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03.02.08 Jonah

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·         SLIDE 1: Jonah

·         “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh.  Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

·         The message was clear, it was from God, and it was to be obeyed.

·         But there were issues:

o   Jonah was a prophet of God’s people and he just wasn’t clicking wit the idea of being used by God to warn people who were enemies of God’s people.

o   Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria (located in what is now Northern Iraq) and Assyria had a reputation.

o   They were not a friendly bunch and were noted for:

§  Burning their enemies alive

§  Skinning them alive

§  Impaling them on poles

§  The book of Nahum tells of:

·         Scheming against God

·         Exploitation of the helpless

·         Cruelty in war

·         Idolatry

·         Prostitution

·         Witchcraft

o   They were also noted for:

§  Being an advanced society

§  They worshipped at the temple of Nabu, the god of writing, arts and science

§  Massive libraries have been found in the ruins of Nineveh including the Gilgamesh Epic which contains a version of the flood account.

o   It was a big assignment :

§  Massive size of the city itself  (three days to walk through)

§  The brutal reputation

§  Maybe even the scholarly atmosphere

o   Jonah had even deeper issues with the assignment

·         Jonah knew God’s call.  He now had to choose which way to run!

·         “But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.” [1]

o   Let’s put this move in perspective:

§  SLIDE 2: Normal route to Nineveh

§  SLIDE 3: Where Jonah wanted to go

§  See the difference?

§  His goal was to get as far away from God on earth as he probably thought he could. (would have been about 2,500 miles)

·         SLIDE 4: Jonah

·         So Jonah ends up on a ship bound for Tarshish.

o   Not long after they leave Joppa God sends a storm

§  A way of providing some major course correction for Jonah

o   The storm was a huge storm and the ship began to break apart

o   The sailors became very desperate, very quickly, and began calling out to their gods for some help while throwing cargo overboard

§  The great irony is that while all this was going on, Jonah was sleeping soundly in the hold of the ship.

§  The Capitan must have noticed the missing Jonah and went looking for him

§  He found him sawing logs (sleeping) and asked him the same question we’re wondering:  “How can you sleep at a time like this?”

§  I think Jonah really believed he was escaping God’s call.

·         The pressure was off.

·         “It’s going to be hard to preach in Nineveh when I’m in Tarshish.”

§  The Captain had a good idea for Jonah:  “Pray to your god and maybe he’ll hear us an save our lives!”

·         It’s interesting to see how pro-active these sailors were in the area of divine assistance.

·         If the gods weren’t answering then they figured someone on board had probably tick one off.

§  They cast lots (when needed God can work through anything) and the lots pointed to Jonah as the offender.

o   The questioning began:

§  Who are you?

§  What’s your line of work?

§  What country are you from?

§  What’s your nationality?

o   Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the land.”

o   The picture was clear for the sailors now.

§  They had a guy on their ship who not only served the Creator of the land and sea (it takes a little bit of power to be able to do that) he was arrogant and/or foolish enough to believe he could actually run away from Him!

o   Meanwhile, the storm was getting worse.

§  They asked Jonah what he thought they should do.

§  “Throw me overboard and the storm will stop.”

§  But the sailors started rowing even harder to get the ship to land, but the storm was just to violent.

§  Finally they gave up, calling out to Jonah’s God, “O Lord, don’t make us die for this man’s sin.  And don’t hold us responsible for his death.  O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”

§  Then they picked up Jonah, threw him overboard and the storm stopped at once!

§  The sailors knew a powerful God in action when they saw it, so they offered a sacrifice and vowed to serve Him.

·         We could stop right here and we’d have a powerful story.

o   Here we have the man of God thinking he could mess with God and get away with it.

o   Then we have the pagan sailors recognizing the power of God and vowing to serve Him.

o   Religious arrogance is dangerous.

·         Well, you know the next part of the story.

o   God arranged for a “great fish” to swallow Jonah. (it doesn’t say that it was a whale)

o   And that is where he stayed for three days and three nights.

§  Now if you’re thinking that’s got to be pure allegory, something from a fairy tale or an epic myth, let me reassure you that there are documented cases of people being swallowed by whales and coming out alive; a bit bleached, but alive

§  This happened in the late 1800’s on the ship Star of the East.

·         In February 1891, this whaling ship spotted a large sperm whale in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands.

·         Two boats were launched, & shortly a harpooner speared the whale.

·         The second boat attempted to get in another harpoon, but the boat was overturned in the process and one man drowned.

·         Another man, James Bartley, disappeared & was assumed drowned.

·         In time the whale was killed and drawn to the side of the ship where it was tied fast & the blubber removed.

·         The following day the stomach was hoisted onto the deck.

·         That’s where James Bartley was.

·         He was in the whale’s stomach, unconscious, but alive.  He recovered & did his job again.

§  Need a spiritual retreat?  Try three days and nights in a fish gut.

·         It will change you.

§  While Jonah was in the fish gut, he became very repentant.  He wanted to change his ways.

·         He began praying scripture.

·         God heard him.

·         And God ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.

·         Then God told Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”

o   And Jonah did just that.

o   On the day he entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed.”

§  And the strangest thing happened; they believed the message!

