Greetings! Welcome to Lechem Panim! We appreciate your choosing to make our program a part of your day and hope that our message today will be a blessing to you. We will be beginning a study on the life of Jonah, which is an interesting one.
“Then You Ask Him”— You know, some time ago [There was a Christian lady that had to do a lot of traveling for her business so she did a lot of flying. Since flying made her nervous, she always took her Bible along with her to read and it helped relax her. One time she was sitting next to a man. When he saw her pull out her Bible he gave a little chuckle and went back to what he was doing. After a while he turned to her and asked “You don’t really believe all that stuff in there do you?” The lady replied “Of course I do. It is the Bible.” He said, “well what about that guy that was swallowed by that whale? She replied, “Oh, Jonah. Yes I believe that, it is in the Bible.” He asked “Well, how do you suppose he survived all that time inside the whale?” The lady said “Well I don’t really know. I guess when I get to heaven I will ask him.” “What if he isn’t in heaven?” the man asked sarcastically. “Then you can ask him.” Replied the lady.]
A True Story-- Now all joking aside, the story of Jonah is not pretend; it’s not just a nice little story meant to teach us a lesson. No; this really happened to a real man by the name of Jonah in the Old Testament. Jesus Himself treats this account as a real historical event and uses it as a living and breathing picture of His own death and resurrection. So keep this in mind as we go through the story today. This story may sound like a big fish story (and it is); but it is also one that happens to be true. Now none of us know exactly how this happened. We don’t even know what kind of animal this was. It could have been a whale; it could have been a fish. The Hebrew word for fish here (dāḡ) can mean either a whale or a fish. Dagon (the god of the Ninevites) gets his name from this word, which we will see is significant. But we don’t know what exactly it was. But what we do know is that it happened and that this creature (whatever it was) was prepared by God for a special purpose. And we will see that purpose unfold in our story today.
Now Jonah was prophet of God; meaning he would hear from God and then tell God’s people what God had said. He was a preacher. And one day this preacher was either in or near his home when God gave him a special message. It says…
Jonah 1:1-2 (ESV)-- 1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”
Nineveh-- Now this was not good news to Jonah. Because Nineveh was the capitol city of Assyria. And Assyria was the enemy of Israel. They were the Nazis of the ancient world. And the reason Jonah saw them this way was because they had killed a lot of innocent people (including Israelites), and mutilated and tortured their captors in some unspeakable ways. And so Jonah rightfully saw them as the bad guys. And so he naturally doesn’t want to go. He would much rather stay in Israel. After all, THEY were God’s people; not Nineveh; and he was supposed to be Israel’s prophet, not Nineveh’s; at least that’s what he thought.
Feel-Good Times-- And these were good days to stay in Israel. Israel was doing pretty good. The Assyrians were elsewhere in the empire, occupied with other matters. This allowed for Jeroboam II (the king of Israel) [to capture much of Syria for Israel.] [he … expanded Israel even farther than his father did, matching the boundaries in the days of David and Solomon (2 Kings 14:25)] So the kingdom is doing better; [And it’s interesting that 2 Kings 14:25 says that all [this was “according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher” (2 Kings 14:25).] Jonah had prophesied concerning this time of prosperity. God had also prophesied about it through Elisha. But because Israel wasn’t being bothered by Assyria right now, they were all just kind of relaxing, feeling good about themselves. And we see from Amos chapters 5 and 6 that they were feeling pretty good about how they were God’s chosen people and were excited about how God was going to come one day and cover all their enemies in darkness, and leave them basking in the light. The only problem is that God didn’t want Israel to stand and everyone else to burn. He wanted Israel to be a light and an instrument of salvation to the nations, leading them into worship of Him. And so God reveals that He has compassion for everybody; not just Israel. But the people of Israel (and particularly Jonah) don’t want God to show that compassion on their enemies; they don’t want them to be saved.
Noah’s Dove of Deliverance-- In the story of Noah, what animal brought the olive leaf to Noah? A dove, right? Why a Dove? Well, the dove was a symbol for Noah and His family of God’s delivering them from the floodwaters; there was dry land. It showed them that God had compassion on them and had delivered them. Similarly, we see in the New Testament how the Holy Spirit, the one who brings inner deliverance; inner cleansing from sin, takes the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism. But did you know that the Hebrew word for dove is “yonah” (“Jonah”)? And I think, isn’t it interesting that Jonah’s name literally means “dove”. Why is that? An accident? I don’t think so. God’s mission is often revealed in the name’s of God’s prophets. I believe the reason Jonah was named “dove” is because Jonah is God’s means of sharing hope with the people of Nineveh. He himself is bringing to them an olive leaf; the hope that through repentance they might be forgiven their sins and experience the compassion of God. However Jonah, though he has a name that may reflect and look forward to the Holy Spirit of God, does not yet have a heart that reflects the heart of God because he does not yet care about the lost. He’s not living in accordance with His name. So we see that God wants to change Jonah’s heart; Jonah’s understanding of how God wants to save (not just Israel, but) the entire world. God has compassion on everyone who needs Him. And because He does, so ought Jonah.
