Jonah Runs with God


As Jonah discovers, no sinner is so far from God that he or she cannot repent and find forgiveness. God wants to use us as prophets of His grace to the Ninevites in our lives as well. Will we be faithful or will we, like Jonah, run in the opposite direction? When was the last time you had a conversation about spiritual matters with someone far from God?

Blake HolmesJul 19, 2009Jonah 3

Father in heaven, the truth is these past 30 seconds may have been the quietest 30 seconds of our day. Amidst all the noise and the distractions, Father, sometimes we fail to just stop and to consider the Nineveh you're calling us to and, Father, how our actions are not consistent with the truth of your Word. Father, thank you for the message of the book of Jonah, how it speaks to our hearts today and how, Father, we can see our own attitudes and our own barriers to faith, Lord, as we look into this man's life and his heart and we read his message.

I thank you, Father, for the story you prepared for us, and what we can learn from it. I pray, Father, that it would be more than just words on a page. I pray, Father, that we would be a people who would do more than go through the motions of showing up to a Sunday night service, but we'd be a people who would honestly consider where we are and what the condition of our heart is, Lord, that we might respond appropriately. We ask this in Christ's name, amen.

Well, we're in part three of a four-part series. We're taking a closer look at the book of Jonah. Over these past couple of weeks, we've discussed a lot. We discussed how it's most people's tendency to just forsake the message of this book. We get so caught up in the story of chapter 2, of Jonah being swallowed by this great fish, that somehow in the midst of that we have thought to ourselves, perhaps, that this book is meant to be read to kids in Sunday school to help them understand the greatness of God but isn't something we should really consider for today.

What does it have to say to us as adults? I would argue that this is a book whose message has been lost, because very few of us have actually opened up Jonah and read chapters 1 through 4. Instead, we kind of remember what it talks about because we grew up in Sunday school, or we've heard people talk about this miracle and this man who was preserved in the belly of a whale. So, this book has largely gone neglected.

Because of how fantastic its story is, we talked about how people have looked at this book and not seen it has history, as something to be applied today. Instead they've looked at it, and they go, "Well, this is simply a parable, or it's an allegory." We talked about how Jesus interrupted this book. We've looked closely at Matthew 12 and talked about what the Bible has to say in presenting the story of Jonah.

We've looked at chapter 1, where we saw how this book is pretty easily outlined into four parts. In chapter 1, Jonah runs from God. He's called to go to this place called Nineveh, to a foreign land, to a group of people who were hostile to the people of God. He's actually called to walk into the enemy's camp, if you will, and share a message of reconciliation, a message of hope and love, and to tell people about who the one true God is.

He wasn't excited about doing that, because he didn't want to see God extend forgiveness to the enemies of God's people. He wanted to see God bring and rain down judgment on them. He was reluctant to go, and so he boards a boat for Tarshish. He heads west when he should be heading east. We talked about how, oftentimes, God has called us to our own Nineveh, if you will, but we're like Jonah. We're reluctant. We're hesitant. We get on a boat, and we run the opposite direction. We see how Jonah's story is our story.

We see, though, how God miraculously preserves Jonah's life after he was thrust from this boat, when the sailors on the boat determined Jonah was the cause of the storm. He was the one who brought all the pain upon this boat and through the storm. The people picked him up, and they threw him into the water.

He was left to die, but then God miraculously saves him. The fish, as many people have understood it, is a sign of judgment. It's not a sign of judgment. It's a sign of deliverance, how God miraculously delivers Jonah from a certain death, from drowning. So, he runs to God in a prayer of thanksgiving.

This week, we're going to see this is where Jonah peaks. This is where Jonah actually gets it right. It's going to be short-lived, because next week he goes straight downhill, but this week, Jonah runs with God. Jonah runs with God, as we look at chapter 3. Then, next week, as I said, he's actually going to run against God.

