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John Bradshaw - Jonah

John Bradshaw - Jonah
John Bradshaw - Jonah
TOPICS: Great Characters of the Bible, Jonah

Hey there! In this program we're gonna talk about an angry man who ran away from God, wouldn't do what God wanted and didn't even wanna see people saved. Instead, he wanted them destroyed. Who in the world? You're about to find out.

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. We're going to look together at the account of someone who refused to do what God asked. He was given a great responsibility, and he told God he simply wasn't interested. In fact, he did everything he could to not do what God was asking. It's an astonishing story of someone who did not want to see people saved and actually preferred that they be lost. Who in the world would have an attitude like that? Well, it turns out that the man with the bad attitude was a prophet, who ended up taking history's most famous submarine ride in history's most famous fish. We're continuing our series "Great Characters of the Bible" looking at Jonah. The book of Jonah begins like this: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.'"

Now, this was more complicated than you might like to think. God commissioned Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and cry out against it owing to its wickedness. There's a lot to see there. Yes, wickedness doesn't escape God. He sees it all. He takes note of it. But note this: The purpose for Jonah going to Nineveh was to call the Ninevites to repentance. As wicked as the people were, God wanted them to turn from their sins and be saved. And that's God. The God of heaven wants the very best for people. Let's not forget that. God loves the people who don't love Him. God loves people who turn their backs on Him, who ignore Him, people who reject Him. And if God loves the lost, we ought to love the lost as well. God was asking Jonah to do something about this great city and the wicked people who lived there, in the hope that they would be saved and not lost. The call of Jonah is a call to people of faith everywhere.

God wants us to do something to share Jesus with others. But Jonah didn't want to go. In fact, the Bible says, "Jonah arose 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 from the presence of the Lord". Jonah was serious about not going to Nineveh. Tarshish was in the far western Mediterranean, in the south of Spain. Instead of going just 500 or so miles northeast to Nineveh, Jonah was gonna head 2,500 miles west to basically Gibraltar. He was not going to Nineveh. Now, of course, Jonah was attempting something that was completely futile. He fled from the presence of the Lord, or at least tried to. That was never gonna happen. God knew where he was. God knew what Jonah was doing, which reminds us that God knows where you are and what you are doing. God knows. He hasn't forgotten you. His eye is on you...always.

So why did Jonah have such a bad attitude? Well, this was Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, and the Assyrians were brutal. An exhibition of Assyrian art at the British Museum in London, England, was said by the Guardian to contain "some of the most appalling images ever created", tongues being ripped out of prisoners, those prisoners then being skinned alive, beheadings. And that's just for starters. People were terrified of the Assyrians. The book of Nahum was directed to Nineveh. Nahum compares the Ninevites to a cruel, ravenous lion. "For upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually"? the prophet asked. He said, "Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs". And God was asking Jonah to travel there and invite them to repent and to inform them that if they did not, they would be destroyed.

Now, if we were looking for a modern parallel, maybe this would be like asking a Jew in 1941 to call Nazis to repentance. The Assyrians were oppressors, and God was asking Jonah to go to them and invite them to turn to God. So this tells us several things about God. God knew better than anyone just how wicked the people of Nineveh really were, but He saw something in the Assyrians that was worth saving, and He hasn't changed. God looks at sinners of the worst kind and sees what they can be through the power of the gospel. You might think your family members or your neighbors or the people you work with are beyond redemption, but God thinks otherwise. And where we might see hopelessness, God sees hope. But Jonah didn't see it that way. He didn't want the Assyrians saved. He was full of hate.

Isn't that something? A prophet with a grudge, a prophet who didn't want to see everyone come to God. But things didn't work out for Jonah as he had planned. They usually don't when you run from God. A violent storm arose. The mariners feared that their boat was about to be broken up. When Jesus was in a similar situation on the Sea of Galilee, He woke from sleep to calm the storm. But unlike Jesus 800 or so years later, when Jonah woke, he couldn't settle the stormy sea. Realizing that he hadn't escaped God after all, and still determined not to go to Nineveh, he told the men to throw him out of the boat and into the sea, anything but go to Nineveh. The sailors first tried to row to safety, but in vain, as the storm only got worse. They appealed to God that they not be held guilty for Jonah's death.

And as it seemed like their only hope, they then cast him into the Mediterranean. And Jonah was relieved. He wouldn't be responsible for the sailors perishing, and he wouldn't have to go to Nineveh. But God had other ideas. And here's where the story gets really interesting, and this is where Jonah's story challenges many people. A whale? Swallowing a man who survived inside the whale? Well, sure. First, it likely wasn't a whale. The original language says it was a "large fish". And when Jesus referred to the event in Matthew 12, He actually said "huge fish" or maybe "sea monster". Now, there have been stories told of people surviving being swallowed by whales.

