Jonah took a deep breath.
This was it. He was out of the fish. He was on dry land. He had marched for miles across the middle east in order to get to Nineveh.
This wouldn’t be easy. The city had close to a million people living in it. It took 3 days to walk through – if you didn’t stop and tell people God’s Word all along the way. But Jonah didn’t have a lot of time.Jonah had 40 more days. 40 more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.
It was a strange message. A message from the LORD to a people who didn’t believe in the LORD.
Jonah didn’t think this would work. But…he didn’t really feel like being inside a giant Nemo again, so:
“40 More Days! 40 More Days and Nineveh will be destroyed. 40 more days for you to repent and turn to the Lord.”
And Jonah sweated. And Jonah shouted. And looked like one of those street preachers that you see downtown from about 2 blocks away and cross to the other side of the street just to avoid them. And Jonah finished going throughout the city. And Jonah finished. And Jonah left the city. And Jonah thought “There’s no way that worked.”
…The people started talking:
Did you see that strange fellow? He was talking about God.
I know it seemed weird, but I know he’s right. We haven’t been doing right.
I feel terrible. I don’t want to be destroyed. Maybe…the God, this Lord will have mercy.
v.5 The Ninevites believed God.
And they began to fast. Each one refusing to eat food, because suddenly it didn’t seem that important.
And they put on sackcloth. A harsh, itchy, scratchy substances that was extremely uncomfortable. It represented on the outside the discomfort they felt on the inside.
And they prayed. LORD we’ve sinned. LORD, I didn’t know. LORD, I was wrong. LORD, please don’t. LORD, have mercy.
And they all did it. From the greatest to the least. From the rich merchant that owned a chain of restaurants, to one of his dishwashers who worked for food scraps. From the elderly scholar who needed a cane to get to the sackcloth store – to the young preschooler who needed his mom’s help in getting it on. From the lifelong Ninevites who prayed in the language of Nineveh, to the foreigner who prayed using completely different words.
Even the King! The King himself who was in charge of the whole city and who never felt threatened by his people – felt threatened by God. He was convicted. He repented. He traded in his royal robes for sackcloth. He refused to eat the pork roast he was going to have for breakfast. He stopped making people kneel before him and instructed all to kneel before God.
They thought: “Who knows? Maybe God will have mercy…”
And God? He did.
v.10 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 threatened.
This is an amazing chapter. It kind of changes the story of Jonah. It isn’t so much about him. Literary analysis shows us that it’s more about God. God saved Jonah in the fish and he saved the people of Nineveh with Jonah’s words. God was merciful. God loved the city of Nineveh and didn’t want to see it destroyed.
But Nineveh isn’t the only city God loves.
Today we want to dig into that chapter in order to compare Raleigh with Nineveh. Our goal is to see that (1) Raleigh is in dire need of saving just as much as Nineveh was and (2) we want to learn who it is that God has sent to bring that message of salvation to Raleigh. 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. The New Nineveh
A) Same Sin.
Go back with me to Jonah 1:2. God gives the reason for his anger against Nineveh. He says, “Its wickedness has come up before me.”
What was so wicked? This is a picture of Dagon. Dagon looks like a fish. He’s not a Transformer or a TMNT. He’s a false god. A stone statue that people prayed and worshipped.
And they didn’t do it in the most pleasant way.
How did they do it? By having group sex! Together. In the temple. In front of their statue of a god.
Why they did do it? For money! More and more money. They thought Dagon would bless them with money – even if they had to gouge the poor and steal from the rich.
Wicked, right? That seems like a good word to describe Nineveh.
But is it a good word to describe Raleigh?
I like Raleigh. The people are fairly pleasant. People hold doors as I enter Starbucks. I get high fives from people at the dog park. My neighbors sit out on their porch and greet me – any time of the day!
I think Raleigh is pleasant. But I’m sinful. My opinion is skewed.
Understand this: You and I see people as sinful and think, “Well, we’re just imperfect. We’re still pretty good.” But God looks at Raleigh and sees people. People who sin. Sin that he hates. Sin he calls wicked.
