Scripture: Jonah 1
This last week I read a story of a young godly lady who went off to college. She took a class there on religious literature. One day they were discussing the Bible. The professor, who was not a believer in Jesus, asked if there was anyone in the classroom who believed in the story of Jonah and the big fish. This brave young woman raised her hand and admitted that she did. The professor looked at her with a ridiculing tone and said, “You really believe that a man was swallowed by a big fish, stayed in his belly for three days, was spit out by that fish, landed on dry land, and lived to tell the story?” She said, “Yes sir, I do.” He said, “Can you tell me what kind of fish it was that swallowed Jonah?” She said, “No sir, I really don’t know. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. When I get to heaven I’ll ask him!” The professor with a smirk on his face said, “What if Jonah isn’t in heaven?” She sweetly smiled and said, “Well, then you can ask him!” The story of Jonah is indeed real, and this morning we begin a 4 part series on the book of Jonah. The book of Jonah is about God, his will and our obedience. Jonah shows us what happens when we play the fugitive and try to run from God. One of the movies I enjoy watching is the 1993 film, The Fugitive. It stars Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. I don’t own many DVDs, but I have a DVD of this one. I could watch it several times, and have. Harrison Ford in the movie is on the run for something he didn’t do. In the book of Jonah, he is on the run for something he wouldn’t do. Many of us, if we’re honest, have had one or times in our lives when we’ve played the part of Jonah, running from something God wants us to do. You may be here this morning and you’re running from God in one way or another. You could be running through spiritual rebellion – you just won’t give your life to Jesus. You could be running through shutting down emotionally – there was a time when you felt something for God, but you’ve gotten attached now to other people and things. They don’t satisfy you as much as Jesus did, but you’re existing. You could be running through spending money – you feel that if you can just buy one more thing or obtain one more possession, then you’ll be happy. God is enough for you, but you’re running from him. You could be running through relationships with other people – in some way you’re trying to put another person in the place in your life only God can fill. One preacher said that there are only two reasons we run from God – we are afraid, or we are arrogant. We are fearful of what it will mean for us if we obey him, or we are so hard-headed that we believe we know more than God what is best for us. Friends, when it comes to God, you can’t escape him. There are four things that characterize you as a fugitive when you’re running from God.
First of all, you are ready to be a fugitive when you detest. Jonah 1:1-2 says, “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.” God’s command comes to Jonah. When God speaks to us today, it is always in the form of a command. I can’t recall a single time in the Bible when God asks someone to do something. God didn’t say to Jonah, “Jonah, here your mission, should you choose to accept it.” When God directs us, he doesn’t give us options. Because of that reality, sometimes we detest what his direction is for us. Jonah wanted nothing to do with the people of Ninevah. The idea of going to preach to them, and them possibly repenting and not being destroyed by God, repulsed him. He wanted them wiped off the face of the map. They were enemies of Israel. God tells you today that the only way to be accepted by God and to be on good terms with him is to surrender your life to Jesus Christ. You may not get too aggravated if other people follow Jesus, but God says that I have to surrender to Jesus? No way. God also commands us today not to be yoked with unbelievers, which means you as a Christian shouldn’t be dating a non-Christian. Because you are in love or because you think you know better than God, you do it anyway. God commands us to keep the marriage bed pure. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” You may say, “Well I don’t want to do that!” or “No one else is doing that!” Then you are getting ready to start on your run from God, just as Jonah was. You can’t do it your way and walk with God at the same time. When you walk with God, you follow his lead. That’s why he’s called Lord and you’re not. You are ready to be a fugitive when you detest God’s command.
