Jonah and Jesus

A few weeks ago we had the story of Jesus walking on the water in stormy weather. It says, "33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’"

Now Peter says it again— and also that Jesus is the Messiah, not just another great prophet.

He is the Messiah and the Son of the living God. Peter says this while they are visiting the capital city of the region, which was called Caesarea Philippi.

There are two things to see here— we haven't got time for all the detail, although I can give you some of that over lunch, if you're interested.

Caesarea Philippi is named after Caesar, and the local ruler or tetrarch who was called Phillip. In the way Jesus' people think and tell stories… the fact that the conversation happens at that city is a way of saying that Jesus is Lord of the Earth, not Caesar.  

Calling him the Son of the living God means, firstly, that he has all the authority of God. It also reminded people that their kings, who were called Sons of God, were promised that they would rule Israel justly, and would kick out the Romans and all the other conquerors.

In response to Simon's statement,  Jesus tells Simon that he is changing his name to Peter, which is the word for Rock:  This is a symbol of the fact that on this rock, on you, I will build my church. And this means that, in the end, the church will be built upon us, as Peter's successors. How will people know what God has done, or who Jesus is, if we do not show them?

But then, straight away, Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the living God, says he will be killed by the very people who have waited centuries for him to come. And Peter tells him that can't be; we saw Jesus telling him he was absolutely wrong. And telling him that if he wants to follow Jesus, he— and we— will need to need to walk the same road. Our discipleship is only real when it faces death, when it risks death. We must deny ourselves, it says.

You may remember that later in the gospel, instead of denying himself, and risking death, Peter denies Jesus.

Now in this story, Jesus gives Simon two new names. Why?

We use names so we don't have to be rude and say, "Hey, You!" Or maybe we say, John Gedde to make it clear we are saying "Hey, You!" to the John from the Gedde family as opposed to the John from the Mauviel family. And Jesus' people did that, too.

But Jesus' people also used names to say something about people: about who they were meant to be, or where they came from… or what they were like. So Jesus called Simon, Petros— the rock, because he was going to be the petra, the stone on which the church was built.

But he gave Simon another name, too. He called him Simon son of Jonah. He wasn't saying that Simon was Simon Gedde as opposed to Simon Mauviel; we know that because John's gospel calls him Simon son of John— Matthew deliberately changes the name from John to Jonah!

The conversation has just been about prophets— remember? — so Jesus is very deliberately telling Peter that not only is he going to be like a rock, but that he is a prophet like Jonah.  

Now this makes a lot of sense. Because Jonah was a prophet who ran hot and cold for God. He refused to do what God wanted, but finally did the right thing…  but… as we saw in the story, he completely misunderstood what was going on. He thought God should hate the Ninevites for what they had done. He wanted God to kill them all, and he was really angry, and had a total sulk, when God didn't kill them. He had completely misunderstood God, and had completely misunderstood what God was about.

This all fits together, because immediately after Jesus says Peter is a Jonah kind of person, yes… a prophet of God, but one who nonetheless has no idea what's going on, guess what? Peter shows us he has no.  idea.  at all. He is so far astray in his understanding that Jesus says he is Satan!!! — you can't get much more blunt than that.

So… after I'd thought about this, I asked people in Bible Study this week, what it might mean to call Simon a son of Jonah… and everyone gave me the What? Isn't it just his name? look.

So I tried again. I said, what did Jonah do; what was he like?

And Audrey said, "When he was thrown into the watery chaos…, the storm ceased." Which is not what I was trying to lead them to, but which is an amazing insight.

Because Jonah was running away from God's call on his life. And he thought he'd made it. He thought he'd gotten away. But all the while he was asleep down in the hold, asleep in what he thought was his safe place, a storm was brewing. The storm was brewing in him, just as it brews in us, when we run away from our calling in life, and run away from our healing. We think we're getting away with it, getting away from our calling from God, but we're just asleep.

And one day we finally wake up, and we realise we are about to get sunk.

Did you notice the sailors didn't want to throw Jonah overboard? He's the one who finally stops running, who finally admits the problem is him, and volunteers to be thrown over. He denies himself and his need for the false safety of life lived his way. And lets himself be thrown into what he has always been afraid was too big for him and which would kill him.  "…and the sea ceased from its raging."

It was not all roses… he entered a very dark place, stinky too. But it brought him right back to the place God had prepared for him, where he did gloriously well, because the whole city had a change of heart and went the way of God…

until he mucked it up again, because he didn't really love like God loved, he still had no idea what God was up to, he thought God hated some people, just like he did—

and despite all that, God still did not desert him.

Well, Peter was like that— like Jonah. Hot headed and wilful, slow to learn, full of anger and often with no idea what God is really on about. A bit like us, really, because Peter is us. He is the rock on which God builds the church, just as we are.

So… to sum up:

  • If we want to have life, we have to face death. We have to face the storms, not run away and hide, because the storms will still come after us.
  • God loves us even though we are as imperfect as Jonah and Peter
  • Jesus, the one we follow, is the Son of the living God. And that means… that if we trust him, and follow him in life, even the storms of life which seek to destroy us will be calmed. We will find our lives.

Andrew Prior (2017)


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