To be honest – there are plenty of things in Raleigh – Plenty of things in our own hearts that we might even call wicked:
Racist hate blogs.
Worship of self on social media.
Business with extracurricular and no time for God.
Worship of nature and outside and no time for God.
But it’s not what they were doing at the time of Nineveh!
True. Our sins are different. (We’ve got 21st century sins.) But they’re the same. (They are detestable to God).
It’s kind of like all the different kinds of Doritos. Have you seen them? They make Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese. There’s Cooler Ranch and Nacho Cheesier. There’s Taco flavor, Blue Cheese Flavored, Sweet and Spicy flavored, even Pizza flavored! There are different Dorito types, but the same result: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a tummy ache.
It’s the same thing with sin. There are different sin types – Old Testament Ninevite sin and 21st century Raleighian sin – it’s sin. Still. It’s sin. In God’s eyes, it's the same awful sin. Sin that God will remove.
Through total Annihilation.
I’m not just being doomsday-ish. Look at Jesus’ own words about the last day. He says "Those who have done wrong will go away to eternal punishment.”
He means business.
B) Same Need of Mercy.
The Ninevites were in trouble. They had done wrong. The LORD himself was breathing down their necks. They had no other choice than to wave the white flag, to confess their sins, and plead for God’s mercy.
And? God did. V. 10 God did not bring on them the destruction he threatened – Mercy.
They didn’t try to make it better. They didn’t try to pay God off. They simply grew sorrowful. They pleaded with God. They put on sackcloth and fasted sure. Mostly because they were super sorry! They didn’t think: “If I stop eating, that’ll make up for my sins. Or if I put on uncomfortable clothing, God will forgive me for messing with my neighbor’s wife.” No!
They thought: “I’ve sinned. I can’t get away from God’s judgment. O Lord. Be merciful.”
They were right. God’s mercy saved them.
We need the same thing. People of Raleigh -- we need the mercy of our Lord.
Romans 9:16 says it this way, “It does not depend on man’s desire or effort.” Meaning you aren’t going to escape God’s wrath from trying your best. It doesn’t come from doing better than others. It doesn’t come from being a "generally good person.” Nope. It doesn’t come from fasting. It doesn’t come from praying. It doesn’t come from wearing sackcloth. It doesn’t come from having been a Christian or having been a part of church.
…It depends on God’s mercy.
And God had mercy! He came down out of heaven. He became a human being. He lived perfectly when you could not. He died innocently in your place. He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
He has had mercy on you. It’s what we need. It’s what all of Raleigh needs.
And remember: It didn’t matter who you were in Nineveh – from the greatest to the least – you needed God’s mercy. Whether you were Jewish or Ninevite, rich or poor, king or 1st grader. You needed God’s mercy.
And when they turned their hearts to God, it still didn’t matter who they were. They all received it! It wasn’t just the king. It wasn’t just the king’s court. It wasn’t just the people with lots of money.
They all received God’s mercy.
The same is true for you. Turn to the Lord; he will have mercy.
It doesn’t matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the boss or jobless.
It doesn’t matter if you have a Doctor’s degree or no degree.
It doesn’t’ matter if you’re in good health or very sick.
It doesn’t matter if you have lots of followers on Instagram or if you don’t know what Instagram is.
It doesn’t matter if you are 7 foot 1 or 5 foot 2.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman. White or black. Asian or Latino.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve done something that even you are having a hard time forgiving yourself for.
God has had mercy. Jesus died for you.
By faith in Jesus, God will have mercy. God will forgive you.
And when others in Raleigh hear this message and turn to him – God will have mercy on them too!
It’s why we need to tell them. It’s why you need to tell them.
C) Same Command.
Maybe you’re thinking. Hold it! “I’m not a Jonah.” I don’t have a directive from God. If I did, sure. But thank goodness I didn’t.
Take a look at what Jesus said to his disciples – his followers – his men and women who believed in him and followed his teachings: "Go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Are you a believer? He’s talking to you.
