Jonah 4:1-11 NET

1 This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “Oh, LORD, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! — because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment. 3 So now, LORD, kill me instead, because I would rather die than live!” 4 The LORD said, “Are you really so very angry?” 5 Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made a shelter for himself there and sat down under it in the shade to see what would happen to the city. 6 The LORD God appointed a little plant and caused it to grow up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to rescue him from his misery. Now Jonah was very delighted about the little plant. 7 So God sent a worm at dawn the next day, and it attacked the little plant so that it dried up. 8 When the sun began to shine, God sent a hot east wind. So the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, and he grew faint. So he despaired of life, and said, “I would rather die than live!” 9 God said to Jonah, “Are you really so very angry about the little plant?” And he said, “I am as angry as I could possibly be!” 10 The LORD said, “You were upset about this little plant, something for which you have not worked nor did you do anything to make it grow. It grew up overnight and died the next day. 11 Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh, this enormous city? There are more than one hundred twenty thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, as well as many animals!”

We have been taking a look at the Old Testament book of Jonah this month. In most of the Old Testament, the Prophets of God are the ones his people should be patterning themselves after. But Jonah is the odd person out in that regard. All through the book, we learn that Jonah is charged to obey God’s plan, but he tries to follow Jonah’s plan. God’s plan was to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah’s plan was to go as far away from Nineveh as he could possibly go. Thus, the storm, the frightened sailors, the toss overboard, almost dying in the belly of Sheol, and a rescue – and some time to evaluate things in the stomach of a fish.

When Jonah finally agreed to obey God’s plan to go to Nineveh — he adapted his plan. He got burped up on the beach. He went to Nineveh and he preached there. But his purpose was still not God’s purpose. God’s plan was to save the Ninevites. Jonah’s plan was to condemn them, and to have a front-row seat at their execution. Once again, God intervenes. The Ninevites repented. They humble themselves – they fast – they pray. God relents. They did what God wanted them to do, and God responds in his grace. But that was not part of Jonah’s plan, and he was angry about it.

Jonah’s prayer expresses his anger at God’s grace (1-3).

The fact that God relented from destroying the Ninevites “displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry.” If someone has God’s heart, then seeing someone repent and turn to God should not make him angry. If someone wants to see other people saved, then that someone should not get angry when God steps down and gives them the grace to repent and be saved.

Jonah 2 showed us Jonah’s grateful prayer for God’s grace in rescuing him from the danger of dying in the ocean. But in Jonah 4, this same God manifests his same grace to rescue the Ninevites and this same prophet gets angry. Notice why Jonah is angry. He tells God “this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.

Jonah’s problem was not his theology. He knew that when the LORD was having Moses go back up Mount Sinai for the second copy of the ten commandments, he revealed himself as “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7 NET). So, Jonah knew that it was God’s nature when he finds iniquity, transgression or sin to come to those people with his grace, to be slow to anger toward them and to treat them mercifully.

But God’s grace was not in Jonah’s plan that day. He did not want God to manifest his grace. Brother John Roller describes God’s grace as his “generosity in giving us good things that we don’t deserve to have.” God was showing his grace to the Ninevites by giving them a word of warning through Jonah. But Jonah did not want to be a representative of God’s grace to the Ninevites. He wanted to be a representative of God’s judgment.

When Jonah discovered that God intended to rescue the Ninevites, he got so angry that he asked God to kill him instead. Now, I have never been that angry, but I can understand that kind of anger. When anger takes hold of a person, it leads him to say things and do things that go overboard. Jonah was experienced with that. But it wasn’t just God’s grace that Jonah was reacting to.

Jonah’s ordeal while waiting reveals his anger at God’s sovereignty (4-9).

Previously, in the book of Jonah we saw God use a ship, a storm and a fish to teach Jonah a lesson. In this chapter, God uses the sun, a plant, and a worm. The section begins and ends with the same question. God asks Jonah if he is really so very angry about his sparing the Ninevites. Then Jonah goes outside the city, and he sits and stews. He is watching the city. He knows God has spared it, and it makes him mad. While Jonah is watching, the sun comes out, and it starts to make him uncomfortable. But God had placed a plant near where Jonah was watching, and God by his sovereign power caused that plant to grow so that it shaded Jonah from the sun. God had appointed that little plant and “caused it to grow up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to rescue him from his misery.” Jonah was very delighted about the little plant.

