Fishers of Men or Fish Bait
Jonah 1, Matthew 12:39-41, Hebrews 11:36-38
Basically there are two things that Jesus wants us to do once we have accepted him as our Christ—once we have been born of the Spirit:
First, Love one another as he has loved us… and
Second, as we go about in this world we are to share the good news about Jesus, teach those who respond, and make disciples out of those who are willing.
Before we start, let me ask:
Would you expect to find God in Hell?
We’ll find out in a few minutes.
Turn with me to the Book of Jonah… Chapter 1.
We are back 800 and 750B.C.
Jonah lived just after Elisha.
Three prophets were ministering during this time:
Jonah, Amos, and Hosea.
Isaiah followed them.
Jonah is one of the most maligned and ridiculed books in the Bible all because of the fish.
Yet, it is a book that teaches us much about
• The nature of God…
• His love of all mankind…
• His grace…
• Our salvation by faith…not works.
Our faith—or lack of it—not the fish is the problem.
A fish swallowing a man, and the man living sounds impossible.
To us, maybe, but not to God.
And those who deny the supernatural—a God greater than man—they reject the book of Jonah as nothing more than a fairy tale.
However, if you share this view… you might want to rethink your position… because Jesus quoted from Jonah when correcting the Jewish leadership in his day:
Matthew 12:39… But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
40 "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
41 "The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
To this, Jesus added in Luke 11:30: "For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation.
The point is…IF we throw out Jonah and the fish… we have to throw out Jesus too.
And that’s not a call I want to make.
The problem in the Book of Jonah, however, is not the fish—It’s Jonah... the reluctant prophet who did not prophesy… but shared his experience.
Little attention is given to what he actually said.
But much is said of Jonah’s failure—his reluctance to do the will of God.
It starts off the same way the other prophetic books do, because we see the phrase:
1“And the word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of
2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
God spoke to Jonah in His own unique and powerful way.
He told Jonah to do two things:
• Go to Nineveh, and
• Cry out against it…
That is, rebuke them for their sin and call them to repentance… to eternal salvation by grace—simply believing God… his Word… his promise…his grace.
Ancient historians say that Nineveh was the largest city in the world at that time… and the capital of Assyria—the world power in that day.
God was calling Jonah to go to a pagan, Gentile city and call them to repentance—proof that God was interested in all people… not just Israel… not willing that any should perish… but all should come to a saving knowledge of the Messiah—the promised savior.
Why Nineveh? Because, God had seen their wickedness.
None of our wickedness is hidden from God.
He sees it all, and there will come a time when he is fed up with it all.
God chose Israel to be his ministers… not because he loved them any more than anyone else.
“God so loved the world… that he gave his only begotten Son…”
That’s a fact Israel had trouble believing—still do!
So how does Jonah react to God’s command?
1. First of all, Jonah hated the Ninevites.
Assyria was one of the most brutal nations of the ancient world.
They probably had raided his hometown in the past.
This too, is the first and only time that God sent a Hebrew prophet to a foreign land.
Jonah was the first “foreign” missionary.
The Promised Land was the crossroads of 3 continents—Europe, Asia, and Africa.
God put Israel there as a witness to the true and living God.
The Queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth—probably Yemen—to Israel in the days of Solomon. Why?
She had heard how they worshiped and, when she got there, she found an altar for sinners.
That was the one thing that brought her to a saving knowledge of God.
2. Secondly, Jonah refused to go.
No “ifs” “ands” or “buts”!
Remember Gideon? He only “tested” God… to make sure he understood the call of God.
But then he did what God wanted.
He didn’t say anything… didn’t do anything… except:
3. Third, he ran! The wrong way… for the wrong reason.
The Assyrians were the last people on earth that Jonah wanted to know his God and have a vital relationship with him.
3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
Notice the route he took:
He went down to Joppa.
Found a ship going down to Tarshish, so he went down into the boat.
If God is up then down is bad.
Every thing Jonah did took him further from God.
Running from God always takes you down…not up.
Why did Jonah choose Tarshish as his destination?
Because, it was at the other end of the earth.
Nineveh was to the east of Israel; Tarshish was about as far as you could go west, on the coast of what is today Spain, past the straits of Gibraltar.
Jonah was going to go as far as he could to escape God’s presence—a futile attempt!
He should have read Psalm 139:7-10: Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there.
See, an omnipresent God is everywhere… even in hell… but not forever. Even Hell will be cast into the lake of fire at the final judgment.
If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.
Jonah is not the only believer to be called to a distasteful task.
