Category Archives: Jonah

Jonah 2: The difference between knowing it and living it

Growing up, L.swim was always one to push the boundaries. To see how far he could PUSH HIMSELF. Including LEARNING TO SWIM. And his courage would normally go beyond his abilities.

We’d be in the pool together, I’d be holding him. He thought he could do it on his own, without my help. He’d push away from my arms, so I’d let him go, and then watch as he’d slowly sink below the water, with a surprised look on his face.

I’d leave it a couple of seconds to teach him a lesson, then pull him up again, spluttering and coughing. This time, he’d be clinging firmly to my arms – the same arms he’d pushed away a moment earlier.

Jonah’s like THAT. He wants to be independent from God. He thinks he doesn’t need to submit to God’s command. God ends him EAST, Jonah heads WEST. God says, GET UP, Jonah goes DOWN. God says PROCLAIM, Jonah says NOTHING.

And in the end, he asks to be thrown into the boiling ocean, and he starts to sink. Just like Lachlan. He’d rather DROWN, than do things God’s way.

But as he sinks below the waves, as everything goes quiet, it seems like Jonah has A CHANGE OF HEART. He realises he’s NOT independent. And he calls out to God. He reaches out to the God who’d reached out to him. But it’s taken the threat of DEATH for him to respond.

And Chapter one finishes with God providing a great fish to swallow Jonah, and SOMEHOW Jonah’s ALIVE, rather than FISH FOOD.

Jonah’s prayer

And then in Ch 2 we get to listen in on Jonah’s prayer. It’s a prayer that reminds us of a psalm. In fact, it’s like a giant mishmash, or collage, of bits and pieces of about THIRTY psalms.

And the FIRST thing to notice is that it’s A PSALM in the middle of NARRATIVE. A POEM. And it’s very different from the PROSE style of writing before and after it.

A bit like songs in musicals. I’ve got a confession to make – I quite like musicals. I love the music, and the emotion, and the story telling. Daniel thinks they’re WEIRD. Characters just burst into song at the most inappropriate times. The scene is the middle of a deadly warzone, or a greasy garage or a vicious street fight. And an orchestra suddenly starts playing from somewhere and everyone begins singing. There’s a jarring juxtaposition. It’s a contradictory combination.

And that’s what it’s like here. A strange, unrealistic setting. Jonah sloshing around in the dark, in the belly of a fish. And he’s praying POETRY.

And at first reading, it sounds like a GOOD prayer. But I reckon when you look a little closer, the writer’s making FUN of Jonah. He’s MOCKING him. It’s a PARODY of a prayer. Satirical. And we learn as much about Jonah from what he DOESN’T say as what he DOES.

Let’s look at the START of the prayer. V2.

“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.

Jonah’s remembering what happened when he was thrown out of the boat. He was about to drown, when he decided that perhaps he didn’t WANT to drown. And so he CALLED OUT to God.

It’s a word we’ve seen a few times already in Ch 1. Right back in Ch 1v2 God commanded Jonah to CALL OUT to Nineveh – same word. But Jonah DIDN’T.

Then down in v6, the ship captain told him to CALL OUT to his God, but he STILL didn’t. He’s God’s prophet, but he won’t PRAY to him. Everyone ELSE on the ship is praying – but not JONAH.

But NOW, FINALLY, with his life on the line. Jonah decides to CALL OUT. He doesn’t care enough about NINEVEH to call out for THEM. He doesn’t care enough about the SAILORS to call out for THEM. But he cares enough for his own miserable skin.

And so he PRAYS. And it seems like he borrows bits from every Psalm he can remember. It’s a FRANKENSTEIN Psalm. Bits of this-and-that all stuck together to make a MONSTER.

It’s almost like he can’t think of anything to pray for himself. He’s praying from the textbook. Like people who pray the Lord’s Prayer, or the 23rd Psalm, or a Hail Mary as if the words have some magical power of their own. Does he know God WELL ENOUGH to pray his own words?

For example, there’s bits of Psalm 69 in there.

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. 3 I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.

Or Ps 130.

Out of the DEPTHS I cry to you, O LORD; 2 O Lord, hear my voice.

The Psalmist is struggling with the enemies of life, and it’s LIKE he’s drowning in water. It’s a METAPHOR. But for Jonah, the drowning IS REAL.

And even though Jonah’s hardly praying his OWN words. And even though he’s a hypocrite who cares more for himself than anyone ELSE. The amazing thing is God HEARS his prayer. And DELIVERS him. Jonah says “You LISTENED to my cry! (v2) I don’t DESERVE it, but you LISTENED!”

Jonah continues remembering what he’d gone through. V4. Most people, when they’re faced with death, say their LIFE flashes before their eyes. But as Jonah sinks down, it’s the TEMPLE he’s thinking about.

4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’

As Jonah’s about to die, it’s not HIS OWN SIN he’s concerned about. Repenting. It’s not the salvation of the foreign nation of Assyria. It’s not zeal for God’s glory, or a desire to obey him. He wants to be back in Jerusalem. In the temple.

It’s like the reluctant traveller. When everything’s going wrong, the roof leaks, the car’s broken down, the luggage is lost. He’s a long way from home, uncomfortable and upset. And he says, “I just want to be home, in my own bed, with a nice cup of tea.”

Jonah just wants to be back at the temple. Home. Close to God. Which is ironic, really. Since Jonah’s the one who’s run AWAY!

But perhaps now he realises his mistake. And he’s making a fresh start. Perhaps he’s thinking of Ps 65. It’s ALSO about the holy temple. Like V4.

4 Blessed are THOSE YOU CHOOSE and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of YOUR HOLY TEMPLE.

The temple’s a great place to be. God give his people wonderful things – forgiveness and blessings. Who wouldn’t want to be there!?

It’s like Jonah’s completely forgotten the REASON HE’S WHERE HE IS. Because he’s RUN AWAY from God. There’s no recognition of his own sin. He just wants everything to go back to the way it was.

Or maybe Jonah’s thinking of Psalm 5. ALSO about the holy temple. Perhaps it reveals a little more about what Jonah REALLY thinks. Psalm 5 begins

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. 2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.

Right where Jonah’s at. And then it goes on to talk about what God thinks about SINNERS. V4.

4 You are not a God who takes pleasure in EVIL; with you the WICKED CANNOT DWELL. 5 The ARROGANT cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. 6 You DESTROY those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD ABHORS.

Is THAT what Jonah’s hoping God will do to Nineveh? We only find out when we get to Chapter 4.

But the Psalm continues. And this is where Jonah sees HIMSELF fitting in.

7 But I, by your great MERCY, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your HOLY TEMPLE.

Is Jonah so focused on the temple because it’s what will SEPARATE him from the WICKED GENTILES? From the Ninevites? Is that where HE belongs, but not the people God’s sending him to?

There’s certainly no indication yet that he’s changed his mind about God’s mission for him.

He continues with his prayer in v5. More colourful descriptive language. Engulfing waters threatening. Seaweed wrapped around his head. Sinking down to the roots of the mountain. As low as you can go.

And then, v7, he recalls how, when his life was fading, he REMEMBERED God, and he finally PRAYED.

It all SOUNDS fine. It SOUNDS like he’s had a change of heart. That he’s willing to get back on the job of delivering God’s message to Nineveh. That he recognizes they DESERVE a chance. But then we get to v8.

