WHAT WE TALK ABOUT
Biblical. Practical. Relevant.
The Bible broken down into plain language with direct application to meet you where you are.
The Bible broken down into plain language with direct application to meet you where you are.
Chances are, whether you’re a Christian or not, you’ve heard about Jonah. He’s probably one of the more famous (or infamous) characters in the entire Bible. Why? It's because his story is larger than life. But before we get into that, let me throw some facts about Jonah at you. Did you know that aside from this book he’s only mentioned four other times? 2 Kings 14:25; Matthew 12:38-42; Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:29-32. It seems someone as famous as Jonah would have a bigger role in the grand narrative that is the Bible, doesn't it?
That brings us back to why Jonah is so famous - the part of his story nearly everyone knows: he was swallowed by a whale. The idea of this actually happening is almost too fantastic for our minds to comprehend. So we focus on this, and, it’s what the book of Jonah becomes about. Jonah and the whale. The whale and Jonah. Can I let you in on a secret that might shake you up a little? Jonah isn't the main focus of the book. Neither is the “fish.” In fact, nothing in the Bible indicates that a whale swallowed Jonah – only a “great fish.” And this fish is only mentioned three times in 48 verses! So, what’s Jonah about then? Let’s find out.
The first thing that I want you to understand is that there are two universal realities at play in this story. Sin and Grace. Sin is man violating God’s will. Our tendency to run from God. Grace is God withholding punishment and making a way for man to be restored to God. God’s tendency to pursue us. This truth is dripping from each verse in the book of Jonah and I want you to be aware of it moving forward.
Verses 1 and 2 reveal God gave Jonah a specific task: warn Nineveh about its impending destruction. God used His prophets to speak His Word to His people, yes? Not in our story. God is sending His prophet to Nineveh – a Gentile city – to warn them. What am I saying? God’s Grace Is Universal. God is proving His grace (his pursuit of humanity) extends beyond Israel to those who will hear then believe His Word.
Verse 3 records Jonah's response and we see Jonah ends up in Joppa heading to Tarshish. We don’t know exactly where Jonah was when God spoke to him but we do know he had to go “down,” travel south, to get to Joppa. What’s so important about that? Joppa is in the total opposite direction from Nineveh. In fact, Joppa was over 500 miles southwest of Nineveh. This brings to mind a question. Did Jonah really think he could outrun God’s reach? More than likely, Jonah knew Psalm 139:7, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” It's logical to conclude the answer is no. Jonah wasn't trying to out run God's jurisdiction. What Jonah was doing was forfeiting his calling by running away from his assignment. And Joppa wasn’t far enough. Tarshish was most likely in modern day Spain – 2,000 miles west of Joppa. The farthest place from Nineveh Jonah could think of. The more distance between he and Nineveh the easier to disregard God’s command.
Verse 3 tells us that Jonah went, “down,” twice. Once to Joppa and then once into the heart of the ship. This is more than a directional advance. This has spiritual implications. Sin Always Leads Us “Down.” Away from the presence and safety of God. This downward spiral is an extremely slippery slope. It continues on quickly and carries drastic consequences. So here’s a question(s) for you. Do you feel like God’s not near? Like He doesn’t care about you or isn’t with you in the midst of difficulty? Could it be that you’ve allowed sin to creep in and therefore lead you “down,” away from his presence? Are you pulling a Jonah?
Verses 4 - 15 tell us what happened as Jonah made his getaway. I won't go through every verse but I do want to point out a few things. First, I want you to notice takes place in verse 4, “But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea…” God, the Creator of heaven, earth, and sea is in full pursuit of Jonah. Remember that whole sin and grace thing? It’s evident here. Everything that happens from here on out is a direct result of God chasing after Jonah. There's a spiritual truth here, too. Sin Leads To Storms. Are you running from God, being deliberately disobedient to His commands? Expect to run into a divine storm. This storm has a few purposes: 1) It lets you know that God is inescapable and always in control. 2) It prevents you from running further “down” away from Him. 3) It shakes you up and helps you realize the path you’re on is one leading toward destruction.
