Billy Graham - Can You Run Away from God?
Tonight I want you to turn with me to the 16th chapter of Matthew's Gospel. The 16th chapter of Matthew's Gospel, verse one. And I want to talk tonight on Jonah and the whale. But I want to start from the 16th of Matthew, rather than the Old Testament where the story of Jonah is told. "The pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven". They wanted to see something spectacular. Some sign that would prove to them who he was. "He answered and said unto them, when it is evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky: but can ye not discern the signs of the times"?
We need to hear that today. We can discern the meteorological signs. We see on our television sets the prediction of the weather, the lows and the highs and the fronts that are moving through. And we can pretty well predict the weather through the satellite pictures that we're now able to take. And there are many signs in the skies as satellites are circling this earth constantly. Something we never dreamed of 25 years ago. And now we're probing the outskirts of Saturn. Already finished probing Mars. And going on into outer space. Signs in the sky. We can discern that. We can understand that. But Jesus said, "You cannot understand the signs of the times".
Signs of the times that point toward salvation. Signs of the times that point toward when he comes back again. Because the signs are everywhere. You take the 24th chapter of Matthew and read it. Take the 13th chapter of Mark and read it. And you'll see there, 21 signs that Jesus gave us and he indicated when all of these are converging at one time you know that your redemption draws nigh. World peace is going to come. Social justice is going to come. But before then, there'll be Armageddon. And man will be about ready to destroy himself when Christ comes back and going to set up an everlasting kingdom. Who's going to defeat the devil? Who's going to stop the wars? Who's going to feed the hungry? He is.
Jesus said, "You can discern the meteorological signs, but you don't seem to understand what is happening in the world". He said, "A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign. And there shall no sign be given unto it but the sign of the prophet Jonah". And the book of Jonah is filled with the supernatural. There was a great fish. There was a gourd. There was a worm. There was an east wind. All of that prepared by God. And then there was the repentance of an entire nation, or an entire city with over a million population. And as someone has said, it remains an object of faith not explanation.
I believe it not only because it's in the Bible, I believe it because Jesus confirmed it. If it never happened and Jesus said it happened, then that brings about a credibility problem with Jesus. If you believe Jesus, you must believe the story of Jonah. And there's a tremendous truths in this little book that I wish I had time to cover tonight. But I don't have time for all of them. We get so concerned when we come to the book of Jonah about what was happening to the fish, that we forget about what was happening to Jonah. You see, Jonah was trying to find the will of God for his life. Now God's word to Jonah was very clear. God said, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it for their wickedness has come up before me".
Now Jonah didn't like that order from God. He rebelled at the very thought of going to Nineveh. First of all, I don't expect he found much glamour in being a preacher of judgment. Saying, "The judgment is going to fall on you". But the second and most important reason was, he did not want God to spare Nineveh. There's probably never been a more wicked, a more godless, a more immoral, a more violent people than the Assyrians that dwelt at Nineveh. He said, "God, they deserve hell. Get rid of them! Kill 'em all"! That was how Jonah felt. They were so wicked and so awful and they'd been so terrible to his own people. So when God gave the order for him to go and preach repentance in Nineveh, it says that Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord. He said, "I just can't do it". He said, "I'm gonna run from God, I can hide from God".
So he got a ship that was going down to Tarshish. Now Tarshish was a seaside resort. And he though he'd to lie in the sun a little while beside the beach and enjoy himself. And let God send somebody else to do this dirty work of preaching judgment in Nineveh. But you know the way of disobedience and sin always leads downward. Notice it says, he went down to Tarshish. And it leads down to guilt and loneliness and separation and hell. And every step leads lower. Every time you flee from the presence of God you're in trouble, every time. Every time you miss your devotional life. Every time you miss your time of prayer. Every time you miss your time of reading the word.
