July 29, 2018
Jonah 1 – 7.29.18
How many people use GPS when they’re driving around? Does anybody use a fold-out map anymore? Think back to the last time you did-probably a long time ago-and how dangerous was that? You had a big map or road atlas spread out across the steering wheel as you’re trying to drive! But I mentioned a few weeks ago that Monica and I use GPS on our phones nearly every time we’re driving somewhere. It’s absolutely essential-just about the time I think I don’t need it that’s when I get lost or turned around and realize how much I do need GPS. As we’ve been on the parkways what’s hard to remember for me is that NYC is to the west and we live to the east. All my life growing up in the Midwest, NYC is east-that it’s as far east as you can get-next stop is the ocean. Going west for me meant heading to the mountains in Colorado or continuing on to California. Never in my life did I think that heading west meant going to NYC. But I’ve had to remember this when trying to take the right exits. The other week I got on Northern State Parkway going the opposite direction of here-and realized this doesn’t look familiar. But isn’t that a sinking feeling? Bummer-I’m going the opposite way meant to head west but I’m headed east. Has this happened to you recently? You’ve accidentally taken a wrong turn or driven the opposite way from what you intended? Or let’s be honest, sometimes it’s the GPS fault-it steers you in the opposite way of where you want to go and then all of a sudden it’s rerouting you.
As we come to our new sermon series this morning, we’re going to encounter a guy who needed to be rerouted; someone who was going the opposite way of where he needed to be, but it wasn’t accidental or the fault of the GPS-it was deliberate and intentional. We’re going to read about a guy who went the wrong way on purpose-and you might be familiar with his story-because his name is Jonah. Open up your Bible to the book of Jonah. Now despite being a familiar book-it’s a tricky one to find because it’s so small and tucked away in the OT. So if you find Ezekiel or Daniel keep going east, keep heading further into the OT and you’ll find it sandwiched right between Obadiah and Micah. Jonah’s a short book with only 4 chapters-but what’s unique about it is that it’s mostly narrative with very little prophecy. Yet even the little bit of prophecy God wanted him to share is what Jonah refuses and hence his reason for traveling the opposite way.
Look at how it begins-v. 1-2. This is the command God gives to him so what’s he going to do? Now a bit of context before we get too far in many prophets in the Bible spoke about the Gentile nations, but this is the only time God commanded a prophet to be sent to the Gentiles-to speak with them in person. And you can see how God Himself has called Nineveh that great city. Most historians believe Nineveh was the biggest city in the world at the time and the capital city of the Assyrian Empire. If you remember, the Assyrian empire was the main rival to Israel and eventually took them into captivity. Great hatred existed between these people. The Israelites considered them to be a wicked, violent, torturing, pagan people-and it’s reputation preceded it as one of the cruelest cities in the world. Again-notice what God said about it-v. 2. This was not a flattering description-but by no means did Nineveh worship God. Their principal deity was Dagon, the fish god-and Nanshe-the fish goddess. If you’ve ever seen the VeggieTales take on Jonah they do a humorous job of showing their worship of fish-and showing their wickedness as everyone in Nineveh slaps each other with fish. And so Jonah has no desire whatsoever to visit a city of fish-slappers. Let them slap each other silly, he says, I’m not going there. And initially who can blame him going to a city of wickedness and evil isn’t high on any of our lists! But that becomes his decision as God’s Word tells us-v. 3a. One simple decision with huge ramifications. God commanded Jonah to arise and go to Nineveh-and the text says he rose-but not to Nineveh. He went to Tarshish instead. I love how The Jesus Storybook Bible describes it–One ticket to NOT Nineveh please-and he boarded a boat going in the opposite direction and, unfortunately, this starts Jonah down a very different path than he would have ever imagined. A path he would have surely avoided if he knew what was up ahead and we’ll read about it shortly.
