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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Lord Sends a Storm to Wake Jonah Up
Text:Jonah 1: 4-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Obedience
 
Preached:2010-10-10
Added:2011-02-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 118: 1, 5, 8   

Sing: Psalm 79: 3, 4, 5

Sing: Psalm 107: 1, 9, 11, 12

Sing: Psalm 100: 1, 2, 3, 4

Sing: Hymn 57: 1

 

Read: Jonah 1: 4-16

Text: Jonah 1: 4-16

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,
 
Jonah, the prophet of the LORD, is about to go off on a Mediterranean cruise. He is running away from his responsibilities. Instead of doing what the Lord wants, Jonah does his own thing. Rather than going to Nineveh, he books passage on a ship to Tarshish. And he expects smooth sailing all the way. He expects a favourable wind.
 
Why do you think that Jonah is escaping? Why does he not want to go to Nineveh, but instead wants to go the other direction, to a foreign country? Why is he, in this way, resigning as a prophet of the Lord? For at this point, as we know from 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah is an established prophet. Jonah is so disillusioned that he wants to get away. Why?
 
The Lord wants him to prophesy in Nineveh, a city which he, and the rest of his fellow countrymen, despises. That city stands for all of Assyria, the country in which it is located. Assyria stands for endless cruelty, and unceasing evil, as the prophet Nahum says in chapter 3:19 of his prophecy. The Assyrians are a very cruel and wicked people. Jonah cannot see how the Lord God wants him to go to such wicked people. It is totally beyond him.
 
Well, brothers and sisters, he does not want to go to Nineveh because Jonah is not a thankful man. Neither are the Israelites. Jonah thinks that Israel is entitled to its special status as God's people. Israel is entitled to God's favour because they are better than the other nations. According to him, that is why God is prospering Israel in the way that he does at this moment. At this time Israel is rich and powerful. Their borders are secure. The people are flourishing.
 
But they have no inclination to share their wealth, material or spiritual. For when you have a sense of entitlement, then you are not really thankful. A thankful person is someone who knows that whatever possessions he has, or whatever status he has acquired, is not due in the first place because he or she has earned it, but because these things have been given to him or her, free of charge.
 
That is the case with Israel. Many a time the Lord God said to them that he did not choose Israel because they were such good people, or because they were better than the other nations. No, he chose them in spite of the fact that they are a wicked people, just like all the others. Nevertheless he has mercy on them. And he plucked them out of the world, so to speak, and made them his own people. He did that so that there would always be people here in this earth to glorify his great name and to thank him. It is all for his glory.
 
When you are given something, and you know that you do not really deserve it, then you are thankful. And when you are truly thankful, then you also want to share your good fortune with others. For you realize that others are not any less deserving than you. You want them to have the same. You want them to share in your wealth. You look out for your fellow man.
 
You see, that is what Jonah did not want. He was not truly thankful. Therefore he did not want to share God's riches. He did not want to go to Nineveh because he thought these people were not deserving.
 
And so, Jonah was totally on the wrong track.
 
But when we are on the wrong track then the Lord God has a way of humbling us, and of reminding us that whatever we receive we receive from his hands, only out of grace. And that is why the Lord God sent the storm to wake Jonah up. And also to shake up his people. For this prophecy of Jonah was especially meant for Israel, to wake them up from their self-righteous and selfish attitude. To have them repent.
 
Let us listen to the preaching of God’s Word as summarized under the following theme:
The Lord Sends a Storm to Wake Jonah Up.
1. The storm begins (v 4-5a);
2. The storm continues (v 5b-10);
3. The storm worsens (v 11-15);
4. The storm ends (v 16).
 
As I said, Jonah gets on the ship for Tarshish. It appears that this ship is not a very large one. It only has a small crew. Since we do not read about any other passengers, it is most likely that Jonah is the only passenger on this ship. And so it is surprising that the crew does not know Jonah's identity. You would think that since they are going to spend some time together that they would mingle amongst each other and make some small talk: where they come from, where they are going, and so forth.
 
But none of that happens. Jonah wants to stay on his own. He doesn’t associate with them or mingle with them. No doubt Jonah does not consider these heathen men worthy of his attention. Nor does Jonah want to draw attention to himself. And so instead he goes below decks and settles down for a nice little nap. He wants nothing to do with the others on the ship.
 
I wonder if at times we have a similar attitude. That we think that the Lord God is more concerned about us than with the rest of the world. “After all, we are his people. God is concerned more with us than with others.” However the truth is that God is involved with all of his creation, and this whole world needs to be redeemed. And that is because all men, no one excluded, have sinned. That includes his covenant people. That includes you and me. As David says in Psalm 14:3, “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” It is only because of the grace of God that we are his people. There is no other reason.
 
