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Online Text Sermon - Jonah (Part 2A), Jonah ch.1 v.1-ch.4 v.11

Date08/08/1998
Time13:30
PreacherRev. Bill Hughes,
Sermon TitleJonah (Part 2A) (Highland Bible Conference)
TextJonah ch.1 v.1-ch.4 v.11
Sermon ID156

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Let us look together in the book of the prophet Jonah. In our session last evening we have seen Jonah as a servant of God who is running away from the purposes of God. And in that picture we saw something of the nature of Jonah's commission; that he was to go to the Gentiles in the land of Assyria. It was a call that was unexpected and it was unparalleled and it was something that Jonah resented deeply. There was a rebellion in Jonah's heart. We then went on to consider some of the characteristics of Jonah's disobedience. We are told that he turned away from the word of God; a word which he understood only too well and it was because he understood that word that he turned away from it; trying to escape from the felt presence of the Lord. We then looked at some of the symptoms of his spiritual decline. We read in the first chapter that he lost the sense of the presence of God; he lost any peace of heart and mind that he may have had and he lost his testimony before the world, these seamen, and this was something of the evidence that this man was in a spiritual decline.

Now in this particular session I want to consider with you some of the milestones in Jonah's return journey, and then some of the aspects of his renewed call.

1. FLEEING FROM GOD'S PRESENCE

Now some of the milestones in the return journey for this man. As you read through the narrative of chapter 1 and chapter 2 there is no doubt whatever that the Lord is over everything that is happening. Jonah is on the boat, he is seeking to flee from the presence of God and yet there is a sense in which God is still pursing him. And Jonah endeavours to escape from that presence of God At the outset the journey begins quite well and no doubt Jonah was seeking to justify his own actions to himself: saying that perhaps this Mediterranean cruise was just the thing that he needed for his well-being at this particular time. But then the clouds begin to lour and then the sea begins to swell, the winds begin to whip up and beat through the rigging of the ship and everything is looking ominous as this terrible storm begins to rage. And if you look at chapter 1 verse 4 we are told that it was the Lord who sent the storm. Literally the Lord hurled this storm after him. We read in the Gospels that our Lord Jesus Christ when he calmed the storm he did it utterly and completely. And you can be sure that when he raises a storm he does so thoroughly. And here is Jonah in the midst of this violent storm trying to avoid thinking about God. And we are told that he goes down into the lowest part of the ship in order to avoid the voice of God speaking to him by means of this terrible storm.

Now let me remind you of what we've already noticed how Jonah receives an extraordinary word of rebuke. It wasn't a rebuke that comes directly from God because God doesn't say another word, nor does He until chapter 3 and verse 1. But God has more than one way of speaking and the storm is one way that God is speaking to Jonah and then God goes on to speak to him by means of these godless, worldly men. And in verse 6 you will notice that the captain of the ship speaks to him, calls upon him to rise up and to call upon his God. Now the scholars tell us that in the Hebrew the words of that sea captain called to mind the very words which God had spoken to Jonah right at the very beginning. You remember that the Lord had said "Arise and cry against Nineveh" (Jonah 1,2) and now this sea captain is saying to him "Arise, and cry unto your God" (Jonah 1,6) so that all unconsciously this captain's words have a haunting echo of the voice of God that had originally spoken to him in the past. So here is God speaking to him again. Then there is the fall of the dice, the lot was cast into the lat, but the whole disposing of it was of the Lord and God's hand is in it as the dice indicated Jonah. So that again and again you see the activity of God in everything that is happening, rebuking his servant. And then we are told in verse 9 that they force his testimony out of him: he "said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land" (Jonah 1,9). And these men are shocked when they hear that statement that Jonah belonged to the God who made the sea and the dry land and they say to him what is it that you have done?

