The mercy of God is like an ocean while man’s is like a single drop. Praise God that when we were going our selfish and sinful way He did not listen to the Jonah’s in our life – even if they were right – but that He had mercy on us through His Son Jesus Christ.
The Marathon has an interesting origin. In 490 B.C., the Greeks defeated the invading Persian army in the Battle of Marathon. According to legend, a Greek messenger named Phillipides was immediately dispatched to Athens to deliver the news. Having himself just finished fighting on the battlefield, he ran the whole 25 mile distance from Marathon to Athens without stopping. Upon arriving he burst into the assembly of statesmen, shouting his final words, “we have won!” Then collapsed and died.
The story is the inspiration for the modern marathon, but, there is inspiration as well for us as the Church of Jesus Christ. Whether true or not, the legend of Phillipides reminds us our Christian course is described as a race (1 Cor. 9:24); that we too have a message of victory (1 Cor. 15:57); and that we also are to go to great lengths to tell it (Mt. 28:19; Acts 1:8).
Yet, the idea of going to tell others is the basic pattern God has used from the beginning – its not new with the Church. The whole idea of the prophet in the OT is that God wants to send a message to a person or a nation – Israel or Gentile – and He picks a man to be His messenger. That man is known as a Prophet. God gives a message to His Prophet then he is supposed to go and deliver it to its intended audience. We saw that pattern in Revelation, remember, as Jesus gave a message to John the Apostle to give to the seven churches.
This is the same pattern employed by God in the book of Jonah. God wants a message delivered and Jonah is His man to do it. But, apart from the fish incident, perhaps what makes Jonah so famous is his running away from God. Jonah and Phillipides both had a message to deliver. Yet, unlike Phillipides, Jonah ran a great distance not to deliver his.
Now, let’s get acquainted with Jonah’s profile a little as a prophet. His name, “Jonah”, means “dove”. This book is dated at 760B.C., which is only about 40 years before Assyria conquers the northern kingdom of Israel. By the time the book begins Jonah is already a career prophet. In 2 Kings 14:25 Jonah is mentioned. Turn there with me and lets read.
This book isn’t showing us a man who is starting out his prophetic career – it is picking up in the middle of Jonah’s prophetic career. With Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and others we get to read about their recruitment by Jehovah into His service. Not with Jonah though.
Is Jonah actual history or is it a fable? Let me answer that in two ways. First, the Bible treats this book – its characters and events – as real history. Jesus mentioned Jonah in Matthew 12:39-41 and what Jesus says doesn’t make sense unless you see Jonah as real history. He also mentions Jonah again in Mt. 16:4. Again, unless you accept Jonah as real history what Jesus says doesn’t make sense.
Secondly though, lets be honest: people question the historicity of Jonah because of Jonah’s fish. People have a hard time believing Jonah could really be swallowed by a big fish and survive. Now, unless you are an atheist and you only believe in the natural world and its laws – laws that cannot be suspended or interrupted – then you shouldn’t have a hard time with this. In other words, if you don’t allow for miracles in the Bible to be true – which means in real life – then your completely naturalistic worldview doesn’t allow for the supernatural, and thus, no miracles. You think that the physical universe is the limit of reality and existence, and, its laws are inviolable. But this is the point! -We believe in the God of Jonah and thus the miracle of the fish is no obstacle for us. What I’m saying is that if you believe in a God who is outside of the natural universe that He created by His power, and that He has power to intervene and suspend natural laws He created any time He wants for His own reasons, then I don’t see the problem for you to believe a fish swallowed Jonah and he survived.
Furthermore, if you doubt this piscatorial miracle, then you are forced to doubt all the other miracles in Scripture. A 90 year old woman cannot become pregnant; the Red Sea could not be parted; 10 plagues could not be inflicted on the Egyptians; an earth covering flood couldn’t happen; the Jordan couldn’t be stopped up; Jesus didn’t turn water into wine, heal the sick, raise the dead, or even Himself come back from the dead. If you say miracles can’t happen then you have erased half the Bible. You are an unbeliever. You may believe in a god, but, not the God of the Bible. You need to give your bible in your hands to your neighbor and go buy Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, where he cut out all the miracles and supernatural events in the Bible and reduced Scripture to its moral teachings. My point? The fish part was real. That’s all I think we need to say about the fish for now.
