Jonah was a Hebrew prophet, a spokesman for God. God called Jonah to preach in Nineveh, a wicked city, the epitome of everything Jonah hated. Jonah heard from God, but the voices of fear, prejudice, and pride drowned out God’s voice. And when God said, “Go.” Jonah said, “No.” He made a poor choice.
He’s not unlike us. We, too, run. We, too, are fugitives. We run from the haunts of our past, from the horrors of our fears, from the heaviness of our responsibilities, and even from the help of our God.
That is why the message of Jonah is needed today. The emphasis of this story is not a fish. Of the forty-eight verses in Jonah only three deal with the fish. The point of this historical account is how God dealt with a reluctant and recalcitrant prophet who made a poor choice.
If you have made some poor choices, then this story has some important lessons for you.
- Running from God is a logical impossibility.
Jonah bet his life on the false idea that he could flee from the presence of God. He lost. Running from the Lord is like trying to draw a round square. It’s a logical impossibility. God is omnipresent, you can’t escape from someone who is everywhere.
If you are on a raft in the middle of the ocean, God is there. If you are in a cave in the cliffs of some mountain, God is there. If you are in the penthouse suite, God is there. If you are homeless living in a cardboard shelter, God is there. If you are adrift in a sea of immorality, God is there. If you are distant with a heart that is cold and hidden, God is there. God is everywhere. There is nowhere you can run where God is not.
2. Poor choices often have a negative effect on those around us.
When we make poor choices, our actions often have a negative effect, bringing a storm that can shipwreck the lives of those around us. Whether we realize it or not the consequences of our actions have an effect on others, whether the action is lying, embezzling, speeding, cheating, financial misdealing, alcoholism, or child abuse.
Jonah learned this lesson the hard way. God commanded that he go to Nineveh. He had other plans. He went the opposite direction on board a ship, having paid the fare. A storm inflected wrath on Jonah and all that were around him. He may have thought: It’s my decision. It’s my disobedience and rebellion. It will have no effect on anyone else. Try to explain that to the sailors. These sailors were caught in the crossfire. They were innocent bystanders. Their problems had been created by someone else. They were feeling the blasts that were meant for someone else. They were caught in a typhoon fearful of their lives all because of a rebellious and disobedient prophet.
3. The storms God sends are not meant to sweep us away but to bring us home.
If we don’t understand this critical lesson much of our suffering and hardship makes no sense. When tragedy strikes, we may automatically and inaccurately assume that God is punishing us. And nothing could be further from the truth. While God does discipline us when we disobey, the storms are not meant to punish us but to point us toward home and help.
And when God helps, he reaches down through the storm into the murky waters to save us. It is an act of grace. That’s what the next lesson reveals.
4. God’s grace comes in unexpected ways.
In Jonah’s story, we catch a glimpse into the nature and character of God. If the narrative of Jonah’s life stopped with Jonah in the fish, we would think that God was a rather jealous and vindictive creature. But God is more than that. The book of Jonah tells us about a great city, a great wind, a great fish, but the background of this picture is scattered with reminders of God’s great grace.
For three days and three nights Jonah endured the harsh womb of God’s grace. Amazingly, God provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, rather than letting him drown.
God’s grace sometimes comes in ways we never expect. That grace changed Jonah’s life. Before this experience several adjectives could have been used to describe Jonah: stiff-necked, resistant, stubborn, hard-hearted, rebellious. After this experience other words could be used to describe this changed man: broken, clean, contrite, obedient.
Grace has that effect on people.
Grace is the calling that God grants to a once wayward people who have made poor choices, redeeming them for effective service.
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