If you have your Bibles, turn to chapter 3. We're going to look at this together. It's a pretty easy chapter to outline. In verses 1 through 4, you have Jonah's preaching. Then the Ninevites' response to that, Nineveh repents, in verses 5 through 9. Then you see where God shows compassion in verse 10. It's a pretty straight-forward, short little passage, but its message is profound. Let's look at verses 1 through 4. Look at Jonah's preaching. Verse 1:

"Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.' So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, 'Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.'"

A few observations in these short verses here. As we talked about the first week, the word great is repeated throughout his book several times. Here you see it repeated twice in regard to the city, Nineveh. There's a lot of speculation as to why it keeps referring to the city of Nineveh as being great. It is helpful to understand the significance of this town, and what it looked like, how it was built, and how many people lived there.

Archaeologists tell us inside the city walls was about eight square miles. It had a wall that went around it. Now listen to this. This is pretty impressive. The wall was 100 feet high and 50 feet deep. Now you think about that. They didn't have the modern technology of cranes and bulldozers. They were able to build and construct a wall that would go around White Rock Lake that was 100 feet high and 50 feet deep. It sounds like they didn't want people just kind of strolling into that place, right?

We understand from the Scripture that just within the city wall it was estimated that 120,000-plus people lived within those city walls. Then, archaeologists have guessed there were several thousand more people who lived beyond the gates. This was a city that would eventually become, after Jonah's time, the capital of Assyria. The city was great in many ways.

The second thing you'll notice here that's worth pointing out is… You know, if you were to read in the other prophetic books, you would see that the books center around the actual prophecy, the actual message of the prophets, what they said. All you have here is a simple few words. One sentence. Jonah goes, and he proclaims, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." That's all we know that he says to the Ninevites.

I don't think we're supposed to believe that encompassed his whole message, but I think it certainly summarizes it. Basically, what he told them was, "You're a people who are far from God. You don't know the one true God. The way you've lived is you've lived a life that is offensive to him. He's righteous. He's holy. He's just. If you don't repent, if you don't change your ways, then judgment is coming in 40 days."

His message is brief, but the thing that really sticks out to me in these first four verses is found in the first verse. Look again what it says. "Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.' So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD." Does that sound familiar? It's just the opposite of chapter 1, verse 1.

Do you remember how the book starts, where God comes to Jonah, and he says, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me"? Verse 3: "But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD." In chapter 3, what we see here is a great little message. This message is that our past failures do not disqualify us from being using mightily by God. We serve a God of second chances, a God of third chances, fourth chances, fifth chances.

Doesn't it strike you as odd? Here is Jonah, a man who is known for running from God, and God doesn't quit on him. He doesn't go, "Tag. You're out. I'm going to use somebody else." Instead, he says, "Jonah, listen. Now I have your attention. Okay? I showed that you could live inside the belly of a great fish, so maybe you're listening." He goes, "Guess what? There's still a job for you to do. There's still a job for you to do. That is to go and to preach my message to these people."

You see this great contrast between chapter 1 and chapter 3. We serve a God of second chances. You see this theme throughout Scripture. A well-known and familiar passage is found in John, chapter 21, where we see even Peter… Even Peter, the pillar of the New Testament church, the man who denied Jesus three times. What does Jesus say to him? Do you remember after Jesus dies and rises again, he goes to Peter, specifically, after Peter denied him three times? We see in John, chapter 21, this great passage from Jesus, where he says:

"'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Tend My lambs.' He said to him again a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Shepherd My sheep.' He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Tend My sheep.'"

Now do you think Jesus asked him that three times for Jesus' sake, or do you think he asked him that three times for Peter's sake? I think he asked him that three times for Peter's sake. Can you imagine the guilt and the shame that Peter must have felt after having denied him three times? What do you see Jesus do? He gives him a second chance. What does he say? He says, "Feed my sheep." What's his message? That our past failures do not disqualify us from being used mightily by God.

This is going to be hard for some of you to believe. Maybe harder for you to believe than chapter 2 was, but when I was in high school, I actually played football. All 5 foot 8 inches of me, and then I think I weighed 150 pounds. I weigh a little more than that now. Maybe my parents didn't love me. Somebody probably should have come along and said, "Hey, you're pretty small," but the coaches looked at me and kind of thought, "Live bait."

