Jonah the Messy Messenger
Jonah is a book of the Bible that our kids have probably heard a thousand times in Sunday school because it's a really great story to tell to children because it captures their attention and their imaginations, right?
That story, of course, is Jonah and the? Whale, or big fish, if you want to be a little bit more biblically accurate, but I'm not going to grade you down if you said whale. Yeah, so we're going to be looking at Jonah. We're starting a series called Jonah the Messy Messenger. Because Jonah was a messy messenger.
Amen. And how many of us often feel like a mess? So we are going to see in the pages of scripture and encouragement of how God can use us despite our mess. One of the other things about Jonah is while we tell it to children, a lot of the time we're telling it in the way that might be the G rated version rather than the PG 13 rated version that we actually get in scripture.
And so for those of you who are like, I have taught Jonah to my Children, I've taught Jonah to just about everybody's Children and feel like you know this story, I invite you to come open handed open minded because there's more in here for us to mine more in here that will impact us in a way that maybe we're not teaching our Children.
Okay, now we'll begin with verse one. Let's see. Miraculously, is it gonna be up there? Nope. Okay. You can follow along, Jonah, the word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai. Now we aren't told the exact way that the words came to Jonah throughout the scripture. We see God speak to prophets in a variety of ways, right?
So at times the Lord speaks through dreams and at other times he speaks more directly. On some occasions, the Lord chooses to speak through a still, small voice. And at other times, an earthquake. But what we do know is that Jonah knows it was the word of the Lord. He knew it was the Lord because this was not the first time the Lord had given him a word.
The first time we meet Jonah is in 2 Kings. During the reign of Jeroboam II. He's only briefly mentioned. He's part of an epic narrative that isn't even mentioned in the book that bears his name. But luckily for us, it is recorded in the second Kings. And luckily for Jeroboam, right before he became king of Israel, Assyria began to weaken and fall into a long period of decline that lasted for many years.
Now, why is this important? It's important because Assyria was given Israel a heck of a time. Assyria, and Syria both, were constantly waging war against Israel, taking its borders, taking its cities, shrinking its land. But, finally, right before Jeroboam became king, Assyria began to weaken, and it falled into a period of decline.
A period of decline that would have been celebrated by those living in Israel. Now Israel was well on its way to becoming a small empire after years of enduring relentless beatings from Syria and Syria both. This effort is still new at the time that Jonah is ministering. It only began with King Jeroboam's father, the previous king.
And so Jeroboam has a good fortune of becoming king during a period of national recovery. And Jeroboam continues this mission of national recovery and prosperity. Jeroboam goes out and he recaptures cities that had been snatched away during his grandfather's time as king. And he boldly refuses to pay tribute to the Assyrians.
So Israel had become like a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire. They were having to pay money to the Assyrians. And during Jeroboam's reign, that ends. And the territory of Israel, it expands farther and wider than any Israelite king had ever dared to dream. But here's the twist in the tale. The Book of Second Kings reveals that the military marvel that Jeroboam and his father experienced was no stroke of luck.
It was tied to the prophecy of Jonah. We see in second Kings, the exact name of Jonah used here in verse one, Jonah, the son of Amittai. Jonah, the son of Amittai is in second Kings. It's a historical reference. And that's important because a lot of times we like to teach Jonah, like it's a fable or a myth.
There are theologians out there who will tell you that. But that is a new understanding of this scripture. It is a false understanding of the scripture. Because when we look at the history of Christian thought, the history of Christian understanding, Jonah is always classified as history. In fact, the phrase that we see in verse 1, and the word of the Lord came to Jonah, that phrase, and the word of the Lord, it's used numerous times throughout scripture, and always in books that we agree are history.
Not only is Jonah firmly placed in a historical book of second Kings, but when Jesus refers to him, it's as a historical figure. So this epic narrative that we're going to be reading over the next few weeks, it is history. This happened. It's reliable. It's true.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah. A word about God's boundless compassion for the suffering Israelites. That's the good news that Jonah got to preach in 2 Kings. After years of loss to Assyria and Syria, he got to preach good news for Israel. Now as we look at 2 Kings, the verdict on Israel's kings are clear.
These kings, despite their political successes, were evil in the Lord's sight. It's a common phrase in 2 Kings. It's a common theme in both books of Kings and Chronicles, right? Pretty much every other king is terrible. And oftentimes they're more terrible than the previous bad king. Israel's on a downward spiral here.
And now both of these kings are terrible, wicked men who God just happens to bless. It's an interesting twist, right? We like to think of people getting what's due to them. Getting what's coming to them. And oftentimes in scripture we do see God punish the evil in wicked ones, but in two kings, God grants them compassion and mercy.
