Monday, October 31, 2016

Sermon: Catch of the Day (Jonah 1)

Jonah: Flooded with Grace (I)
Catch of the Day
Jonah 1:1-17

Today, we begin a two-week series on the life of Jonah entitled Flooded with Grace, and the title of today’s message is “Catch of the Day.”

We want to answer those questions you gave us last Tuesday (and, if you have more, you can still write them down later), but I first wanted to take a little bit of time before we answer those questions to discuss the concept of grace. The questions you gave us are awesome, but I think that they require a little stronger understanding of God’s merciful nature before we can tackle them. So we’re going to be flying over the book of Jonah to see God’s grace in action. In this short yet powerful story, we’ll see how God loves, pursues, and offers grace to all of us. That will be very important as we look at some of your guys’ questions later.

Also, it is my understanding you studied Jonah last year, but I want to study his life again so that we can gain a better grip on what we learn about God through this story. Even if you’ve heard this story a million times, I’m hoping that I can present it in a way you haven’t heard yet.

Jonah was a prophet (ask: Who can define prophet?). Prophets were basically God’s spokesmen. They were hand-picked by God, and God told them what to say to the people. God used the prophets to send warnings about the bad things His people were doing.

So in Jonah chapter 1, God tells Jonah to GO to a city called Nineveh and prophesy against it (basically: tell them everything they’re doing wrong). This is Jonah’s job! This is what God called him to do! But we’ll see that Jonah does something completely different.

[Read Jonah 1:1-9, 1:11-12, 1:15-17]

Let’s quickly summarize. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah went to Tarshish instead. Jonah got on a ship to go to Tarshish, but God sent a huge storm to stop him. The other sailors on the boat cast lots (in other words, they drew straws) to figure out who was responsible, and Jonah claimed responsibility for the storm. He knew that he disobeyed God. Jonah told the sailors to throw him into the water. They did, and the storm stopped. Then God sent a big fish (not necessarily a whale) to swallow Jonah. It’s a crazy story!

Nineveh, where God was calling to Jonah to go, was one of the worst cities to go to. They were known for their cruel battle tactics, mercilessly killing people, and became a great and feared city. God saw how bad they were; Jonah saw how bad they were; the whole world saw how bad they were! Jonah hated them. He said, “God, I ain’t goin’ there.” So instead he hopped on a ship in the other direction and went to Tarshish.

Jonah was trying to get as far away from Nineveh is possible. And Tarshish was the most distant city known at that time in the opposite direction. In fact, the two cities were on opposite ends of the Mediterranean Sea. So Jonah didn’t just defy God; he ran away - and he ran as far as humanly possible. He was only thinking about himself. One might say that Jonah was a selfish prophet ;)

I think that’s how we act a lot of the time when God tells us to do something. God calls, and we run. The reality is, we are Jonah. We have this natural tendency to run away when God calls us to do something uncomfortable or fearful. But here’s the good news. God will catch us. When we try to keep God at a comfortable distance from us (like Jonah did by running away), He will always find some way to get Himself back into our lives. It’s as if God has this cosmic fishing net which He throws out to recapture His lost people.

We often have this misconception about the Jonah story: We think that God sent the big fish as a punishment for Jonah’s disobedience. But, in reality, God is directing Jonah with the fish and the storm. God uses these events to stir a change of heart in Jonah. God didn’t send the fish because He gave up on Jonah; God sent the fish because He was pursuing Jonah. And God pursues us with “big fishes” in our lives as well. God works through us and through others when we run away from Him. It is His way of getting us back home.

In fact, God sent one of the biggest fishes of all to win back our love - He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. Jesus didn’t just come to earth to teach a few lessons and then have a party. God says, “Take a look at the amazing love I am showing you through my Son! Do you think that I care so little for you that betraying Me would make a difference? Look at my Son, who died for you! Won’t you come back to me now?

You see, we are all runaways. We have all been like Jonah at one time or another, fleeing the Lord when He called us somewhere we didn’t want to go. Maybe it’s helping a lonely person at school, or confronting a friend about that one issue that is really concerning you.

But what we learn in Jonah chapter 1 is that God’s love never runs out. Isn’t that an amazing truth? When describing love, the Apostle Paul said that its first quality is that “love is patient.” No matter how far we run away, God will always pursue us. Think of your favorite drink. It sounds good temporarily, but economics and a little bit of common sense says that it’s gonna run out eventually. You won’t be able to enjoy that refreshment anymore until you buy another drink. God’s love isn’t like that; it’s bottomless - it never runs out! He floods us each day with His new mercies. Another prophet, Jeremiah, wrote in the book of Lamentations that “[b]ecause of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23).

If you’ve felt like Jonah, on the run for a long time, know that there is a God who offers you so much love no matter where you’ve been or where you’re going. That’s what grace is. God loves us so much and wants us to be home with Him so badly that he sent His Son to die for everything that we’ve done wrong against God. Our God is a god who pursues us and is ready to welcome us back home with open arms. So what are you waiting for? Stop running, and be God’s catch of the day.


Amen.

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