You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide
’Hello, this is Andrew Leung - I am unable to take your call right now, but please leave your name, number and a short message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. (beep)’ A standard message that most of you have on your answering service at work or at home - the whole point of having a message bank or an answering machine is to make sure you don’t miss your calls.
BUT - there are some people who use it to screen their calls, to avoid certain callers, to sift out who they want to talk to, to work out which calls to return and which calls to ignore. Have you ever done that? Maybe you know someone who does that?
Well, Jonah is just like that when it comes to God - the message on his answering machine goes something like this - ’Hello, this is Jonah - I am unable to take your call right not, please do not leave your name, number or message, because I won’t be getting back to you, (beep)’
And that is how our passage begins this evening. You see that in the opening verses of chapter 1. 1The 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.”
3But Jonah ran away from the LORD
Background 2 Kg.14:25; Nah.3:1-4
Now before we go any further, it’s crucial that we understand something of the background to the book of Jonah. Who was Jonah - where was he from? Where was Nineveh?
Well, we’re actually told in 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah is a prophet and a servant of the Lord. He lived in Israel and he served God as his prophet - as his mouthpiece (as one who spoke God’s Word - that’s what a prophet does). In fact his very name indicates that. Jonah means ’dove’ - which signifies a ’messenger’.
And we’re told that he is Son of Ammitai - Son of ’truth’. He is a messenger of truth - God’s truth. So it’s no surprise to us when we read in v.1 that the word of the Lord came to Jonah, Son of Ammitai - it was his job to answer the call.
But unlike his other assignments which so far has been local (within Israel), this one requires that he go overseas (Nineveh). Now most of us jump at the opportunity to work overseas don’t we - the boss says to you he needs someone to work on a project in London - and you take the opportunity. But Nineveh is not like London. Let me explain.
Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. And Assyria was a very powerful and significant nation. Assyria was Israel’s enemy, and Nineveh was the enemies capital city. Have a look with me at Nahum ch.3 (The book of Nahum is a prophecy against Nineveh), but we have in ch.3 pictured for us the wickedness of the Assyrians - the ferocity and the brutality of the Assyrians.
(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 harlot, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.
The Assyrians were a cruel and heartless people - Assyrian engravings depict people being tortured, skulls worn around their necks to show their cruelty. When they took over a town in battle they would take any survivors and they would impale them on stakes in front of the town. After a battle they’d pile up the skulls of their enemies making pillars out of them. Their leaders would often remove the heads of their enemies and wear them around their necks. This is not a friendly nation or a friendly city (not exactly on the top 10 holiday destinations of the day) - in fact this is the nation that eventually invades and destroys Israel in 722BC (you can find that in 2 Kings 17).
And it’s to this group of people, to this great enemy nation, to this enemy city that God calls Jonah to go. That’s right - it’s an overseas assignment to Kabul in Afghanistan, or to Mogadishu in Somalia.
And here is our first lesson: Jonah, the man of God hears the word of God and willfully disobeys it.
1. Jonah, the man of God hears the Word of God and willfully disobeys it vv.1-3
God gives Jonah a very clear command - 2“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
Jonah knows what God wants, he knows what God desires of him, he perfectly understands what God has called him to do - God’s instructions are clear … and he disobeys.
Nineveh is East, but we’re told in v.3 that he flees to Tarshish which is in the West - he goes in the opposite direction. 3But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish.
Why does Jonah disobey God? Here are some possible reasons for Jonah’s disobedience.
1. Perhaps Jonah was afraid - fearful for his life? Nineveh was the Assyrian capital - violent and brutal. It was a ’great’ city - ch.3:3 tells us that it took three days journey to cross. In fact Nineveh had walls 100 feet high and so broad that 3 chariots could run around them side by side. Within its the walls were gardens and fields for cattle. Perhaps Jonah thought, to preach against Nineveh was a suicide mission, so he runs away. But, the word of God does not tell us he was fearful does it.
2. Perhaps Jonah thought it was lost cause - what could one man do? who would listen to him in this great city? A city of unbelieving idol worshippers who were more interested in ’Command & Conquer’ than they were in God - so he runs away. But again, the word of God does not tell us that Jonah thinks it’s a lost cause.
3. Perhaps Jonah thought the message was severe and harsh. It was hard message wasn’t it - preach against Nineveh’s wickedness - no one likes being the one who has to bring such a message. Perhaps Jonah wasn’t too keen preaching fire and brimstone - especially to a group Assyrians - so he runs away. But again, the word of God does not tell us that Jonah was unhappy with the message.
