A. Title for sermon.
In trying to decide upon a proper and fitting title for this sermon, several interesting titles came to my attention. For example this sermon could be called “The First Deep Sea Diver” or perhaps “A Whale with a Stomachache.” Some other fitting titles might be it, “A Man God Spoke to the Second Time,” “A Man Preaching from Experience” or even “The Perils of Running from God.” However, I have chosen to simply title this message “The Traveling Man” and use as the four points within the message the direction in which Jonah traveled.
B. The prophet.
The only Old Testament reference that we have to the prophet Jonah is found in II Kings 14:25, “He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher” – that is outside the book of Jonah itself. In this reference you see it simply refers to Jonah as the son of Amittai and a native of Gathhepher, a town of lower Galilee. Also it states that Jonah prophesied concerning the successes of Jeroboam II.
C. The book.
The Book of Jonah stands fifth among the books of the twelve Minor Prophets, but it is quickly apparent to the reader that it is of a nature very different from the other eleven. First it will be noticed that while the other eleven deal primarily with the preaching of the prophet himself, the Book of Jonah has only eight words from the prophet’s preaching, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”, (Jonah 3:4).Secondly, the other 11 contain few references to the personal history of prophet concerned, while the Book of Jonah is made up primarily of Jonah’s experiences.
Thirdly, in the other eleven books the prophets preached to Israel with the purpose of turning men to repentance, but with Jonah no mention is made of his ever preaching to Israel and he didn’t want to preach to Ninevah because he was afraid they would repent. In light of all this it must be carefully pointed out that the Book of Jonah has more to say to modern man, when studied correctly, than any of the other eleven Minor Prophets and maybe as much as any Old Testament book.
D. The purpose of the book.
The purpose of the Book of Jonah was to teach a very important lesson. In the years following the exile there grew up in Israel a spirit of bitterness and vengefulness toward other lands. The nation had endured so much at the hands of enemies that there was little inclination to keep alive the vision of Israel as God’s servant through whom redemptive truth would one day reach all men, (Isaiah 42:1, Isaiah 42:6). The most passionate desire in Israel was that God’s wrath would utterly consume and destroy all of Israel’s enemies. The problem of the prophets and religious leaders was how to reawake in the nation a sense of missionary responsibility to which God’s people had been called. No better weapon could be found than the historical narrative of Jonah. Through informing the people about Jonah’s action many years before, they would be able to identify with Jonah and then in seeing his weakness they would in turn see their own.
Possibly there are other purposes for Jonah which I have here listed:
(1) Jonah’s home was Gathhepher, II Kings 14:25, near Nazareth the home of Jesus, of whom Jonah was a sign.
(2) Joppa, where Jonah embarked, to avoid preaching to another nation, was the very place which God chose, 800 years later, to tell Peter to receive men of other nations, (Acts 10).
(3) Jesus quoted Jonah as a prophetic picture of his own resurrection on the “third” day, Matthew 12:40, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
So, all in all, the Story of Jonah is a grand historical picture of the Messiah’s resurrection and mission to all nations.
E. An amazing book.
This amazing little book, so full of spiritual insight and beauty, is one of the noblest in the Old Testament. One cannot read it without experiencing some of the glowing contagion of the author’s dream. Neither can he put it down without wishfully saying to himself, “If men only would, if men only could, Earth might be fair, and all her people one.” C. H. Cornill said he had read the book a hundred times, but he still could not read it without tears in his eyes. One must say in relation to it, “Take off your shoes, for the ground whereon thou standeth is Holy Ground.”
A. The call to Ninevah.
How could the call of God come to one so “eyeless with hate,” so blinded with prejudice that he could not see? Not only did God call a man with such an attitude, but God called him to carry a message to the ones he hated the most. As you see, God’s mercy and justice will, even though it may have to go to great length, penetrate such spiritual opaqueness. Jonah knew just as you do what kind of a God was dealing with him: “I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil,” (Jonah 4:2).The call of God came to Amos, the Tekoan herdsman, watching his flock by night under the Palestinian Sky. God’s call came to Isaiah while praying in the temple and he rose up to say “Here am I, send me.” To Jeremiah he calls against the excuse: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child,” (Jeremiah 1:6). Too, God’s call came to me as an 18 year old boy pondering what I would do in life and what I could profit the most from. But then God made me to look beyond myself and see the needs of others and especially their spiritual needs. However, all of these called set out against the one call of Jonah do not compare because all of the above mentioned loved those to whom they were to preach, but Jonah hated, hated, hated!
B. The cruise to Tarshish.
Jonah had a conflict of wills with God. Basically it was this, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and Jonah didn’t want to go. Now when your will and God’s will conflict, either you can change your will or refuse God’s will. However, I hope you will be able to determine from the experiences of Jonah that when you disobey God’s will you will run into trouble, brother, I mean real trouble! Jonah decided that instead of going to Nineveh he would go in the opposite direction, which was Tarshish. Now Tarshish was located in Southwest Spain and was to be considered as far away as one could get and still remain in the civilized world. Another thing to be noticed is that Tarshish is in the opposite direction from Ninevah and at that time in history were as far apart as a person could get. The point to be taken is that Jonah wanted to get as far away from his responsibility as possible.Let it be well pointed out that Jonah’s reason for not wanting to go to Ninevah was not fear. Jonah was anything but a coward. When things went against him on board ship he said to the sailors: “Throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you,” (Jonah 1:12). The reason for Jonah’s not obeying God’s will was his strict nationalism and his hate for the Assyrians.
