This is a message I have preached many times, especially when I was a college campus minister in Southern California. Since I will be quoting several passages from this book, the message is much longer, so I will be sharing it with you in two parts. I hope this amazing and entertaining book of the Bible will also have many lessons for you, and draw your heart closer to God.
I’d like you to think for a moment of a person . . . a person in your neighborhood, or where your work, or where you go to school, or where you do business. Someone that you come in contact with often. Someone you don’t like being around! Is someone coming to mind? Either because of this person’s nationality, or personality, or the way he or she looks, or acts, or treats you, or for whatever reason, this person causes in you feelings of anger or dislike. Question: Do you and I, as Christians, have a responsibility even to such a person?
THE BOOK OF JONAH
The book of Jonah, in the Old Testament, deals with this very issue. How many of you have ever been fishing, or have friends or family members who like to fish? Then you’ve probably heard some “fish stories”, like the story about “the one that got away”. Have you noticed that the more often that story is told, the bigger that fish gets!
There are many people today who think of the book of Jonah as just another “big fish story”. But the book of Jonah is God’s Word, and it has a message for us today. ILLUSTRATION: One day a young man travelling on a train began to discuss the Bible with a Christian seated next to him. “If you can prove to me that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, I’ll believe all the rest of the Bible”, he said. “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” asked his companion. Surprised by the strange response, the first man answered, “That’s beside the point!” “Oh no, it’s not”, replied the Christian. “Tell me, do you think that Jesus Christ was wise?” “Yes”, he said, “I think He was the wisest man who ever lived.” ” Well He believed what you call a ‘fish story’, for see what He said in Matthew 12:40.” The unbeliever was amazed to find that the passage of Scripture read, “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” “You see”, said the Christian, “Jesus believed the account of Jonah!” “Thanks mister”, was his reply, “That’s proof enough for me!”
To doubt the story of Jonah and the fish is to doubt the authority and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, for He considered this event in Jonah’s life to be a fact. And the book of Jonah has an important message for us today
THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK
The writer of the book of Jonah had two main purposes for writing this book under the inspiration of God. The first purpose was to show us Jonah’s motivation for the things he did, and for his attitude. Secondly, the writer wanted to show us something about God’s character, what God is like. Let’s look at the first two chapters of the book of Jonah and see what we can learn from them today.
I. JONAH’S DISOBEDIENCE AND PUNISHMENT (1:1-16)
Jonah 1:1-3 says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship that was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Nineveh was east of Israel, and Jonah went west, in the opposite direction. He went to Joppa and boarded a ship headed for Tarshish, which is modern-day Spain. Jonah wanted to get as far away from God and God’s plan for him as he possibly could. Is it possible to escape from the presence of the Lord? God is all-present, isn’t He. Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” How do we behave when no one is looking but God? Let’s test ourselves this week.
What was Jonah’s motivation for fleeing? Was it cowardice? Was he afraid to go to Nineveh? Well he had good reason to be afraid. Nineveh was probably the largest and one of the most wicked cities in the world at that time. Chapter 4, verse 11 says there were “more than 120,000 people who did not know the difference between their right and left hand.” If God is speaking in a physical sense, this could be referring to children under the age of five, because it’s often hard to tell whether a child that age is right or left handed. If God is speaking in a physical sense here, the total population of Nineveh could have been over 600,000 people, which is a large city even by today’s standards.
So, was Jonah a coward? No. Let me read for you 1:11-12: “So they said to him. ‘What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us’ – for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. And he said to them, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.” Jonah was willing to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of the sailors when God brought the great wind and storm in verses 4-14. When the sailors cast lots in verse 7 to learn who caused this storm to come upon them, the lot fell to Jonah. When they asked him for information about himself, he told them that he was a Hebrew, and when he told them about his God, the men knew he was fleeing from the Lord.
It’s interesting that they give Jonah an option when they asked him in verse 11, “What shall we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?” Jonah replied in verse 12, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.” But the crew was unwilling to do it, and kept on rowing, and finally prayed to Jonah’s God and asked for forgiveness for what they were going to do. Then in verse 15 they “picked up Jonah and cast him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging” just like Jonah said it would. This caused the sailors to show reverence to Jonah’s God, and they offered a sacrifice to Him in verse 17 and made vows to God. Jonah’s courage and the fulfillment of his words caused them to believe in his God.
II. JONAH’S DELIVERANCE (1:17 – 2:10)
But this isn’t the end of the story. Jonah did not drown. Verse 17 says, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. ILLUSTRATION: Some people say there isn’t a creature in the sea that is capable of performing such a feat. But scientists know better. For instance, in 1912 Captain Charles Thompson harpooned a huge mammal off the coast of Florida which, when it was brought to land, was found to contain another 1500-pound fish that it had swallowed whole! Those who examined Thompson’s catch said it could have swallowed 20 average-size men! A Baptist minister who came on the scene stood in the creature’s mouth, holding his hands above his head, and still found that he was too short to reach the top of the fish’s mouth! And we must not forget that the creature referred to in Jonah 1:17 was especially “prepared” for its unique assignment by the Lord Himself.
Jonah was in the stomach of that fish three days and three nights. God not only spared Jonah’s life, He gave Him some time to think about what he had done. I’m sure that being inside that fish was by no means an enjoyable experience. ILLUSTRATION: A wealthy lady had a very spoiled and strong-willed youngster. One day, when a wasp flew in the window, the boy, seeing its brilliant colors, began crying for it. At last the mother called to the servant who was taking care of the child, “What is that boy crying for? Will you please let him have it?” A few minutes later she was startled by a loud scream. “What’s’ the matter?” asked the mother. “He got what he wanted” was the servant’s reply. Sometimes in God’s great wisdom He allows us to feel the sting and misery of our own selfish, disobedient ways, that we might learn through our pain and humiliation that the Lord knows what is best.
We find in chapter 2 that Jonah prays to God from the stomach of the fish. If you were in the belly of a fish for three days and three nights, what kind of a prayer would you pray? I know what I would say: “Help, Lord; please get me out of here!” But in chapter 2 Jonah prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sparing his life. And at the end of his prayer Jonah says what God wants to hear. In chapter 2, verse 9, Jonah says: “That which I have vowed I will pay.” After that promise by Jonah, verse 10 says, “Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” And what are God’s first words to Jonah? Does He say, “Jonah, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you smell like a fish. Why don’t you go home and get some rest!” No. God’s first words to Jonah in Chapter 3 are: “Go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” God is going to have His way in Jonah’s life, and He brings Jonah back to His original command to Him.
So far we’ve learned that disobedience to God has its consequences. We’ve learned that the book of Jonah is factual and should be treated that way. We’ve seen some amazing things that God has done, and it’s going to get even more amazing in the rest of this book. I hope to have chapters 3 and 4 finished next week and posted for you to read. Don’t miss the exciting conclusion, and don’t forget that God is always watching you and wants you to enjoy His presence.