Do we live in a nation? He’s talking about Raleigh.
God wants us to go. He wants us to go with his message to the people of North Raleigh. It’s why we exist. “Gather to the Garden.” That means to bring people to the message of Jesus. And when we can’t get them here – to bring the message of Jesus to them!
Which means we’ve got to keep our eyes open.
God wants it to be kind of like Play-Doh. I don’t know about you, but every time I get close to a thing of Play-Doh I feel the urge to open up the container. Get the Play-Doh out and roll a Play-Doh snake. Every time.
God wants us to see this world the same way. Every time we see a someone – anyone – from any background – any culture – any social status – any sin that they are struggling with – God wants us to bring the message of repentance to them. He wants us to share the Savior.
He wants us to. In fact, he wants us to so much that he commanded us.
Go and Make. Baptize and Teach.
D) Same Urgency.
Remember what Jonah was telling the people of Nineveh 40 more Days! 40 More Days! That’s not a lot of time.
Then again, there’s a lot that you could accomplish in 40 days. You could make enough money to pay off your credit card. You could make a list of things to do in Raleigh and do them. You could watch the entire Doctor Who series on Netflix. You could do a lot in 39 days and then on the 40th day, set your Smartphone to go off to the “End of the World as we Know it,” and quick get to church to confess your sins and turn your life around!
40 more days has some urgency – some.
How long do we have? How long do the people of Raleigh have?
Here’s the thing: We don’t know! Jesus said this, “No one knows the day or the hour – not even the Son, even the Father.” That means it’s even hidden from Jesus. God’s own Son.
That means the end could be 40 years from now. It could be 40 days. It could be 40 minutes. We don’t know when the world will end; we don’t know when each other will end.
Hence the urgency.
Don’t wait to tell your husband about the Savior. It could be too late. Don’t wait to invite your neighbor to church; you may miss your chance. Don’t wait to start sharing posts on Facebook; Facebook may be destroyed before your click send!
Life is short. Jesus is eternal. Share Jesus now.
II. What Now?
1) Share it whether you’re greatest or least
This is not just a pastor thing. I can’t do it by myself. I don’t do it by myself. You are a part of this.
YOU are a part of sharing God’s Word.
You are a part of saving Raleigh.
Did I tell you about one of the preschool parents? She stopped in my office a while back and told me this story. She said that she had been on Falls of Neuse. She said that it had been loaded with traffic. She had had a bad work day and was very stressed, so that when the car in front of her cut her off she slammed her fists on the steering wheel and muttered to herself.
And her daughter spoke up from the back, "It’s ok, Mommy. Jesus it taking care of you."
Mom told me that she wanted faith like her daughter.
You’re never too old to share Jesus. You’re never too young. You’re never too rich; too poor; too tall; too short; too sinful; too blameless; too anything.
And neither are the people who you are sharing with:
2) Share It with Greatest and Smallest
All people means all people.
The guy who has a BMW and the guy who has an old minivan held together by Duct tape.
The worker at Starbucks and the worker at Dunkin' Donuts.
The UNC fan. The Duke fan. The State fan.
Your mom. Your child.
Your black friend. Your white friend. Your Asian friend. Your Latino friend. Your Middle Eastern friend. Your enemy!
All people need God’s mercy. Your neighbors need God’s mercy. You have God’s mercy. Share with them God’s mercy.
So what I want you to do today is to think about someone who you can share God’s mercy with. Someone that you want to tell about Jesus. Someone you want to invite to church. Do you have them on your mind? Good. I want you to write their name down on the back of this connection card. What I’m going to do is I’m going to keep that in prayer this week and contact you to encourage in sharing God’s Word.
Because all of this can be intimidating. It was intimidating for Jonah.
But remember: Jonah wasn’t alone. He had a God who had controlled a storm to get Jonah back. A God who found Jonah in the bottom of a boat. A God who sent a giant fish to swallow Jonah alive.
You’ve got that same powerful God. The God who was with Jonah is the same God on the cross is the same God out of the tomb is the same God who is with you.
