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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:A Display of Justice and Grace
Text:Jonah 1:1-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Suggested songs:

Psalm 63:1-4

Hymn 7:9

Psalm 116:1-5

Psalm 116:6-10

Hymn 65

Reading and Text: Jonah 1:1-16

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,

Imagine for a moment an event being held in your community: the Unrepentant Serial Killers’ Convention. Imagine that all of the most notorious criminals in North America will get a weekend pass. Robert Pickton will be there, so will Clifford Olson. Karla Homolka will definitely be there. Who knows what unrepentant serial killers do when they get together for such an event, but you can be sure that they won’t be talking about making amends. Now imagine that you’ve been ordered by your parents or your boss to attend this convention. You’re told to go there and give a little talk on the virtues of life apart from being an unrepentant serial killer. What would your reaction be? For most of us, I think our reaction would be either to vigorously rebel and say, “Forget it!” or we might run away.

You know what Jonah’s reaction was. He was being sent as God’s prophet to the national equivalent of a serial killers’ convention. The nation of Assyria had relentlessly robbed, raped, attacked and murdered God’s people. Nineveh was one of the great cities of Assyria – a place to be hated and loathed by Jews. Nineveh was the enemy extraordinaire. They didn’t deserve anything good from the LORD or his people. Now God comes to Jonah and tells the prophet to rise up and head for this serial killers’ convention to deliver a message. Is it any wonder that he heads down for the seaport of Joppa to find a ship for Tarshish, the 180 degree opposite direction from Nineveh?

See, Jonah was very comfortable being a prophet in his own country and with his own people. But he drew the line in the sand when it came to the Assyrians. Nineveh was the bridge too far for Jonah. So, he ran, in fact our text insists that he ran from before Yahweh, from before the presence of the LORD. We could say it’s understandable. But it’s also very wrong. Despite and even through this, we see our God at work in this text. We see God who hands out both justice and grace. And it’s in this that we also see the good news of Jesus Christ in the first chapter of Jonah’s story. So, I preach to you God’s Word with this theme:

When Jonah runs away, God displays his justice and grace

  1. We see his justice in what he does with Jonah.
  2. We see his grace in what he does with the Gentiles.

1. We see God’s justice in what he does with Jonah.

Jonah was not the only reluctant prophet. Jeremiah also struggled with the baggage that came with the job. He complained about having to proclaim violence and destruction. Jeremiah’s prophecies brought him never-ending insults and put-downs. Yet he said this in Jeremiah 20:9, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot.” Like Jonah, Jeremiah was human, he struggled with his office. But his attitude was totally different than that of Jonah.

Jonah had a cavalier attitude towards his job as a prophet. You can think of other servants of God like Abraham and Moses. They didn’t want what God had for them either – but they struggled with God. They argued with God. Moses and Abraham spoke and wrestled with what God wanted for them. But with Jonah it was different!

Did you notice that through all of chapter 1, Jonah doesn’t even speak to Yahweh, to the LORD? When the LORD gives his command in verse 1, we don’t read of a response of Jonah to this command. Jonah didn’t even give Yahweh the benefit of an argument. He simply went off and did his own thing. And when Yahweh throws the winds and the waves at the boat, we hear the Gentile sailors crying out to their gods, but where are the words of Jonah to his God? Jonah was cavalier and prayerless, the silent prophet.

Also, consider what Jonah did. Verse 3 tells us that he ran away from Yahweh and headed for Tarshish. Going down to Joppa, he found a boat and paid the fare. This was not like taking the ferry to Vancouver Island. Though its location is not entirely certain, it’s most likely that Tarshish was on the western side of the Mediterranean. The trip from Joppa to Tarshish could have taken up to a year. Jonah was committing himself to a long-term mission of running from God. And this would not have come cheap. One Jewish rabbinic tradition holds that Jonah was a rich man before this journey. But he used up all his money to pay for the voyage. We have no way of knowing for sure how rich Jonah was, but we do know for sure that this voyage would not have been cheap. It was the Old Testament equivalent of an around the world trip on the Queen Mary 2.