If we think otherwise, then the Lord has a way of waking us up to that truth. We cannot hide from that truth. We cannot hide from God, who is the truth. We cannot hide in our own little corner of the world.
 
That is what Jonah thinks. He thinks that if he leaves Israel that then he leaves the realm of God’s kingdom. But is that really true? No. By going to Tarshish all he is doing is going from one end of God’s dominion to the other. For the Lord God rules every part of the universe. There is no corner anywhere in the world where you can escape from him. He is everywhere. We also know this from Psalm 139.
 
Jonah hates the Ninevites and all the Assyrians. But do you know what hatred does, brothers and sisters? Hatred makes you blind. Hatred gives you a distorted picture of God. Hatred makes you blind especially to your own sins and shortcomings. Hatred makes you focus on others and their inadequacies.
 
But the Lord wants to lift the scales from the eyes of Jonah. He wants to open his eyes.
 
That is what he wants to do for all of his covenant people. For even though at this time Israel is a very wealthy nation, with secure borders and everything going well, the truth is that there is something seriously wrong with the spiritual condition of this nation. The people are not living out of thankfulness to God. And therefore within another 40 years the northern kingdom, all 10 tribes of them, will be sent into exile, never to be heard from again. For unlike Judah, the southern kingdom, these 10 tribes will never return from there. They will eventually be absorbed into the heathen nations, and stand condemned together with them.
 
The book of Jonah is given as one of the last warnings to that wicked nation to repent from their sins, from their smug self-satisfaction, from their self-righteous attitude, as if they are better than anyone else; as if they are not in need of repentance. 
 
And so, what does the Lord do? The Lord does want to not leave Jonah in his blinded state of mind. Jonah’s ordeal serves as a warning to all of God’s people. He wants to give them every chance. Therefore the Lord sends Jonah a great wind, as the text says. The Lord is going to shake him out his sleep. It is such a mighty tempest that the ship is threatening to break up. God makes his presence known in the wind, to Jonah, that child of God, who is trying to run away from his heavenly Father.                  
 
Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, that is how God deals with his covenant people, with all of us. He sends us a wind when we need to be woken up from our deadly sleep. It may be that you are sound asleep right now, even though your eyes are open. You may not realize it. You may be thinking to yourself that all is well with you, whereas in reality things are quite wrong.
 
Let me ask you, have you allowed yourself to be lulled to sleep? Is it so, for example, that your heart is full of envy and resentment or hatred even? Are you seeing all the faults of others: your children, your parents, your sister, your brother, some of the people of the church, your boss, but you do not see yourself for who you are, that you yourself are in the wrong. Are you thinking right now that all would be well with the world if everybody was only just like you? Are you blind to your own need for salvation? Is there a storm blowing all around you, but you do not realize it is meant for you, to bring you on your knees before God?
 
For you see, the wind of God can take on many forms. It could be that you have a rocky marriage, or that you are having difficulties with your children, or with your parents, or with the church. And you blame others.
 
It could be that your finances are in shambles, and you are afraid that you are about to lose everything. But you blame all your problems on other people, and on your specific circumstances, without realizing that whatever wind the Lord sends you your way, he does so to shake you up, to bring you on your knees before him, to repent from your sins, to teach you to trust in Him.
 
The Lord wants to use these things to wake you up, to bring you and me to our senses. He wants us to constantly examine our lives in light of his Word and Spirit. If you are about to lose earthly possessions, or if you are experiencing ill health, the Lord does these things to test your faith. Are you standing the test? Or are you sound asleep through all this? Well, wake up! See the power of the Lord. See God’s hand also in all these things. See that whatever adversity comes your way, he wants to use it for your good.
 
For God has a way of confronting you and me. The Lord also confronts Jonah with a great storm. But Jonah is sound asleep. He is dead to the world. He does not reckon with God. And so he is oblivious to the dangers around him.
 
Is it not amazing that Jonah can sleep so soundly at a time like this? Momentous things are happening all around him, yet, he is completely unaware of it all. How could that be?
 
2. The interesting thing is that, as the storm continues (our second point), the Lord uses the pagan sailors to wake up Jonah from his physical sleep, but also from his spiritual sleep.
 
First, however, they call upon the gods they know. For these were heathen men. The people of that day believed in three kinds of gods: personal gods, whom one would worship in connection with individual concerns; family gods, worshiped by all the members of a clan; and national gods, worshiped as the guardians and motivators of an entire nation. When the captain urges Jonah to call on his God he presumes that Jonah, a stranger, is bound to have a god different from the others on board, for he knows that everyone has a personal god on whom he would call in time of calamity. Since Jonah was not one of their number, he might just provide the right god which the crisis called for!
 
