“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.
Have you ever just wanted to run away? Well you are not alone because we have probably all felt like trying to escape from our circumstances at some point in our lives. As I visit with those in the ministry, especially pastors they will often say, “sometimes I just want to run away.” Partly because it is hard trying to please so many and the weight one can carry trying to care for them along with the feeling of responsible that comes with so many lives. Sometimes even preachers want to run away from the pressure. When you consider all the jokes about how little pastors work, it’s funny to consider what many preacher’s actually day dream about, having 9 to 5, five days a week job. The point is that we all entertain the thought of escaping at some time in our lives. In the book of Jonah we find such a man, one who didn’t just dream about running away he actually did. Jonah ran from responsibility, and the revealed Word of God. This is a story about someone very much like us; it’s a story of struggle between the Fathers clear call and Jonah’s callous feelings. It is here that we see Jonah wrestling over the Will of God, his deliberate disobedience, and the reckless rejection of his calling. It involves problems, pouting, pursuit and prayer, but most of all it’s a story about second chances. Now before we jump in we need to note that there are some who interpret the book of Jonah as an allegory, a story with a hidden meaning. But I am convinced that it is an accurate portrayal of literal events, a story that we can both believe and accept as accurate. Why do I believe this, because when the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign to prove that what he said was true, Jesus replied in Matt 12:39-40, “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.” It is here that Jesus used the story of Jonah as a historical illustration of his own literal resurrection. So if we reject a literal interpretation of Jonah we also have to question the legitimacy of the Lord. It is in this passage that we see several important lessons, first:
- God still speaks and invites us to join Him in His work
Verse one says “The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai” Now we don’t know the specifics on how God spoke, it may have been an audibly voice, like with Adam and Abraham or it could have been in a vision as He did with Ezekiel, or He could have spoken to him in a dream like He did with Joseph. We don’t know how God chose to speak to Jonah but we know that He did. The point is that God’s call is personal and it’s what gives us purpose. The second thing that we see is that when God speaks:
- Sometimes we dislike what we hear
“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” God’s call is clear; there is no guessing at what God wants. God was calling Jonah to take His message of judgment to Nineveh. Yet this is the last place on earth that Jonah thought God would send him and the last place he wanted to go. Nineveh was not a nice place, it had a reputation for corruption and cruelty. It was the Assyrian policy to never keep their prisoners of war alive, if fact they took pleasure in others pain and often skinned their victims alive. God was sending Jonah to preach to his enemies. Sometimes God tells us to do things that we don’t want to do and often our reaction is one of wanting to rebel and run away. Instead of responding in obedience we feel like turning around and running in the opposite direction as fast as we can. Is God calling you to care about those you tend to see as something of a challenge? May be it’s that person at work who is having problems and God is laying it on your heart to talk to them, yet your first response is “Lord, I absolutely positively don’t want to do this. First of all, who am I to tell anyone how to live their life, I mean it’s really none of my business, and secondly why should I have to deal with this mess, it’s not really my problem. Besides they will probably just get defensive and mad at me and I don’t want to waste my time, so why don’t I just pray form a safe distance? Maybe it’s that person you know who has no friends, you see them every day and God is calling you to befriend them. But you’re thinking, “Lord, there’s a reason why they don’t have any friends, why can’t you just send someone else!” Maybe it’s that person who’s a little rough around the edges and God’s been putting them on your heart but you’re thinking, “What do I have in common with them, they are probably no interested in Jesus. What if they just drag me down spiritually into their mess, I really don’t want or need their garbage in my life.” You need to come to grips with the fact that you may not like God’s call. But when we read that Jonah was commissioned by God to go to Nineveh, it ought to remind us of our call to take the gospel to the godless. How obedient are you to the great commission? Many of us are more like Jonah, we want to defy God when He calls us to go and we want to say no. Third:
- Disobedience is always a decision in the wrong direction
“But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.” Instead of being thankful and setting out to serve, Jonah decided to run. Are you fleeing from the presence of the Lord, refusing to serve Him in the arena that you know He has called you to? It is clear that Jonah made a conscious choice to refuse the call of God. He let his feelings lead him instead of the Father, he let his mind and thoughts become his master. The result is always the same when you give self-choice control over your life instead of God’s commands. Heeding self always heads you in the opposite direction from God. Are you opposing God and heading in the opposite direction?
- When you decide to disobey there is always tempting transportation.
“He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish.” Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship that could carry him far away from the call of God. Next he bought a ticket, here we see another self-choice, a calculated decision of disobedience. When we decide to disobey there will always be some ship, conveniently moored close by, ready to carry you far from the commands of God. It’s a ship that will never be very hard to find or to full to take you on, but you will have to buy in to get on board. There will always be a cost to come aboard, but Jonah gladly paid the price of the ticket, because he believed the fair of disobedience would be easier than that of the Fathers. You may want to disagree with this but falling away from God involves follow through, it’s a calculated choice. We make plans to do wrong and then we follow through on our plans, Jonah knew where and what God had called him to yet he deliberately decided to go his own way. It says that he “found a ship.” How often do we try to justify our actions by saying, “but I found an open door.” Don’t be surprised when you try to flee the presence of God and at first things seem to fall into place. If you found the ship be careful, and if everything is falling into place because you are doing all the work and God is not involved you are heading for hurt. We love it when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, but it’s a dangerous thing to try to justify your actions simply because things seem to fit together. The truth is anytime you desire to run away from obeying God you can count on one certainty, you will find tempting transportation.
- Disobedience is always a downward
“He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.” Any path that leads you away from God is downhill. Jonah ran from what he knew was right straight into ruin. So often people who are doing what they know is wrong try to justify it by saying, they are improving their lives, that they deserve to be happy. But happiness is never found through hoping over the fence and running from the Father. The road of disobedience is always downward, it’s a path that leads to pain not pleasure. Fleeing from the presence of the Father means trading peace for problems. Jonah’s downward digression is clearly seen in the New King James, where it says, he went down to Joppa (v. 3a), he went down into the ship (v. 3b), and he went down in sleep (v. 5). As a pastor I have seen many who trade a life of serving God for a life of sin, yet seek to justify it by saying, “But look how happy I am! Things are going great!” Yet the ship that seems steady and secure and even sails on time is still sailing into a storm. Satisfaction is never found in sin, only in saying yes to the Savior. When you run from God you never get where you are going, instead you get grief and you always pay your own fare. But when you go God’s way you not only get there but He pays the fare. Which way are you running today, are you running to obey or to get away? Are you running toward a righteous life or one of ruin?