So, Jonah pays, gets on board the ship and soon the winds start blowing. The storm increases to the point where the boat is threatening to break up. And what does Jonah do? He goes below deck, lays down and falls asleep. And this was a deep sleep too. Ironically, the Hebrew term for this deep sleep is often used to describe the kind of state that prophets fell into when they received oracles from God. So, the prophet falls into this deep sleep to avoid God’s message. Jonah doesn’t care whether he lives or dies at this point.

What’s Jonah doing through all this? He is arrogantly passing judgment on God. Jonah doesn’t like God’s attitude towards Nineveh. He doesn’t like the idea of bringing God’s message to these serial killers. Forget about the fact that God is God – Jonah was going to go his own way. And in doing all this, Jonah says that God is wrong.

All of this is only made worse by the first words that come from Jonah’s mouth. After casting their lots, the sailors shake Jonah out of his deep sleep and start peppering him with one question after another. Jonah’s answer is there in verse 9, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” In these words there’s even more irony. The word for “worship” in verse 9 can also be translated as “fear”; it’s the same word that’s used to describe the attitude of the sailors in verses 5, 10 and 15. When God’s people said that they feared Yahweh, this meant that they worshipped him in spirit and in truth. In Psalm 119:63, fear of Yahweh is the same thing as following his commandments. The fear of Yahweh was a special way of referring to faithful life in the covenant. But what do we see with Jonah?! The complete opposite. Jonah had committed himself, along with a large portion if not all, of his financial resources, to running away from obedience to Yahweh. Definitely not a faithful worshipper of the LORD. Jonah is breaking the covenant relationship with his attitude, with his actions and with his words.

Unlike Jonah, God had not been sleeping through any of this. In fact, God is very active through the entire text, and in fact, the whole book. Let’s start at the beginning. God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh. Why? Verse 2 gives us the answer: “…because its wickedness has come up before me.” Let’s unpack that a bit more. Some could read this and say, ‘See, the LORD wants to really give it to the Assyrians.” But that would not fit with what we read later in the book. To be sure, Jonah was sent with words of judgment. He was commanded to preach “against” Nineveh. But ultimately, these words of judgment were intended to bring about a good result: the repentance of these serial killers. Remember that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked! He would rather see the wicked turn from his ways and live!

Jonah knows that God is like this and that’s part of the reason why he runs. But God doesn’t let him get away with it. Jonah wants to flee from the presence of Jahweh. But he cannot. Verse 4 tells us that the LORD threw a violent wind at the ship. A vicious storm arose. God was clearly sending a message to his prophet. You can’t run AND you can’t hide.

Things kept getting worse and worse in the ship. Finally, the sailors asked Jonah what could be done to stop the wind and waves and imminent death. There was one solution and Jonah knew it: the death of the sinner. Just as Achan had to die so that God’s people could be victorious in the conquest, so now also Jonah had to die so that the sailors could live. Initially, the sailors resisted this idea. They were afraid that they would be punished yet further for killing this “innocent” man. But eventually they did the deed. Jonah was thrown into the wild boiling waters.

This was a mark of God’s justice against the covenant breaking of his prophet. Jonah claimed to be an obedient worshipper of Yahweh when he was the opposite. Jonah was so comfortable with his sin that he could fall into a deep sleep. What arrogance! Jonah had flippantly passed judgment on his God. Jonah gets a death sentence for this, a clear illustration of the teaching in Romans 6:23: the wages of sin is death. And if we read our text while mentally blocking out what happens in the next chapter, we see that Jonah is as good as dead. Jonah gets what he deserves for his covenant breaking and apostasy. A prophet of Yahweh should have known better!

Jonah was the rebellious prophet who fell under God’s justice. Though we can understand why he did what he did, that does not change the fact that it was wrong. If Jonah had been faithfully following the LORD, he could have argued the case against going to Assyria. God does allow his people to do that! But Jonah chose the way of disobedience and silence. Jonah’s story is an appeal for a greater prophet who would obey and speak. The greater prophet is Jesus Christ. When the Father sent him to this rebellious world, the Son responded with obedience. At one point in his life on earth, he asked the Father if another way could be found. The Lord Jesus spoke and was obedient in fulfilling his commission to a world full of spiritual serial sinners.

