Summary: The story of Jonah is not just a Big Fish Tale. It's a true story with an incredible message relevant to our time. It's a message about a God who cares for all lives, even those of our enemies and those who hate us.
Today I want to tell you a BIG FISH TALE. How many fishermen do we have here today? Now our fish tales are always the truth, right? I caught a fish this big! But there's a story in the Bible about a Big Fish and about a man who lived to tell the tale.
Let's Turn in your Bibles now to... Jonah chapter one
Jonah 1:1-3New International Version (NIV) says…
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.”
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.
Context and Background- The city of Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and was a large and prominent city in its day. It was not a city of Israel at all; God called Jonah to go to a pagan, Gentile city and to call them to repentance.
Ancient historians say that Nineveh was the largest city in the world at that time. It was the large, important capital of a dominating empire - surely an intimidating place to go.
Why did God want Jonah to go? Because God saw their wickedness.
Nahum 3:1-4gives us a good idea of how wicked the people of Nineveh were.
In Nahum 3:1-4New International Version (NIV) it says…
1 Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!
2 The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots!
3 Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead,
bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses— 4 all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.
Why didn't Jonah want to go to Nineveh and do what the LORD told him to do?
And Nineveh was over 500 miles from Gath Hepher, Jonah's hometown.
The Assyrians were a warrior race who built their empire by conquering and enslaving the peoples around it. They were known to be very brutal. They had a reputation of being cruel and ferocious. And they were Israel's enemies; their oppressors.
Jonah had every reason to expect that at the very best, he would be mocked and treated as a fool. But more likely he might be attacked and killed if he did what the Lord told him to do.
It was also because Jonah didn't want the Assyrians in Nineveh to escape God's judgment.
Imagine a Jewish man in New York during World War II hearing God say, 'I'm going to bring terrible judgment on Germany. I want you to go to Berlin and tell Nazi Germany to repent.' Instead of doing it, the man heads for San Francisco and then hops on a boat for Hong Kong.
Or let's relate it with something in our day. What if you were the family of one of those police officers who were gunned down in the shootings recently, and God told you to go and share the Gospel with one of those shooters? Would you do it? Could you do it?
Or what if God laid it on your heart to go and witness to a terrorist organization like ISIS or in a country where it is illegal to carry a Bible and be a Christian? Or maybe even more close to home. What if God told you to witness to your ex who still bad-mouths you to your kids and treats you awful? Or to that person who got you fired? That one who broke your heart?
What if? It is easy to discuss Jonah's reasons for not doing what God told him to do, but what is our reason? God told Jonah to go and to preach; and every Christian has the same command. Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter Five to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Are there some people that we want them to get what's coming to them? Are there some that we really don't want to forgive… and we don't want God to bless? Be honest now!
Why did Jonah choose Tarshish as his destination? Because this city was thought to be towards the end of the earth. Tarshish was in the west, meaning that Jonah was heading in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Nineveh was to the east of Israel and Tarshish was about as far as you could go west, on the coast of what is today Spain, past the straits of Gibraltar. Jonah wanted to go as far as he could to escape God's presence and God's calling.