Now it's an interesting thing when you think about those men in that boat with Jonah. Jonah was probably the only servant of the Lord that these men had met. I don't know whether you ever think that you are perhaps the only servant of the Lord that the people around you, with whom you work and mix, you are perhaps the only servant of the Lord that they ever meet. And Jonah was an enigma to these men. They looked at him and they couldn't make head or tail of him. And as they looked at him they just felt that this man does not add up. And they say to him we are trying to pray to a God that we don't know and you say that you worship Jehovah, and you are sleeping and not praying. In other words they're saying 'you're behaviour does not match up to your profession' and they say 'rise and call upon your God'. But that is exactly what Jonah did not want to do.

Now that is quite a rebuke when you think about it and it is as modern as 1998. And what Jonah is doing is that he is misrepresenting God before these pagan people and they give him this amazing rebuke and behind that rebuke we must see the hand of God once again speaking to His servant. As godless as these men were you will notice that they had great compassion, they made every effort to save the boat and then after praying to God they reluctantly cast Jonah overboard. And Jonah recognises that this perhaps is his final escape, as he thinks, from the presence of God. In other words, he would rather die, he would rather be cast overboard, than submit his will to the will of God. Now you may think that that is a bit far-fetched, but it is only far-fetched to those people who don't know their own hearts, and who don't know their own dark capabilities. When a man is in a position of sinful stubbornness and that stubbornness grips his spirit there are no depths to which a man will sink in his frenzied madness to shake off what God is saying to him.

Elijah wished that he could die rather than do the will of God. But here is a God who loves this man with a love that will not let him go. Or in the words of Francis Thompson the poet, here is the 'hound of heaven' who is seeking after this man. And isn't it Thompson who says in that poem 'I fled him down the nights and down the days, I fled him down the arches of the years, I fled him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind and in the midst of tears I hid from him'. Now that's what's happening here with Jonah, he is fleeing from the 'hound of heaven' but the hound of heaven will not let him go. And the whole book is about the activity of a God who will not let this man go. He is taking a stubborn, disobedient servant and He is going to restore him to the kind of man that He has purposed him to be. So here is God who is responsible for the storm. The wind and the waves were not the 'wind of mother nature', the falling of the dice was not something that was co-incidental, here are all the milestones that have been prepared by God whereby God is going to bring this man back to Himself.

And the next providence you see is that God has prepared or appointed this whale or this great fish and Jonah is now swallowed by that whale and he's trapped inside what can only be described as the most terrifying coffin. He is buried alive and you can imagine what it must have been like; here is part of God's judgement upon him and yet it also part of God's mercy towards him. Now the fish is insignificant, the significant thing is that it is the activity of God, once again, in the life of this man providing a sanctuary for him from the storm, in which this man will be made a new man. That's the whole point of the big fish and we must remember that apart from the grace of God in hunting down Jonah by means of the storm and tempest and the sailors and the whale, Jonah would have been lost in a hopelessly watery grave. That would have been the end of him altogether.

Now these are the issues that are being thought out in this particular book; the issues of the Lordship of God over His people. And the Lordship of Christ in our lives is never an insignificant thing. And you can never be sure where your particular rebellion against the will of God will take you. And you can never be sure whether there will ever be a way back. Jonah would never have thought that his first refusal of the voice of God; when God said to him "Arise, go to Nineveh" (Jonah 1,2) and Jonah was reluctant and he baulked against that voice, Jonah would never have thought that that would have ended up like this; in a situation where he now finds himself. The prodigal son never thought that his life would end up in the way that it did and none of us ever do. When we first take God's stead to react against God and to disobey God none of us know where it might end. There is often an attraction about a place called Tarshish; whatever your Tarshish may be. The tickets to Tarshish are usually singles. And you can never presume that there will be away back. And apart from God there was no way back for this man. Now you can imagine the panic that must have taken hold of him with all his past life flashing before him recalling the times when he'd walked with God, realising how it's now come to this terrible end; and now in the spirit of continuing rebellion he is cast into the depths of the sea. And there is no crying unto God for pardon, there is no crying unto to God for restoration. He would know nothing about the storm being stilled. He would know nothing about the apparent conversion of these mariners. He's swallowed up and he's hidden in this unique personal submarine. There he is down in the depths of the ocean. It must have felt like an endless eternity in the darkness that he is irretrievably lost. And the scene now moves dramatically from the terrifying noise of the storm with all the confusion of the ship being battered by these howling winds and now the scene is brought into this total darkness and quietness within this fish's stomach; where this man has time to think and to pray. In the words of the hymn-writer 'Hope was gone and fears possessed him' and you have a picture of a servant of God coming to an end of himself.