Yet justice fell on him. It was the justice that we deserved. We deserved eternal death and alienation from God the Father. But the Lord Jesus took this for us in his suffering and death. God’s justice came upon the faithful prophet so that we could be acquitted and declared right before God.

All believers today share in Christ’s office of a prophet. Through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we are called to a life of love and thankfulness for what our faithful prophet has done. He made it so that we can live according to the obligations of the covenant. He gives more grace so that we can be who we are in him. Keeping that in mind, our text calls us to fear Yahweh. For us that means we worship him according to his Word. That worship starts with the service of our lives.

It starts with a desire to be faithful in the hard work of being a prophet. We are called to confess the name of our Saviour wherever God has placed us and whenever God gives us open doors. That means using words to witness to others. This can be hard work – and intimidating. Perhaps they won’t kill us, but they might mock us or otherwise make life difficult. We may struggle with the office, but we cannot give it up, cannot run away. That would be passing judgment on God’s plan for us. No, if we struggle, we have to make it a real struggle and be prayerful about it.

Speaking more generally, our lives are also to be a prophetic confession of God’s work in us. In this respect, does it sometimes happen that we fall into a deep sleep, so to speak? Does it sometimes happen that we get comfortable with our sins, that they don’t even bother us anymore? We get tired of trying to fight or maybe we don’t even want to begin the fight. Perhaps we also make our long term plans to avoid thankful prophetic obedience to the LORD. Maybe this even involves spending substantial amounts of our money. When we do these things, we stand in judgment over God’s covenant plan for our lives. We say that God can keep his covenant relationship for himself, we’re quite happy to say one thing and live something else. We’re quite happy to deceive ourselves. The message of our text is that living in this manner will not result in any blessings – instead, it’s the road to spiritual death. God’s people have to be who they are. And this teaching gets strengthened when we consider our second point:

2. We see God’s grace in what he does with the Gentiles.

There is a deliberate contrast in our text between Jonah and the Gentiles. This contrast fits with the purpose of the entire book: to stimulate God’s people to a richer understanding of who their God is and how to live in relationship with him. In our text today, the grace of God is more evident with the Gentiles than with the Jewish prophet Jonah.

Take the attitude of the Gentiles, for instance. When the storm comes on the sea, their reaction was one of terror. Fear filled their hearts when they heard what Jonah had done to cause this impending catastrophe. They were afraid of taking the life of what they thought was an innocent man. Then finally, in verse 16 we read that the men greatly feared Yahweh – in other words, they developed a worshipful attitude towards him.

And then look at their actions and their words. Sure, at first they cried out to their own gods. What else would you expect Gentiles to do? But at least they were praying, they were calling out for help, knowing that they needed it. These men wanted to live! Further in our text, they beg Jonah to pray to his God. And when Jonah wouldn’t do it, they did it themselves. But not before trying their best to save Jonah’s life and their own. Finally, after their prayer, they reluctantly threw Jonah into the sea. Immediately all is calm! What then? Those sailors could have just carried on with business as usual. But now, instead the text tells us that they “greatly feared (worshipped) Yahweh, and they offered a sacrifice to Yahweh and made vows to him.” Though it is not said they became converts to the faith of the Scriptures and so were saved eternally, they did, at some level, worship Yahweh. The end result of this chapter in the story is that these Gentiles are giving glory to God with their words and actions. God graciously spared their lives so that they would worship.

Now consider what these men actually deserved. They were, after all, pagan idolaters. Through their responsibility might be alleviated somewhat by their lack of knowledge, the words of Romans 1:18-19 still apply to them: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” They were without excuse for their pagan idolatry.

To make matters worse, they regard Jonah as an innocent man. We read that in verse 14. Jonah told them about what he had done. But yet they consider him innocent. They fail to grasp the severity of what Jonah has done. They appear to have regarded sin as righteousness.

But yet there is a measure of grace and mercy for them. At this moment, God does not give them what their deeds deserve. Instead, God gives them life, at least life for a time on this earth. More importantly, through the covenant breaking of Jonah, God gives these Gentile sailors a heart to worship him and serve him. He works his grace in their lives in such a way that they want to give glory to the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.

