This is the manuscript for the sermon I preached at West Bradenton Baptist Southside on Sunday December 29th, 2019
Read Jonah 1 – 4
Jonah is one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. It is a short book that is packed with many life lessons. The overall theme of the book is the struggles people have giving up their desires for God’s plans and purposes. In simple terms it is about the struggles we have when our lives become more about God’s ways verses ours.
When we look at the person Jonah, we believe he had an uneventful life as a prophet. Aside from his story in this book he is only mentioned one other time in the Old Testament (2 Kings 14:23 – 29) where he allegedly spoke a prophecy to the King of Judah which helped restore the nations boundaries with Israel.
Chap. 1: 1- 2: Since we don’t read much about him, we assume Jonah had a good, quiet life; he was probably comfortable and happy where he was in life. Then one day God showed up with a command to bring a message of judgment and repentance to the wicked city of Nineveh. Jonah was not going to endanger his life by going to this violent city and he certainly was not going to ruin his reputation with the people of Israel by reaching out to this horrible city. So, Jonah does what so many of us do when we don’t want to do something for God… he ran. Why did Jonah run to Tarshish? At the time of this account Tarshish was known as the westernmost place in the Mediterranean world. It was common for people who were rebelling against God to physically leave the place where had God spoken to them or even met with them and go the opposite direction. Tarshish was just that place for Jonah. In this story Tarshish is anywhere – anywhere but the place where God calls you; in fact, it is the opposite direction a person takes when he turns his back on God’s call and command… Tarshish is the excuse we give for not going.
Twice in Jonah 1:3 it tells us that Jonah flees from the presence of the Lord. This is significant because it emphasizes what Jonah is NOT going to do. He is not going to go to Nineveh; in fact, he is going as far away from the presence of the Lord as possible. You see God’s instruction to Jonah was simple and specific
1) Get up
Jonah’s decision to run was rebellion and he was going to go to any extreme to get away from God. Jonah runs away to avoid God. Jonah was going to a city and culture where he would not hear about God’s faithfulness, God’s mercy, or any references to God. He wanted nothing to do with God.
This is exactly what people do when they live in rebellion to God. The first thing a rebellious person does is not only disassociate himself with God, but with places and people who are also following God. A person who turns his back on God does not run to be with other believers, no, he goes to the place or places where he believes God is not present.
Jonah ran because he did not love in the way God loves. Jonah had no love for the people of Nineveh, and he had no desire to see them spared by God. This was the main reason Jonah rebelled. He knew God was compassionate and would spare them if they repented and He wanted none of that.
The good news for those who have been caught up or are in a life of rebellion and sin is… God will pursue you no matter how far you are from him. This is good news for those who are actively running from God, because it shows God values you, loves you and desires to get you back into a right relationship with him. The hard truth is He will use whatever measures needed to get you back. God will pursue you in his great and radical love for you. James Bruckner writes in his commentary of Jonah, “The good news is that God pursues him. God does not let him go but finds him out in order to rescue him.” The truth is one can ever run from the presence of God and no one can be so rebellious and sinful that God cannot or will not forgive you and set you on the right track. Rosemary Nixon writes in her commentary of Jonah, “Jonah’s contest with God is ill-matched. The account illustrates the impossibility of escaping God’s presence and folly of attempting such a thing.” Resistance to God is futile because when He wants to accomplish something, he will go to any extreme to get it done.
Verse 1:17 “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” The key word for me in this passage is “appointed” … some translations say, “prepared”, “provided”, or “sent” and all these words have the same meaning. God ordained or designated this fish for this task. God had a task for the great fish and swallowing Jonah was the task. Many people read the great fish as a judgment against Jonah but fail to see the fish is a sign of God’s mercy. The fish saved the life of Jonah. Had it not been appointed then he would have died at sea and this would be the end of the story; but God lovingly and mercifully pursues and provides safety for him. I am sure Jonah didn’t see it this way (as most of us don’t see God’s mercy in times of rebellion). He now finds himself in the most unpleasant of places (In the belly of the great fish) and soon he will come to the realization of God’s grace and mercy in this situation. This is very common among men and women in rebellion to God.
God lets us continue in rebellion. He allows us to turn our backs on him and He will let us face the consequences of our bad choices. In other words, He allows us to hit rock bottom; not out of spite and anger but out of love and mercy. God does not usually protect us from the consequences of our bad choices. However, he will meet you where you are, and He will walk alongside you to get you to the point where you need to be with Him. Call it tough love or call it discipline the fact remains when you hit rock bottom, God is there with you to lift you up.
Chap. 2:1 – “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish:” After Jonah was engulfed by the great fish and I think the response of Jonah in chapter 2 is a bit surprising because he turns to God in prayer. Personally, I would expect to read, “God I didn’t want to do what you called me to do in the first place. I think you got the wrong man to do the job, so I ran as far away from you as possible. Couldn’t you have just left me alone safe and secure in my comfortable life?” This however is not what we read at all. This whole chapter is a prayer of thanksgiving from Jonah for being saved and delivered. Really, it only took a potential shipwreck, being thrown into the sea, left for dead and a large fish engulfing him to get him to this point. Is Jonah finally getting the big picture here? Well, let’s not get too hasty because there is still a bit of defiance in this man’s heart even after this time of praise to a God who has taken him captive.