Now another milestone in his restoration is seen in chapter 2 in the way that Jonah recognises the disciplines and the judgements of God in these experiences. And you will notice how he describes them in all their horror in verse 2 "I cried by reason of mine affliction" (Jonah 2,2) that's how he describes it. Then he qualifies it by saying "out of the belly of hell" or of the grave "cried I" (Jonah 2,2). In verse 3 he describes it in greater detail. "You cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods encompassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me" (Jonah 2,3). Then verse 5 he gives greater detail: "The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head" (Jonah 2,5). And then in verse 6 he comes right to the very depths, the nadir, of his experiences: "I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever" (Jonah 2,6). And you can sense the terror that possesses this man, the horrors that are taking hold upon him in that terrible place. Now you will also recognise that in that second chapter that Jonah was conscious in the belly of the whale, he was aware of everything that was happening to him, he knew that he had been buried alive; a terrifying situation to be in. Can't help but think that those who are unbelievers and die impenitent, that it must be something like this in hell. That you are in a situation where you want to die but you can't die and you go on wanting to die, but you can't die. Now the astonishing thing about his prayer here is that Jonah recognises that God is in all of these things. As sore and as terrifying as this condition is it is a thousand times more terrible to him because he sees the hand of God in it. And there are times and there are experiences when we know that God is speaking to us. If he'd looked at all of this and felt well it was an accident that has happened, that he just happened to slip overboard and swallowed by this whale, that would be a terrible trial. But the situation is now far worse because Jonah can discern that here is God dealing with him in judgement and in discipline. He now feels that God is against him, that God is his enemy. Now he asked the sailors to throw him over to his death, but he finds himself in a situation that is worse than death, he's in this living hell. That's what he's describing there in verse 3: You "cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas" (Jonah 2,3). 'You have done it', he says to God.

We can bear many a blow from those people who are our enemies but the wounds of our best friend is an agony for us to bear. And here is the blow, painful in and of itself, but even more painful because he sees the hand of God in it. And this is what made it all the worse. Look at what he says in verse 4 "I said, I am cast out of thy sight" (Jonah 2,4). I've run away from your presence and I feel that that has happened and every wave would be howling in his ears 'You've now got what you wanted, you wanted to run away from the presence of the Lord and you've got what you wanted'. And he's in a place of utter despair, feeling cut off from God altogether. Look at what he says in verse 7 "My soul fainted within me" (Jonah 2,7) literally my soul collapsed within me. He has no outward props he's got no inward support. Here is a man who's at an end of himself. His experience is all his own. Jonah in the belly of this fish has no comfort whatever in thinking that other people have been in this kind of a situation and they've been delivered. He's in a situation where he is utterly desolate, like Jacob of old he's crying out "all these things are against me" (Genesis 42,36). But we know from our perspective that they were not against him they were all together for his good. He is being humbled under the mighty hand of God.