8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

The word for GRACE is HESED – God’s covenant faithfulness to his people. And Jonah’s saying that Gentiles – those who worship idols – those like the sailors who tried so hard to SAVE him- have made their choice. They’ve chosen their path. And they don’t deserve anything of the faithfulness God shows to his people.

Verse 8 shows Jonah STILL doesn’t understand God’s mercy to the nations.

And it’s THEN we realize what Jonah HASN’T said. There’s NO REPENTANCE. There’s no mention AT ALL about Jonah’s actions that resulted in him being here in the FIRST place. That he’s ignored God, and is running hard in the other direction.

He’s praying as if he’s a righteous saint bearing the scorns of wicked men!

It’s like the apology that’s not an apology. “I’m sorry, BUT you…” “I’m sorry that you’re angry at my behavior” They’re not APOLOGIES!

And our suspicions about Jonah are confirmed when we get to v9. What Jonah plans to do NEXT.

9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.”

Sinners deserve judgment. But not JONAH. His prayers been answered, so he’ll offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Not a sacrifice of SIN OFFERING, mind you. He doesn’t think he NEEDS to repent.

He’s going to make good his vow. But what’s his vow? Is it to go to Nineveh? I don’t think so. He hasn’t shown ANY inclination to go THERE yet. But he HAS vowed to go back to God’s holy temple! (There in v4) That’s what he REALLY wants.

And his plan seems to be to head straight back to Jerusalem to offer his thank sacrifice at the temple. And everything can go back to NORMAL!

It’s laughable! A prayer that’s not a prayer. A confession that’s not a confession.

So what does God think of Jonah’s prayer? He doesn’t even need WORDS. V10.

10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it VOMITED Jonah onto dry land.

God’s CALLED him, he’s CHASED him. He’s TURNED things UPSIDE DOWN to turn Jonah around. And Jonah STILL thinks he’s right, and everyone else is wrong. Still thinks he can just head back home and everything can go back to the way it was before.

Jonah’s ALIVE, but he’s still a long way from God, a long way from Nineveh, and a long way from HOME.

And we’ll see how the story unfolds NEXT WEEK.

The difference between Knowing It & Living It

So what lessons do we learn from Jonah?

Jonah’s a little bit like looking in the mirror. It’s meant to be humorous and satirical. As we chuckle at Jonah’s hypocritical blindness. At his unrepentant self-centredness, at his blatant judgmentalism. We’re forced to recognise something of those characteristics in OURSELVES.

We’re forced to ask ourselves whether WE’RE more interested in our own self-protection, than with growing God’s kingdom.

More interested in being COMFORTABLE among the SAINTS/ than being CONFRONTED by the LOST.

Particularly, in Ch 2, we learn there’s a huge difference between KNOWING the truth and LIVING the truth. Between TALKING THE TALK, and WALKING THE WALK.

Jonah knew the vocabulary. The Psalms and the temple. He knew the right things to SAY. He knew what God was LIKE. But it didn’t seem like his HEART WAS REALLY IN IT.

He KNEW it, but he didn’t LIVE it. Even though he KNEW that God was merciful and compassionate and forgiving, it still didn’t stop him running away from God. He talked the talk, but wasn’t walking the walk.

And there’s a bit of that in ALL of us. We KNOW that God is the God of the whole world. That he deserves the loyalty of people EVERYWHERE. Yet, we ACT as if he’s only interested in OUR LITTLE GROUP. And we’re not willing to look outside.

We KNOW that God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only Son that WHOEVER believes in him won’t perish but have eternal life. But we ACT as if God only loves THE ELECT, and that he wants to keep his message to himself.

We KNOW that God forgives ANY sin. That his capacity for patience and mercy are far greater than our human capacity for SIN. But we ACT as if some people are too far gone for God to reach. We walk around them, pretend they don’t exist. Or don’t bother with them, because we feel we’ve got nothing to offer them.

We SING and SPEAK of God’s powerful mercy. We REJOICE in his forgiveness of US, while we sit COMFORTABLY in our little Christian ghetto. As people all around us continue blindly living in rebellion against God.

Jonah wanted to head back to the temple to offer his sacrifice of thanksgiving. But what God wanted was the sacrifice of OBEDIENCE INSTEAD.

How are WE like THAT? How do we prefer to be WARM and COMFORTABLE and CONTROLLED, rather than OBEDIENT and UNCOMFORTABLE, and just a little bit OUT of control?

Just sit back for a moment. This won’t hurt a bit. I want to take a spiritual thermometer to measure your spiritual temperature. This spiritual thermometer is called RICHARD. You may have noticed him. He’s the homeless guy who’s been camped out in our grounds for the last couple of months.

What’s your REACTION been as you’ve seen him? Has it been to go and TALK to him? To find out how you can HELP him? Or is it to secretly wish he’d quietly move on, so things could go back to normal – neat and tidy and comfortable?

And what’s your MOTIVE for that? Is it for RICHARD’S benefit, or YOURS?

Now, I’m not sure WHAT the SOLUTION is for Richard. I’d love any ideas you’ve got. He says he’s LOOKING for accommodation. But he’s struggling to FIND any in his price range.

But perhaps we need to ask what JESUS would do? What’s the wise, loving, compassionate thing to do? The thing that will help RICHARD the most, rather than the solution that will make OUR LIFE EASIER.

And what about what Richard means AS A TEST CASE? What SHOULD our relationship be to the needy people around us here at Ashfield?

I think I know what JONAH would do. But what does GOD want us to do?

Jonah was content with offering a sacrifice of THANKS. But God wanted FAR MORE than that. He wanted a LIFE of sacrifice. He wanted Deeds. Not just words of songs and prayers and amens.

It was to people like Jonah that God spoke these words through Hosea. Hosea 6:6.

6 For I desire MERCY, not SACRIFICE, and ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD rather than BURNT OFFERINGS.

God’s not interested in dispensing mercy to US/ while we’re not interested in showing mercy to OTHERS. Mercy that has HANDS and FEET, and not just EASY WORDS.

God went to great lengths to bring Jonah to Nineveh. God has gone to even GREATER lengths to bring salvation TO US. It cost him the LIFE of HIS ONLY SON. He loves the lost THAT MUCH.

Do you long for the lost as much as God does?

John Ch 4. Jesus is speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. A rejected, shamed sinner. But Jesus offers her living water. The true life of forgiveness and restoration.

She goes into town, tells everyone, “Come and see the man who told me everything I ever did.” They come out of town, and head towards the well, where Jesus and his disciples are waiting.

Jesus looks at the crowds heading towards him, and says, (Jn 4:35)

I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

Are OUR eyes open to the fields ripe for harvest? Do we KNOW the people out there in Ashfield? Do we TALK to our neighbours, or the other dads on the soccer sideline, or the people in the supermarket queue.

When we SEE them, we’ll begin to KNOW them. When we begin to KNOW them, we’ll see that they’re RIPE FOR HARVEST.

Matthew records ANOTHER occasion Jesus spoke about the same topic. About what we DO about ripe harvest fields. Mt 9:36.

36 When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is PLENTIFUL … but the workers are FEW. 38 ASK the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out WORKERS into his harvest field.”

Jonah didn’t pray. He didn’t want to KNOW. He didn’t want to GO.

God calls us. Jesus calls us. To Open our eyes and SEE. Then he calls us to PRAY. Then he calls us to GO.

Will you LISTEN? Will you GO?

Jonah: Not a false prophet – just a very bad one!

The funny thing about Jonah is that it’s not really prophecy at all! There are only eight words of prophecy in the whole book! (Jonah 3:4) It’s more about the prophet than the prophecy.

