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The story of Jonah teaches us about the mercy and the justice of God. We must be careful not to confuse our idea of justice with the Lord's true justice. When we truly understand what will happen to the enemies of God, we must do everything we can to push them toward God's mercy. We must forgive our enemies, for we have been forgiven.
Jonah & The Whale
Daniel & The Lions' Den
David & Goliath
Male: Mariah, it's story time! A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away…
[End of video]
Well, we have been looking at children's stories. Stories we kind of always know. In fact, what we do with our 0- to 4-year-olds here, is we have a little curriculum called Bible Biggies, where we tell them all the big stories of the Scripture so they can be aware of those stories. Way too often, we let these stories just be little children's stories.
It's really funny when you think about some of these, as JP has done such a great job of talking about, some of these stories are really funny that you would tell them to kids before they go to bed. I mean, think about this last one we're going to look at this morning, the story of Jonah. Here's a guy who is a prophet of God, a servant of God, a man who walked with God, who knew God. One day, he didn't listen to him, and so God swallowed him up by a monster fish, left him in that thing for three days, and spit him up so he'd start to listen to God.
"Let's pray to that God, sweetie, and you can go to bed and decide if you want to listen to Mom and Dad tomorrow. Before we close, I want to remind you Ephesians 6:1 says, 'Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.' I don't know. I mean, I think you're going to be okay as you sleep, but just remember that's your God. Good night." Children's stories.
What about this one? This is one you kind of stumble off, and you go, "Really? Come on. Really?" It wasn't long ago… I knew I was going to do Jonah. I was flying in a plane, so I had Jonah out and I was reading it. The guy next to me goes, "Really?" I go, "Excuse me?" He goes, "Really? You read that stuff?" I go, "Yes, sir, I do."
He goes, "You believe all those little myths in there? Like, if this plane was going to go down, you'd really find comfort in that?" I go, "Well, not just if the plane went down." He goes, "You know, people walking on water. Feeding multitudes out of loaves and fishes. People raised from the dead. Are you kidding me?" I go, "Sir, I do. I believe those things really happened."
He goes, "Okay. How about Jonah?" Don't they love to run to Jonah? He said, "How about Jonah? You believe a guy was swallowed by a whale, lived in his belly for three days, and was spit out?" I said, "You know, look. That is a tough one. I guess I suppose when I get to heaven, I'll ask him about it." The guy goes, "Oh, yeah. Well, what are you going to do if Jonah is not in heaven?" I said, "Well, then, you can ask him." That's what I said. No, I didn't.
This is one of those stories you kind of look at, and you kind of go, "Really? Is this what God wants me to believe?" Let me take it up a notch. Let me say this. I don't necessarily believe the whale swallowed Jonah, and he lived in his belly for three days. It wouldn't shock me if he was swallowed in the belly of a whale, he was dead, and God decided to resuscitate that dead body and spit him up. See, look. Our Old Testament has some other resuscitations in it. It wouldn't bother me if Jonah was dead in the belly of the fish.
You go, "Okay. Well, Todd, what if he's dead? Why aren't the gastric juices going to work, and why isn't he completely dissolved? Do you really believe if a whale were going to swallow a human, he wouldn't chew him up?" Well, first of all, there are two classes of whales. There are some with teeth and some that are called baleen whales. Baleen whales don't actually chew their food. They don't even have teeth. They run krill and other small animals through this structure that's called a baleen.
Let me say this. It is not out of the realm of possibility that a whale could, in fact, swallow a human. Let me walk you through a few things. Let me say one other deal. This is really not a question of genre. In other words, is Jonah historical narrative, or is it allegory? Is it parable? Jesus, by the way, used both to teach eternal truths. Even if we found out it was allegory and parable, it wouldn't necessarily mean the resurrection is allegory and parable. I, though, am of the opinion that this is a real story. It did happen historically.
People go, "There's no other record in human history of this happening." I go, "Well, you know what? We're going to celebrate something next weekend that there's no other record in human history of that happening." If there is a God, he is there, and he is sovereign over land and sea, it is not a difficult idea to believe God would use a fish to capture a man in the midst of the ocean and to deliver that man where he wanted him to be.
The question really isn't about the possibility of Jonah being historical. The question always goes back to, "Is there a God? Is he sovereign? Can he do these things?" Let me talk for a second about whales and size and do this. I've been doing some personal marine research myself here these last years. I'll share with you a little bit of that story. Let me show you a few fun things.
