A whale of a tale
Jonah 3:1-5 NIV
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:
2 Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city--a visit required three days.
4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."
5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Jonah is a Bible story that many of us know and have shared with our children.
It is a story so fantastic that it sounds like make believe or fantasy but it is real.
It is a unique book in the Bible.
It is the only prophetic book that focuses more on the prophet than the prophecy.
It is a narrative of the pivotal events in the life of a man named Jonah.
It is a historical account not an allegorical tale. It concerns facts, events and the mission of God.
Jesus confirms its validity as He uses the account of Jonah as a reference to His own death and resurrection in Matthew 12:38-41 thus validating the story of Jonah as fact not fiction.
38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you."
39 He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
From Jesus perspective the lesson of Jonah is about the miraculous saving power of God and the resurrection from the dead.
Jonah would be a man who would learn these lessons first hand.
Jonah was the son of a prophet during a time when the world was controlled by a powerful empire called the Assyrian Empire whose capital city was called Nineveh. (House of Fish)
God really has a sense of humour doesn’t He?
For us to get an idea of what this city empire was like we would have to liken it to our GTA of Toronto.
It was a huge city that took 3 days to walk through.
Jonah had a problem with Nineveh and the Assyrians. He hated them for their oppression, violence, and cruelty for which they were infamous.
The people of Nineveh really were terrible godless, violent sinners. Just the kind of people that God loved and wanted to save.
This fact bothered Jonah so much because of his blind hatred for these people and for his self-righteous attitude.
He thought that only the Hebrews deserved the love, compassion and forgiveness of Yahweh.
So when God sent Jonah to these foreign people Jonah refused and in fact went the other way.
Can we in the church be guilty of a similar attitude today?
Do we like Jonah think that the love of God is meant only for us?
Do we become appalled and disgusted to think that violent terrible sinners do not deserve the love of God and that we most certainly would not go out of our way to tell them about God’s love and forgiveness?
Well we certainly have many people around the world today displaying the same kind of sinful, violent godless actions like those of the people of Nineveh.
How would you react if God suddenly sent you to such people today?
Here is a quick synopsis of the four chapters of Jonah:
Jonah runs from God and goes in the opposite direction.
He tries to put as much distance between himself and Nineveh as possible by sailing away.
A violent supernatural storm breaks out that even the sailors on the ship realize is a divine act.
Jonah admits he is to blame for the storm as he is running away from God.
We see here how our selfish actions to obey God can result in calamity for innocent people around us.
The men on the boat draw lots and toss Jonah into the sea. The storm immediately ceases.
Jonah is immediately swallowed whole by a great fish that plunges him into the deep.
Now Jonah cries out to God as death is all around him and seems certain.
From the depths of the grave
How many of us have cried out to God as we looked death in the face?
Why only then do we cry out, why does it take such a tipping point in people’s lives to come to their senses?
By God’s grace Jonah is transported by this living creature under God’s command and 3 days latter is spit up onto the shores of Nineveh.
What a foul smelling, slimy, disgusting sight Jonah must have been.
Wrapped in seaweed and partially digested his skin and clothes must have taken on an awful appearance.
If you think someone who has not had a shower in three days smells bad think what Jonah would have smelled like.
Certainly you would have smelled him coming before you saw him coming.
Now Jonah faithfully carries out his charge and proclaims to the people of Nineveh that unless they repent God will destroy them in the next 40 days.
From town to town from street corner to street corner this disgusting slimy, prophet alerts the entire capital city.
The king reacts with direct actions and orders every citizen to repent in sackcloth and ashes and to fast and to cover the animals in ashes as well.
This was the greatest revival of ancient times and it took place not in Israel but in godless Nineveh.
Friends it can still happen today.
God’s message of love and salvation can still reach the hearts of the violent godless people of our time.
But they like Nineveh will have to repent and seek God’s forgiveness or else face the wrath of God.
But do we care for the sake of their souls or are we like Jonah content to let them face God’s wrath instead of telling them about God’s salvation?
It is not an easy thing to do – to reach out to an enemy with the message of God’s love and forgiveness.
This is what Jonah finally did and after he pouted about it.
Finally in chapter four God takes Jonah to the woodshed and confronts Jonah about his hard heart.
Friends our God is concerned about your souls and my soul and every other soul on the planet earth.
God desires that one person should perish into hell but that all might be saved by the salvation held out to us through His son Jesus Christ.
We are witnesses today to a world very similar to that of Jonah’s.
Let us proclaim the Salvation of God to all people in the hope that they too will repent and be saved as we have been saved.
Do not wait for a fish to swallow you before you speak up about God’s plan of salvation. – Amen.