And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord my God.
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. Jonah 1:17-2:10 ESV
[Jesus said:] 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. Matthew 12:40 ESV
In the early church a Christian was sometimes buried in a sarcophagus in underground caves and caverns called catacombs. We can still see some of the pictures that Christians painted by their loved ones’ graves, and often these pictures included pictures of Jonah being swallowed by a sea monster. The picture might show a small ship with some sailors with oars, Jonah being thrown overboard, and a sea monster with several tails swimming below the surface and waiting.
When Jonah was thrown into the water, he was sure that he would drown. He saw the water close over him as seaweed wrapped itself around his head, and the underwater hills and mountains appeared below him. But God had mercy on Jonah and saved him from drowning. He sent a large fish to swallow him, and that fish saved Jonah’s life. Inside the fish’s belly there was air to breathe, and Jonah was able to cry out to God in prayer. He believed that God would bring him out safely again, and he was right. After three days the fish vomited Jonah out onto dry land.
Jesus said that he would be like Jonah. He would die and be buried in a grave, and on the third day he would come out of the grave alive again. And that’s exactly what happened! Jonah is a picture of the way God saves his people and brings them out of death and into life. That’s why the early Christians liked to paint a picture of Jonah outside of their loved one’s graves. Because Jesus rose again from the dead, we also can be sure that death isn’t the end for us. On the last day Jesus will bring us out of our graves and we will live forever with him in heaven.
Dear Jesus, thank you for rising from the dead and giving us life forever with you. Amen.