I cried like a baby.
The other day I stumbled across a YouTube clip. It was of the ending to Homeward Bound. Have you ever seen that? It’s a Disney movie – great family movie by the way – it’s about 3 animals – a funny boxer, a sassy Siamese cat and a wise, old Golden Retriever that think their owners run away from them. They drop them off at a doggie day care and the animals get away. What results is a wise cracking, heartwarming, courageous Disney adventure through the wilderness.
But near the near of the movie, right before they get home. Right before they find their owners – the old dog, Shadow. Falls into a pit. He hurts his legs. He can’t get out. The camera pans out as the golden Retriever does one of the saddest puppy dog faces you’ll ever see and sinks into the dirt.
The movie continues. The family is shown having a BBQ – at this point assuming that they’ll never see their animals again –when they hear a bark. The Boxer comes running up and licks the boy’s face. Then, they hear a meow. The feline bounds over to her owner for hugs and cuddles.
But then, there’s a pause. The music gets real sad. Zoom in on the oldest boys face with disappointment that his Golden Retriever didn’t make it. He turns to return to the house.
But then, over the hill, limping, dirty, panting, comes the Golden Retriever.
That’s when I lose it.
But it’s so wonderful. That’s love. The dog relentlessly pursues his friend – He doesn’t want to lose him. His love was so great that nothing could separate him from the one he loved.
Today we’re going to begin our series called Runaway – and throughout this series we’re going to hear about a man named Jonah. Have you heard of him – Jonah and the Big Fish OR Jonah & the Whale. But this is more than just another good idea for a Disney movie. Because within the very real story of Jonah, there are some very truths that we need to consider: (1) what running away from God looks like (2) Why it’s a horrible idea & (3) why God relentless pursues runaways.
Before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Jonah Runs
Take a look at Jonah 1:1. The story starts like this: The Word of the Lord came to Jonah. I think that’s interesting. The whole story starts with God speaking to Jonah. Maybe it was a dream. Maybe it was a vision. Maybe God spoke directly to him. Whatever way it was – there was no that this message was from God.
God had a task for Jonah “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
A little bit about Nineveh. Nineveh was a large city. Estimates are at close to 1 million people. It was on the harbor. It was very rich. Yet as large and rich as it was, there were scarcely any worshipers of the true God and even fewer people who lived according to God’s Word. They were sexually immoral, rude, violent, and greedy.
It’s a huge city.
It was an anti-God city.
And God wanted Jonah to go tell them they were wrong.
Does that sound easy? It’s not like God told Jonah to go find a few of the believers and say to them, “C’mon guys. You know we probably shouldn’t be saying those words. Let’s clean up our language or I’ll have to give you a noogie!”
This is way more intimidating. God told Jonah to go tell a people who don’t believe in God that the God whom they didn’t believe in would destroy them unless then turned to belief in him.
And it wasn’t like Jonah just had to tell a few people. If that were the case – Jonah could have just ran in, found the smallest 5 year old available, mentioned something about God and got out of there. Nope. Jonah wasn’t supposed to tell just a few people, but the whole city!
So. Look what Jonah does. “Jonah ran away from the LORD.” He headed to Joppa. He hopped on a boat to Tarshish which was the western-most city in the ancient world. It was the farthest place int he opposition direction. He was trying to get out of God's jurisdiction.
But it wasn’t enough. He walked down the stairs to the lower part of the ship. He searched for a small, compact space and when he had found it he wedged himself between two boxes. He draped a blanket or two or three over himself. And breathed a sigh of relief. “God won’t find me here.”
He drifted off to sleep.
He thought he had run away from God.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever run from God? Got up from church and bolted out of these doors? Probably not. Maybe you’re thinking, “I would never do what Jonah did. I would never run from God.”
But…notice when Jonah started running from God. It wasn’t when he got on the boat; it wasn’t when he got to port; it wasn’t when he packed his bags. It was before that.