As a Christian, you're in trouble. And every time you hear the Gospel and do nothing about it, you're in trouble. You're in eternal trouble. Because living inside of your body is a spirit. And that spirit lives forever either in heaven or hell. And you're taking a chance every time you hear the Gospel and do nothing about it. Adam and Eve fled from God's will. They rebelled against God and the human race is suffering the effects today. Samson was raised up of God, a might man, a strong man, a man of God who had taken the nazarite vow. But sin led him astray. And finally he was blinded, put in prison and ground at the mill wheat.
David, the man after God's own heart, also became guilty of sin. He became guilty of adultery and guilty of murder. And he suffered for it the rest of his life. God forgave him, but the scars remained. And many of you are trying to flee from God tonight. You know that you need a personal relationship with Christ. Many of you go to church. Most of you I imagine in this audience tonight go to church. Most of you've been baptized or you've been confirmed or whatever in your church. But you are not sure that Christ lives in your heart. You're not sure that your sins are forgiven. You're not sure that if you died you've go to heaven. If you have a doubt about it you ought to settle it this very night. You're fleeing from God.
Many of us flee by travel. You know we live on airplanes and that is when the controllers allow us to fly. And we live in hotels or motels. And we see people traveling in airports, thousands of people. And I just wonder where they're going. Many people are so restless today that they just want to travel from place to place. They can't sit still. We met a couple this summer, my wife and I did. And they have homes in different parts of the world. And they said, "We're so restless, we can't stand any place more than two weeks at a time". Then they get on a jet and go to another place: restless, fleeing.
And may people flee into the lust for things. You see, people just buying for the sake of buying. And there are many people that have become compulsive shoppers just as there are compulsive drinkers. Have to buy. Cannot have any money in their pocket. They have to spend it. I'll not call any names. But I'm sure some husbands here may be thinking along that line and wives too. And then there are people that flee into the obsession of sex. It's both a fad and a passion. And today we're filled with it, saturated with it, and getting sick of it.
Many German young people were saying last summer as quoted in the press, "We're sick of it, all this freedom of expression and permissiveness". And many of them have turned to violence to find their escape. And then we flee in mysticism and occultism. Like Saul who went to the witch of endor instead of God when he needed help. Then there's the escape into pleasure. "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth". And how many people tonight are fleeing from God by trying to have a good time and living in pleasure, not knowing that you're dead toward God? We're fleeing. But the Bible says, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation"? What is the salvation? The salvation is Jesus Christ coming on the cross and dying for our sins and shedding his blood. "Being made to be sin for us who knew no sin that we may be made the righteousness of God in him".
The Bible says, "All we like sheep we've gone astray, we've turned everyone to his own way". We're all sinners. Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Cain and Abel, their sons, sinned. And they pass that disease of sin down to you and me. And we all have the disease in our hearts. We're all under condemnation. We're all going to die. War doesn't not increase death. Death is total in every generation. What direction are you taking? I read about a man that was walking through the western part of the state that I live in, in North Carolina, where we live in the mountains. And he reached a sign post and one direction pointed to a smooth level highway. But the sign that pointed to the road that he wanted to take was a rough road to the place that he wanted to go. And he had a very happy thought. He climbed the sign post and changed the markers. And he never got to his destination.
And many of you are trying to change the markers on the road of life. You want the easy, the level, the pleasant road. But that road does not lead to God. You see, in the Old Testament it was very interesting that when a man gave his heart to God he was supposed to become prosperous. But the New Testament teaches the very opposite. The New Testament teaches that's there's suffering and death for those that are following Christ. It's not easy to be a follower of Christ in this generation especially. It's hard to follow Christ! There're two roads of life Jesus said. "Enter ye in at the straight gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leadeth to destruction. And many there be that go in there at", he said. "Because straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life. And few there be that find it". He said, "The broad road that leads to hell is filled".
As an old theologian said in the middle ages, people are rushing toward hell as though they were afraid it would be filled before they got there. "Broad is the way", Jesus said. But he said, "There's another road that's narrow and rugged and tough and hard". And in order to get on that road you'll have to deny yourself and be willing to take up a cross. Identify yourself with Christ at the school, at the factory, on the farm and with your friends and neighbors. Let them all know where you stand. That you stand for Christ and for righteousness and for honesty and for goodness and for morality and for justice. And that's not easy in our generation. There's any easy road that's a broad road. "But the end", Jesus said, "Is death and destruction and judgment and hell".