Now to further understand what's going on here, we need to turn to the prophets of Amos and Hosea, who were also prophesying during this time period. They each have their own books. And in Hosea, we see him give an impassioned plea for Israel to rekindle her love of God because she is idolatrous. She is worshiping foreign gods.
But Hosea calls her back to worship the one true God. And in Amos, the prophet boldly confronts Jeroboam's idolatrous mixing of religions. So Jeroboam is taking a little bit of Judaism and mixing it with the nearby. God's and tribal beliefs of those around him, which is evil for even further than that.
Jeroboam, we discover in Amos is doing things his own way all the way. He's not relying on the Lord's leading. He's relying on his leading on his power, on his ability. So Amos and Hosea then condemn Israel's unfaithfulness and they warn of impending judgment if they do not turn back to God. However, despite these warnings, Israel continues on its path towards destruction.
How many of us know that we're being self destructive, yet we continue on the path, right? That is a human tendency for us to know we're doing wrong, to know we're doing no good, but to continue drawn towards what's going to destroy us. And so I don't stand up here in judgment of Israel. Any more than I stand up here in judgment of myself.
This indifference to God's call, this indifference to the prophetic pleas for repentance echo far beyond the walls of the palace and courts. This isn't just an issue of leadership. This is an issue of the people. This indifference to God seeped into the very hearts of the people of Israel. When Amos, standing firm, delivers a thunderous proclamation, a divine judgment, his words, a clear call for change, doesn't result in repentance.
It instead results in resistance. The people are resistant to the word of the Lord. Jeroboam, perhaps aided by his priest, decides to silence Amos. The voice of divine warning They decide to silence. They forbid Amos from continuing his ministry on Israel's soil. This is like a bratty child sticking his fingers in his ears to ignore a parent's warning.
The Israelites are refusing to listen to God. But even in the midst of this stubbornness, of this bratty, resistant behavior, God does not give up on his people. He continues to send prophets to call them back to him, offering them chances of redemption and mercy, because that's what God does. But Israel continues to be self indulgent and idolatrous.
Both the nation and their kings relentless pursuit of self rule and personal satisfaction has blinded them to God's rule, to God's word. So when the word of the Lord comes to Jonah in verse one, he is a prophet in a rebellious nation whom God has shown great undeserved compassion and mercy. Jonah is a prophet in a nation that is comfortable in her temporary military success.
Jonah and the people of Israel are doing something that we often do ourselves. Because The nation of Israel has mistaken God's grace with his indifference of their evil. How often are we guilty of mistaking God's grace for indifference towards our wrongdoing? We think we're getting away with it.
We think God doesn't really care. How often do we take advantage of his mercy and continue to live according to our own desires? Ignoring his call for repentance and change. The story of Jonah is not just a historical account of things that happened, but it's a timeless lesson for all believers.
We are Jonah. We ignore God's call to repentance at our own peril. But we also ignore God's call of purpose. Now Israel at this time is a nation absorbed in self interest. They only care about themselves. They care about their prosperity, their happiness, their pleasure. And they are callously ignoring God's call on the nation of Israel.
God's people all throughout the Old Testament were meant to bestow blessings upon the nations. That's why God has a special relationship with Israel. They are to be an example of His love, of His compassion. They are to be the story that nearby nations see of what a nation that has a special relationship with God, that lives obedient to His call, looks like.
But instead, by their disobedience and rejection of God, they've abandoned this witness. In today's world, we too often find ourselves in a similar position to the Israelites. We're caught up in the pursuit of our own interest, of our own ambitions, our own desires, and we disregard God's ongoing call. We disregard God's purpose for our life to pursue what we want.
Like the Israelites, you are called to a specific role in God's grand story of redemption. You have a calling on your life. We are called to be a blessing to others, to share the love and grace that God has so freely given us. We are called to be his witnesses to the end of the earth that all might know the name of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
How can we do this if we're absorbed solely in our interest, if we're detached from the reality of God's purpose for our lives?
One of the reasons why The church in America is dying is because we care about our own interest. We care about our own interests, the things that make us comfortable. The things that make us happy.
We've turned God into a God that serves us, rather than submit ourselves to be a people who serve him, and we do so at our own peril. Are you in a state of spiritual rebellion?
The nation of Israel was in a state of spiritual rebellion. Despite the profound messages of prophets like Amos and Hosea, the people resist, I can speak, hold on. Despite the profound message of prophets, the people were resistant to change. Choosing to silence these voices a divine warning rather than repent.
