February 6, 2011

Together We Evangelize (2) – Are You Quitting, too? (Jonah 1)

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

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We are all familiar with Jonah’s story. Are you quitting, too? Today, I would like us to reflect on this thought as we study Jonah chapter one together. In Jonah 1, the phrase ‘flee from the Lord’ appeared three times. The prophet Jonah said he was running away from the Lord. The prophet knew God, he knew that God was omnipresent, surely he knows that there is no place he can go to hide from the Lord? It was not that Jonah didn’t know no one could hide from the Lord, but what he meant was he was quitting, he refused to carry out his assigned mission.

In this chapter of 17 verses, four conversations took place: in verses 1-3, is the conversation between God and Jonah, v.6 is the conversation between the captain and Jonah, vv.8-12, the conversation between the men and Jonah and vv.14-15 is the conversation between the men and God. Many precious truths and lessons can be found in these four conversations:

I. Conversation between God and Jonah V.1-3

The word of the Lord came to Jonah: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” This verse discloses two characteristics of God: 1. The Lord is a God of absolute sovereignty 2. He is a God of grace and mercy. He gives men second chances.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh…” This was not a request, it was a command. Our God never requests men to do things for him, He commands because He is God. If we really acknowledge God as the true God, then when the word of the Lord comes to us, we must have only one response: ‘Yes, Lord.’

One time, a Bible study group in the US was studying the story about Abraham offering Isaac to the Lord, and a non-believer came to join them. During the study, the question `If you were Abraham, what would you do?’ was asked. Some said: ‘It is too difficult! It is so unreasonable!’ Finally, the non-believer was asked and his reply was, ‘This is the first time I have joined this Bible study class and this is also going to be my last, because I am very disappointed with all of you. If the Lord you believe in is who you really says he is, that he is the creator of heaven and earth and of all things, the Lord of mankind, and he wants me to offer up my son to him, I can only say `yes, Lord’, how can I say no? It seems that the God this Bible study class believes in is not the one I am looking for. Thus, I am not coming back.” After finishing, he left.

The Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah didn’t say `yes, Lord.’ With his actions, he told the Lord `no’. Verse 3 “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.” Jonah was quitting. Actually, all of us are like Jonah. The Lord says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Although we do not tell the Lord an outright `no’, we do so with our actions.

Since you came to know the Lord, how many people have you shared the Gospel to? Aren’t we saying no to the Lord with our actions? The Lord told Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” This verse also shows us that the Lord is a God who gives second chances. Since Nineveh’s wickedness has come up before the Lord, the easiest way to deal with it would have been to treat it like Sodom and Gomorrah, send fire down from heaven and destroy it.

Why did He have to send Jonah to preach to it? The Lord wanted to give them a second chance. The Lord is not willing that wicked men perish. The Lord wants to give fallen humans many chances, have you grasped this truth by now? Not only does the Lord want to give the non-believers second chances, He gives his own children second chances. The Book of Jonah records how the Lord gave Jonah a second chance. Jonah 3:1-2 “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” The Lord gives us second chances, Jonah understood it then. How about us? This year, let us grab hold of the second chance the Lord gives and share the gospel to our friends. The Great Commissions says: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

II. Conversation between the Captain and Jonah V. 6

Verse 4 records that the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. Even the very experienced sailors were afraid and each cried to his own god. The saying goes: `In poverty, men cry out to heaven. In pain, they cry out to their mothers.’ This is but natural.

However, Jonah did not pray and call on the Lord. He went down below the deck and fell into a deep sleep. Jonah was really stubborn. Have you noticed that after running away from the Lord, the path he took was a downward spiral? First, he took a ship, then went below the ship deck to sleep at a time of danger; lastly, he got thrown into the depths of the sea. This is called going from bad to worse. When a man departs from the Lord, he can only spiral downwards.

True faith will translate into a godly life, it will cause us to be careful. Some Christians, even pastors, become headline news after falling into sin. As a result, non-believers attack us, saying `Christians are no different.’ Actually they are wrong. Let me ask you: How many pastors or Christians commit grave and newsworthy sins? Not many, right? That is why one who falls becomes headline news. If such things happen daily, that is no longer news. A true believer will endeavour to live a godly life. Yes, we have our weaknesses and we do fail, but only when we wander away from the Lord. Our lives will only go from bad to worse when we drift away from the Lord.

The captain of the ship saw that everyone was crying out to his own god, but only Jonah wasn’t and he was in fact sleeping. So, the captain told him, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” I believe Jonah still didn’t go and pray, that is why the wind didn’t stop. The men were all crying out to their gods, however, these gods could not save them; only the true and living God, the Creator of heaven and earth could save them.

Sometimes, we see some devout people sincerely worshipping, but they worship the wrong god. Our responsibility is to tell them: `The true God created man, while men created false gods. We must not worship gods made by human hands; we must worship the Creator of heaven and earth, the true God.’ They do not know, let us tell them!

III. Conversation between the Men and Jonah 8-12

Verse 7 tells us the sailors sensed that this was a strange storm, so they casted lots to find out who among them was responsible for the disaster. And the lot fell on Jonah. They asked Jonah six questions:
1. Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?
2. What do you do?
3. Where do you come from?
4. What is your country?
5. From what people are you?
6. What have you done?

After Jonah answered all their questions, these idol-worshipping pagans came to know the Creator of heaven and earth. Verse 16 “At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.” God’s works are truly marvelous. Jonah was not willing to preach the gospel to the pagans, but he led pagans in the ship to a knowledge of the true God. How did Jonah lead them to God?