Think of a school bus. A school bus is 37 feet long. That's pretty close to what a school bus is. That doesn't even compare to the size of some of the baleen whales that are out there. If you look at a chart of the different types of whales there are out here, there's a blue whale that can go up to 90 feet. Just to give you an idea, 90 feet is bigger than this proscenium up here. From the other side, the left side, all the way to the middle, that's about 55 feet. If you go all the way across, about halfway to the other side, it's 66 feet. There are whales that are bigger than that.
There's a movie, actually, that's being pitched right now. It's called Johanna and the Whale. It's coming. For the movie, they've actually filmed humpback whales, which is where I've interacted mostly with whales. I'm not kidding. I'll show you in a minute. On a video of humpback whales, you can see the size of these things.
The mouth goes almost all the way back to the pectoral fins. That's the size of the mouth. The humpback is a baleen whale. It grows to be larger than a school bus, about 50-some odd feet, 60 feet even. That mouth goes all the way back below the eye, all the way to the pectoral fin that's there.
One of the things I do is I try and take my wife away once a year. We go down to Mexico. There are a bunch of humpback whales and gray whales that actually go down in this water. My buddy Kyle Thompson and I, whenever we see a whale, we have been efforting to make contact with it and have been swimming out in the ocean toward these whales with our little fins, snorkel, and mask.
There is a picture of Kyle and me with a whale from about seven years ago. We had swum out… It's amazing. Neither one of us saw the whale in the picture. These are silent giants. When my wife came back in, she goes, "Did you all see it?" because we had seen it coming down. In the picture, Kyle is looking back at me. I'm looking, I think, to my left a little bit.
That thing came up and just crested, showing it's back. We came in, "No. No. Did we get close?" She goes, "Look. I have a picture with a telephoto lens." We go, "You have to be kidding me." I could go underwater and hear these things. It was like National Geographic whale sounds. It was crazy.
Anyway, we've been doing this for seven years. I talked to a guy, and I told him, "My goal is to just see one underwater. That's what I want to do, is just to see one." I talked to a guy who actually ran (his family did) a catamaran whale-watching deal. He goes, "Man, I've been trying to do that. We're out there my whole life, and I've never gotten one." I go, "Well, we're going to keep trying to do it." He goes, "Well, how?" I go, "Well, we're swimming out from the shore." He looked at me like I was crazy.
This February, Kyle and I had swum out. We had seen this whale, and it was lingering more than normal. It was about 30 yards off to our right at about two o'clock. The next time we looked, it had actually gone under, and it was now about at five o'clock. We started swimming aggressively toward it, because it was between us and the shore. That had not happened, that we had seen a whale above water and in the water closer to shore than we were.
We took off swimming toward it, and all of a sudden… It was a mom humpback and a calf. The calf was about 25 to 30 feet, if you can imagine. The mom was much bigger than a school bus. She literally said, "I'm going to go show you these things and let you know they're not going to hurt you, and they couldn't if they wanted to." This mom and this calf came and went. My wife was on the shore taking pictures. She's asked me, "Is it okay, when you die, if I go to the spa first before I fly the body home?" I said, "Yes." So, we've already had that conversation.
Anyway, this whale starts to come back toward us. Kyle and I, we see it. In the picture, you can actually see the ripple of the water where the whale had gone down. Kyle and I both went down, and this huge fish, whose mouth alone is huge, went by me. This big pectoral fin… The thing I wasn't sure about yet is what would happen when the rear fin went down, how the fluke was going to grab me, because you can feel that when a human swims next to you.
I say all this because that big pectoral fin comes by me. I can feel the current, and I go, "I'm going in." I went down, and I touched the very end. "I'm not just going to see it." I'm under water, and I'm saying, "I'm going to try and touch Mama." I got the very end of a barnacle. That's about as close as I could get, because I didn't know what the tail was going to do. I have seen these things underwater, and let me tell you. It didn't swallow me, but it could. All right? I'm here to tell you. It could.
Another true story. Not long ago, in San Francisco Bay by the Golden Gate Bridge, there was a humpback whale that was caught in some crab netting. A bunch of divers were called. They went in. They realized the only thing they could do is try and cut the net off that whale. They did, and they were filming at the end. One of the humpbacks came back, literally after it was broken free, circled the divers looking at them, went to one, and literally reached out its fin to the man. I got a little closer than they did.
These animals… I don't recommend this, by the way. Do not try this at home. Do you want me to say that? Anyway, I'm saying all that because there is no difficulty… If that thing came up, you could easily see where that mouth opens all the way to the eye, it could take you in. In fact, scientists who have studied this say there is, in the very first stomach in some of the whales (not all whales are the same), a 21-cubic-foot chamber shaped like an egg that is the first place they strain out some of the items that come in. You could easily fit a human inside that 21-foot chamber.
