Story 1: At sea
The first story unfolds on a cargo/passenger ship. The sailors had set forth from Joppa on a voyage to Tarshish. En route they found themselves caught in a "mighty tempest". The storm was so strong that "the ship was about to be broken up." The sailors turned to their gods and their wits. "Every man cried out to his god" hoping that they would be saved by their idols. This did not help. The sailors also tried a more practical approach by throwing the cargo "into the sea, to lighten the load." This did not help either.
Then they found the prophet Jonah and discovered that he was the cause for their misfortune. They demanded to know who he was. After learning that he feared the One True God, the sailors grew even more fearful and asked the prophet what they needed to do in order to be saved from the storm. The prophet told them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you." The men listened to Jonah, but they do not immediately obey his word. Instead, they turned to their own might and "rowed hard to return to land". As before, this did not help.
In light of the failure of their gods, their wits, and their might, the men finally turned to God. They offered him nothing except a plea for help and faith & obedience toward his word, which was given to them by the prophet Jonah. They acted in line with the promise of Joel 2:32 as "they cried out to the LORD and said, 'We pray, O LORD...'" They asked for life and mercy, saying, “please do not let us perish...and do not charge us with innocent blood". Then they obeyed the command of Jonah: "they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea". In doing all this, they had cast their reliance on (faith in) God's promise both in word and in deed.
Following their response, "the sea ceased from its raging." The promise was realized and the sailors were saved. After their rescue from the storm, "the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows." They worshiped God. They did not attain salvation by their fear, offerings, and vows; but once saved, they naturally worshiped God in these ways out of awe and reverence (and no doubt also gratitude).
Story 2: Down deep
The second story unfolds in Sheol. Well, it's actually the belly of a great fish, but after Jonah had been there three days and nights he refers to that place as the "belly of Sheol". God had ordained this fish to swallow Jonah after he was cast overboard. Jonah recognized that it wasn't just chance or bad times that landed him in this place. He knew that the Lord had cast him "into the deep". Jonah describes his sinking very vividly, as it was no doubt terribly frightful. He says that the floods surrounded him. The waters surrounded him even to his soul. "All [God's] billows and [God's] waves passed over" him and "the deep closed around" him. "Weeds were wrapped around [Jonah's] head" as he was cradled in the belly of the fish.
Jonah felt as though he has been cast out of God's sight and his "soul fainted" within him. Yet it was at that time that Jonah "remembered the LORD" and through prayer, he clung to God's words and God's salvation. His prayer sings the Psalms.
Jonah was suffering, but he trusted God: "I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, and He answered me."
Jonah was nearly buried, but he trusted God: "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice."
Jonah had sinned, but he trusted God: "I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple."
Jonah was nearly lost, but he trusted God: "You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God."
Like the sailors, Jonah had nothing to offer - he was crowned with weeds and no doubt weak from hunger and thirst. Yet he cast himself totally on the mercy of God. He did not "forsake [his] own Mercy." And like the sailors, Jonah looked ahead to the days after his salvation when he would praise God with thanksgiving. Following Jonah's prayer, God spoke to the fish and it spat Jonah up onto dry land. His life was spared and he was even reinstated to continue God's work. Not only this, but God used the image of Jonah in the fish during the ministry of Christ in order to teach the people about the Son of God. But just then, as Jonah was spewed onto the dry land, I can't help but wonder what onlookers must have thought had they found a weed-covered, exhausted prophet on the beach. How awesome it is that God saves & uses flesh and blood people in His awesome plan of redemption!
Story 3: Nineveh
The third story unfolds in a great city. Nineveh was the name of that city. More than 120,000 people lived there and it was so large that it took three days to journey through/around it (or so the translators understand this phrase of the text). The people of Nineveh were living without the knowledge of God in a sinful and violent lifestyle. As Ephesians 2:12 puts this, they were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."
Then one day, the prophet Jonah entered their city. He cried out a message of judgment: "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" When the people heard these words from God, they "believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them" including the king of Nineveh. They believed that God's message was true. And even though God had not given them hope of salvation or instructions to appease His wrath, the people of the city humbled themselves before God in light of their sin and impending judgment. The king and nobles of Nineveh commanded that "man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands."
Like the sailors and Jonah, they put their trust in God's words and cried out to Him for mercy. At the same time, they turned from their sin. "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way." Following their response, "God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it". He spared Nineveh at that time and continued to teach his prophet what it means for God to be "a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm."
So there they are - three stories of salvation from Jonah.
Is this not like what the Law taught?
"And [Abraham] believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness." Genesis 15:6
Is this not like what the Savior taught?
"'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'” Mark 1:15