First of all, Jonah ran away from God, then he ran to God, then he's running with God in today's sermon, and next week he'll be running ahead of God. That will be interesting.
Today we will be studying, basically chapter three today (the book ofJonah), although we will begin in the last verse of chapter two.
God said GO and Jonah said NO. You need to be very careful when you say no to God! Jonah got into a whale of trouble. Last time we left Jonah inside the Whale. Two weeks ago, he's been in the whale. Now let's get him out.
Jonah spent what seemed forever in the great Sea. In fact he says it was forever in the belly of the whale. Actually it was a portion of three days and three nights. The best part of that time inside a living Leviathan. He had been sucked down feet first (you call that Back-sliding) through a long tunnel. The floor of his grave was moist and warm, and that's where he spent his time. As he realized his surroundings he probably became accutely aware a foul odor. I don't know what it would smell like in the belly of a whale, but I doubt that it would be too comfortable. Putrid partly digested things from sea weed to fish. The stench of this house of death was nauseating. The thought must have come to his mind he was nothing more than fodder, a night time snack in the belly of a hungry sea monster. He had been saved from drowning and now he desperately needed to be saved from digestion, because it's a very real danger.
The animal was so enormous that his tongue alone was the size of a hippopotamus. Jonah's skin must have tingled there in the dissolving ñliquid. Stomach acid is potent stuff. And Jonah was there! It must have seemed that he was being slowly but surely reduced to Whale fuel. Enough fuel to provide a mile ot two more for the travels of this monster. As time went on he must have seriously wondered if his prayer would penetrate through the walls of this prison chamber before the gastric juices penetrated his skin.
Would God listen to a renegade runaway prophet? Does God listen to a runaway renegade prophet? Does God listen to Christians who have back-slidden? Will God hear your prayers? Yes, He will! The book of Jonah proves that. You see, what could happen more to Jonah would be a failure of god. Only God could get him out of there. Jonah vowed that if he ever got out of that evil death trap he would break every speed record in getting to Nineveh. Never again would he turn his back on God. He would do anything God wanted him to do. He would never turn his back on God again. Never! Not as long as he lived! I'll go to Nineveh. I'll be the first one to arrive there. I will never complain about anything as long as I live. Of course he didn't know about the gourd.
Jonah 2:10 (NIV)-- God commanded the fish and it vomited! Now I stopped short of the end of the sentence, but I will tell you this, a lot of people, when God commands, they feel like vomitting. They don't like what the Lord says. They can't seem to accept God's will. When God commands us to do something, a lot of people want to do just the opposite. It makes them sick to know what God wants them to do, and they can't accept His will. However this time God actually guided that great whale to the beach where He wanted Jonah to disembark. The whale, like a radio controlled submarine, navigated to the God-chosen-spot. Then at God's command, in one mighty heave, the Whale vomited, and Jonah was ejected. And that ejection must have come quickly for him out onto the dry sea shore.
The ejection from the Whale came fast for Jonah. The whale was a perpetual glutton having eaten tons of food since swallowing Jonah. But suddenly there was a great rush and a roar. The pallet heaved. Up Jonah came, across over that tongue, past those mighty sharp teeth, and out onto the beach. The daylight blinded him. Jonah found himself laying on top of a mountain of bile and partly digested decomposed skeletons of lesser sea life. He peeled the entwining strands of seaweed from his body and got up and finally stood on solid ground. The brilliance of the sun on the white sand hurt his eyes. The whale left, it's mission complete. Now what did Jonah do?
ADAM and EVE fell hard when they ate of the forbidden fruit. What did God do? God came a second time in the cool of the day to mend the broken relationship. Samson fell deep into sin, but God gave him a second chance and Samson seized the two pillars of opportunity. So, if you have gone over fools hill, if you have slipped into drugs or drink or sin, if you call on God, just remember He is a God of second chance. I doubt if the great corporations of today would give a man a second chance. A bank would not re-hire an embezzeler.
The second chance came to Jonah. Note, that God is not making an exception with Jonah. This is an illustration of how God treats His children when they sin and want to come back to Him. As Jonah stood on the beach once again he heard God's voice. "Go to Nineveh!" This time Jonah obeyed quickly. Which way is Nineveh? That way! Off he went. On the run. We do not obey because we don't trust God. We don't trust Him because we do not know Him. In the Whale Jonah had gotten to know God again, and came to trust Him once more. Obedience come from knowing God. Obedience naturally followed.
JONAH 3:2 and 3. GOd said to go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim the message that I give you. And Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord. Jonah went to Nineveh! That is repentance. Repentance is a change of mind. The direction of your whole life is changed.