Share His Message. He’s got your back. Amen.
What would you do inside of a fish?
Yes, that is a strange question and, yes, I really am opening my sermon with it. But humor me and think about it. What would you do if you suddenly found yourself inside of a fish?
Perhaps you’re thinking about the movie Pinocchio. Remember that? Pinocchio’s dad gets swallowed by a monstrous whale named Monstro. When Pinocchio becomes brave enough to go after him, he expects to find Gepetto, his dad, near death. But inside he finds him cooking a meal and playing some cards. Honestly, that’s not so bad. It’s sounds just like Geppetto was roughing it for a bit.
But cartoons aren’t reality. The Scriptures say that Jonah wasn’t swallowed by some gigantic whale with room enough for a king sized bed and a continental breakfast spread. It says Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. (1:17) Rather than the Pinocchio scenario, picture it more like a coffin. A smelly, fishy, vile-filled, plankton stinking coffin. What do you do in such a mess?
It sounds kind of like a horror movie. Trapped, claustrophobia settling in. What do you do? Panic? Scream? Close your eyes and wait to die? At the very least – if you can keep your wits about you, you can pray for God to "have mercy and to please save me and to do so quickly before my hair smells like tuna fish forever?”
But Jonah, well, Jonah says a prayer. But not a prayer asking for help.
Jonah says a prayer of thanks.
A prayer of thanks for salvation.
A prayer of thanks for the fish.
Today we’re going to continue our series called Runaway – and we’re going to learn about what Jonah did when he was inside the fish, and even though it’s a strange place to do so, inside that fish, we’re going to learn a lot about God’s salvation. Before we study God’s Word and hear Jonah’s words from inside that big fish, 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. God Brings Salvation…in Dire Situations
Take a look at Jonah 2:1. It says this, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help and you listened to my cry.”
Notice how dire the situation was for Jonah. He calls it his “distress.” He was in extreme anxiety and terror. Why? Well – remember the last chapter. Jonah was in the middle of the sea. He didn’t have any floaties. He didn’t have an inflatable SpongeBob to hold onto. He couldn’t stand up; he wasn't in the shallow end of the pool. There wasn’t a boat in sight and he was quickly running out of strength to tread water.
To help with the picture, have you ever tried treading water before? I remember we had to do it back in swimming lessons for 5 minutes. It was a tough five minutes. My thighs were burning; my arms were burning; my lungs were burning. That’s what happens when you know how to tread water. If you don’t, you panic and splash – and your body’s energy gets used up even more quickly!
Can you imagine how Jonah felt as this strength went away?
Can you imagine how he felt without any lifeguards or any kind of a wall close by?
That’s the terror Jonah was feeling!
His next phrase describes just how terrified he was. He says, “I was in the depths of the grave.” The metaphor is that his body was already laying inside a grave, dug about 10 feet deep with a headstone that read, “Here lies Jonah, reluctant prophet.”
In other words, Jonah thought he was a goner -- as good as dead! Lost in the middle of the ocean…slowly drowning…not a boat in sight…Jonah did the only thing he could do:
“I called to the LORD and he answered me…I called for help and you, O God, listened to my cry.”
And God didn't say, "It's too late."
God didn't take too long to get there.
God didn't assess the situation and determine that there's nothing he could do.
God took a dire situation and made it one worthy of His praise.
This leads to our first salvation truth.
Salvation Truth #1: No situation is too dire for God’s salvation.
That's important to remember. Because you might feel a bit like Jonah. I’m looking out right now. None of you are literally in a pool of water drowning. Sure, it’s humid, but you get the point.
Still you might feel like you’re drowning.
Drowning in bills and mortgage payments.
Drowning in doctor visits and cancer medicines.
Drowning in relationship struggles and family feuds.
Drowning in guilt and sadness.
Drowning in loneliness – even depression.
Drowning in sin that leads you to sin that makes you feel so bad you sin some more!
He reaches out. He grabs your hands. He pulls you to safety. He rescues from the direst of situations.
