Jonah 1:1-3


“Our heart is continually inclined to rebel against the Lord our God. So ready to rebel, that O, so gladly, were it but for a single day, we would take from His hands the reins of His supreme rule, imagining that we would manage things far better and direct them far more effectively than God.” 

~ Abraham Kuyper



It is often been quoted, “This is the tragedy of the book of Jonah, that a book which has made the means of one of the most sublime revelations of truth in the Old Testament  should be known to most only for its connections with a whale.”


As we begin this new series on the book of Jonah, I want to offer some introduction as to why we should study Jonah. For some, it is an all too familiar story. And that might be a very good reason to study it, because once a thing becomes too familiar it may loose it’s weight. Or more likely, we typically become arrogant and disillusioned about how much we think we understand about that too familiar thing. So – if you think Jonah is familiar – you may be in for a surprise. Indeed I truly hope that you are. For most people, however, Jonah is a children’s story about a great fish that ate a man for disobeying God. And — the conclusion of the matter is – you better obey God or you’ll be eaten. Honestly, for most of my life I lived my life with that assumption. I honestly believed that if I didn’t obey God then he would send a storm, a fish, a tree, or a worm in order to make me miserable until I obeyed him. Only for me it was more like a speeding ticket, a broken transmission, or or a broken heart.


Others will tell you the book of Jonah is about a bad prophet, and so it serves as an example of what not to do. Don’t be like Jonah – and you probably shouldn’t name your kids Jonah because Jonah is bad. Don’t be bad! Actually, there are many ways that this book could be taught. We could go in a number of different directions. I’m thinking we should go in the direction that you need to try harder, and do better, and be gooder because if you don’t the air conditioner in your home is going to be eaten by a large worm. Anybody want to study that for 6 weeks?


No, I agree with the quote I read earlier. That the book of Jonah is one of the most sublime revelations of TRUTH in the Old Testament. And what I think this author means by the word sublime is that the entire book of Jonah is about the Gospel. It is about Jesus. It is about Grace. And as you might have noticed from the title – it is about deep grace. The depths of God’s grace. In fact many authors and pastors have entitled this book “The Gospel according to Jonah”. Tullian Tchividjian says that Jonah is “A storied presentation of the Gospel.”


So – it is my hope that these next 6 weeks will give you a fresh perspective on a very familiar story that will move you to worship the God who is in hot pursuit after sinners and rebels like you and me.




Now before we dive into the text I need to give some introduction to the book itself. The book of Jonah is an unbelievable literary work. The author uses a multitude of literary techniques to make this work a masterpiece. This book is full of pun, and allegory, and metaphor and typology. The use of the Hebrew language is powerful. There are times when the author uses Hebrew words very intentionally because those words sound like the action they are describing. For instance, at one point waves are slapping up against a ship and the author describes the waves as (hishebah lehishaber) which sounds like waves hitting up against the boat. If we could read this story in the original Hebrew I think it would be much like reading Shakespeare or looking at a painting from DaVinci. There is so much hidden in the artistic form that in order to truly appreciate it we would have to study it hundreds of times. It is a phenomenally well written story.


Now a really good story has the ability to draw the reader into the story by making them believe that the story is essentially about them. In other-words, a good story causes you to imagine yourself as the main character. The main character in this story is Jonah. You are Jonah. In fact that is exactly the way Jewish boys and girls are taught to understand this story. Every year on the holiest day of the year for Jews – Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement), the book of Jonah is read out loud in its entirety. Then the congregation responds to the reading with the confession, “We are Jonah.”


You are Jonah! How are you Jonah? You are a rebel. You are constantly running from the God who loves you so much that he would move oceans to show you his love. In fact, if moving an ocean, or sending a whale isn’t enough, he has gone epic when he sent his Son to die a horrific death on a unimaginable cross followed by an unbelievable resurrection in order to hurl your sin and your rebellion into the very depths of the sea.


“You will cast their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19) 


So — you are Jonah, and I hope that you will see the depths of God’s grace as we witness – in this story – just how much God loves sinners. So with out further ado – let’s dive in. (Hey – I just used a pun!)



Our story opens like a James Bond film. Most of the action happens in the opening scene. The entire first chapter should feel frantic. It opens at a break-neck pace. If I were a film producer I would produce this film like this: The camera zooms in on Jonah – I see a Liam Neeson – he is tired  (I don’t know why he’s tired, he just is – ok!?) – and then the voice of God – Boom!  It’s loud – hearing the voice of God is epic I think – “GET UP AND GO”. But Liam GETS UP AND RUNS! He’s running! I hear music, galloping, an angry crowd, “Hey, watch where your going!” He gets to the docks and there are allot of seedy people. You know sailors are rough and seedy kinds of people. The captain won’t let him on without money – up front! So he forks it over and heads straight down into the ship, hiding from God and hiding from those seedy sailors. The sailors shove off and BOOM! – a white squaw breaks out on the sea. It is so terrifying that even the rough and seedy sailors are shaking in their boots. (If you know anything about sailors they don’t frighten easily.) So their throwing cargo over board. Precious cargo! Maybe even the bourbon! And they cast lots, they grab Jonah, and ask him 20 questions until finally they have no choice but to hurl him into the sea and then…


– – – silence – – – –


< Roll Bond theme song and opening credits>


What happened to Jonah? What is this story gonna be about? Why is he running from God?


