The Jonah Files
Text: Jonah 1
Proposition: In every chapter of Jonah is a redemption theme that not only chronicles history but stands relevant for today.
Introduction: It was about 930BC and there was civil war in Israel. Ten tribes pulled away and became the northern state of Israel. The other two tribes occupied the area in and around Jerusalem and were called Judah. For the next 300 years this civil war would assault the resources, faith and hope of the people making them weaker and weaker. Throughout that time God used a number of prophets to call the kings and their peoples to repent. Besides Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel we have the record of 12 others referred to as the Minor Prophets, their writings being much shorter than Isaiah or Jeremiah’s. The Minor Prophets section of the Bible is seldom read, even the names and order of the books are unfamiliar to most. Over the next weeks I’d like to introduce you to some of these 12, to listen to what they did, what they said and to see the hand of God working to reach the world through them. So this morning let’s take a look at the first of these Minor Prophets, the first meaning chronologically he was the first to be called into action. Jonah’s story is unusual in many ways, he struggled with resentment, resisted repentance and was reluctant in obedience. It was about 60 years after the civil war had begun, the northern state of Israel was about to be targeted by the Assyrians. It’s to this people, the Assyrians, that God now sends Jonah. Turn to Jonah 1.
I. The Most Amazing Thing About Jonah Isn’t the Big Fish, It’s the Bigot.
Right at the outset we hear Jonah receiving his orders, a directive that he knows is from God and is sending him into the heart of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. Jonah is no stranger to Gods’ directives, just read 2 Kings 14:25 to see how he was used to advise king Jeroboam. But this time the directive is to go to a people that were more ruthless that the SS, more cruel and sadistic than any other nation Israel had interacted with. Jonah doesn’t hesitate, he directly resists the will of God, he leaves the area where he lived just north of Nazareth and goes to book a ship to Spain. Jonah, who knows the power of God, the holiness of God and the justice of God is yet now willing to forfeit his relationship with God and to try to flee from the presence of God, that’s what it says twice in verse 3. Why, what was there about this assignment that would cause a prophet to respond so poorly? It would be dangerous if not deadly to go to Nineveh. But I don’t think it was this that made Jonah run, I think it was his belief that God could turn the hearts of these wicked Gentiles to Himself. Jonah reveals as much in chapter 4:2, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” It’s hard to imagine but Jonah’s knowledge of God did not overcome his contempt for the Assyrians. It was so deep that he was willing to lose relationship with God, fleeing from His presence if that were possible. A bigot is a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people either for their ideas, actions or beliefs. Jonah hated the Assyrians, perhaps because they were Gentiles, perhaps because of their cruel ways, perhaps because of their beliefs, their language, their clothes. We may disagree deeply with the beliefs of others, we make take great offense at what they do but the people themselves we are not to hate. So the real miracle in chapter one is not that God could use a big fish to accomplish His will but rather that God could use a bigot beyond their natural desires, beyond what they feel is just, beyond what offense has been committed. Here’s the catch, bigotry comes in all sorts of sizes and shapes. The issues that you may have against another have the same seeds of resentment in them that polluted Jonah’s thinking. Where can’t you go, who can’t you talk to, what can’t you say, if you can answer these questions then you begin to see a Nineveh of your own. You have to remember that of all the people God could choose for this mission He chooses a man He knows has a great contempt for the Assyrian people which God earnestly wants to reach. Why?
II. The Grace of God Pursues Us, Strips Away Hiding Places, Exposing Truth.
Jonah’s strategy is to blend in, to go below deck and find a warm dark place and do nothing, just sleep. So nothing happens, there is no thunderbolt or loud voice scolding Jonah, the ship leaves port and all looks normal. God permissively allows us to sin, to see the error yet to choose not to turn from it. All this may happen yet it has not disappeared from God’s view or His presence. When the ship is far enough out to sea God pursues Jonah with a storm that made seasoned mariners fear for their lives. In other words this was no small squall, this was a scale of wind and wave action that they knew the ship could not withstand. The sailors do what they can, they dump the cargo, they cry out to their sea gods but nothing helps. Then the captain of the ship goes and finds Jonah still asleep in hold even though the ship is tossing and taking on water. You can’t help but see some comparisons here to the time that Christ was in a storm at sea, when the disciples were sure all was lost. In that case Jesus chides them for their lack of faith, in this case it’s the captain who chides Jonah for his lack of faith, for sleeping when he should be calling on God, the very God from whose presence Jonah was trying to hide. So they get Jonah up on deck and they conclude this unnatural storm is happening because of something someone has done. They cast lots, like casting a stones that have two sides, if one side comes up on all the stones as they cast them in front of each man then that indicates their answer. It was random chance, it was sailor’s superstition, it was natural cause in a storm, all things we typically don’t imagine a God of absolute sovereignty using. Notice that not once does God speak directly to Jonah here, He allows His voice to heard through the wisdom and actions of people who were Gentiles. The voice of truth is clear, the cause of this storm is Jonah and they order him to identify himself, what is his occupation, where is he from, who are his people? Jonah tells them he is a Hebrew who fears the Lord, the Lord who made the sea and the dry land. Jonah also tells them it is this very God that he has chosen to disobey. There it is, the truth is out, God has pursued Jonah, stripped away his hiding places and exposed the truth and then God uses the voice of the sailors one more time. “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”It was an invitation for Jonah to repent, to cry out to God for forgiveness and the waters would have been calmed, Jonah would have been returned to port and gone to Nineveh. But it’s not what Jonah did, instead what Jonah suggests is that they throw him overboard as a sacrifice for their lives to be spared. Amazingly the sailors are not willing to do this, it would be murder in their eyes and they resist the idea trying as hard as they can to row out of a storm. Then in desperation they cry out, “ We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.” They get it, God is sovereign, He can do as it pleases Him. In this particular case God called a man, allowed the man to refuse Him, gave the man room to run in order to save yet others, superstitious sailors who would be ambassadors of the truth they had witnessed. But Jonah, he’s a study in being stuck in sin. Jonah chooses to die, to be thrown overboard rather than repent and ask God for forgiveness. In the midst of his rebellion he pretends a noble solution but it is assisted suicide, an act of punishing 500,000 Assyrians. They throw Jonah into the sea and abruptly the storm is gone. The connection in their minds is evident, this is a divine action, they were absolutely right. The men feared the Lord, offered sacrifices and took vows. Jonah on the other has this sinking feeling, prepared for death he had no expectation that God had prepared for life. In an instant he is caught, kept, contained and compelled, in utter darkness, in bone chattering cold, in a suffocating place that denied death and left him there for three days.
It might sound strange but all of this was a demonstration of God’s grace, a saving grace to be sure but a preserving grace for the drawing of an unrepentant heart.
The parallels in Jonah to Jesus are many, hints at redemptions plan, glimpses of a Savior. There are nudges to see the sovereign ways of God, to see the lengths God will go to turn a sinful heart and the consequences that a stubborn non repentant heart brings, these are some of the lessons from the Jonah files.
As you look up through the dark waters from where Jonah is you can see a ship moving forwards, the storm is over, judgment has passed and those on board have safety and are thankful for it, believing one has died to enable their freedom. It is the gospel that you see. It’s God whispering to the world back in 850BC, the Savior will come and surrender His life for the sake of your ransom from sin and I will set you free in Him. That’s the first part of the Jonah files.