Let's take a look at the book of Jonah and see exactly what lessons lie in this book for us on this Day of Atonement.
[ This sermon was given on the Day of Atonement. ]
The Day of Atonement is always a challenge because there are so many things to talk about on the Day of Atonement - so many different aspects and you only get the one day to focus on these, it seems sometimes. And so it can be a challenge. So what I will give my best effort at doing is, I will not water down the word. I’ll try to give you a full meal - spiritual meal . Maybe even I’ll talk about the fruit of the Spirit or meat in due season. (Ha ha) But whatever you do, I’ll try to avoid the milk of the word and really get to the strong things and just try not to beef about it. Okay? But what I won’t do though, I will not talk about food . Okay? We’ll try not to do that.
But there are so many things to talk about on the Day of Atonement. We heard a little bit about it in the sermonette, about the time that Satan is going to be put away. Certainly, if you look back at Leviticus 16, it talks about the ceremonial aspects of what the priesthood did when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and ask God’s forgiveness for the people’s sins. There is certainly the story about the two goats - one representing Jesus Christ and the Azazel goat - the one that people could not determine on their own by looking at these goats. They needed God’s direct intervention to know which goat was for Azazel - which one represented Satan, which one represented Jesus Christ. And even today that’s the fact. We need God’s intervention to show us God’s way or we end up following the influence of Satan. So certainly that’s a big aspect about the Day of Atonement. Hebrews chapter 9 talks about some of the spiritual aspects of those physical things that the priests did.
And so Day of Atonement has so many things to talk about. And probably the most important is that we need to have reconciliation with God. Maybe if there was an overall theme to this day that might be it - reconciliation - being at one with God in our heart, in our mind - having our sins forgiven. And so… what to choose to talk about on the Day of Atonement?
I chose to talk about Jonah. If you want to, turn over to the book of Jonah. You might say, well what in the world would you want to talk about Jonah and a big fish for? What does that have to do with the Day of Atonement? Well, surprising as it may seem, it has a lot to do with the Day of Atonement. There are many lessons in this very short story about an experience that Jonah had - that give us insight into the Day of Atonement and it’s depth of meaning for each of us personally. So let’s take a look at the book of Jonah and see exactly what lessons lie in this book for us on this Day of Atonement.
Right at the very beginning of Jonah. Jonah, chapter 1, verse 1 it says:
Jonah 1:1 Jonah 1:1Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
American King James Version× - Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah… Jonah literally means ‘dove’. We are to be harmless as doves as God’s people and we are to speak the truth in love. He is the son of truth, … the son of Amittai, saying … And God says to Jonah, Vs. 2 - “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” Vs. 3 - But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, he found a ship going to Tarshish; he paid the fare, he went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
You see, as God was talking to Jonah, He gave him a specific assignment - not too much unlike the assignment that He has given to us. God gave Jonah responsibility. God has also given to each of us personal responsibility to follow His word. That’s a first lesson I think we can learn: I have personal responsibility that has been given to me from God, Himself.
Now, here’s Jonah running away from God - trying to get away from His presence. And God was stirring him up. He said, “Arise and go . “ And He says the same thing to us. We can’t just sit back, but He tells us to stir ourselves up. God gives us an assignment. We have responsibility that has come from God. And so, do we run? Do we disobey? Do we ever ignore the Word of God? I think that’s an Atonement challenge for us. Maybe you’ve thought about that today. “Do I ever ignore the word of God?” That’s a hard question to answer. Maybe we feel like Jonah when it comes to that question. “I don’t want to deal with that right now.” And so Jonah ran.
How about the way we deal with others? When we deal with others do we reflect on the fact that something is different about us? There’s a spiritual difference in us. Because God said, ‘Go to Nineveh’ and Nineveh was a terrible city. It says it was a great city, but it was a great pagan city. It was representing all that was wrong with the world. They were full of wickedness, so much that it has arisen to God. So when we think about that, what are our aspirations? What is our standard for living? What about us?
