We decided to go to the second Bible reading this morning so we could catch at least some of the Formula One. As it started at 11-30am we were probably the only people in the world glad that the race got suspended when it did! (Though we only got to hear that the race was definitely stopped an Button had won by text which arrived on my phone while the notices were begin given!)
There was an eager sense of anticipation in the room to listen to God’s word through Liam, who is a good friend of the Evangelical church in the UK. Liam began by saying that last night he dreamt he was preaching this sermon with the passion of John Piper, the depth of Don Carson, the crispness of Dick Lucas and the coolness of Mark Driscoll. If you had been there you would have had the experience of a lifetime. Unfortunately, he said, you will have to cope with me as I am when not dreaming.
This is a very familiar story. Some people say its an allegory or parable. But parables are usually basic. The story itself has historical and geographical elements. Whoever wrote it seemed to want us to believe that this was a real event. It assumes historical correctness. Jesus likens himself to Jonah and spoke of the people of Ninevah as real people who really repented. Jesus took it seriously, so if we want to follow him so should we.
Salvation is of the Lord. God’s sovereingty is stressed here. God appointed the wind, the ship, the whale. There is a commission, and a recommission, and the sailors are saved, and the ninevites are saved. There are two prayers of Jonah – one greatful for his own salvation, one bitter when the foreigners were saved. Its beautifully structured, full of humour irony, etc. Jonah is a ridiculous figure. He is like a skulky, pouting, spotty teenager.
Its not about a big fish, as much as it is about a big God. Kindness of God to the biggest meanest city of the time. God has more trouble with his own people than with the others.
1. Jonah is running from God
God’s people were still rebelling. In 2 Kings 14, God saved Israel through Jonah. He understands the word of God and his message has been one of salvation. He came from Galilee, like Jesus and was the only prophet Jesus likened himself to. A prophet is a vehicle of God’s word to God’s people. Amos 3:7 says that God does nothing without revealing his secret to the prophets. The Christian life begins by listening to God. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God. There is an urgency in the words “arise, Go!” This commission is more like the Great Commission than anything else in the Old Testament.
2. Jonah runs into God
You cant ever get right away from him. You can run but you can’t hide. He probably felt circumstances had come together, and were “surely of God”. People say, I have “peace” about leaving my wife and children and going off with someone else. Jonah was so peaceful he slept. If you have a heart to disobey God, don’t be surprised if it seems for a while to work out for you to do so. But God was going to pursue him. He has a bit of freedom and autonomy but from verse four we read “but the Lord” and everything goes back out of God’s hands. Jonah doesn’t cry to God for mercy. He is asleep and indifferent. The same God who can calm a storm can also stir it up. God takes his choice of you so seriously that he will pursue you and do whatever it takes to save you. Jonah means a dove, is silly and senseless. God’s people were meant to be a light to the nations. The world looks at the church and wants to hear what it says, and the church is guiltily silent. We are weak and ineffectual, the church refuses to say the hard things to the culture. It never clearly articulates the gospel. We keep silent when we should speak. Chruch doesn’t want to stand out from the world.
Jonah doesn’t seem to be thinking about the sailors, but instead is self-absorbed. He does it without any real grace. But what he does saves them. The sailors turn to God.
Liam made Jonah, a familiar story seem fresh once more. He preached with a passion and vigour which gripped me and many who heard. I was privileged to meet him later- do watch out for the video after the event. He said that he had been a little bit more reserved than normal. So, as the week goes on, apparently we might be in for a bit more shouting. Personally I like listening to a good shout sometimes during a sermon. So if you are reading this on site and see Liam around, do dare him to shout at us some more!