Can anybody finish this sentence… “In 1492, Columbus sailed the _______ “?
• That’s how I’ve always remembered the story of Columbus… now here’s a great adventurer! In a day when nobody believed that the Earth was round, Columbus had this crazy idea that to get to India he would sail off in the opposite direction!
• I don’t know very much about Columbus, but I’ve always been intrigued by the wonderful and adventurous life he must have lived… think about! He was called upon to sail off into the great unknown and its because of him that you and I sit here in America today, instead of Europe or Africa.
• Few people in the world have so changed the course of history and left such an impact… driven by that desire which has always motivated mankind… MONEY!
• Columbus wasn’t looking for the New World… the New World sort of found him! He was looking for a new trade route to India… if Spain could get there quicker and more efficient than her competitors, than they would have a leg up in the global economy.
• Nonetheless, what an adventure it must have been, nothing boring about it!
We’re concluding our series “the Great Adventure” this morning…
• We’ve been saying, if you’re bored in your Christian walk… its NOT God’s fault! I believe that he intends the Christian life to be fun, exciting… sometimes surprising and always challenging!
• He has always called his people to great adventures…
o Abraham, he told to “Saddle up your horses, you’ve got a trail to blaze!”
o Noah, was called to “Stand against the tide” of evil in his day by living a righteous life.
o Moses, was called to “Step up to the plate” & become a leader of his people.
o Joshua was called to “Sound the Battle Cry!” as God recruited him for the Lord’s army.
• Today I want to look at one of my favorite adventurers in the Bible: Jonah! (I’ll tell you in a minute why I like him so much!)
• Without wasting any time, the story kicks off with God giving Jonah his marching orders!
1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." NIV
What do we know about Jonah? Not a lot . . .
• Jonah lived and prophesied during the 8th century BC around the same time as Amos & Hosea . . . during the reign of King Jeroboam II (king of the Northern Kingdom from 782-753 BC.)
• THIS book doesn’t tell us that; that comes from 2 Kgs. 14:25 and is a pretty good assumption that THAT Jonah son of Amittai is the same as our man here.
• THAT text also tells us that he is a prophet from Gath-Hepher– which we know was just west of the Sea of Galilee (@12 miles) and just north of what would become Nazareth (by @ 3 miles) firmly in the Northern Kingdom of Israel!
• His orders are straightforward enough: “Go to Nineveh!”, God says. Right into the heart of Assyria!
• Assyria was the great empire to the north and east of Israel… a powerful military and political threat to the whole region. Its modern day Turkey & Iraq.
• In fact Nineveh was situated on the Tigris River a little ways north of modern day Baghdad.
I love Jonah for a number of reasons, but one is that he was a prophet of God.
• The role of a prophet in ancient Israel was essentially to be a “spokesperson” for God. His job was to proclaim the word of God to the people… not his word, but God’s. We may not have ‘prophets’ in exactly the same sense today (folks who God spoke directly thru) but It is essentially the role of a preacher, and so I feel this professional kinship with Jonah. He and I are in the same business.
• What’s more, he’s not a very good preacher, which makes me feel even more closely connected with him.
• We’ll see, though, that despite all of his hang-ups and problems, he’s extremely successful and I love that! Despite everything about Jonah, God still uses him! (I’m getting ahead of myself.)
3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. NIV
• I would like to think that if the LORD came to me in this way that I would be like Abraham and just go… no questions asked, that I would just obey and go!
• I might be more like Moses, though. When God called to him from that burning bush, Moses started arguing with him… and started offering up excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t go… as to why he wasn’t the right person for the job. “Send somebody else!” he said.
• But to be honest, I would most likely be more like Jonah here. When God called Jonah to go, he went all right… right off in the opposite direction! He RAN away from God!
o Scholars aren’t exactly sure where Tarshish was, but there is reason to believe that it was as far off as the west coast of Spain! That would have been quite a distance from Israel and certainly from Nineveh!
Of course, the problem for Jonah is that, with God, you can run… but you cannot hide!
• That was a lesson Adam & Eve learned and one that Jonah would learn, too… the HARD way!
4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish."
7 Then the sailors said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity." They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
• Notice this isn’t just any storm… it is from God!
• The crew of this ship may all be pagans, but they recognize that this is no ordinary storm and suspect Jonah may know more than he has let on.
• When their prayers to their own gods aren’t of any help, they wake Jonah up…
8 So they asked him, "Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?"
9 He answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land."
10 This terrified them and they asked, "What have you done?" (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)
11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?"
12 "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you."
13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried to the LORD, "O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased." 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.
• These men seem to be nice folks… they don’t want to throw Jonah overboard, but when they can’t find any other way out, they decide that’s what they have to do!
• They throw him off the plank… I’m sure with the full belief that it is to his death… BUT…
17 But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. NIV
Now, questions abound regarding this “great fish”… what was it? What kind of fish can swallow a human being alive?
• What kind of fish was this? Of course, the answer is: we have no idea. The Hebrew word is just as generic a term as the English “great fish” and any attempt to get more specific really misses the point.
• What’s important here isn’t the type of fish this was, but that God sent it! It wasn’t Jonah’s bad luck… it was actually God’s great provision!
• It was a “course corrective” put there by God to get Jonah back on the right track! It wasn’t there to harm Jonah… but to save Jonah!
And it worked… flip over to 3:1-5
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. NIV
• Jonah gets a second chance at bat and this time he hits it out of the ball park!
• I’m not sure how much his heart was in it, (we’ll see in a minute) but at least he is obedient. Sometimes, we just have to obey REGARDLESS of how we may FEEL about something, right?
