Sermons delivered April 19, 1997

By Dr. Douglas Bennett

McDonald Road SDA Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Going Fishing with God

I sat in my barber's chair listening to one of the customers tell a fishing story. He told of having discovered a fly that attracted the fish. He said it had an irresistible attraction to them and they could not resist the bait. Then he cited as proof: in two hours he caught 153 bluegill. Well, as I listened to the story, and other stories like this, I somehow became skeptical and I said, "That story sounds awfully fishy."

You know, traditionally, fishing stories have been exaggerated out of proportion. And they have to be shrunk down to some sort of believable size to where you can get your hand around it. Well, that is not the way it is with the fishing story I want to share with you this morning. Although it is unusual, although it is filled with the miraculous, I want you to know that the half has not yet been told. The half has not yet been told in this interesting story.

Now I know that when a man catches a fish, that no longer makes news. It's done reasonably often by fisherman, but if you can reverse the procedure and have the fish catching the man; now you've got news! Headline news! The kind that would be featured in all of the network news programs, and perhaps, even be worthy of a news break in the midst of the day. It's that kind of story I have to relate to you this morning, told in four action-packed chapters, a total of forty-eight verses, and within these few compact verses you have adventure that is unparalleled. You have the emphasis of cowardice versus courage. You have selfishness and unselfishness highlighted. Love and anger; judgment and blessing; disobedience and obedience: all of this has been combined, homogenized together into one unforgettable story like we have never heard before, and it is all for our edification.

And this story was written by the "Dove". That's really his name. As the mother cradled that little infant in her arms and looked into those sparkling brown eyes, she said, "Oh, you're my little dove. And that's the name that stuck with him the rest of his days. Yawnah, which means to us, Jonah.

In this familiar story of Jonah there is housed and unfamiliar message that needs to be explored for your benefit and my benefit, because the story of Jonah helps us to better understand ourselves, and it also helps us to better understand God. In this story we have displayed both the nature of man and we also have the nature of God. Man at his natural worst, and God at His usual best are highlighted in the story. And thus by reviewing these four simple chapters in the book of Jonah you and I should better understand ourselves and we should better understand our God much better.

If you have your Bible open you will remember that the story begins with a very significant expression and significant words. In fact it is out of this verse that the entire story emerges. "The word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai: 'Go to that great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before me.'"

Would you notice that this is the Word of the Lord? Would you notice that this is not a dream? It is not a nightmare. It is not a fairy tale. It isn't a fancy or fantasy. It is the Word of the Lord. And I want to tell you when the Word of the Lord is ignored we do so always at the peril of our own lives. For through the Word of God the Lord is seeking to give guidance and give direction. He wants to tell you the right way to go. When you choose to ignore the Word of God you and I are going the wrong way. The way of obedience is still the cheap way. The way of disobedience is always the costly way and the Bible tells us that the way of the transgressor is always hard, it's always difficult.

Now, God wished to use Jonah, and He wanted to send him to Nineveh, one of the great cities of Assyria. Now, the Assyrians, it may surprise you to know that they were Semitic people. They were polytheistic like all of the nations around them and their chief god was Asshur. They were an enterprising, commercial people. Daring, adventurous, brave, they were good organizers, but they lacked the knowledge in literary achievements, in scientific achievements, but they more than made up for their deficiency in these things by their strength and by their cruelty. For three hundred years the Assyrians had been the strongest nation of the great near-east. They were the "People's Republic of China." They were the "Former Soviet Union." And they were notorious and noted for their cruelties, for their inhumane treatment and atrocities. They peeled off the skins of alive captives. They cut off their hands in piles. I've traveled in the middle east, and I've gone to the museums and seen the reliefs and they highlighted, not their literary skills and art, but their atrocities. And the tongues were cut off. You'll see piles of tongues. They were a cruel nation that bulldozed over the other inferior nations and were notorious for this.

And it was to this nation that God was wanting to send Jonah. Why? I'll tell you why. Because John 3:16 is a truth of the Old Testament just as much as it is a truth of the New Testament. God loves people. And despite the fact that wickedness was reaching judgmental proportions, God did not want the judgments to be poured out without giving them a chance. And so Jonah was being tapped on the shoulder for this assignment, you see.

