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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Lord Expects Jonah to be His Witness in this Wicked World
Text:Jonah 1:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2010-10-03
Added:2011-02-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 67: 1, 2, 3       

Sing: Psalm 119: 1, 3, 5

Sing: Psalm 87: 1-5

Sing: Psalm 139: 1, 2, 3, 13

Sing: Hymn 64: 1, 2

 

Read: 1 Corinthians 5 (NIV)

Text: Jonah 1:1–3 (NIV)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
 
Some time ago, there was a news story about an Indianapolis cookie shop which faced eviction from its long-time location for refusing a special order from a college homosexual group. The owner of the store took a moral stand by not filling the order to supply the group for the following week’s “National Coming-Out Day”. He felt that by filling the order he would be providing a microphone for homosexuals to celebrate their lifestyle.
 
What do you think about that? Do you think that this man was right? Do you think that he did what God required of him? No doubt what this man did was courageous, for he was willing to give up his business for his moral stand. But, is that what God wants from us?
 
The prophet Jonah also was confronted with a moral dilemma. The Lord God had told him to go to Nineveh, to that heathen people, and to pass the impending judgement of God upon them. But Jonah refuses. He does not want anything to do with those people. Jonah is clearly disobedient. The Lord God wants him to go. He expects Jonah to be a witness in this wicked world.
 
What does that mean? How are you and I to be a witness in this world? What are our responsibilities in that regard? That’s what we will hear about this morning. The theme is as follows:
The Lord Expects Jonah to be his Witness in this Wicked World.
1. The Lord’s compassionate concern;
2. Jonah’s arrogant indifference.
 
1. The text says, “The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai.” The word of God came to him. That is a wonderful beginning to this particular prophesy. God’s Word came to a sinful man like Jonah. He calls him by name, “Jonah, son of Amittai.” Jonah is no stranger to God. God knows his name, his family, everything about Jonah. He knows Jonah better than anyone else knows him. And he especially knows what a sinful man Jonah is.
 
Nevertheless the Lord wants to use Jonah - that sinful man - in his kingdom. Isn’t that wonderful? The Lord teaches us here that he uses sinful men to proclaim his Word. That is also what is so comforting about this book. We expect perfection in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We expect perfection especially from our leaders. We look to the elders and the ministers, and we have difficulty dealing with their shortcomings. Yet the Lord uses sinful men for his work. That is certainly a comfort to me. That does not mean, of course, that the Lord overlooks sins and shortcomings, not at all. But it does mean that God does not turn his back on his people. He keeps calling all of us to faithful service. He did that to Jonah, and he does so to each and every one of us. The Lord our God never turns his back on us.
 
God did not turn his back on Jonah either. He saw in Jonah a man whom he could use. For who is this Jonah? Well, there is one other place, aside from this prophesy, where we meet him in the Scriptures, namely in 2 Kings 14:25. It says very little about Jonah, but it makes clear that during the reign of Jeroboam II Jonah was already an established prophet. This was before he received the call to go to Nineveh. Little else is said about his prophetic work in Israel. It just says that Jonah had prophesied that the borders of Israel would be restored to their former dimensions.
 
Indeed, during Jeroboam II’s reign the greatness of Israel rivalled that, if not surpassed, the splendour of the time of King David and Solomon. There were no external threats to its existence. The nations were content to let Israel be. There was peace, prosperity, and security. Everything was “coming up roses”. Israel did not have a worry in the world. They had it made. There was plenty of food. There were great riches. They were strong. Indeed, if you read through the prophesy of Amos, who was a contemporary of Jonah, you find out how good the people had it at that time.
 
We read in Amos’ prophesy that Jeroboam had won many battles against the smaller nations around them. Israel at this point was a very powerful nation, more powerful than at any other time in its history. There was also a very large merchant class with great houses of dressed stone, and decorated with inlaid ivory work. Amos tells us that they had pleasant vineyards with their trailing grape vines and luscious fruit. They ate and drank to their hearts’ content. They perfumed themselves and listened to music while lying on fine couches. They were also very religious. They celebrated their religious festivals with many blood offerings and with an elaborate choral worship.
 