As a freshman in high school, they came up to me and said, "Holmes, sure. You have a spot on the team. You know what we're going to do? We're going to allow you to run the scout team offense." For you ladies out there who aren't familiar with football, what that means is, "You're a practice dummy for the seniors. So, you line up with guys all your age who are pretty small. You're going to play the guys who are seniors in high school, some who are going to go on and play college next year."

The goal is not for you to look good. The goal is for the defense of the varsity to look really good at your expense. They don't want to just line up dummies out there. They want somebody who can move, a little bit, at least. My experience my freshman year of football was, basically, you take the ball, you pray to God, and then you get crushed. I got crushed a lot. I think I went 0 for about a thousand in my passes that year.

I was a part of the team, so to speak, but I never felt like I was part of the team. I felt like I was just on the scout team. I never really had a coach who came alongside and said, "Hey, man. What you're doing is so great. You just stay prepared. Be ready, because maybe on Friday night we'll put you in." There wasn't a chance I was going to be put in on Friday night. Not a chance. I never felt like I was part of the team.

The truth is some of us have grown up in Christian circles and, frankly, in churches where we've been made to believe that because of our past failures, somehow we're never going to play for the varsity. That we've spend so much time running from God (see chapter 1 of Jonah) that there's never going to be a time where God is going to come to us and go, "You know what? Come here. Come here, man. All those past failures? That doesn't disqualify you. I can use you Friday night, if you'll just be willing to show up. I want to put you in."

Instead, you fill in the blank of what it is you think that sin is, that skeleton in your closet, which hinders you from really believing God can use you. I am telling you, that is simply a lie. If you have committed that sin, I'm telling you I could put somebody up here on stage who is a faithful follower of Christ who has done the same thing and is being used by God mightily.

God can redeem your past failures and your past mistakes, and he can use you no matter how many times and how far you've run away from him. Clearly, we see in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2, a great message. Our past failures do not disqualify us from being used mightily by God. Jonah gets a second chance, and he delivers. Look at verses 5 through 9, and we'll see how the people repent.

"Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, 'In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing.

Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.'"

Here you see Jonah goes, and he preaches this message of hope, a message of repentance. Lo and behold, these people…who were known for their atrocities, their brutalities, and how they would literally dismember their captives, filet them alive, catch them on fire, and torture those who were their enemies just to intimidate them, the most cruel and the most wicked of people…respond to Jonah's message.

God changes their hearts. We see the people believed in God. They called a fast. They put on sackcloth, which is not what you find in Macy's today. It's an uncomfortable garment. It's a physical reminder to the people of their desperation. Whenever you see the people put on sackcloth in the Scripture, it's always associated with the poor, with prisoners, with slaves, and with those who mourn.

You even see that the king repents. He forfeits all of his royal privileges. He arose from his throne, and he laid aside his robe. He covered himself with sackcloth. He sat on ashes. What in the world does that mean? Well, many people think that means he simply identified himself with the common man. He didn't see himself as the king anymore. He was willing to go outside of the palace, sit on the ground.

He issued a proclamation which said no person or even an animal was allowed to eat or drink. They were to show their desperation and total dependence upon the Lord, looking to him for forgiveness. Every person and animal was to put on sackcloth. I wish I had a video of that, sackcloth on an animal, and how that worked out. Every person was to earnestly call out to God. Every person was to turn from his or her wicked ways, their violence specifically.

Jesus, in Matthew 12, even speaks of how the people's repentance here was legitimate and how the people in Jonah, chapter 3, the Ninevites who repented, would actually one day stand in judgment of Jesus' contemporaries who chose to not believe in Jesus. Jesus points out that these folks had a radical heart change.

If you think about who these people were, these were the most unreachable of unreachable, if you will. The point is God can change the heart of even the vilest of offenders. Do you believe that? Do you believe God can change the heart of even the vilest of offenders? You see it throughout Scripture, right?

