Robert D. Pace


Opening Remarks

Today we will examine the life of Jonah as it regards the “call” God placed on his life to preach in Nineveh. And the story of “Jonah and the Whale” is familiar to many people.

(Illustration) I had a friend that preached a message on Jonah when he started out in the ministry. He reached the point in his message where Jonah had run from God, boarded the ship, and was engulfed in the storm. And that’s where he got tongue-tied. Here’s how he described it: “And when Jonah confessed his sin, the mariners threw him overboard and he landed in the ‘belly of the whaley.’ He landed in the ‘whale of the belly.’ ‘He landed in the bell of whale.’ Oh, goodness, ‘he landed in the stomach of the fish!’”

That would have been funny to have heard that verbal faux pas, but I have certainly made my share of blunders in the pulpit too!

Jonah 1:1-3


Jonah would have been fine had God never interrupted his life with a “call” to preach in Nineveh. His life among the people of God had been fine, but now God was sending Jonah to preach to the Jews’ enemies.

Everybody here heard “the call” upon their lives. Some “calls” are well and good while others are not. Let me explain:

    As a child I remember the “Bed Call.” It always came at 9:00 pm and I always dreaded it because it interrupted a television show I wanted to watch.

Then there was the Sunday morning “Wake-up” call. I can still hear my dad saying, “Okay boys, we’re running late, get ready for church.” We were the only family in the church that could be late and still arrive 45 minutes early!

And what about this familiar call: “Alright, dinner is ready, let’s eat before it gets cold.”

And finally, what about the infamous two o’clock in the morning phone call . . . that’s the wrong number? (That one gets you back to sleep quickly!)

We receive many “calls” during life, and it’s interesting that we respond differently to each type call. As a child I responded dejectedly to the “bed call” but I responded eagerly to the “dinner call.” And just as there are various beckons we give and receive to one another, there is also God’s “call” to us. And as expected, we respond to His “call” in various ways. Ideally, we should readily accept what God asks from us; but we don’t. People reject God’s call because it strikes fear within them and they feel inadequate for the job. Others reject God’s assignment because it infringes upon their agenda. They have plans of their own and they don’t want to be bothered by God’s design. While the excuses are many they are never valid. Our rejection of God’s call always boils down to selfishness.

So whom does God call? Is it only people like Jonah or the Prophets and Apostles of the Bible? No! He calls men, women, children, teenagers, young adults, the middle-aged, and senior citizens. He calls everybody in general, but He calls you in particular. Jonah was a man, called of God, whose testimony remains for everyone to read and judge. He will always be chronicled as the prophet who initially ran from God’s will. And the consequences of rejecting God are never pleasant. That’s one of the main messages God issues from Jonah’s experience.

(Transition) I want to look at five ways God’s call impacted Jonah life. I’m not much with alliterating my messages, but I’ve chosen to do so with the outline of this one. I want to consider: the Call, the Course, the Curse, the Commitment, and the Conclusion to Jonah’s experience with God.

I.    The Call

Verse one says: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” That’s it in a nutshell. “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it.”

Have you considered how simple God’s call is? It is rarely complex; yet it’s always significant! You and I don’t always see the picture that God sees, but if God takes time to communicate an assignment to us, it is important.

Why do you think Jonah ran from God’s call? What was it that he despised about this assignment? Do you realize that Nineveh was located Assyria, which is present day Iraq? Today Nineveh is called, Mosul. The Assyrians (the Ninevites) were Israel’s arch-enemies. They were people that had oppressed Israel and Jonah didn’t want them hearing a message of hope and mercy. He despised the Ninevites.

I want you to consider something. God sees others, especially our enemies, differently than we see them. We see our enemies as people worthy of wrath and vengeance—people unworthy of a second chance. But I’m thankful God doesn’t view our enemies like we do. I know somebody considers me to be their enemy and I wouldn’t want God to treat me like my enemy would. I want mercy!

So how did God view the Ninevites? All the way back in Genesis 10:12 God called Nineveh a “great city.” I’ve often wondered why He used that expression, “great city,” to identify Nineveh because it is no accident that it’s inscribed in Scripture. In fact, 3500 years later in Jonah 1:2, He is still calling Nineveh a “great city.” What does God understand about Nineveh’s greatness that Jonah doesn’t understand?

