Let Us Not Perish

January 29, 2017
Jonah 1:1-16
Abraham Hong


Part 1: It Was For Real

Last week we read about how the word of the Lord came to Jonah, and how Jonah obeyed, went to Nineveh and declared God’s message to them. But that was not the first time that the word of the Lord came to Jonah. That was the second time. The first time ended up very differently.

When the word of the Lord came to Jonah the first time, Jonah ran away.

When I was a junior high student, I once ran away from home. I really did. I put on a jacket and had a few dollars in my pocket. I walked out the door and got as far as the mailbox on the street. Then I stopped and turned around and went back into the house.

But when Jonah ran away, he really ran away. Instead of going to Nineveh, he went the exact opposite direction toward Tarshish. Now Tarshish was not a mailbox away. Tarshish was at the distant edge of Jonah’s world. He found a ship, which meant that his journey was going to be a long and serious one. And he paid the fare, which meant that he was for real. There was no turning back for Jonah. He was serious. He was for real.

But there’s one more thing that really makes Jonah’s action serious. The Bible says that Jonah ran away from the presence of the Lord. Jonah was not just running away from Nineveh. Nor was he just running away from his job of being a prophet. No, Jonah ran away for a personal reason. He was running away from God himself. Jonah was for real.

But so was God. God was for real too. The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea to create a deadly storm for Jonah’s ship. And when the mariners cast lots to determine who was responsible for the storm, God made the lots land on Jonah. The Lord did these things. Not mother nature. Not coincidence or chance. God was for real. 

All of this is meant to show us that Jonah’s running away was sinful and personal. Jonah was the Lord’s prophet. His job was to serve the ultimate king of the universe. To run away was to be a rebel. To disregard the holy command of the Lord and run away from his presence was to spit upon the honor and glory of the king.

Brothers and sisters, do you realize that sin is personal? When a person sins, he or she is not just breaking a law. When a person sins, he or she is breaking a relationship, a real relationship. It is one thing to get a ticket because you were going faster than the speed limit. It is another thing to lose a friend or family member for hurting or betraying them. Sin is personal. When you sin, it is like spitting in God’s face and saying that you’d rather be the lord of your own life. Sin is personal. And Jonah’s running away was sinful and personal.

Jonah deserved to die for this. So what did the Lord do to Jonah? The Lord stopped Jonah’s attempt to run away. And the Lord cast Jonah into the sea. But when Jonah went down to the bottom of the sea, something wonderful happened.

Part 2: On Being Expendable

In the movie Ant-Man, scientist Dr. Hank Pym develops a special suit that can shrink a human to the size of an ant. But Dr. Pym believes the technology to be dangerous, so he vows to hide it as long as he lives. Unfortunately, a rival and enemy develops the same kind of suit and threatens to unleash chaos upon the world. So Hank finds an ex-prisoner by the name of Scott Lang to use his suit for good and defeat the evil work of his rival and enemy.

In one important scene, Scott is in a car with Dr. Pym’s daugther Hope, who is also working with them to defeat the enemy. But Hope is upset that her father is not letting her fight. She doesn’t understand why her father picked Scott instead of her to put on the suit and fight the enemy. After all, she was better trained and more ready to take on the enemy. She doesn’t think that her father loves her. But Scott knows how Hope feels. He says, “Your father doesn’t want to shut you out.” Hope says, “Then why are you here?” To which Scott replies, “It proves that your father loves you. Hope. Look at me. I’m expendable. That’s why I’m here. You must’ve realized that by now. I mean, that’s why I’m in the suit and you’re not. Your father would rather lose this fight than lose you.”

Brothers and sisters, Jonah was supposed to die that day. And when he was thrown overboard, he was as good as dead. But the Lord did a wonderful thing. He made Jonah expendable. The life of Jonah was traded for the lives of the mariners. Jonah was a substitute for them. He went to his death, the sea ceased from its raging, and the men on that boat lived. When the men saw this, they feared the true and living God that day, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. Amazing.

Brothers and sisters, this is a wonderful picture of salvation in Christ Jesus. The storm was about to destroy everyone on that boat, but Jonah took the blame for it, he was cast into the sea, and the rest of the men on the boat lived. In a similar way, we deserved the wrath of God and the punishment for our sins, but Jesus Christ took the blame for it, he was crucified on the cross, and we are forgiven. And all of this was very serious, very real, and very personal. In fact, it was so personal that Christ uttered these mind-blowing words: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” God the Father would rather send his one and only beloved Son to die for you than lose you. As the substitutionary and sacrificial lamb of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was, in one very real sense, expendable.

