Jonah is a famous Bible character for one big reason—the giant fish that swallowed him whole and three days later regurgitated him, alive and well. From Sunday-school flannelgraphs to modern folklore, that astounding event dominates almost every discussion about Jonah. But we shouldn’t let a big fish block our view of the rest of the story—especially when that story speaks so strongly to the present-day church.
John MacArthur’s sermon “Jonah: The World’s Greatest Fish Story” goes beyond the children’s books and Sunday-school lessons and examines the amazing biblical account of the prophet Jonah. Its four short chapters are loaded with theological riches and readily applicable to modern Christian life.
John’s message shows us that the book of Jonah presents the gospel in microcosm. There is a flawed messenger with a flawless message, a severe warning of God’s impending judgment, vile sinners coming to repentance, and God’s staggering mercy toward undeserving rebels.
Moreover, the Jonah narrative is dominated by God orchestrating every part of his missionary journey. In fact, the book of Jonah provides us with one of the most spectacular displays of God’s sovereignty in all of Scripture. That is also evident in the way God has providentially used the story of Jonah to speak to Old Testament Israel, the New Testament Pharisees, and present-day churchgoers.
In a sense, Jonah is sent to Nineveh to shame Israel. What do I mean by that? The whole city repented and believed and was forgiven and redeemed. And what a rebuke that was against all those Jews who had nothing but animosity, bitterness and hatred toward the nations around them, and were unfaithful to take the message of the true and gracious God to those nations. What a rebuke it would be to find out that if you had done that, this could have been the response. The heathen city of Nineveh repented at the preaching of a reluctant prophet.
Remember, Jesus used Nineveh to admonish the unbelieving Pharisees of His day who refused to repent at the preaching of the greatest of all prophets, with all the evidence that He was the Lord and the Messiah (Matthew 12:41). If the heathens would repent in Nineveh over the preaching of a reluctant, racist, bad-attitude prophet, they’re going to be better off in eternity than the Pharisees who wouldn’t repent when the Lord Messiah came Himself. So this is a double rebuke to Judaism, a rebuke to them at the time of the prophet and at the time of Christ.
We shouldn’t miss the sobering reality that Christ’s warning extends to us, the church. Ancient Israel had no desire to be a light to the nations. Judaism perpetuated that darkness through a false religion of works righteousness. And we become guilty of the same crime whenever we shield the light of the glorious gospel from sinners for selfish reasons.
“Jonah: The World’s Greatest Fish Story” is a powerful wake-up call to examine ourselves, glorify God, and evangelize the wicked culture that surrounds us.
Click here to watch or listen to “Jonah: The World’s Greatest Fish Story.”
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