"Don’t be like Jonah!" Have you ever heard that before? I know I have. On occasion when I was stubborn about something my mother thought I should do. It was her favorite church-phrase. However, in a country that encourages biblical ignorance rather than biblical intelligence; I have never taken the time to really get to know Jonah. Sure, we have all heard the story, maybe even seen the Veggie-Tales Movie and most presentations usually go something like this:
Little guy runs from Big God. God lets big fish swallows little guy. Big fish spits little guy out. Little guy preaches and regrets it. God challenges little guy.
Very few times have I sought to see who I am in light of whom these people in scripture are, and yet with Jonah, I have always seen myself. I am pretty sure that at some point we all do. Let's take a walk through time...
The time is 760BC. Israel in under King Jeroboam II, the great grandfather of Jehu. In the past, numerous countries, the worst being Assyrians, have savagely raided Israel. Definitely one of the most immoral peoples in the world at that time, the Assyrians were very big on false religion (a.k.a. Paganism). The Assyrians cannot comprehend the differences of Israel compared to other Kingdoms, and Israel cannot comprehend Assyria appetite for destruction and depravity.
Here is the scene falls upon the shoulders of one prophet of the Lord, a messenger of God. Jonah. If Jonah were in our midst today, he would probably fit the description of the "average Christian." Very content with the comfort zone he had around himself. That is until God speaks. Of all the people in Israel, God chooses Jonah. A "divine appointment" if you will. Of all the "average Christians" God chooses Jonah. No one knows when, or how, but God speaks. It would be nice to picture Jonah in his house on his knees praying. In a congregation with all the people of Israel, standing in honor of the Lord as they read from the Holy Scriptures. However, we are NEVER told in the Word what Jonah was doing as the call was made. Maybe today Jonah is busy. Busy in the market, participating in the cultural customs of the day. The time of the year is unclear, but one thing is very clear.... God Spoke. In a faceless crowd of dozens, we may simply overlook this man, but God did not.
Imagine the look that appeared on Jonah's face as God issued the call, Arise, go to Nineveh that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. Astonishment! Fright! Maybe the apple which Jonah was holding and examining at the fruit stand intently falls to the floor with a thud! Maybe the parchment he was holding slips through his fingers slowly. Or maybe Jonah wakes from a nightmare. The details are not clear, but one thing is clear...God Spoke...and Jonah responded. He got up, and fled. He ran. He ran seeking to escape the will and presence of the Lord.
Sound familiar? You know, it does to me. I have to ask myself, "Self. How many times have you ran from the presence of the Lord today?" Escape. Fleeing from doing what is right. Maybe something as small as doing my homework, maybe something as big as being faithful to my wife when I surf the Net or get involved in "Ministry". After all didnt this God's simple request? Therefore I beseech you brethren, to present your body as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. ~Romans 12:1 Jonah has been asked by God to go. Asked to confront an entire people. If we are honest with ourselves, we can relate. We have a hard enough time stepping out of our comfort zone to address sin with one person, just one, much less an entire people group of the known world! Confrontation is hard. For Jonah, it was that much harder because the people he was called to go to he did not like. These people slaughtered his family and friends on a regular basis. Poles would hang outside of Nineveh with the severed heads of people he would know. People that not long ago were fellowshipping with him in his own home! The fact that Jonah did not jump up and go to Nineveh as God command immediately revealed the condition of his heart. Jonah would much rather see the Ninevites, the Assyrians bake in an eternal anguish separated from God for all eternity, rather than share eternal joy with them in heaven.
Now we see a man who is consumed with himself to the extent where the slightest idea of selflessness caused him to flee. Selfishness is bad enough when you do not act at all, you just think about doing something selfish. However, the devil accommodates ignorance. In Jonah 1:3, the scriptures say, And Jonah rose up to flee unto Tar shish from the presence of the Lord and went to Joppa... Here it is don't miss it! And he found a ship going to Tar shish. The last place the devil wants a believer is in the will of God. So caught up in Christ that the world and its system fade away. So if you choose an alternate route for life, he will be waiting with many eye-appealing accommodations. However, they all have a price tag firmly attached. Sometimes that price leads you to further compromise, making it much more easy to rationalize a decision. The verse concludes in saying, so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tar shish from the presence of the Lord. At last...Relaxation! Jonah is now on his way to freedom! No more tough decisions! No more self-sacrificing! It is time to spoil himself, after all he deserves it, its not easy being a prophet of the Lord, Its time to take a nap!