And so the good news for us is that we do not get the raging sea of wrath of God. We are no longer under judgment. There is now no more condemnation. There is no more danger of hell. We are forgiven - forgiven by “innocent blood.” We are right with God and have a good and real relationship with him. We have eternal life in Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord!

Part 3: The Fear of The Lord

A theme that runs through today’s story is the fear of the Lord. When the mariners were saved from dying in the storm, they feared the Lord greatly. They even offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows on that day. Just as Nineveh would turn in the future, these mariners turned from the gods that they first prayed to. The mariners saw that Jonah’s God was the true God. And they feared him.

What does it mean to fear the Lord? Fearing the Lord means to believe in him. Fearing the Lord means to listen to his words and follow his commands. The fear of the Lord is a desire to honor and please him. To fear the Lord is to acknowledge that he sees and knows everything that we think and say and do. Fearing the Lord is about living in a holy manner and not being casual or inappropriate before him. To fear the Lord is to be humble before him and be changed by his word.

Brothers and sisters, I know that many of you have fun and goofy personalities. I know that at Highland there is good fellowship with a lot of joking and friendly sarcasm. But I ask you to think about the ways that you talk and act and think. I ask you to double check that you have deep and growing fear of the Lord.

One way to check yourself is to think about who you are when you are alone. If you fear the Lord, then you will be holy all the time: not just at church or when you’re in the presence of other Christians. If you fear the Lord, then you will care about God all the time and especially when you are alone because you know that God sees and knows everything. If you fear the Lord, then there is no such thing as running away from the presence of the Lord.

Another way to check yourself is to think about how you approach sin. If you fear the Lord, then you will hate sin and sinning against God. If you fear the Lord, then you will repent of your sins because you care about him and his honor. If you fear the Lord, then you will not fall fast asleep with a dulled conscience toward God or an apathetic attitude toward others who are in the same boat as you. If you fear the Lord, then you will remember that sin is personal.

Another way to check yourself is to think about how you approach God and his commands. If you fear the Lord, then you will follow and obey his word that comes to you instead of calling Tarshish Nineveh and pretending like it’s opposite day. If you fear the Lord, then you will not pay lip service and say, “I am a Christian, and I fear the Lord” when you really don’t. If you fear the Lord, then, instead of Jonah, who would rather die than obey God, you would rather die than disobey God.

Brothers and sisters, I pray that Highland would be a church that deeply fears the Lord.

Part 4: The Chastening Chasing of The Lord

Before I end with the epilogue, I want to offer a very important encouragement to all of you. When we sin against God, it is like running away from him. Maybe some of you lately or right now feel like you have really run away from God and are far from him. And maybe some of you feel like God has put a storm in your life.

I am not a prophet and I cannot know exactly for sure what God is doing in your life right now. But I do know from Scripture that Christ is a Good Shepherd to his sheep. I do know from Scripture that our Lord often chastens us, c-h-a-s-t-e-n-s, which means that he disciplines us. And I do know from Scripture that he does so because he loves us.

Brothers and sisters, when the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, he wasn’t just bringing Jonah back to Nineveh. He was bringing Jonah back to him. And he was showing him mercy and grace. Unlike the false gods that the mariners cried out to, the Lord gave a thought to all of them so that they may not perish.

You may feel like the most unluckiest person in the world right now, as if the casting of lots has fallen upon you. Maybe you feel the weight of questions and accusations and you realize that you have messed up. Maybe you wish you could just go to sleep. Maybe you wish you were dead.

Or maybe, just maybe, everything in your life right now is going exactly God’s way. Maybe, just maybe, God is chastening or disciplining you in his mercy and grace. Maybe, just maybe, God is chasing after you… because he loves you… because he loves you so much that he will make sure you never make it to Tarshish.

Listen to these encouraging words from the writer of Hebrews: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord…. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Brothers and sisters, have you run away from the presence of the Lord? Are you in a storm? If so, try to remember that sin is personal and that God is for real.

Epilogue: Into the Sea

At the end of today’s story, we see that Jonah is hurled into the sea. What would happen to Jonah as he drowned to the bottom of the waters? Why was he running away from the presence of the Lord? And centuries after Jonah died, why would another person found sleeping in a boat during a storm declare that “something greater than Jonah is here?” Stay tuned next Sunday for the next chapter of the story of Jonah.