From the Book of Jonah
Show of hands: Confession is good for the soul.
How many of you have ever run away from home at least one time when you were a child? When a child runs away from home, they don’t know where they are going, but they do know what they are running away from – parents, feeling mistreated, etc.
How many of you have run away from God at some point in your life? For a young person, it usually starts when you are 16 when you get your driver’s license. Any time in life.
* Running away from God doesn’t mean that you stop believing in Him.
* Running away can mean you still consider yourself a Christian, but at the same time you know there is an area(s) in your life that you have intentionally refused to turn over to God.
We are going to look at a premier runner – Jonah
I’m assuming that most of you know who Jonah is.
Jay Leno frequently does a “man‑on‑the‑street” interview, and one night he collared some young people to ask them questions about the Bible. Mr. Leno turned to a young man and asked, “Who, according to the Bible, was eaten by a whale?” The confident answer was, “Pinocchio.”
Jonah was a prophet. He was a Historic figure. Ninveah was a historic place. Not Narnia. Jonah was mentioned in the Bible by Jesus, himself. Matthew 12:40 says that Jesus compared himself to Jonah who was in the fish for three days and three nights and how the Son of Man would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
Being a prophet was not an easy job. You were God’s spokesperson. The news that you had to bring was often times not good news. We have prophets today, they are called parents.
Most of the time God would send his prophets to his own people, Israel. Jewish people knew exactly who these prophets were. They might not like what they said, but they knew they were God’s spokesperson. There was a context there that everyone knew they were on the same page.
Jonah was being told to go to a group of people who had no regard for prophets. No regard for Yawaeh. When God told Jonah to warn the people Nineveh, before they were about to be destroyed, I’m sure Jonah was thinking,
God don’t you know how wicked and evil these people are? God don’t send me to judge them, You just judge them.
Jonah hated Nineveh with every bone in his body. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrians, an inhumane people that scoured the earth [See Nahum 3:1‑4]. The Assyrians had a strict take-no-prisoners policy. They would pull out the tongues of their captives. Fine art of skinning people and still keeping them alive.
Here is the deal, I wonder if secretly, Jonah was afraid God might save them.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Aren’t there some folks you don’t think deserved to be saved?Some folks you would do a double take if you were to see them in heaven? It’s obvious that Jonah wanted God to have nothing to do with the Ninevites.
Ninveah was one of the greatest cities of its day.
* It was a city of conquerors,
* with a strong commercial base,
* superior technology
* and a powerful war machine.
The Jewish nation despised the city of Ninveah. Give Jonah a break!
Jonah 1, Verses 1-3 says, The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 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.
He goes in the opposite direction of Nineveh, goes to Joppa to catch a boat to Tarshish. Where is Tarshish? Spain.
Instead of going to NYC he heads for San Francisco
This is about as far away as one can go in the known world. It’s not like he’s running to the end of the block. It’s obvious that Jonah is running away from God’s expectations.
He would rather run 2,500 miles out of God’s will than stay within 500 miles of his will. Jonah is thinking, God even if you catch up with me ,it’ll be too late to do anything about it.
This is part of our story, too.
How many times has God told you to go in one direction and you intentionally look at God and say, I’m going in the opposite direction. We all have a story where we find ourselves going in the opposite direction that God wants us to go.
We run from God in the strangest kind of way.
1. We run from God by ignoring God’s word and commands. We are above them. We begin to reevaluate their relevance.
Lucy and Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, was struggling with her memory verse for Sunday. She was lost in her thoughts trying to figure it out when she recalled, Maybe it was something from the book of Reevaluation. For some of us, this is our favorite book.
2. We run from God by harboring secret sins.
A drunken husband snuck up the stairs quietly. He looked in the bathroom mirror and bandaged the bumps and bruises he’d received in a fight earlier that night. He then proceeded to climb into bed, smiling at the thought that he’d pulled one over on his wife. When morning came, he opened his eyes and there stood his wife. You were drunk last night weren’t you! No, honey. Well, if you weren’t, then who put all the band‑aids on the bathroom mirror?
We just think we are so smart that we can out smart others and most of all out smart God by harboring secret sins.
3. We run from God by denying our calling as Christians
Holy priesthood, I Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.
Act like it. Don’t run away from that calling.
4. We run from God by disregarding God’s correction.
Jonah is running from God by getting in a boat, not any boat, but a boat that he will be on for the longest period of time.
When we run from God we run away from the source of wisdom and truth. When we disconnect ourselves from wisdom and truth we begin making unwise decisions. Here’s the irony of it all – we begin to make decisions that we think are wise, when the bottom reality is that we are so much out of touch with reality. Denial.
All those people in your life trying to tell you what to do, but you push them off by saying, I’m busy, busy…
We run from places where we might be confronted with truth. Church, small groups, we unplug ourselves from spiritual things because we decide to stiff arm God. We don’t want to be reminded what God is telling us to do.
Notice what the Bible says. Jonah went DOWN to Joppa to pay the fair. Whenever you are running from God you are running downhill. You think you are running uphill, but in reality you are running downhill. The only thing is you don’t know you are running downhill.
When Jonah got to Joppa he paid the fair.
Whenever you are running from God, expect to pay your own way.
* When you are in God’s will he’ll pay the tab, but when you are running from God you’ll have to pay your own tab.
* You are going to have to pay your own tab be it stress, emotional instability, grief, waste of time, lack of harmony.
Then we come to some key words in Scripture.
Jonah 1: 4-6 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 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. 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, and we will not perish.”
