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Who here has heard of the story of Jonah? After Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Christmas and Easter, Jonah is probably the most well-known story in the Bible – the man swallowed by a whale. That’s the popular narrative. The story is a really important one. Because it is so popular, we gloss over the beauty of it. The story of Jonah gives us a lens through which we can all see all of redemptive history. That’s why it is such a beautiful book. In the story of Jonah we meet the character of God. The story is not necessarily about Jonah, but God. We see God is beautiful. We also come to learn something of ourselves in His beauty too.
Despite the notoriety of Jonah’s story, we know very little about this man. He was the son of Amittai. I 2 Kings chapter 14 we are told he was from a place called Gath-hepher, meaning ‘the wine press’ or ‘well.’ This is also believed to be the place where Jonah is buried. Gath-hepher is significant; it is a very small village on a rocky hill, just a few miles walk from Nazareth. So, it is a place where Jesus probably went to regularly as a boy and was taught about the story of Jonah and remembered it in His ministry. We know the story of Jonah clearly made an impact on Jesus because He mentions him.
The book of Jonah is very different; it is about the prophet rather than what the prophet said. The message actually comes in the life of the person, not necessarily his words. Jonah is also unique in that he is a prophet called to get up and go out. There is no option to work from home. He was told to get up and go – go out to work. The place where he was told to go was an absolute dump, a godless place – Nineveh. The prophet Nahum kindly writes a travel guide for us. He describes Nineveh as a bloody city, full of deceit, full of war, robberies, witchcraft, drunkenness, and oppression. It is essentially a society that exists without God. Would you want to go to that place? No.
Sometimes we are too harsh on Jonah. Imagine if you were called to the crack dens of Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff or Newport, or even the Lord calling you this morning to go to the Donbas, to witness on the front line against Russian military. Would you be in a rush to get going, to leave your comfortable beds in your lovely homes in Pembrokeshire? Would you be prepared to get up and go, to risk your life, to be with people you don’t know, who you don’t agree with, who do not like you. People who will no doubt be hostile, even violent towards you for bringing a message of truth to them. Would you get up and go? It’s tough.
Let me give a less extreme example. Imagine you have had an argument this week. You are in the right, they are in the wrong. You are angry. They are still being nasty to you. Would you go up and say sorry? Would you be the first to apologise for your part in the argument? We don’t like doing that, do we? The point I’m making is that we are all a bit like Jonah.
We all struggle to put self to death for the furthering of God’s kingdom. It’s hard. We all like to do what we like to do, what is easiest for us. We do not like to do what God tells us to do. Nobody here likes to love our enemies, do we? Every one of us is guilty of what Jonah is guilty of here. Lesson 1 pf Jonah – don’t be too harsh on Jonah. We’re all Jonah’s. Let’s get some acknowledgement of that shall we? Get your hands up if you think you’ve been a Jonah?
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil[a] has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2). God speaks to Jonah with clear, specific instruction. He essentially says, ‘Leave your lovely, comfortable village. Leave your home, leave your friends, leave your family and go to the great city of Nineveh – the treacherous, hateful, godless town.
Jonah essentially says ‘no, absolutely not.’ Not only does he say no, he actually, proactively goes against God and goes in a different direction. In verse 3 we see he went to Joppa, 60 miles away. That’s like us getting up and walking to Aberystywth. He went to Joppa to get a ship to go to Tarshish, over 2,000 miles away! It’s like going to Birmingham Airport, then flying to Moscow, to get away.
Jonah really did not want to go to Nineveh. The length he went to, to get away from God’s calling on his life, is significant. It’s telling. That’s why it’s in the Bible. Jonah did not have to travel all that way to reject God’s call. He could have said ‘no’ from home. He didn’t have to travel. Jonah travelled all that way to get away from God altogether. That was his hope.
Tarshish, at this time, was very significant. It was the end of the known world at the time, you couldn’t go any further. As an old covenant Jew, Jonah’s relationship was built on blood and land. Jonah believed the further he got away from Israel, the further he got away from his land, the further he got away from God Himself and the further he could get away from the burden, the call to preach truth in Nineveh.
Jonah is running away from God, from the call of God’s grace. As Christians, we’ve all done that. We run from our burdens that God places on our hearts. We run from the people that cause us difficulties, who we should love and help all the more. We run away from our responsibilities to do what we want to do instead, so we can have an easy life. We run so far at times we think we have got away with it, that we have escaped God Himself. Do you know what always happens when we do that? We fall into sin. We fall into sin when we do a Jonah. When we sin, we think we have escaped God’s presence.
Sin – when we do something that we would never dream of doing before the throne room of God Himself. Sin is when we do something that we would never dream of doing sat here in the pews at church. Sin comes when we hide ourselves away, when we’re locked behind closed doors, where nobody can see us. We fulfil our lusts and desires, thinking we have got away with it. We think we have successfully hidden from God. But the reality is He is always watching.
He is always there. He is always with you by your side. He is watching, He is remembering everything you do and He is mourning over it. He grieves as you sin. That’s terrifying. Sin enters our life when we forget God is with us wherever we go. Sin comes when we think we are not in God’s presence. Sin comes when we think we’ve run to Tarshish. Sin comes when, as Christians, we forget that God lives in us. The scriptures say we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God is not going anywhere. We are Christians. Everywhere we go and everything we do in this life is theological. We are God’s love in action. You can run to Tarshish but He is still with you.
What Jonah reminds us of here is that God is everywhere. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is Creator God. In Christ, He came in person. He entered into the fabric of time and space that He created, to become historic fact. He came to live in our brokenness, in the brokeness of places like Nineveh, in the brokenness of our hearts. He came to live in our fear. He came to live to experience heartache and pain, and loneliness. He came for you. He came to save your soul. He came to put your sin to death on the cross and then bury it. On the third day He rose again, giving us a fresh start in His Resurrection power. New life! Hallelujah! Liberty. Freedom. Redemption from the pressures of this world, so we never have to run anywhere.
We have been liberated to walk with our God and answer His call. We have been freed to meet with Him daily, to know Him as a brother and a friend, as a King and as a Saviour. He is all of those things. Gracious, precious, God, Messiah. I love Him. Do you? He is with you wherever you go. He is here, right now, rejoicing as His people gather in His name. Jesus is present. Hallelujah!
If you do not know Him and you want to know the joy that passes all understanding, to be part of His redemption plan, to hear His voice and be called and sent, then I pray that you will dive into the reality of His grace for you. Trust that on that cross, the historical event of the Crucifixion, He died for you. Receive Jesus as your Lord today and you can swim in His love. He is sovereign. He wants you. You can run away from all you want, but He is here calling you. He is here in Spirit, and He is here just for you. Amen.