To be fair: that’s what he’s already done and in the direst situation of all time. Remember the Colossians 2 passage from last week? Let’s look at it again this week. God rescued us from the dominion of darkness. (Col. 2:9) The dominion of darkness. That’s a dark place. The darkest of dark places. It’s a place of sin. A place of guilt. A place where you are alone with only the thoughts of how you have failed God and how you deserve his punishment! (It’s a place where we’ve all been. And if you think you aren’t there, then that’s proof that you been slurping up the abysmal water of death a bit too long).
Because being in that dominion of sin darkness is a lot like being in the middle of an ocean without a boat in site. We can’t tread water forever. We can’t swim to shore. No amount of good deeds will empower us to do a Michael Phelps and get out of there. The only thing left for us to do is die!
But while there was nothing for us to do, there was plenty for God to do. God brought us into the kingdom of the one he loves in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 2:10)
That’s when he sent Jesus. Jesus is a lifeguard. A spiritual life guard. He saw us drowning and hopped off his lookout chair in heaven. He came to earth. He went into the depths of darkness on the cross. He reached out his arms for you and grabbed a hold of you – just as a nail was drive through his palm.
And then – as we waited on the other side, our hero returns to life. Three days later he bursts forth from the dominion of darkness. He resides in the safety of the light. He grabs our hand and promises to take you with him –safely home.
If that’s what God did in the direst of situations, then what will God do in your situation?
There’s no situation too dire for God.
Your situation is not too dire for God.
II. God Brings Salvation… When I don’t Deserve it
But Pastor. I get it. God is big. God is powerful. Nothing is too dire for him.
But why would he want to help me? I haven’t been exactly listening to him very much lately. I’ve ignored his warnings. I’ve barely worshipped him. I’ve mostly acted like he didn’t exist. When I do that stuff to my friends, they don’t even respond to my messages on Facebook. Why would God ever respond to me? I don’t deserve his help.
Neither did Jonah. Remember chapter 1? God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah ran away from Nineveh and didn’t preach. Then, Jonah got onto a boat and planned to run away from God. He betrayed God and did the exact opposite of what God wanted.
And Jonah understood that! Look at verse 3-4, “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. I said, “I have been banished from you sight.” Jonah doesn’t write any excuse. He knows that he turned his back on God and he knows that he deserves to have God’s back turned on him. He uses the word banished – meaning that he didn’t deserve to ever set a foot in God’s kingdom again. He knew it.
But read Jonah’s next words. “Still I will look again at your holy temple.” From complete despair to confidence. Why?
Because Jonah stopped looking at himself.
Because Jonah started looking at God.
It's like the old Magic Eye page. Do you remember it? It's a page of abstract art that if you look at it long enough without blinking it uncovers a secret 3D image of a ball or a potroast. Sometimes if you can't find it, you have to change perspective. Back up. Look at something else and return to it.
It's the same thing with salvation. If you're struggling to see how God might save you -- change perspective. Back up. Look around. Stop looking at yourself and start focusing on God.
Because of Salvation Truth #2: God Brings Salvation, even when we don’t deserve it. Consequently, that’s all the time. Yet God keeps bringing it. He gives us salvation even when we don’t remotely deserve it.
If you think that God couldn’t possibly bring you forgiveness and salvation, you’re too busy looking at yourself.
If you think that God doesn’t need to bring you forgiveness and salvation, you’re looking at yourself.
Stop it. Look at God.
Jesus says in John 6:47, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” That’s his love. Whether you are a drunkard or a pornographer, a gossip or a liar, a thief or an abuser, an adulteress or a homosexual offender. Whatever you are, whatever you were, whatever you’ve done to sin.
Receive God’s incredible salvation!
III. God’s Salvation is Complete
That sounds nice, Pastor. That sounds nice. But will it be enough? Will Jesus be enough? My situation is so big, so large, I wonder if He’ll be enough?