It doesn't last long. Life will soon be over. And how many of you are going to wish that you had taken that narrow road. And many of you stand tonight at the crossroads. You have to make a decision before you leave here. There's not a person listening to my voice, you may be in the choir, you may be in this great audience, and you're going to have to make a decision. You say, "No, I'm not going to make one". Yes, you will. You are going to say yes or no or you're going to say maybe. Or maybe you'll say, "I'll wait". But you're going to make a decision. Not a person in this place will leave here tonight without having made a decision about what you're going to do with Jesus Christ. You will have made it when you leave here.
So Jonah, it says, paid the fare thereof. He got on the boat, got on the ship, paid the fare. And the Bible says that when you follow the broad road, live for yourself and for pleasure, "The wages of sin is death". "The way of the transgressor is hard". There's a hardness to being a transgressor too that ends up in death and judgment. A series of tragedies came to the ship and the crew. And they began to pray to their Gods when the storm came. And they said, "Oh, save us, what's wrong, what's wrong, what's wrong"? And the sailors became very much afraid because they cast lots. The lot fell upon Jonah. And Jonah confessed that he was running from the Lord God. And these sailors were better than some of us Christians. They tried to save Jonah. They rowed hard. But the couldn't make it. The storm was too great. And so they threw Jonah overboard. And God had prepared this great fish.
You see your sin and disobedience not only affects your life, but the lives of others. Jonah's fleeing from God's command and from God affected those sailors. They were in danger of losing their lives. You say, "If I wanna take these drugs that's my business". What about your parents? What about the people you steal from? What about the children that are yet unborn that'll be affected? Jonah said, "I'll go where I want to go. And I'll do what I wanna do". I, I, I. That was his right. Just as long as he was willing to pay the price. And the price is judgment and hell and loneliness and discouragement and guilt. There's a price that you'll pay. "The wages of sin is death". "Be sure your sin will find you out". No one in this audience has ever committed one sin that will not be found out.
Now Jonah went to sleep in the boat. Isn't that strange, running from God, the big storm, the judgment coming and he's asleep? How can he sleep? Because sin is like a sedative. Jonah was sleeping the sleep of disobedience. I talked to a man some time ago. He'd defrauded his neighbor through deceit and stolen money from his neighbor. And he said, "I feel perfectly at peace about it because that's what my neighbor's father did to my father a generation ago". Now, that's a false peace. It's the peace of disobedience. The peace of being away from God. But it'll soon end. And then will come the guilt and remorse and the judgment and the hell. And time is passing fast.
First, sin is fun, then it's boring, then it makes you insensitive. And there was a time when you were very sensitive to the Word of God. It pricked your conscience. It brought tears to your eyes. It made you uncomfortable. And now you turn away without any feeling at all. You're sleeping the sleep. You've been sedated by sin.
Now Jonah's sin affected that entire ship. "None of us liveth unto ourselves", the Bible says. We must learn to say with David, "Search me, oh God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts. And see if here be any wicked way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting". Search me, search me. Are you asking God to search you tonight? Do you know for sure your relationship to God? And do you know for sure that your sins are forgiven? Do you know for sure that you're going to heaven? "And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time".
You see God spoke to him the first time. Now he gives him a second chance. Now that is not always possible. When the thief on the cross turned to the Lord and said, "Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom". That was his first and only moment. He took advantage of that moment when he said, "Lord, remember me". And Christ said, "Today thou shalt be with me in paradise". Tonight there are many of you like that. This may be your last moment, your only moment to say yes to Christ. Do you remember when God began to speak to you when you were young and you put it off? And you would say tonight, "Backward, oh backward, oh time in it's flight and make me a child again just for tonight". Oh, how I would like to go back there. How I'd like to go back to that little church back there. But now you're older, you're hardened. Your conscience no longer pricks you. The Word of God no longer appeals to you.
