Sunday, January 24, 2021 @ 11:00 a.m.
THE LORD GOD OF ISRAEL CALL US TO SERVICE TO SAVE PEOPLE”…when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion on them…and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened…” (Jonah 3:1-5,10)
WE CAN DEPEND UPON THE LORD TO COVER US”…He alone is my rock, and my salvation…He is my fortress…I will not be shaken…My salvation and my honor depend upon God…He is my mighty rock, my refuge…” (Psalm 62:6-7 — A Psalm of David)
JESUS CALLS US TO SERVICE TO SAVE PEOPLE–FISHERS OF MEN AND WOMEN”…As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen…’Come, follow me!” Jesus said, “…and I will make you fishers of men…” (Mark 1:14-20)
Would you kindly pray with me?
It’s our desire to praise you lest we fall into despair over the complexity of living in these confusing days. At times we allow our feelings to so predominate, it clouds our vision of what you want for us. Guide usby your Holy Spirit so that we don’t become lost in the shuffle. We pray that the things we think and dowill please you–and that we’ll have the right attitude. We love you, Lord. At times we lack the perspective, the understanding. We trust you will be there to help us to think and act aright. We commend ourselves into your care that our feelings, sometimes like those Jonah had, do not conflict with your divine plan.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The story of Jonah (Hebrew: “Dove”) is a fascinating account of the life of a minor prophet of the third quarter of the eighth century before Jesus of Nazareth. Jonah lived in Israel and looked upon Nineveh with distain. Nineveh was the largest city in the world with 120,000 people. It was the capital of theAssyrian empire. It had, in former Bible times, been the site of the Tower of Babel. In these times Nineveh’s remains are found on the left side of Tigris River outside of Mosul in Iraq. We rememberthe City of Mosul from the recent Iraq War. Jonah hated the people of Nineveh because they were ruel to their neighbors and they dominated Israel and had dealt the Hebrews a heavy, heavy hand. The Lord came to Jonah to go and warn the Ninevites, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come before me.”
The Hebrew people feared and hated the citizens of Nineveh, but the Lord still had compassion on them.Jonah was a prophet, but he was also a Hebrew. In that regard he was no exception among his people.
Jonah packed his bags and headed off…however…not to Nineveh by land…but to Tarshish by sea.
Hold on a minute!
Tarshish is in Spain, not far from Cordoba. Nineveh was in the opposite direction a three-day walk away from Israel. What was going on there?
Jonah heard the Lord’s word to him…he responded…but he chose to respond in disobedience.
So, as people of faith, like Jonah, we hear the Lord speak to us. We respond, but we much too oftenpreferhow we’re feeling about things to being obedient to the Godly call upon our lives. We may be even be recognized as a prophet, but still we choose to do our own thing.
Think about this for a while…
Our feelings often have precedence over what God’s clear call is for our lives. Jonah ran away inthe exact opposite direction to the place and the people where the Lord wants him to be.
Jonah headed down to Joppa on the coast, found a ship, payed the fare, and sailed off.
The Lord sent “a great wind on the sea” and they were caught in a violent wind. The ship was ready to be torn apart. The sailors on board were afraid and cried out to their gods. They threw cargo overboard to save the ship. Meanwhile, Jonah was sleeping below deck. The crew cast lots and decided that Jonah was cause of the storm. They threw him overboard.
Sometimes God uses even the proclivity of non-believers to be purposeful in our lives in His attemptto carry out His will. Never underestimate other people who make comments regarding our lives. Each and every person God allows in our lives is put there for our good. In Marine Corps “boot camp” we had a staff sergeant who had a habit of using extremely crude language as he shouted at us, day afterday. It was awful, but God used him to discipline us and force us to learn how to survive in battle.
