There is a storm brewing on the Mediterranean. A storm of unbelievable fierceness because someone is not going in the right direction.
Taken from the book of Jonah, the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amitai, saying, arise and go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it for their wickedness is come up before me. I enjoy the new English Bible, I believe, that has that the stench of Nineveh is rising before me and I need to do something about that.
I want to make sure you get this point real quickly here. You may not care whether God exists or not, and you may not be in a part to even know that he does exist, as the the people of Nineveh were, but I want to make it very clear to you that God never abandons anyone. There is no one who is beyond his scope, beyond his vision and beyond his gaze. He will always be sending someone out after you, even when you go the opposite direction.
I can understand why Jonah would not want to go to Nineveh. It was a very evil, evil place. In fact, I can't even tell in this group, some of the reasons why Jonah might not have wanted to go to Nineveh because Nineveh was so evil, and the practices that they participated in were so heinous. But you could understand why a prophet of God would say, thanks, but no thanks. I prefer not to go there after all.
But there may have been other reasons why Jonah was not too willing to go to Nineveh either. Nineveh was, after all, a country which might have been perceived as being an enemy of the children of Israel, and if Nineveh was going to be destroyed, that would be a feather in Jonah's cap. I can only imagine that Jonah would have liked to have said, I participated in the destruction of that evil city, but as he would say in chapter 4 of the book of Jonah, I knew that you were gracious God. I knew this was why I shouldn't come. God would have pity on Nineveh and would have pity on Jonah as well.
So the Lord comes to Jonah and says, I want you to go to Nineveh. Nineveh was about 500 miles north of where Jonah was at this particular time. Nineveh was not on Jonah's wish list, and so he went down to a port and said it's time for me to go somewhere else. So he found a travel agent that said, I can book you passage to a place called Tarshish. And Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and so he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down to go in to it with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So Jonah is now going in the exact opposite of the direction he should be going on. So many times Christians are going in the opposite direction of where the Lord is really wanting to send us. Jonah is not going the 500 miles north to northern Iraq. He is going to go 2500 miles, approximately, over to Spain. As far away in the opposite direction as possible.
If I were God, based on what I know about this man, I would've said, let him sink or swim. Let him go. I don't need him. But God needs us, for whatever reason I have not figured out. He does need the presence of those individuals of us who are willing to take on the mantle of God's calling, which even at this point, Jonah was not willing to do.
I can only imagine God being interviewed by Dr. Phil of the television show. Dr. Phil is sitting in his chair and going somewhat relaxed, and saying, God, now let me understand this clearly. You picked on a man who didn't want to go where you wanted him to go, is that correct? And God would reply, yes, that's correct. Dr. Phil would respond by saying, and you picked a man who went in the exact opposite direction of where he should be going. Is that correct? Yes. And when you send a storm and you tried to stop him, then what did he do. He tried to commit suicide. Is that correct? Yes, that's correct. Then Dr. Phil, stretching up to his full six feet four frame sitting in his seat, would say to God what he says to a lot of his guests, what were you thinking? Why would you need this man? And that is something we are about to see.
The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, laid down and fallen fast asleep. The world around them was coming to an apparent in. The sailors were deathly afraid. They had never seen a storm like this. And where was God's messenger? He was in the hold of the ship, asleep.
Reminds me of Jesus in the storm on the sea of Galilee, with his disciples. The storm was coming up and the disciples, many of whom were fishermen, had never seen a storm like this, but there was a great difference in the fact that Jesus was asleep in the ship because he knew his father was with him. Jonah was asleep in the ship because he wanted to run away from the father in heaven.
The world is crumbling and sometimes Christians are so asleep that they're almost comatose, as Jonah was.
When the storm got so severe on the sea of Galilee the disciples came to Jesus and said, you have got to help us, Christ. Why are you asleep? And Jesus stood up and said to them, and I love it the way he expresses it in one of the Gospels, why are you so afraid? And then he turned to the wind and the sea and said, be still. The disciples looked in amazement at this man and say, what kind of a man is this that even the wind and the sea obey him? I would estimate that it would be a very valuable thing to have that phrase added to it. Even the wind and the sea obey him, and so also do the people of God.
But Jonah was in no mood to obey. He was in no mood whatsoever. He wanted to disappear, so the captain approached him and said, how is it that you are sleeping. Get up and call on your God. Perhaps your God will be concerned about us so that we will not perish. Each man said to his mate, come let us cast lots so that we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us, so they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah and then they said to him, tell us now, on whose account has this calamity struck us. What is your occupation and where do you come from? What is your country? What people are you from? Jonah responded to them and said, I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven. Is that right? I fear the Lord God of heaven. What in the world are you doing out on that ship, Jonah? If you fear the Lord God of heaven, give him reverence. Why are you not obeying the calling which he has placed before you? I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.
Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, how could you do this? For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord because he had told them so. So they said, what should we do to you so that the sea may become calm for the rest of us. The sea was becoming increasingly stormy. He said to them, not for the first time would he wish to have his life ended. Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that it is on my account this great storm has come upon you.
The men did everything they could not to do what Jonah had told them to do. We are not going to cause the death of this man. These pagans were acting more like Christians than a Christian was. The men rowed desperately to return to land, but they could not for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. Then they called on the Lord God and said, we earnestly pray oh Lord, do not perish us on account of this man's life and do not put innocent blood on us for you oh Lord have done as you wish. So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea and the sea stopped its raging. Then the men feared God greatly and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
Then in verse 17 of chapter 1, as the first act is about to come to a conclusion. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. I am not going to be too self-righteous here to tell you that there have been times in my life when I've actually asked myself, can I really believe that a man was in the belly of a great fish for three days. I remember when I was young that there was a story of a man who was caught in a whale for less than three days and the stomach acid of the whale ate most of his skin off. It was trumpeted even in evangelistic series back then as this being proof that the whale experience could've happened. And yet there is something about a 21st century mind that says, a man being caught in a fish for three days and three nights and living to tell about it and living to tell others about it. Come on, you've got to be kidding me.
I don't know why it is that this particular miracle causes us so much difficulty. This four chapter book made up of 48 versus is full of miracles. Not the least of which is that God talked to Jonah in the first place. If you have trouble believing in a fish story, you have trouble believing that God can talk to a man. Then they cast lots. The great windstorm came up. The great storm. The great deliverance from the storm. The plant that would later grow up in chapter 4. All of these are great miracles on the part of God, but it's that fish part of it that we go, hmmm, I don't know. That just sounds a little bit beyond me.
I want to remind you that Jonah is mentioned in the Old Testament, but only once outside of the book that carries his name. In Second Kings 14, we learn that Jonah is a prophet during the time of Jeroboam, which was about 200 years before the prophet Daniel. He's making prophecies concerning the sinfulness of the Israelite nation. So we know that he's a historical figure, but that's all that is mentioned, except for, and this is by no means a minor exception, he is mentioned by Jesus himself.
There are very few prophets who are mentioned by name by Christ. Very, very few. The story that was read to you in the Scripture reading lesson this morning is covered in many places, in Luke and in Matthew. But I would like to paraphrase for you the experience in Matthew 12, where the Pharisees come to Christ and say, we want a sign. We want to know that you are who you say you are. Jesus responds by saying, I'm not going to give you a sign. You don't deserve one. The only sign that you are going to get, is the sign of the prophet Jonah.
This is made up of two particular important aspects. Number one. That Jonah was in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights and came out of it, just as the Son of Man will be in the belly of the earth for three days and three nights and come out of it as well. And also Jesus mentioned, that the people of the city of Nineveh heard the story of Jonah and repented of their sins and he made comparisons to the Pharisees of the day who said, we don't want to believe because we don't have a sign. And he would say, you are not going to get any sign except for the one of the prophet Jonah.
I want to remind you that when the great judgment hour arrives on this Earth, the people of Nineveh are going to say, why didn't you believe. We believed with so little of a sign and you didn't believe when you had Christ himself standing right in front.
Now I've got to tell your brothers and sisters, that I find very, very difficult to believe that Jesus Christ would use as an example of a sign of his authority, something that actually didn't occur. Jesus would know whether the story of Jonah was legitimate or not. And I ask you this question, which is more difficult to believe in? Being swallowed by a great fish and delivered from it or having the son of God being raised from the tomb?
It is intriguing to me, and I say this with some care and concern, for if you told me five years ago that some of the things that are being challenged in the Seventh-day Adventist church today I would not have believed it. The question about whether Jesus Christ, by the mere movement of his vocal cords, has the power to create the Earth or not, is beyond me.
But I recognize that the same voice that says, let there be light is the same voice that has the power to say, your sins be forgiven you. And we are choking on miracle. But it's all a miracle. I am a miracle. When I look back over my life and realize where I could've been and where I almost was, I can hardly believe that the grace of Christ stepped out and grabbed me. I suspect that most of you, looking back over your life, would emphasize the same thing.