Yahweh, the God of Israel, the maker of heaven and earth, now makes his presence known to these pagan men. The crew of the ship can pray to their own gods all they want. But they will never answer. Their gods are deaf and dumb. These sailors do not know the God of creation. They do not know him because they are not familiar with his Word. Jonah should not have been asleep. Jonah should have been there to point out to these heathens that God is the One who is in control of all things. But Jonah is not prepared to do that. He doesn’t want to bother with that. He is content in his own little corner of the ship.
 
And so the heathens pray while the prophet of the Lord is asleep. But these prayers of the crew do not make the storm stop. They even throw overboard any unnecessary baggage. Slowly but surely they realize that they are fighting a losing battle.
 
Jonah should have been the one to tell them to whom they should pray. But Jonah acted as if his God did not exist. Jonah even goes so far as to hide his identity. For Jonah does not want the crew to know why he is taking this trip to Tarshish. Even when he is abruptly awakened by the captain of the ship, Jonah still does not tell them who he is. 
 
Aren’t we a lot like Jonah? How often does it not happen that we do not speak up when we should? It can even happen that the people with whom we come into daily contact are barely aware that we are Christians. And yet, brothers and sisters, we are the ones who have the answers to the questions the world is asking. For we have God’s Word to guide us. We know where history is headed. We know why the plagues and natural disasters occur. God has given us his Holy Spirit.
 
But, are we telling the world that there is a God out there who is behind all these things? Do we care enough about all of God’s creation in the way that he intends us to care? Or do we think it is enough for us to give some money to the work of mission somewhere? Do we think that that is where our responsibility ends?
 
Jonah knew what was going on. He knew who was sending that wind. He knew that God was behind it all. And he knew, once he was awake, that God was angry, angry at him, angry at the fact that Jonah is abrogating his responsibility.
 
But Jonah still keeps quiet while the sailors do everything they know in order to calm the sea. In the end they cast lots to see who, or what, may be at the root of the problem.
 
That is the way of the world. When unbelievers are confused about what is happening around them, they will clutch at straws, and even rely on chance in order to make some sense out of their world.
 
That is also the way it is today. The world tries to make sense out of things by going to the astrologers and the psychics. The world is looking for answers. Marriages fall apart, financial empires crumble, the youth rebel, AIDS wreaks havoc, homes are destroyed by hurricanes and earthquakes and the people wonder out loud why this happening to them. They wonder why such calamities occur.
 
Well, they do not have to look too far. For the Lord God, the Almighty maker of heaven and earth is doing that. He gives, but he also takes away. He does not want us to put our hopes on lottery tickets or on the stars, or on the psychics or astrologers. No, God wants us to go to him. He wants us to rely on him. He wants every man and every woman to repent from their sins.
 
Brothers and sisters, we must be an example to this world. If we are looking for answers, if we want to make some sense out of our lives, then we must turn to the only one who has the answers. And the answer can be found only with God. Only he can allay our fears. Only he can still the ill winds which life can bring us. Everyone has to learn that his life is totally in the hands of the Lord God. And if things go wrong in our lives, then we must examine ourselves and lead a life of repentance.
 
With some people it takes quite a bit to bring them to their knees, if indeed they allow that to happen at all. A lot has to happen before they submit to God’s will.
 
That is certainly true of Jonah. And God uses the world in order to bring that about. For the sailors cast their lots. They rely on chance. But the Lord uses the lot to bring about the truth. As it says in Proverbs 16:33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
 
The lot falls on Jonah. Now Jonah can no longer remain quiet. He is forced to identify himself. Jonah knew the answer all along. He knew that he was the cause of all the fuss. But he was hoping to remain incognito.
 
This is very humiliating. The sailors, the world, have to point to Jonah, the church, as the cause of the storm. The world has to wake up the church.
 
Don’t think that that happened only at that time. Also today it happens that the world has to wake up the church from her spiritual slumber. An unbeliever is amazed when he sees us in trouble and we are full of anxiety and despair. “Don’t you have a god that you believe in?” they ask.
 
The world knows who we claim to be. But often they do not see it in the way we conduct ourselves. The church is put on earth to hand out the riches of the Gospel. It is an awesome, yet beautiful responsibility. But the world sees the lifestyles of some of our members and shudders. They see the drinking and the abuse and the cheating that goes on. And they point their fingers and say, “Are you members of the church? Why do you behave in the way that you do?” The Lord uses the world to bring us back to our senses. That is what he did with Jonah, but that is also what he does with us. Brothers and sisters, do you see yourself through the eyes of unbelievers?
 
As soon as Jonah identifies himself, there is a remarkable change in the sailors. Whereas at first when the sailors encountered the storm we are told that they were afraid, now the text tells us that they are terrified. At first they were afraid only because the ship was rocking, now they are afraid, not because of the wind but because of the power behind the wind. They wake up to the fact that there is a living God out there. He is the God of creation. They realize that they cannot stand up to such a power.
 
