When God Calls - The Fugitive (Jonah 1:1-17)

Sermon Outline

Introduction (Jonah 1:1-2)
1. When God Calls, His Word is Greater than Our Wants (3)
2. When God Calls, He Still Works When We Wander (4-16)
    A. To Get Our Attention 
        i. He May Send a Storm (4-5)
        ii. He May Use Others (6-8)
    B. To Give Us Clarity (9-12)
    C. To Show His Grace to Others (13-16)
3. When God Calls, We Cannot Run Beyond His Reach (17)

Sermon Summary:

In the first part of our series "When God Calls," we are introduced to Jonah, one of the most famous stories of a fugitive running from God's calling.  Jonah knew exactly what God was calling him to do, but he allowed his wants priority over God's purposes.  The truth is, we all have been there!  When God calls us, we have run as well.  But, God shows his compassion to, and still works in our lives even when we wander away.  Sometimes he may use a storm in life to discipline us in love.  Other times, he may use other people to get our attention and give us clarity. But the beauty of his grace is that no matter how far we run, we cannot outrun his reach.  In just one step of surrender in the opposite direction we realize that he is there, ready to embrace us, and lead us back in the right direction.

Discussion Questions:

1. The first lesson of our message is that when God calls, his word is greater than our wants.  In your experience, how has God's Word transformed your wants and desires?  

2. The second lesson is that when God calls, he still works when we wander.  What are some ways that God has gotten your attention when you've wandered from him in the past?

3. The third lesson is that when God calls, we cannot run beyond his reach.  How God has used your wandering to get you to where you are today?  What areas of your life is God still calling you to surrender?


Full Sermon Notes

Good morning. It is great to see each of you today. I’ve heard from a few of you lately about how God is working in your lives, doing things that only he can do and it brings joy to me, and to our staff to see him working to fulfill his purposes in our lives.

I’ve also been encouraged to see the direction that our church is heading. We’ve heard over the past three weeks about our Vision to Reality ministry initiative, and how we are going to expand our facilities to increase our opportunity to minister to children. I know that you have been joining us in seeking the Lord on how you can be involved in those efforts.

Be sure to also be praying for our pastor and our team as they continue to be on mission in Haiti. They made it there safe and have been getting much accomplished.

Over the next three weeks we are switching gears. We are starting a new series entitled “When God Calls.” Throughout this series, we are going to look at one of the most famous stories in the Bible to better understand God’s calling. The story of Jonah.

If you have your Bibles, please turn to the first Chapter of Jonah. It is a short book in the Old Testament, and I don’t want you to be ashamed if you have to look in the table of contents to find it. Another way to find is to go to the book of Matthew and take left 20-30 pages and you will find it.

Have you ever wondered about God’s calling? What is God calling me to do in life? What is he calling me to do in this particular situation? As a parent, how is God calling me to raise my children? As a husband, how is God calling me to lead my wife? Is he calling me to take this job or to stay where I am? Is God calling me to be in ministry? To help someone? To give to that cause? What is he telling me to do? Sometimes the questions are asked in general about our overall purpose and other times they are asked when specific decision are needing to be made.

So over the next three weeks we are going to study the book of Jonah and discover truths and lessons to better understand God’s character, the nature of his calling, and how we can respond during specific circumstances in our lives. Let’s begin, Jonah 1:1 says,

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:

The scripture is not clear on how God’s word came to Jonah, but here is what we know about his word. In Genesis 1 we find that God spoke and creation was made. In 1 Samuel 3, this word that set the creation into motion, is the same word by which God makes himself known to creation, including you and me.

We know Moses and Joshua were recipients of instructions given to them from the mouth of the Lord (Num. 3:16, Josh.22:9). On numerous occasions, The Psalmists describes the Word of God being tried and tested, yet proving fully true, and as a result, it is the perfect safeguard against sinning (Ps. 18:30; 105:19; 119:140).

In other prophetic books like Jonah, God’s word is given to prophets to proclaim specific messages. And God’s story has been preserved in the written accounts of his word revealed to those in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament we find that it is through Jesus Christ that this was happening all along. John 1 says,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

So, the fullness of God’s Word has become known through Jesus Christ. And the Good News, the message of his grace and truth has been preserved for us in Bible, God’s Word, his written revelation to us. God’s Word continues to be spread through the church, and today when we speak truth from the Bible, we are speaking the very Word of God. Now if you want to more about the theology of God’s word, there are entire sections of systematic theology books where you can read about it until your brain hurts.