2. FLEEING TO GOD'S PRESENCE

And then did you notice how chapter 2 begins? We are told "Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God" (Jonah 2,1), another significant milestone in his return. Having fled from God's presence he now flees to God's presence. Having refused to call upon God in the ship, he now pleads with God from the very depths of the sea. He is now coming right back to the place of prayer. Now prayer has ascended to God in scripture from many unlikely places: from prisons and from caves and from mountains and from deserts, but surely never anything like this. It's hardly possible that any man has had an experience like this either before or since. Now there is no mention in chapter 1 of Jonah coming before God in prayer. But the whole of chapter 2 is a prayer. And he's been brought completely to the depths of despair and now he has stopped his fighting with God and he begins once again to call upon God. And that prayer is an evidence of his sonship. We are told that Jonah then "prayed unto the Lord his God" (Jonah 2,1), the Lord his God. Sometimes it takes drastic circumstances to make us pray to the Lord our God. He knew that he could pray; every believer knows that. But there are times when we want our own will and our own mind and in that condition we refuse to pray. Now here is a man who's coming back to the place of prayer and you will notice the Biblical nature of his prayer. It is a psalm of thanksgiving, he quotes seven times from the book of psalms; he's obviously a man who knows his Bible. He's stored the word of God up in his heart and when he needs that word most the word comes to him with freshness and with a relevance that he has never known before. Like the Psalmist he can say, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart" (Psalm 119,11) and he now weaves that word into his prayer. That of course, is a vital principle in the Christian life: that we need to read the word and seek to memorise it against the time when we will need it. Now Jonah didn't have a pocket Bible here. He didn't have an easily obtainable portion of scripture. But he had stored the word of God in his heart and in his mind and unless we put the word of God in, the Holy Spirit can't bring it out. He stored this word up and now he is assured from the word of God that it is possible for him to be delivered. He is pondering in his prayer and those Psalms concerning the omnipresence of God; that there is nowhere that he can escape from the presence of God. He's pondering the omnipotence of God, that this God is all powerful, that this God because He is omnipresent, He is still with him and this God because He is all powerful, He is still able to bring him out of this situation and then you will notice what it says in verse 9 "Salvation is of the LORD" (Jonah 2,9). He is confessing that God is able to save him and it is in that sovereign ability that he must now trust "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2,9) but that is not all that Jonah is saying there, Jonah is now recognising, he's acknowledging, that sovereignty as far as God is concerned means that he is able to bestow salvation on whosoever He wills: whether it is Jew, or whether is it Gentile; whether it's an Israelite, or whether it's an Assyrian. And that it's not for Jonah, nor for anybody else to argue about what God does in His sovereignty and that is what Jonah has been doing - he refused to recognise that God was able to save Gentile dogs. And he has had to learn this lesson the hard way; that the Lord will do whatsoever He wills, both in heaven and on earth. And that my dear friends, is what sovereignty is all about. And some people find it very very easy to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in world developments, but they don't find it so easy to recognise the sovereignty of God in their own personal lives. And He is sovereign in the lives of His people and He will teach us that lesson again and again. And here Jonah's pride and his self will have received a death blow as he comes to the point where he acknowledges the sovereign Lordship of God in his life.

Now that, I believe, is part of the sign of the Prophet Jonah. Here is the sign which is associated with our Lord's death and resurrection as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of Man be. The death and the resurrection of Jesus are prefigured in the apparent death and resurrection of Jonah. Now what was it that died and resurrected in Jonah. You can see it in this prayer, here in his prayer Jonah is recognising that he's been brought to the depths of the grave; he couldn't go down any further. Now we sometimes say that don't we? 'I couldn't have sunk any lower'. He's in the absolute depths and in that situation he is being brought to remember the Lord. And he says "I will look again toward thy holy temple" (Jonah 2,4) and what I have vowed I will pay. Now what is happening there? Well here is his resurrection; here is a man who is dying to self will and to pride and his own schemes and his own rebellion against God. He is dying to all of that and he is rising from the depths of the sea; a man who is now able to say "I will pay that that I have vowed" (Jonah 2,9). And the moment Jonah says that, God commands the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. So here is a man who is raised from the depths of the sea having died to all his selfish, stubborn ambition and rebellion; willing now to pay the things that he has vowed. And it is that principle of death and resurrection that you find throughout the whole of the New Testament in the gospel; "Death" says the apostle "worketh in us, but life in you" (2 Corinthians 4,12). And like the apostle Paul Jonah is able to say with the greatest confidence that he is able to believe in a God who raises the dead. And it was the Lord Jesus Christ who spoke about a corn of wheat falling into the ground and dying (John 12,24). And that I believe is what Jonah has done here, he has died to self will and self ambition and he is brought up again a new man.

