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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Jonah Part 1: Meet Jonah
Text:Jonah 1:1-5a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Added:2022-07-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Exodus 3

Text: Jonah 1:1-5a

 

MEET JONAH

  1. God’s Exceptional Call

  2. God’s Insistent Pursuit

  3. God’s Infuriating Grace

 

  1. Psalm 48: 1, 2

  2. Psalm 58: 1, 4, 5

  3. Psalm 142: 1, 2

  4. Hymn 81:1, 4, 5

  5. Psalm 27: 1, 5, 6

  6. Hymn 84: 1, 2

 

Words to Listen For: villains, rocketship, rough, happenstance, awful

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What’s wrong with “Irresistible Grace” ?

  2. Why is it silly to think Jonah couldn’t possibly happen?

  3. How is Jonah a unique prophet?

  4. What two things about God does Jonah not recognize?  Which is worse?

  5. What horrible thought did the Pastor have to repent over this week?  Do you have thoughts like this sometimes?

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


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

What do you think of GRACE?

Some of you might know that there are those who teach that Grace is an acronym - GOD’S RICHES A`T CHRIST’S EXPENSE.  G-R-A-C-E.

Others of you might think of the John Newton Hymn: Amazing Grace.

    Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound

    That saved a wretch like me

Still others might think of the Canons of Dort and the phrase IRRESISTIBLE GRACE.

Let’s pause here for a second.  I'm not the biggest fan of this phrase.  Irresistible Grace. And I’m ALLOWED to be critical of it because it isn’t found anywhere in the Canons themselves.

NOWHERE in the Canons of Dort is the phrase “Irresistible Grace” ever used.  It’s an easy way to describe what the Canons refer to as Our Conversion to God and the Manner in Which it Occurs, but the writers of the Canons, the delegates at the Synod would NEVER use this phrase. 

Irresistible Grace is, if you’ll allow me to say it this way… a BAD PHRASE.

It’s a bad phrase because we DO resist God’s grace.  Time after time after time.

Our entire Christian life can be summed up as a battle.  A battle with EVERYONE.

  • We fight with our enemies, we fight with our friends.

  • We fight with our family, we fight with strangers.

  • We fight with atheists, we fight with the church.

  • We fight with God.

  • We fight with ourselves.

Our entire Christian life is a battle, and so often, that battle is caused because of resistance.

  • We don’t WANT God to be gracious to others, because they don’t deserve it.

  • We don’t WANT God to be gracious to us, because we don’t need it.

And as we dive into this series on Jonah over the next several weeks, we see an example of God’s grace.

Actually we see examples of His Grace time after time after time…and each time, if we’re honest with ourselves…it feels a little INFURIATING.  We get angry over God's grace.

     You showed grace to Jonah?  WHY?  He doesn’t deserve it!

     Grace to pagan sailors?

     Grace to Jonah…AGAIN?

     Grace to Nineveh?

     Grace to Jonah…A THIRD TIME?

But the book of Jonah hammers this message home time after time after time.  It’s GRACE.  Grace means that we DON’T deserve it.

Jonah didn’t deserve it…but neither do I!  Neither do you!

Jonah is a book with many different themes that we could draw out, and themes that we WILL draw out over this series.  Themes like racism and exclusivity, mission, obedience and trust, and the value of life.  But it is a story of GRACE above all.

Grace is shown to every single human character in the story, and none of them deserve a single ounce of it.

So this morning, I invite you to 

MEET JONAH with me and see:

  1. God’s Exceptional Call,

  2. God’s Insistent Pursuit, and

  3. God’s Infuriating Grace

 

MEET JONAH: God’s Exceptional Call

Now, the story of Jonah is an interesting one.  It is one that many people view as a parable.  Or a fable.  Or, simple put - NOT REAL.

And what is it about this story that people find so difficult to accept?

Is it that Jonah, the main character, the one who likely wrote the book, is such an unlikable character?  No!  The Bible is filled with unlikable characters - heroes and villains alike!  The only “good character” is Jesus Christ Himself!  Nobody else escapes unscathed.  So that’s not the reason.

Is it because Jonah challenges us to look at grace in a different way, and view unbelievers, even our unbelieving enemies as potential Christians?  I wish it was this!  I WISH it was because people understood the message of the book and didn’t like how it nagged their soul.