They found a 450-pound giant squid inside a sperm whale (which is one of the whales with teeth) fully intact. I'm telling you this does not fail the credulity test. It could easily happen. This is just kind of fun stuff about whales, because you're asking. There was a humpback that came up to a bunch of people taking pictures of it as it was feeding on the krill and different stuff.
Some people actually go up where they do feed. They don't feed down south when I'm in the water with them. In one clip, there's a little gal out there. She's on a sea kayak, and the whale comes up right behind her. She screams, and that's exactly the right response. I'm a believer. That's what I'm telling you.
If none of that existed, I'm here to say you have to ask yourself this question: If a sovereign God, who is Lord of land and sea, wanted to do this, couldn't he? If a sovereign God wanted to resurrect somebody after three days, could he not? I think he could. I think Jesus referred to Adam and Eve like they were real people. I think he referred to Jonah like it was historical fact. There are other elements of this story that don't fit at all as parables and illustrations but historical fact. He says, "There's something greater happening here." We'll get to that.
What does God want us to learn from this children's story? Let's take a look. Jonah, chapter 1. I'm going to pick it apart as we go. There are four chapters here. There's no way we can cover it all, but we're going to have a certain amount of fun. Let me tell you this. In a nutshell, what this book is about is God's great love for everyone, and about man's stubborn refusal to participate with God in loving others.
I want you to think, as we get ready to dive into this, about people who you go, "Hey, there is no way they're ever going to believe in Christ. Frankly, even if they did, I would want them not to." Enemies. People who have done awful things to you. Actually this week, I threw up a little blog post, because a number of folks were really struggling. Even in our own little area, there have been things that have happened this week where dear women, friends of many of us, have been attacked in this general area. A lot of folks have been crying out for justice.
Studying Jonah this week, I thought to myself, "I hope if we had a chance to communicate with people who have done awful things to friends of ours, that we would plead with them to reconcile to God, even as they appropriately experience the consequence of the choices they have made on this earth." None of us, if we really understood the horror of hell, would ever want even the vilest of creatures on earth to experience the full wrath of God.
By the way, I want to insert this right here. This is why God says to you, "'VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,' says the Lord." I want to say this to you because it's going to set you up if you're here this morning and you don't know Christ. It's going to be a good reminder to all of us who do. I think way too many of us have this view of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, tender toward the lambs, and "God loves us."
It is true that God loves us, but one of the things that's necessary for love to be in its full presence in reality is that it is just. The Scriptures, though they consistently reveal our God is loving, never separate his love from justice. Where there is no justice, there is no love. It means anything can go. You can do anything to anybody. I'll just love you, forgive you, and pat you on the back.
God is not like that. He is slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, full of grace and truth, but by no means will he let the guilty go unpunished. That's what it says in Exodus. That's what it repeats throughout the Scriptures. God is just. God says, "Listen. You need to know something. I have given the state, I have given governments, I have given human organization authority to be my minister, to make laws, to prosecute evil, and, if necessary, to take life." That is Romans 13. That is Genesis 9.
Ordained government is a minister of God and will be held accountable if it does not execute justice or if it perverts justice and has favoritism and doesn't execute justice on certain people. There is human justice. It's an awful thing. It ought to produce fear in the wicked. But there is even a greater justice. God says, "Ultimate vengeance is mine." If you think the death penalty will satisfy you, it won't, and it doesn't satisfy God. Death, biblically, is always pictured primarily as separation from the God who is life.
Let me say this to you. In Ezekiel 33, verse 11, God says, "…I take no [delight] in the death of the wicked…" In 2 Peter, chapter 3, it says, "… [God] is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." The reason God tarries, and the reason he leaves us here…prophets of God, people who know him and know his Word…the reason he leaves us here with Assyrians and rapists and terrorists is because God understands the eternal consequence of dying separate and apart from him.
He will let Daniel suffer in Babylon. He will let Jonah suffer in Israel at the hand of the Ninevites, in order that they may proclaim to those wicked people the grace available from God, that they might come to him in a day he might still be found. Hebrew 9:27 says, "…it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…" Judgment is an awful thing.
People used to ask me a lot, "Todd, what question are you going to ask God when you get to heaven? What do you think is going to be your biggest problem with God when you get to heaven?" There are a lot of ways to answer that question, but I have to tell you this. Unless God enlarges my heart, as I understand hell…eternal hell in all its fullness and reality…if I don't see a greater insight into the glory and fullness of God, I'm going to have a problem with eternal hell.
I don't, because I believe God at his word. I am never flippant at the death of the wicked, because my God is not. I take no delight in their death and their impending judgment, because I've come to understand it. I believe if God doesn't grow me when I get to heaven…if he doesn't make me like him…I'm going to saddle up against him, and I'm going to ask him to relent.