But the next day, this same sovereign God sent a worm to attack the plant. The plant died that day, and Jonah got so hot that he also wanted to die.

Now, it just so happened that while I was writing this sermon, I got to this point and it became very hard for me to see what I was doing. The sun was coming through the window in the pastor’s study. I did not get angry. All I had to do was stand up, go to the window, and drop the blinds.

That incident reminded me that Jonah was still trying to do his ministry according to Jonah’s plan. God had not told Jonah to leave the city. Jonah just wanted to get away and stew. God did provide the plant for Jonah by his sovereignty, but God also provided the worm.

Jonah had no real reason to be angry at God because of the worm. Jonah did not plant that plant. God did. God did not owe Jonah another comfortable day.

You and I have to come to grips with God’s sovereignty. He does things according to his plan, and he does not have to get our approval to do it.

This applies to our prayer list as well. We have a list of people who we ask God to heal and save every day. But God in his sovereignty does not heal and save these people every day. He has reasons for what he does, and reasons for what he doesn’t do. At the end of the day, we need to evaluate what happened and what did not happen on the basis of God’s sovereignty. We need to be able to say what Job did when he lost everything: “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. May the name of the LORD be blessed!” (Job 1:21 NET).

Now, if we or someone we love is suffering, we should follow the example of Jesus and pray for our Father to remove that cup. But we should also be willing to say “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NET).

That was Jonah’s problem. He knew God was gracious and merciful, but he wanted God to be gracious and merciful according to Jonah’s plan, not God’s. It doesn’t work that way.

God showed Jonah that he had no right to be angry at him (10-11).

The plant was a real plant, but it was also a parable. God used Jonah’s ordeal of the plant and the worm to show Jonah that every good thing and every bad thing that happened to Jonah was all in God’s plan. Jonah didn’t plant that plant, and Jonah didn’t kill that plant. The LORD gave and the LORD took away. Jonah’s proper response should have been “May the name of the LORD be blessed!”

God told Mary that he had some good news and some bad news. The good news is she is going to give birth to the Son of God, and he is going to save his people from their sins. The bad news is that there was going to be a sword of suffering. She felt that sword as she watched her son crucified. But through it all, she was right there, trusting God to work out his plan.

God told Peter that he had some good news and some bad news. He said to Peter that the good news is he was going to use him as the foundation of his church. The bad news is that when he gets older, they’re going to tie him up and bring him where he doesn’t want to go. Peter would remember that when they were preparing him for his own crucifixion. But through it all, he was right there, trusting God to work out his plan.

God told Paul that he had some good news and some bad news. Paul would become a great missionary, and speak to kings and governors, proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. But he would also suffer much for the sake of Christ’s name.

When we spent some time in Hebrews 11, we saw that pattern in the lives of the heroes of faith. They were great men and women, not because everything went well for them, but because they had learned to trust God as he worked out his plan.

Abraham trusted God that he would make good on his promise of a land. The only land he ever actually owned there was a burial plot.

Joseph trusted God that he would make him a great ruler. He held on to that trust while languishing as Potiphar’s slave and then in prison. He held on to God’s sovereignty.

All these great heroes were tested, and passed the test. Jonah was failing the test. His anger at how things were going was causing him to lose sight of God’s heart for the nations. He should have been cheering when he was grumbling. He needed to get his eyes off the dead plant and focus on an entire city that had been given new life.

LORD God, give us your heart. Help us to see things from your perspective. And when things happen that we did not expect and cannot understand, help us to trust in your sovereignty.




Jonah 3:1-10 NET

1 The LORD said to Jonah a second time, 2 “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”3 So Jonah went immediately to Nineveh, as the LORD had said. (Now Nineveh was an enormous city – it required three days to walk through it!) 4 When Jonah began to enter the city one day’s walk, he announced, “At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”5 The people of Nineveh believed in God, and they declared a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat on ashes. 7 He issued a proclamation and said, “In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles: No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything; they must not eat and they must not drink water. 8 Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God, and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do. 9 Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we might not die.” 10 When God saw their actions – they turned from their evil way of living! – God relented concerning the judgment he had threatened them with and he did not destroy them.