Secondly, I want you to see man’s efforts to circumvent God’s sovereign plans are futile at best. Verse 5a, “Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.” God hurls a storm, commands the winds and the waves. Men hurl cargo to try to survive. Men call out to their false gods. They do everything possible within their own power to calm the storm. What truth is there in this? God Usually Comes Last. What about us? When we’re in the middle of a storm what do we do? We make an appeal to every “resource” possible. We turn to everything but God. We don’t realize that the storm is spiritual in nature and therefore, God’s the last place we turn.
The last thing I want you to see is how sin, going “down” away from God’s presence, clouds the human mindset. Verse 5b, “But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.” Now get this. These sailors weren’t greenhorns. They’d seen storms before, but nothing like this. This was a divine storm that struck terror into the hearts of these veterans of the sea. And what’s Jonah doing? Sleeping. Why? How? Because he had become calloused and indifferent to his sin. It didn’t bother him anymore. And because of this he was unable to see the danger that surrounded him or the danger he was putting others in. He refused to see it. The storm was raging, the ship was breaking apart, and people's lives were in jeopardy - because of him. And he couldn’t care less.
What's this telling us? You Never Sin In A Box. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can keep your sin nice and tidy. That’s just not true. You can’t wrangle your sin in and tell it that it can only go this far. Sin’s consequences are drastic and far-reaching and they directly affect those around you. Don’t believe me? Go and read about King David. His sin directly led to murder, a son raping a daughter, another son killing that son, then the son who killed his rapist brother trying to kill David so that he could take over the throne. You can’t control the consequences of sin once its in play.
The rest of the first chapter of Jonah further emphasizes God’s sovereignty, relentless pursuit of his beloved, and matchless grace offered to those who believe and obey what He says. You know what happens from here. The men on the ship find out that Jonah serves the one true God and that they’re in this mess because Jonah is running from Him. They basically say, “How in the world could you disobey the Creator God of the universe?” That’s verse 10. Then they ask Jonah, God's representative, what they need to do to make the storm quit. Jonah says, “Throw me into the sea.” Notice what happens next.
Verse 13, “Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land…” Are you serious? Jonah just told them, “Hey guys, I’m your problem. Throw me over and you’ll be fine.” But the sailors row. These unbelievers show more compassion on Jonah than Jonah, the prophet of God, shows them. Why? Because ever since Jonah told them what God it was that he served, the men feared that God more than Jonah himself. From the sailors, we learn that Fear Leads to Compassion. Why didn’t the men immediately chuck Jonah into the sea? Because they feared the Creator God of the universe. It had nothing to do with Jonah, but everything to do with God. Their fear of God led them to showing Jonah undeserved compassion. Let’s bring this home. How can a society think it’s okay to terminate a human life because that life lives inside a womb? How can people murder police officers/police officers murder people in cold blood? Compassion isn’t present. Human life isn’t valued. Why? People don’t fear God and therefore, vile practices follow.
Let me try to wrap this up on a positive note for you because we all know that the chapter ends with Jonah being tossed into the sea. And as far as Jonah and the sailors knew it was a death sentence, but God had other plans. Verse 14 says, “…For you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” Did we learn some things from Jonah in this chapter? Of course we did. But this one statement sums up what Jonah 1 is trying to convey. God is the central figure here. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of the entire universe. He is sovereign and His plan and design is perfect and nothing will circumvent it, certainly not a sinful human being. Yet even through this, we see the sovereign God of the universe relentlessly pursuing that which belongs to Him (Jonah) and showing mercy to those who hear and obey what He says (sailors). It’s sin and grace played out for us to see. Why? We. Are. Jonah. And God is pursuing each and every one of us. This pursuit leads directly to the foot of the cross where Jesus paid the ultimate price so that you and I could be restored to the sovereign God of the universe. So this ultimately isn’t about a man, or a storm, or a boat, or a fish – but rather it’s about God, His plan, His power, His purposes, His grace, and His mercy.
See you Wednesday.