Now it is at this point that God answers him and it just demonstrates to us how closely God was in touch with the situation. God knew exactly what was going on in the man's heart and mind and here is a God who loves him with a love that will not let him go. He'd been cast out by the sailors, but he's not been cast out by God. He'd been cast out of the ship, but he's not been cast out of the presence of God. Here is a God who will never fully and finally abandon one of His people. And as Jonah stands in the streets of Nineveh he would stand there as a sign to them concerning the judgement of God against sin, His wrath against sin and in him the Ninevites will be able to see the severity of God. But they will also see the grace and the mercy of God and the love of God towards him and it is this that brought these people of Nineveh to repentance and to faith. And that is why our Lord says that Jonah's experiences were pointing forward to the One who is greater than Jonah. And those who come to Christ will find that they also must be willing like Jonah to be crucified, dead and buried in order that others may be brought to faith in Him. "Other sheep", said Jesus "I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring" (John 10,16) and in bringing them to Himself sometimes God's servants have got to die to themselves and to their own plans and to their own interests.

You will notice in chapter 2 verse 8 it is that Jonah makes this statement. "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy" (Jonah 2,8). What's happening? Jonah's heart has been softened through the wrathful grace of God. And he is now an instrument of that same wrathful grace to the people of Nineveh. He now has when he says that in verse 8: "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy" (Jonah 2,8), he's now been given a sense of tender compassion for those people who are still in their idolatry and in their sin. And he grieves that they are bereft of the grace and of the mercy of Almighty God, they observe lying vanities and in doing that, by bowing down to idols, he's saying they forsake their own mercy. So you see what is happening, the Ninevites are now appearing to Jonah in a new light. They're no longer his enemies, they are lost men and women who are under the judgement of Almighty God and unless they hear the gospel they will die impenitent and they'll be lost forever. That's a wonderful lesson to learn. And surely in the day and age in which we live we need to learn that we are indebted to share the grace of God to those people who are still languishing in darkness. And we've known so much of the grace and mercy and the comfort and the blessing of God and yet how easy it is to withhold it from other people. And the purpose of God is that the grace of God should cascade out of our lives into the lives of others and that is the whole point of this book of Jonah. So these are some of the milestones in Jonah's return journey.

3. ASPECTS OF HIS RENEWED CALL

We then look at some of the aspects of his renewed call, because you read in chapter 3 and verse 1: "And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." (Jonah 3,1-2) So here is the servant of God having been brought to an end of himself, here is the servant of God being restored to office and you see a great difference at this point in the story. At the end of chapter 2 his prayer has been answered. He's delivered from that awful tomb where he's been buried alive. In answer to his prayers the Lord spoke to the fish and it regurgitated Jonah out onto the dry land. There he is on some Mediterranean shore, wet and bedraggled, a wretched piece of human jetsam standing there on the shore and you can only imagine the mixed feelings that must have gone through this man's mind as he stands there and finds himself back in this world once again. Surely the man will get down on his knees and bless God for his deliverance; rejoicing in the mercy of God towards him. But then the question comes which often comes to us 'is everything really well between God and my soul?' How's the remembrance of all my rebellion and all my disobedience and all my sin and all my selfishness; has all that been blotted out of God's book of remembrance? Will these things ever be mentioned against me? Is everything between me and the Lord exactly as it was as before any of these things happened? Or will the Lord keep up the remembrance of them? And will the Lord have reluctance about entrusting him with a work in the future? And probably doubting whether after such a sin as this that he could ever find favour with God again. And if we know anything of the activity of the Devil there would be a devil there who will be sowing all kinds of seeds of doubt into his mind. Now just how long the interval was we are not certain but it seems not to have been very long till that wonderful statement comes "And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time" (Jonah 3,1), the most glorious statement. The God of the second chances, the God of the second chances: "the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time" (Jonah 3,1).