That is exactly what the author wants you to feel. So let’s read chapter one like that.




But Jonah rose 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, away from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:3 ESV)


In chapter one it is clear that Jonah is running from God. The author tells us twice in verse three and Jonah tells the sailors in verse 10 that he is fleeing from God. So, the question that should be on your mind, while the opening credits are rolling, is, “Why is Jonah running from God?”. That question should be on our minds while we read the entire story because we do not get the answer until the climax in the last few paragraphs. Jonah says, “This is we I fled.” So until we hear his answer we should be asking, “Why is he running?”


Why are you running? “Wait a minute – that’s a bit of a jump don’t you think? How do you go from Jonah running from God to an accusation that I am running from God?” Well, I don’t mean to offend you but I’m pretty certain that you are running. Remember, we are Jonah. We are just like Jonah because we are running from God and his grace. Abraham Kuyper, said it well,


“Our heart is continually inclined to rebel against the Lord our God. So ready to rebel, that O, so gladly, were it but for a single day, we would take from His hands the reins of His supreme rule, imagining that we would manage things far better and direct them far more effectively than God.” 

~ Abraham Kuyper


Your heart is continually in rebellion against God and we are very good at running away from him. We do it quite naturally I think. We run away from God because we think we are smarter than him. We run away from God because we think he won’t understand. We run away from God because we think he’s out to make us miserable. We run away from God because we are afraid to admit our own sinfulness and selfishness. We run away from God because we have believed the lie that God does not love us as much as he loves himself.


I want you to know that MISSIODEI is a safe place for people who are running from God. Not that we’re going to hide you from God but – I think this is a place where all of us are honest about our preference to run from God rather than to God.



Why do you people, whether Christians are not, run from God.




Now that we have established that we tend to be runners, I want to explore all the different kinds of ways we run and hide from God. For most of us, I don’t believe it look likes physically running. God may be asking some of you to quit your jobs and move to Africa but for most of us I think it is allot more subtle than that. Let’s look at how Jonah ran.


But Jonah rose 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, away from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:3 ESV)


Self Sufficiency

Sometimes running means going to Tarshish. Tarshish was a port city about 2000 miles East. It is modern day Spain. It was as far away from Nineveh that you could possibly get. In fact it was the farthest east people in that day had been. Literally it was the end of the world. There was no place further away. And it would potentially take a year to get there with all the stops the boat would make. Tarshish was a pioneer in trade. Commerce over the sea was kind of like new technology Tarshish was greatly benefitting from it. Not a bad thing necessarily, but it has a way of leading to greed and arrogance and pride. Tarshish became a place of pride. It was a place of self sufficiency. Can you imagine that there was once a group of human beings so deluded that they would think that technology, wealth, and a clever economic system could make them secure? Isn’t that unbelievable? He thinks he’s running towards safety. Maybe you do too. He thinks he’s running towards opportunity and security, but maybe what really looks safe from a human perspective is not actually safe at all. Maybe the only real safe place is to be in the will of God.


So for some, running from God means living in total disobedience and self-sufficiency. We say, “God, your way is fine – thanks for the advice – but I got a better idea.” I did this in college. Most of what I remember about my 20‘s is characterized by me running from God. I still talked to him. I still went to church, but I was running. There were times that I would literally say to God, “I know that this is wrong but I need to do this – and I’m gonna do it any way. I guess I just want to learn the hard way.” Rich Mullins said something similar. He said that he would confess his sins before he did them and he would ask God to blink – or look away.  I think that most humans believe that in order to gain freedom we must run from God. That is a lie. But I’ll admit it is very easy to believe. I know – because – if I can be honest – I am still learning this everyday.




Another way we run is by simply ignoring God. If I want to run from the Lord, the first thing I have to do is make sure my mind does not think about Him being omnipresent. How can we run from the presence of God if he is always present? I have to find a way mentally…and we all do this, and we can do it without even thinking about it…a way to not think about, to eliminate the awareness of God’s presence and God’s character and God’s will and God’s holiness. I have to keep my mind thinking about other stuff so it doesn’t think about that stuff. We distract ourselves with busyness.