That was the way it looked from the outside. But Amos also tells us something else. He tells us about the absolute moral bankruptcy of Israel. Although outwardly they were religious, there was flagrant injustice everywhere. Judges could be bought with a piece of silver. The rich oppressed the poor and the weak. The majority of the people in Israel did not really serve the Lord.
 
Even though outwardly they appeared to serve the Lord, their hearts were far from him. They were a haughty, proud people, who looked down on others in a lesser state. They did so to their fellow countrymen, but also to the nations round about. The people of Israel truly thought of themselves as the Lord’s favourite son. There was no humility. There was a great sense of false security. In a nutshell the prevailing attitude was this:  Look at all the things we have done. We are a nation to be reckoned with. We have expanded our borders. We have great wealth. We’ve got everything our little hearts’ desire. We’ve got all the luxuries of the world.”
 
Do you know why they thought that they had come so far? Basically it was because they thought that they deserved to be God’s special people. They deserved that because they were better than the people of the nations around them. God loved them because, as we would say today, they belonged to the true church. For that reason God’s favour shone upon them.
 
How arrogant!
 
But do you know what is just as disturbing, if not worse? Jonah, the prophet of the Lord, shared that thinking. He too thought that Israel was a great country, certainly a lot greater than the other nations. He shared some of the haughtiness of his fellow countrymen. Indeed, as is clear from his attitude throughout the rest of this prophesy, he saw their prosperity as a just reward from the Lord. 
 
But due to his arrogant attitude there was something Jonah did not understand. He could not understand how the great nation Assyria was such a prosperous country. He knew about the great immorality found there. And he knew that they were an uncircumcised people, in other words, that they were not part of God’s covenant people.
 
And yet that nation could lay claim to one of the greatest cities of the world. That city was called Nineveh. Nineveh was no doubt the most splendid city in the world of that day. It was there that many Babylonian emperors throughout the ages had their palaces.
 
At the time of this prophesy Nineveh boasted a population of 120,000 inhabitants. It occupied a very large area. The administrative district was between 30 and 60 miles (50 and 100 kilometers) across. It took a three day journey to go from one end of the city to the other. It was a great city. And it had a long and venerable history. Nineveh had been in existence for thousands of years. 
 
The first time that this city is mentioned is already just after the flood, in Genesis 10:11, where we read that Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord, was the one who built it. 
 
But it says in our text that the wickedness of that great city had come up before the Lord. That is the other wonderful thing about the beginning of this book. The great wickedness of that heathen city comes before God.
 
You may ask, “What is so wonderful about that? Why is it so wonderful that the wickedness of that city came up before him?” Well, just imagine it was not so. Imagine that God would overlook the sin of that city, or of any other city. Do you know what that would mean? That would mean that the Lord God no longer cares. That would mean that then he would leave them in their miserable state. When God does that, when he no longer cares about the wickedness of mankind, then he gives them over to their own filth, to their own state of condemnation. And then there is no longer any hope.
 
So it is a good thing that the Lord cares very deeply about this whole world and what happens in it. He cares about what happens here in Canada. He cares what happens in the USA. He also cares about what happens in Africa, in Australia, in China, and even in Afghanistan. He cares deeply.
 
Therefore we have to be careful, for the same tendency you find with the Israelites can also be found with us. We may think that God only cares about the Canadian Reformed church. We may think that other people, such as the unbelievers around us, and the other nations, and even people in other Christian churches, are not on God’s prayer list. And so we shun the work of evangelism because, why should we bother? God has given up on the world any way. So why shouldn’t we? That may also be the way we think about politics. Why bother? God does not really care what happens to the rest of the country. Why should we become involved?
 
That’s what Jonah thought. He thought that God should not have anything to do with that wicked nation:  Let him care about his own people, then he will busy enough.”
 