C. The companions on ship.
The first thing that Jonah did when he got on board the ship was to go down into the ship and fall asleep. We wonder how Jonah could have closed his eyes when he was running from God and when death was apparently so near and he surely knew if he died he would die outside the will of God. I think his insensibility at the time shows us the effect of sin which hardens the heart and stupefies the conscience. Today, all around us are men who are aware of the fact that they are lost and that they will go to hell if they die today, but they will not repent and they willfully reject the salvation God has to offer. It will be wise for us to recognize that the church is asleep also. How can we as a church sleep with conditions being as they are all around us.Jonah, a man called by God, received his first rebuke from the heathen shipmaster: “What meanest thou, oh sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God,” (Jonah 1:6). Is it not sad that the first we hear of Jonah on his cruise is that he so conducted himself as to bring upon himself a severe and just rebuke from a heathen mariner. Could it be possible that the world is finding it necessary to rebuke the church today? Could the world justly say to us that we are really not interested in lost humanity, but rather our total interest lies within an organization? I am afraid they would be correct many times in saying this.
A. Cast into the sea.
After trying all other methods the mariners finally decided that the only way to save the lives of the entire crew was to throw one man, Jonah, overboard. This they did, requesting that God not hold them responsible for the necessary action. Immediately the sea ceased from her raging.The Bible says: “Now the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights,” (Jonah 1:17). Three of the forty-eight verses of the book of Jonah relate to the incident of the great fish. Unfortunately in the minds of many people these three verses have been sieged upon as though they were of greater importance than all else. As a result, the book is widely remembered not for its unique message, but as though it were chiefly a curious story about a man being swallowed by a fish and coming forth alive after three days. However, let me go on to say that the word fish is used in the book of Jonah and is correctly translated as such or it could be translated as “sea-monster.” Many sea-monsters have been found large enough to swallow a man. The main point of the story is that it was a miracle. Except for such an astounding miracle, Ninevah would have given little heed to Jonah’s massage.
B. A change in the sea.
There was a change in the condition of the sea, but the main change came in the heart of Jonah. Jonah started praying and brother it was time to pray. Maybe the reason that you pray so little is because you cannot find a place or time suitable for prayer. Jonah found a place, in a whale, but you say I am not in a whale. Some of you are in a whale of trouble because you are either outside God’s providence or you are failing in serving Him.In his prayer he acknowledged the Lord and committed his will to be in God’s will. He said, “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9) Yes, Salvation is of the Lord!
God then caused the fish to vomit Jonah up on dry land. Probably this was near Joppa and witnessed by at least several people.
A. A choice Word to Jonah.
“Arise, go unto Ninevah, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee,” (Jonah 3:2). The choice Words came to Jonah the second time. It was the same Lord, the same Word and the same purpose. Said Arnold J. Toynbee, the great historian, “The society of which man is a part includes God as well as human personalities, and therefore includes also an unbending righteous judgment, and a universal redemptive will, set above all action, both social and personal.”To be a missionary to a heathen land is not an easy task. It was not easy for Robert Moffat to leave the girl he loved behind, because her parents would not consent to her marrying a missionary, and go to minister to the outlaw tribes of Africa. It was not easy for Bill Wallace, a young promising medical doctor from Memphis, Tennessee, to give his life on Chinese soil.
B. A city of three days journey.
The trip from Joppa to Ninevah usually took three days, but Jonah made it in just one day. When Jonah got there he didn’t loaf around on the job either. He preached and I mean he raised his voice and preached.
A. A change by the King of Ninevah.
After hearing the preaching of Jonah, the King came down from off his throne and sat in ashes and covered himself with sackcloth as a sign of repentance. And all the people repented of their sins.Congo News tells of a very old woman who was being examined recently by the native pastor for baptism; and showed by her testimony that she fully understood the plan of salvation. When the day for baptism arrived, the old lady hesitated at the church door and said that she must go and fetch something from her house. When she came back, she walked right to the front of the church, laid a small fetish on the ground, and then quietly took her place with the other women. Serious looks were on every face, for they all knew that the “medicine” she had put there was “lightning medicine,” the last that any of them is willing to give up. Her father had been killed by lightning years before, and never had she been without her fetish to protect her from the same fate. Having found Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she was willing to trust Him for all.
If there is no repentance, there can be no pardon.
Some years ago a murderer was sentenced to death in the United States. The murderer’s brother, to whom the State was deeply indebted for former services, besought the governor of the State for his brother’s pardon. The pardon was granted, and the man visited his brother with the pardon in his pocket. “What would you do,” he said to him, “if you received a pardon?” “The first thing I would do,” he answered, is to track down the judge who sentenced me, and murder him; and the next thing I would do is to track down the chief witness, and murder him.” The brother rose, and left the prison with the pardon still in his pocket.
B. A change by the King of Kings.
Yes, it is possible for God to change his mind. Joel 2:13-14 says, “Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him?” Because the people of Ninevah repented, God decided not to destroy them.
If you will repent today God will save you, right now.
Joe Bob Mizzell retired from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions in 2012. He was most recently the director of the Office of Christian Ethics & Chaplaincy Ministries. Previously, Joe served as pastor of Alberta Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa.
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