But the reality is that Jonah didn’t do what God called him to do. As the verse says-Jonah rose to flee from God. They say the power in writing is always found in the verbs-what a powerful verb here describing Jonah’s response to God. Instead of obeying and following through, he ran away and fled. Nineveh was to the east so Jonah headed west for Tarshish-and historians place Tarshish all the way into southern Spain-over 2,500 miles away, meaning Jonah went as far the other direction as possible. In today’s terms, this would be like God calling a pastor in IA-hypothetically speaking of course-saying I want you to head out to NY and pastor on LI-and the pastor says no way and hops on a train to California to pastor in LA! That’s what Jonah’s doing because he didn’t like where God was telling him to go. So Pt1 : God’s Grace: takes us in directions we’d rather not go. This idea of grace is going to be an ongoing theme we’ll explore in this book in the weeks to come. But God’s grace wasn’t telling Jonah to stay away from Nineveh and ignore its problems, God’s grace was calling him to go there and get involved; to be His mouthpiece and speak about hope and forgiveness in order to bring change to the city. God’s grace cared for the city-but Jonah didn’t like the city; he didn’t like those people so he didn’t go there-decision made.
Now we read this and say, Go to Nineveh, Jonah. Don’t be silly and do the opposite. Get over your petty anger and your silly dislike and obey the Lord. The people of Nineveh need to hear the gospel Don’t avoid them, embrace them. The decision seems very straightforward, very black and white to us-do what God says. We can easily pass judgment on someone like Jonah because from our vantage point we see the logic and wisdom of God’s call but when God’s call comes to us-well, then it’s a bit different, its not so black and white anymore because what do we often do? Make excuses, rationalize it, talk ourselves out of it, make it a gray area. I don’t actually have to do that, surely not. I must have mistaken God’s call. His plan wouldn’t make me do something hard or something I don’t like or go somewhere I don’t want to go. He knows I don’t like those people anyway. I’m comfortable right where I am. Clearly, God would have me stay put and serve Him here-not stretch myself and go there. Have you thought like that before or struggled with God’s call in your life? Maybe you feel that God has gifted you to work with adults so you conclude there’s no way you would ever work with children-even though you might be sensing a huge need. Or maybe you feel that God has called you to serve in a particular ministry-but when you look at your schedule you just talk yourself right out of it because you’re too busy and don’t want to rearrange things. Or maybe you don’t rationalize God’s call, but like Jonah you just flat out refuse it. I don’t want to do that God so I’m not going to! I don’t like those people so I’m not going to help them. Serving you makes me nervous, Lord, so I won’t do it. It’s hard work and I’m too tired. Whatever it may be when we don’t follow God’s call we’re ultimately going in the opposite direction. What I find so fascinating is that the book of Jonah highlights with geography what we do in our hearts. God said to go to Nineveh in the east but Jonah went to Tarshish in the west. It’s easy to see how completely opposite that is-two different directions. But anytime we refuse or rationalize or talk ourselves out of God’s call we’re doing the same thing spiritually. We’re not any different from Jonah, even though we fool ourselves into believing we are; or that our disobedience is somehow okay. Well, it could have been worse Lord. Count yourself lucky that I’m partly following your call. I’m still mostly on your team. We try to soothe our soul with half-hearted efforts. But I love the insight that I came across this week in a book-Don’t believe the lie that struggling to obey God is a worse lot in life than disobeying him with peace. But that’s a lie a lot of us believe. Jonah had far more peace about his disobedience; getting on the boat to Tarshish was easy for him. Following God’s call was what brought the struggle and challenge-so he opted for the peaceful, easy disobedience. How often do we do the same? We make a decision out of a feeling of peace instead of just following God.
Compare Jonah with Jeremiah. Like Jonah, Jeremiah was also a prophet-and it was a struggle for him to faithfully obey God’s call in his life. It wasn’t easy being a prophet. No doubt he would have preferred the peaceful road of disobedience-Jer 20:7b-9 NIV. Jeremiah realized that the struggle to obey God’s call in his life was still better than the peaceful illusion of not obeying His call. And that’s exactly what disobedience is-it’s an illusion of peace. Sure in the short-term it might seem easy and smooth sailing to avoid God’s call. Life will be easier going in the other direction-but in the long term disobedience to God’s call becomes anything but peaceful. And that’s Pt2: Sin’s Grasp: takes us further down than we ever intended.