So I have no problem with the miracle of a great fish. Notice it doesn't say a whale. It just says a great fish. This great fish was put there by God for a specific purpose. And that is to swallow Jonah. So Jonah is now swallowed by the fish. There is some indication that he probably almost died and may have died. Some biblical scholars think that he may have died and was rescued by the fish and was resurrected by it, by the power of God, because he sinks to the very depths of the ocean.
Here in the belly of this great fish, as he puts it in his prayer in Jonah 2, with seaweed wrapped around his head, he prays one of the great prayers of Scripture. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish and he said, I called out of my distress to the Lord and he answered me. Now keep in mind this is referencing a prayer that takes place before he is in the belly of the great fish. And listen to me here, and listen to me well on this particular point. I have emphasized oh so clearly, that we had a prophet of God who was being disobedient. Who was going the wrong direction. Who was not willing to do the task which the Lord set in front of him. And when it came time for the Lord to show a great storm to turn him around, he said throw me overboard. I would rather die than do what the Lord wants me to do.
So Jonah had the opportunity to indeed take a bath in the Mediteranian sea, and as he is beginning to slide down with the water getting ever deeper and deeper above his head, he now feels that he has the right to turn to God and say, I need your help. If I were God I would say, who do you think you are calling on? You are not going in the direction I asked you to go. When I sent a storm to turn you around, you wanted to be thrown overboard, and now you need my help? I can only say, brothers and sisters, and I say this carefully, you can be grateful I am not your Savior. This guy has gone too far.
But I want to emphasize this point. Very appropriately and very, very cogently and powerfully. You are never beyond the grace of Jesus. You may not deserve to be heard, but you will be if you reach out to him.
I was at a sermon some years ago by one of the deans of Adventist preaching and I heard him tell about an individual who was on her deathbed, who had been a reprobate most of her life, and just before she died, the individual raised her arms and looked to the ceiling of the hospital room which they were in and said, O Lord, the flesh is been weak but my spirit is willing. Please, come and take me just as I am. To which this great preacher responded by saying, I'm not sure whether the Lord God heard her or not, or what the disposition of the case will be. I almost stood up in my chair and said, are you kidding me? Jesus Christ said in all clarity, he that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.
I have individuals still coming to me, I'll grant you, not as often as it was some years ago, but still coming up to me saying, pastor, if you only knew how great a sinner I was, you'd know that the Lord can't forgive me. Such an individual wrote to Ellen White in The Testimonies and said, if you know, as you do, all the sins that I've committed, you know that I've committed the unpardonable sin. To which Ellen White responded by saying, I see no evidence of that, whatsoever. Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. You can be at the depths of the ocean by your own fault and reach out to God and he will hear your prayer.
I called out of my distress to the Lord and he answered me. I cried for help from the depth of sheol and you heard my voice, for you had cast me into the deep. Into the heart of the sea and the currents engulfed around me and all your breakers and billows passed over me, so I said I have been expelled from your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward your holy temple. When water was encompassing me to the point of death, the great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head, I descended to the roots of the mountains. The Earth with its bars was around me forever, but you brought me up out of my pit, oh Lord my God. While I was fainting away I remembered the Lord and my prayer came to you and to your holy temple. Those who regard vain idols forsake the goodness that could be theirs, but I will sacrifice to you with the voice of Thanksgiving. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation is from the Lord.
Hearing that, the fish said, I am done with you. And chapter 2 comes to an end with the report, word for word from the Bible, then the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah out onto dry ground. I say to you brothers and sisters, the Seventh-day Adventist church will remain in the belly of this earth until it proclaims loudly what Jonah proclaimed. Salvation is from the Lord.
Chapter 3. Jonah is now sitting on the beach wondering how to re-orient himself to the fact that he is now still alive, when the word of the Lord comes to him a second time. I was raised by my parents who made the rule about parenting that said, when I tell you once, that's all you get. None of this you go to your room. One, two, three. When my dad said to do something, there was no one, two, three. There was only the first time and that was it. I'm not saying it's the right way to do it, but there's this recognition that parents say one, two, three, and you know the child is going to wait till three to behave and respond.
Well I can't say it's the wrong way to do it because now as chapter 3 opens, the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time saying arise and go to Nineveh that great city and proclaim to it the proclamation that I will give to you. Don't add anything to it. Don't take away anything. Just say what I've asked you to say. So Jonah walked into Nineveh, which is about 500 miles from where he was. It was a big city and he walked into the city and said, I have a message. 40 more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.
