“That’s the guy who got swallowed by a whale or a fish. What a cute story.”
But it’s a real story – a story about the ways we live out the story of Jonah in our own lives. Jonah’s story is OUR story. You’ll hear this story and say, “why did he do that?” Instead, we should reflect and say, “why do I do that? Why do we do that?
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.
We’re beginning a sermon series called Running. So many of us have had a period in our lives where we took up running. Some of us have done this on and off, and some have stuck with it.
Regardless of our experience with the actual act of running, in our spiritual lives, you and I are naturally good at running, especially in the opposite direction of where God is calling us.
Why? Because of what the call of God often entails.
The call of God very often involves something we really don’t want to have to do.
We see this throughout the scriptures. We’ve seen it in our own lives. God calls us to something, and it’s very often something that’s not on our list of things we’d really like to be doing.
Every day God invites us to follow Him. On some days, it feels like the call is delivered in a whisper. On others, it feels like we get slapped across the face. Either way, God calls on us. The challenge is that it’s often in the direction of things we don’t really want to do or face, like…
- Taking steps of faith (out of our control)
- Facing down something in ourselves we’ve been avoiding
- Confronting injustice, brokenness (getting our hands dirty)
- Giving, serving, sacrificing, going (being generous)
- Spending time with people we don’t see eye-to-eye with
- Confronting our pride
- To stop hedging our bets and commit to the thing we know He keeps calling us to
God calls us to the hard things because the hard things are the game-changers. They’re how God breaks the status quo in our lives and world.
When it comes to these things and others like them, we suddenly have incredible stamina, agility, and motivation to run and keep running in the opposite direction.
Just. Like. Jonah.
“God, show me your will. Just not that.”
So, this isn’t just a Sunday School story or a bible story. This is OUR story.
Here are some highlights from Chapter 1:
- This is among the prophetic books – the minor prophets. And Jonah is a prophet. So what’s a prophet’s job? To receive the word of the Lord and then declare it to all people.
- Jonah is unique among the prophets because it doesn’t seem like he’s got the job description. The role of a prophet was to receive a word from the Lord and deliver it to the people. This was not a popular job. Prophets were not popular people. (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) “Go to these people, they’re not going to do anything you tell them to do.” They were almost always opposed. There was an incredible personal and professional risk.
- God calls Jonah: “Arise, go to Nineveh, preach against it.” This is the only part of the call he gets right. He arises. He gets up. But Jonah “ran away from the Lord” (vs. 3). Another translation says, “he arose to flee from the presence of the Lord to Tarshish.” And the Jewish audience would’ve begun to chuckle at this point because you just can’t get away from the presence of the Lord.
7 “Where can I go from the Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
- No matter where we go or where we run, God is there. Ever play hide-and-seek with a toddler? They stand behind a window curtain with everything but their head and torso sticking out for all to see. Read the first sentence again… No matter where we go or where we run (hide), God is there.
- We discover later in the story why Jonah runs. He was fearful. Nineveh was a large, powerful city in modern-day Iraq known for its cruelty. But Jonah isn’t afraid of it. He’s afraid of what God is going to do. He’s afraid that God will show mercy to them and forgive them. We want God to take our side against our enemies. We are afraid that God will see our adversary differently than we do.
- And so, Jonah runs. He heads down to Joppa and boards a ship to Tarshish. However, God raises a violent storm (vs. 4). The sailors are afraid and cry out to God. Jonah doesn’t. Jonah is asleep. The person God has called to represent Him is sleeping. This is a metaphor for us. God has often called us to something, and we run in the opposite direction. People are calling out for God, and we’re nowhere to be found.
- But then something interesting happens. The roles are reversed, and instead of Jonah speaking for God, he’s rebuked by a pagan (vs. 6). “Get up and pray to your God!”
God will use voices you never thought He could…
- The seas get rougher. They cast lots, which was something they would do in ancient times to figure out which God was responsible, and the lot fell to Jonah. Jonah responds, “throw me overboard, and the seas will calm.” This was a death sentence. Stating he would rather die than do what God called him to do.
- They try to keep rowing (vs. 14). Then they cry out to the Lord. These people who are pagans start praying to God. Jonah has done everything wrong, and these people come to faith in God. Running, sleeping, quiet, and yet this is good news for all of us. How many times have we messed up? The working out of God’s plan is not dependent on my goodness or my lack of goodness. We can rest on that, and that’s a relief for some of us.
Even if you’ve run, or you’re running, the will of God will be worked out.
As we close, think about how Jonah’s story really is OUR story.
- Running from God is something we all struggle with, on the outside but also on the inside. We can be physically present but spiritually checked out, and we often run from being the people of God in the places God is calling us to. What if we stood up to the places of power rather than trying to just get them on our side? God has given you gifts and passions. But maybe you've felt opposed. Maybe you were hurt. Maybe it doesn't seem easy. Maybe you're a little afraid of what God might lead you into. And so, you've been running from it. But you can't outrun God. And He'll keep reminding you, subtly… and not so subtly… of what He's called you to.
- Our decisions always impact those around us in ways we don’t anticipate. We deceive ourselves into thinking our running only affects us. But our decisions create consequences for the people around us – the shrapnel proximity of others to our decisions.
- God still works for good despite our failures. So, what’s it time to do? Stop running. What’s that look like? There’s a place where you’ve been giving God your “no” where you can give Him your “yes.” Turn from Tarshish and face Nineveh. Remember that God is with you, He’s called you, and you can stop running.
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