April 23rd 2023: James Hughes

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Jonah 2 – 3:4

Jonah was a very nationalistic prophet who had been sent to Nineveh, a particularly vicious and cruel empire, to proclaim God’s judgement. From my previous sermon we learnt that the God’s judgement on Nineveh is just. It is an act of mercy – there is an opportunity for repentance. The prodigal prophet Jonah believed that the mission he has been given is wrong because the people of Nineveh don’t deserve God’s mercy and he decides it’s not for him. He was also the sleeping saint. The one man who had all the answers to the storm going on is asleep.

The terrified travellers, hardened sailors who had done this journey before, recognise it is no ordinary storm and are desperately looking for answers. There is surprising salvation; one man sacrificed to save everyone onboard. Then we have the penitent pagans; the impact of the storm becoming calm was immediate and life-changing. Our picture of Christ is one person sacrificed to save everyone else. Christ takes on the storm and sacrifices Himself for us.

Like those in the boat, the world is searching for answers. It knows something is wrong, that this world is a mess, but it looks to politics, charity, morality – all the wrong places. We need to wake up, like Jonah, and tell the people of this world what the answer is.

Another lesson we heard was God saves those who aren’t even looking. The people on the boat weren’t giving God a second thought, yet He sent a storm that directs all their attention on Him. Have you been sent a storm recently to lead you to consideration of your soul? If you’re a Christian, perhaps you’ve been sent circumstances because you may have wandered from God’s love. That doesn’t mean that every storm that you go through is a result of disobedience, but in these things God can draw our attention to Him.

Finally, God works despite our disobedience. We cannot mess up God’s sovereign plans to save sinners. These pagans were saved because of Jonah’s disobedience. It’s a bizarre paradox. That doesn’t excuse our sin.

Today, we continue the story in chapter 2. It is a wonderful prayer that Jonah cries out.

The Sorry Seer.
In Jonah’s prayer we can note three points:

  • He recognises the circumstances he finds himself in are God’s doing (Jonah 2:3).
  • He sees his circumstances but as his prayer develops, his main concern is his relationship with God (Jonah 2:7).
  • Jonah cries that he’s been delivered while he’s still in the fish (Jonah 2:6).

God’s Grace.
The judgement of being in the fish is part of God’s grace; it drives Jonah to God. It’s the best place to be. When he was safe on the boat, he was far away from God’s presence. God restores His relationship with Jonah. From his prayer, Jonah has that sense once more of God’s gracious presence. God’s grace brings him through the circumstances and safely through the other side.

Fresh faith.
Jonah had nothing going for him in his situation. In the fish, deep in the ocean, he seems to be in a hopeless situation. He is aware of this. He recognises that this is the end, yet faith gives him hope because he knows who is in control. Salvation belongs to the Lord. Jonah knows, even though his circumstances are dire, it doesn’t matter because God is in control.

A Preserved Prophet.
The fish vomits Jonah out onto dry land. Possibly, this is the most staggering part of the story, Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” (Jonah 3:1-2). Some of the most precious words. Jonah has deliberately disobeyed God, he has done the exact opposite of what God had said. God had every right to say to Jonah, ‘I’ve saved you from your sin and rebellion, you’re out of the fish, but I’m never going to use you as a prophet again, I can’t trust you.’ Yet God is willing to say to Jonah, ‘I still want you to take my message. I still want to use you to share the grace and mercy that I have for the people of Nineveh.’ He is a preserved prophet – not just alive but still being used by God.

Powerful proclamation.
What would your strategy have been for Nineveh? ‘Come and see the man who was swallowed by a fish and survived!’ People would have been captivated. Instead, Jonah walks a day’s journey and declares, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4b). Nothing about a fish, simply a message of God’s judgement on Nineveh. It’s a powerful message.

Pointing to Christ.
Matthew 12:38-42. Aside from the fact that Christ mentions this, it authenticates the story of Jonah as real and not a myth. He directly references that as Jonah was three days in the fish, so He would be three days in the tomb. That’s very important because in this world lots of people have ideas of who Jesus was and what He was doing. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the cross. Christ is not a victim but victor. It is finished! The victory of the Resurrection is happening on the cross, before He is raised. ‘Tis finished! The Messiah dies.’ The victory comes from the cross. It is important we are not under the illusion that the death of Christ was unfortunate. Christ knew exactly what he was coming to do. The reference to Jonah shows He knew He would die and three days later rise.

The most important part of life is our relationship with God, not our circumstances. Jonah’s priority, when in the fish, was to turn to God and address his broken relationship with God. If you’re a Christian struggling with circumstances, the most important thing is having a right relationship with God. If you do find yourself in difficult circumstances, it doesn’t mean necessarily that your relationship with God isn’t right. If your relationship with Him is right, everything will fall into place, all things will work together for good. You may not get to see this at the time, but it will work for good. If you’re not a Christian and struggling, I don’t want to belittle whatever you’re facing, but it’s not the biggest issue you have now – it’s having a right relationship with God.

God forgives and restores us when we fall. Like Jonah, we disobey God, we break His commands by our words, our actions and our thoughts. There is a lesson here for practical forgiveness for Christians. If anybody in this universe has a right not to forgive, it’s God. He doesn’t have to forgive, yet He forgives us over and over again. Even better, God just doesn’t forgive us, He restores us and wants us to be useful for Him again. The glorious news of the gospel is God’s grace and mercy is always available to those who call on Him.

The Word is all that is necessary. Don’t look for signs. Jonah had no interest in exploiting the incredible story of his salvation; he had a message he was given and simply gave it. For Christians, we are in danger today of thinking the Word of God isn’t effective. Remember the Word of God is effective. There is nothing wrong with using creative ideas when sharing the gospel, but the important thing to remember is, is the trust in the messenger, the method or is it in the source and power of the message?

Jonah’s ministry was incredibly effective. It’s likely he was quite a mess at this time, but he gives us great hope. If Jonah can cause a revival in an utterly barbaric city simply by calling out the message of judgement that God had given him, by the Holy Spirit working, then hearts and lives can be changed today.

The Spirit can work. Don’t’ be put off by a lack of supposed inability or past failings. You’re not going out to moralise, you’re not going out there to say, ‘Look at me, how I live and be like me.’ What you are going to say is, ‘I’m a sinner but look at what the Lord has done for me.’ Don’t be put off by failure or lack of ability. Simply share your story, ‘I was a sinner but God rescued me.’ The pattern of the Christian life is mirrored in Jonah’s story: confession of sin, restoration through the love of Christ by the Spirit of God, then service in bringing the gospel to a needy world.

If you’re not a Christian today, what are you waiting for? Are you looking for a dramatic sign? Jesus has some very hard words for those looking for signs, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:39) The only sign you can be certain you’ll be given is the sign of the Resurrection.

Jonah simply preached that Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days and people repented. You have been given a message that you stand under God’s judgement and you need Jesus Christ to save you. What is your response?