This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on July 6th, 2008. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Justin on Jonah.
JONAH 1-2 STOP RUNNING AWAY
Jonah is ordered by Yahweh, the true God, to go to the city of Nineveh and “cry out against it,” to warn it that its great wickedness will soon bring God’s judgment. But instead he runs away in the opposite direction, and God has to chase him down. Jonah doesn’t understand God’s grace. He thinks that God is being too easy on Nineveh, not realizing how kind God is to him. This morning we’ll look at a familiar story about a pathetic prophet, and see a reflection of our foolish selves and of our patient God.
DON’T RUN FROM GOD’S COMMANDS.
…by claiming to know what’s best for God Jonah runs because he thinks he can do a better job handling God’s affairs than God can. Though Jonah’s assignment is a tough one, fear isn’t what sends him fleeing. He runs because he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to warn the Ninevites away from their wickedness. He feels pretty sure that Nineveh deservs what is coming to it. He tells God (in chapter 4, verse 2) that he ran because he was afraid that God, whose patience and mercy are well-known, might “go soft” on Nineveh! And Nineveh deserved justice! It was the capital of Assyria, that much-feared nation which spent years attacking and oppressing Israel. These enemies of God’s people, besides being idol-worshipers, had committed all kinds of war crimes against Israel and other nations. To get the sense of this, try to picture a Rwandan Tutsi pastor being told to go announce God’s judgment against the Hutu government who had slaughtered his people…or a villager in Darfur being sent to the Janjaweed raiders who attack his people’s villages. These were bad people; no doubt about it, and yet God was giving them an advance warning of destruction, with time to change their ways and live! Jonah decides that he knows better than God, and that for God’s own good, He shouldn’t compromise His justice by giving the Ninevites a chance to escape destruction.
While God hasn’t shown up to tell us to go to Nineveh, he has given us commands to live by: “love your neighbor,” for instance. And we are fine with that in general, but when he puts specific, inconvenient, or unkind people in our lives, we often find ways to say that God can’t really mean that we have to love this person, that if God really knew the situation he would understand, etc. When we do this we, like Jonah, can miss the amazing things God wants to accomplish through us.
…by thinking that good behavior will outweigh disobedience Jonah is a Hebrew, a member of the people devoted to the one true God, Yahweh (in 1:9, with a bit of pride, Jonah claims that he worships Yahweh the God of heaven…though he certainly hasn’t been acting like such a worshiper). He’s a prophet. He feels secure in God’s favor. In saying that the Ninevites don’t deserve grace, he’s implying “…but I do deserve it.” Yet when he receives a direct command from God, he runs the other way…how is he any different from the pagans?
Sure, Jonah’s logic is ridiculous, but we, too, have behaved like this. When we begin to take God’s grace for granted, we see our “little” disobediences as not all that serious. We come up with lots of reasons why other people are in the wrong and we’re in the right, or we secretly believe that good behavior or belief in one area will outweigh disobedience in another.
But the Yahweh we read about in the Jonah story, the true God who made the universe, takes the disobedience of his people very seriously. He chases Jonah down with a highly-targeted storm, letting him know that his nautical maneuvers can’t escape God. In the same way, God doesn’t want us to think for a minute that we are more deserving of his favor than other people are. Each one of us should ask, “In what ways have I been dodging God’s demands on my life, while minimizing or rationalizing my disobedience as not that bad? What sin am I tolerating, or trying to balance out with good behavior in other areas?”
INSTEAD OF HIDING FROM GOD’S MERCY, ADMIT YOUR SIN AND ACCEPT HIS FORGIVENESS.
Jonah’s fearful attempt to escape his mission fails. God “catches” him, and allows him to be thrown into the depths of the sea. Jonah thinks that he’s dead, that he has been shut out of the land of the living. He vividly describes this in chapter 2, verses 5 and 6. He began by fleeing from God’s presence, but now God seems to have “cast him away” (2:4). But rather than abandoning him to death, God mercifully saves him by means of a giant fish. Even before Jonah turns back to ask for God’s mercy, he’s given a second chance to follow the path God wants him to take. Instead of punishment he receives loving, though firm, correction.
Like Jonah, we have tried to hide parts of our lives from God. Like Jonah, we deserve the grave for our disobedience. But God showed his mercy and forgiveness in a surprising way: his Son, Jesus, came to be the prophet that Jonah never quite could be. He followed his Father’s commands perfectly, and demonstrated both God’s fury against sin and his incredible love for sinners. And though he was innocent, Jesus still went down to the depths of death and judgment on behalf of guilty people. He didn’t just come close to death, as Jonah did—he actually was shut out of the land of the living, and experienced all that death and hell could throw at him (as the Apostles’ Creed says, “he descended into hell,” or the grave). He did this on your behalf and mine, creating forgiveness for our sins and rebelliousness.
Today, as we come to worship and to take the Lord’s Supper, we come knowing that we have disobeyed God in “large” ways and in “small” ones too. We may be tempted to try to hide our sin from God and others by pretending that everything is fine, or by putting up a front of having everything under control and perfect. We may be thinking that God is going about things in a strange, inconvenient, or even foolish way. But God has gone to extreme lengths to rescue us from the consequences of our sins. He showed us his love even while we were trying to run away. He wants us to realize the seriousness of those sins we have minimized, to confess them, and then to accept and trust in the forgiveness he has provided.