Jonah knew he was being disobedient. He was in the wrong place being willfully disobedient to the Lord. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)
Now note that the sailors didn’t do as Jonah asked. They did their best to get back to the land todrop him off, but the storm got even worse, and they were forced to throw him overboard. The menbegged the Lord not to hold them accountable…and threw Jonah overboard. Instantly the sea becamecalm. My version of the Bible says “a great fish” came and swallowed him. Jonah was inside the “fish”for three days and three nights. These days we refer to that man and that fish as “Jonah and the Whale”.
In New York City in the late 1970s, the Broadway play, entitled, “Jonah” had an extended run. Seeing itwas one of the highlights of my life. The play took place in the belly of the whale. The Prophet Jonah from the Hebrew tradition met Oedipus Rex there from the Greek tradition. The upshot of the dialogue between them was this. Jonah as a Hebrew would be redeemed at the end of the play by being vomited out bythe whale, but Oedipus Rex would be consigned to condemnation in the belly of the whale until digested.In Greek thought you pay for your sins; there is no redemption. In Hebrew thought, there is forgiveness,compassion, and redemption, even though one doesn’t deserve it, because of Yahweh’s compassion.
For a minute here, I’m going to head over to the New Testament (Matthew 12:39) where Jesus talksabout “The Sign of Jonah”. A lot of Christians are confused about what this sign is.
What is the “Sign of Jonah”? What is the connection between the unforgettable narrative of Jonah and the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s take a look.
Matthew 12:40 says, “…as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so theSon of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth…
Once swallowed, Jonah was as good as dead. Once on the cross, Jesus was dead, dead, dead.This is what is meant by the “Sign of Jonah” in the Scriptures. Jonah’s experience in the great fishis, in a sense, a type of Christ…and the reason He came. That’s why Jesus mentions Jonah…that those who would listen to the Word of Salvation might be saved. Years ago, I let this insight pass without recognizing the connection. It’s interesting, maybe even a little disgusting, that the imageof the great fish vomiting up Jonah is compared by Jesus as, in a sense, similar to Resurrection.
Matthew 12:41 goes on, “…the men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generationand condemn it…for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now, One greater than Jonah ishere…” Because of Jonah, (and we’re ahead of the story here), these people of Nineveh were savedand will be raised up with those saved through the ministry and passion of the Lord Jesus Christ.There is a connection between the Jonah story and the Resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament.
Chapter two of the Book of Jonah is a prayer in song. Jonah remains alive and rational in the bellyof the whale, or great fish, but it’s a fearful place to be, obviously a foreboding place–but somehowthe faith-principle Jonah possesses, comes forth, “…but You bring my life up from the pit, O Lord,my God…when my life was ebbing away…” (vs.6,7) This somehow reminds me of the definition of faithin Hebrews 11:1,
“…now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…”
We note in Jonah 2:10, “…and the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry land…” So, there Jonah finds himself, safe on dry land. What will he do next? How will that eventually affect the feelings he has toward the people of Nineveh? We going to have to wait and see…
Chapter three is a big surprise for us. Unlike Saint Paul in the New Testament (experiencing lots of opposition) trying to get people to repent and accept Jesus in his time, Jonah is amazingly successful.
The Lord approaches Jonah a second time. (How many times has the Lord approached you a secondor third time?) Jonah obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh. As mentioned, it took him three days to get there. He started to preach immediately, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned!” (Jonah 3:4)
What happened? “The Ninevites believed God” (Jonah 3:5). They declared a fast. They put on sackcloth. Even the king arose from his throne, covered himselfwith sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Everyone in Nineveh was urged to urgently call upon the Lord.
When I first read Jonah I was amazed to read in Jonah 3:10, “…when God saw what they did and howthey turned from their evil ways, God had compassion and did not bring upon them the destructionHe had threatened…” Boy, O Boy…I wish I could have that kind of response when I preach in the Cityof San Francisco! Much before, in the 70s, I used to take a break on campus at the U.C. Berkeley,to hear Hubert the Preacher on Sproul Plaza…the way the street people, undergraduates, and even professors used to make fun of him and shout some of the most horrible things to him…Hubert used to just keep on preaching…and finish with his standard benediction, “God bless your rotten little hearts!”That would end with a slight little smile. Folks would come just to here his famous benediction.