NINEVEH was a very large city. It took three days to go all through it. Nothing was known about Nineveh until about 1845. Since then, archeologists have gone to Nineveh and excavated it and have found that Nineveh is not a great city. Therefore you will see many commentaries that are critical of the book of Jonah because they feel this can't be true. Nineveh, in no way, shape or form was a city that would take three days to go through that city. In fact the walls of Nineveh are still there and they did not surround a very large city. And so how do we answer this? I feel that God was saying the Nineveh was a great city, not only in sin, but also in population, and in area. And I think He was refering, like we do to Chattanooga to the greater Chattanooga area. We have thousands of people living here. They had thousands of people living there. If you take the greater metropolitan area if Nineveh you have a circumference of 27 miles! And indeed it does take three days to go through that entire populated area called nineveh. It was the capital of Assyûria with a population of 120,000. Jonah may be referring to the greater metropolitan Nineveh which had a circumference of over 27 miles!
God calls Nineveh a GREAT city. Not only in area but also in sin. Judgment was overdue because of their luxurious living, sexual immorality, godless music and drunkenness. Jonah hated Nineveh. These godless heathen were feared the world over. Barbarians! Ruthless! They used very cruel methods of torture to extract information from their prisoners. One practice was to take a captive out into the hot desert and bury him up to his neck in the sand. With only his head sticking out they would put a thong through his tongue and leave him there to die. A horrible, horrible way to go, especially with the insects that were there in the desert. They were ruthless, and I am sure that Jonah hated the Assyrians. They had attacked his city many times.
Whenever the evil Assyrians went out to battle they moved like a plague of locusts. They were so feared that on some occasions an entire town would commit suicide rather than fall into their hands. Jonah dreaded going to this mecca of evil. But this time he obeyed God and made haste.
JONAH 3:4 Jonah started into the city, going a day's journey and he proclaimed forty more days that Nineveh would be destroyed. He entered the city and preached. Now, he preached only what God told him, because here it says in verse two, "you will proclaim the message that I will give you." I imagine when he first saw the great city he had he was amazed at the size of this home of his enemies. Fear and wonder gripped his heart. He was from a small town. Never in his wildest imagination had Jonah grasped the enormity of the enemy's home. You can't save a city on the outside!
How would he begin his work? HOW WOULD JONAH DRAW A CROWD? Actually that might not be too hard considering how he looked. He must have looked a sight. Eastern people normally have dark skin. Jonah's had been bleached white as snow by the stinging acid. His black hair was white as a ghost. All this made him look like an almost supernatural being. Everywhere he drew crowds. People were fascinated with his story. When he said he had been in the whale they believed him. Just his presence draws the crowd
Jonah came out of the whale a changed man. Like dirty clothes from the belly of a huge washing machine. He came out clean and white. WHITE- Covered with the pure clean righteousness of Jesus. A new person in Jesus!
At every street corner he was a man from the dead. ALBINO Jonah attracted big crowds. A spectacular sight. The gastric juices of the fish had made him into a walking crowd magnet. People didn't ridicule Jonah, they listened to him. He was a walking miracle.
40 days and Nineveh will be destroyed. Jonah must have given that message with zest because he hated the Assyrians.
JONAH 3:5 The people believed GOD! They declared a fast. And all of them from the greatest to the least put on sack-cloth. I love that verse. This does not say they believed in Jonah. They believed God! The goal of a preacher is not to have people believe in him. Too many preachers today are out of God's will by preaching their own messages. Preachers ought to preach the word. I preach from the Bible for several reasons: First I am not smart enough to preach anything else. If I preach on politics a lot of you know more about that than I do. Same with social issues. Secondly, I am smart enough to know that God will richly bless if His word is preached. Faith comes by hearing.
If we are not preaching God's message we have no business preaching. Paul said: For I have received from the Lord what I also passed on to you"- I Cor 11:23. Jonah's message was not popular but it was the truth, it was from God.
Just one minister to 120,000 people. But what can just one person do? When one minister gets into the righteousness of Jesus Christ and has a personal saving relationship with God, he becomes a mighty instrument and great things come. Jonah was a Born Again Christian.
All God has ever required is belief. If you believe in Him, your works will come. They believed in God and immediately they did something about it: they declared a fast. In other words, they believed God and demonstrated their belief by doing something about it. True belief is always followed by works. The works don't save us but the belief does. They believed God, and they proclaimed a fast.