It has been said of sin: it takes you farther than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay, and makes you pay more than you are willing to pay! I will be as bold to say, for a time, this was my life story. When self has the wheel, ignorance consumes the mind. This concept is best described in driving a vehicle. Picture Jesus as father (your father) and the two of you are going on a trip. In contrast to him, your head barely reaches the steering wheel. He however, can completely see out of the car at the oncoming traffic. If you were to take the wheel, you would be totally oblivious to the oncoming traffic and probably wreck the car. I am that child, Jonah was that child, and we are all that child. Sometimes, we can all relate to this picture. Sometimes, we have bigger accidents than others but we can all relate. However, we don’t want to focus on the child too much. After all, dad is still in the car. And fathers will do anything to get their children back on track.
Jonah 1:4 states, But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea so that the ship was like to be broken. Already Jonah has passed up two opportunities to serve the Lord and both times he has missed it. He could have submitted. he could have turned around. Now in the middle of the sea, a God given storm rises. However, you will not find Jonah complaining, as the rest of the world violently suffers he can be found in the depths of the ship sleeping soundly. Some of my best sleep is obtained when I shut out the rest of the world. Especially in my dorm, snoring etc. Some of you know you can relate. Sometimes I find it difficult other times very easy. All the more, asleep he is, resting in self-content.
So what happens when the world is shaking and you sleep well? Somewhere someone isn’t sleeping! Here's the sailors' reaction: Jonah 1:5 Then the mariners were afraid and cried every man unto his own god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. Have you ever been in the company of sin? For instance, you walk into a room of friends and as you walk in everyone looks at you and an awkward silence spreads like a thick fog? Somewhere in the midst of this is sin, and the ones in sin are the ones taking the nap. Someone in the group has chosen to "fall asleep..."
Verse 5 continues, but Jonah was gone into the sides of the ship, and he lay and was fast asleep. At this point everything is coming apart at the seams. The ship is falling apart! The people are throwing all the excess baggage overboard. They are on their knees to their gods. What a picture of the world! Look around! It doesn’t take long to see the condition of the world rocks terribly. Terrible like a great tempest in the sea. As the sun rises and falls, things do not get better despite our most fervrent desires for such. The storm gets larger in strength, and in the midst of the storm.. Natives cry out in desperation for answers cry out for hope cry out for salvation and the ones who have it, the ones who are called sleep behind doors with sign bearing the greeting "Unwelcome" swaying and creaking in the wind. When something goes wrong, non-Christians are quick to toss their supplies out of the window if they do not work and turn to anything that seems to hold something like an answer. It is this principle that draws people into the cults of today that hold some truth, gods that have no power. In this picture, the man with the answer sleeps, consumed with himself in the lower decks, withholding the Truth of God in ignorance.
Then finally, all eyes turn to Jonah. Now there is NO other answer. Every possible solution available to them upon the ship has been viewed, considered, and attempted to be implemented and nothing has happened. These men have been rocked hard, and now the seek rest. Isn’t it interesting to note the way the sailors deal with this external problem? It is the perfect example of how some deal with internal problems also. Throwing their supplies overboard those seemingly useless items; not realizing that if things work out those items could have been used later. Now they haven’t just suffered a boat loss, they are scared; also they have lost the profits which all that excess cargo would have provided. This is another example of how much sin costs. You don’t just pay for a ship to run, other people pay for the sin you commit. Your decisions dramatically affect those around you and bring everyone to the point where they don’t care about the temporary, they care about things that are eternal... they care about life. Sometimes even I find myself doing this, throwing over the necessities thinking they were really a hindrance. Nothing changes. And of course, many non-Christians would prefer to seek and god that doesn’t offer grace, why? Grace is incomprehensible to a non-believer. After every way is tested, they finally find themselves with one last resort... The sleeping man. How many times do we make ourselves the unnoticed, "Sleeping Truth."
