonah. And to us.
This is a remarkable story. Do you believe verse 1? “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.” Did he bring a pen? Did he have a torch?
No, I don’t think Jonah wrote it down while he was sitting inside the fish. But even though he put it on paper afterwards, this is what he then and there felt and thought. This is his prayer.
In my distress, O LORD, I called to you, and you answered me. From deep in the world of the dead I cried for help, and you heard me.
You threw me down into the depths, to the very bottom of the sea, where the waters were all round me, and all your mighty waves rolled over me.
I thought I had been banished from your presence and would never see your holy Temple again.
This is a cry for help. This is a confession of guilt.
My life is determined – not by the lot but – by the Lord. Your mighty waves rolled over me.
It is – not the seamen but – God who pushed me overboard. You threw me down into the depths. Now I am going to die …
The water came over me and choked me; the sea covered me completely, and seaweed was wrapped round my head.
I went down to the very roots of the mountains, into the land whose gates lock shut for ever. But you, O LORD my God, brought me back from the depths alive.
Yes, he is safe for now inside the fish. But still … Jonah is in prison. Behind lock and key. Helpless.
Jonah ran away from God in chapter 1. But now he cries out for help. Not to the worthless idols but to the Lord. Only God can save him.
This is a remarkable story. About you and me.
We are in trouble. Accidents and killings. Aids and cancer. Marriage problems. Poverty and hunger. You name it.
Our problem is even worse than you realize. You are in trouble because – like Jonah – you ran away from God. You don’t do what you should do. You are a sinner who caused your own problems.
Sometimes it is very clear:
- you get cancer because you smoke heavily
- you broke your marriage through adultery
- you get aids due to your sleeping around
All the times we are in trouble because of our sins. With Jonah we must confess: You threw me down into the depths, your mighty waves rolled over me. Like Jonah, we can only cry out for help.
And then, with Jonah we can thank God for his mercy: “In my distress, O Lord, I called to you, and you answered me. From deep in the world of the dead I cried for help, and you heard me.”
This is a remarkable story. Not about the fish. Not about Jonah. But about God. His power. His mercy.
- The Lord provides a fish, 1 verse 17.
- Later God provides a plant, 4 verse 6.
- A day later he provides a worm, 4 verse 7.
- Or a hot east wind, 4 verse 8.
God uses his power for his servant. To arrest him he sends a storm. To save Jonah he calls a fish. He is merciful. Jonah doesn’t deserve it. But the Lord is full of grace.
How is that possible?
You can find the answer in Matthew 12. The words of Jesus in verse 40:
In the same way that Jonah spent three days and nights in the big fish, so will the Son of Man spend three days and nights in the depths of the earth.
Jesus is like Jonah:
- Jonah was ‘buried alive’ within the belly of the fish. Jesus was also buried in the grave.
- Jonah was spit out – thrown up – by the fish after three days. Jesus arose on the 3rd day.
But there is a big difference. Jesus is greater than Jonah:
- Jonah was in trouble because he had rebelled against God. Jesus has no sin. He came to die for our sins and to take over our trouble.
- Jonah didn’t really die in his ‘fish grave’. But Jesus was dead and buried for sure.
This is a remarkable story. About Jonah and Jesus. About you and me.
I deserve to go down into the grave. Because of my sins I must be executed. – But the Lord Jesus took my sins upon him. He died in my place. So that I will have eternal life. Through the fish.
Sorry, did you say: the fish? Yes, I did.
The Greek word for ‘fish’ is Ichthus. Which is an acronym like CEO or FNB. Saved by the Fish!
That was the confession of the Christians in Rome. This is what I believe with all my heart.
Ha le mpotsa tshepo ea ka, ke tla re ke Jesu!