One of the most visceral and overwhelming sentences of the Bible for me is Jonah chapter 2, verse 10:
“And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”
The rawness of that statement has hit differently for me over the last few years.
Have you ever been around fish? The smell of them, especially if you have ever cleaned one to be cooked, is putrid and induces nausea at first scent.
Imagine what it must have been like for Jonah during those 3 days he was inside the belly of that fish.
The darkness. The smell. The cramped space.
Yet, he found enough joy in God’s rescue that he offered up that prayer of thanksgiving despite his circumstance.
Then God spoke to the fish and commanded it to vomit Jonah onto the dry land.
Could anything be more humbling to be vomited by a fish?
As I have thought about that statement, I have often wondered what it must have felt like for Jonah in that instant. Knowing you had been certain to die in a watery grave, darkness and the sea overtaking you to now feeling the newness of life renewed in his spirit.
Did the warmth of the sun create joy inside of his heart as it kissed his skin?
Did he cry tears of joy as he felt the sand between his toes once again?
I would like to think I know the answer to these questions because I experienced them as well when God showed mercy to me and gave me a new life.
When He met me on my living room floor that fateful Sunday morning, he spoke to me and told me to come see him. Where I had spent those years fleeing as far from Him as I could, at that moment I responded differently. I felt that sand beneath my feet telling me it was going to be different now.
I called our dear friends T.D. and Melissa and asked if they were going to church that morning. They said yes and that I was welcome to go with them. So I hopped in the car, drove to their house, and we headed to Simon Temple AME Zion Church in Fayetteville, NC.
The moment we stepped into that church and took our seats, even though there were hundreds in the building, I felt as if it was just me and God in the room.
The songs that were sung, the prayers that were prayed, and the messages that were preached all were like God speaking directly to me at that moment and telling me this message:
“You have spent all of this time running from me and have found yourself in the darkest place. I love you and want to show you just how good I am. All I need you to do is trust and follow me down the path I have prepared for you.”
That was the day, May 24 2009, that I felt the warmth of the Son. God’s son. Jesus Christ and the truth of the Gospel message.
God created us with something so much more than we could ever have imagined. If verse 9 was the last verse of Jonah chapter 2, it might be a different story. But the good news is there’s one more verse and Jesus Christ himself, hundreds of years later as he walked on this very earth alluded to it.
In Matthew 12:39-41, Jesus says, “but he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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. 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.
Jesus says that when we read in verse 10 that when God made the fish vomit Jonah onto the shore, this was a sign for the people of Nineveh. This was to show that God had the power to save anybody from their disobedience to him, no matter how far they had found themselves from him.
Jesus is telling them though, that something even greater than Jonah is now before them. That just as Jonah’s disobedience led him to be inside a fish for three days and three nights, Jesus would also take our disobedience to the cross, giving his life in death, and spend three days deep inside the belly of the grave.
But just as God in all his power and might commanded the fish to spit Jonah out onto the shore, in that same mighty power, he commanded the grave to give up his son, thereby conquering the power of sin and death so that we would taste freedom.
The same feeling of deliverance that must have overwhelmed Jonah when he felt that sand beneath his feet and the sunlight on his face is the same deliverance we can now feel in the power of Christ’s sacrifice for us.
We are now delivered from the bondage of sin. There is no more penalty to be served because Christ has paid it all. The consequences of our sinful actions no longer have the power to overwhelm us because we can walk boldly in the light of our freedom.
Where once we were beaten down and desperate for the weight of our sin to be lifted, we now feel the joyous freedom of Christ lifting that yoke of slavery off of our backs. Now we are free to draw close to our Heavenly Father in the midst of these times and see it as our opportunity to look towards his face that looks on us with love and compassion.
We are free to do this now because we understand that there is no length he did not go to rescue his children.
My prayer is that my story will encourage you who are reading that there is hope where you felt no hope. That there is freedom where you felt was only bondage. There is joy where all you felt was pain.
You too can feel the warmth of the Son as you find life as it was meant to be experienced.