Well, in Vs. 4 God responds to Jonah’s unwillingness and he - sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so the ship was about to be broken up. Vs. 5 - Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god … They were probably Canaanites. They had all kinds of different gods - land gods, sea gods, tree gods, all kinds - and so they are all crying out to their various gods. And then … they threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. Vs. 6 - So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”
A couple of interesting things going on here: with Jonah’s personal responsibility, where did he go? He wasn’t ‘all hands on deck’. He wasn’t in the upper part of the ship. We see very clearly he had gone down. Verse 3 says he went down to Joppa. He went down into the ship. He had gone down into the lowest part and had lain down in the ship. How much farther away could you get from God? That word really means to descend. He descended away. He thought he could escape God. He descended into sleep to try to avoid God’s responsibility that He had given him. Now, do we just sleep the day away? Or do we take God’s responsibilities that He has given us to heart? Those are challenges that we face. Jonah, it says, tried to escape. He tried to get away. The sailors - they lightened the load. They tried to throw all the cargo they could off in order to save themselves. That’s interesting. Our responsibility, God says, is to get rid of sin out of our lives. If our spiritual ship is to stay afloat, we must get rid of the cargo of sin in our life. So what are we holding onto that we haven’t thrown overboard yet? Have we taken the responsibility to go before God and rid ourselves of sin? That’s part of the lesson of the story that Jonah faced. What are we hanging onto? What are we holding onto that we haven’t let go? What is in our decks that we haven’t released into God’s presence - that we haven’t brought before Him and been forgiven of? You see, the sailors knew something was wrong. They were taking their responsibility as good sailors to heart. They were trying to save the ship, save the vessel, save the people. So they were doing everything they could.
Well, in Vs. 7 it says - They said to each another, “Come, let us cast lots, to find out who is responsible for this calamity. Yeah, many times somebody’s at fault. When there’s a problem, something’s gone wrong. Oftentimes that may be the case. So what did they do? They cast lots. The lot fell on you know who - it fell on Jonah, didn’t it. So Vs. 8 - They asked him, tell us. Who is responsible for making all this trouble for us. What did you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? What kind of people are you? And so he answered. “I am a Hebrew; and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” Now it says ( Vs. 9 ) they were terrified. Why would they be terrified? Well, they were Canaanites probably. They had heard the story about the Red Sea. They had heard the story about the parting of the Jordan. They had heard the awesome God, that was the Hebrew God, that destroyed Jericho. They knew of this God. And not only did He make the sea, but He made the land as well. In other words, He was God of all the earth, not just some puny Canaanite god who might be the god of a tree or a rock or a land or something like that. This was The Almighty God. They were terrified and so they asked him, “What have you done? The NIV says they knew he was running away from the Lord because he had already told them. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? He was running away from God. So what happened? We know the story. It says the sea got rougher and rougher. Vs. 11 - They asked him, ‘What shall we do to make the sea calm down for us?’ Vs. 12 - He said, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm. I know it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.’
Now even these pagan people didn’t want to kill the man. They didn’t want to see him drown. They were taking their responsibility as sailors very seriously. So, what did they do? It says ( Vs. 13 ) they did their best to row back to land, but they couldn’t for the sea grew even wilder than before. Vs. 14 - And so they cried to the Lord … That’s The LORD - capital letters L-O-R-D - the LORD … O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Don’t hold us accountable for killing an innocent man for you, O LORD, have done as You pleased. So they prayed to the true God and then they took Jonah ( Vs. 15 ), threw him overboard and the raging sea grew calm. And it says, at this, Vs. 16 - t he men greatly feared the LORD, the true God, they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took a vow.
Now that’s pretty amazing when you think of this story. Could the sailors be accused of not fulfilling their responsibilities? No, they did what they were supposed to do. In fact, they made every effort to save Jonah. It came down to the fact that they couldn’t save him. They couldn’t save someone else and so they had to throw him overboard. They prayed to God before they did it. And then they did and God honored that prayer. And so what about us? Are there things that we need to throw overboard in our life - the sins that so easily inflict us?
If you will hold your place in Jonah, turn over to Colossians. In the book of Colossians, chapter 3, it tells us what we are supposed to hold on to, what we are supposed to set our hearts and our minds on. And it’s not the cargo of this world, it’s not the sin that so easily ensnares us, but notice what Paul told God’s church in Colosse. Colossians chapter 3 at the beginning of the chapter.
Colossians 3:1 Colossians 3:1 If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.
American King James Version× - If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. So not the world. Not the physical things around us. But Vs. 2 - Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. Vs. 3 - For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
So that’s the mission that we are set on. That’s what we are sailing towards - things above, having our mind focused on the truth, on God’s way, growing in Godly character. Is our life really hid with Christ in God? I think Atonement forces us to ask that question because sin, like Jonah, like that storm, was being pursued. That storm was relentless. It was pursuing after him just like sin pursues us. Satan pursues us. He would like nothing better than to destroy you, to destroy God’s church. And so that raging storm of sin is out there. The only way we can overcome it is to set our affection, to set our mind on God. And so, if we are not fully set on God, how much of our mind is set on God? What percentage, to what degree are we setting our mind on God, or to what degree are we not fully obeying what God would have us do? You see, sin does pursue us.
