“And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” —Jonah 1:17 (ESV)
If the big fish story of Jonah causes you to flop nervously like a fish out of water consider this, the big deal isn’t if you believe the latter part of 1:17, but the beginning. If God is sovereign, He may do as He pleases. The laws of nature do not stand over Him but under Him. They are because He is. C.S. Lewis observed,
“If the laws of Nature are necessary truths, no miracle can break them: but then no miracle needs to break them. It is with them as with the laws of arithmetic. If I put six pennies into a drawer on Monday and six more on Tuesday, the laws decree that other things being equal—I shall find twelve pennies there on Wednesday. But if the drawer has been robbed I may in fact find only two. Something will have been broken (the lock of the drawer or the laws of England) but the laws of arithmetic will not have been broken. The new situation created by the thief will illustrate the laws of arithmetic just as well as the original situation. But if God comes to work miracles, He comes ‘like a thief in the night.’ ”
He goes on to say,
“This perhaps helps to make a little clearer what the laws of Nature really are. We are in the habit of talking as if they caused events to happen; but they have never caused any event at all. The laws of motion do not set billiard balls moving: they analyze the motion after something else (say, a man with a cue, or a lurch of the liner, or, perhaps, supernatural power) has provided it.”
The laws of nature are simply us observing how God normally plays the game. We’re dealing with the one who didn’t merely make the billiard balls, nor simply with one who then masterfully sets them moving, but also with the Sovereign who holds them together by the word of His power and directs them where He will. Our eyes are so clouded that we fail to see that even the natural is supernatural. God is constantly turning water into wine. It is amazing that He normally does so with a plant, but we’ve grown sleepy like Jonah in the boat. We fail to be properly impressed by the creation which tells of His glory. What astonishes us about that vintage He served up at the wedding feast in Cana is that by doing so it was clear that God was among us. Men normally eat fish, and in this God is doing a million amazing things, but when a fish eats a man, we are awakened out of our slumber to realize we are dealing with God.
The subject of Jonah 1:17 isn’t the great fish, but the great God. Science may tell you that it is impossible for a fish to swallow a man and for that man to then live for three days inside that fish. This may be true. But we are not dealing simply with man or a fish here, and this is good news, because it is also impossible for man to save himself. But it is not impossible for God to save man, for “Salvation is of Yahweh!”
Jesus’ mighty works call for repentance? This is backwards from how we might normally think of Jesus miracles. Simplistically we may think Jesus’ mighty works only demonstrate His love and compassion. Certainly it makes no sense to think that Jesus’ cleansing the leper was a demonstration of His wrath, His judgment. He did not condescend thinking, “I’m so angry I want to heal someone.”
We understand acts of judgment calling for repentance like those we see in the Exodus against Egypt and those against Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. The many judgments on Israel throughout the Old Testament called for repentance. Those were mighty acts of judgment, but here, Jesus’ deeds are mighty acts of salvation.
So how is it that Jesus’ cleansing lepers, healing the sick and paralyzed, casting our demons, restoring sight to the blind and speech to the mute, and raising the dead call for repentance? It is because these deeds, while they do demonstrate Jesus’ love and compassion, also evidence His authority; a supreme authority that calls for full and total allegiance. His miracles are a summons to Himself. His miracles are wed to His message, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17).” You may not enjoy the show without submission. You cannot take the benefits of the Christ without the cost of the cross.
We cannot neuter Jesus’ love. It is a holy love, a love that comes with authority, a love that demands. Jesus’ love is love with a backbone. It is a love that would not be loving if this were not so. Jesus doesn’t just love us for the sake of loving us. He does not save us just to save us. He saves us for His glory. We must remember that Jesus is not idolatrous. There is something He loves more than you and me, namely, Himself. Jesus is holy, He is unique, His love is like no other. God is the only being in the universe for whom vanity is a virtue. In upholding the value and worth of His name, Jesus is making much of that which will most satisfy our souls.