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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:The Lord Expects Jonah to be His Humble Witness in this Wicked World
Text:Jonah 1:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 67: 1, 2 (Pre-service)

Sing: Hymn 84: 1-4

Sing: Psalm 119: 1, 3, 5

Sing: Psalm 139: 4, 5, 13

Sing: Psalm 57: 1, 4, 5

Sing: Hymn 85: 1, 2,3

Read: Amos 6: 1-8 Preface with the words: The prophet Amos lived at the same time of Jonah. It was a time of great prosperity, but also a time of decadence and wickedness. Because of their prosperity they felt self-sufficient and became arrogant. They felt superior to others, including all the Nations. Here in chapter 6 of the prophecy we hear the prophet Amos warning God’s covenant people.

Text: Jonah 1:1–3 

* 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,


Jonah. What do you think of when you hear that name? The whale, right? Jonah and the whale or the great fish. Most people are familiar with the story. It’s an incredible story. But, we have many questions about it. Perhaps even some reservations. For example, “How could someone survive three days inside such a fish?” “What kind of fish would that have been?”

To some people it seems all a bit much. As a result the book of Jonah is often treated as an allegory, or a myth.

But, if that were the case, then the Lord Jesus himself would not have given it credibility by comparing his three days and three nights in the grave to the three days and three nights Jonah was in the belly of the fish. He treated it as a real story, as a true historical fact.

But, the fish as such is not the story. It is only incidental to the real story. What is the real story? What is the message?

Well, that’s what I will preach you about this morning. The theme is as follows:

The Lord Wants Jonah to be His Humble 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 the son of Amittai.” The word of God came to him. What is a wonderful beginning! God spoke directly to a sinful man like Jonah and he calls him by name, “Jonah, son of Amittai.” Jonah is no stranger to him. He knows his name, his family, everything about him. He knows Jonah better than anyone else. And he knows especially what a sinful man Jonah was.

Yet, he speaks to him and wants to use him to further his kingdom. Isn’t that wonderful and comforting? It’s is certainly a comfort to me. He wants to use Jonah, but also each and every one of us to advance his kingdom. As a matter of fact that’s why he created us. To advance his glorious name in the midst of a sinful world.

Who exactly is this Jonah? Well, there is one other place, aside from this prophesy, where we read about him in the Scriptures, namely in 2 Kings 14:25. From this passage we learn that Jonah, who lived during the reign of Jeroboam II, was already an established prophet before he received the call to go to Nineveh. We are told there that he had prophesied that the borders of Israel would be restored to their former dimensions.

Which is exactly what happened. During Jeroboam II’s reign the greatness of Israel rivalled that, if not surpassed, the splendour of the time of king David and Solomon. It was a time of prosperity and peace and security. There were no external threats to its existence. The nations were content to let Israel be. 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. Not unlike the situation we find ourselves here in Canada today.

Indeed, when you read through the prophesy of Amos, who was a contemporary of Jonah, then you find out how good the people had it at that time. In Amos we read that Jeroboam had won many battles against the smaller nations around them. And so Israel had become a very powerful nation, more powerful than at any other time in its history.

We also read about an exceptionally large merchant class in Israel that possessed great houses of dressed stone and decorated with inlaid ivory work. Amos also tells us that they had pleasant vineyards with their trailing grape vines and luscious fruit. They ate and drank to their hearts’ content. They anointed themselves with the finest oils and listened to music while lying on fine couches. They were also deeply religious. For they celebrated their religious festivals with many blood offerings and with an elaborate choral worship.

But Amos also tells us something else. He tells us about the terrible moral bankruptcy of Israel. Even though 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.

O sure, outwardly they did. They went through the motions. But their hearts were far from the Lord. They were a haughty, proud people, who looked down on others in a lesser state. They did so to their fellow country men, but also to the nations around them as we read in Amos.

Why do you think they felt that way? Well, because they believed they deserved it. After all, was Israel not the Lord’s favourite nation? Are they not his people? Did he not especially choose them? They felt smug and secure. They were happy and content and had the sense of entitlement.

Do you know why they thought that way? Because they thought that they deserved to be God’s special people. They thought they were better than anyone else and that for that reason God smiled on 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 such a great country and that they deserved that status. As a mere servant of the Lord God he lacked humility. He lacked insight into himself and into God’s people. He was unaware of his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of his nation.

And so, it’s no wonder that Jonah did not understand why God sent him on the mission that he did. He could not understand why God would send him to the nation of Assyria, which was so decadent and immoral, that it deserved to be destroyed.

The capital of Assyria was Nineveh, which was one of the greatest cities of the world of that day. It was no doubt a most splendid city and had a storied history. Nineveh had already been in existence for thousands of years. It was there that many Babylonian emperors throughout the ages had their palaces.

The first time that this city is mentioned is already just after the flood, in Genesis 10:11 we read there that Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord, was the one who built it. 

At the time of this prophesy it boasted a population of 120,000 inhabitants. It occupied an exceptionally large area. The administrative district was between 30 and 60 miles across. It took a three-day journey to go from one end of the city to the other. It was a magnificent city.

But now it says in our text that the wickedness of that great city had come up before the Lord. Amazing, isn’t it? Isn’t that wonderful?

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 if that was not so. Just 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. And 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.

And so it is a good thing that the Lord cares very deeply about this whole world and everything that 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 the countries in Africa, in Australia, and China even in Afghanistan and Sudan. He deeply cares deeply about every nation here on earth.