Part of the meaning of the Day of Atonement is that Satan’s part in that sin is going to be removed. Satan’ part - he will be put away. We can look forward to that. Part of the great joy of this day is that raging storm that Satan sends after us will finally be removed. Now we’re responsible for ourselves. We have to take full responsibility. And we’re already there in many ways, aren’t we? Haven’t we been given power over sin in our life? Haven’t we been given that power over the storm? I think we have! If we’ve been converted, if we received God’s Spirit, we have power over sin. We have Christ living His life in us. And so have we taken that responsibility to overcome sin, since Satan is supposed to be removed from our life, that we take our responsibility to heart? And we take that vow that we made and become that living sacrifice, not just offering the sacrifice to God, but we ourselves become that living sacrifice.
Jonah sure reminds us of a second lesson. The second lesson is, I cannot hide from God. Jonah tried to do that. I’d better not be found trying to do that. I can’t hide. Jonah couldn’t hide. Look at verse 17 here. In verse 17 it says:
Jonah 1:17 Jonah 1:17Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
American King James Version× - Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Now if you just quickly read over this, here were the sailors, they toss him overboard. They feared for Jonah’s life. They were sure Jonah was going to die. They said to God, ‘Please don’t hold his death against us. Don’t count us as murderers because he is as good as dead if we throw him over.’ And yet, God wouldn’t let him go, would He. God would not let Jonah go. How is it possible for Jonah to come to the truth, to change? Or you could say, how is it possible for Jonah to be saved by throwing him in the ocean? Isn’t that odd? By his life being threatened was the way that God could save him from sure death.
And so He prepared this fish, which is also an amazing word. This fish - what kind of fish, we often ponder that. Well, it couldn’t have been a whale - it doesn’t say a whale. But that word in the New Testament Christ used is kind of the whale family. It’s kind of a weird word. Some often speculate - I kind of like the image of a great white shark. A great white shark could have swallowed him. Now that doesn’t fit with a fish, it doesn’t have fins and scales, but the word that’s used here could encompass the family and they have been known to be in the Mediterranean. But imagine this, whether it be a great white or just a giant fish of some sort that God specially prepared, it literally means a sea monster. It had to be something pretty big to choke him down. And so he was there, it says, three days and three nights. God wasn’t going to let him go. So, in chapter 2 it says:
Jonah 2:1 Jonah 2:1Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly,
American King James Version× - Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. I’m not sure exactly how this was possible, but evidently he wasn’t passed out by this point. Vs. 2 - And he said … here’s his prayer, … “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me … Now, notice what he says here. Notice what he is praying because this is very important. It says, … “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried … like he’s in the grave - like he’s in the grave, Sheol. Of course, this is picturing what would happen to Christ many centuries later, that Christ would be in the heart of the earth, in the grave for three days and three nights. So Jonah is crying out in the grave of this fish and it says, … And He heard my voice … God heard his voice. Vs. 3 - You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Vs. 4 - Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ Vs. 5 - The waters surrounded me, even to my soul … But was he really out of God’s sight? He says, … The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. Vs. 6 - I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. Vs. 7 - “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. Vs. 8 - “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. Vs. 9 - But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”
So Jonah became cognizant of the fact that God alone grants salvation, that there is no hiding from God. It’s interesting here, he doesn’t ‘descend’ or doesn’t ‘go down’ like we read about him going into the ship, but here he’s just ‘in’ the fish. He’s just ‘in’ it. He’s thankful to be alive. He expresses hope to God. He’s relieved that he hasn’t been deserted by God. He realizes he can’t hide from God. But did you notice anything missing in this prayer? He’s not really regretting his actions here at all, is he? Is he asking for forgiveness? Is he asking for atonement? Is he asking for forgiveness of sin in this little section where he prays? That seems to be something that’s missing. He doesn’t focus on that at all. And so the sailors certainly questioned Jonah’s loyalty to God, didn’t they? His prayer focuses in on really not just what he said, but more importantly, what’s missing from this prayer?
So I can’t help but wonder, have I said or have I done something that doesn’t live up to the standards of God? Is there a part in my life that I’ve hidden from God, that is not open before God? At least, in my mind, God knows it anyway. That’s what Jonah is finding out. God knows it anyway, but is there any question of our loyalty to God? You see, Atonement forces us into that difficult question because right now, without eating, with no food and no water, the headache starts. We become tired. We realize that we if we are going to survive we are going to have to have some food. We are going to have to drink some water. We are not going to be able to do this for ever. Most of us probably couldn’t do it much longer than just today. Right? So when we ask that question, do I realize I can’t go on spiritually without God? Spiritually speaking, my life is in God’s hands. So just like food and water sustains us physically, God sustains us spiritually. And so as He does that, do I realize I cannot hide any area of my life from God?
