God the Evangelist – Part 1, “The Running Man”
Mary, Jonah's wife, is worried. For several days her husband has been distracted. He continually stares off into the distance and on several occasions she has caught him looking to the west. And he keeps talking about taking a trip. He says he's not sure how long we'll be gone. He keeps saying that he just needs to get away for a little while. She overheard him talking to the neighbor about a place called "Tarshish," wherever that is. The kids have noticed it too. She's seen the look of worry on their little faces as daddy seems to have lost all interest in them. And then this man showed up the other day from a place called Nineveh and it really agitated Jonah. He's really upset. She just can't understand, why is he so upset? Then last night, Jonah tossed and turned throughout the night. Jonah didn't know that she was awake. And she could hear him continually muttering "No, no, no, I'm not going. I don't care what you say. I'm not going to those people." Who was he talking to? Who was he talking about? Where's he refusing to go?
Then this morning she awoke to find him packing a bag. He's raided their emergency fund. He said he'll be away for a while. She asked him are you going on a mission trip? After all, Jonah was a prophet and very likely he was one of the sons of the prophets that trained under Elijah. She understood when she married him that he had been set apart by the Lord. And he's taken short trips before but he's always come back. But she's never seen him so upset. She's never seen him this angry. Finally he says, "Well, I'm packed. I'm ready to go." "Jonah, why are you leaving? Jonah, what has you so upset? Jonah, I've never seen you like this before. Jonah, when do you think you'll be back? Jonah, what do you want me to tell the kids? What am I supposed to say the neighbors? Jonah, where are you going? Have I done something wrong to upset you? Do you not love the kids and me anymore? Jonah is there someone else?"
Without a word he turns and he walks out the door. He reaches the edge of town and he's at a four-way crossing. At this point he has a decision to make. But in reality the decision has already been made. He replays in his mind one more time the message he received from God, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it," (Jonah 1:2). But he doesn't care. He's not going to Nineveh. He'll never go to Nineveh. He'd rather die than go to Nineveh. So he takes a hard left and he heads west to the coast. He's headed to the port at Joppa. There he plans on buying a ticket. He's heard of this place called Tarshish. He thinks it's in a place called Spain. All he knows is it's on the other end of the Mediterranean Sea. And by his calculation that should take him far away from everything he loves, but also far away from everything that he hates.
Do you struggle with who God shows grace to? In the dark recesses of your heart are there groups of people that you feel are not worthy of God's grace? You know, the country we live in is deeply divided. We have red states and blue states and now piled on top of that we have states that are trying to return to some semblance of normal living other states who are continuing to enforce lockdown orders. And let's be brutally honest with ourselves, as Christians, we are not immune to picking sides. And we pick a side and whatever side we pick, we make that our identity. But please know: first of all, don't do that. For the sake of Christ and the glory of God do not pick sides, and do not make that your identity. Your identity is to be in Christ and in Christ alone. But when we do pick sides as Christians, let's be honest, there are times we do pick sides. We shouldn't pick sides, but we do pick sides. And when that happens, we tend to adopt a we-versus-them mentality. When that happens, it's not hard to think that because they don't hold our beliefs or they don't act the way that we think that they should act because they believe differently than we do that they are not worthy of God's grace. And not only do we think that they're not worthy of God's grace, we secretly wish that God would judge them. Because if God would judge them that would prove that they were wrong and that would prove that we were, what? Right. Thoughts of those reveal our self-righteousness, and demonstrate the fact that we truly don't love our neighbors, as we should love them as we love ourselves.
Well, Jonah had picked his side. And in doing so, he revealed the fact that he was selfish, spiteful and racist. He lacked compassion for anybody who was outside of Israel. If they weren't in his "camp," in his estimation, they weren't worthy of God's grace. And again, we must not be so quick to cluck our tongues and wag our heads in disbelief over his behavior because if we're honest Jonah is a mirror that reflects our own biases and our own attitudes; our own biases and attitudes towards people who are not what we would like them to be, or they do not believe in the way that that we would like them to believe. The reality is Jonah's struggle is our struggle. Jonah's was just preserved and written down for all of us to read.
