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Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:4
Sermon preached 1st March 2021
Jonah chapter 1 - The dangers of too much sleep
A little history about the book of Jonah.
The book of Jonah was probably written by Jeremiah or possibly as late as and written by Nahum. Jonah was a prophet of around 760BC. He was a prophet of God and one of his many prophecies was that the land Israel had lost to Assyria would be won back under the kingship of Jeroboam - see 2 Kings 14:23-25.
The City of Nineveh, claimed to be the largest and most advanced city in the world was the capital of the Assyrians and a wicked cruel nation situated on the Tigris River at the top of the Assyrian empire; today it makes up the city of Mosul in Iraq. The book of Nahum prophecies its ultimate downfall coming in 612 BC where God destroys the city. It is never rebuilt and lay largely undiscovered until 19th century when mainly British archaeologists discovered and excavated its walls and gates, later totally destroyed by ISIS.
The background to this narrative is an Israel that continually celebrated any successes as being done in their own strength where God was never given the reverence He should have been. Israel continually fell back into idol worshipping as their means of justifying their actions.
Also The people appeared to have forgotten the special relationship that Israel had ever had with God. They thought in their ignorance that God might be angry with other nations, but not angry with Israel. Israel was God’s special people!
As I preached last week on ‘labouring in the lord', I mentioned the runaway Christian; the person who hears from God but refuses to listen.
The same person who refuses the call of God; not just to ministry but to obedience generally before God…
Jonah hears from God but runs away to Tarshish (probably a place in Spain, famous for its ships)
God spoke to Jonah in His own unique and powerful way and He told Jonah to do two things. First, go to the city of Nineveh; second, cry out against it – that is, to rebuke them for their sin and call them to repentance.
God sends a storm upon them. This was a very bad time to be asleep!
The captain knew that everyone had a god. He woke and told Jonah to pray to his God for help, as everybody else was doing. Then perhaps they would have a better chance of safety.
Verses 11-12 Jonah now began to feel sorry for the trouble that he had caused the sailors. He must take all the blame for their situation. Jonah knew that there was only one answer. He himself must die. The sailors must throw him into the wild sea.
Psalm 107:23-30 describes God’s control of the seas…
Jonah had refused to obey God. And what happened to Jonah? He went down and down. When we refuse to obey God we can find that life rapidly spirals downwards. In Jonah’s case he firstly goes, down to the port of Joppa. Then, down into the ship. Then, down into the sea. Then, down to the deepest part of the sea.
Of the great fish, Jesus describes the narrative as a prophecy of what was to come for Him in regard to overcoming (Matthew 12:40)
None of man’s wickedness is hidden before God. Many people including Christians feel they can hide from God. We must not forget that He sees it all, and it may come to a point where it demands the specific warning and judgment of God.
Why did Jonah flee? Jonah was a reluctant prophet. Like many Christian people in our own context he didn’t want to do what God told him to do. Several reasons for this have been suggested.
It may have been because he was given a difficult job to do. Nahum 3:1-4 gives us a good idea of how wicked the people of Nineveh were. Jonah had every reason to expect that at the very best, he would be mocked and treated as a fool. He might be attacked and killed if he did what the LORD told him to do.
ii. It was also because Jonah didn’t want the Assyrians in Nineveh to escape God’s judgment. Imagine a Jewish man in a neutral country during World War II hearing God say, “I’m going to bring terrible judgment on Germany. I want you to go to Berlin and tell Nazi Germany to repent.”
iii. We may speculate on why Jonah did not want to do what God told him to do, but it is even better to think about why we don’t do what God tells us to do. God told Jonah to go and preach; every Christian has the same command in Matthew 28:19-20. With Jonah’s example before us, we have even less reason than Jonah for our disobedience
Jonah ran away on impulse
Spurgeon said ‘“Now, I very commonly meet with persons who say, ‘I felt that I must do so and so. It came upon me that I must do so and so.’ I am afraid of these impulses – very greatly afraid of them. People may do right under their power, but they will spoil what they do by doing it out of mere impulse, and not because the action was right in itself.”
