JONAH AND THE PAGAN SAILORS
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.