They’re all possible reasons why Jonah runs away, but you’ll have to wait to ch.4 to find out.
What you and I need to pay attention to is that here we are told that Jonah who was a believer, a man of God hears God’s clear word and disobeys it.
Our version of the Bible, the NIV says in v.3 that Jonah ’ran away from the LORD’. The RSV says that Jonah flees ’from the presence of the LORD’. In the Bible, ’to stand before the Lord’ is equivalent to serving him (1 Kings 17:1; 18:15). The opposite - ’to be removed or to flee from God’s presence’ is to refuse to serve him, or to be removed from his service (Gen.4:16).
The person who therefore ’runs away from the Lord’ or ’flees from the presence of the Lord’ is the one who is refusing to serve God in the task he knows God has called him to do - and that’s what Jonah is doing - he is refusing to serve God, even though he knows what God’s word says.
By going to Tarshish in the West, Jonah was hoping to make it impossible for him to serve God as his prophet - as his servant called to serve in the East. He goes West and lands himself into a whole heap of trouble as we’ll see. That East-West distinction highlights the radical difference between God’s way and man’s way. Instead of following God East to Nineveh, he runs after his sins to Tarshish in the West.
The truth of the matter is that Jonah will not go God’s way - he refuses to serve God - he will not obey God’s word - he does the exact opposite … he ’runs away from the Lord’ … he ’flees from the presence of the Lord’.
God might not have called you to go to Nineveh, but human nature does not change (time and time again you see in our relationship to God the same scene played out here) - the same blood that runs through Jonah’s veins runs through ours - we share the same spiritual ancestry.
It’s no surprise that Jonah the man of God disobeys God’s Word.
Jonah is the OT equivalent of a Bible believing Christian - he is orthodox and evangelical in his theology - next week when you see his prayer in ch.2, you’ll see just how much he understands about God. He believes in sin and punishment, he believes that salvation is from God, he knows God’s character - God is just, yet merciful and gracious. He believes in God the creator of all things. YET - he refuses to obey God’s Word.
You can know the truth about God, and yet disobey God - a very sobering lesson. It shouldn’t surprise you - we all do it (Like Jonah we do not always go God’s way - we refuse to serve him - we will not obey his word).
Our natural tendency is to run away from God. We hear the word of God - we know the character of God - we know what it means to be faithful - to do what is right - to live God’s way - to have the right priorities and goals in life - YET, we avoid it, we make excuses, we will not listen, we choose to go in the opposite direction.
Resisting God is easy, disobedience is natural - but then again the descent into hell is easy.
When you disobey God - when you choose to live your way - when you avoid what God says about life for you - he will not rearrange the stars in the skies to say ’STOP, do not go farther’. He lets you do what you want.
If you choose to stop reading the Bible, he does not send a storm to get you reading again. If you choose to stop coming to church, he does not send an earthquake to shake you up. If you choose to pursue a relationship with a non-Christian, he does not send a flood to overwhelm you. If you choose to put your career or work first, he does not send a fire to wake you up. NOT AT FIRST - he allows you to do what you want - to go downhill and to pay for your own foolishness - but his judgment lies just around the corner.
And as Jonah boards that ship he doesn’t notice the rats are getting off. And here is our second lesson: Jonah, the man of God is found out (his sin and disobedience comes to light) and he comes under the storm of God’s judgment.
2. Jonah, the man of God is found out and comes under the storm of God’s judgment vv.4-16 cf. Rom.6:23a; 1 Cor.11:29ff; Heb.12:1-13
The safest and the best and the simplest thing Jonah could have done was to go to Nineveh and preach against the city. Instead he runs away, and God sends the mother of all storms. The passage does not say God sends someone else - it doesn’t say he let Jonah get away with it. Jonah wins the battle, but God wins the war - he sends in the big guns - ’the perfect storm’.
You can run, but you can’t hide. You can see the contrast between v.3 and v.4. Have a look - it’s very clear. 3But Jonah ran away from the LORD … 4Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.
God in his judgment sends a violent storm - the sailors in v.5 do all they can to from praying to throwing out their cargo.
And Jonah’s wake up call finally comes to us in v.6 - he does not sleep soundly forever. 6The 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.”
In desperation the sailors then cast lots to find out who is responsible for this mother of all storms, and guess what? In the providence of God, the lot falls on Jonah - he can run, but he can’t hide (Prov.16:33). And when they question him (Who are you? What have you done to cause this?) - they learn the terrible truth.