Some of those stories have been debunked. But whether or not we can find scientific evidence to demonstrate that a whale could actually swallow a man and then regurgitate him alive, that's not the point. It says, "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah". Whatever it was, God prepared it; God worked it out. God saw to it that Jonah could take a submarine ride in the belly of a creature that He had prepared for that purpose. And if the event didn't happen, it's interesting that Jesus believed that it did. He referenced Jonah in the New Testament and used Jonah's experience to illustrate His own death, burial, and resurrection. So Jesus certainly believed that Jonah was swallowed by a large sea creature, spent three days inside it, and then... well, what happened next? And what impact did spending three days in a fish have on the reluctant prophet? We'll find that out in just a moment.

Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. He was told by God to take a warning message to Nineveh. But Jonah didn't want to go. He ran in exactly the opposite direction, but was...apprehended by a God who was very patient with Jonah, very merciful towards him, and who had and still has a heart for the lost. God wanted even the Assyrians to be saved. So Jonah was selected to deliver the message of mercy to them. After three days inside a big fish of some kind, "The Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land". So Jonah found himself back where he'd started from. He could have saved himself a lot of time and grief if he'd only done what God asked him to do in the first place. Maybe that's true for you.

You know, it's always better to do things God's way because God only ever wants the best for you. When Jonah arrived in Nineveh, he was greeted by a truly beautiful city that had been developed by Sennacherib, the Assyrian ruler named in the Bible. It was a big city. Samaria in the Bible? Nineteen acres. Jerusalem, even today, the Old City covers 220 acres or so. Nineveh covered an area of 1,700 acres, more than twice the size of Central Park in New York City, about 12 times bigger than the mall in Washington, D.C. It was a big place. In recent years historical sites in the area have been destroyed or damaged, but when Jonah arrived in Nineveh, it was a stunning city. This time Jonah got straight to work sharing a direct, pointed message. The Bible says, "He cried out and said, 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!'"

Now, keep this in mind. This really did take faith in God. He was clearly a foreigner, and he's in this strange town telling people that God is going to overthrow the place if the people don't repent. The response was stunning. "So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes".

It was an amazing thing. They responded to the appeals being made to them by the Spirit of God. "And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, 'Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?'"

Interesting. The decree even called for the people to turn away from their violence, not what you'd expect to hear in a place like Nineveh. But this is what happens when the Holy Spirit gets hold of a person's heart, and this is what happens when the word of God is proclaimed. This was a profoundly wicked place. The Assyrians worshiped a plethora of gods. Assyria had the first standing army in all of history. And the national god, Ashur, was credited with bringing victory and granting military power. But something happened here. The people steeped in sin responded to Jonah's message. Two things I wanna point out. One, sometimes God sends you to places you don't want to go because He has a purpose that you can't see. Did Joseph want to go to Egypt? No, he did not. He was sold into slavery. There was nothing good about that. He was falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, imprisoned, betrayed. Even when he was liberated, he was still living in a foreign country separated from his father.

But the Bible says in Psalm 105 in verse 17 that God sent Joseph to Egypt. And He sent him there for a purpose. God could see what was coming. God wanted a man there so He could provide a safe haven for His people. And in light of their captivity, their release was so much more remarkable. God allowed Daniel and his friends to be taken captive to Babylon because He had a great purpose there. John was a prisoner on the island of Patmos, but it was there that he wrote the book of Revelation.

So if you find yourself in a place you would rather not be, remember that you might be there because God is about to do something great, either in you or through you. And here's the second: If you're sharing your faith, there are people who will respond. If the people of Nineveh could respond to an appeal from God, that means anyone can. Don't lose hope for your family. Don't ever give up on your wayward children, your wandering parents, your neighbors, the people you study with or work with or work out with. God is at work. I recently spoke with a friend who told me that he had been praying for a family member for 30 years to come to Jesus.

Finally, the breakthrough, and now that family member is living a life of faith, loving God, growing spiritually. You might not be able to see God working, but He's working. Who would have thought that wicked king Manasseh would have turned to God in faith? Who would have thought that Nebuchadnezzar, idol-worshipper Nebuchadnezzar, would ever turn to God in faith? But he did. If you were a Christian shortly after the death of Jesus, you wouldn't have believed it if someone told you that Saul of Tarsus had joined the church. In fact, the Bible tells us that "all who heard were amazed, and said, 'Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?'" And there's a third thing. It's related to Jonah, who, even after the Assyrians repented, incredibly was not amused. I'll be right back.

He was asked by God to offer salvation to a group of people, and he didn't want to. In fact, he flat-out refused. He was asked to go here, and he went in another direction altogether. Swallowed by a fish and transported back to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, Jonah finally made it to Nineveh. He warned the people: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown"! Astonishingly, the people repented. The proud king of the mightiest empire of the day humbled himself in sackcloth and ashes owing to the ministry of a foreign prophet. And the Bible says, "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it".

