We are looking at the process of discovering God’s vision for you and this church, to discover God’s purpose for this place. To do this, I want us to look at a couple of examples we need to learn from: Jonah and Esther. Today, let’s look at Jonah 1:1-5
1 The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
4 But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold.
When God gives us a Recalculating Moment, He does so to transform us into what can only be described as Becoming Peculiar People. In other words—to stand out from everything else. Always to be different from the world. But sometimes God’s Recalculating Moment is for us to be different from the Religious Culture.
Don’t you want to be a peculiar people? The phrase is Peter’s, from the King James Version of 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a Peculiar People; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
In Greek, the phrase A Peculiar People means “a purchased possession”—something that uniquely belongs to God, acquired at great cost. We are to be Holy Oddities—Sacred Misfits. You can’t make heads or tails of us unless you bring God into the equation. But we’re going to look at one way to not be peculiar.
It’s the story of Jonah. When I was a child in Sunday School, I heard the story of Jonah from the perspective that here is a hero of the faith. At first, he didn’t want to go—in fact he would rather die than go. But God showed grace in the form of this big fish.
Jonah changed his mind and would go. The Hero, right? Wrong. Jonah refused God’s Recalculating Moment at first. Eventually he followed God’s Recalculating Moment, but he did so without The Heart Of God. Jonah shows us that it’s not enough to simply change direction. Here’s the Lessons he teaches:
1. Jonah Was A Prophet Who Wanted Nothing To Do With God.
Jonah—his name means dove. Ironic, isn’t it? Jonah’s name doesn’t fit his heart nor his attitude. Biblically, the dove was a sign of hope and peace. In the Old Testament, Doves represented hope, renewal, grace, beauty, innocence, swiftness, sacrifice, peace and good news. In the New Testament, the dove is one of the principal symbols of the Holy Spirit—a sign from Heaven. Jesus instructed his followers to be “harmless as doves.”
Hope. Renewal. Grace. Beauty. Innocence. Spirit. Swiftness. Sacrifice. Good News. Peace. Jonah is none of this. Jonah’s no dove! He’s a hawk, a vulture. Jonah’s a harbinger of judgment, a conjurer of despair, and a herald of bad news. He’s a scrappy, noisy, crow! And that’s the point. Jonah is a prophet that wants nothing to do with God. He’s an evangelist who wants nothing to do with the lost—except to see them punished and banished. Jonah Is A Portrait Of Those Who Were A People Of God But Who Have Lost The Heart Of God.
He’s a picture of a person who is Christian in name only—not in character, conduct, or conviction. He is an example of what happens to many Christians and many churches—we get turned in on ourselves, self-satisfied, self-indulgent, and happy to let the world go to hell. Jonah avoids sinners. When that’s no longer possible, he crusades against them, picketing their towns.
He first tries to ignore their existence, then he protests against them, and then he seeks to annihilate them altogether. If I had to identify the primary question that drives the Book of Jonah, it’s this: Will Jonah Ever Learn To Be A Dove, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart? And that’s the question the church must continually wrestle with: Will We Ever Learn To Be Christian, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart? This is Lesson 1 from Jonah.
2. Jonah Rejects God’s Word.
The Book of Jonah begins with a miracle—God speaks to Jonah. But Jonah resents and resists the word of the Lord, finding it to be a mighty inconvenience. It doesn’t fit into his plan. It doesn’t meet his expectations. It doesn’t agree with his beliefs. But the word comes anyway.
The miracle is that the word of the Lord still breaks in on those who have long given up listening for it or attending to it; it still comes to those who have not hungered and thirsted for it for years—if ever!
The word that comes to Jonah is firm and fixed: Go. Jonah is to proclaim the Word of the Lord to Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of the blood thirsty Assyrians. They are the enemy. Jonah is called to go to the enemy. But the crucial thing is how God sees this enemy.
First of all, He sees they are wicked. In fact, their wickedness has come up before God and reached a tipping point in heaven. God’s had enough; He’s going to act.
But notice the second thing God sees in Nineveh—she is a great city. Her greatness is not just in sheer physical size. The Hebrew word used in the text means more than magnitude. It speaks of importance and weightiness. Nineveh’s greatness is her potential—if only she turned from her wickedness.