Jonah makes his decision, God makes His. Sailors who had done this route before threw things overboard. All their profits being tossed overboard. That is part of our story, isn’t it? Jonah ran to a place that made absolutely no sense.
THEN THE LORD. When you are running from God you are going to have some THEN THE LORD moments in your life.
The Captain and the sailors realized this was not any ordinary storm. They all began to pray. The Captain looked for Jonah – where was he? He was down in the belly of the ship. First he went down to Joppa, and then he was down in the bottom of the boat. When we are out of God’s will, it’s amazing how we can sleep through anything. We’re oblivious to God’s voice and to what God is doing.
The captain says to Jonah, Of all the things that are happening, how can you possibly be sleeping in a time like this? Isn’t it obvious that we are in danger? Isn’t it obvious that we will not reach our destination? Isn’t it obvious that we might all drown?
Runners are often the last to make the connection. Runners are the last to see the decisions that they make in their lives and how those decisions wreak havoc in their lives.
As an outsider, it’s obvious. Someone can counsel these people, but they are still oblivious. The runner is the last one to be able to connect the dots. Jonah at this point doesn’t make this connection that maybe this storm has come because of his running away. The people who love you the most will be your prophets and warn you, but again you might be too cleaver, too smart.
You have it all figured out.
They will say, Can’t you see how these dots connect to each other? You’ll say, No, no there is no connection whatsoever. When you are a runner, your mind is so far disconnected from reality you don’t make the connection between your decisions and the chaos in your life.
Jonah is sleeping. You would think it would be the prophet saying to the crew, Lets pray to God for help. Instead it’s this heathen Captain who is telling this prophet of God, We’rre having a prayer meeting. You might want to join us. You can pray to any God you want because we don’t care, the ship is about to go down.
The situation gets worse, they resort to desperate means by casting lots. I wonder what Jonah was thinking when the lots were being cast? This was an unusual storm, way off the charts in their experience. It was more than just a storm caused by natural causes.
READ 9-16 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
Jonah is thinking, Why did I get on a boat? The sailors are thinking, We’ve got issues with you and Your God who made the sea. Jonah said, Throw me off the boat!
Jonah at this point is willing to commit suicide. I don’t know if he thought the situation was hopeless, or if this was the only way God was going to forgive him. He’s willing to commit suicide. Jonah is a weird sort of guy. The Book of Jonah is only four chapters and every other chapter he is wanting to commit suicide.
So the sailors threw Jonah off the boat.
Verse 17 says, But then the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
When you run, God doesn’t abandon you.
You can run from God but you can’t outrun God.
God the perfect Father…who is waiting for you to come home. The father disciplines those who he loves.
Proverbs 3:11, 12.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Tony Evans said, If you claim to be Christian and God is not coming after you, you must be someone else’s kid.
When you start running from God, He’ll let you run to a certain point, but he will not let you go. He’ll provide a storm with your name on it. Expect bad weather. God loves you too much not to come after you. Circumstances become shaky.
God chased Jonah down, not to pay him back, but to win him back, to bring him back. God does not discipline to pay back, but to win back.
Andy Stanley tells the story of his son. When he was five, his son ran to his neighbor’s home . He didn’t tell his parents. They, obviously, were worried. The neighbors told the son, Andrew, your daddy is looking for you. But I’m not looking for him, was the son’s reply.
This morning your daddy, Abba, is saying, I’m looking for you. We cry back, God I’m not looking for you.
Remember, God comes looking for you not to pay you back, but to bring you back home. If you are running from God, your daddy is looking for you. He will not cease. He’s looking not to pay you back but to win you back.
This is part of our story isn’t it?
2:1 Fish swallowed Jonah, Jonah was inside the fish, Jonah prayed. I’ll bet he did.
John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, discovered grace and forgiveness through humility, honesty and confession. Newton signed on with a slave ship leaving from Africa with its “cargo.” He was an experienced sailor and navigator, but his cursing and blaspheming turned hardened sailors’ ears red.
Soon the ship was caught in a horrible storm and was taking on water. The crew had to pump 24 hours a day to stay afloat. But the constant wind rocked the boat so dangerously that the sailors had to tie themselves to the deck to keep from being swept overboard.
At one point, several of the crew tried to throw Newton overboard. They figured that God was punishing him like Jonah of the Old Testament.
The captain declared that the only way the ship would make it in to safe harbor was by God’s power. He commanded everyone‑‑including Newton‑‑to pray.
“God, if You’re true,” Newton prayed earnestly, “make good your Word. Cleanse my vile heart.”
After four weeks of storms and constant brushes with death, the ship limped into an Irish port. John Newton, former “free thinker,” former slave trader and atheist, declared his faith in Jesus. He became a well‑known preacher and writer.
Of course we all know the words to the great hymn, Amazing Grace:
Once I was blind, but now I can see.
Once I was lost, but now I am found.
Once I had no hope, but now I have a living hope.
Once I was guilty, but now I am forgiven.
Once I was an enemy, but God made me his friend.
Once I was a rebel, but now I am a servant of the living God.
Once I was dead, but now I am alive.
And God did it!
What is your Tarshish?
God is not seeking after you for pay back but to win back.
What sliver is in your life that you are running away from God?
The message was originally addressed to the people at United Baptist-Christian Church in Lewiston, NY. It bears the weaknesses and strengths of oral delivery. Its purpose is to assist people in their personal bible study and provide preaching and Sunday School resources for people involved in church ministry.
Pastor Vince Eisaman