Follow God; Don’t Be Whale Puke!

How would you feel today if God called you to go to Pyongyang, North Korea and preach the gospel there? That would be pretty radical, wouldn’t it? It might have you taking the next eastward boat to Spain rather than flying west across the Pacific. And you might even end up being whale vomit like someone else long ago!

It is interesting to compare the heart of Jonah versus the heart of God – the God of the Old Testament with the oft reputation for hating and judging all the nations of the world.

Jonah was a prophet of the Lord who was called to go to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and preach truth and a warning of pending judgment. And you know the story as to how he went the opposite direction entirely, only to end up as whale barf on the shoreline headed toward Nineveh.

Jonah did not run out of fear, but rather out of a distaste for the enemies of the nation. He feared rather that God would show mercy on them!

Jonah 3:10 – When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Jonah 4:1-2 – But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

Relative to our comparison here between Jonah and God, it is seen graphically at the end of the story as to who has the true heart for the world. Jonah went to a hill overlooking the city in hopes of seeing its destruction. Instead, a plant that gave him shade and comfort dies from infestation.

Jonah 4:9-11 – But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

God had more mercy for the animals than Jonah had for the people.

Though there was revival in Nineveh and Assyria under Jonah, it must have lasted only for some period of time. They would take captive the northern portion of Israel, leaving only Judah and Benjamin to be later taken captive by the Babylonians. Out of this mix of Assyrians and the unfaithful, captive northern portion of Israel came a group of mixed lineage known as Samaritans – who were prominent especially in the northern, Galilean region of the Promised Land where Jesus began his ministry, as prophesied …

Isaiah 9:1-2 – Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

The Old Testament is filled with frequent references to a coming Messiah who would be a blessing to the Gentiles and all nations …

Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Look at that last line; this is why it happens … not because of anything other than God’s zeal to see it accomplished!

Isaiah 51:4-5 – “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: Instruction will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.”

The “islands” – used 14 times (of 15 in the Bible) in the book of Isaiah as the prophet speaks of the most remote places where people lived. That is how far the expansive heart of God will reach.

So it is rather clear from the biblical record that God has a heart for all peoples and all nations. And it is not as if God developed a last-minute interest in the nations after the death of Christ. God loved the world beyond any measure that was seen in his chosen people, or anyone else. The God of the Old Testament is a God of grace and love, not merely a god of judgment and fury.

And thus it should be our desire to be like God, to desire to see all peoples come to Christ – and desiring beyond that to be worshippers together with all peoples as one new family.

–           It has always been the heart of God to love people “on the other side of the tracks.”

–           It is the way Christ modeled his life and for whom he died.

–           It is the way the New Testament church was established across all tracks and boundaries.

–           And it is our eternal future in heaven forever.

This is the common denominator that the world wishes to have but cannot find in any other way. While the world struggles to find something that can bridge the boundaries that the “tracks” of all sorts have divided, the church can be a model of this in a way that is far beyond and far better than anything mere man can come up with.

We are seeking more and more as a church to do this in this community. Last Sunday night’s combined worship event with many other churches is one such effort. The #ForOurCity partnership campaign is upcoming. And there is a pretty good chance I’m going to challenge some of you to walk across some tracks with me as an application of our passage this Sunday. You might want to make sure you don’t miss that!

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The true and better Jonah

No scripture can be completely understood until we’ve learned how it points us to Jesus.  In the case of Jonah, Jesus makes it easy for us, because he actually describes himself in light of the “sign of Jonah.”  It seems that in Jesus’ day, many people were looking for a “sign,” something that would give his message credibility and authority.  Jesus will have none of it:

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them,[a] “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening. ’You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. (Matthew 16:1-4)

In Luke, we read a similar account—if not the same account but a different perspective:

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:29-32)

Notice that Luke offers more detail about what is meant by the “sign of Jonah.”  In looking at these passages, how might we see Jesus as the true and better Jonah?

  • Jonah fled the Father’s will and in so doing became a man with neither mission nor purpose. Jesus obeyed the Father’s will—even to the point of death—and his righteous obedience is credited to our account.
  • Both men experienced the wrath of God. Jonah experienced the wrath of God in the storm; Jesus satisfied God’s fierce anger when he ascended the hill of Calvary—and it’s not for nothing that on that day we’re also told of darkness at noon.
  • Jonah spent three days inside a whale; Jesus spent three days inside the grave. Both Jonah and Jesus emerged because of the miraculous power of God.
  • Both men preached a message of repentance—Jonah to the city of Nineveh, Jesus to the entire city of man.

Matthew’s focus seems to be on the similarity between Jonah and the resurrection.  Luke seems to focus on the call to repentance and the coming judgment.

What application might we draw?  A simple, though powerful one.  Without Christ, we are all Jonah.  We are all rebellious, self-righteous, xenophobic cowards with neither purpose nor mission.  We are “out to sea,” if you’ll pardon the pun.  Jesus came to save men like Jonah, he came to save you and me, and he came to save the whole world.

I don’t know about you, but I find this reassuring—that in the midst of our storms and confusion we find a renewed sense of purpose and in the midst of our disobedience we have Christ’s righteousness credited to our account.  And most importantly, we can look to the fact that this “sign of Jonah,” this great promise of resurrection, teaches us that no one is ever beyond hope.

So no; Jonah is not merely a story we tell our kids.  It’s a story for all of us.  It’s a story of hope, a story of redemption.  And most of all it’s a story of a God who so graciously and so regularly makes all things new.