Do you remember in Jeremiah 18 how Jeremiah one day in the providence of God went down to the potter's house and he saw that potter at work, making a vessel on the wheel? And as Jeremiah stood watching him he saw that potter take a piece of clay from the mass of clay that was beside him and having kneaded the clay he placed it on the wheel and from that moment his hands were constantly at work within and without - he is shaping with great skill and great care and he forms a beautiful vessel and Jeremiah is watching him and then almost as it was finished through some flaw in the material the whole thing falls a shapeless mass, a shapeless ruin all over the floor and as Jeremiah watched the potter he expected the potter to take another piece of clay from the same pile of clay that was alongside of him, but instead of that the potter with scrupulous care gathers up all the broken pieces of clay and he presses them together as at the first and he placed it on the wheel again and "he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it" (Jeremiah 18,4). And as Jeremiah is watching all of this, pondering what he has seen the voice of God comes to him and says "cannot I do with you as this potter?" (Jeremiah 18,6) and the whole purpose of the incident was to give hope to the nation that God was a God of the second chance. They'd marred God's idea for them as a people; nevertheless He will not let them go. There is still a glorious future for them and in grace and mercy He is saying that He is willing to take them up once again. He is willing to make them anew; He is willing to give them a second chance. And that is what you find God doing again and again, in scripture and in history He remoulds and He remakes the lives of men and of nations.

You see if you remember in the life of Moses he was conceived and born in faith and gloriously delivered in the providence of God, safely nurtured in the palace of Pharaoh, educated and blessed in all the education of the Egyptians. And then you remember he comes to that crisis of identity which comes to many of the children of believing parents, and we are told that in that crisis he chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11,25). It was a mighty moment for Moses, it was a mighty moment for his parents, and it was a mighty moment for the cause of Christ in Egypt. Moses the heir to the throne refuses to be called any longer the son of Pharaoh's daughter, he has found his real identity with the people of God; the greatest crisis perhaps in the whole of his life. Here is the most suitable candidate for the service of God, but then we are told at that very time he went out and in seeking to identify himself with those people, he committed murder. And the vessel was marred in the hand of the potter and he flees from the face of Pharaoh and he dwells in Midian for forty years. And it is forty years later at the backside of the desert that the Lord comes to him and the word came a second time and the word of the Lord spoke to him as the God who says to him I'll give you a second chance.

It happened with Abraham, the great man of faith, that when God called him he went out not knowing whither he would go, simply knowing that God had called him. He walked in implicit trust in the God who had spoken to him and yet when a time of famine arises he loses faith in this God, he panics, and he goes down into Egypt. He almost loses his testimony because of his lies, and he nearly lost his wife in the process and the vessel was marred in the hand of the potter. And many of us would have thought that that was the end of Abraham. But the word of the Lord came a second time, because He is a God of the second chances. And the vessel was marred, but He made it again.

You see it in the life of Jacob, a child that was nurtured in prayer, a child of prophesy, a child for whom God had plans and purposes before ever he was born, yet he schemed and he deceives and he runs away from home. And the vessel is marred in the hands of the potter and Jacob you remember then comes to the brook Jabok and the Angel of God takes the initiative and comes to him and wrestles with him and he becomes Israel the prince with God because God is the God of the second chances: the word of the Lord came a second time "let us arise, and go up to Bethel" (Genesis 35,3).

You see it in the life of David who was taken from the obscurity of the sheep folds, the least and lowest of his father's house to become the greatest king that Israel has ever known, the man after God's own heart. But then he coverts a woman and he murders her husband and he commits adultery and the vessel is marred in the hand of the potter. And many of us would have written David off completely after that. But the word of the Lord came a second time and made it again another vessel as seemed good to the potter to make it because He is the God of the second chances.

And you see it in the New Testament with a man like Peter who had been called by our Lord. He left everything so that he followed Christ, he made that glorious confession at Caesarea Philippi "thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16,16) - he becomes this steadfast rocklike figure, a born leader among all the disciples; he had the courage of a lion; he did actually walk on the water to Christ. But then the vessel was marred in the hand of the potter when a young girl says 'you're one of them aren't you? Not me, not me' and the vessel was marred. And many of us would never have spoken to Simon Peter again after that. But the word of the Lord came to him a second time "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" (John 21,15-17) Feed my sheep, feed my lambs. Here is the God of the second chances, the God who comes to Jonah and the word of the Lord comes to him a second time.

