Sermons : 2015 : January 25, Sometimes You Just Want to Run Away - Jonah 3:1-5 & 10

Some years ago, there was a man who went home to be with his family for Christmas. His parents were divorced so he had to split time with one parent early on in the day and see the other parent in the afternoon. There were of course, new inlaws and their additional schedules and therefore the complication of opening gifts not once in the day, but 3 different times. Then there was the calling other family members who couldn’t make it home for Christmas -- and it was necessary to do this at each parent’s house. And when one parent got upset believing the other parent was getting more time, the man who went home for the holidays just wanted to run away.

Life can close you in sometimes and make you feel like you can’t satisfy anyone; that no matter what you do or how diplomatic you try to be, someone or everyone is going to be mad at you. Or maybe there are just situations in life that make you uncomfortable and you don’t want to deal with them. You just want to run away.

The Book of Jonah is like that. It is about the city of Nineveh and her repentance and God relenting of His anger. But it’s also about the story of a prophet. We find Jonah today after God had caught up with him and gotten him turned around, but before Jonah went to Nineveh to proclaim God’s Word, he first tried to run away . We do see why later on in chapter four and from that, we can pretty much figure out his reasons.

Putting it simply, Jonah despised the Ninevites. He didn’t want them to repent. He didn’t want God to spare them. He wanted God to bring His judgment upon them; to rid the world of this unbelieving nation and the gathering threat it presented his people in Israel. It’s estimated that Jonah’s story occurred around 790 BC, some 68 years before Assyria invaded and conquered Israel. For some time, the Assyrians had been expanding their rule seeking to reclaim the glory of a former empire. And their reach was drawing closer and closer to Israel.

God should do something about it. Smite these unbelievers, halt the spread of their influence and keep the true God fearing people of Israel safe. You can imagine Jonah thinking that way. He is an Israelite and his nation was small compared to Assyria, but He does worship the God of the universe, so containing and doing away with Assyria should be no big deal.

Except God doesn’t do that. Instead in 1:1 of this book, God says to Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and call out against it for their evil has come up before me.” Preach to Nineveh? Did I hear that right, Jonah must’ve thought. And rather than doing that, he fled in the opposite direction.

Jonah is human. He fears certain things in life; he distrusts certain people. He may be a prophet, but he has a sinful nature like everyone else. He doesn’t want to be in a situation that will make him uncomfortable or around people that make him uncomfortable. And even if it means disobeying God and fleeing from His presence, Jonah will because Jonah is human and he doesn’t want to deal with the Assyrians – not in this way. So he feels it’s just best to run away.

We could say that Jonah has a problem with the Assyrians or that maybe Jonah is just being a loyal Israelite. We could say Jonah doesn’t like to be uncomfortable, but really what’s happening here is that Jonah just doesn’t want to forgive. And he doesn’t want to see a potential enemy be forgiven.

But holding on to that grudge comes with a cost. You live your life with a sense of distrust and fear. You avoid God’s Word and counsel. It’s like not going to the dentist because you know she’ll have bad news. And even though she’ll help you in the long run, you still avoid her. And so, you structure your whole life around avoidance. This is how you live – as a runaway, in exile from a life of peace.

Sometimes, we forget that God is a God of reconciliation. He desires this for nations, for communities, for families. He is the God of judgment and the God of justice. He does not forget nor excuse sin, but ultimately, He seeks to reconcile people to Himself, even the Assyrians.

And so, God will use Jonah as His instrument to carry forth His message of reconciliation. Jonah will march into the capital city preaching the words, “Yet Forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Now the Word of God is not a stagnant thing. It has power. It has the power to effect change in people’s lives, the power to bring about repentance and reconciliation.

So today in this large capital city filled with people who had no love for God, the Word has its way and the people believed. They put on sackcloth from the greatest of them to the least; sackcloth being the Middle Eastern sign for mourning and repentance. In fact, it went so far that the Book of Jonah says that the King actually put sackcloth on the animals. I’m not sure that even Israel had ever repented to such a degree.

The Ninevites accepted their offense against God. All this because Jonah proclaimed the Word which tears down unbelief and rattles consciences and pierces hearts. This Word had its way with the Ninevites and at least for a time, this unbelieving nation received the mercy of God.

This was not what Jonah wanted. In chapter 4, it says, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was angry” and Jonah prays, “O Lord, That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster.” Sometimes, what we want and need most from God, we desire the least for others. It shouldn’t be that way. We know better, but we are blinded by our own sense of justice. We view ourselves as little gods wishing that we could mete out punishment to those who have wronged us. It is not forgiveness that we view as the path to reconciliation, but making someone go through the same thing they put us through.

But God even cares for His enemies. Even before Jesus prays for them from the cross, God sends Jonah to Nineveh. And He also cares for you and the people who make you uncomfortable. Sin brings about misunderstandings in our relationships. It brings about fear that our place in life will be lost or that we will lose control or influence or love. And so we react defensively, aggressively or we react like Jonah. We just want to run away. Feeling alone is better than feeling like the bad guy. Your own criticism is easier to take than other people’s.

But let us not flee to isolation. Let us flee to the cross to find our Savior who suffers on our behalf. The scriptures assure us that God’s love is so strong that even if the whole world were to hate us, God would still love us in Christ and if there were just one person living on earth back in those days, Jesus would still have come. He forgives you and heals you and fixes your brokenness. Jesus does not run away from such things. He instead goes to the cross to suffer for them. You and I run away from suffering. We avoid our crosses as much as we can.

But sin is not a cross that God would avoid, even if it meant becoming uncomfortable Himself. And so Jesus knowingly and voluntarily enters the city from which He could have run to embrace the death He could have avoided. The salvation of all humanity was that important to Him and in His suffering you find your acceptance – the kind you can’t get from other people and the kind that can’t be overruled by your circumstances.

God would teach Jonah how forgiving He was – not by just forgiving the Assyrians, but by forgiving Jonah too. Like you and I, Jonah was just one person and look how much effort God put forth in rescuing Him. You are just as precious, so if you need to run somewhere sometime soon, make sure you have your Bible and turn to the pages that mention Jesus and His love for you, which never runs out and never runs away. In His Name. Amen.


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