So the shipmaster came to him and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that thy God will think upon us, that we perish not. This is a powerful statement. The shipmaster is showing more faith in God, more reliance upon Him than Jonah is. This paints a beautiful picture that a sinner cannot be saved until he KNOWS he is a sinner. These men are about to die. They have walked the worlds' walk. They have all went through "The 10 Steps of Known Religions" and "How To Have A Spiritual Life" They have recited prayers, mantras, anything they can think of to find the "favor of the gods" Yet they have not found a way out of the storm. They have no supplies, and the phone lines to their gods have been disconnected (Probably because those false gods haven’t been paying their dues...) they know that they haven’t found the answer, and they do not know Jonah's God. They haven’t been around Him all of their life. Jonah, however, knew God; he didn’t really care at the moment. This desire to know Jonah's God far outweighed his own. All that was necessary was for him to share his God with these people, but he chose to keep silent.
And they said everyone to his fellow, Come and let us cast lots that we may know for whose cause this evil has come upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. Hello! What a wake up call. This whole time Jonah has been so consumed with himself, he has passed up several opportunities, yet at the same time, God's timing is perfect. There is no better time to be honest than right now. Especially when you have no chance to lie. Lots were sacred. A practice with many religious beliefs tied into it. Now, God has passed His judgment. How could Jonah defile the integrity of the Almighty? We find our self-centered prophet broken and figuratively naked with no more facades covering his true identity. He is helpless before these men. He stands humiliatingly before the mercy of Gentile sailors. They have all right to kill him and end the madness. Yet no one would have learned anything. Especially Jonah. Instead we see probably the most profound response in light of all that has taken place, the sailors ask a question... Then they said unto him, tell us we pray thee, for whose cause is this evil upon us; what is thine occupation? And whence comest thou? What is thy country? and of what people art thou?
Well my name is Jonah; I am a prophet of the Lord Most High. I am an Israelite and I hail from Israel, Oh by the way...did I mention I am running from God. Of all the responses commonly known to man for the lots, they ask a question! Regardless of the fact that he was running from God, that he willingly turned away, and that now He was bringing a storm that could kill them all, the people noticed something was different about Jonah. It is out in the open, he was responsible. However, he was the one sleeping and the only one left, now they are curious about this unknown man, but something was different about him. It wasn’t physical. It wasn’t spiritual. It wasn’t where he was going, nor where he was headed (in fact they were all headed to the same place) it was to whom Jonah belonged. Jonah belonged to God and therefore it was automatic that he was different. His God, his people, his family. He was set apart. Even when he did not want to be...
Now we see a selfish broken Jonah at the end of his rope. There is nothing left to do except tell the truth, right? Jonah 1:9 And he said unto them, I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of Heaven, which hath made the sea and dry land. Once chance. If we were given one chance to tell an unbelieving society whom we serve, how would we respond? Now, what would we say if we were in the middle of sin? The pressure cooker. Something is different with that picture. It is easy to tell a nonbeliever whom you serve, what God is on "Your Side" when you are walking the walk. What about when you are stumbling? Then how you respond? What do you have to say? Do you choke up? Maybe it isn’t even you sinning maybe its the person you are talking to. How do you share your God with them? Can we effectively share the truth in love with sin in our lives? Place yourselves in the sailors' position. There is a storm and you are about to die. You are traveling with a Hebrew man who tells you, My God is the God of the sea and the dry land. Oh and I rebelled against Him and ran. Now He is after me. That is pretty ignorant. He did not even think of the way he answered the question. He didn’t even think of whom he was talking to, then again; maybe he didn’t even expect a response. One thing was clear, misplaced fear now has been traded for a sure truth. God was on a rampage. What do they do? Obviously running isn’t an option (Look at Jonah.) Their gods aren’t answering. And now all their cargo is floating in the depths of the sea.
The truth has been shared. The answer was clear. Give God His prophet. Jonah knew God wanted him. It isn’t clear on whether Jonah really understood why. It would be easy to rationalize death. Of course, no matter what was on Jonahs mind I am sure he thought that the next course of action would be the perfect way out of service to God. Verses 10-13 the men were exceedingly afraid and said unto him, why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. Then they said unto him, what should we do unto thee? That the sea may be calm unto us? For the sea wrought and was tempestuous. And he said unto them, Take me up and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: For I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship to land; but they could not: for the sea wrought and was tempestuous against them. For the sailors this was unimaginable. They would throw a live man overboard? Into the sea. More than likely they had seen what the sea had done to many other sailors who had been with them before. There must have been some other way! Its not surprising when faced with Gods way, the sailors looked for something else, even we do that. When we are confronted with Gods Word, asked to forsake sin, the cost just seems too much, there has to be a way that we could make it a little cheaper. We for all practical purposes forget what James 1:15 Then when lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin, and sin when it is finished bringeth forth death. Truth hurts. So does making the right decisions after making many wrong decisions. As people, we love looking for another way rather than grasping onto God's plan. Until we realize there is no other way.