But it’s even more about God than about Jonah. God is the Creator and King of the whole universe, but he chooses to work out his purposes using people like Jonah. In fact, he does it DESPITE Jonah. And chooses whom he will show his compassion, love and forgiveness to.

2 Kings 14:25 is the only other Biblical reference to Jonah. It tells us that Jonah prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II (793-753 BC).

Assyria was the most powerful nation of Jonah’s day, and Nineveh was her capital. Assyria eventually captured Samaria, the capital of Israel, and conquered Israel in 722 BC.

Jonah 3: A big wake-up call

The surgeon sat down behind his desk. He flipped through the folder, double-checking the results of the CT scan. He took a deep breath, looked up and started, “There’s no need to do a fine needle biopsy to know it’s serious, we know the lump’s malignant … this is serious, this is VERY serious.

“It’s either a lymphoma or a muscular sarcoma. If it’s a lymphoma, your prognosis is quite good. Unfortunately, normally with a lump like yours, it’s a muscular sarcoma. And if that’s the case, there’s no treatment. You’ve got a maximum of six months to live.

How would you take news like that? Less than six months left to live. There’s nothing like a brush with to get your attention. It’s the biggest wake-up call there is.

This was the news a friend of mine received about a number of years ago. It started with a visit to his GP because of a lump he had in his pectoral muscle. This led to an ultrasound. The ultrasound led to a CT scan. Which in turn took him to the surgeon’s office.

Listen to what my friend wrote later about that meeting.

“As I left his office so many thoughts raced through my mind.  There was nothing new in being told I had a terminal illness – after all – we ALL have a terminal illness. We all die eventually.

The thought of my own didn’t worry me, but not being there for my family was an immediate concern.

I tried to pray, but I did not know what to pray. I had spent my life praying for people who had walked through such difficult times, but I was not experienced at praying for myself.

Questions raced through my mind.  How do I tell my wife?  My children?  We long to protect our loved-ones from pain, not to INFLICT it.  All I could hear were the words “muscular sarcoma” and “six months”.  Should I pray for a miracle cure?  After all, surely God was capable of such things.

It was a strange and unforgettable time as I paused on the hospital steps.  The reality of God’s presence in the midst of this was undeniable.  I was convinced that I was dying, and yet it was not the hope of some miraculous cure that sustained me.  The great confidence came from the doctrine of providence.  I was reminded that God was not just the creator of every cell in my body, but he sustained each one, the malignant and the benign.

God had not lost control and nor should I.  His providential care meant that nothing could separate me from his love.  His providential care meant that he was the God of my wife and my children.

My prayer was simple, “Lord, let me die well.”  My mind went to others I had seen die of cancer, how they had died in the Lord and died well.  I was reminded of what a strong testimony this is to the grace of God and prayed that should my ministry be in rather than in life, that it might still resound to God’s glory. I reminded myself of the importance of rejoicing in God’s sovereignty.”

That’s what my friend thought about as the dark shadow of loomed over him. God, in his wisdom, decided to heal him. After six months of chemo, he’s been in remission for more than two years. And everything looks clear.

There’s nothing like A BRUSH WITH DEATH to get your attention. To clarify your priorities. It’s the biggest wake-up call there is

Jonah

A brush with death. And a wake up call. It’s what we see in the book of Jonah. TWICE. First, Jonah HIMSELF experienced it in Ch 2. In the middle of the sea. In a wild storm. Thrown overboard. Sinking like a stone. Gasping for breath.

And his thoughts finally turn to God. The only one who can help. He calls out to him, “Save me, God! Rescue me!”

And God does. A giant fish swallows him. And Jonah can hardly believe it. He’s still alive. He’s grateful, and he wants to head back to Jerusalem to off a sacrifice.

God causes the fish to VOMIT Jonah up. And that’s where we take up the story in Ch 3. Jonah’s on dry land, safe and sound. Perhaps just trying to get his bearings about what direction JERUSALEM is.

And the word of the LORD comes to Jonah A SECOND TIME. Same as before. V2. Almost exactly the same words as Chapter 1. Same destination, same JOB, same message.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and PROCLAIM to it the message I give you.”

The only “proclaiming” he’s done SO FAR is calling out to God in prayer to save HIMSELF.

LAST time he heard this command Jonah ran away. And things didn’t turn out so well! What will he do THIS TIME? When the call comes to Jonah THE SECOND TIME?

Jonah may not be much of a prophet, and he may not be the sharpest tool in the shed  – trying to run away from the God who made everything – but he’s not THAT STUPID.

God obviously means business. So THIS time, v3, Jonah OBEYS the word of the LORD. His near death experience has given him A WAKE UP CALL. It’s made him realise how DUMB it is to run away from God.

The Ninevites

But Jonah’s not the ONLY one who has a near-death experience. The NINEVITES do TOO. A brush with death, and a wake up call.

Because when Jonah finally makes it to Nineveh, he gives them God’s message. And it’s pretty simple. And straight to the point. See it there in v4?

“Forty more days, and Nineveh will be destroyed”

It would have taken Jonah a month or two to travel to Nineveh. Plenty of time to work up a real BEAUTY of a sermon. Well-structured. Full of illustrations. Engaging. Powerful. Interesting. But the best he can do is-  “Forty more days, and Nineveh will be destroyed”.

It’s a message that’s nothing more, nothing less, than A DEATH SENTENCE. There’s no “TWO WAYS TO LIVE”. There’s no message of hope or forgiveness. No choice.

There’s no “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.” No favourable odds. No radical surgery. No experimental drugs. “Forty more days, then judgment.”

What do you do with a message like that?

It’s the decision patients who are given only weeks to live have to make. When the doctor says, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more I can do.” Do they just give up, and withdraw? Sit in a corner and feel sorry for themselves? And just fade away?

Or do they get out and ENJOY their time?

And HOW do you enjoy your time? Do you satisfy YOURSELF? Or do you do something BIGGER and BETTER? Leave a legacy behind?

Some people might dive right into SELFISHNESS. Live life to the full. Max out the credit card. Rob a bank. Party. Indulge in pleasures. Eat, drink and be merry.

Others might just gather their family and best friends around them, and just ENJOY them. Take everyone somewhere wonderful. Blow all the savings.

The historian Thucydides, records that in 430BC a terrible plague hit Athens. People were faced with death every day. They could die within days.

Their response? They committed EVERY HORRIBLE CRIME, and engaged in EVERY LUSTFUL PLEASURE they could. They believed that life was short, and they would never have to pay any penalty.

And perhaps that’s what we’d expect from the Ninevites.

But it didn’t happen like that. Because the message cuts them to the core.

Forty more days. Six weeks. Then, just like that – NOTHING. That’s was the MESSAGE they heard.

But it’s a brush with death that sends them a huge wake up call. It’s like the threat of death shone a bright light onto their lives. Showing up all the filth, and wickedness, and violence, and anger and rejection of God. All the shameful acts and thoughts and words. All the worthlessness, and futility, and selfishness and wasted opportunities.

Jonah’s message CONVICTED them. A message from God himself. They recognised their sin. And they did something about it. v5.

(Jonah 3:5 NIV)  The Ninevites BELIEVED GOD. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

Jonah barely gets the message out, and people are off and running. It’s a HUGE city. Three days journey to cover it. And Jonah barely makes it into the first day. “Forty more days, and Nineveh’s destroyed,” he says. Hardly an extensive media campaign. But the news spreads like wildfire. Bad news can BE like that.

