“Salvation belongs to the LORD!” These are the climactic words of Jonah’s famous prayer from the belly of the fish (Jonah 2:9). Standing at the very heart of the book, they rise, like a mountain peak, above every other theme in the landscape of the story, driving home the big idea: God, the sovereign Lord, alone saves sinners! These words of a runaway prophet are more than the tallest peak in the landscape of the book of Jonah; they are the Everest of Scripture. They are the tallest peak; they rise above all else as the point, as a careful reading of the whole Bible makes abundantly clear. As the late Professor Ed Clowney once put it, the message of the whole Bible may be summed up in this one phrase: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
It was, of course, a truth that Jonah had to learn the hard way, having been sent to the pagan Ninevites for whom he wished only God’s wrath, never his mercy. But the book of Jonah rings with the freedom of God to save whomever He wills, and as such, it issues a robust challenge to the xenophobia and insularity that marked the prophet’s thinking and the thinking of the covenant people of God, many of whom believed their privileged relationship to God necessarily entailed their essential superiority to others. They were tempted to believe that since they belonged to God, the converse must also be true: that God belonged exclusively to them.
Jonah would discover, and his book reminds us, that God chooses us, not because of anything he finds in us that compels him to save us, and neither does he choose us simply that he might enjoy fellowship with us alone. No, God chooses us because “Salvation belongs to the LORD.” He chooses us because, in the freedom of his own will and for his mere good pleasure and glory alone, he ordained to make us his children. That’s not to say that his saving choice of us was arbitrary or purposeless. He chooses us to make use of us that he might gather in still others. He brought us to himself and saved us by his grace that we might be the means by which others might be gathered in also.
If salvation belongs to the LORD, then a defensive insularity must be confessed for what it truly is: an inexcusable and idolatrous pride festering in the heart of people who were themselves at one time “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Once we ourselves were, “not a people, but now we are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). We ourselves were at one time part of the mass of unrepentant and unforgiven humanity. But someone came to us – a family member raised us to hear the gospel, a friend shared the good news with us, a preacher declared the unsearchable riches of Christ to us – someone was sent to bring the message to us, and God saved us. Is there anything in all the world more absurdly contradictory than a Christian, one who would be lost forever had not another Christian told them about Jesus, himself refusing to tell others in turn? This is the absurdity Jonah did not recognize festering in his own heart. But, as we will see over the next four Sunday evenings as we study Jonah together, all that was about to change. My prayer for First Presbyterian Church, as Jonah begins to instruct us in these important lessons, is that God would work by his word to continue to open our hearts to the lost and make us still more effective in reaching our city and our world for Christ. Would you join me in that prayer?