This past Sunday I preached at First Presbyterian Church Bradenton. I am team preaching a four week series with our Associate Pastor of Family Ministries through the book of Jonah titled "Jonah: The Chronicles of Nineveh". I have posted the transcript below and I hope you enjoy it.
Read Jonah 1:1 – 3
Today we begin a new series titled “Jonah: The Chronicles of Nineveh”. For the next four weeks Pastor Mary Beth and I will take a practical look at the book of Jonah and see how it can apply to us today. Most of us are familiar with the story of Jonah, you probably heard it as a child in Sunday school or in church. I will admit that from a human perspective, Jonah is an outrageous tale. So outrageous that some have great difficulty believing this story of a massive fish swallowing a man whole, transporting him to another country and barfing him up onto the beach. The focus and attention is always put on the trivial parts of the story like; was it a real whale or was it a large fish? How could a person survive in the belly of a fish? Why would God even choose a whale to transport a person from one place to another? That people fail to look past the fish and see the real meaning. The story, for many makes for a fun fictional story to tell children… But Jonah is so much more.
My prayer is for us is to see the story behind the story. To see the dangers of disobedience, rebellion, seeking comfort over God’s will. The story begins with the risks of being obedient to God and ends with an angry prophet who complains about God’s love, grace and mercy. Today’s account is the story of creating and living in a sub-culture of safety and comfort or what I like to call, bubbles. Today I will answer the questions, “What are bubbles?” “Why do we prefer to live in them?” and then I want to challenge us to step get out of our bubbles and live in the freedom of Jesus Christ. I’ll talk more about this in a bit.
But First…A Little Background of Jonah
Jonah is a tale of struggles and disobedience; the struggles of giving up selfish desires and giving in to God’s call on our lives. It is about the struggle of living according to our ways verses God’s ways. Jonah is like many of us in so many ways. He was a chosen prophet who was called by God to do something that he didn’t want to do and he simply refused to do it. In other words, he was a disobedient, stubborn ole man who had no interest in leaving the comforts of his home (his bubble) and going to a city and telling them to repent... or else.
According to the bible, we can deduce that Jonah had a pretty uneventful life as a prophet. He is only mentioned one other time in the Bible (2 Kings 14:23 – 29). Up to this point his claim to fame was speaking a prophecy to the King of Judah that helped restore its boundaries with Israel. I am assuming, but I think it is safe to say that Jonah had a pretty ordinary, uneventful and comfortable life compared to many other prophets of the Old Testament.
However, Jonah’s world was about to be rocked! In the opening verse, he is commanded by God to get up and go to Nineveh (an evil city) and give them a warning of His impending judgment. This was a problem for Jonah because he didn’t want to go. As we will soon see, he flat out refused to go. God was calling him to action… He said, “Get up Jonah, and go!” God was about to mess up his life, so to speak. Suddenly Jonah’s uneventful and ordinary life was about to change. He didn’t like this, so he did get up, but he ran away from God.
Let’s pause for a second. Why was Jonah hell bent on not going to Nineveh? What was so bad about this city? Jonah has been called the reluctant prophet throughout history. Why was he reluctant to go?
Nineveh was a violent city. It was the capital of Assyria during the height of its empire. Their kings boasted of their terrible reputation and they made sure everyone knew they were not to be messed with. There are records of incidents of live dismemberment, having parades of heads on stakes with the friends of the deceased carrying them around. They would stretch live prisoners with ropes and had them skinned them alive. They were known to pull out people’s tongues and other appendages and there are even accounts that they burned children alive. Those, “more fortunate”, who were kept alive were deported to various cities and were made slaves for labor.
The Ninevites or Assyrians were not very well liked by anyone. Scholars have often compared them to German Nazi’s. So, you can see why Jonah was reluctant. Why would anyone want to see this evil city spared from God’s wrath?
So, God calls Jonah from his comfortable bubble to a place of danger. What is this bubble that I speak of? The bubble is a place of protection and disconnect from anything dangerous or uncomfortable. It is a place of safety, it is a shield from the world, it is the place where people exist in comfort and not have anything interfere or mess with our lives. It is the place where Jonah and many of us live today. Bubbles are wonderful places to live because it is safe and comfortable. Some people have bubbles where God is allowed to come in as long as he doesn’t mess with our good lives and we can say, “It’s just God and me it doesn’t matter what happens around me.” As Christians, we have built a subculture of bubbles. We have created our own safe radio stations, television shows; music culture, book stores, coffee shops etc. and we can live in this world without ever really having to leave the comfort of our own bubbles. We love our bubbles so much that we can convince ourselves that God would never have the audacity to call us outside of them, because it is too dangerous outside. I mean really; doesn’t God want us all to be safe and comfortable?
This is what I think Jonah believed. Then God showed up with a special request. Jonah wasn’t going to endanger his life by going to this violent city and he was not going to ruin his reputation with the people of Israel by reaching out to this horrible city. So, Jonah did what many of us do… he high tailed it to a far-away place called Tarshish. This is an outright act of rebellion.
Why Tarshish? Now in history Tarshish was known as the western most place in the Mediterranean world. This was common for people who wanted to run from God. People would physically leave the place where God spoke to them or even met with them and go to another place. Rabbi Sheldon H. Blank writes, “What is Tarshish? In the story, it is anywhere – anywhere but the right place; it is the opposite direction a person takes when he turns his back on his destiny… It is the excuse we give… it is our rationalism.” Running to Tarshish, so to speak, is a widespread practice today. In rebellion, people have physically left the church or abandon their faith for one reason or another and they feel if they physically leave the building or turn their backs on God and head for the farthest places away from Him He will leave them alone. In many ways Tarshish was Jonah’s bubble. It is the place where he could be away from God and not have to be obedient to Him. Tarshish or the bubble represents the place where people go to be away from God and He is not welcome, especially if he is coming to call you out of it.
I hope you all know that running from God is futile, but I think we can sort of understand why he did. The good news is that God, in his mercy, understood why he did what he did; as I believe he understands our struggles and reservations to doing what he has called us to do. But the best part is God will always give us the tools we need to accomplish the difficult tasks he sets before us. God isn’t going to change his plan just because we refuse or rebel.
We will never know true freedom and we will never fully understand God’s plan for us unless we make the effort to get out of our bubbles and be willing to go where God calls us. Some of these places or callings may be scary, dangerous or just plain uncomfortable.
I do want to clarify that God does not always call us to go to scary, dangerous and uncomfortable places, this is not the point I am trying to make. The point I am making is are you available to God if He does? Are you willing to get out of your bubble and go and do for His Kingdom? Are you willing to abandoned your safety bubble in exchange for following His will?
The questions I would like to leave with you today are, what is keeping you in your bubble? Are you willing to break free from it? If yes, then what steps can you take to begin living life outside of the bubble? If no, then what extremes will you go to stay in your bubble?
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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