Now the second verse (Jonah 1:2) tells us he was to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it. But verse 3 says that Jonah rose up, not to obey God, but rather to disobey God, the word of the Lord. He had not learned that economy is obeying. Cost is in disobeying. And so he rose to disobey. I can imagine that he pulled out his little date-book and he might have said, "Now, Lord, you know I have pencilled in here a vacation for that time. You know I've been overworked and I.. I really need a vacation. Could you let someone else take this assignment?" And without waiting for an answer, he scurries in to his little shelter home there up in Gath-hapher in northern Galilee and he packs his overnight case. He scurries out as fast as he can heading down the mountainside up in Galilee, going on down toward the western shoreline of Joppa, fifty-five miles away. Now, Nineveh lay six hundred miles to the east of him had he gone that direction. But now he goes to the opposite direction, fifty-five miles. And after those much of the way, he was weary and tired, but to his surprise and pleasure, he found there a boat, a boat that was ready to leave for Tarshish, and he discovered that Tarshish lay way at the end of the Mediterranean sea, down in southern Spain, at Gibraltar, twenty-four hundred miles away. He thought, man, that seems like a safe place. And if he enquired further, he found that they had room for just one more passenger. Boy was he hitting it lucky!

He must have thought at this time that God was honoring his request: asking for a temporary leave of absence. But you know, I want to remind us all: because you and I may prosper in some scheme of ours, does not mean that God is in it, because the devil may prosper you in order that he might later plague you. The devil may even bless you for a while, and later he will blight you. Moreover, God may allow you and me to have what you and I want in order that He may give us what we need. Have you ever thought of that? He may let you have what you want so that He can give you what you need.

So he found the ship was ready to leave. Verse three tells us that after paying the fare he went aboard. Isn't that an interesting expression? Have you stopped to realize that he's honest? Honest with the owner of the ship, but he's dishonest with the owner of the universe, and paying the price, steeling the fare with the ship-owner does not settle the affair with God. Not in one particular, does it?

You notice, too, an interesting thing. He didn't ask for a special price, a tourist price, senior citizen price. He didn't ask for special favors. Perhaps he felt that no price was too high to pay so long as it would get him out of ear-shot of God. And so he willingly paid the price. Little did he realize the fare he was paying was only a small installment of the price, the ultimate price of disobedience, for he yet had to learn that obedience is an economy and disobedience is always extremely costly. So after having traveled fifty-five miles he was rather weary. He goes down into his cabin and there he falls fast asleep. He must have thought that he's heard the last of God for a while.

But you know something, God was not finished with Jonah. And the record tells us, verse 4: "Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea." A great wind began to blow and these sailors were used to storms at sea. But the mariners were unable to control this storm because.. You know, some storms are born in the clouds of heaven like our tornado three weeks ago. And some storms are born in the arsenal of heaven, right at the throne of God. This was one of those God-sent storms blowing. And the ship's captain and the mariners were unable to control it. Finally, unable to stabilize the ship, they began to say, "We must get rid of the cargo or we'll lose the ship." And so they cast the cargo over-side. At long last they recognize that all hope of saving the ship was now gone. Now it was our lives! Now we must alert the passengers to prepare to abandon ship.

So the captain goes down, raps on the door, and opens the door because there was no answer. To his surprise he finds the passenger Jonah, the dove, fast asleep. And he calls out, "What do you mean! How can you sleep at a time like this? Why don't you get on your knees and pray to your God and perhaps He will prevent us from perishing?"

It is ironic, isn't it, that it was a pagan coming to what we would call a Christian servant of God and having to wake up the servant of God and alert him to the peril of his life. It should have been in reverse! It should have been the prophet alerting the pagan. And I wonder how many people today may be sleeping, sleeping on the verge of an eternal world. We become so exposed to signs that it almost in time we become calloused and we rock to sleep in the cradle of worldliness, and we no longer sense the seriousness of the times in which we are living. I want to tell you that sin's lethargy is the devil's anesthesia. And the deeper we sleep, the ruder will be the awakening. You can be sure of that.

Jonah was sleeping on the verge of slumbering volcano that was ready to explode. Imminent danger, and yet he did not know it. Perhaps this is the reason why Paul tells us, "It is high time that we should awake out of sleep for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed." (Romans 13:11) God is coming and He's coming soon. May God help us not to be asleep. Sin has a way of tracking a man or a woman. Wherever he goes, you can't get away. If I go into the heavens, you're there. If I go down into the depths of the earth, our scripture says, there you are. If I to the east or the west, you're there. You can't get away from God. Be sure, be certain your sin will find you out. That's the great truth that is being underscored here.

