A FEW GOOD MEN SERMON SERIES
INSIDE OUT – JONAH AND THE WHALE
HOW TO FOLLOW GOD’S LEAD
MAY 15, 1994
Well this Friday morning I had the privilege of speaking to the entire first grade at my daughter’s elementary school. I had the privilege of speaking about one of my most favorite subjects in the entire world, shark fishing. I lugged up all of my shark paraphernalia, the big game rod and reel, shark jaws, photographs, and I even took my prize possession, a stuffed eight-foot hammerhead shark. Needless to say, the children were enamored in the equipment, in the words, in the facts about sharks and shark fishing like I am. After the end of my presentation, after I taught them one of my favorite shark songs, (don’t hold your breath, that will be on another message) I made the mistake of opening up the floor for questions. Every hand shot up, oh, ah, me, me, me. And the questions sounded like this.
If you are, like, in the water and you are not really doing anything, will a fish swallow you? They were expressing a fear that we all have. What’s it like to be swallowed by a big, slimy, gargantuan fish? Today on this stage, through this word, we are going to meet someone who was swallowed by a fish, and this man lived to tell about it. His name is Jonah. Over the next few moments we are going to see how Jonah discovered how to follow God’s lead. We are going to take his life, dissect it, turn it inside out, and when we do that we will also be able to know how to follow God’s lead for our lives.
The life of Jonah. Take out your scripture outlines, you’ll find them in the bulletin. These outlines pretty much cover the verses I am going to talk about. For the next seven weeks we are in a series entitled “A Few Good Men”. We are doing more of a Bible study type format in this series and I think we will gain some insight and truth from these lives that will really rattle our cages for the glory of God.
While growing up one of my favorite shows to watch had to be Jacques
Cousteau. I remember one episode where Jacques said, “Watch Philip and Bernard as they dive into the beautiful water, because they will ride on the back of the giant killer whale. Notice how they grasp the whale’s tail, and the tail takes them and propels them through the beautiful water at about 20 miles per hour.” See the little whales on your outline – four whales? I want to share with you four whale-sized principles that we need to jump on, that we need to grab onto, if we are going to learn how to follow God’s lead.
The first whale-sized principle is that when you cruise away from God, there will be consequences. Write that by the first whale. When you cruise away from God, you are going to find out, there will be consequences. Let’s look at this first verse to the fifth verse as we meet our man, Jonah. The Bible says, the Word of the Lord came to Jonah. We are not sure whether it was through a prayer, or maybe an audible voice or through Jonah reading the scriptures, or from a relationship, but we know the Word came to Jonah. I think all of us here could say, if we were honest about ourselves, that we have felt the Word of the Lord coming to us, in certain situations. I doubt we have ever heard an audible voice, but you have been in that message, in that Bible study, or you have been praying or in a relationship where you feel the Holy Spirit kind of stepping on your toes a little bit, kind of prompting you, telling you this is where God is leading. We have all felt that. And God speaks to us today.
And He spoke to Jonah. And what did God say? “Jonah, go to the city of Nineveh.” Maybe Jonah had the kind of reaction that we would have had, “You mean N…, N…, N… Nineveh, you mean the capitol of Assyria, God, 120 thousand people, our archenemies, they hate our guts, they skin people alive, no….anywhere but Nineveh, please God no.” And God said, “Jonah, I don’t stutter or stammer, GO TO NINEVEH. I’m going to be with you, I’m going to take care of you.
The way to Nineveh, Jonah, is the way of obedience.” Jonah, though, does what a lot of modern day Jonahs do here. He becomes the quintessential running man. This verse and this text goes on, “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed to a place called (I love this word) Tarshish.” He headed to Tarshish. Maybe Jonah did something like this, maybe he walked outside of his humble surroundings and he thought oh, I feel God leading me to Nineveh, I don’t want to go, that’s a 500 mile trek through the Arabian desert, rattlesnakes, robbers, lions, bears, that’s not me. I need a break. This prophet stuff is pretty difficult. So he went inside and opened up a copy of the Joppa Daily News and he turns to the travel and leisure section and there is a full page ad, and these words catch the prophet’s eye. Cruise Aboard The Disobedience II And Visit Club Med Tarshish. The article talks about the sugar-white beaches, the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean and Jonah picks up his cellular phone, dials his travel agent, and he says, “I’m not sure I’m going to go on this but do you have any space available?” “Oh yes, sir, Mr. Jonah, we have space available for you, no doubt about, in fact, we are running a special right now.” So Jonah, over the phone, gives the number, the code of his Hebrew Express Card, and he is on his way. He goes down to Joppa, jumps aboard the Disobedience II and he is off to Club Med Tarshish, off on the track of disobedience.