There is an amazing passage, hold your place here in Jonah. Go over to Romans chapter 7. In Romans, chapter 7, maybe Paul was thinking of this giant sea monster - this great fish in some way when he was writing to God’s people in Rome. In Romans, chapter 7 verse 18, Paul says:
Romans 7:18 Romans 7:18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
American King James Version× - I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. He says, Vs. 19 - For the good that I will to do, I do not do … He doesn’t do the good he wants … but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. That, I practice. So he sees himself as he is. I think Atonement forces us to see ourselves as we really are. And so he sees himself. Vs. 24 - O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this … great fish? No, it doesn’t say that … this body of death? You see, who was going to deliver Jonah? If Jonah wasn’t delivered from the fish, he would surely die. He would eventually be consumed. You see, it’s no different from us. When we look at our life, who is going to deliver us from this body? We are trapped just like Jonah was trapped in that great fish, we are trapped in our physical body, a body that tends to sin; a mind that hides from God. Well, he gives us the answer. Fortunately he says ( Vs. 25 ) - Thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we can be delivered from this body of death. So he says, … so with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
You see, Jonah needed a savior just like we need a savior. That fish in a way was a type of Jesus Christ. He was going to deliver Jonah / Christ should deliver us. And so we need to strive to live up to God’s standards in our lives since He has delivered us from sin, that we received His Holy Spirit. We have to be that living sacrifice and not hide from that responsibility as Jonah tried to hide from Him.
It’s an amazing thing when you think about what Jonah was doing, if you want to flip back to the book of Jonah. Jonah knew that the Ninevites would repent. He just had this gut feeling that that’s what they would do. But what about his own people? What would the Israelites do? Well, what’s the story of the prophets? They wouldn’t, they wouldn’t repent - well, maybe for a little bit they would repent and then they’d go right back. They didn’t repent so easily. And so the Ninevites and their repentance would show that Israel really was a stiff-necked, stubborn people. Could Jonah face that fact? Well it didn’t seem like he wanted to. He didn’t want to see his people in that light. Maybe he realized at some point Nineveh was going to overtake Israel. Of course, Nineveh became the capitol of Assyria. That was the nation that finally came and wiped out Israel, took them off into captivity. And so perhaps Jonah had that in his mind as well.
It’s also interesting that maybe there was a sense of embarrassment in Jonah in the sense that the Ninevites would listen to him, but did he listen to God? Did he, himself ? Was he the right kind of example? Well, we see that it’s not playing out that way. He was not an example of God’s way of life. The sailors didn’t even recognize him as an Israelite because they asked him, “Who are you? Who are your people? What’s going on here?” And so, did he feel like “Well, I must be a total hypocrite if I go to another nation and tell them they are going to be destroyed for being sinners when I, myself, am a sinner.” See, it keeps coming back to the fact that Jonah had to realize - just like we do - there’s no part in our lives that’s hidden from God. None.
So when we go back to Jonah again we see in chapter 2 and verse 10 it says:
Jonah 2:10 Jonah 2:10And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah on the dry land.
American King James Version× - the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. So he was saved. He was saved.
Now in chapter 3 it says ( Jonah 3:1 Jonah 3:1And the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
American King James Version× ) Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, Vs. 2 - “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message I tell you.” So God’s going to specifically tell him the message to say. Vs. 3 - So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now it’s interesting back chapter 1 he had already told him that message, didn’t he? He told him that message. So Jonah went and … Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. So evidently it would take three days to even walk across this city it was so big. Vs. 4 - Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Well, would that scare you if you were the superpower of the day? It doesn’t sound so threatening. Was that the word that God told him? If you go back to chapter 1, verse 2 it says:
Jonah 1:2 Jonah 1:2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
American King James Version× - “Go to the great city of Nineveh, preach against it; because its wickedness has come up before Me.” Does Jonah say anything about its wickedness here? Now maybe we’re not told the whole story, but evidently the message is pretty weak. It doesn’t seem to be very inspiring. It doesn’t seem to be all-encompassing. It seems that Jonah is kind of preaching maybe the bare minimum. You know, after all, he doesn’t really want them to listen to him, does he? I mean, one of his worst fears seems that they might actually change. They might actually listen. So what was he most focused on? Himself.