After double-checking for any other possible solution, their path is clear. They make their choice. Now what do you see them doing? Throwing Jonah overboard? NO not quite yet... Wherefore they cried unto the Lord and said, we beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this mans life, and lay not upon us innocent blood for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee. On their knees. In humble submission to an Almighty God! They pray! Gentile, uncircumcised, dirty, Gentiles, unclean, rugged, barbarianistic men, praying to the ONE TRUE GOD! Begging and pleading that He would spare their lives and they sought only to do His will. Imagine the scene. Jonahs face. These men. Their prayer. The questions in Jonah's mind. What faith! What sacrifice! They have no clue as to what this God will do for them throwing His messenger overboard. For doing such a deed would result in death from any other gods!
Of course it is important for many of us hearing this word today, it did not END WITH A PRAYER. These men did not pray and ask Jesus into their hearts, ask God into their lives only to walk away as they were before. NO. These men prayed, and then they did something about it. Verse 15 tells us that their profession ended with them walking in faith, So they took up Jonah and cast him into the sea: and the sea ceased her raging. They were faithful in their submission. God was faithful to their prayer and He blessed the Gentiles and Jonah. Verses 16 and 17 conclude the experience of the mariners in this story it records, Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered sacrifices unto the Lord, and made vows. now the Lord has prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. not only did these men pray, walk by faith, and receive a blessing from God, these men gave their lives to the Lord because of His faithfulness in delivering them from the storm and Jonah was the vessel God used. Even in Jonah running from God, God used Jonah in ministry. Even when Jonah was blind to a calling, possibly even clouded in his mind with the prejudice mindset of this world stuck with his own views and philosophies of the way things should be done:
Practically applied, the prejudices of this world that sometimes hinder our affectiveness to minister and cause us at times to possibly be viewed as running from the presence of God. may just bring us to a place where we are used in a way to bring those same very people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, or help someone we disagree with grow in their walk. People do you see what God did here with Jonah. There was NO PRACTICAL difference between a GENTILE and an ASSYRIAN. NONE. But God used who was available despite Him. Think of the blessings you receive when you are used and you are willing. Think of the comfort, the peace, not the worldly rest, not the comfortable home. The true from God peace of looking at those you work with and know that their home is an everlasting place. Do you see, your blessings are not first on God's priority list? He will use whoever is there, whether they want to be used or not. It is not about us. It is not about you. You want to work with you? Will you work with adults? You can’t sing? Will you for the glory of God? People aren’t making themselves available to help in the nursery and you don’t like working with kids? What are you going to do about it? Eventually you may be unwillingly thrown into a position to work with kids anyway. If you're a teen, you may get married someday... Will you be unwilling then?
If we continue reading Jonah, he prays, he also does go to Nineveh and with a one-sentence proclamation from the Lord, the people repent. However, do we see Jonah getting over some of his prejudices? Does he grow? Maybe you should read the end of the book! It is a sad ending. We see Jonah sitting under a provision of God unhappy with the results...
This message is over, where are you? Where will you be tomorrow? How are you viewing ministry. Is your choice of ministry at church based on what you like? Or where you are needed?
And what about those of you who don’t know the Lord? Can you relate to the ones who searched everywhere for an answer to the storm of life all around and sometimes get discouraged by the lack of answers. Be strong! God is waiting. He is here in the midst of the storm waiting for you to receive Him and His ways. He desires you to fully trust in Him, and friend the storm may get worse before it gets better. We need to be at the point of loosing everything sometimes before we fully surrender ourselves in willingness, God knows and He is waiting. For some of you he has waited for many years, and for others, he is willing to wait as long as it takes. Even if you run, God is there. Waiting.
Please feel free to post you’re comments and suggestions concerning this Word. To all of you I hope this message impacts you as much as it did me in developing it.
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