God the Evangelist – Part 3, “You Can Run, but You Can’t Hide”
Do you love a good story? I know I do. I can remember the very first book that I read that didn't have pictures in it. The schools used to have a program, I don't know if they still do or not, probably not. But they used to have a program called Scholastic Reader. And every so often the teacher would send home with us this little catalog of books that we could order. Of course, I would pester Mom and Dad for them to order me a book. And the very first book I can ever remember reading came from that catalog. There was a book that you can still get today; I checked, just Friday, to see if it's still available. It is, it's still available through Scholastic Services, by the way. It was, I did a little research, it was an award winning book. It was written in 1963. A movie was made about it a few years ago, which didn't nearly do it justice. But the book is called 'A Wrinkle in Time'. Perhaps you've read it. If you haven't read it, I would encourage you to read it. You say, "Well, I'm a, I'm an adult". It's okay. It's a great story. It's a great story. 'A Wrinkle in Time'. I still remember Meg, the main character, I still remember the cover of the book. I read that book over, and over, and over, because it was such a great story. And still today, I love to read great stories. And there are some great storytellers out there. I've read every 'Jack Reacher' novel. I set my yearly calendar by the publication date of the 'Walt Longmire' mysteries, comes out every September. I preorder it as soon as I can, so that it ends up on my porch and I read it in about a day and wish September would come around again. Craig Johnson, he's the author of the 'Longmire' mysteries. He's a great storyteller, the finest non fiction, fiction excuse me, the finest fiction...fictional paragraph I ever read was written by Craig Johnson. I read most of the Harry Bosch detective novels I've read most of the Digger Graves books written by Jonathan Gilstrap. I just love a great story. But those are all works of fiction, but there's something that I like even more than fiction, and that's biographies. The finest book I've ever read outside of the Bible is a book called 'Unbroken', which is the life story of Louis Zamperini, if you even if you don't like to read, you need to read that book. I read the biographies of President Truman, President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, who is an utterly fascinating man, do yourself a favor and read about Churchill. President Lincoln, President Washington, I've read the biography of Steve Jobs. Which is the saddest biography I've ever read in my life. I've read of the biography of the genius of Albert Einstein and learned what a moral failure he was. I've read the biography of George Whitfield. I would say that the the biography of George Whitfield is the second best biography I've ever read. I've read the biographies of Jonathan Edwards, I've read the biographies of Charles Spurgeon. If I haven't, I'm very close to of having read all of the biographies of the good Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones. And the lives of all these men, they were great stories. I mean, really, who doesn't love a story? We read stories to our kids and now we read stories to our grandkids. Why? Because we all love stories. And even as adults, we love stories. Now the stories for adults nowadays, unfortunately, primarily come through TV. I mentioned the show 'Lost' last week. Up to the last episode, that was great storytelling. Perhaps the greatest TV show of all time was '24'. Now, that was storytelling, right? We never outgrow our love for stories. Stories are powerful. Stories have the power to inspire us. Stories bring back pleasant memories of days gone by. Stories entertain us and most importantly, stories have the power to teach us. That's why Jesus told so many stories. Do you realize that somewhere between 60 and 70% of the Bible is stories? Think about that. 60 to 70% of the Bible is made up of stories, and the Bible contains the greatest stories. Why? Because the Bible is a book about God, and who's greater than God, and what can be a greater story than the story of God. God is the hero of the story. God is the hero of the Bible. You and I are not the heroes of the Bible. The Bible is not about us. What we see about us in the Bible is not pretty, it's not flattering, it's rather embarrassing. But everything we see about God is great, and glorious, and wonderful, and grand, and marvelous.