Like police going door-to-door evacuating houses. “Quick! Grab your kids, your keys, and your pets! And get out of here! The bushfire will be here WITHIN THE HOUR. And you’ve got to leave NOW!” Short, sharp and to the point.

When the news is that desperate, it’s no wonder it travels so quickly. One person tells two, who tell four, who tell 8, who tell sixteen. Before long, it reaches the king. And he, too, is cut to the core. Look at v6.

(Jonah 3:6-9 NIV)  When the news reached THE KING of Nineveh, HE rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. {7} Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or BEAST, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. {8} But let man AND BEAST be covered with sackcloth.

Everyone’s to fast. Animals TOO. He even wants the ANIMALS wearing sackcloth! And the king’s humbled too. Like all the rest, he wears sackcloth. Mourning for his sin. From the TOP of society to the BOTTOM.

But more than that, PLEADING WITH GOD to change his mind. V8

Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. {9} Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

The very thing Jonah has been so reluctant to do. To CALL OUT. But it’s the FIRST thing the king wants people to do.

And do you see what he’s hoping for? Perhaps there’s a chance! Perhaps God MIGHT change his mind.

On the face it, it just looks like wishful thinking, doesn’t it. After all, there’s nothing but misery in that message. No hope. 100%. Definite. Destruction. “40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” But WHO KNOWS!

And yet, if you think about it, perhaps there IS some hope.

Because if God really DID send Jonah, like he says. If he’s gone to all the trouble of chasing Jonah, and giving him a message, and leading him all the way to Nineveh , then just perhaps, he’s expecting some response from them.

If he really WAS determined to destroy them, then why bother sending Jonah? Why not just ZAP ‘EM?

And so the king thinks, “Don’t just give up. EVERYONE – animals included – fast, weep, mourn, pray, repent. WHO KNOWS? Maybe, just maybe, God might show compassion, and turn from his anger.” We’ve got nothing to lose!

2. Repentance

Let’s look at their reaction. And LEARN some things from it.

The first thing to notice is that it was based on CONVICTION FROM GOD’S WORD. God spoke. And the people BELIEVED him.

You know, human beings are the only part of God’s creation who gets a choice in the matter. When God’s speaks to ANYTHING ELSE, it LISTENS.

God spoke, and light came out of darkness.

God spoke, and the waters above separated from the waters below.

God spoke, and mountains rose up from the ground.

God spoke, and stars burned.

God spoke, and birds flew, fish swam, fruit trees grew.

And when God spoke, the Ninevites believed God. The recognised him. Recognised his claim on the world. And they recognised his claim on THEM.

Their conviction came from God’s word.

And the second step in repentance. THEIR CONVICTION WAS SEEN IN SORROW. When you recognise God, and you see where you fit in to his world. You catch a glimpse of how far you are from being the sort of person he made you to be. And you see something of the disappointment and hurt he feels. And the only appropriate response to that is SORROW.

But sorry isn’t enough. The sorrow has to stir you to ACTION. Many people caught up in drug addiction, or sexual immorality, or pornography, or gambling are MISERABLE. There’s plenty of SORROW. But it’s often SELF-PITY.

But that’s a long way from repentance. Which is what we see HERE. How do we KNOW? Because, you see, TRUE SORROW leads to ACTION. That’s the third step.

Look at what the people do. There’s the EXTERNAL actions. The sackcloth and ashes. The fasting. Signs of grief and mourning.

But more than that, the king calls them to PRAY. To plead their case before God. To recognise that, of all the PEOPLE they’d sinned against, it was against GOD that they’d sinned the most. HE was the one they needed forgiveness from. Pardon.

And he was the only one who could GIVE it. The only one who could remove the shadow hanging over them. The shadow of death. HE was the one who controlled their destiny. And so they call out to HIM.

But they don’t just leave the ball in God’s court. The king calls them to GIVE UP their EVIL WAYS. To TURN from the violence. To turn over a new leaf. There’s INTERNAL change too.

That’s what GODLY sorrow does. TRUE repentance is seen in A CHANGED LIFE.

If YOU’RE stuck in some sin. And you don’t know where to turn. If you’ve repented again and again. But there’s no change. Let me ask, what ACTIONS have you done that SHOW your repentance?

Who have you asked to CHECK on you? A more mature Christian who you TELL about your temptation, and who you give permission to ASK you?

What changes have you made to your surroundings? If there’s a particular time or situation that makes it more difficult for you. Then CHANGE it. Do things DIFFERENTLY.

True repentance is seen in ACTION.

Which is what we see at Nineveh.

Well, what does GOD think of this? That’s what it’s all in aid of. It doesn’t matter what anyone ELSE thinks. God’s the one they need to convince.

Had they done enough? Were their actions extreme enough? Were their prayers earnest enough? Was their repentance complete enough?

3. Mercy

And Verse 10 tells us that God DOES take notice. He DOES see all their actions. He sees all the sackcloth, the fasting, the animals all walking around in hessian sacks. He hears all the prayers.

But what’s more important, he sees CHANGED HEARTS. Genuine, repentant, turned-around lives. And that’s something you can’t manufacture or pretend. Look at v10.

(Jonah 3:10 NIV)  When God SAW what they did and how they TURNED from their evil ways, he had COMPASSION and did NOT bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

The king had hoped that if the PEOPLE/ TURNED from their evil ways, then GOD might TURN from HIS anger.

And he did. His anger was replaced with compassion. His justice with forgiveness. His judgment with MERCY. WHICH IS WHAT HE’D WANTED TO DO ALL ALONG. The whole reason he called Jonah, and brought him all the way from Israel in the FIRST place.

It’s what he ALWAYS wants from people. That’s his DESIRE. 2 Peter 3:9: God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

He LONGS for people to recognise him. And so he gave us JESUS. And he gave us the BIBLE. So that we might HEAR God’s word. And be CONVICTED by it.

And then, that conviction might lead to SORROW. And that sorrow might lead to ACTION. A repentance. A turning around. A turning away from our old way of doing things. To doing things GOD’s way.

God wants us to repent like the Ninevites. Is that something YOU need to do?

And that’s not just something you do ONCE. But something you KEEP doing.

You see, the original audience for the book of Jonah was ISRAEL. It was written as a wake-up call to ISRAEL. People who’d grown COLD to God. Who’d heard all the warnings, read all the books. Listened to all the prophets. Repented and sacrificed again and again. But who’d wandered away.

The prophet Amos lived at the same time as Jonah and he gives us some idea of how wicked and corrupt Israel had become. Amos says that the Israelites were caught up in sexual immorality, they were abusing the poor and the widows, they denied justice to the oppressed. Greed and self-centredness could be seen everywhere.

And through the book of Jonah, God is saying, “ISRAEL, YOU NEED TO REPENT LIKE NINEVEH. Just like the king and his people. Whole-hearted, sorrowful, prayerful, complete, repentance – that’s what I’m after. If THEY can do it, how MUCH MORE can YOU do it?”

Nineveh didn’t KNOW the covenant God of Israel. They had none of the privileges Israel had. The king’s command was to pray. “WHO KNOWS? God MIGHT turn from his anger. We don’t really KNOW.”

But Israel DID know. They DID know that God was gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love.

And WE know God’s character even BETTER. Better than Nineveh, and better than Israel. We’ve seen him most clearly in Jesus. In his life and in his death. We’ve seen the compassion and the love and the forgiveness and the mercy and the patience.

Do WE recognise our sin, like Nineveh? Are we CONVICTED, and SORROWFUL for our sin?