Certainly Nineveh was great in respect to its antiquity, and wealth, and resources and it’s no wonder because it was strategically situated on the Tigris River. It was also the chief city of the mightiest monarchy on earth and no army could match its military might. But there is one more reason the Bible calls Nineveh great. Nineveh was “great” in respect to its depravity. It was a city known for vice and violence and wickedness.

Nineveh was the perfect place for God to display the wonder of His grace and mercy. He wanted to spare a city that couldn’t discern right from wrong, so He commissioned Jonah to deliver a message of warning.

(Application) Let’s stop here for a moment. I want you to think about an assignment God has given you. Try to remember something you are certain God called you to do. . . . Now, with that assignment in mind, think about this: Wasn’t that assignment birthed out of God’s compassion for others? Wasn’t it designed to bless and improve the welfare of others? You see, God’s assignments originate from His love, mercy, and compassion. They aren’t designed to benefit the “worthy” or those that have gotten everything “right.” The wonderful news about Christ is this: He blesses the worthy and the unworthy. Praise God!

As I prepared this message, I felt that it was especially important to point out God’s special concern for cities. It grieved God to deal with Sodom and Gomorrah as He did. He tried to spare them judgment, and even used Abraham to intervene for them, but there weren’t ten righteous men living in those twin cities of doom. And then, when Jesus appeared as a man, He exhibited a great love for Jerusalem. Just before Christ’s crucifixion, He stood at the Mount of Olives, looked over Jerusalem, and wept for its spiritual dearth. Jerusalem was filled with religiosity, but it was without spiritual discernment.

God has a heart for cities!

I want you to notice a Scripture in Deuteronomy 20:10. This is a passage where God shows Israel how to treat their enemies of war, and it’s a very simple guideline: “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace.” Do you hear what God is saying? He would much rather spare life than destroy it. Ezekiel 33:11 says that God “takes no delight in the death of the wicked.” I especially like what God told Israel in Jeremiah 29:7: “[even when you are] carried into exile, seek the peace and prosperity of the city. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” I believe the Lord wants Christians to pray for the city in which they live. He wants us to pray for our mayor, civic leaders, the policemen, firemen, and those working for our welfare. God wants us to speak blessing to Huntsville, because if Huntsville prospers, you and I will prosper.

(Transition) That’s Jonah’s call, and it was based on God’s mercy. But now let’s notice Jonah’s course.

II.   The Course

Jonah 1:3 says: “Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”

Did you notice when Jonah ran from God’s call that he “paid the fare”? Learn a lesson from this prophet. When you run from God’s call you will always “pay the fare.” Jonah spurned Nineveh, which to him was a city of disgust, and “paid the fare” for Tarshish—a port city in Spain whose name means “delightsome.” Maybe Tarshish was like New Orleans that boasts of year-round merriment that Jonah tried to visit. But it’s always a roll of the dice when you run from God. You never know what He will require from you.

I want you to understand something about God’s assignment for you. We are “free moral agents.” God made us creatures of self-determination and choice. And it doesn’t take long to discover how cruel the consequences can be to our choices. There are crosses and hardships to bear in whatever God asks from us. There are some here that are called to be nurses or lawyers or architects or engineers or builders or, heaven forbid, preachers or politicians. And according to Scripture, a cross has been attached to each of those assignments. There is no calling in life that comes without a cross; and God wants us to accept that!

So what has God called you to do? Better yet, I want to ask you this question. What did God ask you to do last year? Did He ask you to get involved in an area ministry like teaching, outreach, or the choir? If He gave you an assignment, did you follow through? Let me show you what Jonah learned about running from God. The course that leads away from God is always downward:

    The Bible says in 1:3 that when Jonah ran from God he went “

down to Joppa.”

Then in the same verse it says he went “down into the ship.”

In verse five it says Jonah went “down into the sides of the ship.”

In verse fifteen the Bible says the storm arose and he was cast “down into the sea.”

In chapter 2:1 it says from the ship Jonah went “down into the fish’s belly.”

And from there verse six says the fish took him “down to the bottom of the ocean.”

(Transition) The course away from God always leads down. And it not only leads down, the course away from God always brings a curse.

III.  The Curse

When you study the purview of Scripture as it concerns man’s rebellion against God, you will discover this fact: Troubles emerge when you run from God, but grave consequences come from persistently running from God!