You see, on the Day of Atonement I think that’s something we have to realize. Every one of us are self-absorbed. ‘I am self-absorbed.’ ‘I have the wrong priorities.’ Is it possible to be a part of the Church, but not have your heart in it? Is it possible to do the work, but not have every ounce of our heart and mind in it? Are we just kind of getting by, just doing the minimum? You see, Jonah is supposed to be an instrument of God. He’s supposed to be a tool in God’s hands. He was supposed to be showing the nations that God not only cares about Israel, but He cares about everyone. He even cares about Nineveh. You see, God cares about people, but instead of being an instrument, a tool in His hands, Jonah could only see himself. He could only be wrapped up in his own self interests - his interest in his own people in Israel.
You see, that reminds us we can’t just be concerned about the Church. We can’t just be self-inwardly focused. There’s a job to do. There’s a word to go out to the world. We have to be preaching that word in a inspiring, strong, powerful way because God has given us the tools to do it. We cannot be self-absorbed - not individually, not collectively. That was part of Jonah’s problem. And so, how thoroughly are we interested in accomplishing the task that God has given us, because we have an obligation. We have a personal obligation, we have a collective obligation to warn the world, witness to the world. And, you know, like Jonah - they just might listen. And certainly some of them will. So do we really care about others? Do we really care that we show that love to our neighbor? You see, Jonah probably said, “Well, I’ve got my own sins, I’ve got my own faults. How can I condemn them when I’m a sinner?” You see, God wasn’t concerned with that. God wanted Jonah right with Him and God wanted him to do the job. So self-absorption is something that hindered him from accomplishing the job.
Now over in Philippians chapter 2 and verse 3, it’s a reminder for us on the spiritual side of things that we can’t be in that frame of mind. You see, Atonement, this day without food and without water reminds us how dependent we are on things outside of us, because most of us will be ready to have that drink of water after the sun goes down, right? Not too many of us will keep it going for a while. We’re ready. We realize there are things outside of us that we need to survive physically, but most importantly spiritually, so we cannot be just focused on ourselves.
Philippians 2:3 Philippians 2:3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
American King James Version× - Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Vs. 4 - Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
You see the opposite of self-absorption. I think you could say it’s reconciliation. That’s a different way of saying ‘others’, isn’t it? Being reconciled to God. Being reconciled to our neighbor. Being in a good, right, wholesome relationship with others and, of course, with our creator. If we cut ourselves off from others, we cut ourselves off from God. We cut ourselves off from doing His will. We’re not accomplishing the task at hand because we are not only called to personal salvation. That’s pretty self-absorbed to think that, isn’t it, that it’s all about me and being in the kingdom. No. There’s more. We have an obligation to others to do the work and so we cannot be self-absorbed. We cannot take on this idea that Jonah had. Well, ultimately he was pushed and God forced him in a way to preach that message.
So back in Jonah chapter 3, verse 5 we see after this even minimal amount of preaching it seems that ( Jonah 3:5 Jonah 3:5So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
American King James Version× ) - T he people of Nineveh believed … It’s interesting, they didn’t believe Jonah, it says they … believed God. You see, it’s not about the preacher, it’s about the word of God. That’s what it’s about. They believed God. … they proclaimed a fast … ooh, that sounds familiar today, doesn’t it? … proclaimed a fast, they put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. This is rough clothing. They realize their sinful nature. It says, Vs. 6 - Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. Vs. 7 - And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. Vs. 8 - But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth … Wonder how they got that sackcloth around a cow? Must have been quite a challenge. Let them all be covered, it says, … and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Vs. 9 - Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? God’s reaction: Vs. 10 - God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. Boy, it seems like the king was more effective in his preaching and publishing than Jonah was, doesn’t it? And God noticed it. God recognized it and in a way the king realized he had to repent before it was too late.
I think that’s another Atonement lesson in the book. We have to repent before it’s too late. All of mankind has to repent before it’s too late. That’s what it really comes down to. People listen. They repent. They fast. They morn from young to old. Nineveh, the powerful city, Israel’s enemy, repents. And yet, on the other hand, Jonah obeys, it seems, because he has to. He has to. No wonder Christ said that those people - those men of Nineveh would rise up in this generation and condemn it because they repented. Christ said they repented. Nineveh asked for forgiveness and God changed His mind. God didn’t destroy them right then. And so, Jonah - if you want to put it in that term - Jonah succeeds in getting Nineveh to atone for their sins. But he doesn’t recognize that he, himself, needs atonement. He needs reconciliation with God. And, in a way, he needs reconciliation even with his enemy, doesn’t he? That’s God’s goal. That’s God’s goal that all would come to repentance.