And so, we have to be careful. For we too are sinful people. He also cares about my wickedness and your wickedness. He cares about by behaviour. Why? Well, not in order to condemn us, but in order to save us. He wants us to call upon his name in repentance and to ask him for mercy. For because of our sins we stand condemned.

And he does not just want that from you and me, but from everyone in the whole world. It is not so that God just cares about the believers, and specifically about us as reformed believers. We may think that we are only ones on his prayer list, and not others. That’s not true. That’s clear from this text.
       When he sends us his warnings, he sends them to all of us, believers and unbelievers alike. He sends them in the form of earthquakes and calamities and viruses to everyone in the world.

Why? So that we repent. Because the destruction of the world is coming. And only those who believe and who call upon him will escape and be saved.

As believers we know about the gospel of salvation to all those who believe in him and who call upon him in mercy. And so, shouldn’t we therefore also tell others about why calamities and illnesses and viruses come upon us? To tell them that God sends these things to us to warn us.

Jonah thought that God should not have anything to do with the wicked people of Nineveh. Whatever they have coming to them they deserve. “Let God care about his own people, not the others. They stand condemned already anyway.”

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. That is why he sends them warnings in many different forms.

He sends warnings to you and me as well. He reminds us that we need to repent daily from our sins. There may be secret sins in our lives that may in the end destroy us. Oh sure, we may think that we can hide them. But ultimately you can’t.

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 ask for forgiveness, and to turn to him and to depend on him, just like he wants all people on earth to do.

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 that the Lord search him and know him. For David knows that if God were to overlook his sins that then it would be utterly hopeless for him. He says in verse 23 and 24 of that psalm, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24, ESV)

Do you ever pray that way in your own personal prayer? Do you ever pray to the Lord that you want him to discover if there be any offensive way in you? Well, that is what the Lord wants you and me to do. He wants us to realize our own depravity. For you do not want God to pass over your sins. For if he does pass over them over 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. For then the devil will have you in his power.

And, then you will not be an effective witness either. For someone who does not have insight into his or her own sins, will have a wrong attitude. Such a person thinks that he is better than others, and will come across as having it all together, as condescending. And then you will not be very fruitful.

The Lord God wants us to reach out to others, also to sinners. In love and compassion. Because we care, just as God cares. And it takes a lot of wisdom and insight to see how we are to do that.

For it is not just about us. It’s also about the world. It’s about our fellow man. We cannot hide out in our own little corner and keep our treasure to ourselves. We must share the glorious gospel of salvation. But we must do it in love and compassion and understanding. Not with a judgmental attitude. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 5, although we live in this world, we do not judge this world, only God does. We must keep in mind that God holds all men to account and judges them.

But he also wants to use us. And that is why, through us, he wants to confront them and give them a chance to repent. That is how he deals with individuals and also with nations, as he did with Nineveh. The Lord says to Jonah, ““Arise, go to Nineveh, to that great city, and call out against it; for their evil has come up before Me.”” (Jonah 1:2, ESV)

Jonah is sent to the heathens to proclaim God’s message. But Jonah has a different mind. Second point.

2. Jonah ought to have been happy that the Lord came to him to want to use him to bring his message of repentance. He 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 highly unlikely. 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.

As appears from the rest of this book Jonah seems to be quite a confident man. He is much taken in with his own worthiness and the worthiness of fellow church members. From the letter it is also 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 that so he would be making a fool of himself? Well, brothers and sisters, that cannot be the reason either. For there is nowhere 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? Well, 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.

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, nor the sin of his own nation. 

That is also warning for us. When we see the sin of others, we first have to see our own sins. And if you do that, then you do not come across arrogantly either. And then you will be much more effective and real.

 Ultimately Jonah’s action was that of unbelief. Jonah did not believe that God’s mercy is as great as he said it is. 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. And when he died he told his disciples to go out and preach to all the nations.

One of the problems we all have is that too often we take our blessings for granted. For we believe that God has chosen us and that we are his covenant children. We believe that God’s favour rests on the church. And 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. Really? We’re not such good people, are we? Think about the sins that reside within us, our resentments, our jealousies, our desires for revenge. Evil resides within us. And so we had better not think that they are better than others.

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, to you and to me. It can also happen that we think we are too good for the rest of the world. We attribute our spiritual and emotional and 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. But let us be careful. It can also happen to us.    

How? When we do not show our thanks to God for our salvation through no merit of our own. When we think that the earth a special place in God’s heart because of what we do. Brothers and sisters, obedience to God is a matter of thankfulness for what he has done, not a matter of earning our salvation. That’s what Jesus Christ did. He didn’t need our help. But he does want us to be thankful and show our thankfulness to him.

Jonah should have been more thankful. Thankful for the fact 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 do that to 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 fools himself. 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. He thinks, God provided a ship for him to go in the opposite direction, didn’t he? He made me part of his people and even made me a prophet. Surely God is with me.

 By the time Jonah went on board Jonah 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 there for our consumption, isn’t it?

How often have you found yourself 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?

Well, if you are not too comfortable right now, that’s understandable. Because that’s how we are as sinful human beings. And so, I 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 or me to wallow in our sins. And the same thing is true about the rest of the world. That’s why we must witness

But, how? By showing that we care. By seizing every opportunity that God gives us. We do that with compassion. We do that because we care. We do it in love. We want others also to taste the joy of salvation. We do not push sinners away by judging them.

We approach them with humble hearts. With compassion. With thankfulness to the Lord that he forgives those who repent. 

You see, that is the wonderful thing about the discovery of your sins. 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 the more we want to share.

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 and who do not want to stand condemned before God. Know this, God is merciful and full of compassion to all those who humble themselves before him. 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:

(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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