7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 12, 2015
“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 this morning 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 is a model of literary artistry marked with symmetry and balance. It has been called an “ornate tapestry of rhetorical beauty.” Jonah is a gracefully designed story 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. Assyria was threatening to overrun the people (which they did), and Jonah is called to go Nineveh; the capital city of Assyria – a city remembered in history for its inhumane warfare and bloodshed. When Assyrians took over a town in battle they’d pile up the skulls of their enemies making pillars out of them. This is not a friendly nation or a friendly city, not exactly on the top ten vacation destinations of Jonah’s day! And it’s to this group of people, to this great enemy nation, to this enemy city that God calls Jonah to go.
Calling Jonah to go to the Ninevites was like asking Christian to fly to an ISIS-controlled city and confronting them with God’s true Word with the knowledge that all would be forgiven if they would just repent. But instead the Christian got on a train and went to San Francisco, then got on a ship to Antarctica! He wanted nothing to do with that trip, and wanted to get as far away as possible. That’s our Jonah. When God called Jonah, he passed on God’s offer and took off away from Nineveh and instead fled towards Tarshish which was about as far away from Nineveh as anyone could even fathom.
True enough…Jonah received a call that he would rather not get and so he passed on the offer. He ran! But you know the feeling, right? Running away from problems? The phone rings and you just know it is your aging aunt 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 you’re between jobs and money is tight and both the car payment and the mortgage are a few days late. You start to screen your calls with an answering machine or caller ID. It is not uncommon for sinners to duck other people or 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 you are on the run, don’t believe 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 into the depths of raging sea (v. 15)! Going “down” in the Old Testament is almost always depicting a movement towards death. When we sinfully turn from God and choose to not repent and run from Him instead, we begin to feel further away from the One who gives life. Jonah went down so deep that he literally entered what he thought was going to be his tomb…the belly of the great fish in verse 17.
And in spite of this, the LORD does not send someone else. He didn’t let Jonah get away with it. Jonah thinks he may have won the battle, but God will win the war. To do so He sends in the big gun. 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 – but then when we cry out to Him, He can then calm the storm through His love for us in Jesus. He is our Savior and through Him we like Jonah survive the storms of life, even those we bring on ourselves by our persistent running!
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 through 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 the storms of life pop-up as they do every day here in South Florida this time of year – we want to run towards other ways to find relief or escape rather than through the One who can calm the storms of life.
God in Christ lived and died to bring about the forgiveness of our sins; He calmed the ultimate storm of eternal death and damnation that was bearing down on all of us. That storm has been stilled that we might now have a safe port in the midst of life’s struggles. 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? Don’t follow Jonah’s example; it is foolish to pass on God’s offers of mercy and grace. No more running; instead, fall on your knees in repentant faith and prayer. Don’t yell “pass!” to God! Allow the One who provided the breath of life for all creation to blow His saving Spirit into your life that you might know His love, His calming and reassuring peace, forgiveness, and His salvation even in life’s darkest moments.