Christmas season, 2011, I preached on Christmas from the gospel of Luke. After Christmas was over, I stayed in Luke, and methodically went verse by verse through that gospel, and it went for 15 months. I would like to start a series on a book in the Bible. So turn with me to the prophet Jonah.
Jonah is one of those stories in the Bible that is incredible. We think of it as a children’s story, but we do not think of it as real. In fact, there is a Veggie Tale version of this story. The story of Jonah is a prophet, whom God called to go to Nineveh and carry the message of God. Jonah decided to run away from God, so God brought up a great storm, which almost destroyed the boat. The sailors threw Jonah overboard and a great fish swallowed Jonah whole. Jonah repented in the belly of the fish, and the fish vomited him up on the shore, so he finally obeyed God, and preached to the Ninevites, and they turned to God.
Pretty cool, huh? The folks who claim to be really smart say that this story is not real, but actually an allegory. That’s a really smart way to say that it is a fable, like Aesop’s fables. I went to college, and then to seminary. I have earned a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree, and it is pretty amazing to me as well. But I believe it because I have studied it at length, and after I have spent some time in this short book, I think it is extremely appropriate for children, youth, and adults.
Jonah was a prophet. We think of prophets as one who is like a fortune-teller or a seer. We see prophets in the Bible say repent, or you will suffer the wrath of God. We see the lack of repentance, and we see the destruction that results. But it is very easy to see cause and effect. It is easy to see the result of disobedience and the destruction in their lives. A prophet is one who delivers the message of God.
God spoke to Jonah. Jonah heard God speak, and it did not surprise him. Very few people have heard God speak distinctively and audibly too. Jonah knew who was speaking and what was being said.
2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
Nineveh was a terrible place. It was the capital city of Assyria. We believe it is located in the northern regions of today’s Iraq. Assyrians hated Jews (sound familiar?). The Assyrians were brutal toward the Jews. They would kill them, cut off their heads, and then wear the severed heads on their shoulders and parade around with their trophies. Then they built pillars of warning in the city out of the skulls. Talk about a Halloween tale, it was true. Nahum 3:1-4 describes them.
So you kind of understand why Jonah hesitated when God said to go to Nineveh. After all, he was a Jew, and he was not welcome in Nineveh. None of us go to places where we are in danger. In fact we run from danger. We do not go to those kind of places. We want to stay safe. We go to our homes, and we lock the doors because we want to be safe.
That is exactly what Jonah did. Verse 3 starts like this, “But Jonah”. Jonah knew what God wanted. Jonah knew that this trip to Nineveh was not only sanctioned but had the intentional blessing and plan for that particular place. When he heard Nineveh, he bought a ticket to Tarshish – the opposite direction, Southern Spain, or the furthest away as the known world.
Remember when you were in school, the teacher would call roll, and as the names were called out, the student would say “Here”. Some wiseacre would respond with “Present”. But no one ever replied with the phrase “Absent”, because they were not there. When God called upon Jonah, he was absent.
I hate to put you on the spot, but I am going to. How many of you have attended a church service any time this year? For the first time? You have heard 5, 10, 30, 50 sermons this year. You have been, inspired, challenged, encouraged, corrected, cajoled, and comforted. You have heard the word of God read to you, taught, and explained. So here is my next question. Have you disobeyed God? If you say, “No”, then you have lied, and have disobeyed God.
We come to church on Sunday, sing hymns to God, and then go home and we lie, have fits of rage, we cheat, we fudge, or even worse. If God were to know what you did on Halloween, would he be honored or ashamed? If God knew what you did on Friday night, or last night, would He be honored?
When you choose to be absent from God, there are several consequences. In fact, you could say that if you find these things happening in your life, maybe it is a warning that you are absent from God and God’s plan.
God is going to expend energy to get you back, and it won’t be pretty.
4 But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart.
Jonah said “But” to God in verse 3, but God countered with his own in verse 4. Many times we are in storms because we are in disobedience to God. Jonah ran from God, and God threw a storm in his path to stop him. When you break God’s law, you will experience consequences. Sometimes the consequences are immediate, and sometimes they are delayed, but you will always suffer the consequences. You commit adultery, you lose your marriage. You steal, you go to jail. You lie, and you break the relationship of trust. You dishonor your father and mother, and you lose your family. When you disobey God, you suffer consequences.
This is not a situation where God is out to get you. After all, we hear all our lives that God is a vengeful God, that He is going to strike you dead if you do this or that. We call natural disasters like tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes “Acts of God”. Yet, when Jonah ran from God, God did not “smite him”, but threw a storm in his place to stop him. When God and Satan were discussing Job, God said that Satan could do anything he wanted, but could not kill him.