The situation we find Jonah in is like what many of us find ourselves when we hit the bottom of the barrel. Sometimes it takes some pretty extreme events and possibly even fear of death to get us to acknowledge our rebellion. When we get to this point, we will either respond in anger, bitterness, and blame or we will respond as Jonah did in thankfulness, gratitude and praise. However, there is one important ingredient missing in this prayer that we should note and that’s true repentance. This is where Jonah’s slight defiance comes into play. Sure, Jonah is thankful God spared his life, but the problem is the same rebellious Jonah is still in the belly of the fish. It doesn’t appear that he has a change in heart. He is a man who has reached rock bottom and has nowhere else to go. The beautiful thing here is that even in Jonah’s slight defiance God hears and accepts his prayer for what it is… “Thank you for not letting me die and for keeping me safe, I’ll do whatever you want me to do even though I don’t like it.”
Chap. 3:1 – “The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time…” In this chapter we are witness to God’s second call. As far as we know Jonah is the only biblical prophet who had to have God repeat himself on what He wants the person to do. I can just imagine God saying, “Ok Jonah, have you learned your lesson? I am going to get this job done and you are going to be the one who accomplishes it. Now, go to Nineveh and tell them of my impending judgment.” The beauty of God’s second call to Jonah is that He doesn’t remind Jonah of his rebellion, nor does he say, “I saved you so you owe me your obedience; you even said you would do what I want in the belly of the fish so I am here to collect on your promise.” Nothing of that sort was spoken at all. God is not one to hold grudges, he does not keep bringing up our sins after we have confessed them nor does he hold us accountable to the flippant promises we make in order to get out of the mess we have created for ourselves. He simply and lovingly restates what He has called Jonah to do.
“Jonah got up and went to Nineveh” Jonah’s second response is very different from his first response. I don’t think it would be too far off base to say Jonah’s response was reluctant obedience to God. His response of obedience was probably out of not wanting to go through again what he just went through. In other words, he learned his lesson the hard way. Doesn’t this always seem to be the case? God is placing a call on Jonah’s life and in his sovereignty, He was going to accomplish his will through Jonah. Up to this point I believe Jonah’s account is mostly about God accomplishing his will regardless of how the prophet did or did not respond to Him. Does this make God a power-hungry dictator who is set out to take away our freedom to choose? No, the opposite is true. God knows what is best for us in all circumstance and He desires that we trust him at His word in our lives. God wants us to trust him exclusively so that our only response to him will be obedience no matter what the cost.
This does bring up the question as to why God calls us to do some things that seem to be unconventional and radical. Nearly every time God calls us to do something spectacular it will go against the status quo and challenge the “way we have always done it” mentality. Yet God calls us to trust Him and to go out in faith to accomplish what he has set out to accomplish through us.
It should be noted that God does not beg or negotiate with us. Even in the instance of Jonah he doesn’t make a deal with him. Despite Jonah’s less than enthusiastic message to the Ninevites God still worked a mighty miracle that day. After Jonah’s little excursion at the beach he sets out for the city of Nineveh. Upon entering the city, he yells out in his best condemning hellfire and brimstone preacher voice, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed!” The response of the Ninevites is astounding! This desperately wicked and prideful race that was despised by all turned from their evil ways. The Ninevites were anything but compassionate and loving towards anyone who dared speak evil of them. To hear the response of the people was repentance is unbelievable but to also hear the King responds in repentance was literally unheard of. Don’t you love it when God does the unthinkable?
What was the response of the Ninevites? Chapter 3:5 says, “Then the people of Nineveh believed God.” They heard the words of the prophet and they fully believed they were receiving a warning from God. They may not have fully understood what the judgment, but I am sure they knew it meant complete and utter destruction. They repented in hopes that their lives would be spared. We know that their repentance was genuine as the decree was to fast and put on sackcloth for their sins. These are outward signs of repentance and seeking mercy. However, it wasn’t the act of fasting and sackcloth that God saw, He instead saw their hearts and how they were according to verse 10“turning from their wicked ways”. This is true repentance. The king of Nineveh’s response was even unique. He may have been uncertain that God was going to have compassion on them as he says, “Who knows? May God turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we may not perish.” These words of the king imply that he has humbled himself and is truly repentant.
The story gets better, in chapter 3:10 says that God “relented” which basically means he had compassion or felt sorrow. Literally God’s heart was moved by the people’s response and his only response was compassion. Some people have a problem with this because it implies that God changed his mind; but I don’t see it that way at all. There is no reason to get upset or even defend God’s response because He was just doing what He always does… extending grace and compassion on those who are truly repentant.
Chapter 4: Jonah was witness to one of the greatest movements of God in history and his response is displeasure and anger. Instead of rejoicing and thanking God for his wonderful mercy Jonah gets angry with because He didn’t destroy the city. In fact, the account says, “Jonah was greatly displeased, and he became furious.” The word displeased is translated “hot with anger, burning with anger or stewing in fury.” He wasn’t just mad; he was furious. The problem was he allowed this fury take root in his heart.
He says, “(This is) why I fled to Tarshish in the first place” which literally means, “I ran as fast as I could, I hurried away, and I took flight”. He intended to get away from God. He is so angry that Jonah asked God to kill him and be done with it. Jonah’s anger is burning so hot he would rather die than rejoice with God. God asks Jonah, “Is this anger really doing anyone (yourself included) any good?”
Jonah ends on a somber note. There is no closure to this story. It ends with a rebuke from God and we do not know how Jonah responds to this rebuke. I think we all would like to believe he came to his senses and repented and got right with God, but we just don’t know. However, I believe the book ends the way it does because it leaves you and me with a challenge… How should we respond when God calls us to things we don’t want to do? How are our hearts? What is God calling us to do? Is he calling you and me out of our comfortable lives to go out to places where we wouldn’t normally go and proclaim the message of repentance? Could that place be right outside our church doors and across the street and to the surrounding community? These are the questions we will continue to ask and answers to discover in the new year. The main question is, how will we respond when God says, “GET UP! GO! And PROCLAIM”?
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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