I am enjoying our look into this ancient book about Jonah and what he experienced. Jonah appeals to me on several levels. As a former missionary, I like the way God seeks out the lost and uses his people to encourage them to repent. I also like the way God uses all the details in Jonah’s life to accomplish his will – often in spite of Jonah’s reluctance. God uses a ship, sailors, a storm – even a fish.

I can relate to this because so much of my life has involved drastic changes of location and even vocation – yet God has used all of those events and circumstances to accomplish His will in my life and the lives of my family members.

Jonah’s details are all over the map. That’s literally true. Geographically, he probably started out in Zebulun territory, which if I am reading my map correctly – means that he would have to travel about 500 miles by land to get there. So, Jonah decided to take a boat. You can’t get there by boat. The Mediterranean Sea is in the other direction.

All we really know about Tarshish is that it is a long way away from where Jonah was told to go. So, even when Jonah got burped up on the beach, he still had a long hike to get to Nineveh. I like to think about things when I’m hiking. Jonah probably thought about his experiences as he hiked to Nineveh.

Jonah had learned some of the lessons that God was teaching him (1-3a).

He probably thought about his initial decision to try to run away from God’s commission and call. Yeah, that was a bad idea. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again. He did not dawdle. He went immediately to Nineveh, as the LORD had said.

But he couldn’t get in a jet plane, so his going immediately to Nineveh would take him several weeks. So, he had time to think about other lessons the LORD was teaching him. He had probably thought about his arrogance in assuming that God was going to take care of him on that trip to Tarshish. He had fallen asleep in the storm that threatened to wreck the ship he was on. Maybe he thought that because he was an Israelite that he was safe. But he was in blatant disobedience to God’s call. There’s no safety net there.

And what about those pagan sailors. He thought they were just heathens – that they would never amount to anything. But those heathens turned out to be more spiritually sensitive than he was. In fact, when they were confronted with God’s power, they turned to God. Jonah knew all about God’s power and was trying to turn away from him.

So, Jonah winds up in the sea, sinking down to the belly of Sheol, and he cries out to God. Just when he is about to breathe in a lung full of seawater, God rescues him – with a fish. You can’t make this stuff up. God shows Jonah that he will go to extravagant ends to rescue those who cry out to him.

When Jonah finally gets to the end of the trail, he is ready to preach.

Jonah warned the Ninevites of God’s coming judgment (3b-4).

He had one message. He told them that at the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown. He didn’t beg them to repent. He didn’t lay out a master plan for their renewal. He didn’t tell them that God loved them and had a wonderful plan for their lives. No, he just told them that the end was coming.

I wonder sometimes if our gospel preaching sounds like that. We try to talk about God’s love and God’s grace, but I think all the lost people around us hear is “y’all are sinners and you’re gonna burn.”

Oh, Jonah knew all about the Ninevites. He knew that the city was the capital city of the great Assyrian empire – and these people do not play nice. The prophet Nahum said this about Nineveh:

“Woe to the city guilty of bloodshed! She is full of lies; she is filled with plunder; she has hoarded her spoil! (Nahum 3:1 NET).

The whole superpower of Assyria was known for its brutality, violence and terror. Nineveh deserved to be destroyed.

In football, we have a two-minute warning. It means the game is essentially over because there is very little chance of any team doing anything to change the score in those last two minutes. Mostly it is just to make sure both teams know that the game is ending.

Jonah probably thought of his own ministry like that. we know from his angry prayer in the next chapter that Jonah wanted to be the last prophet to speak to Nineveh. He wanted to be the one to say “last two minutes” to the losers at Nineveh.

He wasn’t prepared for what actually happened.

Jonah was not prepared for his warning to actually be effective (5-9).

From the lowest to the highest, the people believed in God this time. They declared a fast and put on sackcloth. My uncle once asked me if sackcloth was like burlap. It wasn’t. Sackcloth was worse than burlap. It’s made of hair. It’s uncomfortable and itchy. Add to that the bizarre act of sitting in a dirty pile of ashes. That’s not a fashion statement, but it is a statement. It says we’re all in trouble and we need to get someone’s attention.

That grass-roots social demonstration got the attention of the king and his nobles. The king took off his royal robe and put on his hair coat as well. He found an ash pile to sit in. He made it official by issuing a proclamation. In addition to a forced fast, the king commanded that everyone “must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God, and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do.” “Who knows?” He said. “Perhaps God might be willing to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we might not die.” There was no guarantee, but Jonah’s preaching had gotten their attention.