Have you ever gone to a fancy restaurant? I’m not talking about just a sit-down restaurant, but a sit-down and wear nice clothes restaurant? A five-star restaurant. A celebrity chef restaurant. It’s quite the experience. The ambience is gorgeous and the wait staff is extra polite. They might even bring out warm little towels to wipe your fingers on.
But then comes the meal – which you’ve been waiting for – and voila! It looks great. At least, the 4 inches of the plate that actually has food on it. You eat it; every bite about $2. You savor it, but…It’s not enough.
On the way home you stop at McDonald's for a few items off the Dollar Menu.
Do you ever wonder if God’s salvation is like that? Like it seems fancy and nice, but is it really going to be enough? It’s why we still feel so icky and still feel the pressure of trying to be perfect as if -- Jesus did a lot of this, but unless I become perfect it’ll never be enough!
Look at what God did for Jonah. It was more than enough. “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweeds was wrapped around my head." Understand how massive Jonah’s problem was. It was a problem that would cause almost anyone to come up short on. "To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.” (v.5-7)
What seemed impossible to Jonah – was no problem for God. He simply reached down and plucked Jonah up from danger.
God was enough. More than enough.
Salvation truth #3: Jesus is enough for you. No matter your situation, no matter how far you’ve fallen, no matter how long you’ve been gone – Jesus is enough.
He was enough for a man who had stolen and lost friends his whole life.
He was enough for a woman who had committed adultery and prostituted herself.
He was enough for a thief who was literally dying next to him.
Jesus is enough for you.
1. Throw Out Your Idols.
That was Jonah’s conclusion. He said, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” An idol is a little statue. Something that people would take and worship. They’d carve; they’d cut; they’d paint. Then, they’d say, “Save me O god (aka piece of wood that I spent hours making).”
Idols aren’t super prevalent in America. At least not this kind. We’ve got other idols. Idols in the shape of money. Idols in the shape of Instagram followers. Idols in the shape of family. Idols in the shape of whoever stares at me in the mirror.
An idol is anything that tempts you to trust in it more than God.
Jonah’s advice – The guy who was literally drowning in the water and God saved him with a fish?
Drop those idols. If that’s who you trust for salvation, you will be disappointed.
Throw out your idols. Stop trusting in other things and stuff to save you. Get rid of the bottle of Jack Daniels. Block the porn website. End that ungodly relationship.
Stop trusting in them. Start trusting in Jesus.
2. Thank God for Your Fish.
Again -- this is so interesting. Because where was Jonah when he prayed this? He was inside the fish. Yet he wasn’t complaining about the fish. He wasn’t frustrated that God didn’t send a yacht for him. He wasn’t mad that he wasn’t on the beach.
He was thankful – for the fish. Look at verse 9 “Salvation comes from the Lord.” He started praising God and thanking him – even when he was inside the fish!
What’s your fish? What’s your something that’s normally bad – that God used to accomplish great good?
A job loss?
A relationship spoiled?
A health issue?
Thank God for it. Thank God that he used it to bring you back. Thank God that he used it for your salvation!
And that’s it. Jonah’s prayer ends and the final verse says, “The Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah unto dry land.”
Of course that’s what makes this story very unbelievable. Truth be told thousands of churches and pastors that would never preach on this text, because “It’s insulting. It’s unbelievable. It has a nice moral, but in the end it’s a myth because no human could be inside a fish that long.”
Lots of people don’t believe it. You might run into people like that. You might be tempted not to believe it. You might be tempted to not believe anything about God’s salvation.
But…do you know who did believe it?
Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three day and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so I will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)
Jesus didn’t just believe that the Jonah story was real.
He believed his resurrection would be real too.
And it was.
And he did.
And he will accomplish your salvation.
1 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.” 3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. 4 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. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” 7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 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.) 11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” 12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. 17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
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.
