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Outrageous Grace! – Jonah 3. How God Pursues Prodigals (2)

Jonah 1: 4 - 17 In Part 1 we learned that in dealing with prodigals – 1. God sends storms to get our attention 2. God allows others to suffer because of our sin 3. God sends someone to challenge us In this case the captain woke up Jonah who was sleeping below deck and told him to start praying. What a rebuke! The people of the world may not want our sermons, but when the storms of life come, they definitely want our prayers. We’re all in the same boat. People are hurting, families are in crisis, people struggle to make ends meet, there is sickness of one sort or another in every family, and everyone is touched by pain and sorrow. The lesson is clear. The world waits for us pray. The world wants us to pray. The world wonders why we don’t pray. They don’t understand our doctrine. They aren’t that interested in our sermons. The world wants us to pray. 4. God Exposes Our Disobedience v. 7 Jonah is now found out by the casting of lots. That may seem like a chance event but Proverbs 16:33 reminds us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." Casting lots sometimes involved using different coloured balls or rocks, mixing them together, and then seeing which one fell out of the bag first. In that sense casting lots is like rolling dice. It appears to be a random act of chance, but God is behind those coloured stones. He determines which one falls out of the bag first. There are no “accidents” in life, no “random” events, and there is no such thing as “luck.” Even seemingly meaningless things fit into his plan. We might paraphrase Proverbs 16: 33 this way: “Life is like a roll of the dice, but God is in charge of how the numbers come up.” Having been busted by the casting of lots, Jonah confesses his true identity. He had already told them that he was running from the Lord so now he tells them who he really is: v.9. Isn’t it amazing how God works? We may run and run and run, but he will bring us again and again to the place where we finally have to tell the truth. Jonah has been living like a pagan, but in truth the pagans are living far above his level. There’s another way to say this. You can be a pagan or you can be a Christian, but you can’t be both at the same time. Here is a simple application: “If you’re going to be a Christian, be one!” The world wants you to act like what you say you are. Live like one. Act like one. Talk like one. Pray like one. If you’re going to call on the name of the Lord, do that. Why confuse things by calling yourself a Christian but not living like one? The world is waiting for real believers who are not ashamed to stand up for what they believe. The people of the world want Christians to be real. Now look what happens next. Things are about to get worse for Jonah. 5. God Makes Us Face the Consequences of Our Own Foolish Choices (v. 12 – 16) Jonah knows it’s all his fault. So when the sailors ask what they should do to make the seas grow calm again, he offers the only solution that makes sense: v. 12. But that’s not what they did, at least not immediately – v. 13. When Jonah said, “Throw me overboard,” the pagans wouldn’t do it. They started rowing for shore. At this point the ungodly have more compassion than the prophet of God. They care more about him than he does about them. By the way, be careful about deciding who’s on God’s side and who’s not. Don’t be quick to jump to conclusions about other people. Things aren’t always as they appear on the surface. Consider this story for a moment. There is one prayer and only one recorded in Jonah 1 - it’s not Jonah who does the praying. It’s the pagans. Don’t assume that you can judge the hearts of all the people around you. Let God do the judging. Sometimes the “pagans” can act with more compassion than the so-called “believers.” This is how the sailors prayed: v. 14. In the Hebrew language there are a number of different words for God: El, Elohim, Yahweh, and so on. Yahweh was the covenant name of God. It’s the name the Jews used when they spoke of the God who had made promises to Israel. It was the most sacred name for God in the Old Testament. It’s the name of God as he met Moses at Mount Sinai in Exodus 3. 3 times the Hebrew word “Yahweh” is used in v. 14: “They cried to the Lord.” ”O Lord.” "You, O Lord.” They cried out to the God of the Bible, to the covenant-keeping Lord of Israel. Do you see what has happened here? In v. 5 each man cries out to “his own god,” but by v. 14 the men have started praying to the God of Israel, the one true Lord of Lords. That’s a stupendous change. As Jonah begins to wake up and come to his senses spiritually, God works in the hearts of the pagans so that they begin to cry out in desperation to him. So we see the great hand of God at work in every part of this situation. The Lord often uses desperate times to wake men up so that they will cry out to Him. Here he does that for Jonah and also for the pagan sailors who suddenly don’t look so pagan anymore. Check out their theology at the end of their prayer: v. 14. Not so long ago these men were worshiping their own gods. Now they proclaim the sovereignty of the one true God. v. 15 - We learn 2 important points here, one from Jonah and one from the sailors. From Jonah’s side we learn this important truth: The storms continue until you stop running from God. We generally have smooth sailing when we first go our own way. Things look rosy, and life is good because disobedience brings a temporary reward. But the storms come sooner or later, and those storms are sent by God as a severe mercy to bring us to our senses and lead us to the place of repentance. Though the voyage into sin may start with a celebration, it always ends with a raging storm. God makes sure of that. From the sailors’ side we see something amazing happen: v. 16 - While Jonah is bobbing up and down in the water, a revival breaks out on the boat. Suddenly that boat is filled with enthusiastic worshipers of the one true God. And where is that boat going? It’s still headed for Tarshish. God loves Tarshish too! Now he’s got a boatload of baby missionaries heading in that direction. Look how this story turns out. Pagan sailors now worship the Lord while Israel’s reluctant prophet flounders in the ocean. While the sailors praise God, the boat sails across the horizon, leaving Jonah to do the doggy paddle in the middle of the ocean. Jonah expects to die. That’s actually good place for him to be. He would rather die in the sea than run from God any longer. 6. God Reveals His Grace in the Midst of Judgment v. 17 Doesn’t say the Lord “created” a great fish. It says that God “appointed” a great fish. It doesn’t say it was a whale. Could have been a whale, but we don’t know for sure. We focus on the identity of the fish when it clearly doesn’t matter. I imagine the Lord saying to the great fish, “I’ve got a job for you to do.” “Yes sir.” So he gave the fish the GPS coordinates and said, “Be there at precisely this time.” “Yes sir.” “A man will flop in front of you. I want you to swallow him whole, but don’t chew him up. And then I’ll give you further instructions later.” “Yes sir.” As with everything else in this story, the fish obeys God better than Jonah does. Who sent the great fish? Answer: The same person who sent the great storm. God did all of it. Why did he send the fish? 1. To rescue Jonah from the sea. If he hadn’t sent the fish, Jonah would have died in the ocean. 2. To bring him to repentance. I began the message last week by quoting a poem called “A Prodigal Yet,” let me end by quoting another poem, this one much better known. Here are a few lines from “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson: I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,

And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat—and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet—

‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

If you’ve been running, I’ve got some good news. It is never too late to stop running from God. Don’t wait for the storm. Don’t wait for the great fish. Here is a word of hope for those who have friends and loved ones who at this very moment are running, running, running from the Lord as fast as they can. Console yourself with these thought about the prodigals in your life: God knows where they are. God knows what they are doing. God knows how to reach them. God knows how to bring them back. Between now and then, never give up. Never give up. Keep believing. Keep on praying. Go and buy yourself a fatted calf and put it out to pasture. Feed that fatted calf while you wait for the happy day when God will reach out his mighty hand and bring his prodigal sons and daughters home at last. Prayer: “Father, as you did for Jonah, do now for our loved ones. Even after a message like this, it’s easy to feel hopeless. They seem so far from you. They seem to be having such a good time. But you know where they are. You know how to touch them. Do whatever it takes to bring them home to you. Grant us grace to wait and faith to believe and growing confidence that one day that fatted calf will be put to good use at last. May we never give up hope but keep believing that as you brought Jonah back, you’ll do the same thing for the prodigals we love so much. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

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