But no.  The reason that there is so much doubt cast on the book of Jonah is because of the FISH.  That’s the only thing that so many people know about the story, and it’s the one thing that turns them off.

     HOW COULD A FISH swallow a human at just the right time?

     HOW COULD A FISH not chew Jonah up?

     HOW COULD A FISH keep Jonah alive in his stomach for 3 days and 3 nights?

How does this even make sense?  That’s not the way the world works!  Fish don’t do this!

And you’re right…this isn’t the way the world normally works.  Fish don’t normally do this…but…is any part of this a NORMAL STORY?  What made you think it was supposed to be?

This is GOD we are speaking of!  Jonah says specifically that this wasn’t a natural occurrence.  We’ll hear more of that this afternoon, but Jonah 1:17 - And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

And again, in Jonah 2:10 - And the LORD spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Those who are skeptical of this because it’s not normal…you’re missing the point.  It’s not normal or natural.  It’s ABnormal.  It’s SUPERnatural.  GOD IS ACTING!

And besides…the greatest miracle in the story has nothing to do with the fish.  More on that later in the series.

But, let us remember that when we read of the many things that God is doing, sometimes they are quote-unquote normal, like sending rain down to water the plants, and sometimes it is abnormal and supernatural like the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If you can believe that God came down to this earth, took on human nature, allowed Himself to be captured, tortured, executed, rose from the dead, and then blasted off like a rocketship into heaven until a cloud hid Him from the sight of the eyewitnesses, and then angels came down to provide comfort…if you can believe all this, but a FISH is too much for you…I’m not really sure what to say.   Let’s talk after, because I’d love to understand how your brain works with this one.

But all that to say, let us go forward in this story, accepting it as true.  Accepting it as historical.  Accepting it as the word of God.  Inspired history.  For that is what it is.

So this morning, let’s meet Jonah together.

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai

Jonah’s relationship with God is the primary aspect of who he is.  As a prophet, but also just as a believer.  So when we meet Jonah, we must start as the story does, with God.

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai

This is the typical start to prophecy.  The word of the LORD came.  God spoke to His prophet and gave him a message.

And we know almost nothing about Jonah and his career as a prophet.  In fact, other than the book of Jonah itself, and the New Testament references to Jonah and his work in Nineveh, Jonah is mentioned only once more in the Bible.  2 Kings 14.  There we read that Jonah prophesied during the reign of King Jeroboam the Second, a wicked king, during a difficult time for the nation of Israel.  During a time of great evil in Israel, great spiritual weakness, but also a time of political strength.  God showed GRACE to the struggling nation of Israel and strengthened their borders against their enemies.  God loved His people, and He did good things, even by the hand of an evil king.

God showed GRACE and allowed this evil king to reign 41 years.  For the sake of His nation.  WE would never do such a thing.  But God.  But God would.  But God did!

And it was during this time that Jonah was called to do this very strange, and exceptional thing.

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

There’s a lot to this verse.  This one verse of commandment.

First of all, Jonah is a prophet…TO HIS OWN PEOPLE.  He’s not a prophet to the PAGANS!  Didn’t God just do all this work to strengthen the borders of Israel against their enemies?  Now the word of the LORD is GOING TO THEIR ENEMIES?  The borders aren’t POLITICALLY open, but they are now being opened THEOLOGICALLY?  That doesn’t make sense!  That’s not fair!  God!  You put me HERE.  I love MY PEOPLE - YOUR PEOPLE, and I HATE my enemies. I love my neighbour and I hate my enemy.  That’s how it should be!  Right?

Well, if grace wasn’t a thing, then sure.  But grace IS a thing.  So…Jonah, you’re wrong.  Arise!  Go to Nineveh!

But the call to Jonah is more than this.

It is a call with great clarity - Arise!  GET UP JONAH!  GET UP AND GO!  Not just to a place I will tell you about later, but here’s the destination. Nineveh.  The capital of Assyria.  Get up and go 500 miles east.  Go to Nineveh.

It was a call with a note of reality - That Great City.  God knew what Nineveh was like.  It is a great city, a HUGE CITY.  A city of power and prestige.  Likely the single biggest city in the world at that time.  600 thousand citizens.  A huge powerful city, the capital of the Assyrian Empire.  An EVIL place.  A place where enemies would be tortured, and their heads stacked in pyramids.  It’s a place where nobody would ever want to go.  This wasn’t a nice resort town on the sea.  It was an ash heap of immorality.

