Jump Start # 2384
Jonah 1:3 “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
Jonah in July—that’s the name of a series I’m preaching on Sundays. We love the story of Jonah. It’s a favorite for VBS. This short book is more about the prophet than it is his message or the people he preached to. There are layers of lessons tucked throughout Jonah and I thought on Mondays in July, I’d share some Jonah thoughts with you.
The story is pretty simple. God tells the prophet to go preach to Nineveh. Jonah doesn’t want to, so he goes the other way. A great wind. A great storm. And, Jonah is tossed overboard. A great fish swallows Jonah and three days later spits him out on dry land. Jonah goes and preaches. He sits and pouts because he knows God will be gracious to them.
A couple of things we need to remember. First, this isn’t in our Bibles so we’d have something to teach the kids in Bible class. That’s not the direction nor the intention. It is as valuable of a prophetic book as Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel is.
Second, Jonah being swallowed by the giant fish wasn’t God’s unique way of punishing Jonah. If God wanted Jonah punished, He could have allowed the storm to destroy the boat or have Jonah drown when he was thrown overboard, or have any ole’ sea creature eat him. God wasn’t finished with Jonah. The fish to Jonah was what the pigs were to the prodigal. The giant fish was Jonah’s wake up call. In the first chapter, when the violent storm is nearly capsizing the boat, the sailors are praying. Jonah is sleeping. The captain wakes Jonah up with the plea to pray to his God. Jonah doesn’t pray. It’s not until he is inside the giant fish that he prays. God has a way of getting a person to change his mind. It was either repent or become fish food.
Our verse today illustrates two things running through Jonah’s mind.
First, he intended to go to Tarshish. I always thought he happened to find a boat that was heading there and that was good enough for him. Instead, “Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish”. That was his destination. That’s where he wanted to go. Tarshish is in Spain. It was a long way from where Jonah was. I’m not sure how he knew or heard about this place, but that was his choice of places to go. Maybe he thought once he got there, it just wouldn’t be practical for God to bring him back to Nineveh. Adam and Eve thought they could hide from God. He knew where they were. Jonah is thinking that he can run away. God knew right where he was at, and no distance is too far for God.
Second, twice our verse tells us that Jonah was not so much running from Nineveh, but the presence of God. He was trying to get away from God. How shallow was his thinking. David declared in Psalms, “Where can I go from Thy presence?” Up to Heaven, God is there. Down into the depths of the sea, God is there. There is no escaping God. Nothing goes unnoticed by God. There is no surprising God.
And, what we find so abundant in Jonah is the thought that he was a prophet with an attitude. A pouting prophet. A prejudiced preacher. A preacher who didn’t want to do what God told him. A preacher who didn’t want Nineveh to listen to his message. A preacher who longed to be a failure. And, this lesson is sprinkled throughout this book. God says go “east,” and Jonah went “west.” The pagans are praying and Jonah is sleeping. The pagans even tell Jonah that he should pray. For a man of God, Jonah certainly seems ungodly. We don’t find Jonah drunk. We don’t find Jonah chasing women. But what we do find is Jonah has a mind and an attitude that is very different from God’s. Jonah is not thinking like God. Jonah leaves footprints that no one should follow. And, this I wonder is why God has preserved this story for us. It’s not so much about the Assyrian short term repentance. It’s about a man of God who doesn’t act very godly. It’s a lesson for us.
There are times when the people of the world can act more “Christ-like” than Christians do. Something bad happens and the Christian is threatening war. The man in the world calls for patience and forgiveness. Oh, we forgot about that. The man in the world can be more generous than the Christian is. Although the Christian proudly sings, “This world is not my home…” he certainly can act as if it is. The man in the world can be more friendly, kinder and pleasant than the Christian can be. Oh, doctrinally, we’ve got the man in the world beat. But in spirit, the man in the world can teach the Christian a lesson or two.
So, from all of this we must remember:
- We are on a journey and we must never stop learning and growing closer to Christ. The world can teach us things and we need to listen. Sometimes we don’t do a good job. Neighbors who are not Christians can be more helpful to a hurting family than the Christian. Jesus reminds us in the judgment parable, I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was in prison and you did not visit. Sometimes we drop the ball. Sometimes we let others down. Learn from this and do better.
- Preachers aren’t perfect. Jonah is the classic example. Because a person knows the word of God does not mean that he is walking in that word himself. He ought to be, but he may not. Preachers can get attitudes that are not right. Preachers can be smug, standoffish and close their hearts to others. The whole city of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. What a glorious day! Jonah should have been so happy and thankful. Instead, he sat up on a hill and had a pity party. Our Nineveh may be people of a different color or nationality. It may be those who dress differently than we do. It may be those who seem wild to us. We don’t want those kind of people here, is the language of Jonah. We best be careful. God may not want us, because of our narrow attitudes. The Jews didn’t like who was coming to hear Jesus preach. The “sinners” were found among Jesus. Simon had the Jonah spirit in him. Jesus came to Simon’s house and the Lord was not welcomed much at all. No washing His feet. No kiss of welcome. But a sinful woman came. She kissed Jesus’ feet and with her tears and hair, she washed His feet. Rather than feeling a bit embarrassed because he didn’t do those things, Simon’s anger grew because of “what kind of woman” she was. Jesus used this to teach Simon a lesson.
We need that lesson. Stop giving the death stare to someone who walks in with pink hair. Stop the whispering when someone with their tongue pierced sits among us. They could be in bed. Worse, they could be out back smoking dope. Instead, they came to the house of God. They are seeking. They may be Nineveh to us, but God loves them.
Jonah reminds us that because a man preaches does not mean that he has all the answers nor is the best example. Jonah needed to change as much as Nineveh needed to change. Jonah, who was given a second chance, had a hard time giving Nineveh a second chance. And, the spirit of Jonah is found in the prodigal’s older brother. Cold. Hard. Unforgiving. And what that older brother missed was a celebration and a feast.
Have you closed the door of your heart to some people? Would you rather some go to Hell rather than Heaven? Are you content with some co-workers, neighbors, or family members who remain outside of Christ? Would you rather than stay on the outside? Would your first words be, “What are you doing here?” if they showed up?
Maybe that’s why we have Jonah in our Bibles. A prophet without a heart. A preacher who didn’t care. That’s Jonah. Could that be me and you as well? Maybe it’s time we looked more in the mirror and pointed our finger less at others. Maybe there is a bit more of Jonah in us than we’d like to admit. And, maybe, just maybe, through the book of Jonah, we can be more like Christ.