Jonah was not prepared for his warning to actually work. I wonder sometimes, what would we do if all those people we keep inviting to church actually showed up one day.

Jonah needed to learn that God does not want to punish sinners – he wants them to repent (10).

“When God saw their actions – they turned from their evil way of living! — God relented concerning the judgment he had threatened them with and he did not destroy them.”

God did not want to destroy Nineveh. He wanted to rescue them. He wanted to avoid the punishment Jonah warned them about.

God does not want to destroy Delco either. We owe it to our neighbors to let them know that God will punish those who rebel against him. But we also need to tell them that it doesn’t have to be that way.

“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him” (John 3:17 NET).

The purpose of God is not revenge, it’s rescue. If people refuse to repent, they will be destroyed. Make no mistake about that. But for thousands of years, our commission has been to declare the good news to the nations. The good news is that we can avoid Gehenna.

There is a lake of fire in the future of this universe. But the lake of fire is a destiny that can be avoided. God does not want to send anybody to hell.

“The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NET).

God was patient with the Ninevites, and he sent his prophet when their time had almost run out. His patience paid off because they repented.

Jonah learned that God does not want to punish sinners — he wants them to repent. We need to keep that in mind as we go about our daily work of telling people about God. We have to tell them about God’s coming wrath, but we should never forget to tell them that God’s wrath is not inevitable.

It is not necessary. Jesus has already taken God’s wrath upon himself at his crucifixion. Nobody needs to die for their personal sins because Jesus has already taken that punishment upon himself and nailed it to the cross. We have to die the first death because of Adam’s sin. But God has made a way for us to escape the second death that we have earned with our own sins. Jesus is that Way.

Repentance and faith changed the fate of the Ninevites. Repentance and faith can change anyone’s fate. We all begin as sinners — lost and condemned. But the gospel tells us that we can rewrite our destiny. By repenting of our sins and putting our faith in God’s rescue through Christ, we can change not only our relationship with God now but our permanent destiny in the future.

The prophet Jonah was surprised when his preaching worked. He shouldn’t have been. God sends us to the nations not because he wants to condemn them, but because he has a way to save them. His heart is not to destroy the lost, but to save the lost.




Jonah 1:17-2:10 NET

1:17 The Lord sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.

2:1 Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish

2 and said, “I called out to the LORD from my distress, and he answered me; from the belly of Sheol I cried out for help, and you heard my prayer.

3 You threw me into the deep waters, into the middle of the sea; the ocean current engulfed me; all the mighty waves you sent swept over me.

4 I thought I had been banished from your sight, that I would never again see your holy temple!

5 Water engulfed me up to my neck; the deep ocean surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains; the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever; but you brought me up from the Pit, O LORD, my God.

7 When my life was ebbing away, I called out to the LORD, and my prayer came to your holy temple.

8 Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs.

9 But as for me, I promise to offer a sacrifice to you with a public declaration of praise; I will surely do what I have promised. Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

10 Then the LORD commanded the fish and it disgorged Jonah on dry land.

This month’s theme is God’s heart for the nations – piggybacking on the message Penny shared on October 31st from Matthew 24:14. God’s heart is to redeem the lost from all the nations, so Jesus commissioned us to go to all the nations and preach the gospel to them. We have a job to do, and nothing should distract us from it – not even our expectation that we are at the end of the age. In fact, the closer we come to the end, the more evangelizing we must be doing.

Jonah had a job to do. He was sent to the capital city of the nation of Assyria – Nineveh. He didn’t want to do it, so he boarded a ship going far away from Nineveh. But as we saw last week, God has ways of getting us back on track when we decide to go the wrong way. Jonah wound up being thrown overboard, and God provided alternate transportation to get him to Nineveh: he was swallowed by a big fish.

Jonah prayed from the stomach of the fish (1-2).

I used to think that Jonah’s prayer from the stomach of the fish was a prayer of repentance. I now realize that I was wrong.

I made a mistake in my interpretation of this text. I want to share with you today the fact that I was wrong and had to change my interpretation. But I also want to trace the process that I used to come to the wrong interpretation. We need to be honest with each other about our fallibility. God’s word is infallible, but we are not. His word is inerrant, but we are going to make errors when we interpret it. We need to be honest about that.