Then, you begin as a fugitive when you decide. Fox News has the slogan, “We report, you decide.” God says, “I command, you decide.” Every day we face the decision multiple times, “Am I going to do things God’s way or my way?” Jonah decided not to obey God. Jonah 1:3 begins, “But Jonah rose to flee…” He wasn’t just struggling here, he was adamantly refusing to do what God directed. Verse 3 says, “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.” Geographically here, Jonah was literally going in the opposite direction of where God told him to go. Ninevah was 500 miles northeast of him. Tarshish was 2500 miles southwest of him. Today it would be like God telling someone in West Virginia to go to New York City, and instead he went to Los Angeles. When you make that choice to go the other direction away from God, you begin your journey as a fugitive. As often as you make the choice to go the other direction, it will cost you. Jonah had to pay a fare to get on board this ship to Tarshish. You will have to pay a price for running from God. There is always a price to pay, and it is never a bargain. The price of the ticket was just the beginning of the cost to him. There are many big-ticket items that you can buy today: cars, boats, homes. The most expensive thing you can ever buy however, is a ticket to run from God. When you make the choice to begin as a fugitive, there will always be a ship in the port, there will always be some way, some open door, for you to try to run from God. It will end in disaster, but the way will always be there for you to start the journey. Satan will make sure of it. You begin as a fugitive when you decide.
Then, you continue as a fugitive when you depart. Jonah had no interest in here in sightseeing, and he really had no interest in Tarshish. He was just focused on getting away from God. He buys the ticket, he boards the ship, and they are underway. The passage implies that some time passes between Jonah 1:3 and 1:4. It is likely that at the very beginning, the skies were clear and seas were calm. A couple of verses later we read of Jonah being in the bottom of the boat asleep, so he likely went there when the beginning of journey was pleasant. Usually for a short time, it may appear that we’ve been successful in running from God. We bought the ticket, we boarded the ship, and as the vessel begins moving away from the dock, we are doing just fine. Hours or days may pass for us, it may even be months. For that short period of time we buy into the notion that we can actually succeed at running from God. The truth is however, there is no place we can go where he isn’t. David says in Psalm 139:7-10, “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.” You continue as a fugitive when you depart.
Then, you persist as a fugitive when you defy. In our story the storm hits, but Jonah still isn’t phased in his rebellion against God. Verses 4-5 say, “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. 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.” It’s a bad storm when even the sailors are afraid. These sailors had done nothing wrong. This ship was a cargo ship. They were hauling goods from one port to another – it was how they feed their families. It the cargo doesn’t get to Tarshish, they don’t get paid. Just because one prophet said “no” to God however, all their profit has just gone overboard. When you run from God, there are always other innocent people who get hurt. Family, friends, classmates, co-workers, the list is always longer than we thought it would be. Each of our lives touches so many others. The captain of the ship awakens Jonah, urges him to pray, but he isn’t exactly on good terms with the Lord. So the crew casts dice to determine who is responsible for their situation, and they determine it is Jonah. Jonah agrees, and tells them to throw him overboard. They are reluctant, try to make it shore, but they can’t. They pray for forgiveness, then throw him overboard, and the seas grow calm. Jonah here could have repented on the deck of the ship and made things even easier on the sailors. Instead, he persists in running from God, and would rather die in the storm than obey. You persist as a fugitive when you defy.
This morning we can see in our Scripture passage that Jonah is being stubborn with God, trying to run from him. Is that your attitude as well? I know sometimes I can be extremely stubborn when it comes to obeying God. I read about a little girl named Shauna who was the classic strong-willed child. When she was only four years old, she kept trying to ride her tricycle beyond the boundaries her mom had set for her. Again and again she pushed the limits. Finally her Mom in frustration said, “Look Shauna. There is a tree right here and a driveway right there.” “You can ride your tricycle on the sidewalk, between the driveway and the tree, but you can’t go past it. If you do go past it, I’m going to have to give you a spanking. Now I’ve got to go inside since I have things to do, but I’ll be watching you.” Shauna looked at her Mom for a second, hopped off her trike, bend over from her, pointed to her bottom and said, “Well, go ahead and just spank me now because I have places to go!” If we have that kind of attitude with God, we just need to grow up.