Jonah was an OT prophet called by God to deliver a good-news-warning to an enemy people. Jonah didn't want to do that, so he ran in the opposite direction. Jesus is the God-Man called by his Father to deliver good news to an enemy world. Though it would cost him his life, he ran straight ahead to the cross.
Below is my side-by-side comparison of Jonah and Jesus encountering nearly identical events – both on boats, during wild and threatening storms at sea. Jonah's experience is in Jonah 1:1-15; Jesus' experience is in Mark 4:35-41
Jonah (c. 750BC) was commanded by God to preach to the city of Nineveh that they should repent of their sins. However, the Ninevites were enemies of God's people, and Jonah had no compassion for them. Rather than obey God by journeying on foot to landlocked Nineveh (current day Iraq, 550 miles northeast of Israel), Jonah hopped on a boat and traveled southwest to Tarshish – 180º in the opposite direction!
Jonah exposes the broken heart inside each of us: anger, fear, prejudice, self-centered, self-righteous, judgmental, and ultimately disobedient to God's heart. But Jesus is the better Jonah, who (as you'll see in the chart below) is compassionate, welcoming to all, other-centered, merciful and obedient to his Father's heart.
The Two Texts
- Jonah 1:1-17
The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
4 The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. 5 Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. 6 So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”
7 Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”
10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the Lord and said, “We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased.”
15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
2. Mark 4:35-41
On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
The Remarkable Comparison
Having read the two boat stories, I recommend you read across each row, left to right. Later, you may consider reading down each column.
Jesus, the Better Jonah
As the chart displays, Jesus truly was the better Jonah. He willingly ran toward His enemies to rescue them, was thrown into the storm of judgment to still it in our place, and was raised to life after three days, in victory.
I hope this side-by-side comparison will not merely intrigue you, but cause you to worship Jesus for who he is: the compassionate, obedient, sovereign-over-creation, good-news-declaring, enemy-loving, Rescuer of mankind. What a Savior! We are undeserving to have Him.