Campus Pastor, Jackson Lin
This semester we are starting our new chapel series on the book of Jonah. The story of Jonah is familiar to many of us. It is portrayed in many sweet and cute artwork and children’s books. However, it is more than just a simple hungry fish story. It is quite a dark story illuminated with the rich grace of God that teaches us about his boundless salvation amid our boundless arrogance and sin. So, let’s start with Jonah 1:1-6 (ESV),
“1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 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. 4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
At the beginning of the passage, God called Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, yet without any explanation, Jonah chose to go to Tarshish. Now, from the context of the whole book, we know that it was because Jonah did not like the Ninevites, but the author does not want us to jump there yet because we often don’t need a reason. We are just prone to follow our hearts. We are prone to wander down the slippery slope of godlessness. And it’s all downhill from now. Literally! Verse 3 said Jonah went down to Joppa, then he went down into the ship. And when the storm hit the ship, Jonah went down into the inner parts of the ship, and he laid down to sleep! In less than 6 verses, we see how Jonah’s life and personality head toward a downward trajectory, and it all started with him despising God’s word. Twice in verse 3, Jonah despised God’s presence. When God’s anger hit, he ignored it! Ultimately, he started to ignore God and others, especially at the moment when the sailors’ lives were in danger!
Has this happened to you? Are you so stubborn and self-centered that you give no care to anything in the world? Jonah was unwilling to go to a different city, and some of us won’t even bother to go to the lunch table or break the circle next to us. We are so divided among ourselves, bullying and gossiping behind one another, and we show no remorse for it. Like Jonah, we went down and fell asleep in our own “comfort.” Jonah had to be awakened by pagan sailors! He was mocked by unbelievers, calling him with God’s word saying, “Sleeper, Arise, and cry out!” That is just what we need.
We need to be awakened by the loving pursuit of God.
Jonah could not run away from God. In this instance, we see God aggressively pursue sinners. Yes, it can get stormy and chaotic, but it’s extremely loving. God was waking Jonah up. What is the Tarshish of your life? Are you running away from God’s presence? I pray this passage will wake you up. We need to be awakened by the loving pursuit of God. In this passage, we see God’s loving pursuit in his initiation, his hurl, and his compassion.
1. God’s Initiation
The book of Jonah begins with a subject, “the word of God.” The author wants to make it clear that God always initiates first! He wakes Jonah up first with his word! Now, why did God come to Jonah? He came to Jonah because the evil of Nineveh has come up to the Lord! The evil of Nineveh has piled up so high that it has come before the Lord. So, he asked Jonah to cry out against it. In one verse, God’s word tells us that he was grieved by sin. God is not like the Watcher in Marvel, just watching, waiting to see humanity unfold their own destiny. God is holy and loving. He will be grieved by sin, and God’s people ought to respond in the same way. You can now see why God came to Jonah like a storm. Jonah has become like the Ninevites by running away from his words!
When the word of God came to Jonah, his idolatry began to surface. He began to run away from God and find rest elsewhere. God’s word preaches his love but it also calls out sin. There is no love if God does not call out sin. We live in a culture of wanting to avoid the topic of sin and calling ourselves sinners! Yet, in every instance of God’s pursuing love, he came to us while we are still sinners, lying dead in our sins. While we reject him, he pursues us! He, the holy God and the creator would pursue us? What an amazing love? We cannot fathom God’s love without realizing our sin. Often when the word comes and convicts us of our sin is painful, but behind those mountains of pain hides the ocean of God’s love.
2. God’s Hurl
Let’s look at verse 4 again. It begins with “But,” signifying a major transition. In the Ancient Near East culture, the sea is often seen as a place of chaos and loneliness. And Jonah rather goes out there than be with his Lord and Savior, “but the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” The wind was so powerful that the author personified the sea and the ship, like the sea was strangling the ship, and the ship was threatened to break up! How did Jonah arrive in this situation? He paid for it!
In verse 3, as soon as Jonah left the Lord, he started to empty his pocket to go to a place of chaos and loneliness. “So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.” How foolish and expensive our sin can be? While God’s precious word came to us for free, sin charges us just to go out there suffer! Furthermore, our sins weigh us down. It pulls us down deeper and deeper. In this passage, we see God’s powerful storm against the weight of Jonah’s sin and stubbornness.
Ironically, the ones that responded to God’s hurl were the sailors. They started tossing out their precious cargo, giving up all they have so that they may save one another, including Jonah! This teaches Jonah and us to start tossing out all that weighs us down away from God. When God hurls his mighty wind at you, do not harden your hearts like Jonah. Do not continue to go down and hide in your sin. Often, his hurl reveals all the idols of your life.
3. God’s Compassion
We don’t need to look far into Jonah to see God’s compassion toward believers and unbelievers. In the beginning, it was God’s will and desire that the great evil city shall hear from him. Therefore, it was, in the beginning, God’s will to chase after Jonah, so that he may reach Nineveh! Why? Because the Lord is a compassionate God, despite our resistance.
Look at verse 5, while people are about to die, Jonah stretched out and slept, showing no concern for God and his neighbors. He refused to face God. Then, in a surprising turn, the pagans yelled at him, it is as if God broke in and spoke through their cry, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” They ask Jonah to run to God and cry for mercy! And that’s exactly what God wanted to do. He wants people to come to him and ask for mercy. He wants people to taste his goodness and love! “Ask and you shall receive.” We are resistant, but God is persistent. He is like an alarm that will not stop ringing until you are awake to reach for it!
In the New Testament, we see the same irresistible grace from God. Jesus, the better Jonah, the word of God in the flesh, came down to a world filled with chaos, sin, and loneliness. On the cross, he cried out to God, not so that he won’t perish, but so that we won’t perish. He willingly came down to the deep, so that we may be lifted.
Do you want to feel God’s presence? Do you feel distant from God? Let God’s loving pursuit bring you to him. Every day we are being told to love one another, but we will be unable to do that unless we daily experience God’s loving pursuit written in the gospel! We need to be awakened by the loving pursuit of God. We first see God’s pursuing love in his initiation, in his hurl. and in his compassion.
Stop running from God. He is already way ahead of you. He is like 2,000 years ahead! He already calmed the storm, conquered death, and paid the debt of sin. You may be deep in sin, but his grace reaches deeper.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.