When I have been in Africa, and I have been teaching there to people who have had their wives raped, their children macheted, some of them have watched their parents be killed and been forced to eat them, children who have been made soldiers and sex slaves… As we've talked to and ministered to these people, they ask me, "How do you want me to forgive them? How do you want me to be gracious toward them?" My response has always been the same.
"You're asking me? I don't. I don't want you to forgive them. Can I, in fact, tell you what I would do with them if God let me?" I go on, and I explain to them, "If I had a chance to get ahold of these people who did what they have done to you to my family, I would take them, and I would beat them unmercifully. I would filet them alive, but I would not let them die. I would have the best medical care possible ready for them. I would bring every form of human suffering I could. I would nurse them back to health, and then I would beat them again and let them see the horror of their ways."
I'm going on and on about how I would do that repeatedly, maybe 20, 30, 40 times. Their eyes are getting bigger and bigger like, "Hey, bro. You have anger problems." I go, "But let me tell you something. I would do that for maybe 10,000 years. Then, I think I would go, 'Okay. Have you learned your lesson? You don't do people like that.'" They were nodding their heads like, "Yeah. Yeah."
I go, "Hey. Can I tell you guys something for a second? I'm asking you to pray for these folks. I'm asking you to understand the justice of God. I'm asking you to pray they might come to repentance. That doesn't mean they won't experience consequence to their human sin here on earth if, in fact, they're apprehended. But I'm asking you to pray they would reconcile with God, because do you know something? If God doesn't change my heart when I get to heaven, I'll still be like that."
I'll saddle up against God. I'll say, "Hey, God. I love what we have done to…" I'm going to use Hitler as the easy target. "I love what we've done to him for 100,000 years, but let's go ahead and lay off. Let's either annihilate him and have him go into nothingness, or let's go ahead and move him toward purgatory and see if he'll behave this time and maybe make his way up," by the way, a place that doesn't exist biblically.
The Lord would look at me, and he'd go, "Hey, wait a second, Todd. What makes you think this was ever about you? Hell had nothing to do with you. You're not an eternal creature. I understand your justice can be satisfied in a finite way. This has always been about me. Vengeance is mine. What's going on down there has everything to do with their refusing the grace and mercy that was available to them, wherever they lived, by me in conscience, in creation, and often in revelation. So, this has nothing to do with you."
Do you understand how awful hell is? You see, Jonah didn't. By the way, "God damn you," rolls off the tongue of the ignorant way too easily. Anybody who truly knows God and the fullness of damnation would never even think those ideas. You have not been looking at the Word of the Lord, and neither had Jonah, even though he had received it.
Look what it says right here in Jonah, chapter 1. "The word of the LORD came to Jonah…" Listen, gang, when the Word of the Lord comes to you, there is an incredible responsibility. It talks about this in Romans 2. The responsibility of the Jews. Great is the privilege of the Jew. They've been given the stewardship of the Word of God.
Let me stop for a second. Let's not make this about Jews. Let's not make this about Jonah. The Word of the Lord has come to you. If there is a God and he is filled with righteous indignation toward those who hate him, but he is slow to anger, he is abounding in grace and lovingkindness, he has made every provision for man, that they might know he wants to reconcile himself to them, but he hasn't winked and nodded at sin. He's an eternal God.
The only thing that can appease him is an eternally perfect sacrifice. Enter God himself in the person of his Son, who this Friday we'll remember was offered up for them whom God, in his kindness, could offer them to be restored to him. If you scoff at this God and then scoff at the provision, the sacrifice of his own eternal self for you, oh, woe, woe is you. The fact that that Word has come to you, and you are largely silent about it and indifferent toward it, because you are bothered by rapists and Assyrians… We are not paying attention.
I get it, because sometimes we just think as finite men. We get deeply hurt. We throw off flippant words like, "God damn you. I would wish God would send you to hell." No, you wouldn't. No, you wouldn't. You're not paying attention. This is a book that reminds all of us. It's the perfect time for us to look at it for two reasons.
First, it anticipates the greatest deliverance ever and the ultimate one who has rescued from the grave to come and preach life.Secondly, because we ought to, this week, go and do everything we can so they can come hear that story next weekend. In fact, don't even wait till I tell them next weekend. You start telling them now. The Word of the Lord came to you, my friend. What are you going to do with it? Don't mock Jonah. Think about it.
In fact, here's God's Word to Jonah. He said, "Arise…" Let me stop right there. "Arise, go…" He tells him where to go specifically. You know, so many times people come to me, and they go, "Todd, I just want to know what the will of the Lord is. I wish God would show me what his will is. What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to marry? What should I do with my career?" I go, "Stop. Why would God give you all kinds of commands when you've already ignored the very clear ones?"