Read Hebrews 11:36-38, you’ll find a multitude of them: "And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
They were stoned,
They were sawn asunder, were tempted,
They were slain with the sword:
They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:)
They wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth".
Still today… in China, in Chad, in Pakistan, and other places where false religions control people, Christians still are suffering and dying for their faith—sent or not.
But in all of this, God has his ways of getting us
• Back on track…
• Back in step with his will…
• For his purpose.
God’s Discipline of delinquent Jonah starts in verse: 4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
The sailors had asked Jonah: What is your occupation?
9 And he said unto them, "I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."
When they learned he was God’s prophet, they were even more terrified.
This man of God is lying through his teeth.
His hatred of Assyria is greater than his fear of the Lord.
Otherwise he would be about God’s business instead of heading the other way.
This section emphasizes God’s sovereignty over nature… as well as his love for mankind.
It’s His windstorm.
The heathen sailors, sensing this was no ordinary storm, were afraid and are praying… while the man of God is complacently sleeping below.
Jonah’s lack of reaction is significant.
Sin is nothing more than rebellion against God.
It hardens the heart and makes us insensitive.
Here we see that Jonah is totally insensitive to what God is doing… even though he knows why!
We see the first of many contrasts between the heathens and Jonah.
The heathen crew is aware that something out of the ordinary is going on, and they are praying to their gods.
Jonah’s statement in Verse 9 is the exact opposite of what his actions show.
He preaches admiration and respect… yet shows total disrespect for the will of God.
He displays no compulsion to please God.
God’s call—God’s purpose—meant nothing to Jonah.
God said go east to Nineveh… Jonah went west to Tarshish.
He does not fear God.
If he did,
• He would have obeyed the first time.
• At the least, the second time, and
• He would have been praying too.
Sailor’s Prayer (1:10-14)
10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, "Why have you done this?" For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
Even a believer who is in a state of rebellion can give glory to God… if and when he tells the truth about God.
However, Jonah’s life, at this time, was contradicting his knowledge of God.
An unbeliever, who knows some truth about God, can rightly rebuke a believer who is resisting God.
Why have you done this is the most logical question in the world.
11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? For the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
This was no ordinary storm.
They knew it.
Now, they know that Jonah is the problem.
12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
Was Jonah being benevolent … or was the prospect of death at sea more desirable than preaching in Nineveh?
His attitude in the belly of the fish leans toward the latter.
Even the harden sailors were reluctant to toss a man overboard.
13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
They showed more concern for Jonah’s life than he did for theirs.
Sin is like that: It blinds us to everything beyond our own appetites and desires.
14 Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.
What stand’s out in this section?
They would eventually learn that Jonah’s God was the true God.
Verse 10 shows that the men were amazed that Jonah would do something that displeased his God.
They spent their life in fear of their gods, trying to appease and pacify them.
It is ironic and sad that those who worship the true God and experience His grace, take advantage of that grace and do not live their life in an effort to please Him.
Verse13 shows that the heathen sailors had more compassion than Jonah.
They did not want to throw him overboard and tried desperately to get to land without doing that.
They begged God’s pardon for what they had to do to Jonah.
God’s Answer (1:15-16)
15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
God responded by calming the sea.
The sailors recognize that the true God is Jonah’s God, so they pray to him—Yahweh… the revealed God… known to us as Jehovah.
And after the sea calms, they feared Yahweh and offered sacrifices to Him and made vows--probably vows to follow and obey Him.
This is an example of God working the bad out for the good of all—of his wonderful grace… salvation through faith… not works.
The reluctant prophet won a whole ships’ crew to the Lord.
But, his original call goes unanswered.
The sailors move from fearing the storm to fearing the Lord, just as the disciples did in the boat that night when Jesus calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41).
This is in contrast to Jonah who disobeyed God.
More Discipline (Verse 17)
17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
God is not through with Jonah.
The same God who spoke and nothing became everything in the universe… now prepares a special fish for a special job.
A great fish comes along and swallows him.
There is more irony here.
Remember, Jonah went down, down, down in the first few verses.
Now God is sending Jonah down further to the depths of Sheol—into Hell, itself(2:2).
At least that is what it felt like to Jonah.
Three days and three nights does not require a full 72 hours… but only the remainder of the first day, one 24-hour day plus any part of the third day… as the Hebrews reckoned time.
Our Lord said His burial would be the same length of time.
Our question today is: Are we on our way to Nineveh… or to Tarshish?
Are we still in the belly of the fish?
What will it take for God to get us back on track?
Remember, We are either fishers of men… or fish bait!
The choice is ours!
And the way we live our lives shouts our choice to the rest of the world.