3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 30, 2019
“See Jonah Pass”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today I would like to begin a new sermon series on the book of Jonah and with that being the case, the text that engages us is the First Lesson read from Jonah 1:1-17.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Roughly 750 – 725 BC is the best date to affix to the writing of the book of the “minor” prophet Jonah. But other than that, name something you know about Jonah OTHER THAN the “big fish” typically thought of as a whale. Anyone? That’s a problem. The book of Jonah has been called an “ornate tapestry of rhetorical beauty.” Jonah is a gracefully designed narrative that discloses a profound theology…and all anyone can remember is the fish! That, my friends, is about to change.
Jonah was a prophet in the 8th century in Israel, which was “prime time” for prophets. The nation of Israel was in trouble…big trouble over idolatry and the behavior of their wicked kings. Assyria was threatening to overrun the people (which they did), and Jonah is called to go Nineveh (600 miles to NE); the capital city of Assyria – a nation remembered in history for its inhumane warfare and bloodshed. They would either show extreme violence in pitched battles or lay siege to a city, one of their specialties. During the siege, an Assyrian leader would “Good Cop/Bad Cop” the people inside the city walls, but however the Assyrians got in, it was always BAD for the city’s residents. And it’s to this group of people, to this great enemy nation, to this enemy city, that God calls Jonah to go, but Jonah “passed” on God’s offer and took off away from Nineveh and instead fled towards Tarshish (2000 miles opposite direction) which was about as far away from Nineveh as anyone could even fathom.
But you know the feeling, right? Running away from problems? Dodging what we don’t want to deal with? The phone rings and you just know it is your aging neighbor who wants you to come over and check her mailbox for the third time today or try to find her stupid cat which she hasn’t had in 20 years. Or maybe money is tight and both the car payment and the mortgage are a few days late. You start to screen your calls with your caller ID. We ignore that giant medical problem or issue in our relationship screaming for our attention choosing instead to turn a blind eye towards it in hopes it just goes away on its own. It is not uncommon for sinners to run from problems. It is a trait we inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve who ran away from God in the Garden of Eden. Passing on the inevitable or running away is never a productive thing. Saying “pass” to God’s call or running away is useless. Pretending that everything is okay is pointless. Ignoring our issues or sugar coating our struggles is not helpful. If God is leading you in a direction but you’re not ready, willing, and able to follow and you’re on the run, don’t think God is going to ignore it.
Jonah said “pass” to God’s call and tried to run and at every turn he went further and further down: going down to Joppa (v. 3), going down into the ship (v. 4), lying down in the innermost recesses of the ship (v. 5), and then thrown down into the depths of raging sea (v. 15)! It’s worth noting that going “down” in the Old Testament is almost always depicting a movement towards death. Jonah went down so deep that he literally entered what he thought was going to be his tomb…the belly of the great fish, not “whale” in verse 17. In Hebrew, there is no word for “whale.” Regardless, in there it would have been very, very dark. And probably stinky too. But very dark.
It’s also noteworthy in chapter 1 that the LORD employs the wind – one of God’s favorite “tools” – to bring order out of Jonah’s chaos. Do you think it’s just random chance that it was wind that pushed back the waters of the great flood to bring back life to earth (Genesis 8:1)? Just chance that wind divided the waters of the Red Sea that the Israelites might live instead of being killed (Exodus 14:21)? Just chance that Jesus walks on water in the midst of the raging storm (Matthew 14:24-32) and also is able to calm a storm (Mark 4:41)? No. God sends the wind; He sends storms to awake us to faith – so that when we cry out to Him, He can then calm the storm through His love for us in Jesus. It’s ironic that the pagan sailors pray while the prophet of God – Jonah – doesn’t. Not yet.
When things were at their worst for Jonah, he made one of three great confessions of faith in this book. In 1:9 Jonah said, “I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” And, well, in response the sailors throw him overboard!
What does that mean for us? It means that all of us are a bit like Jonah. We have faith…we believe…but when the going get rough – when life gets dark and the storms of life pop-up as they do this time of year here in South Florida – we want to yell “pass” to God’s way/will (Don’t want to do this, don’t want to deal with this, don’t want to think about his) and run towards other ways to find relief or escape. We should be running TO the One who can calm the storms of life by the power of His Word.
Are hard times going to come? Of course. Does faith make everything easy? Absolutely not. Will Jesus take all my pain and burdens away? Sorry, but no. Yet He offers something better. He offers not something to run from, but towards. He spreads His arms wide at the cross to call you unto Himself when the seas of life roll with huge swells and white caps. He calls you to come unto Him, sins forgiven, and receive the peace, grace, mercy, love, and life that only He can truly provide.
Do you have a Tarshish? Do you have a place that you know is the exact opposite of the place where God wants you to go, that is calling you to go to? Are you scared by the rolling waves of life that never seem to end? Has life become incredibly dark and a little stinky? Jonah thought the hard thing to do would be accept God’s will and Jonah’s way would be easier so he said “pass” to God’s way and tried his own way. As it turned out – as it ALWAYS turns out – God’s will and way was better than Jonah’s way that has now landed himself inside a dark and stinky fish.
In the same way, friends, let the Lord have His way in your life. Know that He IS leading you towards what is good for you. You may not see it now, but you will. Trust and obey; don’t tell God to “pass;” He knows far better than any of us what the right way is. How does Jonah get out of this? How do we get out of our dark and stinky life situations? Well, you’ll have to come back next week for the answer to that question.