• Now, here is where I say Jonah isn’t a particularly good preacher. Look at his sermon, “40 more days and Nineveh will be wiped out!” Sounds awful inspiring doesn’t it? At least it was easy to remember.
• Nonetheless, it is tremendously successful! All of Nineveh believed God and repents… which is exactly what God wanted them to do!
• Even the king…
6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. NIV
• And God changes course… something he does from time to time.
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. NIV
I love Jonah! Some people are in the Bible because of their great example… and others are in the Bible DESPITE their example!
• Jonah is one of those. He’s proof positive that God can use anybody to accomplish his will!
• I’m not sure why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh… but I can imagine.
o The Assyrians were a threat to Israel! In fact, though Jonah probably did not know this, in a little more than forty years, Assyria would attack the Northern Kingdom, completely destroy its capital of Samaria and lead off into captivity 27,290 inhabitants as ‘booty’ so claimed its King, Sargon II.
o So Assyria, to whom God is sending Jonah, would be responsible for the total destruction of his homeland. All of this would be on the horizon and it is quite possible that he lived to see it.
• Certainly the readers of this book living forty & fifty years later in captivity would read this and understand why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh… these were the bad guys!
• Today, what if God told you to into the heart of Afghanistan and proclaim to the Taliban and Usama Bin Laden that God wants them to come back to him? What if they do?
• Here is where Jonah and I part company a good bit. I’ve told you about the first time Celeste and I came to visit Fayetteville and this church. It was easy to fall in love with Fayetteville! It was easy to fall in love with the Washington St. Church. Everybody was so nice and kind. Sandy had fixed a nice “welcome” basket for us! Ricky toured us around the community. It was so nice. But what about going to Afghanistan? Or Africa? Or Iraq?
• Can’t you just hear Jonah…. “You want me to go where? To THOSE people? Why would you care about THEM? They not like us!”
You can really see this in chapter 4 after Nineveh has repented. Verses 1-2 reflect Jonah’s prejudice… but vs. 11 show’s God’s.
1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. NIV
11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and 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?" NIV
• Jonah saw a bunch of pagans who were awful people and had no concern for God and wondered why would he be concerned about them?
• God saw 120,000 precious souls who didn’t know him, but desperately needed to!
• That illustrates the difference in the way we look at the world and the way God sees it.
Maybe it was precisely because of Jonah’s prejudice that made him the perfect man for the job of going to Nineveh? Have you ever thought about that?
• What about the apostle, Paul? Remember his background? “Jew of Jews; Pharisee of Pharisees; zealous for the law”; persecuted Christians… and yet he became THE perfect man for the job of carrying the gospel to the Gentile world… where it had never gone before!
• The N.T. records at least three great missionary journeys Paul made… where he set out into the great unknown to spread the gospel and as he sailed all over the Roman Empire he was planting churches and making disciples just as God had called him to do.… making it all the way to Rome at one point!
• But he didn’t exactly make it very easy on himself to start out with! Remember what it took for him—not a great fish—but a blinding light on the road to Damascus to get him back on the right track. (cf. Acts 9)
• A lot of scholars believe that experience left him with permanent sight problems. He often spoke of a ‘thorn in the flesh’ and makes a couple of comments about writing with large letters when he himself wrote in his own hand. Its speculation and we can’t be sure, but I tend to think its very probable! That meant that the results of his disobedience left a lasting mark on Paul’s life that he would carry with him to his death.
• You see, Paul, like Jonah was trying to do it HIS way… instead of God’s way… and that will always get you into trouble!
Some of you have been trying to “live the adventure” YOUR way… instead of God’s way!
• Like Sinatra used to sing, “I did it MY way!” We hear that a lot at our house… “Me do it!” or “I’ll do it myself!” You like that?
• Well, in the words of my 2nd favorite psychologist, “How’s that working for you?” Has God put any big fish in your way? If not, then odds are, he will!
• The question is: can you live life “your way” on your terms instead of God’s and still live the abundant life? I don’t think so.
• And that’s a GOOD thing! We WANT God to defeat us if our plans aren’t in step with His plans, don’t we? We may not always realize that we’re working against God… I don’t think Paul did. I think Paul thought he was doing the right thing by hunting down Christians… they were blasphemers and heretics! He thought he was contending for the true faith, and didn’t realize he needed a little course corrective!
• How many times have I heard our shepherds pray over this church, “God lead us to what you would have us do… and defeat us when we stray off course!” We want to be defeated if we aren’t in the will of God!
Nobody wants to find themselves in the belly of a whale… but I suspect many of us have at some point.
• Its painful going down, isn’t it? It stinks!
• But sometimes that’s what it takes for God to discipline us and get us back on the right track!
• Just look at Heb 12:5-8
"My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?NIV
How has God disciplined you in your life? Are you there right now?
• The thing is… you don’t always realize it when you’re going through it. Sometimes its only later looking back that you realize what God was doing by allowing you to go through what you were going through.
• Sometimes it is in hindsight that we truly see the hand of God.
As we conclude this series, I hope that you have seen the hand of God in your life and how he has called you into this great adventure of faith that is the Christian life!
• I hope you have seen that faith isn’t boring… it is surprising!
• I hope you’ve seen that faith isn’t passive… it is aggressive!
• I hope you’ve seen that faith isn’t safe… it is full of risk and can sometimes land you in pretty hot water in our world!
• I hope you have seen that it ought to be exciting and challenging!
The thing is… we don’t know what life has in store for us. It is the great unknown… but God calls us into this life to follow in the steps of his Son and to take his good news message of salvation into all the world.
Which way are you sailing this morning?
• With God in your sails towards the life he has planned for you?
• Or are you running away from God, trying to hide, trying to do it your way?
• Come back this morning and let’s sail off together towards whatever God has in store for us…