Most of the commands we struggle with in Scripture are not the complicated ones, are they? They're just like this one Jonah whiffed on. They are the, "Arise, go…" How about this one? "Go therefore and make disciples…" How many folks, this week, met with somebody who is more spiritually immature than them and shared with them out of the depth of their learning something about the greatness of God and how they could know him and walk with him? How many of us in this room, Jonah, did this this week?
He says, "Go and make disciples. You baptize them when they come to understand my kindness and my grace, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, who convicts them of sin. The Son, who provides for their sin. The Father, who created the means that they could return to him. You teach them to observe everything I have commanded you." How many of us did that? He said he brings us into relationship with him that we might become fishers of men. That's not confusing. How many of y'all fished for men this week?
That means you put your lure in the water, and you pulled it before them. Here's the lure: "You're a sinner. There's a consequence to sin. God is real. He wants you to be restored back into life with him. The provision for that is Jesus. I would offer you his empty tomb as evidence that God is satisfied with his provision, and I would offer you my life as an individual who has been reconciled to God, is learning his ways, and has been saved by grace. My life is on a completely different course because of that. I offer you a relationship with this Jesus."
How many of you have dragged that truth by a nonbeliever? How many of you have been around fish, folks who don't know God? Then, when you're around them, how many of you have said something? Initiate. Share your story of grace. Invite them to come and see. That is not complicated. How can we sit here and go, "God, we really want to know what you want?"
Think about all these words we have a hard time with that aren't complicated. Forgive. "I ain't forgiving him." "I ain't forgiving her. You want me to forgive my wife? Forget it." Okay, Jonah. I don't know where else to go with this thing. Repent. Change your self-reliance. Flee immorality. "I'm not going to flee immorality. I'm going to keep going on that website." That's not fleeing immorality. In fact, I'm going to pay money to go to movies that, even if they're not pornographic, certainly don't drag my heart toward God. That's just not a complicated command.
This is not just some abstract story, is it? I don't need to go on. Jonah 1:1. We could close in prayer right now. We've all got enough conviction to last us a week. Actually, we don't. Most of us will shake it off after a good Jersey Mike's sub and a few NCAA games, and we'll be right back into just being melded into our world, glad we went to church this morning, but "Whew. That one got close to my heart in producing change."
I'm about to show you what God does to people he loves. He loves you enough to not let you live in indifference toward him. If you won't forgive, there will be a whale of bitterness that will swallow you until you really pray you can get out of it. If you don't go, you're going to spend your life chasing after fleeting things, never really being satisfied by what you make or what you drive or who you marry, wondering where fullness and intention in life comes from. He's going to swallow you up by the whale of, as Thoreau said, hearts that are filled with quiet desperation.
Maybe you'll cry out in the belly of that whale when you're 50, when you're 60, when you're 70, if he tarries. He'll pull you out. You'll get after it, and you'll start to live life in a meaningful way. You'll be like most old men who left their families to go gain wealth and fame, and will go back and say, "I really just want a relationship with you. I've realized now that life is just about relationship."
Really? Hasn't Jesus kind of indicated that's the case right now? See? This just isn't complicated. This is not a child's story. This a story for all of God's children. "I love you. I want you to live in relationship me. I'm not really going to make this complicated for you. Arise." "No, I'd rather sleep in. I'm more concerned with my own comfort."
A guy named Jim Elliot, who has been a hero of mine for a long time, ended up giving his life as a young stud. I mean, a stud. He gave his life trying to take the message that God gave Jonah to some Indians who had never been reached before who were scared. In their being overwhelmed with these white men, who they'd never seen in their presence, they actually speared them and killed Jim and his friends.
It has turned into an incredible story of grace. If you've not been paying attention, I highly recommend you go read the book Through Gates of Splendor and watch the movie that was recently made about Jim Elliot and his buddies. Read Elisabeth's story. Jim Elliot had this quote. He said, "He who maketh Ease his god, Sufficiency his altar, Pleasure his priest, and Time [away from these things] his offering knows not what man is born for."
Can I tell you something? Jonah didn't know what man was born for, even though he was around the Word of the Lord. Doesn't that really describe, by the way, most of us? Gang, I want to remind you again. We are on mission. Ease is not to mark us. Can you imagine if the folks who were responsible for defending our borders, caring for us in the midst of the terror that is really in this world, said, "You know? I'm out, because it's just not easy enough. The water is too cold. The desert is too hot. I want out." We would not sleep securely.