You see, Jonah was the rebellious prophet who, despite his covenant breaking, was a means or instrument that God used to bring grace to these Gentiles. Jonah did not mean to. But God still uses him as a tool of grace and life, so that more glory gets brought to his Name. In this way, Jonah points us ahead to the faithful prophet who was not merely an instrument of grace, but was actually grace in the flesh. Think of John 1:16-17, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Lord Jesus was the prophet full of grace and truth. He sends out the fulness of God’s redeeming grace today to all who believe, Jews and Gentiles alike. Through faith in him, we are so much richer than the Gentiles in our text, for we get the fullness of what we do not deserve: a healthy, living relationship with God the Father, a relationship which starts here on earth, but will last forever to his glory.

Through faith in the Lord Jesus, we have been lavished with one gracious blessing after another. But the question for us is: what do we do with those blessings? After all, the blessings of God’s grace are meant to provoke a response in us, a response of love and thankfulness. And if we apply the teaching of our text this afternoon, it’s about being faithful prophets who reflect God’s character, particularly his grace. Our love and thankfulness for God’s work in our lives drives us to be prophetic instruments of God’s grace and mercy in the lives of others, inside and outside our church community. Let’s think for a moment about what that will look like.

First, what’s it going to look like in our marriages and families? Husbands and wives will be more patient with one another’s sins and weaknesses. When a spouse struggles with some sin or other, we’ll be supportive and encouraging. After all, when we’re honest with ourselves, all of us are works in progress.

We also want to be prophetic instruments of God’s grace when we shepherd our children. Speaking practically, this means that our children do not always have to receive justice when they do something wrong. We can teach them valuable lessons about God’s grace by dispensing grace ourselves, not giving them what they really deserve – so long as we use it as a teaching moment and explain it in a way that our children can understand. Sometimes a lesson about God’s grace can go a lot further in shepherding our children’s heart in the Lord’s ways than a just and harsh punishment.

When it comes to life in the church, here’s a story one of my mentors told about a church he was a member of in the Netherlands many years ago. There was a poor widow in the church. It was well known that she was receiving assistance from the deacons. One day, she was walking around town with a brand new coat – the fanciest coat that money could buy. What do you think people who saw this said? All the tongues in the church started wagging about how this widow was abusing the money she was receiving from the deacons. Meanwhile, she had actually received the coat as a gift from a visiting family member. The congregation members had right away assumed the worst and judged this poor sister. Being a prophetic instrument of God’s grace and mercy means that we don’t jump to judgmental conclusions about one another. Instead, we show the grace and charity that we would like others to show to us.

Think for a moment about what it will look like for us to be instruments of God’s grace to those outside of our church community. Think of your neighbour who lives an ungodly life in many respects, who does things that might even lead to discipline in our churches. You begin talking with him and he shows an interest in the gospel. We don’t immediately start hammering on all the lifestyle issues – after all, the gospel is not about what we do, it’s about Christ and what he has done and who we are in Christ. The most important thing is to share the good news of God’s grace in Christ. The lifestyle issues will follow further down the line when this person loves the Lord and wants to live out of the grace that he’s been shown. By approaching our neighbours in this way, we show with our actions, attitudes and words that God’s grace in Christ is a living reality for us and we want to share that reality with others.

You know, the prophet Jonah couldn’t stand the idea of a gracious God. He preferred a God of justice and judgment. In this first chapter, God gave Jonah what he wanted. There is a Chinese proverb: be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. That’s what happened with Jonah. But thankfully, we have the full revelation of God to show us that God is bigger than his justice. In James 2:13, the Spirit gives us these words of power: “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” Jonah deserved judgment for what he had done. The good news is that the story doesn’t end here. There is another chapter which shows us that simple justice is not God’s way. His love in and through the faithful prophet Jesus Christ shows us that he goes beyond justice to give us his grace and mercy. He does this while staying faithful to his character as a just God. Our God is just, but in the Lord Jesus also overflowing in grace and mercy towards those who don’t deserve it. Such a God surely deserves our fear, our honest and heart-felt worship, a life-encompassing sacrifice of thanksgiving, love and praise! AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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