But, this is the what I want you to hear today. God’s calling comes from his word. And his word is constant. It was his Word that called Jonah, and it is his Word that calls us today. While the specific instruction to Jonah is different from ours, it is the same Word of God that speaks to us and guides us. In the first verse, it says,

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up beforeme.”

Besides being the son of a man named Amittai, what else do we know about Jonah? Well, he was also an Israelite, and we know from the historical account in the book of 2 Kings that he served as a prophet of the Lord during the reign of Jeroboam II (2 Kgs 14:25), who was a king of Israel from 782 to 753 B.C.

At this point in history, Assyria was the world power, and everyone’s enemy, including Israel. The Assyrians were an evil and ruthless bunch of people. They had a massive army with highly trained, special forces kind of soldiers. Anyone who got in their way was just obliterated. This may get a little graphic for you, but we need to understand the book of Jonah in its context.

When the Assyrians invaded, they would obviously kill those who resisted them. Those who had the chance to surrender probably wished that they would have fought to the death because the soldiers would take these people and torture them with a method that they had become known for. They perfected the method of skinning people alive and burying them in the hot desert sand to suffer a long lasting, agonizing death. Then, they would cut off their heads and take the heads and skin and use them to make a monument outside the city wall.

This would show other cities what happens when the Assyrians come to town. Most of the men in these conquered cities and territories were killed. The women were raped and many killed also. After that, they would loot the city or village to sustain their army.

Anyone that survived this, had their possessions stolen before being enslaved, forced to worship their captor’s god, and pledge allegiance to Assyria. They would then minimize the chances of future resistance by taking their new slaves and dispersing them in massive groups to other areas of their kingdom.

Eventually the groups would mix with other defeated nations and tribes, and the heritage, culture, and memory of their previous life would be gone with the passing of one or two generations.

So, we have God’s chosen people of Israel, a smaller country with fewer people, and Assyria, the dominate, world power of the day. And can anyone guess what one of the greatest cities of Assyria was at that time? Nineveh. In fact, a few years after Jonah’s life, Nineveh actually became the capital of Assyria.

God’s word came to Jonah and called him to “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness had come up before me?” God wanted him to go to this city. But, Jonah knew who they were and what they had done to not only other nations, but to his as well. He knew what they were capable of.

It would almost be the same as God calling you to travel to Afghanistan and enter a city that is run by a massive group of terrorists, and preach that God is against them because of their wickedness. If we are honest with ourselves, we could think a few things that we would want to do other than that, or we would completely question the legitimacy of that calling upon our lives.

Jonah didn’t question the validity of the call. He knows this is what God is calling him to do, but he definitely didn’t value God’s call. How do we know? Because in verse 3 we find that he runs away from it.

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

We know from 2 Kings 14, that Jonah was from Gath Hepher, which is right here, northeast of Joppa. And God called him to go to Nineveh, about 500 miles from his hometown. But instead of going there, he goes to Joppa and gets on a boat headed to Tarshish

Tarshish was over 2000 miles away from Israel to what is known to us as Spain. It was basically as far west as the trading route of that day would take you. Jonah was so sure about God’s calling upon him, that he decided it would be better to run 2000 miles to get away from his calling, rather than obey it.

I’ve entitled the message today, “The Fugitive.” A fugitive is someone who has escaped from somewhere, someone, or something, and runs away to avoid their pursuer. And, today I want us to focus on the character of God’s calling and the lessons that we can learn when we run from him. The first truth is this, When God Calls

1. His Word is Greater Than Our Wants

Let’s pretend for a moment that this life is like a football game. We are the players, and God is the coach calling the plays. If you know anything about football, you know that when a play is called, each player has a specific role within the play.

The running back runs this way, the receiver runs a route that way. The offensive lineman blocks this person and pushes the defender in that direction. The goal is for individuals to work collectively as a team and move the ball forward to score a touchdown and ultimately have the most points when time expires.

With this scenario in mind, it becomes critical that we understands the character, strategy, and tendencies of the coach. If we don’t know that he supports us, wants to get the best out of us, and desires for us to succeed, then we likely won’t care for him, or understand why he calls certain plays.

If the we, the players, are careless to know our role within the play, then there will be chaos on the field with everyone running in the wrong direction. So, for us and the team to succeed, we have to value the play enough to effectively will run it in the way the coach desires.

So I want you to think about this, “How much do you value God’s word?” Enough to listen to it? Enough to follow it? Or have you heard God's call, but want something completely different? Have you ever been so sure of something God’s call, that you’ve run from it? It’s one thing be confused and not really know if God’s calling you. But what about being so sure, and running anyway.

