Would you pray with me

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you so much that you want to change us. Thank you for this story of Jonah and for the Holy Spirit who inspired this writer and we now pray that that same Holy Spirit would apply the great truth of scripture to our hearts that this through your written word, by this written word, we would meet the living Word, Jesus himself and in his name we pray. Amen

Please read Jonah chapters 1 through to 4

You know when you hear the dreaded words; things have got to change…you sigh and wonder what on earth has to change and why? Actually God is in the business of change but he is rather less interested in organisational change or how we do things and all the rest of it and rather more interested that we would change….more into the likeness of Jesus. That’s what our business is on earth!

So God instructs Jonah to go to Nineveh… the words of the Message translation:

“Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.”

So Jonah does what we all do when we hear something we don’t want to do. We pretend not to hear and do the precise opposite. We’ll come back to this later but I guess at this point we might ask – why does Jonah not want to go to Nineveh? The answer will come but Nineveh was an evil city. I’ll spare you the details but the people there were barbaric. So maybe Jonah was afraid? Or, as Nineveh was not Jewish – maybe that’s why Jonah didn’t go?

So he hops in a boat – and the rest is history. But it’s interesting that Jonah is almost hiding from God. Adam & Eve did that in the Garden of Eden; we’ve been doing it since. And of course it’s nonsense. How can you hide – let alone run away from an all knowing God! But somehow we think we can.

Maybe you have been running away from the Lord?

Well in the belly of this fish – Jonah thinks and he starts to change his mind. To be fair, I think most of us would have changed our mind. But it’s interesting that he doesn’t get angry with God that this has happened even though he realises that somehow God is interwoven with these events.

So Jonah repents – that is he turns and returns to God – like the younger son in the parable of the lost son. I heard this quote recently which said this: the Bible often mentions the Lord walking – but only once does the Bible mention the Lord running and that is towards the lost son when he returns.

So Jonah then delivers an eight word sermon (something I should say, I have never been tempted to do!). It goes like this: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Isn’t it marvellous that Jonah does this? He just obeys! And to a city the size of (say) Winchester to hear this – 120,000 people! And what is even more marvellous – is that they repent. They turn to God. It of course begs the question why? I have hunch on this which goes a bit like this: I think people have a sneaking suspicion there is a God. I also have a sneaking suspicion that people think that there is right and wrong. And also I have a sneaking suspicion that people think that they are on the wrong side of the line of right and wrong. And that is why people are so brittle.

So we preach and teach that there is a line: there is right and wrong. But we also preach and teach the wonderful news that despite our complete inadequacy and our complete inability to get onto the right side of the line, Jesus has come across the line to save us from ourselves. And he welcomes anyone who wants to come to him. It’s not that we are great and worthy; but He is.

So you’d think that Jonah would be on top of the world. He’s preached his sermon and the city is converted. These evil people have turned to God.

But Jonah somehow manages to grab defeat from the jaws of victory. He starts grumbling. Read what he says in chapter four verses 1-3 (The Message translation):

Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!

What Jonah was rather hoping was that he’d preach his sermon and either they wouldn’t repent – which would mean that that would confirm his view of these people. Or that they would repent but God would refuse them as they were beyond reproach. Jonah is really saying: “how dare you, God, waste your kindness on these people.” (this was the reason why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh)

The danger is that we start to divide people up: those (typically like us) who should be saved as our sins aren’t that bad; and those others who are completely beyond the pale.

But we need to know that no one is good enough for God; not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But, but, but….salvation comes from God himself. He offers to save people from themselves. And there is no one – not one who is beyond the reach of God. Such are the arms of aching love of God is that they can reach round the worst of people; even those we find completely repugnant and undeserving.

And when we start to realise that the Good News is that God accepts all who turn and return to him; it is then we start to change and can see people – no matter how flawed, how awful, as people in need of a saviour. And in Jesus we have the perfect saviour. Then we start to change in other ways. We are not so proud and the love for Jesus will increase and for others. We become less proud – less precious about ourselves, fuller of humility and realise that we are broken people being mended by the kindness of God himself – all purchased at the cross of Jesus.

Just one final thought. We don’t hear what happened to Jonah. It doesn’t say how he responded to God. But actually I think I know. Jonah throughout this whole little book looks like a fool. A prophet who runs away? A prophet who gets thrown into the sea? A prophet who moans when a city of evil people repent? What a fool! But who could have known this? Who could have known all these details? There was only one person who could have known all this and that was Jonah. He leaves this book as he does because he is not wanting to draw attention to himself but God. And that is a mark of a person of God. A preacher of a former generation once said to himself as he went to the pulpit to preach: “May my name rot and Jesus be praised.”

May God add his blessing to this passage of scripture.

In Jesus’ name


Category: Sermons , Services , The Bridge

Tags: ,