And does it lead to ACTION? Are there REAL CHANGES that SHOW the genuineness of our repentance?

Or is it all just WORDS, and STAYING WHERE WE ARE.

And the message of the book of Jonah gives us CONFIDENCE to ask God’s forgiveness. If God can forgive NINEVEH, then he’ll forgive anyone.

And that’s good news for us as we TELL that message to people. Because if God can turn NINEVEH around then he can reach ANYONE.

The good news about Jesus can change the high court judge, or the prostitute. The University academic or the bikie. The radical feminist or the broken, depressed, single mum.

NO-ONE is beyond God’s reach.

And, what’s more, God brought about repentance USING JONAH. If God can use JONAH to achieve his purposes, then he can used ANYONE. Even ME. Even YOU!

If you think about it, there are always plenty of opportunities to introduce your friends to God. Workmates, family, neighbours, acquaintances. LOOK for the opportunities. PRAY for them to happen. Pray for the courage to TAKE them.

Don’t be comfortable like Israel. Don’t take God’s mercy for granted like Israel. Let’s remember the mercy God’s shown US. And let’s pass it on.

Jonah 4: Man Spat out by Fish Spits Dummy

chariots

We love movies with happy endings. The hero rescues the child. Or wins the sporting contest. Or the boy finally gets the girl. Or justice prevails.

In fact, it’s almost taken for granted that when Hollywood makes a movie, it’s going to finish with a happy ending.

So I reckon if Hollywood ever gets around to making “Jonah the Movie”, it will stop at the end of Ch 3.

Because THAT’S a happy ending, isn’t it? Jonah arrives in Nineveh, after a series of adventures. And he delivers his message. The suspense builds. What will the people do?

They repent and pray to God.

The suspense STILL builds. But what will God do? Will he destroy them, or not?

And then the climax. God forgives them. The whole city. And he DIDN’T do what he’d threatened.

It’s the big finale. The epic ending. Imagine the camera panning away from the city, with everyone cheering, and laughing. Hugging each other!

And the final credits roll.

But that’s NOT the way the story goes. It DOESN’T finish with chapter 3. Because that’s not the point of the story.

The major point of the story is NOT that Nineveh is saved. As wonderful as that is. It’s NOT a story about the saving of Nineveh.

(Perhaps if the book had ended at Ch 3, we might have been able to argue that.)

But the book of Jonah is about GOD. Who he is. What motivates him. And how Jonah fits in to his plans. Or DOESN’T fit in – which is perhaps more accurate.

Because the chapter starts with Jonah unhappy. That’s actually a bit of an understatement. In v1, he’s GREATLY displeased, and ANGRY. It’s literally, “Jonah was angry with great anger, and he was incensed!” Just in case you don’t get the point the FIRST time.

Everyone ELSE is cheering. But not Jonah. You’d think he’d be pretty PLEASED with the result. After all, 120,000 people saved. It’s not bad for one day’s work. The most successful missionary ever! But instead he’s angry.

Angry that God’s been COMPASSIONATE AND GRACIOUS. Jonah even says that’s why he ran away IN THE FIRST PLACE.

The funny thing is/ Jonah didn’t seem to mind that God was compassionate and gracious when he was sucking in lungfull’s of water on the bottom of the sea! He quite LIKED the fact that God was gracious THEN.

What did he say back there in Ch 2? “You listened to my cry. You brought my life up from the pit. Salvation comes from the Lord.”

But here in Ch 4, he’s NOT so pleased with God’s compassion. In fact, he’s SO angry here, he says he wants to DIE.

And THAT’s funny too. Because when he was drowning in the storm, he suddenly decided that he didn’t WANT to die. And so he prayed that God would be … GRACIOUS to him.

And yet here, he’s SO angry that God’s compassionate that he wants to DIE. What a short memory he’s got!

So WHY does he get so angry at God’s COMPASSION? Have a closer look at exactly what he says. V2.

“O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

At the very least, he’s saying that it’s all been a waste of his time. He’s angry because he could have been doing something else. God was going to forgive them from the very beginning – because THAT’S WHAT HE’S LIKE.

Or perhaps he was angry because of the harm it would do his reputation as a prophet. He’d SAID God would destroy Nineveh. And then it didn’t HAPPEN. And now Jonah’s got a black mark against his name. What good is a prophet if his prophecies don’t come true?!

But I think there’s a third reason Jonah’s so angry. And it fits the big themes of the book. Look back at v2. What he says there about God is an exact quote from Exodus 34. Where God gives his people, Israel, the Ten Commandments. And he promises to BE THEIR GOD.

And as God passes in front of Moses on Mt Sinai. This is what he says about himself. About how he will act TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE ISRAEL. It’s from Exodus 34

(Exo 34:5-7 NIV) Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. {6} And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, THE COMPASSIONATE AND GRACIOUS GOD, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS, {7} maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

And Jonah quotes what God said to Moses. You see what Jonah’s saying? “This is the way you act towards ISRAEL. You made a covenant WITH THEM. And then you tell me to go off to Nineveh, with a message that THEY need to turn to you.

And I know what YOU’RE like. You’ll go ahead and FORGIVE them. Even though they don’t deserve it. And then I’ll have to SHARE you. And I’m not sure I want to DO that. ESPECIALLY with Nineveh!

It’s ISRAEL you’re supposed to be compassionate and forgiving and slow to anger to. No-one else.”

On top of everything else, Jonah runs away because the message God wants him to preach contradicts how he sees Israel. Privileged and SPECIAL. A nation who’ve got God all to themselves.

Like an only child who starts to misbehave when a new baby arrives in the family. Suddenly he’s no longer the centre of mum and dad’s attention.

And he starts to muck up. Tries to get that attention back. “Hang on a minute, I’M the one who’s supposed to get the hugs, and the games, and the time. “Who’s this competition?” And suddenly a new baby sister isn’t such a special idea after all!

And that’s the way Jonah’s behaving. Like a spoilt older child.

In fact, you could say that Jonah is the very OPPOSITE of God. Even in what Jonah HIMSELF says about God. Have a look at it for a minute.

God is gracious, but Jonah’s UNGRACIOUS. Unwilling to put himself out even a little bit for anyone else.

God is COMPASSIONATE, but Jonah LACKS compassion. He fails to see helpless, ignorant masses. All he can see are strange, dangerous enemies who deserve death.

God is SLOW to anger. But Jonah is QUICK to get angry. When things don’t go HIS way, he loses his temper and wants to die.

And finally God ABOUNDS in love, but Jonah’s UNLOVING. He’s more concerned that his prophecy is FULFILLED than that people are SAVED.

In the story of Jonah the painful contrast is there. God – with a heart for the lost. Jonah – with NO concern for the lost.

And it’s a PAINFUL contrast, because as we LAUGH at Jonah. At his hypocrisy, and narrow-mindedness. At his childishness and selfishness. We find we’re laughing in the mirror. Because we see the same attitudes in ourselves.

Now I want you to imagine that those two represent either end of a scale – God on one end and Jonah on the other. The scale is a measure of a person’s concern for the lost – for those who don’t know God. God’s a “ten”. And Jonah’s a “zero”.

What would you SCORE yourself out of 10? What sort of concern do YOU have for the lost? Especially those people you don’t particularly LIKE? Be honest!