In Acts, chapter 7, do you remember the story where this man named Saul is right there present when Stephen, the first martyr after the church begins, is killed? He's stoned and literally beaten to death for what it is he believes. There's this man named Saul standing right there. In Acts, chapter 7, it says:

"When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning [Stephen] ; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!' Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them!' Having said this, he fell asleep."

Saul was in hardy agreement with putting him to death. Do you remember who Saul was? Saul was right there when Stephen was stoned, in hardy agreement with watching the first Christian martyr die, being stoned to death. Here Stephen is actually praying, "Lord, don't hold this sin against them."

Wouldn't you love to be God to Stephen in this moment and go, "Hey, guess what, Stephen? In just two chapters later, God's going to capture this man's heart named Saul, and he's going to change his name to Paul. He is going to be a force for good in the gospel and the advancement of the kingdom."

God is going to capture the heart of even the vilest of offender. He's going to radically change his heart, and he's going to write three quarters of the New Testament. God can change the heart of the vilest of offenders. Do you believe that? Or is there really, if you're honest, a part of you that goes, "You know, there are just some people…"

Maybe it's a family member, a friend, a coworker, a neighbor. Who knows what. Maybe there's somebody out there, you go, "You know, the truth is I've kind of written them off. It's not even worth sharing with them anymore. I've shared with them in the past. I've invited them to come to church. They just don't seem responsive. In fact, frankly, they even seem downright hostile, so I've kind of given up."

I want you to think about who that person is right now. Take a minute and think about who the person is whom, if they came to Jesus, you would be stunned. If their life radically changed, and they were showing up with you, inviting you, calling you on Saturday night and saying, "Hey, we're going to church tomorrow," your jaw would drop. Who is that person? Think about them.

Now I want you to write their name down. Just think for a second. Who is that person? If their life was radically changed because they came to have an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. Write their name down. Write it down. I want you to pray for that person. I want you to begin to ask God to do something great in that person's life. Then, here's the crazy thing. Are you ready for this? It's going to get real scary. I'm going to ask you to go to Nineveh and reach out to them.

There was this story not too long ago that I think many of you saw on CNN or Fox News or wherever you get your news. It made headlines everywhere. There was this story of this dramatic rescue, about this man who saw this woman drowning in a river in Des Moines, Iowa. The story goes that this lady and her husband were in a boat, and the river got way too strong and too turbulent. The boat capsized, and the husband drowned. The woman was struggling to survive.

If you know the story and you saw the videos, or maybe you saw the pictures on the front page of the newspapers, there were some construction workers. This is a pretty powerful little picture, because this construction worker, do you know what he did? He actually volunteered to be hoisted over the water. He got one of his buddies who operated a crane, and they tied a chain around his waist. He went over the rushing water, reached out, and saved this woman's life, risking everything. He doesn't even know her, and he did not hesitate.

They interviewed him, and they interviewed his buddies. They talked about, "Well, we had several choices. Do we call 911 and just wait and watch this woman drown? Or do we sit there and go, 'You know what? I can do something.' Or do we go, 'You know what? I'm not trained in open water rescue here.'" What did they do? This one guy had the courage and the conviction. He goes, "I'm in." He had never practiced it before. He didn't wake up that day thinking, "Hey, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to put my life at risk."

You know what he did? Because love compelled him, he voluntarily strapped that chain around him, and he reached out over that rushing water. It is a pretty dramatic video of how he grabs hold of this lady and literally rescues her, saves her, pulls her out of what would have been certain death. We look at that, and we go, "Man, that guy is a hero." He said, "She needs to be saved. We can't just sit here and do nothing. Look at the water. Somebody has to do something."

Yet, we don't have that same sense of urgency when we look around the world around us, and we see a city in pain. As the song goes, the truth is I don't even love them. Did you catch that line? None of us would hesitate to say, "Somebody has to get help to her." But there is rushing water, and we have a city that is drowning. We fail to feel the urgency that maybe God is calling us to strap the chain around our waists and to reach out and share with somebody how they, too, can have a relationship with the God who loves them.

We get so caught up in the story of Jonah about this great fish we lose the story, the message, that God loves the world. He loves the world. He can change the heart of even the vilest of offender, and he intends for us to be the one to carry that message. He intends to use you to reach out over the rushing water to share a message of hope.