One of the things I did with a little bit of my time away is I was doing some reading about the sacrifice men have made with their lives, and about men who haven't died, who have been through incredible hardship so I might sleep in peace. I think about how whatever they're protecting me from is nothing compared to what those of you who have been given the gospel of Jesus Christ are protecting others from. Yet, too many us love ease, love sufficiency, and we love pleasure and say, "I don't want to go."
Let me give you a little bit more empathy for Jonah, because you think your terrorist is bad. It says God said, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." By the way, I want to tell you something. Do you guys know that God, at least three times in the Bible, sent prophets to Nineveh?
Do you know one of the prophets he sent to them was a little slave girl? When the Assyrians had come and ransacked Northern Israel, one of those little girls was taken captive, parents probably killed. She found herself in the presence of Assyrian royalty. One of those Assyrian royal noblemen, in fact, a general in the army, was contracted with leprosy.
Did she delight in that leprosy? No, because she understood there was a God in Israel. Even though she couldn't understand why wicked nations who did not know God were currently prevailing against them (by the way, God had sent prophets to Israel explaining why), she said, "I wish my master knew of the prophets in Israel who can heal men who are afflicted like him." Not just of leprosy but of something far greater.
That's exactly what happened to Naaman. When you take your Colin Powell or you take your leading warrior, and he is afflicted with disease, when he goes and your enemy heals him, he carries back a different message about your enemy and about your enemy's God. That was one, in 2 Kings 5.
Another one is Nahum. Nahum is a book that was written to Nineveh about 150 years after Jonah went to Nineveh. I'm going to tell you this about what happens and give away the ending. Spoiler alert. Jonah eventually gets to Assyria. He eventually goes to Nineveh. He eventually preaches the message. They do listen. They do repent. Peace comes on the land, and God doesn't judge them. But 150 years later, guess what? Nineveh doesn't arise. Nineveh doesn't repent. Nineveh doesn't flee immorality. Nineveh doesn't forgive. They don't disciple.
A couple of generations later, they're just as wicked as ever, and here comes another prophet to say, "Oh, Assyria. Time is up." Really, Nahum is a letter to a dead church. I'll say that again. Nahum is a letter to a dead church that got it, that said all the right things about God, that largely didn't change, that wasn't discipled, and they went on about their ways. God said, "Nuh-uh. We're not going to roll this way," and Nineveh is gone.
Let me tell you about the Ninevites. Here are a few things that were true of the Ninevites. It says when they would go… They were the original terrorists. In fact, many people think terrorism started with the Assyrians. When they would go, they wouldn't just beat their enemy. They would try and intimidate them by leaving war acts of renown that would spread throughout the land, because fear was often their greatest weapon.
They would literally take blood, and they would dye entire land masses red as a mark that they had been there. They would take the heads of the enemies they had cut off, and they would stack them in pyramids. They would run stakes through their victims and light them like candles. They would cover the walls of their city, which were 50 feet high and 50 feet thick… They would wallpaper it with skins of foreign enemies. They weren't just looking to come have you pay taxes. These were base people. "Jonah, living peacefully by the Sea of Galilee, go to Nineveh." Watch what happens.
"But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish…" This is really interesting. Jonah is up there in the Sea of Galilee. He travels down to Joppa, which is the only port city at the time there in Israel. It's right by modern day Tel Aviv. I was just there. It's still a port city. Nineveh is up and to the right. The Phoenician sailors, who would come and do trade with Israel and, actually, all the lands of the Middle East… The furthest known west-bound place was the very tip of Spain that the Phoenician sailors would go and do trade with.
God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, and he basically said, "I'm buying a ticket to the farthest place from Nineveh." That's where he went. It wasn't like he was saying, "Let me lie here and think about it." He said, "I'll arise, but I ain't going to the east. I am heading as far west… So far west you can never find me." Jonah tells us why here in just a little bit. Watch this. This is really interesting in verse 3. It says, "So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down…" See if you can catch a little literary tool here.
"… [He] went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep."
Do you see this? What Jonah is going to keep doing is moving further and further away and going down as far as he can go away from God. He's going to go down one more time in this story. It's down in the belly of a whale, down in the depths of the ocean for a while. Even there, God is not done with him, but he is going to bring him to a place of despair and darkness that's going to make Jonah go, "You know what? Leaving God, going away from God, is never working out for me. Ever since I started not doing what the word of the Lord said, my life has gotten worse."
Can you say that? Oh, I know. Maybe for a while you got back at that spouse of yours who really made you angry. That felt good. But has your life really gotten better? I know that bitterness you're holding onto and that hate you spew make you feel better when you get the visceral response from the other person you want, but has it really made your life better?