§  They went on a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

§  The king of Nineveh took off his royal robes and dressed in burlap as well and sat on a heap of ashes as a sign of mourning

§  The king issued this decree:

·         “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all.  People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God.  They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence.  Who can tell?  Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”

§  And God heard them and saw that they really had put a stop to their evil ways.

·         God changed his mind and didn’t carry out the destruction He had threatened.

·         But then, there was Jonah.

o   He was not happy with God’s change of plans; he was angry.

o   He said to God:

§  “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord?  That is why I ran away to Tarshish!  I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  You are eager to turn back from destroying people.”

§  And the all time classic line:  “Just kill me now, Lord!”  I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”

o   God replied:

§  “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

o   “So Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city.”

§  Jonah was determined to see the city destroyed.  It seems he just couldn’t accept that his God would show mercy to people other than his own.

o   Then God had a large, leafy plant grow up over Jonah, spread its leaves and give some cool shade on a hot day.

§  Jonah was a little more comfortable now and was grateful for the plant

o   But then God had a worm eat through the stem of the plant so that it died and was replaced by a scorching east wind to blow on him and hot sun to beat down on him to the point that he was faint and wished to die again.

o   God said to Jonah:

§  “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”

o   Jonah said:

§  “Yes, even angry enough to die.”

o   The story of Jonah closes with these words:

§  “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there.  It came quickly and died quickly. [SLIDE 5:] But Nineveh has more the 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals.  Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

·         So were do we take this story?


I.        Self-centered religion will damage my relationship with God, and others

A.     Jewish people decided that sharing God’s message with Gentiles wasn’t something they intended to do.

1.      He’s our God, not theirs.

2.      We have His blessing, and they don’t deserve it.

B.     They forgot that their purpose as a nation was to be a blessing to the rest of the world.

1.      Genesis 22:18 – “Through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed – all because you have obeyed me.”

C.    Holding on to something that is intended to be shared creates a defensive spirit in us.

1.      Jonah decided his life was to be spent in service to God as long as it was only to his people

2.      He held to this belief so tightly he became self-destructive

3.      By deeming people unworthy of God’s love and mercy on his own, he missed the power of seeing His God work beyond human boundaries


II.      God’s love for people is bigger than our capacity to understand it

A.     God showed mercy to a brutal group of people

1.      They eventually conquered the Northern Kingdom

2.      Nineveh itself was eventually destroyed SLIDE 7: Nineveh ruins

3.      God still cared for them

a)     He mentions specifically the population

b)     Even included animals in his compassion

B.     There are times in life that we may not be able to comprehend how God can love certain people; how people not like us can still be blessed by God.

C.    Yet that never stopped God.

D.    If God’s love for human-kind was dependent upon our understanding of it we would not be here this morning.


III.    As followers of Jesus our calling (our Nineveh) is to love like He loved

A.     So here’s our question:

1.      How willing are we to go out of our way to love as Jesus would?

2.      How willing are we to go out of our way to avoid loving as Jesus would?

3.      Do we strive to pattern our thoughts, criticisms, actions; attitudes towards those not like us after the pattern Jesus set for us?


a)     Philippians 2:3-8   “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.  Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.  You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

b)     Jesus set a pattern of loving the unlovable; the poor; the unreligious; the sinners; the societal bad-guys (like tax-collectors and prostitutes).

c)      He would go out of his way to show them God’s kind of love

SLIDE 10: Jonah

B.     We need to be discerning as modern day followers of Jesus

1.      How we respond to the world around us shows how willing we are to love like Jesus… never condoning evil, but understanding that the battle is not against flesh and blood.

2.      CT editorial: No small amount of jokes and hate-marketing attests to how far the “Hate Hillary” demographic stretches: T-shirts, bumper stickers, voodoo dolls, and “No Way in Hellary” BBQ aprons are now among the items you can purchase to advertise your anti-Hillary stance.  On the nonprofit side, scads of websites dish on Hillary’s supposed crookery, while bloggers invent new derogatory nicknames, such as Hitlery and Hilldabeast.  We seem to simply enjoy hating Hillary.  Some prominent conservative Christians, although toned down in their language, have nonetheless relied on cheap shots to join in the fun.  At a 2004 Republican convention, a Family Research Council spokesman passed out fortune cookies with the following message: “#1 reason to ban human cloning: Hillary Clinton.”  Another noted evangelical conservative pastor and leader, announced at a 2006 Values Voter Summit his wishes for this year’s election: “I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate.  Because nothing would energize my [constituency] like Hillary Clinton.  If Lucifer ran, he wouldn’t.”  While the loudest political voices this election season will keep only a loose reign on their tongues, evangelicals do well to ponder the Bible’s insights into the mysterious yet profound connection between a person’s heart and mouth: “The things that come out of the mouth,” says Jesus, “come from the heart.”  Biblical psychology assumes not only that the words of our mouths reveal the state of our hearts, but that words have power to shape the heart – for better or worse.”  CT “Where We Stand”

3.      It extends beyond the political realm as well.

a)     What is our response toward those unlike us?

b)     Does Jesus teach us to hate our enemies?

c)      Is the inconvenient truth of following Jesus his call for his disciples to love others like he does?

d)     What or who or the Ninevehs God is calling you to?

e)     SLIDE 11: Hows your sense of God’s direction?  If you know, which way will you run? 


[1]Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. "Text edition"--Spine. (2nd ed.) (Jon 1:3). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

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