How often do we choose to silence God? One of the ways we do that is just by not opening our Bible. By avoiding the things of God. by avoiding the people of God who are going to tell us things that we don't want to hear, things that make us uncomfortable.
Israel's temporary military success and God's gracious mercy were mistaken for indifference, leading them further into disobedience. Israel, a nation Intended to bestow blessings upon others according to God's grand design had instead through their disobedience and rejection of God Abandoned their duty as his witness.
And So with this we come to verse 2 The Word of the Lord came to Jonah Get up Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their evil has come up before me Now Jonah hearing this from God must have been very confused Nineveh had long been home to Assyrian royalty. While not the capital city, at least not at this time period, it was closely connected with the empire's military activity throughout the first millennium.
And this meant that it had a very well deserved negative connotation in the minds of the Israelites. Remember, the Assyrians were built by military action. But Assyria quickly discovered the usefulness of intimidation to achieve the same ends. The Assyrians used their reputation for brutality and cruelty to cause the nations who they would go to war with to back down and become vassal states, paying tribute to Assyria as their overlords.
What was this brutality? One king would rip the lips off of people who did him wrong. They would sever hands. Another would fillet his enemies alive and had a giant pile of skulls. If the Assyrians were coming into town, it was not a good day. Better to pay them than to suffer.
So Jonah, being Nineveh, must be thinking to himself, Seriously? Seriously, Lord? You want me to go to my mortal enemies? You've heard of their evil? They've been evil forever, Lord! Have you not been paying attention? We finally just got it good because other nations are attacking them. We finally have a break from their evil.
We're in a time of peace and you want me to go to them?
Now, here's what you need to understand to really understand what Jonah is responding to here. The verse two, get up, go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their evil has come up before me. Now, we with Western eyes, not necessarily reading the Hebrew, don't understand that this particular Hebrew word for evil, it has an other meaning.
It has another connotation and that is of destruction, calamity. So when we read this, yes, because their evil has come up before them or before God, but also because their destruction, their suffering, their misfortune has come before God. That's going to change Jonah's attitude a little bit. It's one thing like, Lord, okay, you were just now noticing that they're evil.
But I'm not so sure that I want you to notice their suffering.
Our evil leads to our misfortune. Amen? Our evil leads to our misery. Our evil leads to our disaster. Apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ, evil will always ultimately end in disaster. So the city of Nineveh's evil was not only a moral failing, but it had resulted in their disaster. And Jonah is sitting there celebrating.
Amen. This is great. History tells us that Assyria was under attack from other nations. They had years of famine and internal revolts. Over the course of four decades, the Assyrian Empire crumbled and only its core cities remained.
Much of their former empire being held together by governors loosely affiliated with the Assyrians. Which is why later in Jonah, Jonah uses the title King of Nineveh. Wouldn't make sense. Except the great empire of Assyria has basically crumbled down to one city. King of Nineveh is used rather than King of Assyria because Assyria.
That wasn't much more than Nineveh at the time. And this didn't bother Jonah at all. They had got what they deserved. I think if we're honest, we've all had that moment when we're a little gleeful at the suffering of those we don't particularly care for. On Reddit, it's like an internet posting board thing.
They call themselves the front page of the internet. You don't need to go there. But there are multiple sections of Reddit that are devoted to recounting stories of revenge. Often these are amongst the most popular posts on the site. People love reading these stories because they can be entertaining and because they're satisfying.
They reveal a darker side of our human nature. The desire for vengeance. We may think that those who have wronged us deserve to suffer. But as Christians, we are called to forgive and love our enemies, just as God has loved and forgiven us. While Jonah is delighting in the destruction of Nineveh, God has a different perspective.
He sees the suffering of even those who have brought it upon themselves with their own evil, and his heart is moved with compassion.
But not Jonah. Jonah can't comprehend why the Lord would send him to Nineveh, of all places. Now, when we remember the wickedness of the Assyrians, we can understand that Jonah would be a little afraid to go into their city. Surely he doesn't want to lose a hand or his lips or his head. But his real fear is not for his safety.
This is not Jonah afraid of suffering physically under the hands of the Assyrians. His real fear is revealed later on in chapter 4, and it's ugly. Because there, Jonah is bold enough to tell the Lord what the Lord already knows. Jonah tells the Lord, I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster.
Jonah's real fear was not of Assyrian brutality, but of God's grace. How disgusting. He's afraid of God's grace, of God's compassion, of God's love. He didn't want them to receive salvation and redemption because he believed they didn't deserve it. Which is really ironic because Israel had received God's mercy and compassion when God allowed it to have a period of peace and expansion while they were steeped in idolatry and wickedness.