Now, one of the challenges that confronts us as Christians when we come to a book of the Bible that we say that we are familiar with, is the fact that being familiar with a book, even knowing the details of the book does not mean that we understand the book. For instance, I wonder how many Christians think that the whole point of the book of Jonah is that a man was swallowed by a whale. That's all they know about the book of Jonah. Well, Jonah is not about a man swallowed by a whale. First of all, the Bible does not say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, says he was swallowed by a great fish. The Book of Jonah is not about Jonah at all. Jonah is ancillary to the text. The Book of Jonah, again, teaches us about God. It teaches us about the love of God, for people who are different from us. It teaches us about the sovereignty of God. It teaches us about the power of God. Jonah teaches us about the salvation of God. And it's the salvation that Jonah finally came to confess in chapter two verse nine where he says "salvation belongs to the Lord." And if we just take a brief overview of the book of Jonah, what do we see? Well, we see God saving the sinning sailors from the storm. We see God saving the sinning Prophet. We see God saving the sinning city from complete judgment and utter destruction. So we see a God, who is a God who is willing to save and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. And in Jonah, we see a God who is a reluctant judge, contrasted with a reluctant prophet who is unwilling to preach. So in Jonah, a reluctant judge, collides with a reluctant prophet.
So, right from the very beginning, there is a battle of wills that is set up. And we see this in verses one through three. There's three points I guess, I'm not a big point guy in my sermons but, here's three things I see. First is who the word of the Lord came from, which is pretty obvious, Amen? Who the word of the Lord came to? And why the word of the Lord came?
Let's look at verses one through three again. "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord."
Now, Jonah very likely was written by Jonah himself. So this is a autobiographical sketch of this particular segment of his life. And he plunges right into the heart of the story. There's no preamble, there's no introductory thought. He doesn't give us much of his background. There's no formative years. There's nothing like that. He gets right to the facts. And here's the first fact. The word of the Lord came to, me, Jonah. "The word of the Lord came to Jonah." Now that phrase, "the word Lord came," is an interesting one, by the very fact that it is used 109 times in the Old Testament, according to the English Standard Version. So 109 times we read that exact phrase, "the word of the Lord came." We see that the word of the Lord came to Abraham. The word of the Lord came to Solomon. Of course, the word of the Lord came to the prophets. Now, it's a phrase that the mechanics of how it happened or never explained to us, but that's really not the important points. The important point is that its meaning is clear. When the word of the Lord came, it means that God was directly communicating with mankind. Okay? We have to keep in mind that this is not God's way of communicating with us today. Don't sit in your darkened room and cross your legs Lotus style, and expect God to speak to you and give you some fresh revelation. No, that's not how God speaks to us today. God speaks to us today. God has already spoken to us today, right? through his written Word. That is his normal means of communication. But before the Scriptures were written, God did communicate directly with individuals.
So who was the word of the Lord from? Well, again, I know that's obvious, but let's delve into it. The word "Lord" here is "Yahweh". It was from the great "I am, Who I am." It was from the one who said "I will be who I will be." The word was from the sovereign God who possesses absolute power and the freedom to do what he pleases. This is important because as we go through the book you will see Jonah wanted no part of what God wanted to do. Well, who won? God did. Why? Because He's Yahweh, he's the great I Am that I Am, He possesses the power and the freedom to do exactly what he desires to do. It was a word that could not be stopped. The word of the Lord came. Jonah could no more stop the word of the Lord from coming then he could stop the wind from howling or the great fish from swallowing. It was an unstoppable word. "The word of the Lord came." There was no stopping it. Oh, Jonah could have tried to ignore it. But he couldn't have stopped it. Jonah could have tried to disregard it, but he couldn't have stopped it. Jonah could have tried to deny it, but he couldn't have stopped it. Why? the word of the Lord came in power.
Let me give you just a few verses of what the Bible says about the word of the Lord. For instance, Isaiah 55:11, "So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth, it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." Again, when the word of the Lord comes ti is what? it is unstoppable. Whatever the word of the Lord says, it happens. God said through Jeremiah, "Behold, I will fulfill my words" (Jeremiah 39:16). Elsewhere in Jeremiah, God said ,"Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" (Jeremiah 23:29). The writer of Hebrews says, "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul in the spirit of joints and marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
See when the word of the Lord comes, when the word of the Lord is spoken, something is going to happen. There's not a power in the universe that can stop it. There is not an intellect on the face of the earth that can debate it and defeat it. The word of the Lord is an unstoppable, it is unopposable, there's nothing you can do in face of it. You can deny it, but you can't stop it. You can run from it, but you can't stop it. You can disregard it, but you can't stop it. It is powerful. The wise and prudent thing to do is what? to submit to it. And when we submit to the word of the Lord, we experience blessings from that comes from obedience.
