IT’S NOT TOO LATE
JONAH WAS A REBEL
By Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
February 3, 2019
TEXT: Jonah 1-4
When Jay Leno was the host of the Tonight Show, he loved to do “man on the street” interviews. One night, he found some young people on the street and asked them questions about the Bible. “Can you name one of the 10 Commandments?”, he asked two college-aged women. One replied, “Freedom of speech?” Jay Leno then asked the other woman: “Complete this sentence: Let he who is without sin…”. Her response was: “have a good time?” Mr. Leno then turned to a young man and asked, “Who, according to the Bible, was eaten by a whale?” The confident answer was, “Pinocchio!”1
Today we continue our sermon series “It’s Not Too Late”. And while it is true that Pinocchio was eaten by a whale --- and it really wasn’t too late for Pinocchio to change – our story today is about Jonah, that prophet from the Old Testament, that was a rebel. And really our story today is not just about a rebel and a whale – it is a story of God’s amazing grace!
Now many of us know the basics of the story of Jonah – even if you didn’t grow up in the church, the story of a man being swallowed by a whale is somewhat familiar. His story can be found in the book of the Old Testament, that has the same title as his name – Jonah. Now it is a very short book, with only 4 chapters. I invite you to turn to that now – it is found between Obadiah and Micah – which probably doesn’t tell you much. But use your table of contents and you should be able to find it. We are going to really do a whirlwind overview of the story of Jonah…so you’ll want to keep your Bibles out so you can follow along.
The first chapter is really the part of Jonah’s story that we are most familiar with. Instead of reading it – let’s hear Mary Margaret from Corinth Baptist Church – tell us of the story of Jonah, the rebel who tried to hide from God.
A 5-minute video will be shown here – and can be accessed at:
Jonah was a prophet who was called by God to go and preach to Nineveh – but Jonah said no. It was his mission – it was God’s plan for him to go. But Jonah wanted nothing to do with God’s plan to preach to the Ninevites. In fact, he wanted to get as far away from God’s plan as he could.
But why? What was the real reason Jonah said no?
Well, it could be because of the wickedness of the people of Nineveh. We know from the book of Nahum that the Ninevites were enemies of Israel. And they were evil people; terrorists lived there! The city was known for its cruelty in the way they tortured people. They were a merciless, bloodthirsty people. Maybe Jonah was afraid of the Ninevites.
Or maybe Jonah thought it was just an impossible task. It would just be way too difficult.
Or maybe, Jonah didn’t go because he thought this mission would succeed – that God would actually pardon the Ninevites. Look over at chapter 4, verse 2. After Nineveh finally repents and God does forgive the Ninevites, Jonah becomes so angry. Look what Jonah says. “So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” Jonah hated the Ninevites and didn’t believe they deserved to be saved. They didn’t deserve a second chance. Jonah wanted these pagan Gentiles to be destroyed not forgiven.
So – in order to help prevent these terrorists from being saved – he does the exact opposite of what God is calling him to do. The Bible tells us that Jonah gets on a boat in Joppa. Look at this map. Joppa is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Israel. If Jonah had decided to follow God’s calling and go to Nineveh, it would have been 550 miles to the northeast…going into the area of the city of Mosul in present day Iraq. But instead of going by land to Joppa, Jonah boarded a ship that went 2,500 miles in the opposite direction to Tarshish! As Tony Evans says, “Apparently Jonah would rather sail 2500 miles away from the will of God than ride and walk 550 miles toward it.” 2 Jonah wasn’t just saying no – he was clearly saying, “No Way – I’m not having anything to do with Your plan God. I’m going to do the exact opposite!”
Have you ever felt that way? Maybe you’ve known what God wanted you to do – but you weren’t happy about it – so you just ignored His calling or did just the exact opposite. For example, have you ever had someone in your life that you knew God was calling you to forgive, but you just couldn’t do that, so you did the opposite and hung on to the grudge? Or maybe you heard God was calling you to go and reconcile with someone who hurt you – but you couldn’t even stand the thought of getting near that person – so you went in the exact opposite direction of that person? Or maybe you know God wants you to change whatever behavior or habit you are doing – but you just totally ignore God’s commands?
I know I have known people in the past who, for whatever reason, stop going to church because they are struggling with some choices they are making in their lives that they know are contrary to what God wants them to do. So, they remove themselves from the church – so they don’t have to hear the message of God. They are like Jonah in a way – trying to hide from God.
Or maybe – maybe they think it is just too late for them. They’ve just gone too far away from God – the total opposite direction. Storms are brewing all around them, like the storms on the sea that Jonah experienced on his way to Tarshish. Instead of realizing that God might just be in the storm and is re-directing them. Instead they think it is time to just give up and throw in the towel… and sometimes, much like Jonah, they even become self-destructive or even suicidal.