Let me ask you a question; how often are you having a conversation with someone, engaging in a little small talk, and the conversation turns to just how awful a place this world is? Maybe it was something that happened to you this last week – someone was rude or disrespectful to you; maybe you saw some example of ridiculously selfish behavior. Maybe it was how someone was raising their kids. Maybe it was worse. Maybe you were the victim of a crime or maybe you’re just talking about the latest local or even national atrocity you saw on the news. Maybe it happens anytime your conversation turns to politics these days. The world, the people in it…well they’re just disgusting, aren’t they? Maybe even that old standby escapes your lips: “Things just aren’t what they used to be.”
I’ll tell you what, you’re right. But, probably not in the way you meant it. This morning, let’s take some time to unpack that, take a look at why it’s true, at what really is wrong with our world. Let’s try to understand better what’s going on out there. But more important than that, let’s see what we can do about it.
To do that, let’s do some troubleshooting. It’s pretty obvious when we look at the world that something is wrong. There’s a lot of symptoms we could identify as we already talked about, but that doesn’t really bring us any closer to understanding the cause of those problems and more importantly, a solution. Of course, lots of people think they know solutions to the problems, including ourselves at times, right? How many times have we been having one of those conversations griping about the way things are and the words, “If only…” come on out? “If only their parents had raised them better.” “If only people just paid attention to where they were going.” “If only there was a law about that.” Pops right out and hey it’s perfectly rational, but would your brilliant solution really fix anything? No. No, it wouldn’t. Those fast fixes aren’t the answer. Instead of wasting time trying to patch up the individual symptoms we come across, instead let’s go back to the basics. Let’s take a look where it went wrong.
To do that, we’re going to have to go back a lot further than any sort of idealized age we might have in our head. Way back before we were children, back before the 50s, before the Romantic Age, back, back and back through the centuries and the millennia to the very beginning. Creation. God, infinite in wisdom, power and creativity, had a plan for a system so infinitely complex that not one human could possibly comprehend it all at once. A world with beauty and variety that we could never imagine on our own, with millions of species of all kinds of life that all function together in harmony, in a way that keep each other going perfectly. Everything interlocking exactly as it should and working together as a perfect world. All the creatures, all the life, all the inanimate forces of the world and most especially the human beings God had created, they were all perfectly in tune with the will of God. His will of selfless love for each other permeated and dominated everything. Nothing was wrong, no one was unhappy, there was no pain because everything and everyone knew what God wanted and did it. This is the way it was designed.
So what happened? If God did it so well, where did it go wrong? For that we need to turn to our section for today. (Read Genesis 3:1-19)
From the moment the fruit was eaten, up to God's declaration of consequence, it's pretty obvious things have been seriously broken. In fact, when you look at the behavior of Adam and Eve after they broke God’s law, it’s not so very different from those things out in the world we complain about. Running and hiding from God? Adam knew God. He knew God was all knowing and present everywhere. It’s stupid, it’s pointless, it’s irrational…he did it anyway. And then when God asks him what happened. Adam knew that God knew what happened, and yet Adam tries to misdirect the conversation, he tries to make excuses and then in a horrifying move, attempts to get out of this not only by placing the blame at the foot of his wife to save his own skin, but even implicated God himself when he says, “The woman you put here with me -”
He knows, just as well as you and I and especially God can see, this was his own fault. He was the husband, the head of the family. He stood by and said nothing while the serpent spoke with his wife. He watched as she took the fruit and didn’t try to stop her. He had some himself when it was handed over. This was on him. But now, instead of the selfless love he was created to show, his every action is selfish, he incriminates everyone but himself no matter how guilty he is. His wife does not act any better when it is her turn to be questioned.
And their behavior is just scratching the surface of what has changed now that they broke their relationship with God. Sin entered creation and everything was corrupted as a result. God elaborates on more of this at the end of our reading, talking about the troubles that will follow us now, and most shocking of all, man will return to the ground from which he was formed. Earthly death will chase us down now. Suffering and pain will be with us in our lives, and death will follow close on.
So that’s our world. It was a machine of infinite complexity designed by our God and now from one act of defiance, not one single part of that system is doing what it is supposed to. Not one piece is operating as it should. Let that sink in for a moment. Any of you who’ve ever tinkered with anything mechanical, what’s the consequences of just one part not working right? Could be minor, maybe some noise, heat, or just slowing things down. Or maybe it brings the whole operation grinding to a halt. What would happen in any machine where not one single part is functioning the way it should?
