Summary: What does God's mercy look like? And what does true worship look like? The book of Jonah gives us insights into these questions.
Camp Fire on a Wooden Ship
Frederick Faber has penned these immortal words:
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, ?Like the wideness of the sea; ?There’s a kindness in His Justice ?Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner?And more graces for the good;?There is mercy with the Saviour,?There is healing in His blood.”
Faber says there’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea. I wonder if he ever stood on the shore of some great ocean and looked out as far as the eye can see until the water meets the sky.
I wonder if Faber was thinking of those words in Psalm 103: The Lord is merciful.... He has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear Him.
I invite you to stand with me on the shore of God’s mercy. As far as the eye can see his mercy endures forever. We can never see the end nor plume the depths of his mercy nor exhaust the supply. His mercy endures forever. Some of you have come to this meeting with questions, with doubts, with fears, with guilt. Oh come, behold the wideness of God’s mercy. His mercy endures forever mercy toward his children, Mercy toward the outsider, the unsaved, the rebel.
The story I have chosen to exam the wideness of God’s mercy is tucked away in the Old Testament. It’s the story of Jonah. Turn with me please to this little 4-chapter book.
This Story As History.
Read vs. 1,2a. For God to ask Jonah to go and preach in Nineveh in 800 BC was like asking some Jew to go and preach in Berlin in 1940. Or to put it another way it was like asking today for a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant to go and preach against Idi Amin in Uganda in the 1970’s.
You see the people of Nineveh were the Nazis, the Idi Amins, the al-Qaeda of their day. History records the horrible atrocities committed by these people. Their wickedness took a special form of brutality.
It was not uncommon for these people to tear off the lips and hands of their victims; to slowly skin alive their captives.
Their hatred of Jews was well known. And Jonah was a Jew. A Jewish prophet.
We are not told what happened in between verses 2 and 3 but I believe Jonah did a lot of talking to the Lord. O Lord, you know my ministry. It would be seriously hampered without lips and hands. I can’t preach without lips and hands. And beside I hear these Ninevites skin alive their captives And Lord you know, I’ve never been much for suffering. Oh Lord, I’ll do anything but not Nineveh. Besides, You and I know that the Ninevites are all going to hell anyway, so why brother?
Lord, I hear through the Gospel grapevine that they’ve got a marvelous church retreat centre along the Spanish Riviera in a little place called Tarshish.
Lord, I deserve a break today, so I’m going to get up and get away to Tarshish.
So... Read vs. 3. Nineveh was approximately, 500 miles north east of Palestine. Tarshish on the other hand was 2000 miles due west from Palestine. When God told Jonah to go EAST he went WEST. The Bible says that he rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord.
He thought that if he could get far enough away from the Holy Land, far enough from the People of God that perhaps he could drown out the voice of God. But the Voice can shout over 3000 kilometers. We can never run away from God. We can run from out mother’s prayers; we can run from our childhood Sunday school but we can never run away from God.
David put it this way: You compass my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. There is not a word in my tongue, but lo O Lord, you know it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before and laid thine hand upon me.
You can’t get away from God. But Jonah thought he’d try.
So… He paid the fare. There is indication here that he used Visa or Master Card. He paid the fare. I take it not all of God’s prophets can say with Peter “Silver and Gold have I non.” So he paid the fare for this cruse.
I was in a travel agent’s office the other day on business and picked up a brochure on Cruses on the Queen Mary 2 New York to Hong Kong. The pictures were so inviting. The food looked so delicious. The I glanced at the price for an outside room: $15,000 and quietly closed the book and went on to something else.