You know that you’re not supposed to be in this relationship with this girlfriend or boyfriend. You know from Scripture that their actions, or the direction their life is headed, is not honoring to God. But, you’re in love and can’t bring yourself to tell them because it would just be too painful, and you don’t know if anyone else would love you. So, you run.

You know that God would rather you work at your marriage, than give up. But, communication is just not happening right now. You fight all the time, and your just tired. And there is somebody else that you just met that treats me a whole lot better. So, you run.

You’re put in a compromising situation, where you must make a choice to either lie to cover up a mistake, or be honest and own up to it. But, If you did that you might get fired, and then what about your family and this career that you’ve worked hard to achieve. So, you run.

You’ve been coming here for a few weeks. A friend has been telling about Jesus or living differently because of what Christ has done in their life. You feel convicted because you haven’t decided to follow Jesus and you know that you haven’t allowed him access in your life.

But, what would friends and family think if you did? You don’t want to give up some of the things that you’re involved in right now. So, you run.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter how justified we feel when we run. It doesn’t matter what or who else we are listening to when we run. Let’s be honest, if sin wasn’t pleasurable, none of us would do it. But, it doesn’t matter what we want. God’s Word is greater still. The prophet Isaiah says this about God’s Word:

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

So, do your wants and desires reflect God’s purposes? How do you resolve it if they do not? 2 Timothy 3:14-16 says,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

When God Calls, we must recognize that his word is greater than our wants and position our lives within his purposes. We must value his word so much, that when he calls us, when he speaks through it, that we follow it. But, we all know that perfection is not possible in following God’s Word. We are constantly drifting off course. We run in the wrong direction. This leads us to lesson #2 about God’s Calling.

2. He Still Works When We Wander

The next set of events in our story gives us more insight. Let’s continue reading from verse 4,

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.

One of the ways that God still works when we wander is to get our attention.

2. He Still Works When We Wander
A. To Get Our Attention

Jonah had fallen asleep on the boat. It is obvious that he was perfectly content with running from God’s call to Ninevah. But, God sent a storm to get his attention. And, the same can be said about our lives. God may send a storm to get our attention when we are wandering, running away from what he has called us to do.

Now, I don’t want you to think that if you have chaos in your life and you are going through terrible circumstances, that it always God. It may be that someone else has done something and caused them. Maybe something natural has happened like a death in the family. Or you just lost your job.

However, if you know that you are running from God, and not following what you believe to be his calling upon your life, then he may be responsible for some chaos in your life to get your attention just as he did with Jonah.

The Bible has a word for this action that God takes, discipline. He disciplines us, and praise be to God that he loves us enough to do that. Hebrews 12:10-11

But God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God may get our attention with a life storm. But he does it because he loves us, wants what is best for us, and desires for us to grow in our maturity and our walk with him. God will also use other people to get our attention as well. Continuing in verse 6

The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

The captain went to him and told him there was a storm. We can know for sure that this captain and the sailors were not Israelites because they didn’t know where he was from. We also know because he told Jonah to pray to his god (with little g).

Being pagan sailors, they most likely believed in many gods (a specific god of the sea, a god of the wind, a god of the land). They were also casting lots and trying to find the answer to their problem with superstition.

But, at this point Jonah seems clueless. He just woke up from his nap. These other men were letting him know that there is a big problem outside.

Isn’t it true that most of time, when we run from God, we are usually the last ones to recognize it. It typically takes some one bringing it to our attention for us to finally realize that we need to make some changes.

God works when we wander by getting our attention, and sometimes he’ll discipline us with a storm of chaotic circumstances, and he’ll use other people to point out that something is wrong.

2. He Still Works When We Wander
A. To Get Our Attention
B. To Give Us Clarity

He gets our attention. He also works when we wander to give us clarity in chaos. Verse 9-12 says,

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

He works to give us clarity. Jonah has already told the sailors that he’s running from his Lord. Oh and by the way, my God is the God over everything. The air, the sea, the rain, the storm, creation, you, me. The sailors were terrified.

You see, the very mention of who God is brings clarity in the chaos. They are no longer calling out to their gods, or throwing cargo over the side, or trying to figure out what to do with the ship to makes things better.

Instead, they know God is responsible, and they are now asking what they need to do with Jonah.

Greg Matte, the Pastor of First Baptist Church, Houston, says that, “Clarity comes when who God is becomes elevated over what we are to do.” -Greg Matte So, when we are in the midst of chaos, the “who” of God always precedes the “what” for us.