Exactly. Nothing that we see in this world should surprise us, except maybe that things aren’t worse than they are. Even that is only by the guiding hand of our gracious God.
So now with this in mind, understanding the state our world is in; what do we do about it? Well consider our analogy; when you have a machine where every single part is broken, where every circuit board is fried, where the parts are brittle to the point of collapsing to dust, where just leaving it function is a danger to everyone around – how do you fix that? You don’t, obviously. You wouldn’t even try. You would junk it and make a new one. You would start over. That’s the only option.
Except, what if there were something really valuable in there? Something you truly cared about more than even your own health and safety? Naturally you would try to get it out of there. Naturally, you would try to rescue it. And that’s exactly what God did. Sure, after the sin, after the corruption, God could’ve just wiped the slate clean and tried again. But he didn’t because that would mean these two people he loved, Adam and Eve, would be cut off from him, sent to hell forever. Their crimes, their sin forced them apart from a holy God. So God reached in and fixed it. He promised that the offspring of the woman would crush the work of the serpent and put the divide, the enmity, back where it belonged. No longer between God and man, but between man and the devil, the serpent.
His own son, Jesus would be that man. We inherited from our parents the same broken condition our first parents created. We were born in sin, cut off from God and unable to do anything about it. But God would accept payment on our behalf. Jesus lived the sinless life that you do not. Jesus died the sinful death that you ought. And because that life and that death were carried out by God himself, its value is immeasurable. The scale of God’s value cannot be tipped by human lives. There is no sin so large in your past that the blood of God himself cannot pay for. Everything you’ve done against God can and has been paid for already. By the life and sacrifice of Christ, you are bought from death, and the fall has been fixed. Not this world, that’s a lost cause, but when the time comes to scrap this world and start over, you will endure with God because God has rescued you from it.
It's important to remember this distinction. Yes, the world is a bad place, but it's the Titanic post-iceberg. It's going down. We're not trying to sweep the floors and rearrange the deck chairs to make it a nicer place while we sink. Our primary objective, our absolutely first and most critical goal, is to get people to the lifeboats. And there's plenty of room. This is something important to ask ourselves as God's people when we're trying to do good. Are we trying to get people to the lifeboats...or are we just trying to make the sinking ship a better place?
We want to save souls for eternity. The message of Jesus does this. The word of God, the same power that brought the world into existence, is the power that brings us to believe in Jesus. And then we are rescued. But here's the beauty of God's plan; when God brings us to faith, he doesn't just teach us about Jesus – he creates a whole new heart in us and that heart is the heart you were supposed to have. In other words, in faith, you become the part that you should have always been, and the more you study and learn God’s Word, the better you get at being the part of his creation that you were always supposed to be. What do you suppose the effect on the world is then? The more believers there are who take the time to build themselves up in God’s word, who strive to know their God best, the more they function as God intended and the better this world is going to be. It’s a beautiful side-effect of pursuing our main goal. We want ourselves to be rescued for eternity. We want those we care about to be rescued for eternity. But the more we pursue this goal of bringing ourselves and our loved ones closer to Jesus, the better the rest of this life is going to be as a result, too. This is exactly the same kind of encouragement Jesus was trying to give in our gospel when he told us to seek first God’s Kingdom and the rest would naturally follow.
So here it is. We want to complain about the world. We want to think we know what would fix all our social problems today. But there is only one fix. The world is broken beyond repair. Only God can rescue you and those you care about and he does it through the power of his Word that teaches us about Jesus. Learn that Word. Study that word. Take advantage of every opportunity to know your Lord and Savior better. The deeper you dig, the stronger your hold on that life-line of faith. And then share that Word so others might be saved. Concern yourself with eternity, with fixing the real problem. Let God fix the fall in you, and all the rest will follow naturally. Amen.