Many themes weave through this short book:
- The mercy of God
- You can’t run away from God
- Preaching to the nations
- When a Prophet won’t Prophecy
- God’s love for the wicked
- God’s love for the nations
- Faithfulness to God’s call
- Consequences for disobedience
It is four chapters long and I will give you a very easy 4-point outline to break it up into manageable pieces: Jonah Running, Jonah Drowning, Jonah Preaching and Jonah Sulking. Again: Jonah Running (Chapter 1), Jonah Drowning (Chapter 2), Jonah Preaching (Chapter 3), and Jonah Sulking (Chapter 4).
The God Who Comes to Us (v1-2)
This book begins with very common words – common in that they appear frequently in the OT: The word of the LORD came to… God came to Jonah personally. But, it was through Jonah God wanted to come to the Ninevites.
Who were the Ninevites? Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire – the same Assyrian empire that was going to capture Israel in about 40 more years. Here’s what you need to know: the Ninevites were arguably the most cruel and evil people in history to that point – definitely the most cruel in the world during their day. Turn to Nahum, which is two books to the right from Jonah. Read 3:1 and 19.
I’m not even going to begin describing what they did that I’ve been reading about. You can read my manuscript later this week on the website to see. But the point is this: Because the Ninevites were famous for their extreme cruelty, Jonah didn’t want them to be spared by God, He wanted them to be destroyed.
I find myself quick to criticize Jonah for his disobedience in this story but I find if I think about it in modern settings it helps me sympathize with Jonah more. Imagine you live in the early 1940’s knowing everything that we know now Hitler was doing – the death camps, the torture, the torturous experimentation on people – and imagine God told you to go into the streets of Berlin at that time and preach that Berlin was going to fall by the stroke of Jehovah’s hand. No, God – don’t spare him – judge him! Look at all the cruelty and wickedness he has inflicted on other humans.
But God’s mercy compared to ours is like an ocean compared to a drop. Praise God when we were going in our way of evil and sin God did not listen to the Jonah’s in our life, even if they were right, but that God had mercy on us through His Son Jesus Christ. Lets look at a few points here though that
First, God initiates salvation. We talk about seeker-friendly churches and that refers to people who are seeking spiritual things, maybe even God. But perhaps we overlook that God is a seeker. John 4:23-24. Jesus said the Father seeks true worshippers. Here the LORD is seeking the Ninevites. He is going to go to them.
Second, God isn’t ignorant of anything. He knows all things. He knows the sins of the Ninevites. He heard of their sins, thus, they were going to hear from Him via His prophet
God warns and tries to divert people from their sinful ways so He doesn’t have to bring judgment. Jesus warned the churches in Revelation 2-3. The Lord warned OT Israel every time they turned away from Him. It’s not the fish that makes this book remarkable – it’s the mercy of God that stands out. God did not want to judge the Ninevites. He wanted them to repent. Our God desires Repentance! (Ez. 33:11; 2 Pet. 3:9) Seeking that which is lost. God seeks the salvation of the wicked.
Application: The person who would think God hates them, that they’ve gone too far to come back, that they’re irredeemable, that God has cast them off, hear this from God: “I do not desire the death of the wicked, I desire they turn from their evil ways and live.” God relents from judgment for great lengths of time to give you time to turn to Him. His relenting is proof He does not want to bring judgment. He wants to give mercy. He gives mercy. But you must turn to Him, humble your heart, believe what He says about Himself: that He welcomes the one who humbles themselves before Him. He exalts the humble, He gives grace to the humble, but the proud He will knock down. Do not exhaust His patience. Do not put your soul at risk by continuing to put off your repentance. Do not say, “I have time, I will wait til another time. God can wait.” You do so to your own peril.
Notice how an Israelite is selected by God to preach to this Gentile nation. God could have raised up a man in Nineveh, a citizen of Nineveh, to preach to the Ninevites. So we must notice that He chose for the Ninevites to hear from a Jewish prophet. Why? Because God is the God of Israel, they are His covenant people. The nations will acknowledge that Jehovah is God, and it is in Israel where the true God is found.
We only got through 2 verses today. That’s okay. We wanted to set the stage in our first sermon. Today we look at Jonah’s back as he is sprinting towards Joppa. We’ll give him a week’s head-start and next week we will catch up to him and see how the story really takes off.