So Jonah, as it is a book of the Bible, as it is a story, it is a great story. Unfortunately, the Old Testament is so neglected that many of these great stories get ignored, and the full impact of them we never experience. I want to apologize to you. If I had to do this over again, I would have preached the entire book in one message because a story is only about one thing. One thing. Say, "Why didn't you do that?" Because I didn't realize it till I got three weeks into it. Forgive me. Next week, I'll show you that one thing. And whether we realize it or not, Michelle could, and Victoria could validate this, stories share some common characteristics. Every story has a protagonist. The protagonist is the hero. Every story has an antagonist. That's the villain, that's the bad guy. Then there are what they call foils, f-o-i-l-s. Foils are characters in the story that aren't really the main characters, but they contribute some context, and some texture, and some color, and some depth to the story. As we read the story of God told in the book of Jonah, we need to understand that God is the protagonist, God is the hero, God is the good guy. Therefore, Jonah is the antagonist. He's the bad guy. He's the villain, if you will. Say, "Well, who are the foils in the story of the book of Job?" They would be the sailors, be the captain of the ship. It'd be the people Nineveh, it would be the king of Nineveh. They add some context to the story. They're kind of incidental to the story. Another thing that makes a story great is tension, its conflict. It's the tension, it's the conflict of the story that keeps you up at night, reading page after page after page, you just have to see how it's all going to work out. I have to be very careful when I read certain books. I have learned that I can't read on Saturday nights. You know why? Because I get so engrossed in the story that I want to find out who old Walt Longmire is going to arrest, amen? So I don't read on Saturday nights because I know that I'll stay up way too late and I won't be at my best on Sunday morning. Well, Jonah's a great story because it oozes with tension and conflict. And sadly, because we are so familiar with the story of Jonah, we've lost that sense of tension and that sense of conflict that exists in the story. This loss of the conflict and the tension deadens, lessens, the impact of the story that it has in our lives. But if we pay careful attention to the book of Jonah, we see that there's tension and conflict all the way through the book. The book of Jonah opens with tension. It opens with a conflict. The word of the Lord came to Jonah and gave him a direct command to go to Nineveh and call out against it. But Jonah had other plans. He would rather die than go to Nineveh. He would rather leave everything he loves. He would rather leave everything behind that he knows, then go to Nineveh. So he makes his way to the seaport of Joppa. He finds a boat headed to someplace called Tarshish. He buys a ticket he gets on board. The boat sets sail to a faraway destination where Jonah hopes that he can escape the presence of God.
And perhaps Jonah believed as many do today that just because the door was open for him to sail away, it was all right for him to head that way. See, Jonah made the mistake, that many continue to make, and that is making the mistake that is mistaking and open door as a sign of God's approval, even as a sign of direction from God. They mistake the open door as what the Puritans would call a Smiling Providence. The logic goes like this, the argument goes something like this. "Well, the doors open. It must be what God wants me to do." We've all been there. We've heard somebody say that. We've probably done it ourselves. Jonah couldn't believe his good fortune. He finds a ship that's going exactly where he wants to go, as far away as possible. The ship even had room for one more passenger. He had money in his pocket so that he could buy the ticket. Surely this must be okay with God. Surely this must be God's plan. Surely this is what God wants because look at how easily all the circumstances are coming together. Well as Jonah would soon learn, and as many since Jonah have learned, an open door does not necessarily signify God's will. An open door's not always God's stamp of approval. An open door is not an automatic green light from God. I have been in the ministry now for over two decades. I know I look much younger than that, but yep, it's true. And I can tell you, in all seriousness, I can tell you of families who just knew that it was God's will to take a certain job or to move to this state. It had to be God's will because it all came together so easily. One family specifically comes to mind. They continually assured me and assured themselves that it was God's will for them to move to another state. And despite all the counsel to the contrary, they made the move. "It was God's will, Pastor Craig, it's God's will, just know it's God's will." But it wasn't long before the husband and wife were divorced. The daughter's moved in with her boyfriend, children were born out of wedlock, and it was God's will? That was God's will? "But it is Pastor you don't understand all the right doors are opening. All the circumstances are coming together. The wind is filling our sails and the sea is so peaceful, this has to be God's will." That's what Jonah thought too, but be careful, just because the