This is definitely an American norm. I’m too busy to think about God and what he is trying to tell me. First I need to get somethings in order in my own life – then I’ll check in on God. I believe that is precisely why chapter one is so frantic and fast paced and then once Jonah gets thrown in the sea – silence. Literally Jonah is forced to spend 3 days and nights in silence. It is so easy to run from God by busying ourselves with stuff. I don’t like the silence. My guess is you don’t either. It’s because we are running.



What techniques do you typically use to run from God?




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, away from the presence of the LORD… But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. (Jonah 1:3 & 5)


Tell me if you can resonate with this? When we run from God we self destruct. We start making choices that we know are not good for us. Running is self destructive because we are running from the one who is the author of life and wisdom and truth. The Hebrew language is very very intentional about showing us this. Flight from God always goes DOWN. Even down to sleep. Jonah is on a downward spiral. The text tells us – intentionally that he went down – fast asleep – and that word in Hebrew connotes a very deep hypnotic kind of sleep. So deep in fact that he doesn’t even notice the white squaw shaking the boat to pieces. The captain goes down and says, literally, “What in tarnations is wrong with you!? How can you be sleeping!?”


Listen to this. The reason most of us don’t even know that we are running is because we are asleep. When you rebel against God, when you are in the habit of running from God, some us have been doing it a very long time, it is very numbing. We don’t even feel it. One author has called it “The Drift – Beware the drift!” (Tullian Tchividjian) No one wakes up one morning  in the arms of God and all of a sudden finds himself in bed with another woman. These things don’t happen over night. There is a drift. We are down deep in our numbness and then we keep sinking and sinking – without even feeling it until we hit the bottom.


We are so used to being self-sufficient, we are so used to doing it our way, that we have forgotten (or perhaps never even knew) what it feels like to run towards him rather than away from. We forget what it feels like to wrapped in his powerful arms of grace, love, and security. Eventually God will have to let the bottom fall out and throw you into the deep so that the depths of his grace will literally swallow you and surround you and saturate you in order to break the numbness. Running from God is not self-sufficiency, it is self destructive. It is not freedom, it is slavery.




Now, I need to tell you that there is bad news and good news. The bad news is that you are a runner. We all are. We are Jonah. But the good news is that it does not matter how far – or how frequently – we run from him – he just keeps on chasing after us. One poet, Francis Thompson, called him the Hound of Heaven. He is after us because he loves us.


But for most of us, we keep running because we do not believe that he is after us because he loves us, but we think he is after us because he wants to punish us. That is a lie from the devil. Sometimes that lie can even come from this very story. It’s that, “If you don’t obey God you’re going to be eaten by fish” sermon you might have heard in Sunday School. I mentioned earlier that in my 20’s I literally saw God pursuing me in order to get me in order to make me miserable. I’ll never forget the day I bought the book Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. As soon as I bought it, I went straight to a local coffee shop and sat down to read the first chapter – I could finish the first chapter at that coffee shop because I got about three pages in when these huge tears began to run down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop them. I think it was like 10 years of tears – because I hadn’t done much crying and I was even worried about the fact that I hadn’t cried in so long. I had been running for a long time and was beginning to think that my heart was cold and hard.


But there I was in this crowded coffee house bawling my eyes out because of this tiny little story that Manning uses to open his book. I’d like to read that story for you tonight the story is called The Turkey by Flannery O’Connor.



“God calls us to stop hiding and come openly to him. God is the father who ran to his prodigal son when he came limping home. God weeps over us when shame and self-hatred immobilize us. Yet as soon as we lose our nerves about ourselves, we take cover. Adam and Eve hid, and we all, in one way or another, have used them as role models. Why? Because we do not like what we see. It is uncomfortable – intolerable – to confront our true-selves.” Brennan Manning


I want you to hear this tonight. God is ferociously in love with you. Throughout the Bible we are told that we are the apple of his eye, we are his treasure, we are a pearl of great price. Romans says that


God shows us – he demonstrates – his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)


God loves you SO MUCH that he sent his Son – his only Son – to pursue you. He sent his Son Jesus – he gave his Son – so that whoever believes in him will not perish but gain everlasting life. (Jn 3:16) Jesus said,


“Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:40-41 ESV)


Jesus is greater than Jonah because Jonah ran from God, Jesus ran toward the will of his father to endure the cross for our sins. While Jonah brought good news out of bitterness, Jesus brought good news with an attitude of joy. It was with the joy set before him that he endured the cross. Jonah ran for self preservation, Jesus ran towards self sacrifice. He gave his own life so that we might have full life in the amazing grace and love of God.


If you know that you are running – if you believe you might be in the drift – that you are numb, won’t you call out to God – he is closer than you think and he is waiting with open arms to give you grace and mercy.