By the time we get to Chapter four, we are amazed with Jonah’s response to his success in the Lord.The text reveals, “…but Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry…”
In the back of Jonah’s mind, he was hoping that the Lord in the final analysis was going to “zap” them all. Somehow there was a conviction in the back of Jonah’s mind that that was the way things would workout. He washoping the Lord was going to do them all in. He was therefore greatly disappointed. Hewas mad! He was angry!
In a deeper part of himself, Jonah knew that the Lord was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, a God who relents from sending calamity”.(Job 4:2b)
That’s why, initially, he had run off to Tarshish in the first place. Deep deep down within, Jonah knew that the Lord would be compassionate to the people he (Jonah) hated…and after all was said and done…God would go right ahead and relent from doing what He (God) had threatened.
It was enough for Jonah to want to die, rather than rejoice in what the Lord had done in Ninevehthrough him…“Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live…”
So, the Lord questions Jonah…”Have you any right to be angry?”
No comment from Jonah. He doesn’t reply to the Lord’s question. [He is so disappointed, so angry.]
Let’s pause for a moment. –I’ve got a weak heart–Help me here. I’ve got a question. Is this narrative in the Bible? Really!?!
Jonah goes into the outskirts of the city…hope upon hope…that God’s going to change His mind…To Jonah, there’s still a chance the Lord is going to wipe Nineveh out. He heads out of town, and,making himself a shelter to keep the intense heat from getting to him, he waits intently to see if the Lord is going to destroy the city. Meanwhile the Lord provides a plant to protect him from the heat.This pleases and comforts Jonah. However, the plant withers in short order because God causeda worm to chew the plant up in the heat. The Lord sends a scorching east wind so distressing thatJonah became faint. We can visualize the situation. We can feel the heat. We can sense the misery.
He really wanted to die at this point. He was so miserable. The original text quotes Jonah:
“It would be better for me to die than to live!”God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
Jonah replied, “I do…I’m angry enough to die…”
Finally, the Lord said, “…you have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it ormake it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh, has more than one hundredand twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well…”
“Should I not be concerned about that great city?!?”
The text ends there. We, the readers, are left to ponder. To be absolutely positive about the outcome, we really don’t know how Jonah responded to the Lord’s question to him. We assume–with the Lord’s question–a profound understanding came upon the mind and heart of Jonah…but we don’t know that for sure. In one sense, the answer is left in the perplexed minds of you and me, the readers. In a similarfashion in the New Testament, Jesus would present parables and leave His listeners to discuss theunresolved parts of His parables, to such an extent these days, there are several ways to understandor interpret those parables. Jesus was a master at telling stories. Like the parables, discussion of theJonah narrative remains somewhat unresolved.
So, then, the prophets of the Old Testament were not perfect people, whether they were Jonah, or Micah,Elijah, or indeed, Habakkuk…their sense of purpose in ministry and personal integrity came through theexperience of being pressed hard by God, being made ready to provide Godly leadership, and falling into line with God’s ways through the tempering of experience…much the same as you and me…
The questions for us, then, as people of faith, is…
Are we going to be so consumed by our feelings of anger, frustration and confusion that we cannot look,for God’s sake, beyond them, and consider in compassion the lot of others? Are we being reasonable and rational about our purpose in existing as spokespersons for God?In addition, are we willing to see beyond reasonableness in caring and daring to live for Christ?
Getting into a discussion of the material in the Old Testament is a powerful enterprise. I sincerelyhope you enjoyed the message for today. Please let me know if you had a chance to read it andif you do have the time…go on-line to: “marinscope.com” to add a word of appreciation so we can continue to reach out to folks who read the websites of the local newspapers. In addition, be sure to go to: medium.com (thomas a. nibbe) “the mindset of faith” article on Habakkuk. I only have nineteencomments on the material there and only five followers. Thank you for your kindness in this regard.
May the Lord bless you richly this day!
You are loved!