Now this may well be the story of your life for all I know this afternoon. And you may be here at this meeting and you've failed and you've made havoc of your life and you've failed a thousand times. And when you started out with Christ you can look back and you can see that you started so well and you can remember when God had ambitions for your life and those ambitions were so clear and now you look back and it all has come to nothing and maybe like Jonah and like Jacob you've reacted and you've rebelled against God's will for you and maybe you've been running away like Jonah and you may have been running away for years. Maybe like Moses or Abraham or David, you've committed the most awful sin and you feel that you can never be forgiven and you that you can never be used by God again. Maybe like Jonah and like Peter you've lost your courage and you've lost your testimony and you've been demoralised before the world. And you simply backslid and it may be that you have pastored, so did Jacob pastor when he was in a backslidden condition. You may well feel that you're content with the way that your life is, Moses was content at the backside of the desert for forty years. Maybe you don't think that there's anything wrong with your life. David didn't think there was anything wrong with his life until Nathan came and spoke to him. And maybe like Peter you've wept and you've wept again about it.

And sometimes the vessel is marred by our own sin and our own selfishness and sometimes it is marred because of our own foolish blunders. The whole message of the book of Jonah and the whole message of the Bible is "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity?" (Micah 7,18) I will restore unto you the years that the locust has eaten; there is forgiveness with God; there is hope for the future and sometimes the scars and the memories remain, but there is still hope for the future. All the time that Moses was in Midian for forty years he knew that the people of God in Egypt were under bondage; it must have been a tremendous grief to him as he heard every report coming out of Egypt. "They cried by reason of their taskmasters" (Exodus 3,7).

Abraham lived with a woman named Hagar the fruit of his backsliding and he had to live with the consequences. It seems that Jacob bore the evidence of his own waywardness, in that he limped for the rest of his life. David lost the child of his union with Bathsheba. Peter went out and wept bitterly and I'm sure he did that to the end of his life, many a time he would weep as he thought of what he'd done. But the message of the Bible is, is that God forgave them and He remade them. And sometimes your greatest failure can be your greatest stepping stone. Martin Luther said I learned my theology most where my sorrows took me. And when you consider Moses for example you will discover that although his forty years in the palace in Egypt were valuable, his forty years in the desert in Midian were invaluable. He learned in Midian what the schools of Egypt could never have taught him. And nothing can be more valuable to us than to be taught in the school of God. And you can have all your degrees and all the doctorates of this world's academies and still know nothing of your ABC in the things of God. And all the schools of this world are designed to boost your pride and to boost your sense of your own achievements, 'oh, he's got a degree,' 'Yes, a first class honours, wonderful'. The school and the university of God is going to do the opposite of that. God's university will humble you to the dust and it will make you see that you are nothing and that you have nothing and that you can do nothing apart from the grace of God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3,6).

And Jonah is learning that in his experience. He is learning in the belly of this whale what all the schools of this world could never have taught him. And sometimes the vessel is marred in the hand of the potter. And we think that that is the end of everything but it isn't. Jonah said "I will look again towards thy holy temple" (Jonah 2,4) "And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah a second time" (Jonah 3,1). And it comes to him with the same commission. Now what was it that Jonah would have learned by this experience? He had learned more than anything else that he himself is a sinner who has been forgiven by this God. That the tender mercy of this God of judgement and of righteousness, the tender mercy of this God has come to him and he has spoken to him once again. He's tasted afresh the joy of sins forgiven and he's able to say with the Psalmist "Return unto my rest, oh my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with thee" (Psalm 116,7) And here is Jonah recognising the Lordship of Almighty God.

So what is happening is that Jonah's life and Jonah's experience have become a theatre in which God is displaying His glory. A great God of wonders, all thy ways are godlike, matchless and divine, but countless acts of pardoning grace beyond thine other wonders shine. Who is a pardoning God like thee? And it is when a man or a woman has been brought there, that they are able to say, "What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?" (Psalm 116,12) The God of the second chance, who came to Jonah and spoke to him the second time and said "Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee" (Jonah 3,2). Well, we'll leave our study at that point, may God bless His word to our hearts.


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