So, here is the process I went through when I first read Jonah 2 – and came up with a wrong interpretation. The first thing I noticed was how Jonah said that he had prayed from the belly of Sheol.

Sheol (שְׁאוֹל) is one of the Hebrew words that the writers of the Old Testament used for the state of being dead. It’s not the only word they use for this state. Sometimes they use the word death. Sometimes they use the word destruction. Sometimes they use the word grave. Sometimes they use the word pit. But the biblical authors often use these words to express the idea that they are in danger – that they are close to dying.

When the Hebrew writers actually talk about Sheol, they describe it as a deep, dark, silent place where everyone goes when they die, and rest without any conscious awareness until they are woken by resurrection.

But often the biblical authors talk about being near Sheol as being in great danger – as being almost dead. Here are some examples of that:

“O LORD, you pulled me up from Sheol; you rescued me from among those descending into the grave” (Psalm 30:3 NET).

“The ropes of Sheol tightened around me, the snares of death trapped me” (Psalm 18:5 NET).

“But God will rescue my life from the power of Sheol; certainly he will pull me to safety” (Psalm 49:15 NET).

That is what Jonah meant when he said that he had called out to God “from the belly of Sheol.” That part I got right.

But what confused me was that the text says that Jonah prayed from the stomach of the fish that had swallowed him. I thought the stomach of the fish was the belly of Sheol. This passage actually uses two separate Hebrew words to make it clear that…

Jonah was in the belly of Sheol before he was swallowed by the fish (3-7).

In verse 3, Jonah says that God – not the pagan sailors – threw him into the deep waters, into the middle of the sea. He said the ocean current engulfed him; that all the mighty waves God sent swept over him. In other words, he had been buried at sea while still alive. He did not expect to stay alive long.

In verse 4, he said that he thought he had been banished from God’s sight, that he would never again see God’s holy temple. In other words, he did not expect to be rescued from that watery grave.

In verse 5 he said that water engulfed him up to his neck; the deep ocean surrounded him; seaweed was wrapped around his head.

The Hebrew word for “neck” is nefesh (נֶפֶשׁ). That’s the word that lots of translations render “soul.” But it’s not what people call a soul. When people think of a soul they think of something immaterial that survives the death of the body. But Jonah’s nefesh was his neck. He was nefesh-deep in the water, and the seaweed was wrapped around his head, forcing him under the water. Jonah was about to drown.

Then he went under. In verse 6, Jonah says that he went down to the very bottoms of the mountains. The NET says “the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever.” That’s not a good translation. Jonah is not talking about the netherworld. The ESV states it better: ” I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever.” Jonah is using prison language. He says that he sunk to the bottom and was being held there permanently. He was going to that watery grave. He was going to Sheol, with no hope of rescue.

Then the rescue happened. Jonah says that the LORD brought him up from the Pit. Remember that the Pit (the Hebrew word here is shachat (שַׁחַת)) is a synonym for Sheol. Jonah was in the belly of Sheol when he was drowning in the water – before he was in the stomach of the fish.

In verse 7, Jonah says that when his life was ebbing away, he called out to the LORD, and his prayer came to God’s holy temple.

Jonah’s prayer from the fish was not a prayer for help, it was a prayer of gratitude (8-10).

The fish was not Sheol. The fish was God’s gift to Jonah. It was his means of rescue from the grave. Jonah’s prayer from the fish was not a prayer for help, is was a prayer of gratitude because God spared his life.

In his prayer, he thought about those pagan sailors who had thrown him into the ocean to save their lives. He said in verse 8 that those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs. Actually, those sailors had not turned back to their pagan idols. They had offered sacrifices to Jonah’s God because of the power he displayed.

And in verse 9, Jonah promised to do the same thing. He had learned his lesson. In verse 10, we learn that the LORD commanded the fish and it disgorged Jonah on dry land. Jonah went from a grateful prayer for salvation to a grateful life of service.

That is what is supposed to happen to us as well. We are saved to serve. We are rescued to obey the great commission. The God whose heart is for the nations sends someone to our nation to preach the gospel to us. We believe in the gospel and are saved. Then, we are supposed to go to someone else, somewhere else, so that they too have the opportunity to be saved.