Now the amazing thing, if we were to put it in modern terms, we’d probably say that Jonah was in the Church. Right? Jonah was in the Church and Nineveh was not. And who acted righteously? You see, that’s why Christ said to bear fruits worth of repentance. That’s an interesting passage. You might just write it down, it’s in Matthew, chapter 3, because the Israelites were all saying, ‘Well, hey, we’ve got Abraham as our father.’ Christ said, ‘Listen, don’t say that. Don’t tell me you’re in the Church. Don’t tell me your heritage, because that is of no consequence.’ He said He was able to raise up stones. And so we can’t claim that. We have to not only be in the Church, but God’s Spirit has to be in us, shining through us. And so, in so many ways, God wants every one of us to continue to come to repentance. That’s 2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
American King James Version× . He wants all to come to repentance. He doesn’t want any to perish. And so, in so many ways we have to remember that. Are we ever going to get all these right pieces in place so that we somehow earn perfection? No, we need God in our lives. We’re not good enough to do it on our own. And we’re not good enough to do it for the rest of the world. It takes God and I need to repent and continue that frame of mind in my life, because what happened? Instead of being pleased - back in Jonah 4, chapter 4 and verse 1, it says:
Jonah 4:1 Jonah 4:1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
American King James Version×- It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. He was angry. So it amazes me that Vs. 2 says - he prayed to the LORD … so here he is just mad and he prays to God. He says - … “Ah, LORD, was this not what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; I knew You would be a gracious God, I knew that you would be merciful … You see, what did Jonah want? He wanted Nineveh’s comeuppance. I love that word. Their comeuppance, right? They should get what they deserve. It’s only just. It’s only right that they get what they deserve. Their wickedness had come up before God. They deserve it. But Jonah didn’t want his comeuppance.
See, what about our comeuppance? Do we want God to give us what we deserve? Do we want God to give us what’s coming to us? You see, that’s what Jonah wanted. They deserved to be rebuked. They deserved to be destroyed. They deserved to be penalized for their wickedness. What about us? Do we long for somebody else’s comeuppance? “Oh, boy. I can’t wait till God gets them because, boy, do they deserve it.” (Phew.) That’s a scary attitude, isn’t it? “I can’t wait till that jerk I work with really gets it. He’s going to get fired one of these days and I cannot wait for that day.” Do we ever put it in those kind of personal terms? “That lousy, rotten, meddling neighbor of mine - she’s going to get it one of these days and I can’t wait for that to happen.” Is that our perspective on the world? You see, that was what Jonah was thinking. At least, he was blaming Nineveh for his problems. You know, “It’s their fault. I knew they’d repent.” Do we, maybe in secret, do we secretly desire for someone else to get it - someone else’s comeuppance?
I was reminded of this a while back. I was watching a news story on an illusionist. His name was David Blaine. You may have heard of him. He’s done all these different stunts. He’s a magician. He’s one of the great magicians, I suppose, of our time. He’s often been called the Harry Houdini of our age. Back in the ‘90’s he started doing these amazing stunts and just this year he was doing another one. One of the amazing ones was that he was in New York City. He was on top of a hundred foot pillar - no food, no water - he was up there for 35 hours and this thing was just like a little podium, just a little perch. And if the wind blew one way or another he was going off. He was going to die. He managed to stay up there for thirty-five hours. Then there was another one he did where he was encased in ice for three days which was a pretty amazing one.
And then there was another one - maybe you remember some of these kinds of things - he was suspended in a plexiglass box over by the Tower Bridge in London. It was just a little box about 7’ x 7’ x 3’ tall and no food and he had a little bit of water. He was allowed to drink, I think, two liters of water. He had a quilt, a pillow and I think the only other thing he had was a photo of his mother in this plexiglass thing and he was up there for forty-four days. And it was amazing - how could you do that? How could you do that? It was an interesting lesson in human nature because I don’t know if you remember the story or not, this was just a few years ago that this happened. The people’s reactions to him being in this plexiglass box, you would think they might be cheering him on, encouraging him. No, people would arrive early and they would get their big boom boxes - one radio station came and just blasted loud music at this box that he was staying in. Other people brought things for David Blaine, but not the kind of things that would be helpful. They brought eggs and tomatoes and they would throw them at the box. They found lemons, sausages, hot dogs - what’s funny - oh, bacon, golf balls - all kinds of crazy things. People would throw those. There was even one of the tabloids - I don’t remember, I think it might have been the Sun or the Enquirer over there in London - they build a special little helicopter and what they did is, they grilled hamburgers underneath the box and then they got this special helicopter that they put a hamburger on it and flew it up to the box and kind of maneuvered it so that it flew right in front of him as he looked out this plexiglass box. I mean, it’s just an amazing story. There were even those that were trying to cut off the little bit of water that he had since he was up there for so long. And I think it just is telling about the human heart. Instead of encouraging the guy, yes, it is a weird thing to do, but why make it worse? Why try to interfere?