When you are absent from God, others are hurt as well
5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
The storm was rough. Even the experienced crew of the ship were afraid. Your sin hurts others. The wages of sin is death. And death means a lot more than physical death. It so obvious, that it is easy to mention, but needs to mention as well. Last Thursday night, in Hot Springs, a woman was over two times the legal definition of drunk, and ran over a person who was out trick or treating. We hear all the time about the innocent victim. I said earlier that we have storms in our lives because of our sin. I also need to say that there are storms in our lives because of the sins of others. Sin causes storms. Our sins and others sins, but sin causes storms. Just this week, my house was rocked because of the sins of others.
The sailors were innocent, but they knew it was supernatural. They had never seen a storm like this before. They prayed, to their own gods, but it had no effect. You see gods of this world all have to submit to the God Almighty.
So many people trust in gods. Money – if only I had a raise, if only I had $100 more, if only. We have been hearing lately about the Costa Concordia – people paid a lot of money to take a Mediterranean cruise – yet the ship capsizes. Chemicals – drugs / alcohol / tobacco – all have a physical and emotional dependency. It calms my nerves, helps me to forget, makes me over come the thing that I dislike about myself the most. Influence – Looks / Popularity / Power are very seductive. We do not think we are pretty enough. We look in the mirror and see ourselves as hideous, but God sees us as precious in his sight.
When we, those of us who have been to church, who have heard God’s word, and know better, if we do not live as Christians and live up to His calling – His commission in our lives, others are hurt because the world – the people in our circles, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates will know about the hope of Jesus Christ, so they chase after their gods – little “g”.
Jonah told the sailors that it was he who was the problem, and if they were to find hope and salvation, they needed to throw him overboard. The sailors did not. They cared more about Jonah, than Jonah cared about them. Jonah, this “Prophet” of God did not care about the Ninevites and he did not care about the sailors. Why did Jonah insist that the sailors throw him out? If Jonah knew the solution to the problem, why did he not take the initiative to fix it? Why did he not just jump?!?!
He knew what needed to be done, but he refused to do it, and almost kills the innocent sailors in the process. You have all admitted you have been to church more than once this year. Many of you, if not most of you have professed that you know God, yet you have not told anyone about the hope that you know about and they desperately need. You have not shared Jesus Christ with any one. You have never bowed your head at the dinner table at home, and certainly not in a restaurant. All because you are running from God. Oh, God’s ok on Sunday, but not on Monday. You are absent from God Monday through Saturday.
God always has a way out for you
17 [a]Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
The Lord arranged… When Jonah was thrown from the ship, the storm immediately calmed. The waves that were crashing over the deck of the ship became still as glass. God demonstrated his power and provided salvation to the Sailors. They were Pagans! They worshipped other Gods. They were not Hebrews! They were not Jews! The Lord arranged for their salvation.
Jonah, alone at sea. No life jacket, no life boat, no whistle to signal for help. After all, he was tossed off the ship. You don’t toss someone off just so to rescue them. You toss them to get rid of them. No one can tread water for any length of time.
The Lord arranged for the sailors, and the Lord arranged for a great fish to swallow him whole. He was not chewed up like a shark attack. He did not drown. He was swallowed. Only God could come up with this type of rescue. It is so far-fetched, so…miraculous.
My Dad was not a Christian when I was growing up. Every Sunday, my mother, brother, and I would go to early church, then Sunday School, and Dad would get the boat ready to go on the lake and spend Sundays fishing, cruising in the boat, and when I got older, water skiing. I took swimming lessons at they YMCA, but all I knew how to do is hold onto the side of the pool and kick. If I tried to do the arm motions, I would just sink. Just could not do it. We were out in the boat one Sunday, and were planning on stopping at a sand bar and eating a picnic. My dad told me to take off my life jacket, jump out of the boat and swim to the sand bar – 20 feet away at most. I had jumped from that boat before, but I always had my orange cube life jacket on. But this was different. I was scared. But I knew that I was going to jump or get a spanking from my dad, so I jumped. My dad watched me, and yelled out – kick, swim, kick, swim, don’t stop! I coughed and spit water that I swallowed, I kicked and I swung my arms, and I made it to sand bar. I was never in danger, I was always under the supervision of my father. He would rescue me, no matter what, because I knew that he could swim and ski. He could do anything, and he could save me.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO STAY IN THE STORMS OF YOUR LIFE. But to get out, you have to trust God, and you have to jump. Jump into obedience and commitment to living for Jesus Christ.
This afternoon, we are going to continue the story about Jonah being inside that great fish, so you don’t want to miss it.