But – (and that is always the important word!!) – but you can’t run away from God! God is everywhere AND God never gives up on you!
As it says in a song called “Constant One” – “There is no place that I could run that God won’t chase me down. There is no place that I could hide that I will not be found”.3 Even though Jonah disobeyed God – and tried to run away and hide from God – God was there. Every step Jonah took away from God – God took a step toward Jonah.
Just think – God could have given up on Jonah. He could have gone to find someone else to do the preaching in Nineveh and left Jonah all together. But He doesn’t. In fact, He does everything He can to get Jonah back. Even to the point of sending a storm – and then appointing a whale to swallow Jonah in the sea.
We often think that the whale swallowing Jonah was God’s punishment of Jonah. But really, if you think about it, it really was an act of grace. God wanted to save Jonah and give him another chance.
So, for 3 days, Jonah stays inside the belly of the whale and realizes that the best place to be is in the center of God’s will – rather than trying to run away in rebellion from God. So, God orders the giant fish to spit Jonah out on dry land. He gives him another chance to do the right thing and go and preach to Nineveh. And this time, Jonah says “yes”!
Reading in chapter 3, we see that by the time the message of Jonah reached the ears of the King, he was ready to repent and called for a fast for all the people and even the animals! And then everyone repented of their sins! It was a huge revival: 120,000 people turned their lives over to God – and changed their evil ways! Just as the Lord had given Jonah a second chance, God gave the Ninevites a second chance and they were saved! It wasn’t too late for any of them!
Now you would think that would really please Jonah – that it would be a real spiritual high for him. But such was not the case. Instead Jonah was angry. Look at chapter 4, Jonah goes up on a hill to watch and see God destroy the city of Nineveh. But when God saves the city, Jonah tells God that he wishes he would just like to die. He was so angry that God had shown mercy to these pagan Gentiles. They didn’t deserve to be saved. They were evil. They should be destroyed instead of forgiven. But even in the midst of his anger, God still reaches out to him and again shows Jonah His grace and mercy.
I encourage you to read the rest of the story later on today as I don’t have time to go through just how God shows Jonah one more time His grace and his mercy. The story ends with God saying that just as God continues to show His love and amazing grace for Jonah – God shows that same grace for the Ninevites. God’s forgiveness is for everyone! It is never too late to turn to God!
And that really is the message of Jonah – and really all throughout the Bible.
As has been said:
You are not too dirty for God to cleanse.
You are not too broken for God to fix.
You are not too far for God to reach.
You are not too guilty for God to forgive.
And you are not too worthless for God to love.4
It is not too late!
God’s grace is always reaching – always seeking – always wanting to redeem and call back those whom He loves so dearly.
You know I’ve always thought that the book of Jonah ends so abruptly – with Jonah just sitting there on the hillside, pouting. But really, the conclusion of Jonah’s story is found in the New Testament. Turn with me to Matthew 12:38-41. Here we read that the Pharisees were asking Jesus for a miraculous sign to prove that He was the Messiah. And Jesus says this:
“Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. 41 “The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent.
The sign of Jonah – a sign that points to Jesus! Just as Jonah is thrown into the sea – into harm’s way – because of his sin, Jesus threw himself into harm’s way, on a cross, for OUR sins. And just as Jonah was buried in a belly of a fish for three days, Jesus was buried in a tomb, in the belly of the ground, for three days. And just as Jonah came out of the fish, alive on that 3rd day – Jesus came up out of the grave on that 3rd day so that we would all have life!
The sign of Jonah – is a sign of grace – and a sign of resurrection. And there are some scholars that believe that is why the early Christians used the symbol of the fish to indicate they were Christians, long before they started using the cross as a symbol of our faith.5
Jesus is alive today! And He loves you dearly! And He has all the power and grace you need for whatever it is you’re facing – whether you are like Jonah in the storm or in the fish – or like the Ninevites, who were caught in their wicked ways – Jesus is there and is able to redeem you, if you will just open your heart to Him.
It is never too late for God to turn things around.6 It is never too late for you to be who God created you to be.
How will you respond to His call on YOUR life?
Won’t you come to Him now? Won’t you make a decision today to follow Jesus? ….
1”The Authenticity of Scripture”. htttp://storage.cloversites.com/goodnewschurch/documents/The%20Authenticity%20of%20Scripture%20(sermon).pdf
2Tony Evans, “It’s Not Too Late”, page 77. Harvest House Publishers, 2012.
3“Constant”, song by Steffany Gretzinger. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyRZ95bCyBM
4Author unknown. Found words posted on a friend’s Facebook page.
5Brian Keating, “The Sign of Jonah”, http://lhim.org/blog/2015/12/27/the-sign-of-jonah/
6Evans, “It’s Not Too Late”, page 91.