9He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” 10This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (Not a question, but an exclamation!) (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) Great news isn’t it - the last place you want to be is in the same boat with a man who has disobeyed the God who made the sea - who is refusing to serve the God who made the sea.
And Jonah knows that the wages of sin, the penalty for disobedience is death - the judgment of God has caught up with him.
What shall we do they say? And Jonah’s response v.12 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.”
Do you notice - there’s no excuses, there’s no bargaining with God - he basically says: God is dealing with me justly - God is righteous - I deserve this, and God is right in punishing me. Jonah accepts without reservation the consequences of his disobedience. He knows that wages of sin is death. The penalty for disobedience is death. (Rom.6:23 - for the wages of sin is death). And Jonah surrenders to God’s punishment. I have sinned and I deserve to die, I have disobeyed God and I deserve the death sentence. We read v.15 15Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. (for the wages of sin is death).
And let me say to you this evening, that like Jonah when we disobey God, when we refuse to serve God and live his way - the path only leads downhill, you and I will not sleep soundly forever - eventually your disobedience will be uncovered - like Jonah it will be a rude awakening because only judgment awaits - if not in this life, certainly in the next. The NT clearly speaks of judgment in the present - of God’s punishment and discipline in the now. (I’ve left some passages there for you to read as you think about your own life).
When we persist in disobedience - he will discipline. If you are being disobedient in the Christian life, do not for one moment think you can or will get away with it - it is a downhill walk spiritually, and it’s only a matter of time - you can run, but you can’t hide. And when the storm comes, when the tempest comes, you would have brought it on yourself.
Hebrews warns us to take God’s discipline in this life seriously (ch.10 - it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God) - in Corinthians you read of believers who are struck down for making light of the Lord’s Supper.
And for some of you - maybe just maybe, God is saying wake up to yourself - are you taking the word of God seriously in your life? Is there something God has clearly told you to do that you’re not doing - his word is clear, but you will not do it? Is there some hidden sin, that you will not give up! Take heed my friend, take heed - it is not the way to start a new year - for God’s judgment looms - the wages of sin is death.
And Jonah the man of God faces the storm of God’s judgment.
But judgment will not be the last word. And here is our third lesson - the most important lesson for us this evening: Jonah, the man of God is as good as dead, and God saves him. The last word in ch.1 is not judgment, but grace and mercy. Jonah knows that he deserves death - the wages of sin is death but God saves him.
God sends a great storm in judgment, but he also sends a great fish to save Jonah.
3. Jonah, the man of God is as good as dead, and God saves him v.17 cf. Rom.6:23b; 4:25 ; Mt.12:38-42; Lk. 11:29-32
The miracle in the story is not that Jonah gets swallowed by a huge fish, but that God saves Jonah! He is as good as dead in v.15 cast into the sea facing death, the punishment for his sin, then we read grace in v.17. 17But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. (Contrast between v.15 and v.16 … then they took Jonah and threw him overboard … but the LORD provided a great fish …).
The fish is the miracle of God’s grace.
Jonah expected death - he knew that the wages of sin, of disobedience meant death - and when he is cast into the raging sea - that’s what he expects - he deserves it - the justice of God. And then the great fish gulped him up - and he finds himself alive inside the fish. You and I would think - not much of a rescue, being swallowed by a large fish. But to a man who is expecting death by drowning, it is a stay of execution.
In the raging of the storm, there seems to be nothing but the judgment and anger of God for Jonah and the sailors. And on the face of it, there seems to be very little hope, but beneath the surface, while God holds the storm of his judgment in his left hand, with his right hand the Lord God has prepared a deliverance, salvation, a rescue - in the storm, God’s judgment and his salvation meet - his wrath and his grace unfolds!
This fish becomes the instrument of God’s rescue and that rescue is nothing less than a resurrection from the dead for Jonah
And I want to say to you this evening, so too with Jesus as he dies on the cross, on the face of it, there seems to be very little hope - nailed, crucified, helpless - bearing the storm of the wrath and judgment of God - the wages of sin is death (the penalty for our disobedience is the death of a life). But beneath the surface, God is preparing a deliverance, a rescue, our salvation - a resurrection from the dead. (Rom.6:23 tells us so clearly that the wages of sin is death, but then the second half reads - but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.) For at the cross - God’s judgment and his salvation meet - his wrath and his grace unfolds!