And Jonah’s call was a call with heavy responsibility - Call out against it.  Jonah, it’s an evil place, and they need to hear the truth.  They need to be woken up about their evil.  They won’t want to hear it, but you have to tell them.  No matter the cost to you.  This is my commandment.  This is the way.

A call like this is very rare among the prophets.  Though other prophets prophesied AGAINST the nations, they had never been called to travel to foreign lands and EVANGELIZE.  Jonah is unique among the prophets in this way.  The only exception could be the prophet Daniel, but he was called to be a prophet when he was already IN EXILE.  But to go, to leave Israel and bring the word of the LORD to foreigners…to PAGANS…this was EXCEPTIONAL.  This was a NEW THING that God was doing.

And how did Jonah react to this new thing?  He reacted much the way that Moses reacted - NO GOD!  PLEASE NO!  But at least with Moses, he continued the dialogue with God.  Please send someone else!  Not me!

Jonah reacted the way that Habakkuk reacted when God said He was going to do something brand new - NO GOD!  PLEASE NO!  But at least with Habakkuk, he continued the dialogue with God.  God - this isn’t the way you work!  You can’t send the Babylonians against your own people!

But Jonah…well…Jonah ran away, and he forced God to pursue him.  Our second point.

Now, I could have easily entitled this point Jonah’s ignorant flight.  And, in fact, in a rough draft of the sermon that’s what I called it.

But I changed it, because we have to remember that the story of Jonah isn’t the story of Jonah.  It’s the story of God. The story of Jonah isn’t about stubborn people, it’s about a gracious God.  It’s not about a hard-hearted prophet, but about a soft-hearted God.

GOD PURSUES JONAH.

But Jonah

And let’s pause.  BUT JONAH sounds a lot like BUT GOD.  The gospel in two words.  One of my favorite phrases in the whole Bible.

But unfortunately, BUT JONAH is the OPPOSITE of BUT GOD.

BUT GOD is used when we as human beings go the wrong way.  When we as human beings reject God, rebel against Him, even rage against Him.  We are wicked, BUT GOD is gracious.  We are dead in ourselves BUT GOD raises us to life.

But Jonah…

Well, Jonah is told to do a good thing.  A hard thing, but a good thing.  A gracious thing.  It starts off good…BUT JONAH refuses.  BUT JONAH leaves.

Instead of travelling 500 miles east, Jonah travels 2500 miles west.

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

Jonah rose to flee from the presence of the LORD.  Let’s unpack this.  Because there’s more here than first meets the eye.

At first, we might just think: Oh Jonah.  You foolish man.  GOD IS EVERYWHERE.  Have you not read or sung Psalm 139?  Where can I from your Spirit flee?  When on the wings of dawn I rise and fly away to distant skies, to the remotest sea or land, and make my home where I descend, you even there will stay beside me.

Jonah…for a prophet, for one who hears the voice of God and speaks it…you don’t really know God at all…do you?

And all of this is completely in there.  Absolutely.  Jonah is foolish.  Jonah doesn’t know God.  But it’s not only God’s omnipresence, but also God’s omni-benevolence that Jonah doesn’t know.  These are big words, so let me explain.

Jonah didn’t realize, or accept, or remember, that God was EVERYWHERE.  His Omni-presence.  ALL-PRESENT.  God was in Joppa and Tarshish, and Jerusalem and Nineveh.

But the deeper mistake, the deeper and far more concerning mistake is that Jonah doesn’t recognize God’s omni-benevolence.  And this is a theme throughout the book.  Jonah doesn’t recognize that God’s grace extends EVERYWHERE.  God is ALL-BENEVOLENT.  He is gracious to ALL PEOPLE.  His gospel of grace is to be declared far and wide.

Jonah, you don’t get grace because you’re an Israelite.  Grace isn’t just for God’s covenant people.  There are those from every corner of the globe who belong to God’s people right now, and there are those who WILL belong to God’s people later.  Jonah refused to accept that God MIGHT love someone who wasn’t an Israelite.  That’s REAL RACISM.  Heaven is only for Israelites.  No!  Jonah!  Go back to school!  Learn BETTER.  KNOW the grace of God.  The grace that can save the world.

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.

He found a ship going to Tarshish.  What a crazy random happenstance!  Isn’t that nice?  That’s so nice!