And I think it just really does show us, you know, that heart that was in those people that were so discouraging and trying to thwart his efforts, it’s the same heart that’s in us and that’s human nature. And it’s a startling lesson to learn and it’s one that becomes pretty evident in Jonah’s life. And maybe not so much in our life because I haven’t whipped any pieces of bacon at anybody lately, all right? I haven’t skipped out on God’s order for me to preach to some crazy city, but I think what it does show us is how off our thinking can become, how our priorities can get so far off from what God would have them be. You see, Jonah’s problem was that he was more concerned about his reputation than he was about others, than he was about Nineveh. He was more concerned about his credentials, how he looked than caring for the people of that city. He didn’t care about them. He was more concerned about being right than the lives of those thousands upon thousands of people, because for all he cared, they could burn. It didn’t matter to him. In fact, he hoped that they would. And, you see, that makes the problem them. If they’re the problem, then I don’t have to look at myself. But, you see, the lesson here is: the problem is not them. The problem is not what somebody else did to me. The problem is not my boss at work. The problem is me and how I handle it and what I do with it and how I react to it. You see, that’s the problem. The problem is within. The problem is not without. Yes, it’s a great lesson on Atonement that Satan will get his comeuppance. He will. He will be put away, but we still have to battle our human nature. We still have to rely on God in every aspect. One hundred percent of our life has to be reliant on God. And yet, Jonah - Jonah 4:2 Jonah 4:2And he prayed to the LORD, and said, I pray you, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before to Tarshish: for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repent you of the evil.
American King James Version×- notice what Jonah says about God. He says:
Jonah 4:2 Jonah 4:2And he prayed to the LORD, and said, I pray you, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before to Tarshish: for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repent you of the evil.
American King James Version× - I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Like he just did. Vs. 3 - Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” Vs. 4 - Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” The answer? Jonah doesn’t answer. He ignores the question. Vs. 5 - So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. Oh, maybe God will change His mind again and destroy it. Wouldn’t that be great? Maybe that was what was on his mind. Well, here Jonah wanted justice, but where was mercy? Where was compassion? Where was concern? Where was care? You see, Jonah is humiliated and he prefers to die. Maybe he realizes that if this nation repents, that means Israel has to repent, as well. And he, himself, would be expected to repent. And so we have a conflict between the will of God and the will of Jonah and Jonah’s trying to hold his own and “I don’t want to answer that question, God. Yes, it is.” By not answering, that’s the implication. “Yeah, I have a right to be angry.”
And so we run into this amazing contrast, an atonement lesson between justice and mercy. I think that’s the next lesson that appears here in the story - justice and mercy. Justice and mercy. What does Jonah want? He wants justice, so Nineveh being north and east of Israel, what does Jonah do? It says that he goes to the east of the city. That’s not toward Jerusalem, That’s not toward Israel. That’s going farther away - going farther away, in a sense, from God’s presence - continuing to try to escape.
It’s interesting in Vs. 6 Then - t he LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery … See, God is still caring for Jonah. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. Vs. 7 - But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. Vs. 8 - And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and he said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
A couple of interesting things going on here. Did you catch the fact that he set up a shelter, it says in the New King James. That’s the word, sukkah . He set up a tabernacle. Was it possible that this was the time for the Feast of Tabernacles? Was it possible they were fasting because there was a connection to Atonement? Perhaps there is. Not saying that it is absolute, but is it possible that Nineveh was forgiven on Atonement? Interesting connection here. Can’t prove it, but it sounds like a very interesting connection, especially as Jonah sets up this sukkah , a shelter, a tabernacle to dwell in outside the city.
Well, this plant grows. Jonah is immediately happy. He is immediately thankful. He feels good when God’s attention is focused on him, not those lousy other Ninevehites, but on him. But when the plant is gone, he wants to die. He wants to die. So, as we see, Jonah refuses to learn the lesson. God sent the sailors, the fish, the Ninevhites, the plant, the worm - all of those things. God never gave up and continued to be merciful, continued to give him guidance and correction, but Jonah would not listen. He would not hear it. And so I wonder, has God ever sent something like that to us. Well, maybe it wasn’t a fish or a sailor or a worm or anything like that, what about an outsider, you know, maybe somebody outside the Church? Have you ever been corrected by somebody outside? Can you take it? Ooh, that hurts. That really hurts. Does it make us feel ashamed? You see, it’s just another way that God doesn’t give up on us and that’s such a great lesson for this day, that God never gives up on us. He continues to try to call us to repentance. He continues to do that. He continued to work with Jonah and so he says here in verse 9 to Jonah,
Vs. 9 - “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And Jonah says, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” Vs. 10 - But the LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. Vs. 11 - And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left–and much livestock?