Look at how Jonah’s story highlights this so well-v. 3-in Hebrew it literally reads-he found a ship going down to Joppa so he went down into the ship. Then we know in v. 4-5. Down, down, down! Four different times in the matter of 3 verses we’re told Jonah went down. The detail of this direction is really important because his disobedience is described as a descent. Sin is causing him to descend vertically-where? Think about what’s up? Heaven-God. What’s down? As v. 3 concludes-away from the presence of the Lord. You can see a great chasm that’s beginning to separate Jonah from God. Even though he made the initial choice to disobey and go the opposite direction, sin is now dragging him further and further down. It’s taking him where he doesn’t want to go but is now helpless to avoid. Because if you know the story of Jonah he hasn’t reached his final destination yet-not even close-v. 6. This is so ironic-the pagan captain on the boat is telling the Christian to pray! It’s rather backwards, isn’t it? Jonah should have been the one to recognize God’s hand at work-not them. But he can’t. Jonah’s gone to sleep. He’s completely rebelling against God, totally disobeying and he’s not even bothered! He’s having the nap of a lifetime in the midst of a raging storm. That’s how hardened Jonah’s heart has become. At this point he doesn’t feel bad or guilty, he’s not tossing and turning in bed agonizing over his sinfulness-he’s sleeping like a baby without a care in the world. Good thing God is in control because if I was writing this story I’d toss Jonah’s sorry self right overboard then. But of course, that’s coming-v. 7. There’s a shocking coincidence! Clearly, God’s hand is at work! v. 8-10a. And here’s another important detail-v. 10b. Again the irony is so visible. Here these sailors fear God more than Jonah. Even though they don’t worship God or know Him, they have enough sense to come before him in reverence and awe. But Jonah’s gotten jaded and cold-hearted in his sin. He’s lost any sense of repentance or humility-but gone straight to despair. Look at v. 11-12.
Do you realize what Jonah’s suggesting? His death. We know the story of what’s going to happen, but they didn’t. Being tossed overboard in the middle of a raging storm meant one thing-drowning. No one will rescue Jonah, no other boat will come after him, and he doesn’t have a life preserver or the strength to tread water until help arrives, he can’t swim to shore. Jonah realizes his sin has brought him to the point of death. Men, I’m sorry about this storm-just let me die and God’s anger will be appeased. He sees God’s powerful anger as he stares into the eye of the storm and sees that his death is the only option. Kill me now, Lord-I’ve sinned big time! But he’s realizing the truth of what Rom 6:23 says-The wages of sin is death. Of course, the sailors aren’t ready to see him die-v. 13-14 So the pagans are back to praying; they’re seeking forgiveness and recognizing the Lord’s sovereign hand. This is a godly prayer and these guys have compassion on Jonah, unlike Jonah who’s got no compassion for the Ninevites. So most reluctantly-v. 15-16 This definitely sounds like a group of sailors who are beginning to repent and trust God. Proverbs says-The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom-and they’re doing that. But somehow God’s man-Jonah-doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand the Lord’s character and responds with selfishness and disobedience-Not going to follow God. Meanwhile, the people we least expect, basically a bunch of foul-mouthed pirates-do understand God’s character and are responding with humility and fear. The tables are totally turned and it’s a stark warning to all of us who claim to be Christians and yet fail to actually obey God. I remember the quote that says unbelievers never look better than when compared to disobedient Christians. Isn’t that the sad truth! But the sailors end up starting to worship, while Jonah ends up sinking and this time down to the point of no return. He’s sinking into the depths of the sea and just when it can’t get any worse-v. 17. Down into the stomach, the guts, the digestive tract of a fish. I don’t enjoy cleaning and gutting fish, but I can’t imagine actually being inside one, can you? But that’s where Jonah ended up; the inside of a creature of the deep. Think about it-how much deeper could Jonah’s sin literally take him? How much further down than death itself can he go? And in a figurative way-his sin brought him to the gates of death-2:2– The NIV says-from the depths of the grave.