And there is danger lying ahead. Not many times does God give a second chance. God said, "All right, I'll give you a second chance. Arise and go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it. Preach what I've already told you to". Jonah had just graduated from fish university. He'd been spit up by the fish. And he could have written a best seller entitled jaws. Or he could have written a story entitled the inside story.
Now Nineveh was three days journey away but Jonah went so fast he got there in one day and traveled through the city. And the people of Nineveh believed him. That's the thrilling thing about it, the whole city repented. The greatest revival in the history of the world. It says even the animals got in sack cloth and ashes. The king, all the people, a million and more residents repented in sack cloth and ashes of their terrible sins. And you know what happened? God forgave them. No matter what your sin, no matter how deep in sin you've been, God is in the forgiving business because of what Christ did on the cross. I'm not going to heaven because I'm good. I'm not going to heaven because I've preached to thousands of people. I'm going to heaven like anybody else, by the way of the cross where Christ died for me.
Yes, they believed. And that word believed, by the way, is very interesting. In that particular passage in the third chapter of Jonah. It's where we get our word amen from and it means to be firm, to be sure. The people of Nineveh were sure that they were forgiven. They were certain of their repentance. Are you certain, are you sure? "These things I write unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God that you may know that ye have eternal life". You can know it, you don't have to guess it. You don't have to say, "I think so, I hope so". You don't have to go home wrestling with your doubts. You can have it settled all tonight. Do you know Christ that way?
Yes, God spared Nineveh. And God will spare you in that day that is yet to come. Repentance means that you change your mind about God, about yourself, and about your need. It means that you're saying to God, "I'm willing to change my way of living and turn from sin and start on the narrow road". You won't be perfect. But Christ will be there in the person of the Holy Spirit to help you to live the life of a follower of Christ. You cannot live it alone. God is a God of love, and mercy, and grace. And he extended to an entire city, as God is doing to Calgary, Alberta tonight through this crusade, he's extending to a city his hand of mercy. I'm going to ask you to make sure tonight to receive him.
You say, "What do I have to do"? I'm going to ask you to do something that we saw 800 people do yesterday afternoon. I'm going to ask you to get up out of your seat and come and stand in front of this platform. And say by coming, "I want to know. I want to be sure. I want to be firm about this. I want Christ in my heart. I want my sins forgiven. I want to know I'm going to heaven". We're going to wait on you. And after you've all come and stood here in front, I'm going to say a word to you and have a prayer with you and give you some literature to help you in your Christian life and you can go back and join your friends. It'll only take you about two minutes if you come from the top up there. You come and stand here for a moment. And this is an outward sign before God of an inward commitment that you're making. That you're willing to go all the way with Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, "If you're not willing to acknowledge me publicly before men, I'll not acknowledge you before my father which is in heaven". There's something about doing it publicly and openly that settles it in your heart. And this is what Jesus said. And every person he called in the New Testament, you'll notice he called publicly. There was a reason for it. And I'm going to ask you to come openly and make this commitment now. I'm going to ask no one to leave the stadium. Everyone in an attitude of prayer as people come. And you come right now, from everywhere, all over the stadium. Hundreds of you, just get up out of your seat and come. Young people, men, women, whoever you are. You know you need Christ. You come and make this commitment to him now. We're going to wait on you.
You that are watching by television in other parts of the United States, and in other parts of the world, can see here in Calgary in this great, beautiful stadium hundreds of people coming from every direction to make this commitment to Jesus Christ. You can make that same commitment wherever you are: in your hotel room, at home, wherever you are. And say yes to Christ. And there's a phone number there on your screen. You can pick up your phone and call and there are counselors waiting right now to talk to you. Just like counselors will talk to people here and give them this literature. They would like to help you with your problems or with your way to Christ. Pick up the phone right now and call that number. God help you to do it and be sure to go to church next Sunday.