Now, Jonah could have prayed this prayer, and then gone back to his own life, and forgotten about the call to Nineveh. But he didn’t do that. His gratitude produced a commitment to follow his commission.

Now, I submit to you that you and I have been rescued from a worse fate than that of Jonah. He was rescued from drowning and going to Sheol – the grave. But we have been rescued from the second death – destruction in Gehenna. We have been rescued from the death from which there is no resurrection. Jonah was rescued from a temporary grave at the bottom of the sea. We have been rescued from permanent destruction.

Jonah had the good sense to high tail it to Nineveh after he got burped up on the beach. He was not perfect – he still had some lessons to learn. But the God who saved him – sent him. He was going to preach to those Ninevites.

Brothers and sisters, the God who saved us has also sent us. Jesus said, “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

” (John 20:21). It is a great thing to praise the Lord for rescuing us from hell. It is an even greater thing to show our gratitude like Jonah did – by seeing to it that other lost people get an opportunity to be saved.

LORD, make us grateful and obedient servants like Jonah.




Jonah 1:1-16 NET

1 The LORD said to Jonah son of Amittai,

2 “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large capital city, and announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention.”

3 Instead, Jonah immediately headed off to Tarshish to escape from the commission of the LORD. He traveled to Joppa and found a merchant ship heading to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went aboard it to go with them to Tarshish far away from the LORD.

4 But the LORD hurled a powerful wind on the sea. Such a violent tempest arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break up!

5 The sailors were so afraid that each cried out to his own god and they flung the ship’s cargo overboard to make the ship lighter. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold below deck, had lain down, and was sound asleep.

6 The ship’s captain approached him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Get up! Cry out to your god! Perhaps your god might take notice of us so that we might not die!”

7 The sailors said to one another, “Come on, let’s cast lots to find out whose fault it is that this disaster has overtaken us.” So they cast lots, and Jonah was singled out.

8 They said to him, “Tell us, whose fault is it that this disaster has overtaken us? What’s your occupation? Where do you come from? What’s your country? And who are your people?”

9 He said to them, “I am a Hebrew! And I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 Hearing this, the men became even more afraid and said to him, “What have you done?” (The men said this because they knew that he was trying to escape from the LORD, because he had previously told them.)

11 Because the storm was growing worse and worse, they said to him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea to make the sea quiet down, because I know it’s my fault you are in this severe storm.”

13 Instead, they tried to row back to land, but they were not able to do so because the storm kept growing worse and worse.

14 So they cried out to the LORD, “Oh, please, LORD, don’t let us die on account of this man! Don’t hold us guilty of shedding innocent blood. After all, you, LORD, have done just as you pleased.”

15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging.

16 The men feared the LORD greatly, and earnestly vowed to offer lavish sacrifices to the Lord.

The story of Jonah is amazing. But it is one of those stories that is very easy for us to look at just as a story, and fail to see its relevance for our individual lives. One of the things I want to do in this series on Jonah is to show how Jonah’s story demonstrates what God wants to do in our lives – even if we never get swallowed by a fish.

The beginning of the story is a good place to start in discovering this.

God has a plan to save sinners, and he has commissioned us to be a part of that plan (1-2).

The LORD told Jonah to go immediately to Nineveh because that city was the capital city in an empire known for its wickedness. He had a plan to save the sinners in that great city, and Jonah was part of his plan. He commissioned Jonah to go and preach. He has commissioned us to go and preach to all the nations.

Penny and I have had the privilege to share the gospel in several nations. None of those opportunities happened by accident. There were some specific nations in Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania that God wanted us to preach and teach his word in. He made it happen. I didn’t want to go to Germany with the Army, but God wanted me there. Once I got there, I discovered that I liked it, and that God could use me to share the gospel there just like he did when I was pastoring in Tennessee.

When the LORD made a way for me to go to seminary, he had already shown us the next nation which would be our target: The Philippines. God had a plan to reach a large number of Filipinos through our ministry there – mostly by training pastors and church workers. Even today, there are hundreds of amazing Christian workers in that nation who Penny and I helped to disciple. It wasn’t an accident. God loves that nation, and he had a plan to reach them, and commissioned us to be part of that plan.