But Jonah, knowing at least a little bit about God, knows that there are no such thing as coincidences.  And so he thinks: this is a BLESSING!  This is God’s APPROVAL over what I’m doing!  I flee from God…not a great thing, but then He provides me with a ship!  This is GOD AT WORK!  He is sovereignly in control of everything, so if this happens, it must be a blessing from God.  NO JONAH!  When God says something and you disobey…it doesn’t matter if the consequences come immediately or later on … disobedience is wrong.  GOD NEVER BLESSES DISOBEDIENCE!

Repent Jonah!  Don’t get on that ship!  Repent!  Don’t get on that ship!

Every single step towards Joppa, Jonah had the change to turn back.  Jonah had the chance to repent and obey.  But he didn’t.  He set his face as flint.  He had made his choice and wasn’t going to turn back now.

And some of us might think - why didn’t God destroy Jonah right there and then?  He was disobedient.  He knew better.  He rebelled against God!  He ran away from God!  Why didn’t God destroy him and start over with another prophet?  Amos and Hosea were around at the time…they probably would have been more than willing to obey!  Or wait for Isaiah.  The big guns!  Isaiah could do this!

But no.  God didn’t give up on Jonah.  WE would have.  Because if we had to choose…are we more like GOD or more like JONAH…put on your prophet hat.  We are Jonah.  We rebel.  We refuse to show grace.  We refuse to repent.  We resist God’s work in our lives.

We have a very short fuse when it comes to people sinning against us.  For us, it’s 3 strikes and you’re out…IF THAT.  We don’t even have the patience of Peter who suggested that we forgive our brother 7 times.  But God says 70 times 7.  Now, the point is not 490…it’s “forgive without counting.”  Forgive so many times that you think you’re foolish for forgiving again…and then forgive again.  Show grace again.  And this we see in the next part of our text.

Because, what do we read after But Jonah?

Verse 4 - BUT THE LORD.

There it is.  There it is.  BUT GOD.

God says go

Jonah says no

But that’s not the end of the story.  What Jonah says isn’t equal to what God says.  This isn’t a democracy here Jonah, where I get one vote and you get one vote, and then, oh well, I guess we’re at a stalemate now.

No.  Jonah runs, but God won’t let him go.  God won’t let His Jonah go.

If you won’t go into the great city, you’ll go into the great storm.  I will have my prophet, I will show my grace.  I will win.  Because grace always wins.

Grace always wins, and it is often infuriating for us.  Our third point.

God’s grace is often infuriating for us.  And that’s because, just like Jonah, for all our learning, for all our education, for all our time spent in the church…we still don’t get it.

And I am not standing here today to tell you that I get it, and all of you need to be a bit more like me.  I don’t get it either.  I am constantly amazed by grace, humbled by grace, and overwhelmed that the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.

And you know how I know that I still don’t understand grace?  This week, in preparation for this sermon, and, more for the sermon this afternoon, I was racking my brain, frantically googling and picking up book after book on Jonah, to figure out why God didn’t just destroy the ship with the storm.

A storm came up, the point was to get Jonah into the water, into the fish, so that the story could continue.  Why didn’t God just destroy the ship?

It couldn’t have been because of the sailors…they were pagans!

But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threated to break up.  Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.

Pagans.  Worshippers of false gods.

And then I was humbled by grace.  It clicked for me.  Why didn’t God just destroy the pagans?  Because…GRACE.

The whole point of the sermon series that I’ve been planning for weeks…the whole point of the gospel…I didn’t get it.  I thought, and I wish I could say, only for a split second, but I thought, I was puzzled, I was trapped in my narrow-minded thinking.  WHO CARES ABOUT THE PAGANS?  They can just die in the storm.  It’s all about Jonah, isn’t it?

What a HORRIBLE thought.

What an IGNORANT thought.

“Who cares about the pagans?”  …GOD does.  GOD cares about the pagans!  They are not beyond His reach, just like you and I aren’t beyond His reach!

This was a thought that I had to repent over this week.  This was a thought that I had to realize betrayed my own prejudices.

Because who am I…in myself?  No better than a pagan!

Who are we?  Whether we were born into the church or not…we are here, God is working in us, not because of our covenant lineage, but because of GRACE!  It’s all grace!  It’s pure grace.  It’s amazing grace!

Think of what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1.  He instructs Timothy to warn and urge and charge those in the church not to devote their time to endless genealogies.  What does this mean?  It means not to go on and on about who you are descended from.  Paul himself was descended from a good Jewish family.  Of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.  But it wasn’t THIS that saved Paul.  It was GRACE!!!

