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:

?We start unnecessarily dumping precious cargo of life including relationships,

?We obliviously sleep either oblivious to our peril or denial of our danger.

?We cry out to our false gods hoping "something will work"

?We pursue even more self-destructive behaviors, like drugs, porn or ungodly relationships, etc. that continue the sinful spiral of life.

What we need to do is repent. Repentance means literally to turn around and go the other direction. That is literally what Jonah needed to do, but Jonah chose to continue to sinful spiral.

II.The False Hopes of Idolatry (1:7-10)

7 And they said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, "Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?" 9 And he said to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, "What is this that you have done!" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. (Jonah 1:7-10).

The sailors' decision to cast lots was a common means of seeking divination The most common method was a couple of stones with a side painted dark and a side painted a lighter color. If the two light sides landed up, it was interpreted yes, and if the two dark sides landed up, it meant no. God uses their method for His will. The lots fall on Jonah and in the sailor’s inquisition, Jonah reveals to them his identity and why the storm has become a threat to them and their ship.

God is everywhere. However, He does not want you to reach out for Him everywhere but only in the Word. Reach out for it and you will grasp Him aright. Otherwise, you are tempting God and setting up idolatry. That is why He has established a certain method for us. This teaches us how and where we are to look for Him and find Him, namely, in the Word. - Martin Luther

We all have idols before we come to Christ. By idols I mean the works to which we run rather than running to the Father alone. Works that tire us out and do not change the storms we find ourselves. We erect idols. Things that are immovable in our lives. Career goals, money, pride, unforgiveness, achievement, relationships. You can fill in the blank. You know them. You protect them with a bodyguard of lies. You will even use God to justify what you know you need to repent.

Like Jonah, the thing you need to do most in the midst of the storm is surrender it all back to God. Surrender the control, the pride, the fear. You are not in control. He is. We want to be in control. We know if we can make it to Tarshish, we'll be scott-free. God wants you to turn around and His direction.

III.Jesus is Lord of the Storm

11 Then they said to him, "What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?" For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, "Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you." 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, "O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you." 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. (Jonah 1:11-16)

Jonah's solution to the sailors was to throw Jonah into the raging sea waters. This must have been a shocking response to the sailors, but for Jonah it was intended to perpetuate his escape from God. Eventually, the sailors comply with Jonah’s request,

They first attempt to row back to land instead of casting Jonah overboard to certain death. Their fear was that God’s anger, being demonstrated over the sea, would be turned against them instead of Jonah. Feeling there was no other choice, the sailors picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea (v.15). We may wonder why Jonah did not just do it himself! The result the vehemently churning sea immediately calmed to stillness (v. 16).

With Jonah now out of the picture, the narrative briefly turns from Jonah to the sailors. Just as the storm and sea calmed, so did the hearts of the sailors who turned their hearts to fear God. The sailors experienced a rare and powerful divine encounter that undoubtedly brought them cause to reflect on their spiritual beliefs.

Like Jonah, we are called to fear God. The more we try to flee from God, the deeper in turmoil we find ourselves. Jonah only saw the answer to his problems through escape when the real solution was simple repentance. If Jonah truly trusted God, he would go without fear. No matter where we go in life, God is with us. If we are walking in God's will, there is nothing to fear.

Like Jonah we will also discover how deep God's mercy goes. Storms are often seen as God punishing us. Do we ever stop to think that God's grace and mercy are so powerful that storms, or even being swallowed up by a fish are His instruments of mercy.

The depths of God's love and mercy reach us in the deepest parts of our recklessness and hopelessness. He is there. Right there. His Grace and His Mercy being poured out on us every day. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve.

A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death. "But I don’t ask for justice," the mother explained." I plead for mercy." "But your son does not deserve mercy," Napoleon replied. "Sir," the woman cried, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for." "Well, then," the emperor said, "I will have mercy." And he spared the woman’s son.

One day Jesus was in a boat with his disciples. He too was sleeping when a storm arose, causing panic among the disciples, crying to Jesus "Don't you care if we die." At once Jesus go up and calmed the storm and corrected the disciples for their lack of faith. The difference between Jesus and Jonah is Jesus is the Lord of the Storm. Will you call out to him today?

Take it to the Cross