The Gospel According to Jonah
I chose this passage for three different reasons. First, I love to go through books of the Bible, this will allow you to be able to see how I would normally preach through a book of the Bible. Obviously since Jonah is so short, we can cover it in only one sermon.
The Second reason for preaching the Book of Jonah is because we have just celebrated Independence day on July 4th. Our text today will remind us that although it is healthy to be patriotic (to be thankful for the country that you live in, to be thankful for the freedoms that we have, to be thankful for the troops that help secure that freedom); Nationalism however is dangerous. God opposes the proud, the worshiping of your country, the viewing of other countries as inferior, the refusal to leave this great nation, and the belief that we are superior is dangerous. And that is exactly what we find at core of Jonah’s heart today, a hatred for anyone other than his Hebrew brothers and sisters. So our question for today is, Is it possible for pride in our own nation, to keep us from being a part of God’s purpose in all nations?
The third and final reason for preaching the Book of Jonah is because it points us to the Cross and our Lord, Savior, and Treasure Jesus Christ. And I love to preach Christ and him crucified.
We will start reading at Chapter 1 verse 1.
V. 1-3 here in this passage we see that Jonah is commanded to go to the people of Nineveh, however, he goes to Tarshish instead. So let me give you a little bit of backstory to help you understand why Jonah would do such a thing. You see, we learn from 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah was a national hero, he was a prophet that prophesied that the northern kingdom should strengthen their northern wall. Which they did and it saved them from being invaded by the Assyrians. Well, Nineveh is one of the great and prized cities of the Assyrians. So it is not just bad enough that Nineveh is filled with people that want to invade the Nation of Israel, but the Assyrians are known worldwide for their wickedness, they were a war-driven nation and they would do gruesome things to the bodies of their prisoners in order to deter anyone from wanting to oppose their conquests.
Listen to one account from one of the Assyrian’s own kings, he wrote, “many of the captives I have burned in a fire. Many, I took alive. From some, I cut off their hands to their wrists. From others, I have cut off their noses, ears, and fingers. I put out the eyes of many of the soldiers. I have burnt their children to death.”
This was the reputation of the Assyrians, they were not good people.
Therefore, Jonah hated them so much that he would rather see them be destroyed and go to Hell, than for them to receive the grace and mercy of God, so he fled to Tarshish.
V. 4-5 Now we see that God causes a storm to happen. The storm is so violent that even the veteran sailors are afraid and recognize that it must be from a divine origin. However, we see that Jonah has fallen asleep at the bottom of the boat. His heart is so hardened against God’s will and against the people of Nineveh that not even a divine storm can wake him up.
And that is a dangerous place to be. I pray that this evening that you will not harden you heart against God, but that you will allow Him to work and soften your heart. Whether, you are someone who has never accepted Christ or someone that has been walking with him for decades, do not let your heart turn cold.
Summarize V. 6-16 Jonah is so sound asleep that the captain has to come and wake him up, so that he can cry out to his God so that they might not perish. Jonah comes up and it does not take him long to realize that this storm has nothing to do with these pagan sailors. This has everything to do with his disobedience. And so it becomes clear that he is the reason for the problem and Jonah is thrown overboard. And as he sinks into the depths of the sea, the water around the boat goes calm and the storm ceases. The Sailors onboard the ship turn and worship the Lord of Jonah, while Jonah sinks to the depths of the sea.
Now do not miss this. Jonah fled, in order to not preach to gentiles and he ends up converting a boat full of pagan sailors. Our God is a Great and Powerful God and can even use our failures for His Glory.
Now look back at verse 17.
V.17 here we see that a huge aquatic beast swallows Jonah, it is probably not a whale, because they have a word for whale and it is not used here. But that is not important because this story is not about the whale or a giant fish, but God’s love for the nations, which ultimately points us to Jesus.
Summarize Chapter 2: Then we see in chapter 2 that while Jonah is in the belly of this giant fish that he prays to God. We see that Jonah cried out to the Lord in his distress and that he answered him. We also see that Jonah recognizes that salvation comes from the Lord.
V. 10 We pick up the story in verse 10 where we see that the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. This verse should remind us of Revelations 3:16, it was because of Jonah’s lukewarmness that God had the fish vomit him out of his mouth.
V.1-4 Now beginning with chapter 3 we see that Jonah now gets a second chance. He goes to the people of Nineveh and delivers the message, that God had given him. However, we also see a glimpse of his heart is still lukewarm because Nineveh was so big that it would have taken him 3 days to go around proclaiming this message, but we only see him going to them on day 1.