Oh, they try. They try to row against the wind. But they do not succeed. For no one can stand up to the power of God. And that is the message that Jonah should have been giving them in the first place. You cannot stand up to the power of God, the true God, the only God.
 
Let me ask you, brothers and sisters, what about the storms in your life? When they come, do you then try to row against the wind in your own strength? Well, you won't get anywhere. You will never make it to shore. Give God the reins in your life. 
 
Do not just confess him with your lips, but also put your trust in him.
 
When the sailors began to question him, Jonah did nothing more than just speak about his God. And that is because he only served him outwardly. That is clear from the way he answers the sailors. He says, “I am a Hebrew; and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
 
Whereas earlier in the chapter the word for God “Elohim” was used, which is also the word the heathens used for their gods, now Jonah uses his special covenant name, the word “Yahweh”. Jonah is forced to admit that the God who made a covenant with him and with the rest of Israel is the One who does this. Jonah has to admit at this point that not only his life but also the lives of the heathen sailors are in the hands of that God, he who made heaven and earth and all that is in them. Their lives are totally at God’s disposal. That is the message that not only the heathens have to receive but also Jonah and the rest of Israel.
 
3. Jonah knows that the game is up. The storm is worsening (we come to the third point). He can no longer remain on board. He must sacrifice himself, and allow himself to be thrown into the raging sea.
 
But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters, Jonah does not do this because he loves these sailors so much that he wants to spare their lives. No, in that regard these heathen men are an example to him. They do everything they can to keep him alive. They care about him more than he does about them. Even after they are told that the only solution is to throw Jonah overboard, they still try to see if they can spare his life. Only once it is absolutely clear to them that they have no other choice, do they throw him overboard.
 
Jonah allows himself to be thrown overboard because he has no other choice. He is going to die anyway. However, Jonah still has not learned his lesson. 
 
Brothers and sisters, that is the point to which the Lord God wants to bring all of us. He wants to bring us to that point in our lives where we have cast off all our earthly possessions until we have nothing left. He wants us to know in our own minds that our treasure is with God, not here on earth. If we don’t have that kind of attitude, the Lord wants to strip us naked, so that nothing in this life weighs us down anymore. So that we can go to him with empty hands, as we have to do at all times. Only once we do that, brothers and sisters, can we enjoy this life. Then we are free from the tyranny of possessions. The Lord Jesus said in Luke 17:33 in reference to the wife of Lot, "Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” God sends us the storms in our lives so that we may realize that we must go to him.
 
He wants us to be thankful for all his gifts, especially the gift of salvation. He wants us to realize that whatever possessions we have, including our very lives, belong to him. And in thankfulness to him we have to be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of his kingdom. For that is where our riches are. That is where we can find eternal treasures. It is only within God's kingdom that we can find true life. And it is that life, that life with God, that he wants us to hang on to, no matter what.
 
Therefore we may not be arrogant and think that we are so deserving. We are not. God has blessed us more than any other people. It is God's gift to us. Everything comes from his fatherly hands, including our very lives.
 
4. Once you realize that, then you can also be at peace. Then the storms around us are nothing more than tempests in a teapot. (The storm ends – our final point.) For then you realize that whatever is wrong in your own life is not due to everyone else, but to yourself in the first place. Sin came into the world because of me, because of all of us. We all sinned. We all stand condemned before him. That is why God sent us his Son to save us from our sins. Isn’t that something to be thankful for? Something to be joyful for? Isn’t that something that you want to share?
 
But he will not save us if we see no need for his redemption; if we think that everything is everyone else’s fault. He will not save us if we are not truly thankful. Only if we humble ourselves, and also have a humble attitude toward all those with whom we come into contact, will others be won for Christ. The world will not be won by a self-righteous attitude on our part, as if we are more deserving of God’s grace.
 
God forced Jonah to be humbled, humiliated even, in front of the sailors. At that point they had to acknowledge the God of Jonah, that he is the One who is in control of all things.
 
It does not say whether or not the sailors came to true repentance. True, they sacrificed to the Lord and made vows. But they did so only because they saw the power of the Lord. We do not know whether or not their new found knowledge resulted in daily repentance from their sins. But we do know that these men saw the greatness of God. In this way they were forced to give thanks to him, which they did through the sacrifices they offered.
 
Let me ask you, do you also see the greatness and the great power of God? Do you also humble yourself before him? Are you truly thankful that he has made you a special child of his in spite of your sins? If you do, then give thanks to him. Thanks that he has made you a part of his people, even though you are a sinner like everyone else. Amen.
       
I gratefully acknowledge R.T. Kendall’s excellent insights in his book Jonah in the preparation of this and the other sermons in my series of sermons on the prophesy of Jonah.
 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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