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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Jonah's Really Short Sermon


Introduction
One of the shortest books in the Bible is Jonah—only 4 chapters.  You can read the whole story in less than 10 minutes.  And within the short book of Jonah, is one of the shortest sermons I’ve ever heard.  In fact, it’s only 8 words.  And yet the message was so powerful it caused an entire city to repent and turn to God.  Maybe you think, “Well then, Jonah must have been a very good man!”  You might think that, but you’d be wrong.  Jonah was quite flawed; there was hate in his heart.  And so we see in this story, something I have found to be so true in my own life and ministry.  God is often working just as hard to reform the preacher and He is the congregation who hears the message.

Since the book of Jonah is so short, I’ve invite you to read through the the entire story below and I will add a few comments in italics.  Let me begin by saying Jonah lived in the mid-700s BC (about 2,700 years ago).  He was a prophet from Israel during a time when a city called Nineveh was a great threat to Israel.  

Jonah Chapter One
The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
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.
Joppa is the exact opposite direction from Ninevah and Tarshish is all the way over in Spain!  Jonah really did not want to go to Nineveh!  But why?  Many people run away from God.  When He tells them to do something and they don’t want to, they try to run.  Maybe because they’re afraid, or they just don’t want to do it.  When God first called me to be a preacher, I didn’t want to.  It wasn’t part of my plans or my wife’s plans.  But I’m so glad God woke us both up and we answered His call together.  Are you running from the Lord?  Why? We’ll hear why Jonah ran from God in a minute.  But first, let’s see what exactly happened to this run-away prophet.
But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.” 
This sounds like the story of Jesus from Luke 8.  Jesus and the disciples were in a boat out on the sea of Galilee when a severe storm arose that threatened to sink the boat.  And like Jonah, Jesus was asleep in the boat.  The disciples exclaimed, "How can you sleep at a time like this? Get up and do something!"  Now Jesus got up and said peace be still and the storm obeyed.  Let's see what happened in Jonah's story.
Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
10 The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the Lord. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. 11 And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?”
12 “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”
I used to think this Jonah was noble to sacrifice his life to save the others.  But now I'm thinking Jonah wasn't being noble.  Maybe he was thinking, “If I’m dead, I won’t have to go to Nineveh to preach!”  But God wasn’t going to let Jonah off the hook.  
13 Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it.14 Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “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.”
15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! 16 The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
Even through Jonah’s disobedience, God is accomplished great things.  All the sailors, who formerly did not believe and worship God, now were “awestruck by the Lord’s power and offered sacrifices to Him and vowed to serve Him.” 
Only God has the power to command the see and save the sailors.  God made the sea.  He can certainly tell the sea what to do.  When Jesus and the disciples were on a boat in the middle of a storm, Jesus calmed the waves.  Do you see how this shows that Jesus is God?  
Now, what to do with this unfaithful prophet Jonah.
17 Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Three days and three nights.  This reminds us of Jesus, who was also enclosed inside a dark, dark place until the third day.  Jonah's time in the belly of the fish foreshadows Christ's burial inside the tomb.  When Jesus predicted his death and resurrection on the third day, he called it "the sign of Jonah."  
Jonah Chapter Two
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish. He said,
“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,
    and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead,[b]
    and Lord, you heard me!
You threw me into the ocean depths,

    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
    Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’
“I sank beneath the waves,
    and the waters closed over me.
    Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.

    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death!
As my life was slipping away,
    I remembered the Lord.
And my earnest prayer went out to you
    in your holy Temple.
Those who worship false gods
    turn their backs on all God’s mercies.
But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
    and I will fulfill all my vows.
    For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.”
10 Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.

Jonah Chapter Three
Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”
This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.
When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city:
“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.”
10 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
Jonah’s eight-word sermon had a powerful effect.  It wasn’t the beauty of his words or the way he put the words together in a well-crafted sermon with excellent illustrations.  There wasn't an amazing praise band to drive home the closing points and draw people down to the altar for prayer.  What was it that made his eight-word message so effective?  Two things: 1) The Word of God spoke through Jonah.  Remember, God spoke the universe into existence.  God's Word is powerful!  People often wonder, "Why doesn't God just speak to us in an audible voice?"  Have you thought what you are asking?  God doesn't speak idle words.  When He speaks, a hundred billion galaxies are formed by the vapor of His voice.  And you want Him to speak to you?  Be careful what you ask for.  You are just a speck of dust on a speck of dust, orbiting around a sun that is just a speck of dust in a galaxy that is just a speak of dust in the universe.  A whisper (nay, just a thought) from God might just obliterate you if not perfectly controlled.  That is why God took the form of Jesus Christ--the Word made flesh--in order to speak to you.  And His Word is contained in the Scriptures of the Holy Bible.  Read it and God will speak to you so powerfully it will change you forever, without utterly destroying you,  However, you must be willing to listen.  
And that's the second reason Jonah's sermon was so powerful.  It says in verse 5, “The people believed God’s message…” and they repented.  From the King all the way down to the lowest, they believed and repented.  They set aside their pride, repented, and turned from their evil ways.

Jonah Chapter Four
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.So he complained to the Lord about it: “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. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
So now we see the real reason why Jonah tried to run away.  He wasn’t scared.  It was much worse.  He hated Nineveh.  He would rather see all the people in that city die than have them repent.  That’s not a very holy attitude; it's awful.  Jonah was just as broken as the Ninevites.  The human heart is full of evil.  God is constantly reaching out to us (even preachers and prophets) and calling us to repent and let Him fill us with His love.
The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
Then 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. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
10 Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,[a] not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
Man, Jonah’s got some real issues.  Bipolar?  Depression?  Anger issues?  Suicidal?  However, God loved Jonah and even used him and to this day Jonah’s story is in the Holy Bible.  I guess maybe there’s still hope for me and you.
But what about all the other people out in your community?  What about your neighbor?  The person ringing up your groceries in the checkout line?  The police officer who pulled you over and gave you a ticket?  The mechanic who cheated you?  That guy in church who really annoys you?  Is there any hope for them?  Does God love them too?  Maybe, just maybe, God’ is calling you to love them enough to “Get up and go to” them and preach His message of love.  What is God calling you to do?  Will you listen?  Will you obey?

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