What a relief! The city would not be overthrown. The people would be spared. You would think that the evangelist would be thrilled. He had made an appeal, and every person in the city responded. They surrendered themselves to God. They turned from their sinful ways. It was one of history's most stunning revivals. If Jonah went home and told his friends that everyone living in the least-likely city on the planet had turned to faith in God, you'd think that would be cause for celebration. But Jonah wasn't celebrating, quite the opposite, in fact. The Bible says, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry". Angry? But wait, it gets worse. "Ah, Lord [God], was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm".

Look at what Jonah was saying: "I knew You'd do this. I knew that You would save them". Jonah was worried about his reputation, worried that people would consider him a false prophet. Nineveh wouldn't be destroyed after all. And he was enraged that God spared Nineveh. Verse 1 of chapter 4 could read, "It was evil unto Jonah, a great evil". What a guy. Think of the hypocrisy here. When Jonah disobeyed God, running to the south of Spain instead of northern Iraq, God spared Jonah. There was a raging storm, Jonah goes into the sea, and God saved him by entombing him for three days in a sea creature. God saved Jonah in his disobedience, but Jonah was angry the people of Nineveh were saved. He was happy to receive mercy, but not so happy to extend it to others. Jonah was so upset that he begged God to take his life.

So God asked him, "Is it right for you to be angry"? Jonah stormed out of Nineveh and sat and waited to see what would become of the city. Maybe he thought that the people would change their minds and that God would ultimately destroy them anyway. But as he waited, God caused a plant of some kind to quickly grow up over Jonah and provide shade for him from the hot sun. Jonah liked that. It says that he was very grateful for the plant. But the next day, a worm damaged the plant, and it withered and died. And Jonah was angry again, this time, angry that the plant died. When God asked him if it was right for him to be so angry, he said, "It is right for me to be angry, even to death"!

He was out of control, totally unreasonable. And God brought it home to Jonah when He said, "You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left, and much livestock"? Jonah cared more for a plant than he cared for the people of Nineveh. So let's look at this. Jonah simply couldn't be reasoned with. He was irrational, illogical. It was madness. The Ninevites repented when a foreign prophet showed up from out of nowhere, but Israel refused to repent, even though prophets pleaded with them for hundreds of years. The 10 northern tribes went into captivity and were absorbed by the surrounding nations. The southern tribes were taken to Babylon before returning to Jerusalem, even though God pleaded with them to turn to Him.

Also, history shows that ultimately Nineveh's repentance didn't last. It wasn't too long after this that they were back to invading and pillaging and destroying and conquering. Why they turned back? We don't know. But we do know the devil is relentless. And we know turning away from God makes no sense at all. Is God calling you? If He is, follow Him and don't turn back. Have you wandered away from God? Well, return. Don't even wait a moment. When God calls, you want to respond and not delay. And what about Jonah? This is how prophets act? Well, no. Well, yes and no. This is how a faulty person acts. But what we see is that God will use a faulty person, which means we ought to be a little longsuffering with others, and we should realize that God will use people who have faults, people like... like you and me. David faulty, Solomon... Abraham, Moses, Peter... God uses faulty people because that's all God has at His disposal. We're all faulty.

Jonah? Well, Jonah was just... Jonah was just one of us. The story of Jonah tells us a lot about Jonah, but it also tells us a lot about God. God asked someone to go to save His people, to call them to turn. He was patient with the people of Nineveh, and patient with Jonah, who was so stubborn and, and so ungracious. God worked miracles to get through to Jonah and to reach the lost Ninevites. But what's interesting is that the story of Jonah doesn't really resolve. It ends with a question: Shouldn't I be merciful? God asks Jonah. The answer is obvious, but Jonah's response isn't recorded. Maybe this suggests that Jonah had to think about it.

It definitely suggests that you and I ought to think about that question: "Shouldn't I be merciful?" God asks. Yes, He should. And then what about us? We're to enter into that mercy, to share it, and to experience it. We don't have to like what people stand for in order to love them. God is still looking for Jonahs who would share a message of mercy with others and for people who would receive His mercy. How is it with you? Have you accepted the mercy of God? Is the God you believe in gracious, merciful, kind, loving? Is He calling you to turn to Him? That's the God of the Bible. Let that God melt your heart, draw you to Himself, and keep you with Him for all eternity.

Our Father in heaven, the story of Jonah causes us to stop and think about the attitude of a man who did not want to see Your grace and mercy extended to others, and I would pray that we would never manifest that attitude, but no matter who we're interacting with, no matter what our circumstances, our burden would be for the salvation of others. And I would ask also that we would remember what the book of Jonah tells us about You, that You are gracious and longsuffering with Jonah, that You were merciful to the Assyrians, that undoubtedly You would extend that same love, mercy, and grace to us. Lord, move in our hearts that we would accept all You offer us. Keep us, save us, bless us, we ask You, in Jesus' name, amen.

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