Jonah 1:1-17; 3:1-10; 4:1-11
(sermon note: 11-08 sermon note)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/uMptRWAPtDQ)
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.’
The sailors said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ ‘I am a Hebrew,’ he replied. ‘I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done!’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you, that the sea may quieten down for us?’ For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.’ Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.’ So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’
But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’
Our good friend Jonah can’t help but remind me of the one about a father who called all of his 5 small children together one day. As they sat together in a circle on the floor, the dad placed a toy in the middle. He explained to them that he won this toy as a door prize and he wanted to give it to one of them. So he asked them, “Who is the most obedient among you?” Five sets of eyes looked back up at him, somewhat dumbfounded. Sensing that they didn’t understand the question, he then asked, “OK, who always obeys mommy and does everything she says?” The kids looked around at each other until finally one of the children picked up the toy and handed it to the father. “You win, daddy!” exclaimed the child.
We all have someone to obey in this world and for those of us who are married, that someone is very obvious! We know who’s in charge of the house, who keeps everyone healthy, happy, and sane. It’s a tough job keeping the home running smoothly and I have nothing but utmost respect and admiration for all those moms out there. I know I lose my patience far too often and can place far too many expectations on my family. And not to offer too many excuses, but it’s hard transitioning from “adult world” to “family world,” especially now that both worlds are turned upside down. There are few rhythms in either world to help stabilize them and everyone seems to be stepping on each other’s toes lately. Family life, working life, schooling life…they’re all intersecting each other these days and causing a lot of high tensions and impatience. And yet somehow the moms among us seem to be doing a great job of keeping their cool. Where would be without you?! Well, we wouldn’t be anywhere so thank you!
But our time of heightened anxiety isn’t all that unusual in the grand scheme of things. Ever since we were kicked out of the Garden, we’ve been in times of heightened anxiety. Thus is life in this world! If we’re not anxious, then we’re at least aware or expected to be. You can’t get through life in this world if you’re not aware of how this world operates and all the forces that make this world turn. Of course, none of us can understand all the forces nor exactly how this world operates. Only God is privy to such knowledge. But He’s given us one big clue about a major force that keeps this world turning day after day: LOVE! God loves us. God loves this world. God wants us to share that love, be a part of that love. It’s a major driving force behind a lot of how this world operates. But getting back to our reading for this morning…
As I mentioned earlier, we all have someone to obey in this world whether it’s a parent or a spouse or a teacher or a boss or police officer or a judge or a warden or a president. And even if you think you’re above having to obey any of these, you always have one master that you must always obey: God. God is the supreme, end-all-be-all master that you can’t not obey. Oh sure, you can fool yourself into believing you’re above God and God’s rule. You can fool yourself into believing that his word simply doesn’t apply to you. But in the end, you’re simply fooling yourself into becoming a fool! God’s word applies to all of us and God’s word must be heeded by all of us. When God calls, you best be answering lest you want to be considered a fool!
Now unfortunately, for whatever reason, our good friend Jonah didn’t seem to understand this about God. He didn’t answer God’s calling nor heed his word. And where did it get him? Three days in the belly of a fish to rethink it! After he’s spewed out on dry land and God comes to him again and tells him to go to Ninevah and get them to change their evil ways, he offers a pretty flimsy excuse for not obeying God’s word. “I knew you wouldn’t destroy them because you are gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. What was the point of even sending me? Were you trying to get me killed by an angry and wicked people?!” We know that wasn’t why God told Jonah to get the Ninevites to change their evil and wicked ways. They did change their ways…almost immediately they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloths, two mournful and reflective responses to their bad behavior. They simply needed to be told to change their evil ways by God through someone like Jonah! Jonah overthought God’s command and got himself in quite a sticky situation as a result. No amount of excuses and backtracking could ever really cover up his sheer disobedience.
You see, Jonah’s story is less about revealing God’s mercy to a wicked people and more about revealing the importance of obeying God’s word. Jonah’s not unlike you and me…he’s a very human character. He was probably afraid that the Ninevites would kill him if he told them of God’s impending destruction. Yet he knew he was wrong for not obeying God. Over and over, he tried to get the sailors on the ship to throw him overboard and kill him for his disobedience. They finally do because they ran out of options. Jonah makes a flimsy excuse for his disobedience. Jonah storms off and pouts over God’s mercy but even though God looks after him by providing a bush for shade. Jonah is a very human character caught up in anger and pride and resentment and fear and self-pity. And all his woes stem from his lack of obedience to God’s word.
Friends, heed God’s word in your life! God speaks to each of us in our lives. God expects things from each of us. He is the everpresent, all-knowing master over each of our lives. Be assured that his word is for our benefit. The prophet Isaiah says, “if you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” (1:19) God wants only good for you and me. Rejoice in this, place your trust in this! Hebrews says, “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing–for that would be harmful to you.” (13:17) Jonah got himself into harm’s way only by disobeying God. God was keeping watch over him. God wasn’t sending him to be called. No, God was using him and was willing to protect him. Jonah simply needed to heed God’s word. James writes, “but be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (1:22) God expected Jonah to be a doer, not merely a hearer. God expects you and me to be doers, not merely hearers. Even Jesus said, “blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:28)
Jonah’s story is a motivational story. It teaches us the importance of obeying our supreme master, God. Let us be ever patient in listening to his word in our lives. Let us be ever diligent in responding to his word in our lives. Perhaps more importantly, let us be ever thankful for the opportunities to hear and respond to his word in our lives. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.