Look back at Pt 2. Do you think Jonah ever thought he’d end up where he did when he bought his boat ticket for Tarshish? No way! What if the ticket agent would have told him-Just to let you know, before you board this ship, Jonah, it’s my duty to say that your destination won’t actually be Tarshish but instead the stomach of a fish. You won’t be a tourist, you’ll be fish food! He would never have bought that ticket and started his journey if he had known that. And unfortunately, we never think like that either. We rarely consider the consequences of disobedience at the beginning. Or if we do we brush them aside. But one little act of disobedience, one little sin, took Jonah all the way here to this stinking fish stomach. So scary! But that’s what sin does. It sends us in the opposite direction of our destination as believers. It’s like going the wrong way on the freeway and until you actually exit and turn around you won’t get where you need to be. It doesn’t self-correct. Staying on the wrong road gets you further and further away from your destination. Sin has a funny way of luring you down its path, once you begin walking towards sin it becomes easier and easier to keep going and more and more difficult to turn around and go where God is calling you. Sin becomes a rut, a sand trap, a pit you can’t get out of because what is sin’s goal? Have you ever asked yourself that question? It’s not like a plate of appetizers-thanks, I’ll just have one. No, sin is like a bag of chips and you can’t stop at one. Monica will easily turn down the bag of chips but I can’t stop reaching for more. I want to scarf down the bag of Doritos-just like sin wants to have all of you. It’s not satisfied with a little bit. Give it one chance-a bad decision here, an inkling of bitterness there, a moment of deceit or disobedience-and sin will strike. It will grab you and enslave you-remember James 1:14-15. James is clear that sin is a trap that will let you die. Or what about-1 Pet 5:8. What’s the devil’s goal? To have you as a snack or take a little taste? No way, he wants to devour you as a meal.
Have you ever read The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis? It’s one of my favorite book series-and I first got it for Christmas in 3rd grade and tried to devour the books over break. It was challenging reading for a 3rd grader-I couldn’t understand all of the illusions and allegory-but I did understand that the Lion represented the Lord-and then there was this strange candy called Turkish Delight. One of the boys who entered the wardrobe into Narnia was Edmund and he loved the Turkish delight the Witch kept offering him when he met her. It seemed he could have as much as he wanted at no cost-just keep eating candy-but eventually the witch upped the ante. Do this one little thing for me and I’ll give you more meaning bring me your brother and sisters because she wanted to capture them. But when Edmund went back for more candy and hadn’t done what the Witch demanded, his Turkish Delight became stale bread and the Witch-who was once so nice and flattering-enslaved him so that Edmund was tied up like an animal and forced to pull her sleigh through the forest. But that’s such a powerful visual of sin’s enslavement to us. What we once found so pleasing and interesting and easy at the beginning-quickly reveals itself as enslaving and devouring. We reap the consequences and pain of disobedience, we end up getting stuck in a habit we can’t escape from. It holds us tightly in its clutches; something we never intended, a powerful force we never saw coming. That’s what Jonah discovered-Pt2. His choice to go to Tarshish was so freeing and easy at first-Wow this is great. No responsibilities, I don’t have to worry about following God. I don’t have to go to Nineveh-a city of people I’d rather avoid. I don’t have to do what God says. I’m on my own, going wherever I want. But that freedom soon became the horrible, disgusting belly of a fish. Just imagine the smell! That would have to be the worst part! Jonah’s sitting there sloshing around thinking I’m going be digested and die inside this fish. What a terrible way to go but that’s where his disobedience took him.