door is open, that doesn't mean it's God's will. That open door could very well turn out to be a trap door. The Puritans, as I already mentioned, talked about the Smiling Providence. They also talked about God's Frowning Providence. And that's what Jonah experienced. Yes, he did experience the providence of God but it wasn't a smiling providence, it was a Frowning Providence, be careful. The door may be open, but it may be opened by a frown, not a smile. The tension and the tension and the conflict builds. As we start our story, God tells Jonah go to Nineveh. Jonah by his actions tells God he won't go. So what do we have? The will of God collides with the will of man. Ship sets sail, the sea is calm, the waters are gentle, Jonah can finally relax. I can see him breathing a deep sigh of relief. He exhales and thinks, "I've made it. I've made it. I've made my escape." He goes below deck and he falls asleep. But before long the sky turns black. The rain begins to fall in buckets. The wind blew harder than any of these hardened experienced sailors had ever experienced before. They had absolutely no idea what was going on, but thankfully we do know what's going on. Verse four tells us that the Lord 'hurled' that's a unique word, it's not used very often in Scripture, the Lord hurled a great wind. Simply means that God, with great force, threw a wind upon the sea. I kept thinking of Nolan Ryan, who had an amazing fastball, pictured in my mind as if God wound up His best fastball and hurled it on the sea. That was the strength of the storm.
But it's not just a storm, it's called a tempest, it was a violent storm. It was unlike any storm these people had ever experienced. The language of the text gives the impression that the ship, as it were, is almost personified, it's almost as if it's trying to cry uncle itself. The storm is so fierce that the ship, the timbers of the ship are groaning and creaking under the incredible pressure of the wind and the waves. The mast is just simply waving back and forth in the breeze, and if it could, it would, it would just cry uncle. The sailors all began crying out, each man to his god, yet despite their cries and their pleas for relief, the storm only grew stronger. And so in a desperate attempt for their lives, what did they do? Anything they could get get their hands on, they picked it up and they chucked it overboard. They began throwing everything overboard that they could, yet they knew that wouldn't be enough, the storm had to cease, or they would all sink to the bottom of the sea. The captain, he's desperate to save the ship. He goes below deck and, almost unbelievably, he finds a man sleeping through the storm. The captain wakes him up and says, "Listen, buddy, you better start praying your God, perhaps your God will listen to you, and give us a thought and rescue us." Now, it's not surprising to us that none of the sailors prayers to any of their false gods, none of them worked. So now in an act of utter desperation, what do they do? They begin to cast lots, they want to see on whom the lot's going to fall. They want to know who was responsible for their trouble. A lot. We would liken it to a modern day pair of dice. On one side, the lot was white, that was good. If the white side came up, that was a good thing. If the black side came up the other side, that was bad. So one by one, they started going to people and casting a lot. It's white on this guy and white on this guy, white on this guy and they go through the entire crew and it's white for everybody. They finally come to the sleeping stranger in a cast a lot in front of him, and they're horrified when it turns, what, black. Then all of a sudden the questions came fast a nd furious. "Who are you? What's your occupation? Where do you come from? What's your country? Calling? Why? Come on, man answer quick. We're going to die." Now you notice Jonah answers most of their questions, but he leaves out the most important question. They said, "What's your occupation?" He never says. He never says "Hey, by the way, I'm a prophet from God. I'm a prophet of God." No, he fails to let that piece of information out. He says "I'm a Hebrew, and I fear, which means I'm afraid of, or I reverence the Lord and you have to wonder did he really fear God at this point. He says, "I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea in the dry land." Now notice how things change here, the tension is ratcheted up a little bit, the conflict increases, because Jonah's confession sends the sailors into a frenzy. If they weren't afraid before, they're absolutely terrified now. Well, what was it about his confession that terrified them? Well, all of the gods that they had been praying to, they were kind of like local gods, they were geographic gods. They were confined to a particular area wherever these sailors came from, they had their own little personal god of their country. Kind of like the state of Kentucky, you know, part of it has their Wildcat god, and part of it has their Louisville Cardinal god, and then there's a big god up North. It's called a Buckeye god, amen, and you know, territorial gods. But here's a stranger telling them that his God is the Lord God of heaven. That his God is the maker of the sea and the dry land. In other words, Jonah says to them, "Listen, my God's universal. My God is a God who controls the wind and the waves." So they cried out, "What have you done?"
