We start a 2 week series in the Book of Jonah today.
Jonah was a prophet, and as Ross shared with us in our studies in Micah, a prophet’s purpose was to warn about a present situation which will lead to a future catastrophe, unless action is taken in the present, to remedy the future.
Jonah was in the middle of his prophetic calling. He had already been given the privilege of being a prophet before we read of him in Jonah. He had previously been called to bring a great message of hope when Israel was bound in sin and suffering. As we read in 2 Kings 14:25-27, Jonah shared the message that Israel would be saved by King Jeroboam, and what followed was a time of safety and prosperity for Israel.
So Jonah was known by his people, and was already a serving prophet of God.
Most of us know the story of Jonah.
Jonah was chosen by God to go and tell the city of Nineveh that God had fixed a day of judgement on them, because of their evil ways. Their sin.
Jonah chose to run away from God’s call and set sail in the opposite direction.
God was consistent in His call to Jonah and inflicted a storm that risked the lives of all on board the ship.
It soon became clear that Jonah was the point of the storm and so he allowed the sailors to throw him overboard in order that they would be saved.
God sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah.
He spent 3 days and 3 nights in that fish, calling on God.
God was merciful and had the fish vomit Jonah back onto dry land.
God then called Jonah to prophecy to the people of Nineveh, and he obeyed.
There is more to the story, but today I want to focus on chapters 1 & 2.
So who is the main character of the book of Jonah?
As with the whole of the Bible, the main character is God. The very purpose of the book of Jonah, as with the whole Bible, is to reveal the character and nature of God. To give God glory! To reveal who we are in light of the author of the Bible. To point to our need of God, and His solution in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
As one writer put it…
“Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God!”
The main character of the Book of Jonah, is God.
God has a message for us from the book of Jonah.
Our faithful God calls us as obedient servants to fulfill our appointed part in His purpose, that sees us share and experiencing His message of hope and deliverance in a world of hopelessness .
The word of the LORD came to Jonah, son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah 1:1-2
Jonah like all prophets, was given a message by God and he was called to speak it. A clear and concise message. “Go!” A call to preach repentance. To preach against Nineveh. In essence, Jonah was called to be a foreign missionary. God had chosen Jonah as His servant, to broadcast the knowledge of God.
In the same way we too have a call from God. Each and every one of us. You see, at the heart of the Lords plans, are people. You and I. The church.
We have been called to salvation in Christ. Our highest calling.
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. 2 Timothy 1:9
We are all called to live in the new life we have in Christ. Our common calling.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13
We are each individually called to serve God in a specific way as He has planned it. Our specific calling.
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
1 Corinthians 12:18
Where ever we are, we are placed there by God. In the same way that Jonah was called, so are we.
What is God calling you to do, to be, and in what place?
Jonah, like all prophets, like us, was given a message by God and he was called to speak it. A clear and concise message. “Go!”
And all God’s call required was Jonah’s obedience.
But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. Jonah 1:3
Jonah’s response to God’s calling was to flee. He doesn’t argue with God about the mission, he simply runs from it. An in-your-face act of disobedience. A futile attempt to run from the Lord. Jonah was opting out from the service of God.
We will look next week more closely at why Jonah might have abandoned/ignored/run from God’s call. But let’s be clear, it was a stubborn determination to disobey God’s call/instructions.
He ran/sailed toward Tarshish which was the farthest known city in the opposite direction than Nineveh.
Jonah must have known in his heart that it is impossible to escape from God. He would no doubt have heard the words of the Palmist…
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. Psalm 139:7-8
But sin has a habit of warping the thinking. What he knew in his head was distorted by a mind set on disobedience. Jonah was running from the presence of God.
As those called by God, all God requires of us is obedience.
Are you being obedient to God’s calling?
Highest calling – salvation. New life in Christ?
Common calling – sanctification. Becoming more and more like Christ?
Specific calling – to serve in a way God has planned specifically for you?
Are there situations from which you are running?
Separating yourself from the Christian walk or the place God is calling you to serve in?
Jonah made a futile attempt to run from the Lord. An act of blatant disobedience.
Jonah’s disobedience required God’s loving discipline. God has many ways of bringing our sins to light before us and it often starts with a journey into hopelessness.
Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. Jonah 1:4-5
Now this was no ordinary storm. This was a divinely created storm. A storm that sort to draw Jonah back to his divine appointment, his calling. The sea was God’s means of disciplining Jonah. Jonah’s guilt was exposed.
We see again that God is not out to punish Jonah, but to turn him around and restore him. And so he puts Jonah in an impossible situation that requires divine help.