Paul’s LINEAGE turned him into a persecutor, an insolent opponent, a blasphemer!  But the grace of the Lord overflowed for him.

Why didn’t God destroy Jonah and replace him with a better prophet?  Because Jonah wasn’t out of the reach of God’s grace.

Why didn’t God destroy the sailors?  Because they weren’t out of the reach of God’s grace.

When we look at the story of Jonah, we get mad.  I know I get mad.  I get mad because of how Jonah treats God throughout.  Jonah rejects God, he runs from God, from his task as a prophet, he preaches the most pathetic message to the Ninevites, and he blames and almost curses God for His grace and love.  Jonah wants to DIE before he sees God’s mercy enacted.

Jonah is, in many respects, just like Samson.  Samson - a chosen judge, a Nazirite...and Samson caused God to be a laughingstock.  Many minister tear a strip into Samson...because the Book of Judges tears a strip into Samson.

But that's not the only point in the story of Samson.  A minister is unfaithful to the Book of Judges if he views Samson favorably, but is also unfaithful to the Book of Judges if all he does is be hard on Samson.  That's not a sermon.  The point is that we aren’t better than Samson, and Samson wasn’t beyond the reach of God’s grace.  Samson, in his final breaths turned into the judge he was always meant to be.

And the same is true with Jonah.  Exactly the same.  In this series, I will be harsh on Jonah.  Just a warning.  I will be harsh on Jonah because the Book of Jonah is harsh on Jonah.  And I will make no apologies for this.  I don’t have to apologize for the Bible, and I never will.  Ever.

But throughout the book, throughout the sermon series, the message will remain the same - we aren’t better than Jonah.  I am not better than Jonah.  I didn’t flee from God’s call to the ministry, though I wanted to…I didn’t board a ship instead of speaking a difficult word that my hearers wouldn’t like…but each and every time I sin, I am running from God.  I wish that my sins were sins of ignorance, each and every one of them.  That I didn’t know better.  But I do.  And I sin anyways.   I run from God, I tell Him I know better, and then I have to repent, and throw myself on God’s grace.

I am Jonah.

     You are Jonah.

          And we’re pretty awful.

BUT GOD.  But God shows His grace to each one of us.  We couldn’t EARN it.  We don’t DESERVE it, but God’s grace continues to hunt us down.  No matter how far we run, no matter how grievously we sin, God speaks words of grace and kindness and mercy to us.

For US this is amazing…for those outside, it can be INFURIATING, until they realize that they are no better.

As we will see throughout the story, as we meet different people, different characters, we will see that God shows His grace in ways that we never would.  Our God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

This is the message of the book of Jonah - a message that Jonah himself hates, even up to the end of the book.

This is the message that we should have impressed on us, burnt upon our hearts, written across our lives - The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.

God is gracious, but He is also holy.  This is a paradox.  He will forgive, but He will not clear the guilty.

If God is holy…why doesn’t He destroy Jonah?  The sailors?  The Ninevites?

It’s because of Grace - God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

It is because of Jesus Christ.  The one who came to this earth to preach grace.  The one who came to this earth to ENACT grace.

The one who came to this earth to ACCOMPLISH grace for all those who repent and believe.

Jesus’ death covered over Jonah’s rebellion.

When Jonah fled from God, Jesus prayed in the Garden for the strength to stay.  The strength to obey.

Jesus’ death covered over the sailor’s idolatry...

    Jesus worshipped the one true God fully and exclusively.

Jesus’ death covered over the wickedness of the Ninevites...

    He came for sinners.  He died for sinners.  And not just “little sins” as though those could ever exist, but for murderers and blasphemers,

for insolent opponents.  For those who stacked their enemies’ heads into pyramids.  He died for those sins too.

When we are confused about God’s grace, turn to the cross, and realize that you depend just as much on the blood that was shed as Jonah.  And the sailors did.  And the Ninevites did.  You need it just as much.

Is it FAIR that God was so patient with these sinners?

No.  But we don’t WANT “fair.”  Fair means hell for each and every one of us.

What we want, what we really need…is GRACE.  And this, our God pours into us, until we are overflowing.  Let us remember and never forget this sometimes-infuriating, always amazing, grace of God.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

Please direct any comments to the Webmaster


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