V. 5-9 However, starting in verse 5 we see their response. The people immediately responded to God’s message and Word spread so quickly that it reaches the King who issues a decree stating that no man or beast shall eat and must be covered in sackcloth and cry out to God earnestly.
So get the picture here. This powerful rich city, is now on its knees begging God for mercy, they are so desperate, that they do not feed their animals, so that their animals will join them in bellowing miserably out to God.
So the question is why?, Why such a quick and effective “mission trip” with such a rebel prophet? Well, what is surprising about this text is that Nineveh actually means “fish town”. Nineveh is known for worshipping a pagan god, that was half man and half fish. So here comes this prophet that has spent 3 days in the belly of a fish, that skin is probably bleached from the stomach acid trying to digest him, and if anyone wanted proof that he had been in a fish probably just had to smell him. So here comes this prophet with a fish story to validate his message to a people that already worship fish.
So we see that God is so powerful, that he uses the rebellion of his prophet to authenticate his message. God basically says to the people of Nineveh, you worship a false god of fish, but I am the true God that even the largest fish obey me. Repent or in 40 days you will be destroyed.
And catch the irony. Jonah hates Nineveh so much that he flees in the opposite direction, but in his fleeing does he not only converts pagan sailors, but now an entire pagan city because of his fleeing from God.
And I tell you right now, that is comforting that even when I screw up, God can still use me. God help me never flee from your presence like Jonah, but if I do please use it for your glory.
So how will God respond to their repentance? Will he forgive them or will he give them what they deserve and wipe them from the face of the earth? We see God’s response in verse 10.
V. 10 God forgives them. Even though they were wicked and deserved destruction, even though they opposed his chosen people of Israel, he loved them. For while they were yet enemies they were reconciled to God by a prophet that went into the depths of the sea for three days and was raised again to bring them a message.
Sound familiar? Sounds a lot like Romans 5:10 right, For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. This is because God is using this passage to point us to Jesus and calling us to repent as well. See God loves you so much that it looks like he hates his one and only Son. While you were still enemies, while you were still in sin God reached out to you. We are the people of Nineveh in this story. We deserved punishment, we deserve Hell. Because we all have sinned against a holy and just God. But God loves us so much that he sent His only son to us so that we can be reconciled with him again. Jesus lived the perfect life so that we did not have to and He died the death that we deserved. However, He did not stay in the belly of the earth. He rose again and anyone that trust him as their Lord, Savior, and Treasure can spend eternity with Him. And I pray today that you will respond like the people of Nineveh, that if you have never repented that you will cry out tonight for His mercy.
So we come to the conclusion of chapter three and we think end of story, Jonah preached God’s Word, the people responded what a great story. However, Chapter 4 reveals to us just how much Jonah hated the people of Nineveh.
V.1-4 In this passage we see that Jonah reveals the real reason why he fled to Tarshish. Because he knew that God was a merciful and compassionate God, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster. So it was not that Jonah feared for his life going to this war-loving people nor was it because he feared failure, but that he feared success, he feared that God would actually offer these wicked people salvation.
So if you want to get the amount of hate he had for this people, think of a clansmen going to an inner city ghetto to share the Gospel, think of a Nazi going to the slums of Jerusalem, and think of yourself going to a Muslim nation to share the Gospel… Is it possible to hate someone so much just because of race or nationality to want them to perish in Hell for eternity?
Now we see it is possible with the life of Jonah to hate someone that much. But I doubt any of us out loud would say that. However, what do our actions say about how powerful our Gospel is?
I think one of the weaknesses of the church of America today is that we evangelize like we pick songs on Pandora.
Do you truly believe that God is powerful enough to save anyone? God says He is, He saved the wicked city of Nineveh, in fact, everybody in this book is messed up. Jonah is messed up. The Sailors worshipping all these different gods are messed up, The city of Ninevah is royally messed up, and we are messed up. But we see the mercy of God coming to all of them, even to some of us.
However, do our actions confirm that truth?
Scariest person illustration:
V. 5-11 God says to Jonah in these verses, that you are more concerned about a plant, when there are people, whom I have created and crafted with my own hand. And I have shown my mercy and love to them, and you want nothing to do with it because you are more concerned about this plant.
And the story does not end with a happily ever after. Instead the story ends with a haunting question from God. The book ends with a question, not because we do not know how Jonah responds, but it is left open because it is directed to you. Will you go to the nations? Will you obey the commandment in Matthew 28 and go and make disciples of all the nations?