You see, we’re talking about a big group of people here, a huge group of people. Probably the 120,000 is just those that are the children - the thousand persons seems to relate to the children. Maybe only a fifth of the total of the population there in Nineveh. And if that’s the case, that means Nineveh was twice as big as Cincinnati, as big as Boston or as big as Milwaukee or Denver or Washington D.C. This is a huge city that Jonah didn’t really care about. Jonah was thinking about Jonah. God says, “Jonah, what makes you more important to me than a cow?” He says there is much livestock here that even God mentions. And so the point, He continues to work with Jonah to see that we must be reconciled to God. We must be reconciled with people. We have to be reconciled with God and that helps us to be reconciled with people. Right? Christ said it in an amazing way. Matthew, chapter 5 verse 43, look at the way that Christ put it. He said it in a different way, but it’s the same story. Maybe because He was the same One talking to Jonah at that time, but in Matthew 5:43 Matthew 5:43You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.
American King James Version×we begin to see.
Matthew 5:43 Matthew 5:43You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.
American King James Version× - “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ And yet, Christ says: Vs. 44 - I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you … and why? He says, Vs. 45 - that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise to on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
So, God calls us to reconciliation and He calls us to repentance, He calls us to atone. Christ has paid that atonement for us that our sins can be forgiven. That makes Matthew 5:43 Matthew 5:43You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.
American King James Version×possible. Jonah didn’t see it, but we are supposed to be able to see it and we should realize that none of this is possible without mercy.
You see, an atonement lesson is that I need mercy. I deserve justice, but I crave and long for mercy. In fact, mercy is probably the only theme that fits with the entire book of Jonah. Mercy vs. judgment. God’s mercy. Jonah is an advocate of law and order, but God is the advocate of mercy. He loves mercy. Does Jonah then see God as just being softhearted or weak? Hopefully he doesn’t. You see, because it’s only when we realize our own humanity, when we understand how much we depend on God’s mercy, it helps us to begin to see what God has in mind for us, its what Atonement really is all about.
Back in another book of a minor prophet, in Micah chapter 7, verse 18, we see a connection here with this wonderful need that we all have for mercy. It says:
Micah 7:18 Micah 7:18Who is a God like to you, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retains not his anger for ever, because he delights in mercy.
American King James Version× - Who is a God like You who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay anger forever, but delight to show mercy. Vs. 19 - You will again have compassion on us, You will tread our sins under foot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
You see, that’s an Atonement picture, isn’t it, that we have that possibility because Christ atoned for our sins. Because Satan is put away, we have that opportunity to have our sins tread out and removed and thrown to the depths of the sea. That’s an amazing lesson. That’s a good lesson for us because even though Jonah was a prophet, he was still a man who needed God’s mercy. I believe the closer we are to God, the more we realize we need mercy. We need a cleansing. We need expiation. We need atonement. We need forgiveness. How is that possible? It’s only through God’s mercy. It’s only through the death of His Son. He is our atonement.
And so, we leave Jonah in kind of a bad, rough place. Did he die at this point? Was he dead on the outskirts of Nineveh, killed by the hot wind, the beating sun? We’re just not told enough information about it. But it does leave us with a personal lesson that we can all take to heart. In fact, just a couple of pages over in Joel - Joel chapter 2, verse 12. Joel, in a way, quotes God here as giving us maybe an atonement lesson in just a couple of sentences. See, I could have had this sermon a whole lot shorter if I just went here first, I guess.
Joel 2:12 Joel 2:12Therefore also now, said the LORD, turn you even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
American King James Version× - “Now, therefore,” says the LORD … so here’s God speaking in Joel chapter 2, verse 12. … “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” Vs. 13 - So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.
We’ve got an amazing God. Atonement reminds us of that. Atonement reminds us that there is a responsibility that we have since God has called us and opened our minds to His truth. There’s no hiding from it. There is no part of us that is hidden from God. So let’s maintain this atonement attitude that we can be humble before Him and we can continue to repent and seek God’s forgiveness because we don’t want justice, we want mercy. Atonement reminds us we can be thankful for that wonderful forgiveness that we have.
And so, as we fast and we realize our dependence on food, spiritually we recognize our dependence on God. Let’s not lose it. Let’s not start eating tonight and lose that frame of mind. Let’s remember that frame of mind and be thankful that God has given us the power to be free from sin through His Holy Spirit. And so, by Atonement we can be totally committed to live reconciled to God.