In the Christian life, there are only two cities, Nineveh (obedience) and Tarshish (disobedience). All of us are either going to one city or the next. You can’t straddle them, you can’t have one foot in Nineveh, one foot in obedience, and at the same time live in Tarshish. You are going from one place to the next. For some people who are involved in marriages, you say, “I’m not going to Nineveh, I’m going to get a divorce, and cruise easily to Tarshish.” For some students here, you think, “I’m not going to go to Nineveh and really be honest as I write that paper or take that test, I’ll just kind of cruise the way of disobedience to Tarshish because the vessel is sailing on time, low fares, no problem, I’m going to Club Med Tarshish.” Or maybe in the business world you say, “I’m not going to be honest, I’m not going to tell the client everything, I’ll keep a little back because you know it is a 500 mile trip there to Nineveh, God, I’ll just go to Tarshish.”
We have a lot of modern day Jonahism going on right here. The Bible though, continues and it says (and I love this phrase, circle this phrase) it says, He went down to Joppa where he found a ship. Circle that phrase – he found a ship. In other words, he was looking for a ship. Here is the principle that you need to understand and know. Satan, the evil one, will always provide transportation away from Nineveh to Tarshish, always, always, always, it will be there. I talked to a single Christian lady about four years ago, and she said, Ed, I really wanted to get married and I prayed and I said God, You bring the right man into my life. And the next day, it was phenomenal, Ed, I met this great looking guy, successful, sweet, he wasn’t really a Christian but he was perfect and I thought surely because of the circumstances, everything will work out. And my life now is in shambles. Just because the circumstances are right, just because the vessel is leaving at just the right time, the winds are blowing in just the right direction, does not constitute being in the will of God. Satan is the ultimate travel agent. You are having marriage troubles and he will provide someone at the office, or someone you come in contact with, that looks like a much better vessel, a vessel that understands you, a vessel that really loves you, and it is so easy to jump aboard that vessel and sail to Tarshish. This happens in every area, in every arena, in every slice of our life. Either to Nineveh or to Tarshish.
So the next time you are tempted to say, oh it must be God’s will, the circumstances are working out, everything is cool, remember our man Jonah. You talk about perfect circumstances, full page ad in the Joppa Daily News, travel agent, low fare, he was on his way.
This text continues, after he found the ship, it said that he paid the fare. Circle that phrase, paying the fare. Jonah paid the fare. Even though it was a low fare, he paid the fare. But this low fare ended up being a very high fare. My Dad told me years ago, he said, “Son, if you go the way of disobedience, you will never get to where you are going and you will always pay the fare. On the other hand, if you go the way of obedience, you will always get to where you are going, but, here’s the kicker, the Lord will pay the fare.” He really will.
I lock eyes with people who matter to God every day I am walking on this planet. And so many of these people are paying the fare. I look into their eyes and can see it, the look, the expression, they are paying the fare because they have left their family, they are paying the fare because they come to church maybe once every month or twice a year, they are paying the fare because they are headed to Tarshish, their life is one of disobedience. Because when you run from God you are going to run right into God. You can’t get away from Him. The Bible calls Him the Hound of Heaven, and Jonah discovered this.
Then the Bible says the Lord, after Jonah boarded this vessel, the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and I thank God for the winds that God sends in my life. Jonah was so relaxed, he was asleep in the cabin aboard the Disobedience II, but God sent a wind, a warning signal. Wissssssshhhhh, Jonah, wake up Jonah. Ed, wake up, Ed, Wisssssshhhh, wake up. You’ve got to thank God for the wind. Jonah, though, didn’t pay that much attention. And the Bible says the winds were blowing at such a force, force-ten winds, that the sailors were frightened. Hey, if you are ever on a cruise, or in a boat, and the sailors or the captain, they are freaked out, you had better worry.
And these sailors, the Bible tells us, knew Jonah was running from God. Disobedience harms those around us. Disobedience can tear apart the innocent bystanders, and Jonah, our man, God’s man, was messing up the lives of these sailors. So what happened? After God sent a wind, the sailors go below and say “Jonah, wake up, something is wrong.” Jonah says, “I know why, I am running from God. Throw me overboard.” They say, “What if….?” “Throw me overboard”, Jonah pleaded with them. So they throw God’s man overboard, (splash, splash) and the winds subside, the water is calm. And something happens.