“Providence or no providence, the Word of the Lord is to be our guide, and we must not depart from it under pretext of necessity or circumstances. It is very easy to make up a providence when you want to do so. If you sit down and try to find in the ways of God to you an excuse for the wrong which you mean to commit, the crafty devil and your deceitful heart together will soon conjure up a plea for providence.” (Spurgeon)
iWhen you run away from the LORD, you never get to where you are going and you always pay your own fare. When you go the LORD’s way, you not only get to where you are going, but He provides the fare.
Jonah might have wondered: “I can go to Tarshish if I want to. I paid the fare. I’m not a stowaway.” Yet, Apologies for disobedience are just the hiding place of lies.
If you do a wrong thing in the rightest way in which it can be done, it does not make it right. If you go contrary to the Lord’s will, even though you do it in the most decent, and, perhaps, in the most devout manner, it is, nevertheless, sinful, and it will bring you under condemnation.
What a curious and tragic scene! All the sailors were religious men, devout in their prayers to their gods. Yet their gods were really nothing, and could do nothing. There was one man on board who had a relationship with the true God, who knew His Word, and who worshipped Him – yet he was asleep!
I really appreciate the way that Spurgeon helps us out here on the subject of the sleeping Christian and I am indebted to his wisdom in the matter…
“Jonah was asleep amid all that confusion and noise; and, O Christian man, for you to be indifferent to all that is going on in such a world as this, for you to be negligent of God’s work in such a time as this is just as strange. The devil alone is making noise enough to wake all the Jonahs if they only want to awake… All around us there is tumult and storm, yet some professing Christians are able, like Jonah, to go to sleep in the sides of the ship.” (Spurgeon)
The nature of Jonah’s sleep is also instructive, and too much like the sleep of the careless Christian:
· Jonah slept in a place where he hoped no one would see him or disturb him. “Sleeping Christians” like to “hide out” among the church.
· Jonah slept in a place where he could not help with the work that needed to be done. “Sleeping Christians” stay away from the work of the Lord.
· Jonah slept while there was a prayer meeting up on the deck. “Sleeping Christians” don’t like prayer meetings!
· Jonah slept and had no idea of the problems around him. “Sleeping Christians” don’t know what is really going on.
· Jonah slept when he was in great danger. “Sleeping Christians” are in danger, but don’t know it.
· Jonah slept while the heathen needed him. “Sleeping Christians” snooze on while the world needs their message and testimony.
iv. Some sleeping Christians protest that they are not asleep at all.
· “We talk about Jesus” – but you can talk in your sleep.
· “We have a walk for Jesus” – but you can walk in your sleep.
· “We have passion for Jesus – I just wept in worship the other day” – but you can cry in your sleep.
· “We have joy and rejoice in Jesus” – but you can laugh in your sleep.
· “We think about Jesus all the time” – but you can think while you are asleep; we call it dreaming.
Charles Spurgeon described how the believer might know that he is not asleep.
“What do you mean by a man’s being really awake? I mean two or three things.
I mean, first, his having a thorough consciousness of the reality of spiritual things.
When I speak of a wakeful man, I mean one who does not take the soul to be a fancy, nor heaven to be a fiction, nor hell to be a tale, but who acts among the sons of men as though these were the only substances, and all other things the shadows.
I want men of stern resolution, for no Christian is awake unless he steadfastly determines to serve his God, come fair, come foul.”
Notice the evidence we have when finally the prophet is obedient and full of repentance before God. Not just Jonah is saved from the deep and certain eventual death…
Verse 16 tells us that the sailors came to faith and feared the Lord.
Notice that the vows of the sailors came after they were delivered.
Based on this, many commentators believe that the sailors came to a true faith in God.
Spurgeon preached a sermon with four wonderful points based on the actions of the crew in this chapter.
Sinners, when they are tossed upon the sea of conviction, make desperate efforts to save themselves.
The fleshly efforts of awakened sinners must inevitably fail.
The soul’s sorrow will continue to increase as long as it relies on its own efforts.
The way of safety for sinners is to be found in the sacrifice of another on their behalf
More importantly for you and I than not running away is to not exist in a state of
sleep -fulness. Be awake, be alert to Gods call and unlike Jonah be obedient always.
You never know where the threat of our own great fish may be.