Running Away from God

  • Running Away from God
  • Jonah 1
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • May 28, 2017
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5-28-17 Sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

Jonah 1 1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.

4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.”

7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.

8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”

10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried to the LORD, “O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.

17 But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.

 

 

Whenever you read a story or watch a movie, chances are that whether you are aware of it or not, you experience the story by seeing yourself as part of what is taking place. In some way, you relate to one of the characters. You think of yourself as the hero, or possibly the villain. You share a common experience with a character. You wonder what it would be like to walk in a character’s shoes for a while.

 

Scripture is no different for us. When we read Scripture we ask ourselves, almost unconsciously, how we relate to those who are part of the story. We look at how our life stories become part of the story of God. We can start out as spectators, but quite soon we start to become part of the action.

 

I think that is one of the reasons people like the Old Testament story of the prophet Jonah. You read his story and quickly you are drawn into the story of his life.

 

Jesus even went so far as to compare Himself to Jonah. Matthew 12:39-40 says, “But Jesus replied, ‘Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.’”

 

This is a really strange thing for Jesus to do. Why didn’t Jesus say the sign of Elijah? Now Elijah was a prophet’s prophet – calling down heaven’s fire, outrunning horses, staring down kings. Or what about Isaiah? He was a towering man, with muscle and wide-eyed zeal. Or maybe Daniel? At least Daniel was shrewd and held tightly to the truth in the face of those who sought his demise.

 

But Jesus picked Jonah. Jesus picked the runt prophet who sulked. Jonah was a rebellious, petty, sullen little man. He was self-serving and self-protective. His sense of what mattered was terribly skewed.

 

But maybe that’s exactly the point: Jonah is us. All of those other prophets are larger than life. They are free, bold and unflinching. The story of how God spoke to them, how they spoke to God and spoke for God can be as intimidating as it is inspiring.

 

Who can equal them? Who can measure up to these guys? Who can aspire to live like an Isaiah or Daniel?

 

And then there is Jonah. Look at Jonah. He’s got his hands plowed down in his pant pockets. He’s slouching over with a sneer on his face. He complains about the weather. He complains about the government. He complains about his neighbors. He complains about his church.

 

Isaiah and Daniel are who we want to be when we read the story. Isaiah and Daniel are who aspire to be on our best days. Chances are that Jonah is who we are. Jonah is lord of the half-hearted who want God only on their own terms.

 

We look at a picture of Jonah and fail to find him attractive. What we find in Jonah is most likely familiarity – in some cases the very things we don’t like about ourselves.

 

The story begins in chapter one by telling us that the word of the Lord came to Jonah. What a privilege, right? We must never forget that it is a privilege to hear from the Lord. Jonah hears from God about what he is supposed to do and he is terribly excited. Right? Wrong.

 

How many people make statements along the lines of, “If I just knew what God wanted me to do” or “If I just knew what God’s will is for my life.”  Be careful about what you wish or pray for when it comes to God’s will for your life, because God’s funny about those kinds of requests. He likes to answer them.

 

Jonah’s response to the call of God was to take off in the opposite direction. His determination to avoid doing God’s will led him to extremes. He actually paid to get away from God’s presence (verse 3). What a fruitless effort. Yet somehow Jonah really believed that he could get away from God

 

Paying to get away from the Lord might sound funny but it’s not that uncommon. We always pay the price of disobedience. It may be the time when we…

  • Know exactly what God wants us to do, but we thumb our nose at him
  • Bargain with God by telling him we will do something else if he just won’t ask this of us
  • Pretend that we don’t know what God is asking of us as if we might somehow be able to fool him.

 

How often have we put our time and effort into other things simply to avoid obeying the Lord’s prompting in our heart?

 

Jonah never really had a chance of getting away from God. Walking away from the Lord’s presence (at least in Jonah’s case) was merely an act of defiance and disobedience.

 

The reality is that no matter where we go, or what we do, we cannot escape the ever-present eye of the Lord. We may try to deny His presence or even His existence, completely ignore Him and shut him out from our day to day activities, but our lives are always open to him.

 

Jonah hops on a boat in the opposite direction from Nineveh, thinking his problems are solved, but they are only just beginning. A storm begins to brew — a big storm.

 

What does Jonah do? He goes down below and sleeps. Jonah sleeps through the storm while the other men on the ship call on their “gods”.

 

Jonah’s ability to sleep should come as no surprise. He had obviously hardened his heart against doing God’s will. His choice of the lowest part of the ship as the place for his slumber highlights his determination to get as far away from the Lord as possible.

 

How often have we hardened our hearts to the will of God? We live in the midst of people living a daily hell, and yet never find time to give them a decent chance of hearing the gospel. We have trouble even reaching out to let them know that God loves them and we love them, no strings attached.

 

It took the captain of the ship to wake Jonah.  Jonah is seemingly remarkable calm (or should we say slumber) in the midst of a storm, this should not be mistaken as faith, but rather as the condition of a runaway heart. He had successfully cut himself off from the activities of God around him.