We’d like to think that Jonah’s attitude doesn’t exist these days – but let me tell you about something that happened not so long ago. Back in 1796 the Church of Scotland – that’s us Presbyterians – was considering starting a Foreign Mission Program. They wanted to establish a program to take the message of Jesus to those who hadn’t heard. One minister opposed it. Listen to what he said. He said: “To spread abroad the knowledge of the gospel among barbarous and heathen nations seems to me highly preposterous.”

That sort of talk obviously sits right on the JONAH end of our scale.

But what about YOU? Where do you fit on the scale? What sort of concern do YOU have for the lost?

  1. How do your PRAYERS reflect that? Do you regularly and fervently PRAY for your friends and family who are lost? How long do you keep it up for?

A number of years ago I heard Dudley Ford speak at Men’s Convention, describing how a friend of his finally became a Christian after 50 years! For 50 years Dudley had been talking to him and praying for him. And in God’s time, Dudley was able to lead this guy to Christ. What perseverance that must have taken. What faith. And prayerfulness and patience.

  1. What sort of TIME are you putting into cultivating relationships with non-Christians? Do you see that as VALUABLE time? Or WASTED time – time better spent doing something more IMPORTANT?
  2. How does your GIVING reflect that concern? Are you giving generously to GOSPEL ministry? Gifts that will help people spend their time telling people the most important news they can ever hear. That Jesus died for their sins, and that God offers us a free friendship. Does your GIVING reflect your concern for the lost?

So there’s Jonah. Angry with God. And God, quite rightly, asks him whether he has any RIGHT to be angry. V4.

But Jonah doesn’t answer. Perhaps he goes off to sulk. He heads outside the city. Sets up his little sunshade. And sits down to wait.

You see, the forty days isn’t up yet. And even though he knows that God’s turned from his anger. He’s still hoping that perhaps he’ll have second thoughts. Or that the people’s repentance won’t last the forty days.

The Ninevites had hoped that God would be merciful. But Jonah’s hoping he WON’T. And that God will destroy Nineveh.

And if he does, Jonah’s got a front row seat to the whole spectacle. Close enough to see all the action.

But notice how he stays far enough away to stay safe? He obviously doesn’t want to die TOO badly!

And so God decides to teach him a lesson. In v6 he provides A VINE. And it grows up over Jonah’s sunshade and makes a lovely cool covering.

And rather than being very ANGRY, now Jonah’s very HAPPY.

But it’s only step ONE of God’s plan. As well as providing a VINE, in v 7, next day he provides a WORM and a SCORCHING east wind.

And while the worm’s nibbling through the stem, the wind’s dehydrating the plant. And just in time for the burning midday sun, the vine withers away.

And Jonah’s happiness and comfort becomes DISCOMFORT and DEPRESSION. The end of v8. “It would be better for me to DIE than to live!” AGAIN. What a drama queen!

And once again the question comes from God. V9. “I’ve already asked if you’ve any right to be angry about Nineveh. But what about the VINE? Do you have a right to be ANGRY about THE VINE?”

And, this time, Jonah replies. He couldn’t care less about the CITY. But the VINE – now that’s a different story.

“I do. I’m perfectly justified. I’m angry enough to DIE. How terrible that the vine died! I really miss that vine! What a waste!”

And now God’s got him hooked. And so he reels him in. The whole episode with the vine has been to teach Jonah a lesson. To help him to see things God’s way. v10.

But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. {11} But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

And God’s point is clear. You, from completely SELFISH reasons, were concerned that THIS VINE died. Even though it’s only been there for a day or two.

How do you think I feel about NINEVEH? Over 120,000 people! HOW MUCH MORE should I be concerned for that great city?

And the last words in the original are “and many cattle as well.” God’s even concerned about CATTLE! That’s how big his heart is for his creation!

And the really beautiful detail comes from how he describes Nineveh. They can’t tell “their RIGHT hand from their LEFT”. That’s most probably a reference to God’s law. He’s saying, “Israel’s got SO MANY PRIVILEGES. Prophets, the law, kings, judges. The writings. All the guides to teach them what’s right and wrong. All the privileges that come from being in a COVENANT with God. All the signposts showing them which direction to go.

But what have NINEVEH got? NONE of that!

What about YOU? How much privilege do YOU have?

  1. You’re AUSTRALIAN. Free to study the Bible, and worship God, and meet with other Christians. Even to have Scripture in Public Schools. These are privileges many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries can only DREAM about. What have you DONE with that privilege?
  2. And you’re EDUCATED. That gives you such an advantage when it comes to learning about your faith. What have you DONE with that?

How much Church history do you know? What is the Presbyterian denomination about? What do you know about theology? Are you clear how the church explains the nature of Jesus. Fully God and fully man. Or the Holy Spirit? Or justification? Or how the Scriptures were written? Or how we came to have the Canon of the Bible as we know it today? Or how Christianity compares to the CULTS – like Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses?

And how do you use your education to help others? Those who can’t read, or speak English, or struggle to fill in tax returns, or have never learned parenting skills. Or communication skills. Or how to access various government departments. Or who need help studying.

How much have you used YOUR EDUCATION as a tool? What have you done with that privilege?

  1. Third, you’re WEALTHY. How do you use your MONEY? But not just cash. Homes and cars and books and technology and tools. All RESOURCES we can use for the kingdom. What have you DONE with that privilege?
  2. And many of you have Christian PARENTS. You’ve had a great heritage in the faith. Watched their example closely. Learned how to live as a Christian over decades. How to persevere. How to face trials, and sorrows. How to make decisions. How to think Christianly about priorities. THAT’S a privilege. How are you passing that on to YOUR children, and the people here at church? What have you done with that privilege?
  3. And our denomination has a great FOCUS ON THE BIBLE. Explaining God’s message CLEARLY. Not clouding it with man’s opinions, or razzle dazzle, or focussing on emotion, or performance. We’ve got such a head-start on the road to Christian maturity.

What have we DONE with that privilege? Are we squandering it? Taking it for granted? Sitting on our backsides, getting more and more settled, more and more comfortable. Learning more and more information.

But not becoming any more like Christ. Not encouraging OTHERS to become more like Christ. Not spreading the light and salt of God’s forgiveness to those around us. What have we DONE with that privilege?

And it was the same with Israel. All that PRIVILEGE. But Nineveh had NONE of it! No law. No warnings. No guidance. No prophets. They’re as helpless as children who don’t know their right hand from their left.

Sure, they’re wicked. Sure – they deserve to be wiped out. But that’s no easy decision. It’s not one that God makes EASILY. As Jonah selfishly mourned over the vine that died, how much more does God mourn over the destruction of the wicked?

Ezekiel 33:11 puts it like this

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!

Surely, says God, they deserve a CHANCE! After all the chances Israel’s had, surely Nineveh deserves ONE SIGNPOST. One offer to choose the right or the left.

And he hasn’t changed. He STILL takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. It’s how he feels about YOU.

And he’s gone to no less trouble to send YOU that same message. A warning. A signpost. Not a prophet from Israel via a whale. But he’s sent his OWN Son from heaven to earth. An even GREATER rescue mission. This is how John describes it in John 3.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

And THAT’S what God sent Jonah to do. To sound the warning. To offer them the choice of TWO WAYS TO LIVE. Belief or unbelief. Life or death. Salvation or condemnation. And the people HEARD it. And chose LIFE. And so God REJOICES that he doesn’t have to destroy the wicked.

Just as he’ll rejoice when ONE OF YOU heed the warning.

And that’s one of the reasons God’s putting up with the suffering in the world. Because he wants as many as possible to CHOOSE LIFE. And so he’s patiently enduring this rotten planet. He’s not SLOW to bring about his promise. He’s PATIENT. And MERCIFUL.