So let me ask you, what decisions, what choices, what things are you doing right now that seems so easy or innocent or fun, but you know is sin? What road are you traveling down? Are you walking in a direction of God’s call or one that’s increasing your bitterness and hatred? Are you repeatedly engaging in a sinful pattern or attitude or action? Are the friends or the people you’re hanging out with taking you down a road you know you shouldn’t go? Are you heading that way but you know God is calling you this way? Don’t travel that direction any longer. Repent and turn back to the Lord. Jonah didn’t until it was nearly too late. He kept running and running. Are you running from the Lord? Are you avoiding what He’s calling you to do? Are you running from a difficult decision God’s urging you to make? Are you running from facing someone you know you must? Are you running from forgiveness and embracing bitterness? Are you running from the changes you need to make in your life? Are you running from trusting God because it scares you so you’ll just keep going on your own no matter where it takes you? Look at-James 4:17 And that was Jonah’s problem. He knew what God was commanding and he said-No-not doing it-and so we see the tragic downfall of his life. But this is where we go from Jonah to Jesus. Because what is Jesus’ life but the very opposite of Jonah.
Look at Mark 10:32a. While Jonah was commanded to go to Nineveh, Jesus was commanded to go to Jerusalem-and He isn’t running away from the city, He’s going to the very place God the Father called Him to go. And listen to what He says will happen there-Mark 10:33-34. Jonah just had to preach in Nineveh, Jesus has to die in Jerusalem! Huge difference! If anybody has an excuse to run away it’s Jesus. If I’m in Jesus’ shoes I’m pulling a Jonah and running away from the cross as fast as possible! I’d head to Spain-but Jesus obeys and goes straight into Jerusalem with full knowledge of what will happen. Look at Mark 14:34-36. Jesus obeys. No rationalizing, no talking himself out of it. Was their fear? Yes. Did Jesus want to suffer and die? No, not at all. But He obeyed God’s command. He went where God called Him to go-even if it meant a Cross. Jesus does what Jonah didn’t do. Jesus does what you and I didn’t do. He obeyed perfectly. That’s why your faith isn’t in yourself, it’s in Him. That’s why being a Christian isn’t about trying to be as good as you can because you’ll never be good enough-we’ll end up somewhere like Jonah. Instead, it’s about trusting in the One who’s infinitely good-1 John 4:10 NIV. That’s Pt3: Jesus’ Journey: reveals a love for us like we never imagined. That’s what the cross is-Jesus in obedience to the Father willingly giving up His life to save us because He loves us. We could have and should have sunk to the bottom just like Jonah-but because of Jesus the story isn’t over.
Let’s be honest, in a lot of stories a guy getting tossed overboard is when it’s over. That’s the end. He’s a goner-but for Jonah this is just chapter 1. His story reveals to us that even if you think that you’ve run too far or messed up too much or sunk too far down and your story’s over God is still able to reach you. That no matter where you’re at or what you’ve done, nowhere is too far-because while Jonah might feel like he’s hit rock bottom inside the fish, this was actually God’s relentless grace in action. Think about it-at just the right moment when the men tossed Jonah overboard, God commanded a fish of the perfect size to swim under the precise location of the boat, open its mouth and swallow Jonah. That wasn’t an accident or good timing on Jonah’s part-that was God’s relentless grace to a guy who’d hit rock bottom. And it’s no different for you and me-except that God’s relentless grace isn’t a hungry fish but a sacrificial cross. Because of His great love for us, God was willing to let His own Son die-so that you and me having plummeted to the depths in our sins might be saved. If you’ve never trusted in Jesus, then this morning don’t be afraid to admit that you’ve been running far because you have a Savior who’s given His all. Turn to Him, put your trust in Him and find forgiveness and new life in Him.
And maybe you have trusted Jesus, maybe you did a long time ago, but lately, you’ve been acting like Jonah-not going in the direction God’s called you to go. You don’t have to anymore. Stop running. As a follower of Jesus, you’re not stuck in sin. He’s set your feet on the path of life-so go where He’s calling you to go. Do what He’s calling you to do. Love the people He’s calling you to love. I want you to reflect on this question-How are you running from God’s call? Don’t be a runner, don’t be a Jonah-because of Jesus you have been rescued by God’s relentless grace! He went as far as a fish in Jonah’s case-but He went as far as giving up His own Son in your case!