So here he is, an Israelite, benefiting from God's mercy and compassion, but he does not want that extended to others.
Jonah is fearful of God's compassion for his enemies. Jonah is a bigot. He's a nationalist. He hates Assyrians and he wants only misery for them. And Jonah understands that God's love and mercy is not limited to one nation or people, but rather it extends to all of humanity. Jonah sees the bigger picture.
He understands where God wants all nations to turn to him and receive his blessings, to receive his grace. And so what does Jonah do? With his understanding of God? Having heard the Lord's voice clearly. Verse 3, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord's presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish.
Look at that repetition. This dude knows where he's going. He's going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and he went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the Lord's presence. Three times we're told he's going to Tarshish. He's going to Tarshish. Why? Why is he going there? Jonah had received the word of the Lord before, right?
And God used it, used him to restore Israel. And now Jonah receives the word of the Lord again and his response is outright rebellion. I'm not helping you restore Nineveh. I'm not helping you, Lord, bless the nations as you have promised to do. I rejoiced at the defeat of the Assyrians. I stood among the cheering crowds, praising you for your divine intervention then.
But now that I'm being asked to help these same people, to warn them of your wrath, that is about to befall them. If they don't repent, forget it. It was one thing to deliver messages of judgment to my own people. Message is a judgment that ultimately resulted in restoration of our lands, of our prosperity.
But it's quite another thing to offer a lifeline to the enemy, Lord. You're asking too much.
And so Jonah flees from the Lord's presence. Which is ridiculous. And Jonah knows it. Psalm 139, King David proclaims, Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I live at the eastern horizon, or settle at the western limits, even there your hand will lead me.
Your right hand will hold on to me. If I live at the eastern horizon, or settle at the western limits. Jonah, he's decided the western limits. That's where Jonah's going. Tarshish is due west, 2, 000 miles away, from the through the Strait of Gibraltar, on the other side of Spain. In that day and age, it was as far as they thought the known world could take you.
That's where Jonah decides he's going to go. Three times, it's clearly stated. He's going to Tarshish. He's going as far away as he can. But he knows he's not actually going far away from the Lord's presence. He's not stupid. Because he's not actually trying to go get away from the presence of God. But if God wants him to go east to Nineveh, he's going to run in rebellion due west.
Are you running in rebellion?
It's easy to sit back and think that Jonah is being ridiculous. But how often do we do the same thing? How many times have we tried to run away from God's calling or purpose for us because it seems too difficult or it makes us uncomfortable?
Jonah is a seasoned prophet. He's heard God's voice before, just like many of us have at different points in our lives. We may not have had divine encounters as dramatic as Jonah's, but there have been those moments where we knew deep within our souls. That God was speaking to us.
Here's the thing about God's call. God's call often stretches us beyond our comfort zones. It challenges our preconceived notions. It forces us to confront our biases and it urges us to extend grace to those we might consider unworthy.
If you find yourself always agreeing with God, it might not be God you're listening to. But rather a God of your own making. And that's idolatry.
Idolatry, just like what Israel was guilty of.
We continue to be a people who easily fall into the trap of shaping a God that fits our own desires and beliefs. A God who's about our comfort, our happiness, our pleasure.
Sometimes our disobedience isn't the outright rebellion that Jonah shows here. Sometimes it's more subtle. It's the avoidance. The procrastination. The excuses we make to delay or divert from God's plan for our lives. It's not that we're running in the opposite direction. It's that we're content to just sit still.
Not moving at all.
But God is on the move. God is on the move and he's called us to join him. He's called us to be a part of his redemptive plan for the world, to share his love and grace with those who need it most. And that often means going against our own desires and comfort. So as we study the book of Jonah for these next few weeks, let Jonah's story serve as a warning and an encouragement.
Don't run from God's call. Don't run from God's call. Instead, run to him. Run to him. When he calls you, run. Don't delay.
As we recognize that Jonah's fear and avoidance weren't just about his fear for his safety, as we see that his rebellion was about a deeper issue, a resistance to God's relentless love and boundless compassion, we too must confront our own struggle with prejudices, judgments. And a hesitancy to extend God's love to those we perceive as our enemies or undeserving.
You and I, we don't get to put limits on God's grace. That's not our job. We don't get to question whether it should be reserved for those who meet our standards of righteousness. God has decided. God has decided, not us. The Bible calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. That's our job. That's our call.
But how can we truly fulfill that commitment if our hearts are full of resentment and hate or indifference?
A great practice that we can take to confront this is self reflection and prayer.
Too often our 21st century discipleship practices are too easy for us to just do through rote. You can faithfully read your Bible every day and not actually read a word of it.