Well, what do we learn from this chapter? We learn that man is running from God. He started with Adam and Eve when they sinned. And God came in the cool of the day and asked Adam, "Where are you?" And they were running. And man has been running ever since. Mankind, running from God, but there's no place to hide. But there's not place to hide.

Let's come to the second chapter of Jonah. I want you to notice the progression that has taken place. From Gath-hepher he went down to Joppa. From Joppa he went down into the boat. Then that boat goes, he finally gets cast down into the water into a fish's belly and down into the bottom of the sea. Then he is about as low down as he can get. For the second chapter, verse six tells us, "To the roots of the mountains I sank down, and the earth beneath barred me in forever." Verse five: "The engulfing waters threatened me. The deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head." He's down at the bottom of the ocean. That is the direction where the one who runs from God always ends. DOWN! It's not up, it's DOWN! That's what the record is trying to tell us. And he is as low down as he could get.

Some of you may be in that kind of downward spiral this morning. I don't know. maybe your home is coming unglued. Maybe your children have staked out a claim on fool's hill. And is shooting arrows at your heart. Maybe they're using the chemicals. Maybe your job has caved in on you, or some terrible illness and affliction. You may be down in the pits this morning. But I want to tell you there's hope for those down in the pits. This record of this story reminds us that there is decided hope.

God doesn't always prevent us from having our way. He sometimes allows us to get entangled with the cords of our own devising in order that He can give us what we need. Sometime we have to hit bottom before we even sense that we have a need. But even when we hit bottom, I want to tell you there's hope for you and me.

And the whole story changes like a teeter-totter on the second chapter, verse one because the fish has already captured him; came up to burp, and what happened? He opened his big mouth, another burden goes in, two-legged burden, and takes him down for the first submarine ride in the history of the world. Jonah 2:1, "From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God." What a strange prayer room. It shows us there is no time, there is no place where prayer is inappropriate, doesn't it. Any time you need Him, and if anybody ever needed Him , the man Jonah certainly did need Him, didn't he?

One of the greatest blessing that comes to you and me through prayer is the change it produces in you and me. Prayer changes people, yes, prayer changes circumstances. Praying down in the dark brought light to Jonah. You may be in a dark pit today, but that's your greatest ally is prayer. Pray, and He can lift you to the light. Yes, if you are praying down in the depths it can lift you up to the heights for God is there. Aren't you glad that God doesn't desert us when we need Him? Aren't you glad God doesn't have office hours? You call the doctor, and you find out that they're all closed down. They won't be open until tomorrow. Aren't you glad God doesn't have a beeper that he can shut off? His beeper is always on. It's turned toward you and toward me. He loves to hear you, as you call upon Him. For just when I need Him the Lord is near.

And so Jonah began to pray. The Psalms was his prayer book. Ten Psalms he refers to here. Then he closes this in saying, (verse 9) With a song of thanksgiving, I will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord." You see, heretofore, Jonah had been able to use his own cunning, his own skills, and maneuvered himself out of every situation, but God boxed him in. And the human power was completely boxed in and he could use nothing. The only way he could look was up. When you hit bottom, look up! Pray to God. And He will hear. Run to God. See, he ran from God, now he's running to God, but not until he recognized his need.

Which brings us to our third chapter. And the third chapter pictures the fish, the cargo, delivering the cargo. Jonah is the cargo, and he swims over to as near to his original destination as he could and opens his big mouth and Jonah comes out. Wouldn't you like to have had a video of that? What a sight he must have been. Three days lounging in the stomach of a fish. His beard, I wonder what it looked like. Tangled, hair all unkempt, tousled. His clothes wrinkled, wet, smelly, hydrochloric acid. Probably burns on his skin and on his face. And the record tells us Jonah 3:1, "Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time: Go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I gave you." Please notice: the same identical message. God did not change the requirement to accommodate the prophet. But God did change the prophet sot that he could fulfill the commission. That's what God does in your life and in my life. There are no bargain days in religion. It's always so "likewise, whosoever does not forsake all that he hath he cannot be My disciple." It's always that way. It always will. But He can change you and me so that we can carry out what God wishes for you and me.

And so the word of the Lord came the second time, it says. Aren't you glad for the second chances that God gives? I'm glad He didn't cast me off the first time, the second, time the third time, fourth time. I'm so glad He kept pursuing me, running after me when I was running from Him.