He gave Nineveh forty days. Who knows how long he’ll give THIS WORLD?

The book of Jonah finishes with the question ringing in the air. “Shouldn’t I be concerned for that great city?” “Shouldn’t I be concerned for that great city?”

Because it’s a book about the mysterious, inscrutable ways of God. Who demands justice and mercy and righteousness. Who, in perfect justice, could wipe out us all. As a potter squashes the clay pot that hasn’t turned out straight.

But who in mercy and love wants a restored relationship. And who repairs the relationship, provides the just payment, bridges the gap. And who despite infinite power, waits patiently for his creatures to respond.

“Shouldn’t I be concerned for that great city?”

And the question on God’s lips is left hanging. Jonah doesn’t respond. The chance to respond is left TO US. “Shouldn’t I be concerned for that great city?” “Shouldn’t I be concerned for that great city?”

And the task of Jonah becomes OUR task.

Millions of people out there in Sydney, who don’t know their right hand from their left. God says “Shouldn’t I be concerned for THIS great city?”

What about YOU? How concerned are you? And what are you going to DO about it?

 

Jonah 1: The One That Didn’t Get Away

jonah2Jonah and the big fish. It has to be one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. Up there with Adam and Eve, Moses and the Red Sea, and Daniel and the lions. It’s a kids picture Bible favourite.

That bit about the big fish swallowing Jonah, then vomiting him up on the beach. It’s fantastic! Makes for great illustrations!

But the story of Jonah and the big fish isn’t really about Jonah. And it’s not really about the fish either. It’s a story about GOD.

A story about God’s justice and mercy. About God’s heart for the lost, and his willingness to forgive.

Jonah is there BY WAY OF COMPARISON to God. He’s the JUDGMENTAL one called to deliver God’s message of MERCY. The UNFORGIVING one called to deliver God’s message of FORGIVENESS. He’s the RACIST called to deliver God’s message of LOVE.

Jonah might have his name in the TITLE. But he’s hardly the STAR of the SHOW. It’s a story that MAKES FUN of Jonah. We’re MEANT to look at Jonah, and LAUGH. To recognize how RIDICULOUS it is for Jonah to run away from God. How HYPOCRITICAL it is for him to plead for our OWN life, but not be willing to plead for the lives of the LOST. And how BLIND and OUT OF STEP with God he is when he’s ANGRY that God shows MERCY.

He’s a prophet alright, but he’s not a very good one. And just about everyone else in the story comes off smelling sweeter than Jonah!

You see, Jonah’s NOT the book you study for tips on how to do effective evangelism. Or ministry in urban areas. Or cross-cultural mission. It’s really the opposite. How NOT to do these things.

Let’s study Jonah – by all means. But let’s learn from him what NOT to do! Because it’s really about a GOOD MISSIONARY GOD, rather than a good MISSIONARY.

We don’t know a lot about Jonah. In fact, there’s only one other reference in the Old Testament to him. And it’s in 2 Ki 14:25. And all it tells us is that Jonah was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel, during the time of King Jeroboam the second.

We also learn he came from a little town in the north west of Israel, up near the Sea of Galilee, called Gath Hepher. In fact, it’s only 5 km from the town of Nazareth, where ANOTHER prophet would grow up about 800 years later.

And that’s where Jonah was doing his prophesying. In a tiny country town, a long way from the city. Telling God’s word to the people of Israel.

And it was a time when people NEEDED some encouragement. Around 800 to 750 BC. Because things weren’t going too well for the nation. The king was evil. There was a bitter civil war with Judah, and Israel seemed to be on the losing end.

Nineveh

And to make matters worse, a dark, ugly, shadow was looming on the northern border. The nation of Assyria was threatening.

Assyria were vicious, and greedy. And they’d severely punish any surrounding nations who wouldn’t pay their tribute money. Nations like Israel.

Assyria had the reputation for being ruthless in battle. Historians tell us that when they took over a town in battle, they would take any survivors and impale them on stakes in front of the town. Or cut off their heads and wear them around their necks.

And the CENTRE of the whole show was Assyria’s capital. Can you guess what its name was? Nineveh!

Listen to what the prophet Nahum has to say about Nineveh.

(Nahum 3:1-4 NIV) Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! {2} The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! {3} Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses– {4} all because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.

Just the sort of city you’d like to visit for a spot of sight-seeing. A cross between Baghdad, Bangkok, and Kings Cross. Except 100 times worse.

And so it’s perhaps not surprising what we read in the first couple of verses of Jonah.

(Jonah 1: 1-2 NIV) The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: {2} “Go to the great city of NINEVEH and preach against it, because its WICKEDNESS has come up before me.

God SEES the great wickedness of Nineveh, just like he sees EVERYTHING. And he’s had enough. And he decides to do something about it. His patience has run out. They need to know what God thinks about their sin. So he’s going to send them a message.

What was God thinking?

Which is where Jonah comes in. Jonah THE ISRAELITE. From the nation next in line to be conquered by Assyria. The nation who HATES them.

And he chooses Jonah the COUNTRY-BOY. Sent to the big smoke. A city of 120,000 people Chapter 4 tells us. Probably more people than Jonah’s ever seen IN HIS LIFE.

Most country people HATE the city. And Jonah was probably no different. Sent to a PEOPLE he can’t stand. In a PLACE he can’t stand.

“What was God THINKING?”

(pause) Do you ever wonder whether God’s made a mistake? You look at who you are. And you look at the job he’s offering you, and you just shake your head!

I can’t POSSIBLY… teach that Scripture class. Or lead that Bible study group. Or Youth Group. Or witness to that person at work or school. Or go to Bible College and train for full-time service. Or go door-knocking. Or stand up for Jesus in front of my friends.

It must be a mistake. God must have chosen the wrong person.

And yet that’s the way God so often works. Uses the people we’d least expect. To do the sort of work we’d least expect. To achieve his wonderful, UNEXPECTED ends.

Are YOU missing out on being part of God’s purposes because you think you’re not up to it? What might God want YOU to do? To step out in faith and TRUST him for?

What was JONAH thinking?

(pause) So that’s God’s command. “Go to Nineveh, and preach against it”. He literally tells Jonah to ARISE and go to Nineveh.

That’s what some other versions say. Perhaps he’s sitting down on the job. Sitting on his porch, just checking out the sunset.

And God tells him to ARISE. Well, what does Jonah do? He arises alright! Look at v3. He gets UP/ to go DOWN. I’m going to read from the New American Standard Version.

3 But Jonah ROSE UP to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went DOWN to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went DOWN INTO IT to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

 

God says get UP and go to Nineveh. But Jonah goes DOWN instead.

Have a look at the map (show o/h). God says “Go to Nineveh. And Jonah heads for Tarshish. God says go EAST. Jonah goes WEST. Completely in the other direction. You can hardly find two places further apart. A complete rejection of God’s plans. Absolute disobedience.

Now, we don’t know WHY Jonah disobeys. At this stage, we can only guess. You have to wait to Chapter 4 to find out. But it’s fair to say he doesn’t like Assyrians. Perhaps he’s not keen on big cities. Perhaps he’s just lazy, and likes sitting on his front verandah. But for whatever reason, he heads in the other direction.

And WHY? V3 To FLEE from the Lord. To go somewhere God ISN’T.(pause) What was Jonah THINKING?