You need to let scripture read you. You need to slow down long enough to actually interact and engage with what's on the page. To ask yourself, Lord, what are you calling me to here? Lord, how do I live in faithfulness and obedience? How do I make these words, not just words on a page, but a life lived in submission?
A life on mission, a life of purpose,
make it a part of your daily routine to spend quiet time alone with God, asking Him to reveal your bias, to reveal your sinful thoughts. Take an accounting of why you're doing things. What's the real reason? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your bias, to reveal your sinful thoughts, because we do a really good job of fooling ourselves.
We've convinced ourselves that our piety is truly that
when really there's a sinful motive underneath. This is not going to be a comfortable process, but it's an essential one. If you're a journaler, you might keep a journal dedicated to this purpose. Each day, you might write your thoughts, your reactions, your observations, and as you write and then read back what you've written.
Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you. You might gain deeper understanding. You might be surprised to find biases you are unaware of. Don't shy away from the uncomfortable truths that arise. Instead confront them. Jonas sees his bigotry. He sees his hatred. He sees his anger. He's contrasting it with a loving, forgiving, compassionate God.
And he does not allow that to change his behavior.
It's through the process of reflection and transformation that we become more like Christ, who is full of grace, compassion, and love, because that's what it's all about. We need to confront in ourselves anything that would cause us to run from God. Anything that would cause us to run from God, we must put to death.
Anything that would cause us to run from God's love or hide it from others. We need to be vessels of His love. We need to be instruments of reconciliation and healing in a world that is broken and divided. It is time for the American church to stop bemoaning the broken world and go out there and do something about it.
Today's the first Sunday of the month. And it's our practice here to take communion.
Communion is a sacred opportunity to draw nearer to God. To remember. What his son, Jesus Christ did for us to embrace his love and forgiveness. Communion is more than a ritual. It's a profound act of faith and it's a physical reminder of God's endless grace.
Today, we're going to change things up a little bit in how we give out communion. I'm going to ask the elders to spread out, out front along the stage.
And I'm going to give you, I'm going to give you the opportunity to run to Jesus. I'm going to give you the opportunity to get out of your seats, to stop moving still or stop staying still, but instead to move towards him to answer his call. Because communion is always an invitation. It's an invitation to respond to the overwhelming love that God has for each of us.
It's an invitation to examine our hearts. To recognize where we've been resistant, like Jonah, to God's plan for us. So as you approach to receive the bread and the cup, let it be a step towards saying yes to God's purpose in your life. A step towards embracing his will over your own. As you hold the elements of communion, the bread and the cup, take a moment to reflect on your journey with God.
Are there areas in your life where you've been running away from his call? Are there aspects of his character, his grace, his compassion, his love that you've been struggling to accept, that you've been struggling to extend to others? I want you to use this time to offer these reflections to God to seek his guidance and strength.
Communion is a powerful reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Offering forgiveness and redemption, the bread represents his body, broken for our sin,
his blood, the new covenant, that we might have a relationship with him, despite our flaws, despite our mess, despite all of our imperfections. As you partake in the sacred meal, remember that no matter how far you may have strayed. God's grace is sufficient. His arms are always open, ready to welcome you back.
This table is not just for the perfect, for the righteous. It's for the broken. It's for the struggling. It's for the Jonas amongst us. It's for anyone who desires to know God more deeply and to experience his transforming love. So whether this is your first time taking communion or a practice, as long as you have confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are welcome here.
I know some of us. We're not able to move as freely as we would like. And so our invitation to you is if you would like communion at your seats, you can raise your hand and we'll come bring it to you. We're not trying to exclude anyone. But for those of you who are able to stand and receive communion. I encourage you to do so prayerfully
as a way of saying yes to the Lord's call on your life.
Let me pray and then I'll invite the elders to come up and help me serve.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah
just as the word of the Lord has come to us. Lord, we thank you for scripture. We thank you that we have a record of your voice, of your heart, that we can know you. And that we can have the same level of confidence that Jonah had, that it is you, Lord, speaking to us in the pages of scripture. Lord, may we not be a people who run from you, or a people who procrastinate responding to you.
May we be a people who run to you, run to your love, your forgiveness, your compassion, who run to tell others.
Lord, as we take communion.
Lord, would your Holy Spirit convict us of the wickedness in our heart? And Lord, would we seek your forgiveness?
Lord, as we take communion, would it not just be a rote activity, but would it be an invitation,
a response, an act of worship? Lord,
would you move mightily in us this morning?
And Lord, as a result of your movement this morning, would you move in and through us throughout the week? May we live lives of obedience to you in your name, I pray. Amen.