We Are Here Because of Others’ Faithfulness-- And when you think about it; the only reason you and I are here today is because some Jewish Christian in the past was willing to obey God’s call to cross social and racial barriers so that you might know Jesus. In the great commission Jesus challenges us to embrace a new way of viewing ourselves, a new way of viewing ministry, and most importantly a new way of viewing people. And even here in the Old Testament, in the narrative of Jonah, we see God challenging his people (through Jonah’s life) to start to think differently.
Jonah’s Hardened Heart-- But Jonah’s heart is hardened and He will not allow God to soften it. He hates those Ninevites. And Jonah doesn’t want God’s mercy for them; and if anyone is going to show it to them, it is certainly not going to be him; a Jew. So what does the scripture say? It says in…
Jonah 1:3 (ESV)-- 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
Running from God?!!!— Whenever I read this story, I think to myself, “Jonah, how can you be so foolish? Don’t you know that you can’t run from God?” After all, he was a prophet; he spoke for God; he was supposed to know God. Yet he still thought that he could run from God; that he could hide from Him; as Adam and Eve thought similarly in the Garden of Eden. But often there are times when you and I also can be tempted to run from God. Let me ask you this. Is there anything God has ever called you to do that you have sought to avoid? Maybe it’s doing the right thing in a bad circumstance; maybe it’s being a friend to somebody who is being bullied; or maybe (like it was with Jonah) it’s being a friend TO the bully. Whatever it is, we might try to avoid it, like Jonah did. We can act on your hate by doing evil to somebody; or we can hate them simply by withholding something they need; by not telling them about Jesus.
“Went Down”-- You know that phrase “went down” is a very interesting phrase in the book of Jonah; and really the entire Bible. Jonah went down to Joppa (1:3); he gets in the ship and the text says went down into it (1:3); then later during the storm it says of Jonah that he had gone down into the inner part of the ship (1:5); Jonah says in his prayer: I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; (2:6). Now “went down” can mean simply descending or going to a place that is geographically lower. But [Went down (twice in this verse; see also v. 5; 2:6) is also a euphemism for death (e.g., Gen. 37:35). The suggestion is that each step away from the presence of the Lord is one step closer to “going down” to death (see notes on Jonah 1:4-5; 2:6)] And what is the place of death? The land of the dead; Sheol, which corresponds to the New Testament word “Hades.” That is where all sin leads; to death; the land where the dead dwell. And similarly with us, our sin (whether it be un-forgiveness or the un-acceptance of others as it was with Jonah; or whether it is something else); sin always leads us down. That is where sin leads us and that is where it led Jonah. Consider his prayer. He says: out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice….weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains…Jonah (metaphorically) began to descend to Sheol. And it is important to note that Jonah’s journey to Sheol does not begin after he is swallowed by the fish. No; it begins right at the beginning of the book. The moment Jonah sins and takes that first step down, he begins his journey to death; to Sheol.
Lewis & Heaven-- One of the most awe-inspiring books I ever read on heaven was a book by C.S. Lewis entitled The Great Divorce. In that book a man takes a bus ride first to hell and then to heaven. And Lewis’ depictions from a philosophical perspective on what both heaven and hell must be like is mind-blowing. I have never thought about either the same way since I read the book many years ago. But in the story the man discovers that hell and heaven are not disconnected from earth, but eternal extensions of heaven and hell. When you are moving towards God, you already have your feet on the threshold of heaven. When you reject God, you are already passing into hell. And that is exactly what the Bible describes. The moment the decision to go and do your own thing is made, you begin to experience the fruits of that choice, which are amplified in eternity. The decisions we make now either lead us up or they bring us down, depending on our obedience in following God. And so today I want to encourage you with the words of the author of Hebrews: So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Hebrews 3:7-8a). Choose to obey God’s calling on your life no matter how difficult; whether that is to forgive someone, witness to someone, or perhaps both. And in so doing, we will be moving in the direction of life. Let’s commit to that obedience today. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.