Which is why Jesus compares his ministry to Jonah. Have a look with me at Matthew 12:39 (p.690). The teachers of the law and the Pharisees come to challenge Jesus - give us a sign and we will believe you - do this and we will follow you. And Jesus answers v.39, 39… “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
Jesus says that this is ultimately how we are to understand Jonah.
What we see in Jonah is an acted prophecy, an anticipation, a foreshadowing of the death of Jesus who dies and is in the grave for 3 days. Jonah faces God’s judgment for sin and is as good as dead - it teaches us that that our God is a just God, who takes our sin, our disobedience, our unfaithfulness very seriously - the wages of sin is death. Jonah’s death functions as a picture of the death of Jesus - a death which pays your sin-debt - a death that pays the penalty for your sin, a death that turns away God’s anger, a death that restores your relationship to God, a death that wipes your slate clean, a death that makes it possible for you to begin again.
But we also see in Jonah an acted prophecy, a foreshadowing of the resurrection of Jesus who is raised to life after 3 days in the grave. After 3 days Jonah is cast up upon the beach - the big fish vomits him out (2:10) - he came back as it were from the dead. Jonah’s rescue, his deliverance functions as a picture of the resurrection of Jesus - a resurrection from the dead over sin and death for you and me.
A sign to people in Jonah’s time and to future generations about the character of God (just, but that he is also gracious - rescuing even the most disobedient from death itself) and his redemptive purposes for all people in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ, who like Jonah dies facing the storm of God’s wrath, but who is raised in victory over sin and death for all people, but who unlike Jonah is obedient, whose mission, whose call is to go and die for Nineveh, for you and me, who obeys and goes to the cross facing the storm of God’s wrath for our sin.
The story of Jonah is really the story of Jesus Christ. Just as Jonah faces the judgment of God, so did Jesus on the cross. Just as Jonah went to his death - so did Jesus. Just as Jonah remained 3 days in the grip of death - so did Jesus. Just as Jonah returned from the dead, so did Jesus.
And just as Jonah was a sign to the sinful Ninevites - so too was Jesus a sign to his own generation and to our generation - a sign that would be replayed, republished, remade, seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s judgment-bearer and God’s rescuer.
A sign teaching us the God takes our sin seriously (God is just) - the wages of sin is death, but also a sign teaching us that God is gracious rescuing and saving even the most disobedient from death - because the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Another great verse from Romans 4:25 sums it up this way (p.798). 25He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification - so that we might be declared right with God ( that’s justification means - God’s declaration on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection that we are right with God).
The sign of the prophet Jonah points to Jesus dying for our sin and rising in victory over sin and death for our salvation.
This is most important lesson we must learn - we are as good as dead in our sins, but God saved us.
The sign of Jonah in Jesus Christ is God’s sign for our world, for our generation - for you, telling you that the wages of you sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. It stands as a sign in our world, our generation that God is just and treats sin seriously, but that he is also a gracious God who has dealt with our sins in the death of his son Jesus Christ.
And in Matthew 12 which we’ve read, Jesus warns his listeners to heed the sign - to wake up and see the implications of the sign.
41No other sign will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
If the men of Nineveh, the great and cruel enemy of God’s people can repent at the preaching of Jonah, how much greater will the judgment be for those who reject or disobey Jesus when he speaks! For one greater than Jonah stands before you.
It is the unanswered question that must be asked of every generation - what will you do with the sign of Jonah in Jesus Christ - who died for your sins and who rose so that you might life?
Will you, with the Ninevites repent, and change your ways - follow Christ faithfully? Or will you with the Scribes and Pharisees, go your own way, will you despise and reject Jesus?
The story of Jonah raises the question of how do I respond to God’s message in Jesus Christ - am I listening to the word of God, am I obeying it, am I being faithful - am I trusting Jesus with the way I live my life?
Are you taking the word of God seriously in your life? Is there something God has clearly told you to do that you’re not doing - his word is clear, but you will not do it? Is there some hidden sin, that you will not give up! Remember - the wages of sin is death.
And as we begin this new year the best thing you can do is to repent, and commit your life and your ways to Jesus - the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus - he died for your sins and he rose in victory so that you might live, and he promises a fresh start.
As we begin this new year together as God’s people - will you listen to the word of God, will you obey it, will you live God’s way, will you trust Jesus with your life? For one greater than Jonah stands before you.
© Eugene Hor, January 6th 2002, Burwood@Five A Ministry Of The Burwood Chinese Presbyterian Church
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