Because there’s NOWHERE that God isn’t. Nowhere his eye doesn’t SEE, his ear doesn’t HEAR, or his hand can’t REACH. Playing hide-and-seek with God is a game you’re NEVER going to win!

Which is something Jonah discovers pretty quickly. Look at v4.

(Jonah 1:4-5 NIV) Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. {5} 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.

 

God sends the wind, and blows up a great storm. Just as easily as you or I might make some waves in the bath to upset our rubber ducky .

And the sailors dial the wrong number. They pray to their gods. Each to his own idol. There they all are. Lined up on the deck. One idol after another. But none of them are able to do anything.

And then, in the end, along with the rest of the luggage, they get thrown overboard. Because they’re useless.

The storm rages on.

Eventually the sailors find Jonah, asleep below deck. He’s gone DOWN again. And once again, the call comes, “ARISE!” First from God, then from the sailors. Jonah seems to spend most of his time lounging around. Getting told to get up! A bit like some teenagers!

And the captain says, “Call on YOUR God. We’ve tried all OUR gods. Maybe YOURS will take notice, and we’ll be rescued.”

He asks him to CALL OUT to his God. Same thing God asks him to do back up in v2. To CALL OUT against Nineveh.

But Jonah’s not interested in calling out to ANYONE.

And so they cast lots to see who’s responsible. And since God’s in control of everything, he makes the lot fall on Jonah. It’s all HIS fault.

And then comes twenty questions. V8. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from? What is your country? And what nationality?

Words and actions

And then Jonah answers. God’s commanded him to PROCLAIM. But these are his first words. They’ve been a long time coming, and they’re hardly worth the wait! V9

(Jonah 1:9 N1V) He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.

You could have fooled me!

His WORDS say he worships the LORD, but his ACTIONS say something different. He’s “worshipping”, if by “worshipping” you mean he’s running away from God in the opposite direction. Ignoring him, and doing anything BUT obeying him.

And that’s, sometimes, what WE do, isn’t it? Our WORDS say we’re Christians, but our ACTIONS say SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

That’s what it was like with ME when I was at High School until I was about fifteen. Trying to be ONE thing on a Sunday, (Mr Super-Christian) but being something different for the rest of the week – trying to fit in with my mates. Swearing, telling dirty jokes. No different from them at all.

Saying ONE thing. But LIVING another. I was talking the talk, But not walking the walk.

Maybe it’s time for YOU to get serious about your ACTIONS measuring up to your WORDS.

Has a non-Christian friend ever said something like, “What are you doing that for? I thought Christians are supposed to be DIFFERENT?” Family are often good at that! And it’s TRUE – we ARE supposed to be different.

And sometimes they’re RIGHT! What message are YOUR actions speaking?

(pause) But back to Jonah. Look at what Jonah CALLS God. Even in his disobedience. He gets God right. “The God of HEAVEN, who made the SEA and the land”.

He’s no tribal god. Some local, mini-god. Minister in charge of crops, or rains, or wine, or fertility. This is the ONE god. The Supreme God. The CREATOR God.

And while Jonah mightn’t realise the significance of what he’s saying, the SAILORS certainly do. Look at v10.

(Jonah 1:10 NIV) 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.)

“You’re trying to run away from the God who MADE EVERYTHING. Where did you think you could GO?

And you’re running away on the OCEAN/ from the God who MADE the ocean! You idiot!”

Meanwhile the storm’s getting wilder. Jonah tells them the only way to stop the storm is to throw him overboard. I think he’s expecting to DIE.

He’d rather DIE than deliver God’s message to Nineveh. Apparently Jonah’s like 23% of people in a new survey who’s greatest fear is public speaking. They fear it more than dying! They’d rather DIE than speak in public! Perhaps that’s you! Seems like that was the case with Jonah, who’s given up.

But these are noble men. THEY’RE not giving up. They don’t want to see anyone perish. Morally, they put Jonah to shame. So they bend their backs even harder, and try to row out of trouble. But it doesn’t make any difference.

Finally, at their wit’s end, they pray. And this time, they dial the RIGHT number. They pray to the TRUE God. And that’s more than JONAH’S done. The word for “CRIED to the Lord” is “PROCLAIM”. CALLED OUT. Same as the captain wanted Jonah to do back in v6. But Jonah who SAYS he worships God hasn’t prayed to him ONCE, while the Gentile sinners DO. Look at v14.

(Jonah 1:14-15 NIV) Then they cried to THE LORD, O LORD (that’s Yahweh), please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased. ” {15} Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.

 

The God who’s MADE the sea/ finally gets his message through. And he gets Jonah.

And the very bad prophet Jonah/ has his first converts. Without a prayer being offered – at least not from Jonah.

Jonah – Disobedient, without compassion, prayerless. But he’s the means God uses for these Gentile sailors to come to fear God. Look at v16

(Jonah 1: 16 NIV) At this the men GREATLY FEARED the LORD, and they OFFERED A SACRIFICE to the LORD and MADE VOWS to him.

 

God even uses sinful Jonah to achieve his purposes. He’s such a skilful craftsman he can use even the dullest, bluntest, most bent tools to fashion something wonderful. In fact, he GLORIES in using such poor instruments. Because that way, he’s the one who gets all the acclaim.

(pause) But God’s not finished with Jonah yet. This was only the trial run. The destination is Nineveh. And he’s a long way from Nineveh. Bobbing up and down in the ocean.

But once again, it’s God who’s in control. Look at v17.

(Jonah 1:17 NIV) But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.

 

And Jonah’s on his way again. But that’s another story. And you’ll have to wait until next week.

If God can use JONAH…

(pause) So what’s the point of Ch 1? It’s this… If God can use JONAH, then God can use YOU!

Jonah’s meant to be an ENCOURAGEMENT to us. Not because he’s such a great example to follow. But because he’s the OPPOSITE. We’re meant to look at Jonah. And laugh.

He’s not interested in anyone but himself. He’s quite happy operating in his own, comfortable, controlled patch. He doesn’t particularly want to be stretched, or pushed, or challenged.

He’s not interested in obeying God, or being part of his plans. He thinks he can run away from God, and do his own thing.

And aren’t all of those things/ things that WE do sometimes?

How ENCOURAGING that God still used Jonah. Despite all his failings. God pursues him relentlessly, refusing to give in. Working storms, and dice, and giant fish so that Jonah can’t get away.

And that’s the wonderful God we serve. A God who’s interested in the fate of ALL human beings. And who works his plans so that PEOPLE EVERYWHERE might come to recognise his majesty, and might, and power and holiness.

And, just like the sailors on the boat, come to FEAR him, offer their lives to him, and vow to SERVE him.

(If you’re not a Christian, perhaps God is working circumstances in YOUR life so that YOU might learn to fear him. Working jobs and storms and difficulties and happy coincidences and meeting new people and losing things and finding things. He can use ALL sorts of things to drive you to himself.

God loves you SO MUCH, he’d do ANYTHING. In fact, he DID. Not sending Jonah from Galilee. But sending Jesus, his ONLY Son, to earth to die a criminal’s death. To win you back. That’s how much you mean to him. Despite your failings. Despite your running away from him and doing your own thing.

Will you accept his gift of forgiveness?

But if you ARE a Christian, just like Jonah, you have A PART in those plans. Introducing people to the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.

Jesus commands US to go and make disciples of ALL nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything he has commanded us. To get up. And to go OUT.

To move beyond our comfort zones, and outside of our areas of expertise. Even right here in Ashfield. In our streets. With our friends and neighbours.

Will we obey him, or will we run away?