Calming the Storm: Something Greater Than Jonah Is Here

In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus calms a storm. And when you read the story, there are multiple correspondences to the story of Jonah. In fact, the way Mark narrates the story seems to have been influenced by the events in Jonah 1. There are at least eight points of correspondence:

  1. The key character gets into a boat (Jonah 1:3; Mark 4:36)
  2. A storm arises on the sea that threatens everyone on board (Jonah 1:4; Mark 4:37)
  3. Everyone on the boat panics (Jonah 1:5; Mark 4:38)
  4. The key character is found sleeping in the boat (Jonah 1:5; Mark 4:38)
  5. Those on board wake up the key character (Jonah 1:6; Mark 4:38)
  6. Those on board question the key character and bring up the notion of perishing (Jonah 1:6; Mark 4:38)
  7. The sea becomes calm (Jonah 1:15; Mark 4:39)
  8. The men on board the boat respond with fear (Jonah 1:16; Mark 4:41)

The sheer number of correspondences, as well as the parallel order of events in Jonah 1 and Mark 4, indicate the influence of Jonah 1 on Mark’s account of Jesus’ miracle. But there are also important differences between Jonah 1 and Mark 4. Here are five:

  1. Jonah was on a boat because he was fleeing the will of God; Jesus was on a boat as he continued to fulfill the will of God.
  2. Jonah’s presence on the boat was the reason the storm arose; Jesus’ presence on the boat was the reason the storm became calm.
  3. Jonah was woken up but did not call upon the Lord; Jesus woke up, and he was the Lord whom the disciples called upon for help.
  4. Jonah was on a boat in order to not go to the Gentiles in Nineveh; Jesus was on a boat in order to go to the Gentile territory that we see in Mark 5 (the very next chapter).
  5. Jonah had to be delivered from death; Jesus delivered everyone else from death.

Jesus surpassed Jonah. He was a true and greater messenger of God who came to be the Light of the world (John 8:12). Jesus himself insisted, “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt. 12:41).

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The Book of Jonah in Five Sermons

This morning at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I completed the book of Jonah, and the audio for those 5 messages is available below:

Jonah 1:1-16, “The Descent of Jonah: A Prophet on the Run from the Presence of the Lord.”

Jonah 1:17, “Three Days and Three Nights: The Sign of Jonah and the Resurrection of Jesus.”

Jonah 2:1-10, “The Psalm of Jonah: Thanksgiving for Divine Rescue from Deep Trouble.”

Jonah 3:1-10, “Forty Days Until Destruction: The Preaching of Jonah and the Repentance of Nineveh.”

Jonah 4:1-11, “Under the Shade of Mercy: Jonah’s Unrighteous Anger at God’s Steadfast Love.”

“God May Yet Relent”: A Poetic Reflection on the Story of Jonah

“God May Yet Relent”
A Poetic Reflection on the Story of Jonah
4-6-13

Into the fish the prophet went,
Descending to the pit.
Spared now from a watery grave,
Jonah did not forget

To pray and thank the God who saved
Him when thrown overboard.
A fish appeared and Jonah saw
Salvation from the Lord.

The prophet knew the steadfast love
That Yahweh shows His own,
But did not want the Ninevites
To hear the gracious tone

Of preaching when the herald says
That God may yet relent,
If only you will cast away
Your idols and repent.

This God, the One who made the sea
And land and reigns above,
Is merciful and slow to wrath,
Abounding in His love.

But he will not endure always
The rebels or their cause.
What does it profit you to gain
This world? Eternal loss!

What We Can Learn About Typology from Jonah and Jesus

In Matthew 12:38, the Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, but he refused.

They’d seen and been aware of his previous miracles, so their demand wasn’t from a lack of supply. Their demand stemmed from their opposition against him.

Jesus put the right label on what he was dealing with: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign,” he said (Matt 12:39a). Their particular seeking was wrong because they were evil. They were adulterous because when they opposed Jesus, they opposed the One who sent him, the Father they claimed to worship and honor.

But Jesus gave them a sign anyway–or at least he announced one ahead of time. “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt 12:39).

The Pharisees knew the story of the disobedient prophet who would rather die in the crushing waves of the sea than preach to the Ninevites and risk their repentance. The part of the story in Jesus’ mind was Jonah’s temporary residence in the fish: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40).

Then comes the rebuke: “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:41).

The shorthand: if the Ninevites repented, then you have no excuse, for the Son of Man who is preaching to you is greater than Jonah who preached to them.

This little passage from Matthew (12:38-41) reminds us of several truths about typology:

  1. Historical correspondences are present. Jesus refers to Jonah and his preservation inside a huge fish as historical events. Jonah descended, and Jesus will descend as well. The number “three” is common in Jonah’s experience and Jesus’ upcoming resurrection. Jonah preached to people heading for judgment, and so did Jesus. 
  2. Not every detail must match. Jonah didn’t die, though Jesus would. Jonah descended into a fish, Jesus into the grave. Jesus wasn’t dead for the same length of time Jonah was in the fish. The men of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s message, but the Pharisees continue rejecting Jesus.
  3. Escalation is evident. Comparing himself to the 8th century prophet, Jesus said, “behold, something greater than Jonah is here,” and clearly he meant himself. Interestingly some of the differences in the story highlight the escalation. Jonah went into a fish, Jesus went into a tomb. Jonah was spat out, Jesus was raised up. Jesus was greater.

In Matthew 12:39-41, Jesus himself helps us understand typology by showing us historical correspondences, relieving us of the need to match every detail, and highlighting escalation between type and antitype.