Now, you know as a church, at the moment, we're making a conscious effort on preparing ourselves to present the gospel. We're preparing ourselves to take the gospel to all those who need to hear. Say, "Who needs to hear the gospel?" Everybody needs to hear the gospel, amen? And as you present the gospel to anyone, you can do so with the confidence knowing that the word of the Lord is unstoppable. You can present the gospel, knowing that God will use his word like a fire, and a hammer that will melt and break the hardest of hard hearts. You can present the gospel knowing that the word of the Lord is living, it's active, its discerning. You can present the gospel knowing that God will use it to fulfill His purpose. Whenever you speak the word of the Lord. Something will happen. It may not be what we would like to see happen, but it is doing exactly what God intended it to accomplish. So in that sense, we never have anything to lose from presenting the word of the Lord. Never.
Jonah understood the unstoppable power of the word of the Lord and we'll cover this in some more detail later on, at a later date. And you probably have heard this, I heard this all my life growing up, that the reason Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh was because he was afraid. We've all probably heard that. "Jonah was afraid." And they say well look at the Ninevites. Yes, the Assyrians, the Ninevites, they were cruel people. They were violent people. They were known for skinning people alive. They were known for impaling people on huge stakes. Their own artwork depicted their own cruelty. And so people look at that and say, "well, Jonah was afraid to go to Nineveh." I don't think that's it at all. I don't think he was afraid at all to go there at all. He didn't want to go to Nineveh because he understood the power of the word of the Lord. He knew that if God wanted him to preach a message of repentance and judgment. There was a very good possibility that, guess what was going to happen? They were going to repent. He didn't want them to repent. He wasn't afraid of them. He was afraid of what they would do. They would repent. And he wanted nothing to do with that. He wanted to see them punished. He didn't want to see them ome to faith. See, he understood that God's word is like a fire, and a hammer that melts and breaks down the hard heart, and it would do that to the heart and hearts of the Ninevites. And I thought to myself, "Oh, that you and I would possess that same level of confidence that Jonah had; that when we present the word of the Lord, when we present the gospel, we do so confident in the unstoppable unopposable Word of God. We discount the power of God's Word. Listen. Why do preachers across this globe get up week after week after week and faithfully preach the gospel, faithfully expound the Scriptures? Well they better have confidence in the Scriptures or they're wasting their time. There is no power in the words of a man. You can be the greatest orator and accomplish nothing.
There was a man in the past by the name of M'Culloch in Scotland, who was called "the ale preacher" because when he got up to preach, most of the men in the church went to the pub because he was such a terrible preacher. But he was faithful. And years later, God used "The Ale Preacher" to send revival to Scotland. Why? Because the power's not in the man, the powers not in what he says, the power is in the Word of God. See?
So what was the source of this unstoppable word? It was from the Lord. It was from the great I am who I am? Well, who did it come to? Well, the word of the Lord came to, as the scripture says, "Jonah, the son of Amittai" (Jonah 1:1). Now, this is not the first time that Jonah is mentioned in Scripture. Jonah was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam. And through Jonah God announced the restoration of Israel's boundaries that had been infringed upon by the Assyrians, the Ninevites. In Second Kings chapter 14, we read this, "He," that's God, "restored the border of Israel, from Lebo-hamath as far as the sea of Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher." Now what follows is very important. "For the Lord's saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left bond or free and there was none to help Israel but the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven. So he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam, the son of Joash." Do you see what's going on here? It's screaming grace. There's nobody else to help Israel. Jonah announces, guess what? God's going to help us. And what does God do? He gives them grace, He shows them grace. There's no one else left to help them and who helped them? God did. Why? Because he was a God of grace. So we could say early in his career, Jonah was a prophet of God's grace. He was a messenger of grace.
So the word of the Lord came to Jonah, a prophet of God, one of God's chosen messengers, a man who knew the grace of God. So when the word of the Lord comes to Jonah again, sometime in the future, it says to him "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and call out against it." He knew what was coming. He wasn't scared of the Ninevites. He knew the grace of God. And he did want them to experience the grace of God.