Here's what's great. In chapter 3, verse 10, we read, "When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it." When God sees it's more than just lip service, but these folks' hearts…that they really changed, that the people repented, that the vilest of offenders of their day cast away their sin and they repented…God relented, and he showed compassion. He showed compassion.

The Scripture in Ezekiel 33, verse 11, says, "Say to them, 'As I live!' declares the Lord GOD, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.'" In 2 Peter 3, verses 8 through 9, you see where it says, "But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."

What is Peter saying? What is Ezekiel saying? They're saying God does not delight in the death of the wicked but desires for all people to come to know him. God does not delight in the death of the wicked but desires for all people to come to know him. Peter's argument here is that some of us sit there and go, "Man, is God ever going to come back?"

What he is saying there is, "Hey, don't get caught up in when God is going to come back. To God, one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years is one day. He doesn't measure time like we measure time." Every day that is extended is another day of opportunity for somebody else to come to know him. It's just an extension of his grace.

I think the Lord tarries because he intends for more Ninevites, more Dallasites, to come to know him. He intends to use us to share that message of hope. He intends to use you. I know what we say. I know how we think. We're insecure as to what people might think of us. We don't feel equipped. We don't feel trained. What if they ask this question? Right? Or we hide behind theology. "Well, God is the one who really changes the heart. It's up to God." Yeah, but guess what Scripture also teaches? You're the one whom God intends to use for him to change their hearts.

Frankly, gang, I see a lot of folks caught up in the routine of just kind of going to church and doing the Dallas Christian thing. Their hearts are bound in routine, and they're kind of numb. For the folks who feel like their spiritual life is stale… The question I always ask for those who kind of go, "I'm not really getting anything out of my quiet time. I just don't want to read the Word. It feels kind of dry."

Question: When was the last time you had a significant conversation with somebody who is far from God? You do that one thing, and it will awaken your spiritual life. You raise your hand and say, "Okay, God. Put me over the rushing water. I want to be the one to reach down to somebody else." Your spiritual life will come alive.

You'll know why some of us are singing on Sunday nights with all we have when we talk about Jesus paying it all, because we truly, truly believe God is still in the business of changing the hearts of even the vilest of offenders. He wants to use us. It's a privilege. It's an opportunity. It's an incredible responsibility. We can't keep running to Tarshish when he calls us to Nineveh. Let's pray.

Father in heaven, forgive us for how the story of Jonah has been lost for so many of us, and how we have forsaken your call. Instead, we have thought of reasons and excuses and been distracted by all sorts of things. Lord, we've gotten on those boats to Tarshish, and we've headed the opposite direction. Lord, I thank you that when we look at chapter 3 we see that you can change the hearts of even the friends or family members who we might have in mind. You can change their hearts.

I pray for my friends who are here tonight who feel like they're the ones who are in that rushing water, that they're in need of rescue. I pray, Lord, tonight you would change their hearts, that this message would connect with them in such a way that they would be willing to reach up and to accept your grace and your forgiveness, not because of anything they've done, but because of what you've done for them.

I pray, Father, you'd remove the obstacles, Lord, that hinder our obedience, and that we would be a people who most resemble chapter 3 of the book of Jonah and less of a people who resemble chapter 1. In Christ's name, amen.

About 'Jonah'

What breaks God's heart? Do you know? Do you care? In this series, we meet Jonah, an 8<sup>th</sup> century B.C. prophet, who was charged by God to care for one of His great concerns: the city of Nineveh. A barbaric people far from God and immersed in pagan tradition, the Ninevites faced certain judgment and destruction. But when God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh to warn them and plead for their repentance, the battle begins. Jonah's journey of running, rebellion, repentance, resentment and return to God is much more than a children's story about a man and a huge fish. It's a powerful lesson on disobedience, God's great mercy for all people and our willingness to love others as God loves them. How willing are you to follow God and love others at all cost? This series on Jonah is a great opportunity for you to explore, study and find out.