On the Plains of Moab Blog
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February 4, 2013, 7:59 AM

Sermon Text - I, Jonah: "The Joy of Sin" Sermon #2 of 7


February 3, 2013.

Text:  Jonah 1:4-16

Last week, we met the only prophet in the Bible who had the nerve to say "No" to God.

No, Lord, I will not go to Nineveh.

No, Lord, I will not take your word to those people.

No Lord, I will not be a part of any message of hope to my enemies.

No, Lord, I quit.  Find another prophet to do your dirty work.

In the book of Jonah is about a reluctant prophet.  His stubbornness; his surliness, and his pride.  Jonah hates the Ninevites because they are notorious sinners.  The reality is that Jonah is a pretty big sinner himself.  The message to us in the book of Jonah is that we can be just like Jonah.  That's why I said last week that some of us get every morning and head to Tarshish!

This morning, Jonah experiences the consequences of his decision to say "No" to God.  So [Jonah] paid the fare and went down into [the ship], to go...to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.  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. (Jon. 1:3-4 ESV).  The consequences of Jonah's disobedience is judgment.  God is not going to let Jonah quit and run away.

The next thing we see is the response of the sailors on the ship.  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. (Jon. 1:5 ESV).  But where was Jonah in all this?  It says that Jonah had gone below deck into the cargo hold and had fallen fast asleep, totally oblivious to the storm and all of the frantic activity on the ship.

It is quite revealing that just after Jonah told the Lord "No," he began a descent further and further into his sin.  After his initial call from God, went down to Joppa.  He found a ship heading out to sea, and he went down onto the ship.  After he boarded the ship, he went down further into the hold of the ship.  Of course, if you know the rest of the story, he will go further down yet!

Another revealing detail here is the response of the sailors.  They are terrified.  "The mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god....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.'" (Jon 1:5-6 ESV).  They realize that something is not right.  They know that they are experiencing something that only a god can handle.  Everyone of them begin to call on his own god; the god of his family; the god of the country that they come from.  Any god will do!  Their belief may not be orthodox in knowing the God of Israel, but they do have a proper fear of god that their passenger down in the cargo hold obviously doesn't share.

When Jonah is hauled onto the deck of the ship, the sailors are perplexed that he doesn't seem to care about their fate.  They cast lots to see who might be behind all of this divine fury, and obviously, Jonah draws the two light sides up.  (Two darks meant "no"; a light and a dark meant "throw again.")

The sailors wanted to know if they had offended Jonah.  They wanted to know if Jonah had offended his god?  They wanted to know if they were perhaps helping him do something wrong?  Has the prophet committed a crime?  Are they guilty by association?  Who was Jonah's god?  From Moab?  Philistia?  Edom?  Phoenicia?  Israel?  The god he served would tell them much.

Jonah says, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." (Jon 1:9 ESV).  Incredibly here, Jonah seems to be berating the sailors.  "My God is the God who created the heaven and earth.  The God who made all that you see.  He is not a regional deity.  He isn't limited to a particular country.  He holds the entire world in the palm of his hand.  Your god is too small.  Your god is not a god at all.  Pagans!"

Can you hear the irony dripping out of this prophet's mouth?  Jonah isn't even anywhere near practicing what he preaches.  His words are kind of like a mom or dad telling their children, "Do as I say; not as I do."  Let me tell you the way it is.  Never mind that I do not live according to the sage advice I give.

Under such extreme  circumstances, you might expect the next thing for Jonah to say would be, "Yes, I am the cause of this tempest.  Oh, gracious Lord, please forgive my stubbornness.  Please forgive my wayward heart.  Please allow me now to return to land so that I might complete the mission to Nineveh you have given me, for you are a God of second chances.  For this I give you rich thanks!"

No way.  Instead we get this, "Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you." (Jon. 1:12 ESV).  Jonah realizes that he has disobeyed.  He is guilty.  He knows that he deserves the death penalty for running from God.  But, unbelievably, he doesn't ask for mercy or a second chance because he would rather die than go to Nineveh.  He would rather be dead than see any mercy or any forgiveness be offered to the hated Ninevites.

And so, the sailors, after much consternation and attempts to row back to land, finally give in and throw the wayward prophet into the sea to drown.  The judgment is carried through.  The waters close in over his head.

The effect on the sailors is profound.  Before they threw Jonah overboard, they cried out, "O LORD, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you." (Jon. 1:14 ESV).  When the seas calmed down, it says, then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. (Jon. 1:16 ESV).

Now, this probably wasn't a confession of the God of Israel.  Perhaps the sailors were just adding Yahweh to the roster of their other gods.  But, their attitudes and hearts seem so different from that of Jonah.

Think about Jonah here.  He says "No" to God, and then it all goes downhill from there.  Down to Joppa.  Down to the ship.  Down into the cargo hold.  Down into the waves of the sea.  He is so depressed and discouraged in his sin that he goes down and drifts off in what must be a fitful slumber in the middle of a raging storm.  When roused by the sailors, he manages to lecture them about theology and right belief in the one, true God, the very beliefs that he is despising by his own actions.  And then, rather than repent and turn his heart back to God, he would rather die than budge an inch.

My friends, this is a picture of sin and judgment.  How often do we handle our own sin the way Jonah handled his?  Growing more and more depressed and discouraged by the tangled webs we weave in life?  Able to spout off correct theology about God and Jesus and the Bible, but a long way from putting into practice even the simplest movements of faith?  Holding onto and cherishing and nourishing our sin, even though it is something that makes us miserable and desiring of death before a change?

Jonah is a picture of the Christian life sometimes.  We run from God many times because we know that living the faith can get uncomfortable sometimes.  Sometimes the things God wants are the things that don't make sense from the world's point of view.  Sometimes what God wants us to do is just too difficult and unreasonable.  Sometimes we love our sin so much and we're convinced that we're so much better off in our sin, that we'd rather disobey God.  Sometimes we just want to throw off the mantle and burden of being a "Christian" to be free to do whatever we please.

As Jonah found out.  That's not always the happiest or healthiest thing to do.  As Paul reminds us in Romans 6:23, ...the wages of sin is death. (ESV).  In other words, the prize, the reward, the paycheck for sin is misery.  It is darkness.  It is finally death.

In closing this sermon today, I want to give you just a bit of a heads up for next week.  I don't want to leave things entirely negative, though when your text ends with so they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea (Jon. 1:15 ESV), it's kind of hard to find a silver lining in the clouds.  But there is.

Remember that in Romans 6:23, it does say, For the wages of sin is death, [but it also says] the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23 ESV).  Next week, we will find the that grace of God is greater than all our sin.  It will be a whale of an advertisement for what God will do in and through Jesus Christ.

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it so very well.   Amen.


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