City of New York streets, a gang leader, pilfering, fighting, stealing, hurting people, Ron Halvorsen, illiterate. He couldn't read anything but the comic books. God gave him another chance. And now he's running with God. A dug Bachelor lived like an animal in a cave. You would have said, "Don't waste your time on a person like that. God reached down and gave him another chance. No telling how many chances, and now he's running with God. You see, when God gives you another chance and me another chance, He wants us now to go on God's errands. Jonah did not say, "Lord, let me go spend the night in the Holiday Inn. I need to freshen up a bit to perform my task. I need a good bath. I need a good night's sleep."

He now understood God's work demanded haste, and he ran to do God's work and to go out and minister to the people. And he went to that great city of Nineveh. Do you know that it is sixteen hundred forty acres? Collegedale has about a thousand acres over there. This was a large city to the Jewish people. The largest cities they had in Palestine were none over twenty acres. 16040 acres? A great city. And it took him forty days to go down the little alleys and all the little houses and streets for him to preach the message that he had to give. And did he preach it with fervor, with a new- born spiritual fervor due to the experience through he had passed.

He must have had a convincing message for the people of that city trembled in response to the judgment hour message. The nobles, the kings, the peasants all humbled themselves before God and turned away from their evil to God. And do you know friends, that's what repentance is all about. When you and I turn from our sinfulness by the grace of God. That's the only way we can turn. To Him for help. He honors that as the best you have to offer. And He will respond.

What have we learned from this chapter? We've learned that God is not willing that any should perish. We've learned that God sees something in sinners that you and I don't see in sinners worth saving. We've learned that God want to use His church, you and me, weak and defective as we may be in the mission of winning the lost and bringing them to God. You can run from God, but you can't hide. When you hit bottom, look up, and run to Him. Then when God gives you a second chance, run with God as Jonah did.

Now we come to our last chapter. This fourth chapter, and as we turn here we open with an angry, angry preacher and evangelist. His anger spills out in a prayer to God. He can't contain himself. You see, God isn't angry, but Jonah is. And Jonah is angry because God isn't angry. And here the preacher is who had a hundred percent return from his preaching. 100%! I've never known an evangelist to have that. He should have been elated, walking on a cloud. Instead, he's down in the pits, grumbling. You see his nature: he does not love people enough. You can see that. And so he complains to God and he says, if you will notice, this is why in verse 2, "....I was quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." I want to tell you my friends, that's the greatest character recommendation I can find of God. And he's angry because God is like that. And I am thrilled because God is like that. Because if He wasn't like that way, I wouldn't be standing before you today. It's because He's gracious, compassionate, not anxious to punish. "Turn, turn, for why will you die, oh house of Israel?" God wants to save not to destroy any individual.

And so Jonah creeps out on the side of a hill, safe space, safe spot, looks down. He wanted to see what would happen at the end of that preaching, now. Would fire and brimstone fall? And if it did, I'm at a safe distance. But at the same time I want to be close enough to witness. And there he sat. And the wind... if you've ever been to the Middle East you know how those winds in the summer are vehement, and they beat upon his head, even though he had erected himself a little shack there. And then it was that God said, "Do you have a right to be angry?" "Oh, yes I do have a right to be angry." You see, God had allowed a vine, a castor vine to grow, to shade him. And it cooled him down and he was so grateful. Then God allowed a worm to come and to destroy it. Then God sent a scorching wind that beat vehemently upon him.

"Do you have a right to be angry?" "Oh, yes I do! Up to the point of.... let me die." The Lord said, "I need to give you a this little experiential lesson. You rejoiced over that vine that you had not planted, had not tilled, and it had offered you relief and comfort. You wanted me to treat the Ninevites like the worm treated that vine. Should I not have been merciful to the hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know right from wrong?" You see, at this stage of this chapter we have Jonah running ahead of God. He is trying to tell God how to run His work. God loves people, and so should we.

We have suggested by reviewing these four chapters of Jonah we would better understand ourselves and God. Man is self-centered: God is self-denying. Man is deceptive: God is devoted. Man runs from God: but God runs to man, to help him. Man lacks love and compassion: God is abounding, full of compassion and love.

In this book we have found: man can run from God, but he can't hide. We have discovered that when you hit bottom there's only one way to look: that's up. Look up in prayer. Turn to God, run to God, and when God gives you a second chance, run with God. But the caution is: Let's always avoid running ahead of God, trying to tell God how to run His work. God loves people, and so should we.

May I remind you today that when you go fishing with God, when you go fishing with God, the soul you save may be your own.

Scripture: Psalm 139:1, 7-10, 17
Closing Hymn: #287 - Softly and Tenderly


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