Sermon series: The Returning to God
M.R. DeHaan writes, "On Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar, a big fish story is read in synagogues. As worshipers fast, confess their sins, and reflect on the words of Moses and Isaiah, they listen once again to the account of a catch and release that is so amazing no one would believe it if it wasn't in the Bible.
"Of all the readings that could have been chosen for the highest holy day of the year, someone started the tradition of reading Jonah. But why? Why do Jewish people read about the reluctant prophet who ran from God, was caught by a big fish, and then was miraculously released to complete a dangerous mission in what is now the nation of Iraq?
"Rabbis have different explanations for reading Jonah on the holiday commonly called the Day of Atonement. One teacher of Israel says the story of Jonah is more about repentance than it is about the fish. Some explain that Jonah is evidence that no one can escape the presence of God, even while trying to run from the Almighty. Others believe Jonah is read on Yom Kippur with the hope that listeners would learn from Jonah's mistakes. One rabbi says, ‘God cares for everyone. Jonah cares only for himself. God wins.'" [DeHaan, Radio Bible Class, "Been Thinking," August 2007]
Here's a great question: What is God willing to do to bring us back to Himself? Maybe you left God because you carelessly drifted from Him or you consciously disobeyed Him. Regardless, what is God willing to do now? Those that desire to see God move in the church must grasp this truth: God is willing to do whatever it takes to bring us back to Him.
As we look closer at Jonah we begin to see ourselves. If your spiritual fire has gone out or you have chosen a life of outright rebellion against our Lord, then you should know:
I. God has many ways to get our attention
What is God willing to do? In this story we see five actions that God uses to awaken us from our spiritual indifference or disobedience. It is important to remember that these actions by God are intended as correction, not punishment. Jonah was heading in the wrong direction both physically and spiritually. So God intervened to turn him around.
As the story unfolds one cannot miss the interplay between God and Jonah. God matches every move of Jonah with a counter move of correction.
A. He sends storms into your life – 1:4
The text tells us, "The Lord hurled a violent wind." The Hebrew term translated "hurled" or "flung" is the same word used when King Saul "cast" the javelin at young David. The word carries the notion of "violent force." Here we see that the wind and waves served as God's servants to disturb the sleeping prophet.
God often uses the storms of adversity to teach us or to correct us. This storm illustrated the spiritual struggle of Jonah's heart. While the rebellious prophet knew what was right, a fierce battle raged in his soul.
Patrick Fairbairn wrote, "God's goal in affliction is to awaken." [Fairbairn, "Jonah: his life, character and mission." 12] Sometimes God has to shake us to awaken us. Physically and figuratively, this storm was sent for Jonah.
And we see God use this method of correction many times in the Bible. Jacob's deception was followed by the deception of his father-in-law. The Israelites refused to seize the promise land and were forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Sampson lost his eyes and spent the rest of his days pushing a grind stone like a donkey. And King David had to run from his own son.
While storms come into our lives for several reasons, we should always ask, "God, what are you trying to tell me through this trial?"
B. He touches someone near you – 1:5
Although Jonah had sinned, "the sailors were afraid." The late Dr. A.C. Dixon wrote, "Our sins will certainly get others in trouble." [Dixon, "The Prophet Jonah", 4]
When the storm came Jonah was about to drown. But remember, "No one drowns alone." The storms that touched his life, touched the lives of all those around him.
After King David's sin he remained in an unrepentant state for nearly a year. You might recall that after about eight months the prophet Nathan confronted David. And Nathan told David that the child born of the king's adultery would die. Now the child went to heaven, but God touched the child to get David's attention.
You should consider the answer to this question, "What is God willing to do to bring you back to Him?" The answer is: whatever it takes! God knows which nerve to touch to get your attention. And remember: Calm may not come in their lives until it comes in your life.
C. He sends someone to you – 1:6
As the storm raged, "the Captain approached him."
This mariner did not follow the Lord God. Yet God used this unbeliever to correct Jonah. Dr. James Draper quoted his grandfather preacher as saying, "God can hit some straight shots with a crooked stick." [Draper, "Jonah" 8] The person God uses is not the issue. God can speak to us through a loved one or a stranger, a Christian or a lost person, a child or an adult, a minister or a member. We see this pattern throughout the Scriptures. God used young Samuel to speak to Eli, the witch of Endor to speak to Saul, a little girl to speak to Peter at the fire, and Paul to speak to Philemon.
What does matter is your response when God speaks to your heart. We should view that person as God's messenger. When the Lord sends someone to us we can respond to those messages with anger or humility. But we cannot ignore that God is speaking.
When my youngest brother was married, we all traveled to Waco, Texas to attend. On the trip back to Kentucky, another brother and his wife had a conversation about the spiritual nature of the wedding. She asked, "Why was everyone so nice?" He responded, "Because they are Christians." And then she said, "But you are a Christian and you don't act that way." Surprisingly, she was God's messenger to my brother. And her words led to his rededication and her salvation.