Well, brothers and sisters, if that is how you think, then you are wrong. God cares. When a nation sins, then that sin deeply disturbs him. He does not overlook their sins.
 
He does not want to do that with your personal life either. It may be that in your own life there are secret sins. And no doubt you are glad that nobody knows about them. You put up a brave face, and applaud yourself that somehow you are able to keep your sin secret. But don’t be so glad for, one way or the other, the Lord will confront you with your sin. He will not leave you alone. He will send you a storm in your life to wake you up. He does that because he wants you to lead a life of repentance, just as he wants all nations to repent.
 
You see, the Lord knows everything. Your personal sinfulness is known to the Lord. He knows all about you. Remember Psalm 139, where David asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” David knows: the Lord is everywhere. We cannot escape his presence.
 
That is why David also asks the Lord to search him and know him. For David knows that if God were to overlook his sins that then it would be absolutely hopeless for him. He says in verse 23 and 24 of that psalm, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
 
Let me ask you, brothers and sisters, do you ever pray that way in your own personal prayer? Do you ever ask the Lord to discover if there is any offensive way in you? If you don’t do so yet, you should. The Lord wants us to realize our own depravity. So pray to the Lord God that he will make you aware of your own sins and sinfulness. That you do not become blind and deaf to what he wants to tell you. For you do not want God to pass over your sins. If he does pass over them then it will not be well with you. If you do not allow him to point out your sins to you, then there may come a time when it is too late.
 
And then you will not be an effective witness either. For someone who thinks that he is better than others and who comes across as somewhat arrogant, as a know-it-all, will not be very fruitful. The Lord God wants us to reach out to others, also to sinners, in love and compassion, showing that we care, just as God cares. It takes a lot of wisdom and insight to see how we are to do that.
 
We cannot shun the world. That is also what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5. He tells us that we live in this world. And we do not judge this world, only God does.
 
That is how he deals with individuals and also with nations, as he did with Nineveh. The Lord says to Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; because its wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah is sent to the heathens to proclaim God’s message. But Jonah has a different mind. And that brings us to the second point, namely Jonah’s arrogant indifference.
 
2.     Jonah ought to have been very happy that the Lord wanted to use him to bring about repentance. Jonah had been especially chosen to bring God’s Word to that heathen city. But instead he refuses to do what he is told. Jonah goes in exactly the opposite direction as the Lord tells him to go. He goes to Joppa on the coast. He buys a fare and sets sail for the city of Tarshish, a city likely on the coast of modern day Spain.
 
Why do you think that he did that? Do you think perhaps that he was afraid, afraid that he could not do what he is told to do by the Lord for one reason or the other?
 
Well, that is not very likely. Jonah appears to be the bold type. He is not like Moses who protests when God commissions him. Moses was afraid that he would not be able to do it. He wanted God to send his brother Aaron. Jonah is not like that. As appears from the rest of this book Jonah seems to be quite a confident man. He is too much taken in with his own worthiness and the worthiness of fellow church members, his fellow countrymen. From the letter it is clear that Jonah is not a person who sees his own shortcomings, nor the shortcomings of his own people.
 
No, Jonah is not afraid. Something else prevents him. What could that be? Could it be, perhaps, that he thought that the Lord would not be able to follow through on his threat to destroy that city, and so he would be making a fool of himself? Brothers and sisters, that cannot be the reason either for there is not any evidence that Jonah does not believe that the Lord is not able to do what he says he will do. No, Jonah believes in the power of God.
 
What then is the problem? The problem is this: Jonah is loath to do what the Lord tells him because he does not believe that God should send him to that heathen nation. As I said before, Jonah is a proud Israelite. Jonah cannot understand that God would have anything to do with that heathen nation. And furthermore, Jonah does not want that city to repent. He hates the Ninevites. Why should they have a second chance? 
 
Do you see what his problem is, brothers and sisters? His problem is that he very clearly sees the sins of others, but he does not see his own sin or the sin of his own nation Israel, the covenant people of the Lord. 
 
