In the middle of the night a freight train speeds effortlessly along. As the locomotive rounds a turn, a bus transporting convicted criminals straddles the tracks. In one mad, climactic moment the train slams into the bus, pushing it a hundred yards down the steel tracks causing sparks to fly before the wreckage bursts into flames.
Could there be any survivors?
Authorities arrived to find a dazed correctional officer. Minutes later ankle and wrist irons are found—open. The Federal Marshal holds up the irons and announces, “We have a fugitive.”
Thus, begins the silver-screen remake of the 1960s television series The Fugitive. The suspenseful movie about Chicago surgeon Richard Kimball falsely accused and convicted of his wife’s murder.
God Found Jonah.
Jonah, too, was a fugitive. An escapee. A man on the run. As a Hebrew prophet, Jonah’s orders came from on high. He had been obedient before when instructions had come. But now, well, things were different now. This time he had been instructed to preach in Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire. Nineveh was the epitome of everything Jonah hated in the Gentile world; it stood for godless tyranny. Nothing was more repugnant to Jonah than the idea of traveling there to preach repentance.
So, when God said, “Go.” Jonah said, “No.” Jonah ran.
He’s not unlike us. We, too, run. We, also, 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 our God. As the hymn writer Robert Robinson observed:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
Eventually, we’ll learn, as Jonah did, that you can run, but you cannot hide.
God Broke Jonah.
In the movie of Jonah’s life, we view a great city, a great wind, and a great fish, but the background of this picture is scattered with reminders of God’s great grace. Because of God’s grace, the underlying lesson is this: God often breaks us to remake us.
For almost anything right to be made, it first must be broken. A tree is broken, and a house is built. The soil is broken, and a crop is grown. Grain is broken, and bread is baked. People are broken, and caring, compassionate believers are reborn. Often it is out of our brokenness that our greatest influence comes. Often before God uses a man or woman greatly, he first breaks them severely.
When the prophet was overboard and overwhelmed, “the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). For three days and three nights, Jonah endured the harsh womb of God’s grace. Yes, grace. God did provide this great fish to swallow Jonah; he could have let him drown. Then God provided the great fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. That, too, was grace.
God’s grace sometimes comes in ways we would never expect.
God Changed Jonah.
Grace changed Jonah’s life. Before this experience, several adjectives could have been employed to describe Jonah: stiff-necked, resistant, stubborn, hard-hearted, rebellious. After this exposure, other words could be used to describe this changed man: broken, cleansed, contrite, new, and obedient. Grace has that effect on people.
Grace is the glue that takes the pieces of our broken lives and binds them into something new and beautiful. Grace is the welcome mat that says to the repentant prodigal, “Welcome home.” Grace is the sponge that cleans the blotched record of our sins so that they are remembered no more. Grace is the calling that God grants to a once wayward prophet, energizing him for useful service. Grace is the announcement that there is life after failure and hope for broken, rebellious people.
Jonah learned what we need to learn about God’s grace. As the old hymn writer relates, “Mercy there was great, and grace was free.” Jonah discovered God’s incredible mercy and his unmerited grace. They were free.
The gift of grace to a rebellious and disobedient person is a future after failure and hope after a rebellion. That is the surprise of the Cross and the empty tomb. And that is the surprise of God to Jonah—and to every rebellious child.
We often obsess on the life we want as obtaining certain possessions or higher status. But the life we want is much loftier than that. It hinges on undeniable traits, disciplines, and characteristics that define the soul and heart of a person. I write about this life in 21 Days to the Life You’ve Always Imagined. The book contains twenty-one daily readings to help you focus on what matters most for a life that matters. The daily assignments that follow each chapter will help you implement what is lacking in your life to discover and enjoy the life you’ve always imagined. Click here to claim your copy.