Today begins a study of the book of Jonah. Jonah is a book that you are familiar with if you grew up in church. You have no doubt seen the story on a flannel graph board, or in a movie, or read the story to your children at night as you put them to bed. My goal in preaching through this book is not to go merely through the story and tell you about it, but I want to get into the story behind the story. You see, many people today read a story like this and just try to find themselves in it, which I very much encourage you to do, and I will be asking you questions and pointing things out so you do find yourself in the story. Don’t stop there though, as we read last week, Jesus opened the scriptures to the disciples on the Emmaus Road and told them how they pointed to Him. So, we would be remiss if we read and studied this book of the old Testament and didn’t find Jesus in the story. Simply put, that is why I want to go through this book, because we will find Jesus in this story, and we will wrestle with ourselves, and our view of God, and ultimately Hid saving work on Earth.
Today, what I am going to do is read the entire book to you. It will take less than ten minutes. The reason I am going to do this is to give you the whole scene of the book so you see the broad landscape, and can hear the whole thing at one time. I also want to encourage you to read it at lease once a week all the way through as we go through it. It should take less time to read it silently than it does out loud. As you read though, don’t read it the same way each time. Look for different things in the story. Look at God’s activity, look for Jonah’s responses. Look for different things each time you read it, and take note of those things. Most of all, look for Jesus in the story.
A few preliminaries before we read the book.
Jonah was a prophet who lived and prophesied during the reign of king Jeriboam II 782-753 BC. He is the fifth of the twelve minor Prophets in the Old Testament. There is no firm date of when this book was written down, but is thought to have been written between the middle of the 8th and third centuries BC.
While there are modern scholars who believe that this book is either allegory, or parable and not historical narrative. I believe along with most modern orthodox evangelical scholars that this is whats known as a Prophetic Narrative. A story that reports actual events, and is also meant to teach us many lessons about who God is, and our relationship to him. While there are many facets to this story, and many lessons to be learned from this book, the overarching theme of this book is that boundless, and limitless compassion of God. That the Love and compassion of God extends to “us” as well and “them”.
It is whats known as Didactic, that is that it teaches the reader key lessons. While the main theme is God’s mercy to all, there are several other themes present as well. those are: God’s control over the events on the earth, God’s passion to get His word out to the nations, the need for repentance, and how God responds when people repent.
Believe it or not, the main category for this book is satire. It is meant to expose our humanity in a way that is clear, and understandable. We see very clearly that Jonah is not a hero in this story, he is a reluctant servant, and he often has a bad attitude, and God uses him anyway to accomplish His purposes. SO in that way, it should be very easy to find ourselves in this story.
What we are going to do today is read the whole thing, and then I want to give a few broad points for you to consider as you read and study this book for yourself.
SO, real quick rundown of the book. Jonah is chillin’ somewhere, he is a prophet, so assumably he is used to hearing from the Lord. God speaks to his and tells him to go to Nineva. Jonah is upset at this. We don’t know why right away, but we find out later it is because he does not like the People there and he does not want God to show His mercy to them. This dude is racist. He is not afraid of what will happen while he is there, he is not afraid of rejection, he is very confident that God will work as he proclaims the word, what he runs from is the fact that he knows that God will move on these people, and he would prefer them all be dead, wiped away. Think about that for a minute, have you ever viewed someone, for whatever reason as not worthy of God’s rescue. Maybe for their skin color, or their background, or their political views, or sexual orientation. That is what Jonah was doing, he was trying to play God and determine who should be saved, and who should not.
So, we all know the ship story, they get upset, and throw him overboard, eaten by a big fish, prays to God from the belly of the big fish. Then obeys, Nineva repents and Jonah is all happy right? No, he is fuming because God showed His mercy on them. Then he goes outside of the city to see what happens, and there is this little story about the plant that grows up one day and then withers and Jonah gets mad. Well, as we go, we are going to get into several of those facets of the story, but today, I just want to focus on one thing.
