How many of you basically know the story of Jonah? A lot of people do, the story of a guy who doesn’t do what God wants him to do. God puts him in the belly of a big whale. He lights a candle. The whale throws him up on shore, and he gets to be a real boy for the rest of his life. Okay, now that’s Pinocchio. It’s kind of muddled up.
What we are going to do is, we are look at a story that a lot of people consider to be kind of a kid story that you hear about in Sunday School, but the truth is, the story of this reluctant prophet, Jonah, really will speak into all of our lives if we listen to the Spirit of God. So, let’s start today in Jonah 1:1-3. It will set the context for us. Here’s what scripture says. 1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 3But 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.
Nineveh was the city that he was commanded to go and preach to. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and Nineveh was Israel’s absolute foremost worst enemy. Israel hated the Ninevites, and you’ll see why as we go on into our study.
Let’s look at verse 1 again, and as we do, as we start to look at this story, I believe that God may show you that we all have a little bit of Jonah in us. Jonah 1:1 says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah” Good news is that the word of the Lord will come to you today. God is a God who loves to speak. And he still speaks to us today.
The challenging news for many people is this, if you are taking notes.
1. God will often ask you to do some things that you don’t want to do. and the reason we don’t want to do them a lot of times is because we really like to believe that we know what is best.
This was the context of Jonah, and we see this actually take place in verse 2. Here is the command. God says to him, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and, I want you to preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
Now, you might wonder, “Well, okay, Jonah is a prophet and that is what he does. He preaches God’s Word, so why didn’t he just obey this very simple assignment?” Well, when you understand the history of Nineveh, or the Syrian empire, you understand a little more why he hated them. The Syrian empire, of which Nineveh was the capital city, whenever it was rumored that the Assyrians would be attacking somebody, they were so brutal in the way they would handle the captives. They would torture them and just be so destructive that, occasionally, when it was rumored that the Assyrians were going to be attacking, sometimes a whole town of people would just commit suicide, because they would rather die that way than experience what was coming. That’s how feared the Assyrian empire was, and they were hated. When you know that, maybe you have a little more mercy for Jonah when he said, “I don’t want to go there. I hate these people.” He despised them. God said, “I want you to do something,” and in his mind, he had legitimate reasons why he didn’t want to obey God. Maybe you can relate.
The Word of the Lord will come to some of you, and you will hear specifically from God, “This is what I should do,” and in your mind, you may think, “Okay, I understand that’s what You want me to do, but I don’t want to do it! I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” Perhaps, you can relate in different ways. Maybe someone has wronged you and hurt you, or hurt someone that you love, and the Word of the Lord comes to you, and the Word of the Lord, for you, is to forgive them – to forgive as you have been forgiven, and you look and you go, “I don’t want to. They don’t deserve it. I don’t feel like forgiving them. I know that’s what God wants me to do, but I don’t want to do it.” Don’t care what God says,” the Jonah in all of us.
Jonah said, “I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to have anything to do with those people. They make me angry.” Remember this, 2. Whenever God does speak, you can always find a boat sailing in the wrong direction.
You can always find a ship moving in the wrong way. Some of you know what I’m talking about. You say, “Hey, I want to obey God. I want to do what He’s called me to do,” and all of a sudden, your old buddy comes up and says, “Hey, don’t go that way. Let’s go back to what we used to do. Hey, let’s go back to the old life.” Watch how it happens here in Jonah. God says, “I want you to preach to the Ninevites.” Verse 3, 3 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.
What did God say? God said, basically, “Go east to Nineveh,” and Jonah said, “Uh, uh, I’m going west to Tarshish,” 2,500 miles away from the target destination. That’s how far it was, twenty-five hundred miles away. One commentary said that it would take about a year to sail from where he was to where he was going. That’s a lot of running. Some of you, right now, you’ve been on the run, and you think you can get away with it. Maybe you are not on the run as much as you are just drifting.
Whenever I take the kids to the beach I am always amazed at how once they are in the water how easily the drift. I have to keep a watch on them because before long they are way down the beach and they are wondering where I am, even though I haven’t moved.
Some of you, you may be able to relate, because maybe months or years ago, you were really close to God. You know what I’m talking about, when you’re like praying and God answers your prayers, and then all the you start to skip your time with God and that time gets lost and soon you are out of relationship with God. It wasn’t that you were running as much as you were drifting from Him.
3. When you are on the run, doing the wrong thing, thought number three is this. God may send a storm to grab your attention.
Verse 4, Jonah was on the run. Scripture says 4Then the Lordsent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5All 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. 6The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” 7Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”9He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
The sailors are freaking out. It’s a big storm. Jonah finally realizes, “It’s my fault.” Some of you are going to recognize that right now. You are going to think, “Well, what I was doing, my private rebellion, it wasn’t hurting anybody.” Oh, don’t kid yourself. If it hadn’t hurt somebody yet, it’s going to tomorrow. You realize, “This is my fault. I’m hurting all these innocent people by my disobedience to God.” He finally owns up to it.
You can see it in verse 12. He says, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you."
So, the sailors, they’re going to have mercy on him, because they really care about him, even though they don’t know him. And they said, “We’re not going to do that to you. Let’s throw our cargo off the boat.” This was the thing, their livelihood. Okay? “Let’s throw it off the boat. We’re going to get rid of everything and try to save you.” That didn’t work, okay? “Let’s row back to shore.” that didn’t work, either, and finally, it’s like, “Okay, we’re all going to die. I guess we need to throw you off.” And so they said, “God, forgive us. We’re sorry. We don’t want to do this to Jonah. Jonah, we’re sorry,” and they throw him overboard, and the sea goes calm. Then, something unbelievably bad in our human mind happens to Jonah. If you know the story, he got swallowed up by a big fish. He was in the fish for three days.
Thought number four, Jonah’s worst nightmare was exactly what he needed. Verses 15, 16, and 17 tells the story. 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. 17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Some of you right now, you may be facing what you would consider is your nightmare. I mean, financially, you may be like, “I’m done. It’s over.” And God may say, “Okay, now do I have your attention?” Some of you may be facing a relationship that you think it just couldn’t get any worse than this, and God may say, “Okay, do I have your attention?” Now, what I am not going to say is, I am not going to tell you that everything that bad happens is God causing it in your life, because I don’t believe that is true, but I do believe with everything in me that there are times where God may allow what we would consider is our worst nightmare so that He can fully get our attention.
The Word of the Lord will come to you, and you have a choice: obey or disobey. When God speaks to you, you can always find a ship sailing the wrong direction. If you do not obey, He may send a storm to grab your attention. If that doesn’t get it, He may allow you to face your worst nightmare. When He does, understand this. It’s all because He loves you, because He has something for you to do, and He has a city or a group of people for you to impact. You’ve got a choice. You can keep running, or you can come back to Him. I pray you come back to Him. Let’s pray together.