Summary: #3 of 4 on Jonah. This message contrasts the heartless obedience of Jonah with the heartfelt repentance of the people of Nineveh. I am endebted to Dan Baumgartner of Bethany Presbyterian for many thoughts.
Four questions God asks Every Believer
Where Are You Going?
Where Do You Come From?
What Are You Doing?
What Do You Care About?
This morning we return again to the Old Testament story of Jonah… Jonah and the big fish. And again this morning, I would encourage you not to get bogged down by whether you are to read this as story, allegory, parable or factual history. Instead, let’s listen to what God might teach us this morning.
Last week as we looked at the first two chapters of the story, we learned from Jonah’s failure. And just to remind you of what we talked about, I’ve chosen three quick mental snapshots.
Snapshot one is of Jonah’s back, because he’s running away, robes flapping behind him. He was running away from God’s assignment to go to Ninevah and preach. Instead, he ran diametrically opposite, across the Mediterranean on a ship bound for Tarshish.
The second snapshot is completely black. It looks like you messed up with the camera. But the picture is black because it was taken in the belly of a whale. Jonah had been unceremoniously dumped off of the ship, and God provided a big fish to swallow him. And we saw that God used Jonah’s three days and nights in that unpleasant place to shape Jonah, to change him. In fact, he ended his time in the whale with a hymn of thanks.
And finally, the third picture is of Jonah lying on a beach. Not in a chaise lounge with a margarita in his hand…but literally lying on the beach where he has been spit up by the whale. Yecchh. And with that pleasant picture in our minds, let’s pray as we come to the scriptures.
What Are You Doing?
"I have done many things in my life that conflicted with the great aims I had set myself - and something has always set me on the true path again."
(cited in Peterson, E. H., Under the Unpredictable Plant, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992, p.9).
Again God’s call comes to Jonah, exactly as it had before, "Get up and go to Nineveh!"
Here we see Jonah being set back on the true path, not the path determined by aims that he had set for himself, but the path determined by aims that God had set.
You can’t really ever run from God. C. S. Lewis speaks of how God pursued him from agnosticism into becoming a believer in his writings.
God cares about you
I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him…
Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven”
So begins Francis Thompson’s famous, but difficult, poem entitled "The Hound of Heaven." The author sets the poem in the context of a life spent running from God. The poem pictures God like an old bloodhound sniffing our scent, always in the distance, occasionally letting out a howl to remind us that he is on our trail.
As the lengthy poem goes on, Thompson says he fled "across the margins of the world," but the refrain always comes back:
Still with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following feet, and a Voice above their beat…
He cares about what you are doing and he cares about why you are doing it.
God had gotten Jonah’s attention and his obedience but he had yet to get his heart.
Let’s Read the 3rd chapter of Jonah together.
1 The LORD spoke his word to Jonah again and said, 2 “Get up, go to the great city Nineveh, and preach to it what I tell you to say.”
3 So Jonah obeyed the LORD and got up and went to Nineveh. It was a very large city; just to walk across it took a person three days. 4 After Jonah had entered the city and walked for one day, he preached to the people, saying, “After forty days, Nineveh will be destroyed!”
5 The people of Nineveh believed God. They announced that they would stop eating for a while, and they put on rough cloth to show their sadness. All the people in the city did this, from the most important to the least important.
6 When the king of Nineveh heard this news, he got up from his throne, took off his robe, and covered himself with rough cloth and sat in ashes to show how upset he was.
7 He sent this announcement through Nineveh:
By command of the king and his important men: No person or animal, herd or flock, will be allowed to taste anything. Do not let them eat food or drink water.