I know that immorality you're in the middle of brings you little fleeting moments of pleasure. I know that alcohol you run to comforts you for a little bit. Has it really made your life better? I know that affair you're in the middle of is giving you a little titillation and an adrenalin rush right now, but has it really made your life better? Have you thought about it lately?
I know that comfort you're in, that life of ease you're infatuated with, that materialism track you're on seem to be working, but are you really filled with quiet desperation? Have you figured out that what you need is just one more dollar, which means maybe what you're going after isn't what you need to go after? Has your life really gotten better? I mean, just stop and do yourself a favor and think about it.
I'm going to offer to you it's not getting better. God loves you enough to give you, in fact, your own desires. This is all through the Scripture. This is Psalm 82. This is Psalm 106, where it says, "God gave them the desires of their heart, but he sent leanness to their soul." There may be folks who eat better, dress better, and drive better than those who devotedly love God, but there are not ever going to be people who sleep better.
It's amazing to me how comfortable believers can be in uncomfortable situations and how miserable those who are going down from God can be in very comfortable-appearing situations. Can you relate to that? Jonah can. God is calling you back out of the belly of whatever you're trying to swim away in. Now watch. I'm going to make another interesting observation here in Jonah, chapter 1. It's basically this…
It says, "So the captain approached [Jonah] …" Who was asleep downstairs. "…and said, 'How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god.'" Now look. He didn't know what Jonah really believed in. He just bought a ticket. But everybody on that ship… They were about to go under, and so anybody who had ever heard of a god was calling out on him.
Jonah was taking a pass. He was now an atheist. He had no God, in effect, to call on. Can I tell you something? This is true. There is an interesting tie between immorality and atheism. What I mean by that is you watch people when you talk to folks who have a problem with the story of Jonah and the whale.
I'm going to say, "Look. Is that really your problem? If I can somehow answer this intellectually…? How about if I grant to you that it is allegory and parable? I don't think it is, but what if I just give that to you? It doesn't change the reality of what happened with my Jesus but let me ask you a question. If I can solve whatever your intellectual question is, would you really change, repent, and begin to follow Jesus?"
"Well, no. I ain't going to give up my…"
"So, let's be honest. Your issues you're throwing out really aren't your issues. The reason you're an atheist is because your atheism…the stubborn refusal to cry out to God, consider God, plea to God…is because you don't want to do business with a God who is there. Every night when you close your bedroom door and everything else goes away, you can't get away from the fact that he's really there, so you drug yourself, sex yourself, numb yourself, work yourself trying to convince yourself it's going to be okay and that the grave really is eternal sleep. How's that working out for you?"
I want to tell you. There is a significant tie between immorality and atheism. If nothing else, between godless behavior and a rejection of the God of the Scripture. It just makes sense. Psychologically, it's necessary. People talk about us believing in God as a crutch. Might I suggest they have a bigger crutch? "I just have to go to sleep. I don't want to acknowledge I'm running from God." There are terrors when you do that. "Cry out to God." Jonah says, "I can't cry out to God. I don't listen to God. I don't do what God wants me to do. Why would I cry out to God?"
The story goes on. You know what's really interesting? I'll throw this out too. If you look at this, you have two types of people, really, in chapter 1. Jonah and the sailors. Jonah slept while the sailors prayed. Jonah had no compassion. The sailors don't want to throw him overboard when Jonah tells them, "I'm your problem." The pagan sailors have compassion. Jonah has no fear of the Lord. The prophet has no fear of the Lord. The pagan sailors ask God's forgiveness.
I met this week with a leading rabbi, a guy who is all over the news. He came here. Listen to this. He came here, and he wanted to meet with me. He was saying to me, "Todd, I believe you…the church, your church and others like it, specifically who love the Word of God…are the key to mine and my children's future. I need your help. The country we live in, the world we live in… We don't have a chance unless you, people who say you know our Messiah, the Messiah, which we don't, obviously…" He's very Jewish. Orthodox. "I'm just telling you. You guys. We need you."
That's exactly what Romans 11 says they should do, if we're doing what we said we should be doing. What's really interesting is this guy is doing so much more than most believers. So was a guy named Glenn Beck. Take whatever you want about some of his theories and whatnot, but as a Mormon, do you know what he's really doing?
He's crying out, "When we leave the God of Judeo-Christianity, it is going to bring horrors to the land." Isn't that interesting that we have, in a sense, pagan sailors, non-believing Jews, who are doing more to cry out that we would pay attention to the God of the Scriptures than the church is? Guess why? Because Jonah is asleep.
I can't wake up every Jonah, but the Lord has told me to wake up this one. He's told me to do it by modeling. He's told me to do it by discipling. He's told me to do it by preaching. He's told me to do it by connecting deeply with you, so when you're stubbing your toe, my mouth and my head scream. So that we love each other, and you would do the same for me. Amen?
