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
1 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.”“
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.
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.
7 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?”
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.
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.
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,
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.”
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. LordJust kill me now, ! 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.
4 The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
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. a] not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,[
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?