I don’t know what storms of life you are facing. Maybe none, maybe some, maybe many? Some may be the result of your own wilful disobedience, others might be through circumstance. God tells us that everything is for a purpose.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
The key is our response to storms…
Living in a state of despair. Groan with self-pity and see our world falling apart. Like a rudderless ship, we are tossed about at the mercy of the storm/situation.
Fearful. Paralysed by fear. Unable to do anything.
Rely on our own abilities to resolve issues. Like the sailors hurling cargo overboard, praying to worthless idols or trying to row for shore against a divine storm.
Ignore and seek to escape like Jonah did.
In life we face storms from time to time. His purpose is that those who belong to Him through faith in Christ, should learn to trust Him more through the storms. The aim is that the believer will become more like Christ – a process called sanctification. When the storms of life come our way, we need to look at them from a divine perspective. What is God seeking to do in me and through me?
Jonah’s reaction to God’s obvious tap on the shoulder? Confession.
Firstly a confession of truth…
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Jonah 1:9
Jonah confessed the truth of the person and calling of God on his life. The very God he had attempted to flee from.
Secondly a confession of responsibility.
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” Jonah 1:9-12
He willingly submits to the consequences of his own disobedience, and not wanting others to die on his account.
It is necessary for us to feel the anger and discipline of God and to be driven into confession and submission. In this we then begin to rest in the hope we have in Christ.
Because remember, the Lord’s purpose was to restore Jonah from his self-inflicted disobedience. There was hope. And that hope came in the form of a huge fish.
Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:15-17
Jonah was thrown into the sea, swallowed by a great fish - God delivers Jonah from a watery grave.
But there is another deliverance.
In spite of his reluctance to preach to the citizens of Nineveh, Jonah ended up being part of revealing God to a group of sailors. This reluctant missionary was part of God’s mission. The irony here is that Jonah fled because he didn’t want to preach God’s word, but now inadvertently he had been the instrument to bring the knowledge of the true God to this group of men.
At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. Jonah 1:16
Distress led to hopelessness led to hope. Hope led to deliverance. Deliverance led to worship.
God’s deliverance brought Jonah to the point of a renewed devotion to God.
In chapter 1 we see Jonah run away from God, in chapter 2 we see him run to God in prayer.
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said:
“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’ ”
Jonah has experienced a change of heart. His arrogance has given way to humility. Rebellion to submission. He is now responding to God with thankfulness and hope.
Let’s be honest, nothing can led us more effectively to thanksgiving to God than if we consider what He has saved us from. And for Jonah, it was sure death.
So what does this amazing event in the life of Jonah teach us about His God, our God? How do they point us to Christ?
There is no escape from the Almighty God – His work must/will be accomplished.
Everything is an instrument in His hands and leads to the glory of His name.
God is a gracious God. The Lord takes the initiative and steps in with strength and purpose in Jonah’s life. Jonah and the sailors could do nothing to satisfy the wrath of God against sin/disobedience, but God takes the initiative and steps in with grace and power. Jonah is aware of how much he was indebted to divine grace.
Jonah recognises by personal experience that “salvation” is from God. He needed salvation as much as the Ninevites, as much as the sailors. Salvation is by grace. Salvation is from God.
The Christian gospel is unchanged. Humanity is still perishing and God is still saving those who cling to Jesus Christ, the only saviour for sinners.
But not just salvation from sin at our initial point of deliverance. God’s persevering grace that teaches us, disciplines us as He did with Jonah. This is a lifetime work. The Lord’s continuing work to mould us and shape us into the likeness of Christ. We are saved (highest calling) and we are being saved (common calling-sanctification).
The events in Jonah’s life are an image of the work of Jesus Christ. An image of the death burial and resurrection, of Christ. Jonah was stuck in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, a reminder of the Son of God lying in the tomb.
As Jesus said himself in Matthew 12:38-41
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.
The only hope of salvation for those sailors, and as we will hear next week for the people in Nineveh, lay in Jonah’s death, the dying of one for many. Their life depended on his death. Sacrifice. As Jesus said the sign of the prophet Jonah, was to point to Christ.
Proof of obedience is when we simply obey God no matter how many, or impossible, the obstacles we may meet or imagine. When we follow God with closed eyes, He will lead us, strengthen us, prepare us and provide all we need in order to fulfill his calling.
And so this reluctant prophet is given another chance to serve his Lord.
And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 2:10
What Has God called you to?
Are you obedient to that call?
What is your response to the storms of life? When things seem hopeless?
What is your hope in?
Have you experienced and continue to experience the true deliverance that God provides through Christ?
We serve a faithful God. An almighty, gracious, merciful God
Our faithful God calls us as obedient servants to fulfill our appointed part in His purpose that sees us share and experiencing His message of hope and deliverance in a hopelessness world.