I could go on and talk about all the other nations, but my biography is not the point. My point is that God has a plan to save sinners, and he has included us in that plan. He doesn’t need us to share his word. Somebody other than Jonah could have gone to Nineveh. But God commissioned Jonah to do it.

Sometimes, we ridiculously think that we can ignore God’s commission (3).

Jonah thought he could escape from the commission of the LORD. He traveled to Joppa and found a merchant ship heading to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went aboard it to go with them to Tarshish because he thought that distance would be far enough away from the LORD for him to ignore his commission. It wasn’t. No place is.

Our God is omnipresent. We could get in a spaceship and go to the far reaches of the Galaxy, and we will not have traveled one inch away from God. He is everywhere. If he gives us a commission, there is no place we can go to escape from it. Guess what? He has given us a commission. He told us to go to every place on the planet and share his good news.

We cannot escape his commission by going somewhere, neither can we escape it by ignoring it. Jonah thought that if he just focused on going away, that he could ignore God’s command for him to go to the particular place of Nineveh.

God always has a way of bringing the commission to us (4-10).

His way in this situation was to make a storm. The storm got everyone’s attention. In fact, everyone was able to realize how crucial it was to act to save their lives – except Jonah. He was the last one to wake up. When the people learned that the storm was Jonah’s fault, it provided Jonah a perfect opportunity to testify. He told them that he was a Hebrew, and that he was trying to escape the LORD. Jonah wound up doing preaching about God and his coming wrath – only the wrath was now targeting Jonah himself. God had used the storm to get Jonah to do for these sailors what he was reluctant to do for the Ninevites.

He always has a way of bringing the commission to us. If we wont obey him out of a heart of compassion for sinners, He will make circumstances warrant that we obey for some other reason. When Peter was reluctant to reach out to the Gentiles, the Lord sent him a vision. Then Cornelius – who had also seen a vision – sent some servants to Peter. So, even Peter – who would continue to have problems recognizing that Gentiles are equal with Jews in God’s sight – was convinced that God does not show favoritism.

This was one of Jonah’s problems too. He did not like the Ninevites. He was convinced that they were not worth saving. But our God has compassion on us all in spite of the fact that none of us is worth saving. He sent the storm that day because he had a plan to save some pagan Ninevites. He also sent the storm because there were some pagan sailors who also needed to be saved.

God will reach sinners, but we need to learn to stop resisting his call (11-16).

Jonah had to learn to stop resisting his call, and his having to be thrown into the sea did the trick. God wanted to reach the pagan Ninevites, so Jonah had to get off that ship because God had another means of transportation for him.

Meanwhile, notice what is happening among those pagan sailors. They are crying out to the LORD not to let them die on account of Jonah. Now, notice what happens next. They pick Jonah up and throw him into the sea. The sea stops raging. Did those pagan sailors go back to business as usual? No, the text says that the men feared the LORD greatly, and earnestly vowed to offer lavish sacrifices to the Lord. God had a plan to reach sinners, and he did. He reached these pagan sailors in spite of the fact that Jonah was not among them because he wanted them saved. God reached them anyway because that is the kind of God he is.

Now, if God can reach these sailors through the witness of a reluctant prophet, imagine what he could do through the witness of a community of believers who actually want to reach the lost for him. We discover later on in this book that even though Jonah gets the message and goes and preaches to the Ninevites and the whole city repents – Jonah still didn’t want to do it. One of the major messages of the book of Jonah is that God wants his people to have his heart for the lost.

God told Ezekiel “I will seek the lost and bring back the strays” (Ezekiel 34:16).

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. Now a man named Zacchaeus was there; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to get a look at Jesus, but being a short man he could not see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, because Jesus was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, because I must stay at your house today.” So he came down quickly and welcomed Jesus joyfully. And when the people saw it, they all complained, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much!”Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”” (Luke 19:1-10 NET).

Now, this week, you and I might encounter a Zacchaeus. Everybody around us thinks that he is unredeemable. Everybody else wants to overlook him. Don’t do it. Don’t be like Jonah. He didn’t want to go to preach to those pagan Ninevites. He never imagined preaching to those pagan sailors. He was God’s prophet, but he didn’t have God’s heart.

God has commissioned us to go to the nations with the gospel. There are some of those nations that we wouldn’t want to go to even on vacation. But God’s heart is to reach the lost there.