So why did the word come? Well, the unstoppable word of the Lord came to Jonah, a prophet, to whom God had already previously used to deliver a message of grace to his people, who says, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it for their evil has come up before me." Now when Jonah heard those words, alarm bells started going off. His stomach started churning. When Jonah heard those words, he wanted absolutely nothing to do with them. When Jonah heard those words, he knew that because God was a God of grace and if God wanted him to go to Nineveh, and to preach a message of judgment and repentance, there was a very real possibility that God was going to show grace to them. If God wanted to do away with them, he could have kept silent and just did it. But he didn't. He sends Jonah, he sends a man, he sends his prophet, to preach to them to let them know 'I have taken notice of your sin, but I'm giving you the opportunity to repent.' Jonah was having nothing of it. Jonah couldn't stomach the thought that God would give grace, to show grace to the people of Ninevah. Jonah as hard as it is to believe, he was a prophet of God, he was a messenger of God, he was a man of God, he was a preacher who didn't want others to experience the grace of God. Hard to believe, isn't it? Oh, I don't know is it? How many of us have people in our hearts, hold people in our hearts and our thoughts to think 'we don't want to see them become Christians. We want to see them get there just do.'
Jonah was not being sent to deliver a message of certain destruction, but to deliver a message of certain deliverance, if they would hear the word of the Lord and turn from their sin. But again, Jonah couldn't stomach the thought that God would spare the Ninevites and that's why he tried to flee from the presence of the Lord. Here's a prophet of God, I say this again, a man of God, a preacher, if you will, who didn't want these people to experience the grace of God. But again before we assume a self-righteous position over Jonah, this text is calling out loud and clear to each one of us to examine ourselves. This text is saying what about you? What about you Grace Community Church? Is there anybody in Berea that you don't want to see come to faith in Christ? Is there anybody in your own individual lives? Perhaps they've done you wrong? You're powerless to do anything about it. But you, you harbor this thought in the back of your mind, "well just wait till judgment day you'll get yours." Fill in the blank. "I don't want to see blank, experienced the grace of God." Fill in the blank with a people group. "I don't want to see these blank people experienced the grace of God." Let's be honest with ourselves, we all have our biases and our prejudices. And many times they're over silly things, things perceptions that we hold.
Let me give you an example. As I was preparing the sermon this week I did one of my favorite things I went to a drive-thru for lunch. And, you know, those who know me know that I eat on a pretty regular schedule and if you mess that schedule up, it's not good for anybody. And so I was in a drive-thru, and there are quite a few people there and I thought "who do these people think they are upsetting my lunchtime? But directly in front of me, was a Mercedes. Now I think I have a natural bias against anybody who drives a Mercedes anyway, that's probably pure jealousy, but anyway, and there were several people in the car and they were just taking forever. And the longer they took the madder I got. And I was just building up in my mind "these gotta be some snobs out of Lexington. They probably live around Hamburg and they're given that poor worker in there a hard time and changing the order and doing this and doing that," you know? "Look at that Mercedes. Oo, it's got dual exhaust. Oo, I hate these people. Oo." But isn't that the way we act towards people so many times that we have nothing concrete to base our opinions on, the way we feel about them? See that's where we see Jonah in ourselves.
See the book of Jonah shows us the heart of God to save. The book of Jonah teaches us of God's willingness to save and here's the kicker: God is going to send you to people you don't like to share the gospel with. Right? I doubt he's going to send you to more reformed people to share the gospel with. Just saying. He's going to send you and me to people, he's going to bring people across our path, that we may not particularly like something about them. But you know what he's saying to us? "Listen, they may be the Ninevites to you but I want them to experience grace." See? Could it be that as her own personal bias that is keeping us from being better evangelists? I don't know.
God wants us to tell those of all the other nations that he's willing to save. God wants us to tell those of other, differing beliefs that God's willing to save. God wants us to tell those who are above us or below us on the social ladder of God's willingness to save. God wants us to tell those who mock him, blaspheme God that he's willing to save. God wants us to tell people who drive Mercedes that he's willing to save. See you will never encounter a person who God is not willing to save if they will repent of their sins and embrace Christ by faith. The Bible is not kidding when it says "the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise, as some count slowness, but is" what? "patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."
So here's the first principle from the book of Jonah that is: that our Lord can save anyone and He wants to save everyone, for He is God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. You know, the very first week of our tell the truth training, we asked you to begin praying for just one person. Then week two, we said, add to that, that God would bring somebody across your path who's interested in hearing the gospel? Well, please keep this in mind. When God brings that person across your path when your path crosses with that person please keep in mind when your fear kicks in, and it will, the Word of God is unstoppable. When your fear kicks in when you want to remain silent, remember the word of God is unopposable. When you want to keep your mouth shut, remember the word of God is like a fire. It's like a hammer. It's alive. It's living, it's active. And remember that it will accomplish its God-intended purpose.