I think is good place to pause and point out something. And that is, that the results of our disobedience and rebellion are never limited to just ourselves. And in this instance, the sailors were not the problem. They were not the one running from God. They were not the one rebelling against God. Jonah was the problem. His sin, his rebellion was the problem, yet they were suffering the consequences of Jonah's sin. And certainly this is a lesson that we need to be reminded of. Our sin affects more than just ourselves. Even you as a church member, your sin affects your church. That's why there are times that church discipline is necessary. Jonah's sin, it was a private one, but it affected them. Young people please pay attention to this, you may think that your sin only impacts you. It doesn't. It impacts you, it impacts your family. Very well may impact your future. That guy may be a sweet talker. He may even convince you he's a Christian. "Oh, I go to church." But he doesn't exhibit much fruit in his life. And he wears you down. He wears you down. He wears you down. I don't want to get the call that I've gotten in the past. "Pastor, I'm pregnant." Say, "couldn't happen me." It could. Not only has your life been impacted, the life of that child is forever impacted. You family's impacted. And yes, your church is impacted. See? The results of our disobedience and rebellion are never limited to just ourselves. You only have to look at the current state of affairs in our country to see this illustrated. The actions of one man has plunged much of the country into unrest. Thousands of people are being impacted by that one man's sin. Sin always has it's consequences. Always.
Well, the sailors now they have some understanding of why they're in the midst of such a ferocious storm. They turn to Jonah. And they asked him what they should do. Like they said, "You know the God of heaven. You know the God that made the sea and the dry land. What do we need to do to appease him? How can we get ourselves out of this mess?" Now Jonah is not only in conflict with the God of heaven, he's in conflict with the entire crew of the ship. And even as they speak, the Bible gives us the the information that the sea becomes even more tempestuous, the storms, even more violent. The winds blew harder, the rain fell faster, the waves towered higher, things are coming to a head, the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife, the conflict is palpable. But Jonah knows what must be done. He knows that he's the source of all their problems. He knows there's absolutely no hope of escape either for him, or them, unless they take drastic action. Again, they must act quickly in order to save their lives. Now, can you imagine the shock, the surprise, and perhaps even a little bit of horror, when Jonah says to them, "You've got to pick me up and hurl me overboard. Just like with the cargo, pick me up, throw me overboard. You've got to throw me into the raging sea, and then it will calm down for you." As one commentator said, "Jonah would rather commit suicide than repent." When I first read that sentence, I was shocked. And frankly I was disturbed. But the more that I meditated on what he said, I realized that is exactly what every sinner does. They would rather commit spiritual suicide, than repent. They would rather die than turn to God. And they will hold that attitude until and unless God intervenes in their lives, in the same way that he intervened in the lives of the people of Nineveh. Now admirably these men, these hardened sailors...how ironic is this...they were more concerned about Jonas life than he was. So what they do? Well the order goes out, pull like you've never pulled on the oars before. Pull as if your life depends upon it, because it does. Yet despite all their effort, despite all their desperation, despite all their perspiration, they didn't move that boat an inch. Bible says the storm grew fiercer, listen, they could have been 100 yards from shore it might as well have been a million miles from shore. Because every time they pull the oars forward, God pushed them backwards.
