God is holy. He cannot face sin because of His holiness. Because of the sinfulness of mankind, many times we read in the Bible that the people were without the presence of the Lord. The people were unable to be in the presence of God because they were unclean. Once a year, one person could enter the inner part of the Temple to approach His presence. Even Moses was not allowed to look upon the face of the Lord because he was a sinner, just like you and me.
When reading about Jonah, we note that he was asked by the Lord to go share a message to the people of Nineveh. He gets up and flees to Tarshish. But it doesn’t just say that he goes in the opposite direction from where he was commanded. It says he flees “from the presence of the LORD.” When the men on the boat are trying to discover the cause of the storm issues, they recognize that he is running from “the presence of the LORD.”
Every time we sin, we are keeping ourselves from fully being in the presence of the LORD. Yes, things are different today. Jesus Christ died on the Cross, was buried, and rose on the third day. If we believe this, we are saved. If we believe this, we are children of God. If we believe this, we can approach God. The veil is torn. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon us. But still, if we sin, we are keeping ourselves from fully being in the presence of the LORD. Do you want that? Do you desire to not be fully aware of His presence? If you want to hear His still small voice, if you want to be aware of Him—to recognize Him moving in your life and in the lives around you—turn from sin and fix your eyes on Him. Take a step towards God and experience the awesomeness of the presence of the LORD.
“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD… Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done!’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.” – Jonah 1:3,10 [ESV]
Jonah [Jonah 1-4] and Paul [Acts 27]
“Where [God] is, tragedy is only provisional and partial, and shipwreck and dissolution are not the absolutely final thing.” – William James
Acceptance of God
Paul was all about joy, so joyful to take the message of Christ anywhere – even wanted to build on a new foundation and reach those who haven’t heard
“And Paul said, ‘I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.’” – Acts 26:29 [NASB]
Jonah angry that God showed mercy – Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because He knew God would have mercy – Jonah had a covering from Lord and then it died and he got angry, had mercy on plant but not happy with mercy God showed to those who he didn’t believe deserved it.
“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?’” – Jonah 4:10-11 [NIV]
JOY OR ANGER
Boldness for God
Both knew what to do on the ship. Jonah slept & kept silent until late – Paul tried to vocalize what to do Are you vocal or quiet?
“Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 [NASB]
SPEAK UP OR KEEP SILENT
Closeness to God How close are you to God? “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” – James 4:8a [NLT] Always moving toward or moving away. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh (Jonah 1:2-3) – Paul wanted to go to Rome (Acts 19:21)
“The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” – Psalm 145:18 [ESV] “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” – John 14:21 [NIV]
CLOSE OR DISTANT
Bible Study Questions:
[Jonah 1-4 & Acts 27]
Tonight we discussed two different people (Jonah and Paul) who both were called by God to deliver His message. Fully understanding our calling from God requires a lot more than biblical knowledge.
Acceptance of God
1) Accepting God for Who He is includes accepting that He is merciful. What is mercy?
2) How does mercy differ from grace?
3) How do Paul and Jonah differ in their degree of acceptance of mercy?
4) Do you find some people more difficult to show mercy?
5) Read Jonah 4:10-11. What do you think God telling us?
Boldness for God
6) Paul knew what to do on the ship and he spoke up. When is it easy for you to speak up and to be bold for God?
7) Jonah slept and was silent about the truth until he was approached by others. What keeps us from stepping forward and speaking up?
8) Has there been a moment in your life when you kept silent? How did you feel?
Closeness to God
9) Who determines how close we are to God?
10) What are we supposed to call on Him in?
11) What does John 14:21 tell us about the results of calling upon God?
12) What keeps you moving away from God? Toward God?
I laugh so often when I read the Book of Jonah. There are so many eye opening moments in this book that have certainly convicted and humbled me. Some people will focus how Jonah finally followed God’s command and went to Ninevah. Some people will focus on the how the people of Ninevah repented and changed their ways. I like what happens just after the Ninevites hear the message and believe. They fast.
Right after that God relented. When he did it made Jonah angry. He was not happy that God was forgiving of these people. They were “bad” people. They did wrong. The Bible says that Jonah then went and plopped himself nearby and “waited to see what would happen to the city.” That part gets me every time. What was he waiting for? Was he waiting to see if they messed up again so he can say, “Hey God, look I told you they were bad people and you were wrong to forgive them”? Was he waiting to see if perhaps God would change his mind (which is not possible)?
There are moments in our lives when we do this too. We get angry at the injustice in the world—and there is much of it. We speak with unforgiving lips. We act as the judge. Imagine each person who committed those wrongs finding forgiveness. God relented. They accepted Jesus and have been redeemed—but what about what they did? What about the rape, murder, adultery, lies, theft??? What about……. You can sit just outside watching and hoping that others pay for what they have done, or you can receive God’s forgiveness and show that same forgiveness to others.
“Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city.” – Jonah 4:5 [NLT]
Jonah said he didn’t want to go to Ninevah because he knew that God was “a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are too eager to turn back from destroying people” (4:2 NLT). How true!
In today’s verse we read the phrase “my judgment.” We need to remember that it is God’s judgment, not our own. God is forgiving and God does not want to lose any of his children. We read in 4:11 that “Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness” (NLT). That is a lot of people. I bet you also know some people living in spiritual darkness.
Remember today that God does not want to lose any of his children. He relentlessly pursues each one of them. Rather than concerning yourselves with judgment, perhaps we should forgive and do our part to add some light into this darkness. I don’t have a number for you of those living in spiritual darkness, but I think it’s fair to say it’s over 120,000 people. God is merciful and compassionate. He wants each one to come home.
“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” – Jonah 1:2
We all have moments when we are angry. Jonah got angry. He wasn’t angry because the boat ride was shaky. He wasn’t upset that he was swallowed by a fish. He was irritated by the fact that God showed compassion on Nineveh. Jonah was sent to tell the people of Nineveh to change their ways, and he ran at first, because he did not think they deserved the grace and mercy of God. It upset him that people who were so evil would be given the opportunity to repent and be forgiven.
We all are undeserving of the love, the grace, the mercy, the compassion that God shows for us. Jonah recognized that God was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (4:2 NASB). Jonah saw all this good in God, and yet he did not immediately follow God’s instructions. Why?
There are often moments in life when we are not so easily supportive of God showing His grace and mercy on others. It is difficult for us to see people who have destroyed the lives of so many, and know that God has forgiven them. We believe our wrongs, our sins aren’t as bad as the sins of others. Why should someone who abused his wife and threw away his marriage and his children receive the same love from God as a “good Christian” who only lied a bit and missed a few church services? Why should someone who committed murder be shown the same love as someone who only took a tank full of gasoline from the local station?
These are tough questions that are sometimes difficult for us to accept and to keep ourselves from asking. We know the answer. Jonah knew the answer. God is gracious. He is compassionate. He is “abundant in lovingkindness.” But it made Jonah angry. Nineveh was filled with bad people. Why should they be forgiven for all they did simply by changing their ways and following God?
There should not be any question for us to ask except one. Why has God sent His one and only Son to be our Substitute and pay for our sins for we are unworthy? The answer, again, is that He is a compassionate, gracious God. He shows us grace– which is a gift– and we have no say on who He does and does not show His grace. Remember the parable of vineyard workers, where the workers who were there all day were paid the same as those who came to work late? “Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:14-15 NASB).
Jonah did not appreciate the generosity of God. God asked Jonah if he had a good reason to be angry. He didn’t. He actually told God that death was better than life. Jonah thought rather than see God show compassion on those he thought were undeserving, it would be better to be dead. That is a lot of anger to have simply because God was gracious to people. I wonder if there are times when we also get a bit upset at His graciousness, at His mercy.
I pray that if you are angry today, that you may take the time and steps needed to give it to God and let it go. I pray that you are able to “take what is yours” and move onward. God gives us the greatest gift of all. I pray that we never lose sight of that great gift, and that we continue to offer a heart of gratitude toward our loving, compassionate, gracious Father.
“For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You… You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.”
– Psalm 86:5, 15 [NASB]
I recommend reading this wonderful article “What Do I Do If I’m Angry With God?” written by Alexandrea J. Wilson, founder and director of the Mt. Ephraim Center, for some great insight.
When I was younger, I always was amazed at the story of Jonah. I imagined this man attempting to run away, and yet “the LORD hurled a great wind” and next thing you know he was swallowed by “a great fish.” Who tries to run away from God? It seems crazy and yet I believe we all have our moments.
Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. God told him of the important task he had, but he did not agree. We do this same thing when God gives us an idea of what we are to do in life, and yet we think we know better or we allow fear to dictate our actions instead of giving God the chance to direct our path.
Perhaps it could be that we have this high paying job, but God wants us to go back to school for a college degree in something far from our current career. Maybe we are told to move, to enter or end a relationship, or perhaps to wait for something. What really can be hard to swallow is when you make a plan or goal, you nearly are there at the end to reach this goal, and God turns you around. Maybe you are paying off a house or car and think you can settle, but God thinks it’s time for a change.
No matter what it is, God promises us that we will be blessed abundantly if we trust in Him. It’s hard. I won’t argue with anyone. I went across the world because God said to despite many sacrifices that had to be made. I went back to school though I loved my career and it provided for my family. Stepping out in faith is scary and it can be very unsettling; however, the rewards always come. Trust in Him for He alone is faithful. He is our victorious warrior who is by our side each day as we press forward.
“Do not be afraid O Zion;
Do not let your hands fall limp.
The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”
– Zephaniah 3:16b-17 [NASB]