Many years ago I discovered a Scripture I have never been able to shake. It’s Deuteronomy 28:45. God is speaking to Israel, but I believe it is an important lesson for us to hear today: “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.” According to Moses four ominous consequences afflict those that persist in disobedience. They will experience a curse that will: “come upon them, pursue them, overtake them, and [eventually] destroy them.”

I don’t like to preach about God’s judgment against sin and rebellion. I would much rather concentrate on His love and mercy. But the Bible does not ignore the consequences of rebellion toward God. The Doctrine of Retribution is delineated throughout Scripture. So if I am true to my charge to preach God’s Word, I must speak of God’s judgment against sin!

(Example) There is a reason God uses punishment to enforce His Law. Let me explain it like this. Every nation on earth has established laws. Law are designed to secure civil order. But the only way laws can be enforced is by applying consequences to those that break the law. People would ignore speed limits and drive 100 mph if there weren’t fines to pay for speeding. People would cheat, steal, and commit crimes if laws were issued without punitive consequences.

Law without consequences is nothing more than advice. And when it comes to Divine Law, God doesn’t simply issue advice. That’s why we can’t ignore God’s voice without facing the consequences. God is more than a moralist. He’s not a philosopher or sage who simply lectures and advises but has no ability to hold men accountable for their actions. God is the Lawgiver. And that means the Divine and Holy Lawgiver will issue judgments at the end of time.

(Transition) We’ve looked at Jonah’s call, his course, and the curse, but now let’s look at his commitment.

IV.  The Commitment

After three days and nights of tossing, turning, and churning in that great fish, Jonah finally decided to repent. His prayer is recorded in chapter 2:7-9: “While I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came into your holy temple, (9) but I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord.”

You know what stands out to me here? It amazes me that it took Jonah three days and nights in the ocean before he was willing to say, “Yes” to God’s call to Nineveh. When it comes to bearing God’s judgment, I’m the kind of person, that had I been Jonah at sea, I would have instantly fallen on my face and repented at the first howl of wind that swept over that ship. But not Jonah; he wasn’t going to Nineveh even if it cost him his life! In fact, Jonah told the mariners to throw him into the tempest of the sea so he could die and not have to preach in Nineveh. Does it seem strange that a man would rather die than obey God? He just didn’t understand God’s compassion.

Where are you today? Maybe you are as miserable as Jonah, or perhaps you are as miserable as my friend who preached about Jonah. One thing is certain. If you have run from God, there is hope. God allows U-turns. He calls U-turns, “Repentance.” And that’s what He’s waiting for you to do—repent. Don’t wait until you’re engulfed by a storm. Say, “Yes” to God’s plan now.

God’s Grace for the Repentant

Have you noticed the magnitude of God’s grace and how He dealt with Jonah immediately after he repented? Once the fish coughed up Jonah onto the beach, God quickly reconfirmed Jonah’s prophetic assignment to Nineveh. The Lord let Jonah know he wasn’t rejected because he had stumbled. He let Jonah know that his mission for Nineveh remained firm and Jonah’s momentary disobedience had not destroyed his ministry.

Praise God! The Lord’s mercy and grace for our lives is incredible! His grace is greater than our sin. His mercy is mightier than our mistakes. The prophet Micah said:

    “God delights in mercy.” Can you fathom that? “God delights in mercy.”

    Luke said God is “great” in grace (Acts 4:33). Paul said God is “rich” in grace.

Nothing in life is greater than God’s love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy that He has stored up for you.

Do you remember how God chastised Jonah’s disobedience? Jonah went down, down, down. But notice where the path of commitment toward God leads:

    Jonah 2:6 says: “I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars {was} around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”

    The Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 2:6 that God takes sinners that repent and raises them up . . . and seats them in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

    Proverbs 12:28 says: “In the way of righteousness is life; and in its pathway there is no death.”

    When this life is over and Christ returns to rapture us away, the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 that “we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

(Transition) We have looked at Jonah’s call, course, curse, and commitment, but now let’s look at the conclusion.

V.    The Conclusion

The conclusion; what is it? The book of Jonah ends like no other book of the Bible. It ends with God rebuking Jonah for his lack of love and mercy toward others. We don’t know how Jonah responded to God’s rebuke. So what is the conclusion? I would submit to you that only you can write the conclusion to your response to God’s call. You can say, “Yes” to God’s call for your life, or you can say, “No.” Just don’t be like Jonah, who eventually did God’s will, but then sulked with a sour attitude. Ask God to give you a love for the assignment He has for you.