D. He exposes your disobedience – 1:7-8
Out of superstition, the crew cast lost to discover the guilty party and "the lots singled out Jonah." It is an interesting contrast that while the unbelieving sailors discerned that the storm represented God's hand against someone on board the vessel [1:7], Jonah did not. And we have seen this pattern elsewhere in the Bible. God used a pagan Pharaoh to expose Abraham's lie about his wife [Genesis 12:10-20]. God used an angry brother to exposes Jacob's deception of his father [Genesis 27:30-41]. God used Mordeci to expose Haman's plot to have all the Jews exterminated [Ester 3-4]. God used Peter to expose Simon Mangus' false motives [Acts 8:14-25]. God used Paul to expose Peter's hypocrisy [Galatians 2:11-16]. And the Lord exposed the flaming hypocrisy of the Pharisees [Mark 12:13-34]. God can expose any sin of any sinner.
Thomas Martin is the former manager of a Jack in the Box restaurant in Oroville, California. During 1996, he reported a robbery in which the crook took $307 as the store was closing. When questioned about the suspect, Martin provided police sketch artist, Jack Lee, with a detailed description of the assailant. After Lee completed his sketch, he observed how the drawing looked just like Martin. When investigators noted the similarity, Martin confessed to the crime. Confession occurs when we clearly identify ourselves as the culprit. ["Parade" Magazine, December 29, 1996, 16]
E. He touches you physically – 1:15
Once they learned of Jonah's guilt "they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea."What does this mean theologically? It means that God's hand of protection can become His hand of correction. Do you remember the Israelites wandering around in the wilderness? When they turned on Moses and complained about God, the Lord sent snakes into the camp and many died [Numbers 21]. It is interesting that up till that time a million people wandered through that snake infested land without record of one bite. Then God removed His hand of protection as an act of correction.
And God is no respecter of persons. He struck Miriam, Moses sister, with leprosy [Numbers 12]. In Acts 5, Luke describes the incredible events surrounding the death of Ananias and Sapphira who had tried to deceive the church and lied to the Holy Spirit. Later, Paul stated that those believers that disregarded the sanctity of the Lord's Supper were suffering physically and some had died [1 Corinthians 11:28-32].
Why would God do those things? God loves us too much to allow us to continue on a path of immorality and loss. I'm not suggesting that every illness or accident is a direct intervention of God for disobedience. The Bible reveals several possible reasons. But we must acknowledge that disobedience is one of the reasons.
Jonah said, "You pick me up." He could have jumped, but he had to lay his life down for others as Christ.
II. God desires to awaken our spirit
Why would God use seemingly drastic intervention to get our attention? Is God mad at us? Does He desire to punish us? No! His correction is another expression of His love grace and goodness. He wants you back and hates the damage that sin brings to your life. So He works to awaken us spiritual. Specifically, the Lord has several purposes in His correction.
A. God desires for us to acknowledge His presence – 1:10
Jonah ran "from the presence of God." But God wanted him back.
B. God desires for us to acknowledge our sin –1:9-10
We know that Jonah offered a public confession "for he had told them." Dixon added, "Unconfessed sin is a weight which no wing can lift; it is a darkness that no light can banish; it is a disease that no medicine can cure." [Dixon, 6] If sin is the problem, then honest confession is the remedy [see 1 John 1:9].
C. God desires for us to submit to His will – 1:2
God told Jonah to "Go to Nineveh." Obedience to the Lord's command will bring an end to His correction. We should notice that the call to Nineveh did not change [Jonah 3:1].
III. God requires genuine repentance
How should we respond to God's loving promptings? I like how Max Lucado has put it:"If there are 1,000 steps between you and God, God will take 999 of them and leave the last one for you." God wants you back, but you must take a step toward Him. That step is called repentance.
Harley Sheffield gained celebrity status through an unusual mishap. He was part of the 15,000-mile relay that carried the Olympic torch to the one hundredth gathering of the games in Atlanta. His section of the relay went over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington on May 7, 1996. While carrying the flame in a special stand on his bicycle, the rear tire blew out, Sheffield lost control of his bike, and the Olympic flame went out. People gasped in disbelief, but the attenders of the torch knew exactly what to do. They simply reached into the van that accompanied the traveling torch, pulled out a new torch and lighted it from the "mother flame" which always stays in the van. The procession continued and Sheffield earned a spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. [Houston Chronicle, May 12, 1996, 16B]
What happened on that Washington bridge happens all of the time in our Christian pilgrimage. We stumble and the flame of spiritual zeal is dowsed. We stare at the extinguished torch and wonder if we can ever again burn with spiritual passion. When we turn in repentance we find that the Holy Spirit has been with us all of the time and he carries the "mother flame" that can never go out. Our zeal can be reignited and the standard of Christ can once again burn brightly in our lives.