That is also warning for us. We first have to take the beam out of our own eye before we take the splinter out of someone else’s. If you do that, then you do not come across haughtily. And then you will be much more effective.
 
Ultimately Jonah’s action was that of unbelief. Jonah did not believe that God’s mercy was as great as he said it was. He thought that his mercy was more for the church than for the rest of the world.
 
But God wants all kinds of men to come to repentance. That is why he also sent his only Son. The apostle John tells us in his Gospel that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” He sent his Son to deal with sin.
 
One of the problems we all have is that we have the tendency to take our blessings for granted. We believe that God has chosen us and that we are his covenant children. We believe that God’s favour rests on the church. These things are certainly true but, because we are so familiar with that truth, after a while we begin to believe that God’s favour is due to us because we are such good people.
 
That is the trap the Jews fell into. And that is why the majority of the Jews rejected Christ when he came to earth. They no longer saw their own sinfulness. They boasted of the fact that they were children of Abraham. And that is why Israel was no longer a branch of the vine. They were broken off and others were grafted in.
 
Brothers and sisters, the same thing can happen to the church of today. We can think we are too good for the rest of the world. We attribute our material well-being to our own obedience, to our own inherent goodness. But listen to the warning of Paul. He says in Romans 11:21, “For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” Indeed, in the end that is what happened to Israel. Let us be careful. It can also happen to us.    
 
Jonah should have been thankful that God wanted him to go to Nineveh and bring the message of reconciliation to that nation. He should have been thankful that God would not overlook their sin. For when God does not want to overlook the sin of the world, he certainly does not want to overlook the sin of the church.
 
The sad thing is that once you set your mind on the wrong course of action, you often also find your unbelief confirmed. For the devil has a way of fooling us. He whispers in our ears and tells us that everything adds up, that it is logical that things should go in this way.
 
No doubt that is also the way it was for Jonah. He goes to Joppa. And lo and behold he finds a ship going to Tarshish, a ship going in the exact opposite direction. And now he starts fooling himself. He sees the hand of God in this. God provided a ship for him to go in the opposite direction. By the time Jonah went on board he was fully convinced that that was the right thing to do. That is why he could also sleep so soundly, as we can read further on in this chapter.
 
I am sure that that is also the way it was with Eve. She knew that the fruit was forbidden. But then she saw that the fruit was good for food. No doubt, by the time she took a bite of the forbidden fruit, she was convinced that it was the right thing to do. God had put that tree there, hadn’t he? And fruit is for our consumption, isn’t it?
 
How many of you here find yourselves confirmed in your sins? Think about it. Think about the things which no longer bother you, but which deep down you know they should. Are you also fooling yourselves? If you are too comfortable right now, don’t be. Hope that the Lord will find a way of confronting you with your sin. And pray that you will have the strength to change. For brothers and sisters, you do not want to have a false sense of security. It can be deadly.
 
The Lord is about to send a mighty wind as Jonah makes his way to Tarshish. God does not leave Jonah alone. And that is also the comfort which we may have this morning. God will not allow you to wallow in your sins. The same thing is true, in a certain sense, about the rest of the world. He confronts us with our sins, so that we can also confront others with theirs. And we can do that in thankfulness that the Lord God forgives those who repent.
 
But how do we witness? We do that with compassion. We do that because we care. We do that because we want others to come to repentance. We do not push sinners away by judging them. We don’t dismiss them. Instead we show that we care about them. We’d better make sure that we send the right message to the world.
 
The wonderful thing about the discovery of our sins is the more we realize our own sins, the more we realize how great our redemption is, and the more we are driven to live lives of thankfulness. And then we are also driven to speak to others about Him, compassionately.
 
And so, brothers and sisters, be thankful.  Be thankful that God has made you part of his people. But also be compassionate towards other sinners. Whatever message you want to send them, make sure that it is a message of joy and salvation for all those who do not want to live in their sins. Amen
 
I gratefully acknowledge R.T. Kendall’s excellent insights in his book Jonah in the preparation of this and the other sermons in my series of sermons on the prophesy of Jonah.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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