Have you been there before, wondering what in the world am I supposed to do right now? I am so confused, and I don’t understand what my next step is supposed to be. This should remind us that before we get too focused on the problem at hand, and worrying about the solutions, that we remember who God is.

God is the provider. He is the comforter. He is compassionate. He is our Father. He is merciful. He is hope, God is love. When we focus on who he is, he brings clarity to the details. Jonah knows now exactly how to answer their question, “What should we do with you?” He has complete clarity.

He knows that God has brought this storm because of his rebellion. And it is clear to him what decision he needs to made to save them. Just throw me over and it will become calm. When God Calls, he works to get our attention and to bring clarity when we wander, but he also works in a way that should amaze us all.

2. He Still Works When We Wander
A. To Get Our Attention
B. To Give Us Clarity
C. To Show Grace to Others

He shows his grace to others when we won’t. Verse 13-14 says, Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”

The men tried their best to row back to land but their strength was no match for God’s. It’s so ironic that these men who did not know God were concerned about Jonah’s life and begged God not to hold them accountable for killing him.

Yet, Jonah, a man who knew God and was one of his children did not care about the lives of the people of Nineveh where God called him to go. Here is the humbling news for us today. God can and does still work to show his grace to others we don’t care. Verse 15-16.

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

God showed his compassion to the sailors by calming the storm, and he made believers out of these guys. They worshipped him by offering sacrifices and made covenants with him.

When we get discouraged because of our own mistakes, let us remember that God wants to use us, but regardless he will still accomplish his purpose. We can either get stuck in our guilt and self-pity, and remain on the sidelines, or experience the blessings that come by responding to God’s call.

God is still at work by showing his grace to others, by giving us clarity, and getting our attention. Thank God that when he calls, he will still work in our lives when we wander. That leads us to our last verse. Verse 17 says,

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Many people try dismiss this part of the story as fiction. But, I believe it reminds us again that God’s power accompanies his calling. If you believe that God is the creator of the world and everything in it. Then, surely this is not a stretch to believe that God can command one of his creations to swallow a man drifting in the sea.

If you believe that God created man, and made his lungs to breath air, then surely he is powerful enough to sustain a man inside of a fish for three days and three nights. And if you still have trouble, then listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:40

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Even Jesus shared it. But regardless, a fish is not the point the story. The lesson that we learn from this is much greater than what we believe about the fish. The last lesson is this:

3. We Cannot Run Beyond His Reach

His power was on display for Jonah and the sailors on the boat. And now Jonah finds himself alone in the waters of the mediterranean sea with his boat drifting out of sight. The men on the boat are now fearing the Lord and finding relief in his grace. But, Jonah’s thoughts were now focused on his imminent death.

I don’t know if he was struggling to tread water, or if he had begun to sink down under water. But I imagine, that at the point when all hope was gone from his mind, God used this giant fish to grab him. To capture him.

As we close today, the Bible teaches that we are all fugitives of God’s calling. We all run in some way or another from what we know to be true. We allow our wants to take priority over God’s Word. As the old hymn says, we are “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.

But, we don’t catch him by surprise. To flee from God is to attempt something impossible since he is everywhere. We cannot hide under a rock too heavy for God to lift.

Maybe you have been running from God’s call of salvation. You have been on a boat heading the wrong way; away from God, and toward destruction.

The sailors on the boat were not believers in God, and unexpectedly, they encountered him on their voyage. And there, on the open seas, they became recipients of God’s grace, and found salvation when they turned to him. In John 14:6,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is calling out to those of you who are off course. You are headed the wrong way. He says, I am the way. And today he is calling you to jump out of that boat and into his grace. He will be there to embrace you when you take that step in the opposite direction. Remember, you can not outrun his reach.

There are others who are already children of God who believe in Christ. But like Jonah, you have allowed your wants to become priority over God’s word and his calling. Praise God he still works when we wander. Maybe today he has gotten your attention and made things very clear for you. Whatever reason you have for running, God’s word is speaking loudly to his fugitives today, to surrender to his call.

If you would please stand. Some of our pastors will be here in the front if you have a decision to pray about. You can pray where you are. Maybe the decision is made already, and your response needs to be what do when you leave here.

But, The band is going lead us in a song called “I Am.” It’s a song that affirms what we have heard today. It says, “There’s no space that his love can’t reach. There’s no place that we can’t find peace. There’s to amazing grace. I am holding onto you Lord, In the middle of storm, I am holding on to him who is holds onto me. Let’s pray.