 

Jonah’s sleep can only be a picture of the “spiritual sleep” many of us choose to engage in today. Spiritual sleep is being so unconscious of the leading of the Holy Spirit that we allow sin and the lure of our flesh to take us away from God’s will without even realizing it.

 

We become oblivious to the desire of God. We enter into spiritual sleep when we become so wrapped up and concerned with the affairs of this world, that the things of God have no priority in our lives any more.

 

It was clear that the ship was going down and those on the boat had to do something to figure out who was causing this mess. So they decided to cast lots.

 

Casting of lots was a common means of discovering “the cause of a matter”. Jonah knew he was the cause of their dilemma, but kept quiet until discovered. He must have thought he really could escape from God. It is sort of like burying our heads in the sand, hoping that our wrong will never be discovered. All wrong doings are eventually exposed.

 

Jonah was asked several penetrating questions. His ambitions of keeping his identity and wrong doing secret were completely gone now.   Jonah eventually came to terms with the gravity of his disobedience. He offered to be thrown into the sea to save the men’s lives (verse 12). We can’t accuse him of lacking courage and compassion. His earlier disobedience had simply overruled them. It’s amazing what depths of sin disobedience can lead us.

 

The men (God love them) ignored Jonah and attempted rowing harder, rowing to overcome the obstacle of the storm. They had good intentions and tender hearts. They were doing all they could to avoid throwing a fellow man overboard.

 

But they had no idea what they were up against. Finally, the fear of losing their own lives made them ask for forgiveness before reluctantly throwing Jonah overboard. This resulted in the raging storm ceasing.

 

In an article for Christianity Today magazine, pastor Mark Buchanan wrote, “For years, I’ve read devotional books, gone on retreats and to conferences designed to deepen my life in God. I have an entire shelf of books just on prayer—its purposes, its nature, its aims. I have gleaned a litany of techniques for praying with focus and passion.

 

“I have learned what to relinquish and what to embrace as I approach prayer and practice it. Reading these books has been an apprenticeship to masters.

 

“But I’m not praying much better.

 

“After I had read many of these books, I realized something. The books mostly assumed, and so did I, that I really wanted to get closer to God. The basic conviction behind those who write such books, and those who read them, is that every Christian’s primary stance toward God is Isaiah-like: ‘Here I am. Send me!’

 

“But that is not my primary stance. Nor is it probably yours. My primary stance—and yours perhaps—is Jonah-like: ‘But Jonah set out to flee…from the presence of the Lord.’”

 

Jonah had good historical reasons, good personal reasons, for not wanting to go to Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. Assyrians were cruel with bloodthirst and calculated in doing evil. Their specialty was sacking and burning.

 

They were not good people. Think of someone who has hurt you, betrayed you. Think, if you can, of someone you hate, or have good reason to. That’s an Assyrian. Jonah was sent to their capital.

 

The story of Jonah confirms a dark suspicion we have about God. The suspicion is, God will always ask me to do the thing I least want to do, go to the very last place I desire to go. If I say I won’t go to Africa, God will send me there. If I tell him I hate someone, that’s exactly to whom he’ll send me.

 

Let’s state the suspicion in theological terms: God is a hard taskmaster, harvesting where he has not sown, gathering where he has not scattered seed.

 

Maybe, in our bones, most of us fear God in the way we fear tornadoes or snakes: not a wisdom-giving fear, but a skittish, nerve-sheering fright. God is out to get us. God wants to send us to the hellish Ninevites.

 

 

In the Spring of 1998, Joni and I had the chance to go to Soule, South Korea and visit the world’s largest church, the Yoido Full Gospel Church. They have over 850,000 members in one congregation.

 

One of the highlights was that we had the opportunity to meet with David Yonggi Cho, their senior pastor, for about forty-five minutes. It was incredible to have that kind of time with a man whom God had used to build such a great church.

 

Several years ago, as Cho’s ministry was becoming international, he told God, “I will go anywhere to preach the gospel—except Japan.” He hated the Japanese with gut-deep loathing because of what Japanese troops had done to the Korean people, and to members of Yonggi Cho’s own family, during World War II. The Japanese were his Ninevites.

 

But God called him to preach in Japan. He went, but he went bitter. The first speaking engagement was to a conference of 1,000 Japanese pastors. He stood up to speak, and what came out of his mouth was this: “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.” Then he broke and wept.

 

He was full of hatred. At first one, then two, then all 1,000 pastors stood up. One by one they walked up to Yonggi Cho, knelt at his feet, and asked forgiveness for what they and their people had done to him and to his people. As this went on, God changed Yonggi Cho. The Lord put a single message in his heart and mouth: “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

 

God does not look on the outward appearances. He looks at the heart. And sometimes, he calls us to a work we do not want to do in order to reveal our heart—to reveal what we really believe, our deepest yearnings.

 

As we launch into the story of Jonah today what is God revealing to you about your heart?

 

  • Where is God calling you?
  • What is God asking you to do?
  • What if anything prevents you from saying “Yes”?