There is all sorts of wonderment as to what caused the Ninevites to pay any attention whatsoever to this Hebrew prophet. There is some scholarship that suggests that one of the things that caused him to be very, very influential was because his skin was so white because it had been digested by the great fish. We now recognize also that there was a complete solar eclipse around the year that Jonah might have gone. We don't know whether there's a correlation to that or not but it's a possibility. But I would say to you that the reason the Ninevites listened to Jonah is because of the power of God. We sometimes spend so much time training on how to do things in the church, that we ought to do one thing very, very well and that's pray to God for the power of his spirit to go before us.
So Jonah went into the city and proclaimed it. Why they paid attention is subject to some debate, as I've mentioned, but he did give this great warning. As far as he is concerned, this is the indication that in 40 days these people are going to be destroyed and the world will be better off without them. We have a prophet of God who very sincerely hopes that people die. It's us versus them. We're righteous, they're not, God, destroy them!
The city of Nineveh hears his message and says, 40 days? 40 days? That must mean that we have a shot at hope, because if God was going to destroy us, he would've done it already. So let us change our ways. Let us become what we have not been. Even the king of the city issues a proclamation and instructs everyone to make their actions in agreement with their prayers. Not only to pray for the repentance of the evil for which God is going to destroy the city, but actually repent of the evil that the people of the city of Nineveh have participated in. As the chapter comes to an end, when God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked ways, then God relented concerning the calamity which he had declared he would bring upon them and he did not do it.
And the final chapter. This is an amazing one, because we are going to be disappointed in what we see in the human being, but we are not going to be disappointed in what we see in God. I am just simply amazed at the grace of Christ that is evident in this particular chapter of the Bible. I had an individual tell me recently, I hate the Old Testament. I hate the God of the Old Testament. He's so mean and so nasty. Nobody's read Jonah 4 lately, I take it.
Just as God's anger at the city of Nineveh is beginning to subside, Jonah's anger is beginning to increase. He goes out to the side of the city where he has a good view, waiting to see what God would do to the city. You've got to destroy it, God. I gave them the message. I don't want to be embarrassed. I gave the warning, if you don't kill these people, I'm going to look bad. But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord. This is the same guy who pray this wonderful prayer from the belly of the fish just a few days ago. He prayed to the Lord and said, please Lord. Was this not what I said when I was still in my own country. Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish for I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and the one who relents concerning calamity.
What a prayer. This is no prayer. This is a tirade. He has the audacity to start quoting the Scriptures from Exodus 32 where the children of Israel committed the great sin with the golden calf, and God relented from the anger and the concern that he had, and now the prophet Jonah, for exactly the wrong reasons is reminding the Lord of that. Therefore, now, he says in verse three, oh Lord, please take my life from me for death is better than for me to live. He's now quoting Elijah. But Jonah is no Elijah. Elijah wanted to die because the children of Israel wouldn't stop their evil. Jonah wants to die because the children of Nineveh did.
And the Lord said, and this is the great Socratic method of arguing. When someone is really, really angry, the best way to deal with it is to ask a question. And the Lord said, do you have any good reason to be angry? And Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under the shade until he would see what would happen to the city. So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from any discomfort.
This is the amazing part of this story. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. This was the first time this guy was happy about anything. He wasn't happy about the call. He wasn't happy about the storm or the fish. He wasn't happy about the children of Nineveh repenting from their evil. But he was happy about a plant. Talk about a guy who's got his priorities all mixed up.
But what the Lord gives, the Lord can take away, for it says, the very next day, God appointed a worm and at dawn the next day it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God sent a scorching east wind and the sun beat down on Jonah's head so that he became faint and begged with all of his soul to die, and said, death is better to me than life. This was a man who had participated in perhaps the most successful evangelistic campaign in all of history, and then he said, it's better for me to die than to live. I've got to be honest with you. At about this time, if I were God, I would've said, you know, I think you're right.
But the Lord had one lesson for Jonah to learn and one lesson for us to learn. You had compassion, the Lord said, on the plant for which you did not work, which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. You were concerned about a plant. You were concerned about a plant that grew up and gave you shade for awhile and was destroyed the next day. That plant was my creation. It came into being because of me.
Should I not be concerned about my other great creation, the city of Nineveh? Should I not care about it as well? Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their left hand from the right hand? Then in one of the most remarkable demonstrations of grace, the last verse of this story ends with these words. And many cattle also.
There are times in each one of our lives when we wonder whether the Lord cares for us individually. I want to remind you of these last words of the book of Jonah. If the Lord cares for cows, you will never, in a trial of 1000 years, convince me that he doesn't care for you. He cares for great cities. He cares for a wayward prophet. He cares for a plant. And God cares for you.
Hymn of Praise: #21, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise Scripture: Matthew 16:1-4 Hymn of Response: #462, Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine!
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 10/30/11