“So they called out to the LORD: “Please, LORD, don’t let us perish because of this man’s life, and don’t charge us with innocent blood! For you, LORD, have done just as you pleased.” 15 Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 The men were seized by great fear of the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.” Jonah 1:14-16
Note the reaction of the sailors to the great calm after throwing Jonah overboard to a certain death. They were used to experiencing storms at sea, admittedly perhaps not one this bad; but storms at sea were part of the natural world they lived in. However, never was there a sudden calm following one. They received relief more than they could have ever dreamed of, but it produced more fear in them than the violent storm had.
The miracle of a peaceful sea on which to set sail again led them to worship Yahweh alone. Never again would they look to the ineffectual gods they had called upon during the storm. The Lord had proved to them which deity was the true God.
Their fear was the proper response to the Lord’s supernatural intervention.
In contrast to these men, call to mind from Matthew 11:23-24 the lack of repentance of the towns in which Jesus performed most of his mighty works. It compelled the Lord to condemn them to Hades. “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Jesus testified that the Sodomites He rained fire and sulfur on long ago who wanted to rape the new visitors staying with Lot were better than the Capernaumites of his time. That was some terrible thing to be told.
We also learn from the Lord Jesus that miracles can indict those who receive them or witness them. If God does not see the change of heart he seeks by such remarkable goodness, judgment befalls them. Let us not be hungry for them as sadly many church folk today often are. And if we seek one, let our hearts respond properly if it is granted because they are astonishing and even fearful things to receive or see.
Also call to mind those in the New Testament who responded in a godly way: the Philippian jailer, who came trembling to Paul and Silas set free by a miraculous earthquake, desperate to know how to be saved. Or the Samaritan leper – the only one out of ten who returned to Jesus to loudly praise God for his healing.
But what of the other nine who were healed Jesus openly wondered. Did they simply return to pick up the life they were forced to leave when they were struck by leprosy? I think that most people would do just that – take the miracle and go about their business, letting its impact fade, or tragically taking it as divine approval of the way they already lived.
Take Hezekiah: “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem.” (2 Chronicles 32:25) Otherwise good King Hezekiah took his extra 15 years of life that he received in answer to a desperate prayer with a lack of respect for the miracle. He also became proud because of it. Like Capernaum, in their pride thinking they were to be exalted to Heaven because of Jesus’ presence there, pride brought wrath upon Hezekiah and upon the land he ruled over. The citizens apparently emulated his high-minded attitude. All over a miracle of healing confirmed by the retreat of the sun as a sign to him. See 2 Kings 20:8-11.
Miracles are not given for our entertainment, nor do they mean its receiver is specially-favored as Hezekiah or the Capernaumites wrongly felt. They are not for making a sinful life easier to live. Would God restore a drunkard’s liver to enable his self abuse, or rather, would God have him give up his sins now that he’s been healed? That’s exactly what Jesus warned the newly-healed man of in John 5:14: Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “Behold, you are made well. Sin no more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” This was written for our instruction. Great gifts demand a great response. “To whom much is given, much is demanded.” Let us have ears to hear; but, as James says, let us not be hearers only, but doers also lest we deceive ourselves.
Exhortation: We should not receive miraculous answers to prayer, should they come our way, and remain unchanged. Remember Romans 2:4 says the goodness of God is to lead us to repentance. Let us have the attitude of the sailors or the jailer, or the Samaritan leper. They responded rightly to the miracle they received which had saved their lives. The Word of God shows from these few examples that we must have great respect for miraculous answers to prayer. Else they will become a source of his chastisement. “If we judged ourselves, we should not be judged of the Lord” with weakness, sickness or death as 1 Corinthians 11:30-32 speaks of.
God our Father is certainly gracious to answer prayers for his people all the time, but let’s have the right perspective about them.
If you pray for someone and they receive the divine answer they had hoped for, use it as an opportunity to share the Gospel with them if they’re not yet saved. Or if they’re backslidden that they should come back to the Lord who had just showed them a great mercy.
Above all, salvation of the soul from sin is the great miracle everyone stands in need of. The sailors’ peace came at the cost of throwing a living man into the sea. That was a capital crime otherwise; but, they unknowingly helped make the condemned Jonah a type of Christ who would Himself be put to death as a condemned man. Just as Jonah, but more, Christ brings a great calm; but it is to the soul lost in the raging judgments of a sin-cursed life.
One wonders if those blessed sailors learned that the same man they put off to drown would later convert the city of Nineveh? (What evangelists for Yahweh they might have been in their day.) They put Jonah out to die, but the Lord provided a living tomb, a great fish who vomited the resurrected Jonah back onto the shore of Israel three days later. A small group were converted by Jonah’s death, but a city was converted by a resurrected Jonah.
Jesus never likened himself to another prophet except Jonah: “But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, but no sign will be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth.” Jesus died, being made a curse like Jonah, but now many have come to faith over the 20 centuries since he rose immortal from the dead.
The Gospel’s eternal value to man is what makes it so filled with power to all who respond to it, beyond anything else. If we never received another miraculous answer from God in this earthly life, to have him bless us by turning us away from our iniquities, as Acts 3:26 speaks of, lets us take away a benefit that lasts forever.