It was when he decided not to listen to God.
Understand this: Running from God starts with not listening to His Word.
It doesn’t mean that you sprint out of the church service.
It doesn’t mean that you literally run away with your hands over your ears whenever you hear Amazing Grace.
It doesn’t mean that you get in your car after church today and drive until you reach San Francisco.
If you’re not listening to God, you are running from him.
I’ve run from him.
In fact, I’m all too good at running from him.
II. God Catches up
But maybe it’s not a big deal.
You ever done something wrong before and not been caught? Me too. Maybe you stole a pencil from work and now have over 17 in your car dashboard. The wrong is no big deal anymore and you think nothing of it.
You can sleep without any problem.
Like Jonah. He slept at the bottom of the bottom a deep sleep. He dreamed of being in Tarshish far away from his responsibilities in Nineveh. Maybe there were lollipops and rainbows there. He probably sat on a hammock under a tree being fed the finest Tarsishian grapes available.
BAM! A large wave crashed against the side of the boat. Jonah awoke to a bottle of beer rolling across the lower deck floor.
Jonah closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep.
CRACK! A bolt of lightning went off as the doors to the cabin flung open. A quick series of thuds followed as crew members trudged downstairs. “Guy! Hebrew man. What was his name? Jonah! Jonah are you here! We need you.”
Jonah pretended to be asleep.
Suddenly the blanket was torn off of his head. The men began shouting at him. It was a storm – a terrible storm. There weren’t going to make it. They had tried bailing water. They had tried throwing cargo overboard. Each man had tried praying to their gods – the wind god, the rain god, the lightning god – but it wasn’t working! Was it him? Could he do something? Could he speak to his God & save them?
Jonah explained. “Yes, he could save us. He could save us, because I serve the only God – the God of heaven and earth…. but…”
A glimmer of hope appeared in the men’s eyes. They rushed him upstairs to the captain’s office where more men were busy praying to their respective God’s. Jonah closed his eyes. He mumbled to fit in. But his heart wasn’t in it.
They were interrupted by a deckhand in a panic! “We need to do something quick or the whole boat will capsize.” The men needed to decide whose fault it was so they starting throwing dice to see whose fault it was. (Hoping that the universe – that God would reveal it to them.)
They captain divided up the group. If it lands on an odd number; it’s the guys on the left. Evens? It’s one of us on the right.” Evens. Odds its one of you two; even its one of you two. Evens again.
A lump grew in Jonah’s throat.
They cast the final lot.
It fell to Jonah.
They asked him. “What is it you have done? Who is your God? How have you wronged him?”
Jonah explained. My God? He’s not just the God of the waves. He’s not just a demon hovering over this part of the ocean. He is the LORD – the God of heaven and earth. The one who made the land, the seas, and the oceans.
And…I…ran away from him. Or I thought I did. Foolishly. I sinned against him. And now? We’re going to pay for it. Unless. Unless you give him what He wants.
Jonah said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (v.12)
The sailors looked at him in terror. They didn’t want to do that. They tried to talk him out of that. But as their voices grew in panic, the waves rose in a thunderous approval to Jonah’s statement.
The men said one more prayer. They asked God’s forgiveness. They lift Jonah up & tossed him overboard.
God had found him.
You can drive past the church a couple mph’s faster whenever you’re on Newton Rd.
You can scroll real fast through all the scriptures that appear on your Facebook page.
You can click DELETE to the email after email that you receive inviting you to Back to Church Sunday.
You can come to church, be in church and get up to go to the bathroom whenever pastor starts talking about ‘that one sin.’
But you can’t hide from God.
God knows where you are.
God will find you.
Eventually he finds us all.
We will all face him.
I’ll face him.
You’ll face him.
Then, what do you say to him?
Don’t know? God knows what he’ll say. Scripture tells us. He’ll say, “You wanted to be away from me. Fine. Have it your way. There's one place where I'm not...