There is a clear parallel between God’s will for Jonah, and God’s will for every single one of our lives in this room, to go and preach. God is calling you to respond, will you go and preach, making disciples of all nations?
You see we cannot be too hard on Jonah in this book of the Bible because in all reality Jonah reveals our hearts as well. Are these tendencies in our own hearts as well? Are there times when we want our way more than we want God’s will? Are we often not interested in where he wants us to go, or what he wants us to do because we already have our plans set up?
Is it possible for us to sit back and enjoy the good life in our nation, without giving second thought to how God might want to use us to make the Gospel known in other nations? Is it possible for us in this room to know the character of God in our heads, and, yet, lack the compassion of God in our hearts? Is it possible for us to study the Word for an extended time this evening, in this room, and, yet, walk by someone tomorrow, who may be on a road that leads to an eternal Hell, and not even think twice about that?
Is it possible for us to be more concerned about empty desires and petty comforts, little things in our life here that get us all riled up and deafen us to the reality that we are surrounded in this town and in the world with literally billions of people headed to an eternity without God? Have our affections so entangled with little things that we lose sight of eternal realities? Is it a temptation for us in this room to sit back and soak in the mercy of God? And, yet, give a mere tip of our hats, at best, to the mission of God in the world? See in Jonah’s heart is a reflection of our own.
But let us not stop there because that would be depressing. Instead, let us look at how this prophet of Jonah is ultimately pointing us to Jesus. (Platt, 2010)
Let us start in the book of Matthew chapter 8 in verses 23 through 27.
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
In this passage, we have a resource that can enable us to stay calm inside no matter how the storms rage outside. Here is a clue: Matthew has deliberately laid out this account using language that is parallel, almost identical, to the language of the storm account in Jonah.
– Both Jesus and Jonah were in a boat, and both boats were overtaken by a storm- the description of the storm is almost identical.
– Both Jesus and Jonah were asleep.
– In both stories the sailors woke up and the sleeper and said, “We are going to die.”
– And in both cases there was a miraculous divine intervention and the sea was calmed.
– Further, in both stories the sailors then become even more terrified than they were before the storm was calmed.
Two almost identical stories, with just one difference.
In the midst of the storm, Jonah said to the sailors, in effect: “There is one only thing to do. If I perish, you survive. If I die, you will live. And they threw him into the sea.
Which does not happen in our passage in Matthew.
Or, does it?
I think what God is showing us here is that the stories are not actually different at all when you stand back a bit and look at it with the rest of the story of Jesus in view. For proof of this now let us look at Matthew chapter 12 verse 38-41.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold,something greater than Jonah is here.
In Matthew 12:41, Jesus says, “One greater than Jonah is here,” and Jesus is referring to himself as the true Jonah.
In this passage, the Pharisees said they wanted a sign, Jesus responds by saying that Nineveh responded when they saw a guy who had been in a fish. If you do not repent when you have seen a guy who rises from the grave, then all the more judgment upon you. And that is what Jesus is saying to every person in this room, “If you are here today and you have never turned from your sin and turned yourself to God, in Christ, through what he has done on a cross, to cover over you sins then the word for you from God today is repent. Turn, man or woman, or student, or child, turn from your sin and turn to God in Christ.
What he means is that someday for all who repent and believe in Jesus as their Lord, Savior, and Treasure, I am going to calm all storms, still all waves. I am going to destroy destruction, break brokenness, and kill death.
How can Jesus do that?
He can only do it because when he was on the cross he was thrown – willing, like Jonah – into the ultimate storm, under the ultimate waves, the waves of sin and death.
Jesus was thrown into the only storm that can actually sink us, the storm of eternal justice, of what we owe for our wrongdoing. That storm was not clamed, not until it swept him away.
If the sight of Jesus bowing his head into that ultimate storm is burned into the core of your being, you will never say, “God, don’t you care?”
And if you know that he did not abandon you in that ultimate storm, what makes you think he would abandon you in so much smaller storms you are experiencing right now?
And, someday, of course, he will return and still all storms for eternity.
If you let that penetrate to the very center of your being, you will know he loves you. You will know he cares. And then you will have the power to handle anything in life with poise. (Keller, 2011/2013)
Keller, Tim. (2013). King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. New York: Riverhead Trade. (Original work published 2011)
Platt, David. (2010, July 4). Chapter 24: Fish Food [Sermon]. Retrieved July 3, 2013, from Radical Web site: radical.net/media/series/view/397/chapter-24-fish-food