Why? Because God was demonstrating two things. First, he was demonstrating His power and His sovereignty. One of the themes that you can't miss of Jonah is the sovereignty of God. He's demonstrating to all that he controls the winds and the waves. Now, doesn't that sound familiar to us? Can we go to the New Testament find the example of Jesus and the disciples? They're out on a boat and Jesus is sleeping and a storm comes up. Finally, they wake up Jesus and I say to him, "Lord, Don't you care that we're perishing?" Well, of course, he cared. But see, Jesus understood they needed to learn a lesson, and the lesson they needed to learn couldn't be learned on still waters. It can only be learned by choppy waves. So Jesus calmly, simply, and authoritatively stands up and speaks three words, "Peace, be still." And the Bible says the wind ceased, and the sea became calm. You see, the God who shakes the sea is the same God who stills the sea. Second, God was showing the futility of human effort. Despite all their efforts, they couldn't get back to shore. Despite their best efforts, they could not get back to shore. Well, what's the lesson? Human effort is always powerless in the face of God's sovereignty? Can I say it again? Human effort is always powerless in the face of God's sovereignty. Now apply this to salvation, apply this to evangelism. Do you see why you must rely upon the the power of the Holy Spirit to create new birth, new life, in the unsaved person? We do not possess that ability. We have no magic word. We can't get a sequence of words just right. We can't get to them to pray a prayer just right. No, only the Holy Spirit can do that. Why? Human effort always fails in the face of God's sovereignty. Listen, this was a complete failure of human effort. Think of these sailors, think of their skill. It didn't save them. Think of their experience. It didn't save them. Think of their strength. It didn't save them. The harder they rowed, the fiercer the wind became, and finally they give up, finally they give in. They cry out to God, "O, Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord have done as it pleased you." These guys became surprisingly good theologians in a short amount of time. Right? And still, you see here you see the remorse. They don't want to throw Jonah over. But they understand that there's bigger issues in play here. God is doing something greater than perhaps they understood. At least they understood God was doing something that was beyond their control. This guy says he serves you. This is what he says we should do because he serves you, Lord, make us, keep us, innocent over this. What they do? They picked up Jonah they hurled him into the sea. And just like Jesus did for the disciples, God did for the sailors, the sea became calm. And what did the sailors do? According to the text, what did the sailors do? They offered a sacrifice and they made vows to God. I believe they were converted. God's a God of grace and mercy, and God's a God of salvation. So while the sailors are converted, Jonah is consumed. Jonah would rather commit suicide than go to Nineveh. He was picked up by the sailors and thrown into the sea.
But I have to ask myself at this point, Did he really want to die? If he really wanted to die, why didn't he just jump overboard himself? Why did he make them throw him in? And I wonder what went through his mind during those few seconds it took for the men to lift him up, and walk to the edge, and heave him over. I wonder what went through his mind as his body collided with the water and began a slow descent into the deep. Did he think about his family? What was he thinking? Did Jonah think that he had won? Did Jonah think that he had finally escaped the presence and the power of God? Was Jonah relieved that in just a few moments his life would be over? Was he glad that he had given up his life so those hated Ninevites would perish? Did he think he had won? Did he think his conflict with God was over? You know what's ironic here, is the tension is over for the sailors, but it's not for Jonah. Imagine the shock, the surprise, maybe even a sense of horror as he sinks into the murky depths waiting for his lungs to fill with water and starve his body of oxygen, and he would shortly black out. And his life would be over. But suddenly out of the corner of his eye, he spots something. He sees something. It's speeding towards him. It's huge. He's never seen anything like it. It moves so fast. It's as big as a ship. It can't be a fish. It is a fish. It's a fish bigger than anything he's ever seen. It's a fish bigger than anything he's ever heard about. I just imagine if I was Jonah, I'd be looking to go elsewhere. Who knows maybe he had a change of heart. Maybe he said, "You know what, I'm gonna try and dive. I want to try and get out of the path of this thing." Maybe he darted down, but much to his dismay, this great fish darted down just as quickly. And it was increasing in speed. He wasn't going to outrun it. It opened wide it's mouth. And in he went. A few seconds later, he regains his senses. And he realizes beyond belief, he's in the belly of a fish. He learned the hard way. You can run from God, but you can't hide from God. Jonah was a prophet of God. Psalm 139 had already been written by this time. Surely he knew these words. "Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me." Perhaps that was comfort to him. "If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you." See, you can run from God, but you can't hide from God. The question is, why did God save Jonah?