1. He told them his identity and his faith in verse 9 – He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” In other words, he introduced them to the Creator of heaven and earth. Jonah told them two things: 1. His identity – I am a Hebrew, 2. His faith – I worship the one and only true God.

The Bible says this terrified them, for they were in the middle of a violent storm and Jonah tells them my God is the God who creates storms. Brothers and sisters, have we told others our identity and our faith? You are a Christian, you believe in the one and only true God, do your friends and relatives know that? Does your business partner, colleagues know? Christian, we must be the best doctor, the best lawyer, the best businessmen, the best worker, the best employer, but we must tell the person beside us – `I am a Christian, I believe in the one and only true God, I believe in Christ Jesus’ – this is the best testimony.

2. He told them his failure in verse 10 – “This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so).” Jonah told them about how he was fleeing from the Lord, how the Lord wanted him to go to Nineveh and in refusing, he instead took the ship to Tarshish; he told them that the Lord sent the great wind to impede him.

This was truly a testimony of failure. However, this testimony caused all those in the ship to come to know how fearful God is, and they became terrified. `Jonah, the God you worship is so terrifying!’ And so they asked him, “What have you done?” meaning, “Why did you do that! You can’t do that!” Sometimes, we are disgraceful because those who worship idols show more reverence for God than we do. Sometimes, we conduct ourselves too casually. As a result, our non-Christian friends ask us `How come you do that even though you are a Christian?’ Our God is the one and only true God. We must be careful with our life and attitude, because people tend to infer through our lives the kind of God we worship. The men asked Jonah, “What have you done?” Praise God, Jonah openly acknowledged his failure and this resulted to the whole ship coming to God. God is truly amazing!

3. He assumed the responsibility which was his in v.12 – “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” Jonah was a true Christian. He was willing to assume the consequence of his actions. He told them to throw him into the sea to calm it down for he knew he was the cause of the storm. Jonah demonstrated a willingness to bear the consequences of his actions.

Consider well this statement: Religion is escape from God while faith is a witness to God. Man invented religion. Religion entails a lot of rituals and ceremonies. Even though one doesn’t have any relationship with God, he may simply observe the rituals and ceremonies. In other words, it is like saying: `I have done all that you required, now just bless me and we’re okey; do not come looking for me.’

So religion is fleeing from God. But faith is different. There is an intimate relation between faith and the God one believes in. We must testify of the God we believe in through our faith. Our faith and our moral life are closely related, our faith determines what kind of person we become. There is a strange phenomenon in Hong Kong. In the police departments, they worship an idol called Guan Gong. But the Hong Kong Mafia also worships this same Guan Gong. Just imagine, as they prepare their criminal activities, they ask from the Guan Gong to protect them and let their operations go smoothly, if granted success, they promise Guan Gong a gold pig. But on the other hand, the police also says to Guan Gong – “Today w will go catch criminals, please help us succeed and keep us safe. After the successful operation, we will give you a gold pig.” If you were Guan Gong, which one will you help? True faith bears one’s own responsibility and has a standard of morality. Jonah’s ability to take up his own responsibility and the cost of his commitment shook the men in the ship. Such faith showed that the God he believes in is real.

IV. Conversation between the Men and God 14, 16

In verse 17, we find that these pagan sailors prayed at least three times. First, in verse 5, they each cried out to his own god. But obviously the prayers weren’t effective for they did not call on the true God. Then we see them praying a second time, and a third. The second prayer is directed towards the true God of heaven and earth. The second prayer helps us see once more God’s glory and greatness:

1. The first time they prayed to the true God v. 14 – Then they cried to the Lord, “O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord have done as you pleased.” They asked Jonah what they should do and Jonah told them to throw him into the sea, but they were not willing; so they did their best to row back to land. Obviously they valued Jonah’s life, but they had no choice, so they prayed to the Lord and told Him: “You are a God who do as you please.” They understood that the great God does whatever he wants to do, no one can stop him, because he does as he pleases. As humans, we can only obey him.

This group came to know God just then, yet they had an accurate knowledge of God. Sometimes, as old believers, we talk of church traditions, what we can gain, etc. such that our faith becomes more and more man-centered than God-centered- `what do I think , what do I feel’ and we have forgotten what God wants of us. May we humbly learn from the new Christians, God is a God who does as he pleases, we can only obey his will.

2. The 2nd Time They Prayed to God v.16 – “ At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.” v. 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. Those men saw, and from their hearts arose great fear for the Lord, they worshipped the Lord. From the mouth of Jonah, they heard of the Lord, now their own eyes saw God’s wondrous works, so they immediately responded – they offered a sacrifice to the Lord; and then they made vows to him.

Sacrifice and vows showed they worship Him and made a covenant with Him. We do not know what vows they made to the Lord. I believe they made have said: `From this day on, I will not worship other gods. I will only sacrifice to You, worship only You, because you are the one and only true God.’ When I read Jonah chapter one, I gave it a title: “Not perish but have eternal life.” Why? V.6 The captain told Jonah to “get up and pray, so that God may take notice of us so that we will not perish.” In verse 16, they were saved; in fact, they were saved eternally because they came to know the true God, so they shall not perish but have eternal life.

Lastly, I want to use three `but’s’ to end this message. There are three but’s in Jonah chapter 1: v.3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord; v.5 but Jonah had gone below deck v.17 But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. The 1st `but’ is Jonah’s disobedience. The second `but’ is Jonah’s downward spiral, the 3rd `but’ is God’s grace. God did not want Jonah to continue spiraling downwards. How about you, are you quitting too? Do not forget that God’s grace is abundant to help us, stop spiraling downwards, return now!