Unless We See People, Towns, Cities, Cultures, Civilizations, Neighbors, And Strangers As God Sees Them, We Will Never Experience God’s Heart For Them. If all we miss seeing their greatness, we’ll miss their potential, and the dreams God has for them.
Jonah only sees Nineveh’s wickedness and refuses to see her potential for greatness, so he runs away. He is called to something too hard, so he flees. This is where the story gets interesting. Jonah doesn’t just flee the call of God or sidestep his assignment; he tries to escape God’s presence. Verse 3: Jonah…went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.
Jonah is more than disobedient—he’s practically an atheist! Jonah wants to live as though God does not exist—or at least as if God has no claim on him. Those Who Have A Jonah Heart Want God’s Blessing But Want Nothing To Do With Either God’s Purposes Or Presence. Jonah is not a worshiper—he avoids God’s presence. He’s not a follower—he avoids God’s call,. Jonah is a Consumer Of Blessings.
This Jonah heart is in each of us. We all face a constant temptation to demand God’s blessing but avoid obedience and service. Entire church communities can have a desire to seek God’s blessing, but not His Face or His Kingdom. Entire churches are sometimes preoccupied only with What’s In It For Me.
Entire churches are tempted to be consumers but not worshipers or followers. When that happens, everyone is impoverished. The church—which is to be the very body of Christ in the world, becomes just another country club—bored, snobbish and flabby. The world that so desperately needs the gospel of Christ is left to stew in its own juices. When A Church Craves God’s Blessing But Shuns His Presence And Avoids His Purpose—It Has Lost Its Heart For God.
Let’s finish the story, and see why Jonah isn’t a hero. Jonah flees, but he doesn’t get every far. He books passage on a ship bound for Tarshish—a city at the edge of the known world. Here’s something I learned just this week about the name Tarshish. According to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Tarshish is a Phoenician word from the Akkadian meaning Smelting Plant Or Refinery. In biblical times, metals were obtained from the ore by fire. He’s trying his best to get as far away as he possibly can.
But Jonah jumps out of the pan and into the fire. God Pursues Jonah Through A Storm, Still Wanting Jonah’s Heart The sailors on the boat force Jonah to confess his identity, and they discover that he’s the source of the trouble.
At Jonah’s request, they throw him into the sea. Jonah is suicidal. God sends a large fish to swallow Jonah whole. Three days later, the large fish spews him up on the shore. Jonah, duly chastised, heads to Nineveh and does his duty. He only does it because the pain of God’s chastisement is greater that his desire to run away.
He preaches fire and brimstone and then goes and camps on the outskirts of Nineveh, waiting for God’s fireworks to fall on the city and its people. But something strange takes place. The king of Nineveh hears Jonah’s message, and he’s broken in his heart. He puts on sackcloth and ashes and calls on the city to fast, pray, repent, and trust God’s mercy. The entire city turns to God, and God shows mercy. And Jonah couldn’t be more miserable.
Jonah is a representative of a class of people we meet in the pages of Scripture, in the drama of life, and in the pews of our churches. He is a Refuser Of Festivities. He misses the grace of God and lets bitterness take root. Like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he won’t join the party; he won’t live in grace.
God is involved in an extravagant, surprising, mercy-drenched business—seeking and saving those who are lost, throwing feasts once they’re found—but Jonah and his ilk sit on the sidelines and sulk about how hard God is on them and how soft he is on everyone else. They stew about things taken away from them, and things they never wanted others to have that God has given to them without measure.
In C. S. Lewis’ story, The Silver Chair, a selfish little girl named Jill asks the great lion Aslan—the story’s Christ figure—if he eats girls. Aslan responds, “I have swallowed boys and girls, men and women, kings and kingdoms.” And here is an even more interesting question: Has He swallowed you?
How are you handling God’s Recalculating Moments in your life? With joy? Or with the resentment of Jonah?
- Remember that to follow God’s directions, we have to change our direction. And to change our direction, we need to bring along the right attitude. What needs to change with your attitude?
- It’s done by putting aside our fear of failing or the uncertainty of how it will happen. Don’t wait for someone else to step up. It’s time for you to step out.