It's called hell.
III. God Saves Jonah
Jonah knew that was coming for him. As his body hit the cold water, the cold darkness of the water, soon ran over him. He kicked wildly as he tried to stay afloat. He reached for the surface and took a breath – only to inhale half a lung of seawater. He flailed his arms and kicked his feet for a until it burned deep in his muscles. A wave hit him in the face.
I’ve done wrong. I crossed God. I ran away from him. I’m getting what I deserve. It’s over.
He let his body grow limp.
He sank as the water grew dark over his face.
He awaited his death.
But it didn't happen.
The LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.
And Jonah? He awoke. It saw stinky. It was smelly. It wasn’t a holiday inn, but he wasn’t dead either. He was alive.
God saved him.
Understand – This is key in the story of Jonah. God was only pursuing Jonah because he loved him! God didn’t want him to be lost forever. God didn’t want him to be thrown into the darkness of hell. God didn’t want him to be a part from him, because he loved him and knew Jonah couldn’t exist without him. God wanted him back. God wanted to save him. In fact, God would stop at nothing to save him. Even if it meant churning up a huge, terrifying storm in his life in order that Jonah might be at his mercy – see his mercy – and return to him again.
God does that in our lives too. Maybe you’ve never been on a lake in a storm – but maybe you’re going through a life storm right now.
A devastating failed relationship.
A terrifying eviction notice.
A disastrous loss of job.
A depression. A sadness. A feeling of guilt that has overcome you to the very core.
Something that has happened to you to make you realize you can’t do this alone. You need Him.
And you made it this far. You’re hear. And the devil’s in your ear, “He’s not serious. This isn’t real. God couldn’t love you. God won’t have you back. You’ve abandoned him too many times for too long. He’s done with you.”
But listen to God’s voice. Now. Today. Right now. God says to you, “Return. Come back. I love you. Be mine.”
And God will save you! In the most unlikely of ways! That’s how he saved Jonah. Not with a rescue boat. The coast guard didn’t show up with a life saver. There wasn’t even a piece of driftwood for him to float on.
He was swallowed by a fish! There’s nothing more unlikely than that!
Except maybe this: Some guy, 2000 years ago, gathers a bunch of followers, says that he’s God, angers a group of religious zealots, is executed falsely on a terrifying instrument of torture, dies, and saves you.
This is exactly how God saved you. It isn’t from within. He doesn’t say, “Try harder.” “Do Better.” Or “Give me lots of money and I’ll think about it.”
He says, “I’ll die for you. I’ll die for you to save you. I’ll die for you; to forgive you. I’ll die for you; to make you mine.”
Colossians 1:13 says this, “God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Do you understand that? When you return to God, who has been relentlessly pursuing you his whole life – even dying for you – he offers full and complete forgiveness.
But you’re right, we don’t always recognize that. That’s why God comes after us with this message – even in an unlikely way!
Through an over-caffeinated, Raleigh transplant.
Through a few kids singing his praises.
Through a few drops of water.
Through a few words on a page in a book with a torn cover in the back of a wooden pew.
Unlikely as it is – God pursues you. God is pursuing you. Right now. Relentlessly.
Because he loves you with every fiber of his Divine heart.
It’s a pursuit worth crying about.
Like my friend Beulah. Beulah is a young 90 years old. Beulah has been attending some of my Bible studies at an assisted living home close by. Beulah had come every once in a while over the years. I’ve met her a few times. Some days she’d be awake; other days she’d drift asleep.
But one day a few months back, she listened. Her eyes didn’t come after me. When we were done, she asked to talk to me in private.
Is what you’re saying true? Does God really love me? I’m old. I’m alone. I’m forgotten about. I’ve done wrong; lots of wrong. I’ve hated God. I’ve abandoned him.
Could God really love me?
I opened up my Bible. Beulah, God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. All sins. Your sins.
God’s love will make you do that.