Well, guess where this story goes? It goes to the belly of the whale. Jonah eventually comes to his senses. He eventually cries out to God. Assyria does repent, just like Jonah thought, and we get to chapter 4 of Jonah. In chapter 4 of Jonah, God is there. Jonah is discouraged because he said, "This is why I didn't want to come here. You've been merciful. You have always been slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, and filled with grace and truth." That's Jonah 4.
God, in the midst of his little pity party, grows him a plant. Jonah is happy with the plant. Then, he sends a worm at night to eat the plant. Then, the plant dies the next day, and Jonah is angry that the plant is dead. God goes, "Hey, Jonah. That little plant that brought you comfort, that's dead? You're more bothered by that than 120,000 people whom I love, who are made in my image. You're nothing like me."
Can I tell you what's really interesting? The prophet Nahum. Nahum means comfort. A little bit later, God was going to send somebody else from a town called the village of comfort…kefar nahum. The village of comfort. There was going to be somebody who was going to come from the village of comfort. He was going to go to a people who were very lost, and he was going to tell them about a God who was very good.
He was going to offer himself up now, not in rebellion to the belly of a whale, but to the belly of something far more fierce than a humpback or a right whale or a blue whale or a sperm whale that could swallow you up and spit you out. He was going to give himself over to very death and separation from God.
He was filled with all the compassion that Jonah wasn't. In fact, on this very day John led us through in worship, he walked down to that little city. He stopped, and he wept over it. Today, in Israel, they will reenact that little Palm Sunday entrance. He'll stop at Dominus Flevit, the tears of our Lord. There will be a person there, on a donkey, who will get off and cry for Jerusalem, just like Jesus did, whose hometown was kefar nahum, Capernaum, the village of comfort.
God sent an obedient prophet, who later said, in Matthew, chapter 12, "Hey. You want a sign? I'll give you a sign. Just like Jonah was swallowed up in the belly of a whale for three days and then came back to preach life and offer forgiveness, I'm going to do that. There's your sign." And he did it.
The fact that we say we're his followers, and we're like Jonah, more concerned with comfort than we are comforting others with the comfort with which we have been comforted, is not as it should be. I want you to look in the eyes of this Assyrian, who wants you to invite him, who wants you to share with him. I want you to think, Jonah, about what you're going to do with your week.
Let me tell you. They're not going to be only out there in our community this week. They're sitting next to you right now. Don't rush to your car. Just stop. Turn to the person next to you when you leave and say, "Hey, has anyone ever invited you in here, or were you here all the time? This is a big place and intimidating. How can I help you? If you're here for the first time, just like me, let's figure this thing out together." We're inviting you in. Not just to Watermark.
I'm going to tell you what. God wants you to be a part of a community like this, where you can really be shepherded, but I'm inviting you. I'm inviting you into relationship with a God who was swallowed up in the body of death, in no allegorical way, so the wrath of God could be satisfied. So he, in his justice, could be full and holy, and that he, in his grace and mercy and love, could be fully available to you. I'm inviting you to come trust in him and walk with him. Not just have some quick moment of repentance where you feel better, but to know this God.
He wants to have a relationship with you and to reveal to you his Word, that you might be his prophet and you could live in goodness and fullness. I'm inviting you this morning to come. Come talk to us. Come pray with us. Turn to the person next to you and say, "Explain that to me." Check the box that says, "I want to know more about having a relationship with God through this Jesus, who went through that for me, in obedience."
Then, I'm asking those of you who already know him, who have already responded to his obedient sacrifice for you, to arise and worship as prophets, and to go all in. Don't wait to invite. Invite them, please, but share. Please. Shepherd one another. Make disciples so we don't have a Nahum written to us in 150 years. Amen?
Father, would you do that for each of us, wherever we are in that spectrum of need? For your glory and our good, I pray, Lord Jesus, we would not just read this story and move on. We wouldn't be numbed by lunch and basketball. We would be on mission. We would not go down, down, down into ease, sufficiency, and pleasure, but we would go up in holiness, sacrifice, and surrender.
Thank you, Lord, that you love us enough to make us miserable in our lostness or in our disobedience, that we might then run back to you. May we not be folks who run. May we be willing to go into our own lions' den, our own bellies, and pick up our own crosses, because we know there is a day you will say to us, "Well done. Enter into my rest." Until that time, though, Lord, may we not focus on rest but focus on the one whose name is Rest. May we love him, speak of him, sing of him, serve him. May some who don't know him yet come, even now. In Christ's name, amen.
Arise. Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.