And what did they do thirdly? Let's read on down.. look at verse 6. "When the news reached the king, he rose from his throne, he took off his royal robes, he covered himself with sack-cloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh. And the proclamation said this: Do not let any man or beast, any herd or flock, taste anything, do not let them eat or drink, but let man and beast be covered with sack-cloth. Let everyone call urgently on God (I tell you, that's prayer.), and let them give up their evil ways (that is repentance), and their violence, and who know, God may yet relent with compassion and return from His fierce anger so that we will not perish.
Notice the steps as they went through. First of all they believed God. Secondly they called a fast. Thirdly they became a people of prayer. And then they repented. Verse 8 says: give up your evil ways. They did! They changed their life. They changed their hearts. Which resulted in a change of their actions.
Now what did God do? And here is another problem with the book of Jonah. A lot of scholars today, a lot of Christians today, do not accept this book of Jonah because of verse 10. Let me read this verse very carefully with you.
"When God saw what they did, and how they turned from their evil ways, God repented." God changed His mind. He had compassion on them. He did not bring upon them the destruction that He had threatened. Does God change His mind? Does God change? No, He does not! And so how do you reconcile that with this verse? Because this verse says God repented. God changed His mind. He didn't do what He was planning to do. Does God change? No, He doesn't. So how do we relate to this verse? Let me show you how this works.
Do you remember the old days of Ingathering? I don't mean putting your goal of $30 or $45 in the offering plate; that's not what I'm referring to. The days when we used to go out at night and we went carolling and we knocked on door after door, night after night. We had territories, we had ingathering bands. Do you remeber those days?
I was up in South Haven, Michigan. And we covered the whole town every year. Why they chose December for Ingathering I will never know. It's the wrong time of the year in Michigan to Ingathering. We need to go Ingathering when it's half-way pleasant. But we always did it in December. I'll never forget one night, we were out there Ingathering. It was cold! South Haven is right on the coast of Lake Michigan. That wind can come across that lake in a strong blast. We were going down street. Street after street we would be going toward the lake. The wind that night was so hard that we actually had to lean into the wind. Have you ever walked in a wind that almost blew you over? You have to lean into the wind to make any progress. It was difficult going. We would sing at a house and go to the next house and finally we reached the end of the street, which was not far from the lake. Then we turned around and on the way back the wind almost blew us down the street. You see what I'm saying. In other words, the wind did not change. We changed our relationship to the wind. God does not change. When we walk with the world, the wind of the Holy Spirit is against us. When you turn about face and you start walking with the Holy Spirit His wind helps you in your spiritual progress. And that is exactly what happened here in the book of Jonah.
I want you to come to a final text here in Matthew, because Jesus tells us about these wicked people of Nineveh. Come to Matthew, chapter 12. Jesus says something very interesting that I think applies to God's people today. Matthew 12:40, 41. "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son Of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Now listen about Nineveh, verse 41: "The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with his generation and condemn it because (what did they do?) they repented at the preaching of Jonah and now One greater than Jonah is here." What Jesus is saying here is that these pagan men of Nineveh believed God in stark contrast to God's own people, who were the Israelites who did not believe in God. They did not accept Jesus as their Savior. How many times do you see in the book of Jonah do you see Jonah healing people? How many times did Jonah raise people from the dead? How many times did Jonah go through the streets healing leprosy and all sorts of other things? I don't read any of that. Jonah was the most successful evangelist in the history of the world. He had 120,000 converts. I never read that happened to Jesus. I never read that happened to the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul never went into the city of Rome and the whole city converted to Christanity. That never happened. And yet it did happen to Jonah. This was greater than the day of Pentecost. And what Jesus is saying here, "My own people that I came to become as soft-hearted, as tender, as responsive to me as the men of Nineveh. I think, today, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church we have the danger, we sense, well we are God's people. We know the truth. We hear sermon after sermon. But let me tell you, unless you know Jesus you don't have the truth in your heart. Because Jesus said, "I am the Way, I am the Truth." Jesus is the Truth. You can know all the 27 fundamental beliefs memorized. You can have library like I do. You cna subscribe to magazines and be in church every Sabbath but unless Jesus is in you, you are a lost person. So I appeal to you today to accept Jesus Christ in your heart, to accept Hi as your personal Savior, to give your life to Him to be covered with the beautiful robe of the Righteousness of Christ. Accpet Jesus as your Savior. Surrender your life to Him and you'll never be the same. Jonah did that. The heathen of Nineveh did that with one sermon, one simple sermon. I believe today our greatest need is to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, to be born again and to have Him live out His life in us.
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last updated 2/3/98 by Bob Beckett.