Skip down to Jonah 1:17. But the Lord provided the big one, a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah (isn’t this gross) was inside the fish three days and three nights. All the fish slime is sloshing around, the digestive juices begin to eat away at him and the stench is terrible in the fish’s belly. That’s why I call Jonah’s life, in this situation, a life of “re belly iun”. You rebel from God, you go the opposite way, from where he is directing, you will end up in the belly of something. And God keeps Jonah there for three days.
I believe this miracle. Because it is a miracle. But I will read you something I came across recently. In his book entitled SIXTY-THREE YEARS OF ENGINEERING, Sir Francis Fox relates the following. “In February 1891, the whale ship Star of the East was in the vicinity of the Faulkland Islands when the lookout saw a large sperm whale thrashing about. The two whaling vessels converge on this beast. The tale slaps one vessel, rocks it, two sailors go overboard, one drowns, the other has disappeared, they think for sure it is over. Lights out, he’s gone too, he has drown. They harpoon this beast, tow it to shore. Twenty-four hours later they are dissecting it, and the men say STOP something is moving in the stomach. They open it up and there is Frank Bartlett, the sailor who was overboard had been swallowed by this giant sperm whale. They revived him and he lived to sail again.
Sometimes God will put us in a situation, He will knock all the props out, just to get us to look upwards. You see, Jonah should have obeyed him when he picked up the cellular phone and just kind of inquired about the trip. He should have obeyed God when he set foot on the Disobedience Two. He should have obeyed God when he felt the boat rocking and everyone was getting seasick, but he didn’t, and he ended up in a whale’s belly. Some of you can say, Ed, I am there right now. Or maybe some are in the storm phase, others are thinking about calling the travel agent of disobedience. But you are there.
Here is a second whale-sized principle. Prayer will take you from the pit to the pinnacle. Chapter 2:1. Is that a great verse? It says, “Then Jonah prayed.” Boy what a spiritual giant, man, hey Jonah, amen and amen there. The Bible says in chapter 2:1, from inside the fish, Jonah prayed, he did kinda a 911 prayer, to the Lord, his God. If I am going to follow God’s lead, I’ve got to pray. And Jonah gives us a great example on how to pray. Read this passage when you go home. Jonah prayed first of all with a tender heart, a heart of confession, a heart that told the truth about his condition. I challenge all of you, as I have said many times on this platform to write out your prayers to God. I keep a notebook. I write out my prayers. I write out the sins I am confessing. We have to get right with God, and sin can be a blockade in regard to my fellowship with God. When praying we have to confess, to tell the truth about our sins, and to wipe those barriers clean. Secondly, though, after Jonah confessed, he prayed scripture. I didn’t write all the verses down in Chapter 2. Look at it this week. He prayed scripture. We have to hid scripture into our hearts, we’ve got to feed on it, it gives us life, it gives us spiritual calories and when difficult times come, and when the good times come, we can pray scripture. Jonah, though, did blow it. He should have prayed on the pinnacle and as well as in the pit. We’ve got to pray, we’ve got to know how to connect with the holy God.
Jonah 2:10, and the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. What a miracle. Isn’t that amazing? Jonah couldn’t get away from God, could he? He was a running man, but God was right there on him, the Hound of Heaven. He was pursuing him. Every Sunday morning our associate pastor, Owen Goff, gets here at 6 am. He makes sure that everything is running A-OK, he is a true servant, a true man of God. One thing Owen has done for the last four years, right before the service as I am trying to tweak the dial on every point in the message, I hear this faint knock. (Knock, knock, knock) “Oh, pastor, it’s about that time to walk over now, its about 8:57.” I say, “OK, Owen.” “Here’s your microphone.” So I rig this microphone up, and we walk over together. And he makes sure that I am here on time. If I am talking in the lobby, he will come to me “Oh, pastor, you have about two minutes.” A couple of months ago, I decided to play a little trick on Owen. At about ten minutes before nine, I get up and go outside and I hide behind the cars in the parking lot. And I see Owen looking at his watch. It is about 8:58, he is walking over to my office. (Walk illustration amidst laughter) Owen, the guy can really cover some ground. So, he goes inside and about five minutes later I see him come out, he’s looking. “Have you seen the pastor?” And then he sees me. Ah, there you are, you scare me when you do that.” In the same way that I cannot get away from Owen on Sundays, I am reminded of how God pursues us. I don’t care how far you cruise, you cannot get away from God. So Jonah, it is one thing for Jonah to be delivered, to be spit up on land, but God does something else. And this is the great news of today’s message.
