Summary: The incredible story of Jonah and the depth of God's grace

Grace Community Church, Winchester, VA

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Standing in line at the grocery store will usually provide me with some headline updates on the stars of Hollywood. I don’t follow most of these people and rarely entertain myself with the tabloids, but there are some fascinating tales of broken relationships, drug addictions, and ruined lives. The lives of these stars reveal the result of a life of regular rebellious sin. No, money and fame cannot buy happiness or peace with God.

Time and time again, an innocent beauty takes the path of stardom. The emphasis will inevitably turn to the sensual, sexual, and sinful. The marriages do not last, the children get caught in the conflict, and the pressures of sex, drugs, and public idolatry lead to lives that are wrecked and souls scarred. Soon they are replaced by a new version of someone with freshness but bound for the same fate. When Andre Agassi won Wimbledon he said the hardest thing was trying not to commit suicide.

We see it with prominent pastors too. The book of Jonah tells a similar story. Although not a star by any sense of the definition, the pattern of to run from God to pursue our own will is seen clearly in this narrative. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah flees in the opposite direction.

I.When We Flee From God, We Run Right Into Storms

4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, "What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish." (Jonah 1:4-6).

We left off last week with God calling Jonah to go to Nineveh. The Bible says, BUT Jonah chartered a ship. Now we continue today with the words, "But the Lord..." It reminds us again that we cannot flee from God. We stubbornly try, even if it means our own peril.

Jonah may have felt some relief as he put the shores of Israel behind him on the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps feelings of anxiety and distress faded from his mind. He goes below into the belly of the ship and falls into a deep sleep. A false sense of security surrounds Jonah’s sinful flee from God.

The storm comes and it is clear the tempest is spiritual in nature. The sailors see it as a punishing force, but they are clouded in their judgment. It comes not as a form of punishment, but as a continual calling to Jonah.

This far more than a storm at sea. The sailors are so frightened that they begin to throw their cargo and their livelihood overboard in order to lighten the ship and keep it from sinking. Meanwhile, Jonah is sleeping in the belly of the ship. He's oblivious or indifferent to the situation. The captain grabs Jonah and tells him to get up and pray, but there is no prayer recorded. Likely because Jonah did not pray. That’s the result of lukewarm faith. He is so distant in his heart from God that he doesn't pray in a time of peril. That's what sin does to us.

There is a greater sense of vulnerability when you are out on a boat. Add the risk of storm or sinking and that boat you are on loses all sense of security. I remember Mike and me on the boat back to the mainland in Guinea Bissau when a windstorm started buffeting us. The journey across that part of the ocean became ominous, but it wasn’t until I observed the African sailors becoming concerned and passing out life jackets that I knew we were at risk of peril! Unlike Jonah, I was praying!

Storms are directly attached to sin. We must be careful with this, because not every storm is the result of sin. Nor does every painful thing that comes into our lives mean that God is punishing us. But every act of disobedience has a storm attached to it. Sin stains our lives in a way that can only lead to the breakdown of our relationship with God and with others. Usually, when someone is in a place of habitual sin, they are seen less at church and will even break fellowship.

God created us to live for him and build our lives on him. When we flee from God, we are like Jonah hiding in the belly of a boat. Storms lead us to deeper faith. The storm God sent Jonah was not to beat him up but to lead him to repentance and restore his fellowship. Storms also refine our hearts and teach us to trust in God. The sailors, not knowing God, responded the way most people respond:

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