As you consider this book today, I want to draw your attention to one phrase. the first phrase of this book. “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai,”
This book, at its core is about God’s character, his compassion and mercy, but it is put on display in contrast to the character of Jonah. The primary vehicle for the display of God’s compassion for Jonah himself, and also the people of Nineveh is displayed in the delivery and response to the Word of God. The way that God saved the People of Nineveh was through delivering His word to Jonah, and then having Jonah deliver it to Nineveh. This was true then, as it is now. The primary vehicle for sharing the Love of Jesus Christ, and the saving work of God to this lost and dying world is through the Word of God contained in the Bible. There is no greater call for us as Christians than to live out, study, and proclaim the word of God. There is no program, or outreach, no system, or strategy that is more effective than the shining display of a people who have brought their own lives into conformity of Gods word, and proclaim that word to others as well.
Some of you wonder why I preach so long on Sundays, it is because I believe along with many others that the proclamation of Gods word is the most important thing we do as a church. Individually, the most important thing you do as a Christian is to study, and apply the word of God. To preach it to yourself so to speak. So whether it is on an individual, or corporate context, if your activities as a Christian are more about hanging out, or being associated with people who do good things, and they are not thoroughly immersed in receiving, understanding and applying God’s word, I am not saying you aren’t a Christian, but you are in danger of being eaten by a big fish.
That is why a spoke a word of caution to you about books like “Heaven is for Real”. As I said, I am not completely opposed to those books, or movies. If you like it, thats great. I got some questions this week related to my statements and I do want to clarify a little bit. What gets me about the frenzy over this movie is not that I don’t think it gets people interested in things of God, or that it may be an evangelistic tool, or faith giving to people. What gets me is that we have a book that is written by people who have seen the resurrected Christ in the flesh, and no one seems to really get fired up about that. Do you realize that I have been the pastor here for almost two years, and I have gotten push-back on several different occasions, and do you know what, not a single one that I can recall is a follow up question about something I said about scripture. So far, any time I have gotten criticism, or critique, it has been on a periphery issue. Now, I am not saying those weren’t valid. So keep bringing them. What I am saying is that in two years, almost 100 sermons, over 50 hours of opening the scriptures to you, not one conversation has been, “you know Bryan, I was reading through the text of last weeks message, and something seemed strange to me, can you explain this…” I am not here to berate you, but honestly, it worries me.
Do you desire to put God’s mercy on display for the world to see? Do you want people in your life to see Jesus through you? Do you want to be a witness to the power and redeeming work of Jesus on this earth? If you do, the primary way that that love is displayed is what you do when the word of the lord comes to you.
If you are frustrated by your witness, or are confused as to what you are to do in life, or maybe you are struggling in a particular area of life, you do not need to hear what Dr. Phil has to say about things, you need to have the word of the Lord come to you. The beauty of this is, that we have the Word of the Lord written down for us to study at our very fingertips, and many of us would rather turn on Facebook, Fox news, or CNN, or some other word to fill our minds with, when what we need is to hear the word of the Lord.
As the word of the Lord comes to us, we have a decision, we can either bring our lives into glad submission to it, or we can try Jonah’s route and see how that works out for us.
Let me plead with you for a second as we beginning this study. Don’t see this study as learning about a guy that got eaten by a fish, we need to be challenged by this story, that God has marching orders for us, and we can either follow Him, or we may find ourselves
So, lets take a few minutes as we close, and I want you to ask the Lord to speak to you today. Ask Him to speak to your heart about what He wants you to hear in His word. Are there things you are doing that you know ore against His revealed will? are there things you feel like he has asked you to do hat you are putting off? lets all spend some time right now pleading with the Lord to give us a fresh passion and vision from Him today, and this week as we study this great book.
My prayer as we study this book is that God would give us fresh amazement at who He is, and that he would help us to bring ourselves more and more under glad submission to His word.