And here is the third whale-sized principle. We have to seize the moment of a second chance. We have to seize the moment of a second chance. And the great thing God does, He gives Jonah a second chance. I would never preach again if the gospel was not a gospel of a second chance. Throughout the Bible we are presented with the message of a second chance. Our man Moses, takes the ten commandments, smash-h-h-, God comes to him and gives him a second chance. David, a man after God’s own heart, at the peak of his career he commits adultery, he has this girl’s husband killed, but later on God gives him a second chance. He seizes the moment. Samson, that Biblical bodybuilder, has a haircut in the devil’s salon, he blows it, loses it. God, though, comes back to Samson a second time. He seizes the moment. Simon Peter, he denied Jesus, three times. Jesus, though, gives him a second chance on the shore.
I love this verse. Jonah 3:1. Then the Lord came to Jonah a second time. “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” God was preparing to destroy Nineveh, but because we serve a God of grace and compassion, Jonah go and preach there and the city will be saved. And sure enough Jonah obeys. He jumps aboard the Second Chance and goes to Nineveh. He preaches to the inhabitants and 120,000 are spared. We serve a God of a second chance. Maybe God is giving you, today, a second chance. He is whispering to you, this is it, a second chance. And you say, you know when I was a kid I had an experience with God but I have gotten away from the Bible, from God and the church and spiritual things. And today He has brought you here for a second chance. Do the Jonah thing, the Moses thing, the Samson thing, the Simon Peter thing. Jump aboard, grab onto this whale-sized principle and let it take you to where God wants you to go. Are you seizing the moment of a second chance?
And that brings us to the fourth whale-sized principle. If I had been Jonah I would have stopped the book right here at Jonah 3:10, because he is looking good there, you know, he has messed up, God has delivered him, he preached to Nineveh, 120,000 people are saved. The sad thing is, it takes God longer to prepare his men to preach than it does for 120,000 people to get saved. That is kind of sad, isn’t it? But, Jonah does something that is so human. And this is something I can identify with and that is why these characters over the next seven weeks will change our lives. Because not only do they show you their strengths, they also point out their weaknesses. And we can really get on common ground with that. Jonah, after 120,000 people are saved, he leaves the city of Nineveh, and enters the moan zone, and sits there on a hill and he waits for God to destroy the city. And then he gets mad because God tells him, “I am a God of grace, a God of compassion, people matter to me, I am patient, I want all to come to repentance.” And then Jonah says, “God it is hot.” So he makes himself a kind of little hut with some branches and a vine. God, however, causes a worm to eat away at one of the major vines, the vine breaks off and Jonah freaks out because the vine is falling apart. And he is whining and saying, “God, I need to die God, this is horrible, this is terrible.” And God says, “Hey, hey Jonah, wake up Jonah, now wait a minute.” Look what He says here, the last verse in the text, But the Lord said (Jonah 4:9-11) “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people, Jonah, who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
If we are going to follow God’s lead we have to be concerned about what God is concerned about. And God is concerned about people. People are important to God. You are, I am, the world is. You see, Jonah thought that God was just a Jew God, an Israel God, a Hebrew God. He couldn’t grasp the fact that God cared even about the sorry, down-trodden, negative, horrible Ninevehites. I have seen people in the church who will complain because of a misspelled word in the bulletin, or because the music might be too loud in a certain area, and then I see ten people come to Christ. These people are upset about the little things but they are missing the big things. They are concerned about the vine when God is saying, “Hey, don’t concern yourself with just the little stuff, make sure you are impacted by what impacts Me. Make sure your heart beats fast over the things that cause My heart to beat fast, and that is people.” People coming to Christ, people growing closer to the Lord, people becoming more and more like Him. Jonah was a little bit jealous because God was not working the way he wanted God to work. He thought he had God in a nice little box. Every box I try to put God in, He gets out of it. We cannot put God in a box.
So to be a part of God’s lead, we have to grasp these four steps. I challenge you to do one final thing that, I believe, crystallizes this message on how to follow God’s lead. I challenge you when we sing this song of commitment, to make the words you are singing your prayer, as you pray in your spirit, God wherever You lead, I am going to go.