In Judaism the book of Jonah is read every year on Yom Kippur - the day of atonement. Jonah or Yunus, is also a prophet of Islam and the name of one of the chapters of the Quran and Jonah's story is recounted in eight verses of the 10th chapter of the Quran.
There are typically three common approaches used when dealing with the book of Jonah.
1. Ignore it - this group consists of the non-religious, atheists, other religious groups apart from Christianity, and perhaps some extreme fundamentalist Christians who focus primarily on the New Testament and disregard the Old Testament.
2. View/teach it as an analogy, myth, fairytale - this group includes liberal theologians, liberal pastors, and liberal professors who argue that the story of a whale swallowing a man is not to be translated literally but is given to us by God as an illustration, as an analogy of His love and forgiveness toward man. Liberal Christians may also hold this view in an effort to "normalize" their faith. Secular literary professors teach the book of Jonah from an anthropological point of view often grouping the book of Jonah together with Indian folklore, Greek Mythology, and various other story traditions.
Thomas Paine quotes (English born American Writer and political pamphleteer, whose 'Common Sense' and 'Crisis' papers were important influences on the American Revolution was quoted as saying:
“The story of the whale swallowing Jonah, though a whale is large enough to do it, borders greatly on the marvelous; but it would have approached nearer to the idea of a miracle if Jonah had swallowed the whale.”
W.C. Fields, actor and comedian once said, "To me, these biblical stories are just so many fish stories, and I'm not specifically referring to Jonah and the whale. I need indisputable proof of anything I'm asked to believe."
And an anonymous source is quoted as saying, "“It required effort once for the whale to swallow Jonah, and now it requires effort to swallow the story.”
3. View/teach it as fact - this group includes Christians around the world and throughout history who hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, who see the Bible, Old and New Testament as God's story as History/His-story, as God revealing Himself to man, as one long story with Jesus being the hero of this story where all scripture points to Jesus. This group not only includes many professors, theologians, pastors, and lay people, but also includes Jesus.
In Luke 24:27 and Luke 24:44-45 Jesus appears to His disciples and gave them the greatest Bible lessons of all time.
"44He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." 45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures."
Jesus is saying that everything that is written in scripture from Genesis to Malachi, all the books of Moses, all the prophets, all the Psalms point to Him and in Matthew 12-38-41 Jesus specifically refers to Jonah.
Matthew 12:38-41 "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For 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. 41The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here."
Jesus walked them through the Bible and showed them how everything points to him.
You think Abraham was righteous? I alone am righteous.
You think Moses was a great man of God? I am God.
You think David was a great king? I am the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
You think Solomon was wise? Man's wisdom is foolishness next to mine.
You think Jonah was a great prophet? I am a greater prophet than Jonah.
And in Matthew 12:38-41 Jesus is saying, "You guys remember Nineveh? How wicked they were, how they cheated on God? How adulterous they were and how God sent His prophet Jonah to them to preach repentance? Remember how the they saw Jonah come from the whale, they saw what great lengths God went to bring them to repentance and forgiveness and they repented? You guys are wicked and adulterous just like Nineveh was! You want a sign? You cant' handle the sign! I will give you a sign. I will be crucified and buried for three days and on the third day I will rise from the dead conquering hell, sin, and death forever. You think Jonah was a great prophet? I am the greatest prophet ever!"
Jesus referred to the book of Jonah and to the events of the prophet Jonah as historical and as actually happening so our approach will be to teach the book as a historical, factual event.
Do you mean to tell me that you actually believe a big fish swallowed a man and that he lived for three days inside the fish, was spit out, went to a city and began preaching?
Quite simply...yes. Psalm 115:3 says, "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases." Jesus said in Matthew 28:18 "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." This means that Jesus can walk on water, can create the world in 6 days, can heal the sick, make the lame walk, make the blind see, raise the dead and yes, keep Jonah alive for three days inside the belly of a great fish.
So who is Jonah?
2 Kings 14:25 says that Jonah was God's servant, son of Amittai and that he came from Gath Hepher, which is in the vicinity of Nazareth. Jonah, through his prophecy, encouraged King Jerobam II to expanded Israel and under his reign Israel was marked with a great time of prosperity, expansion, and eventually moral decline.
Jonah means dove, to be weak/gentle and most scholars believe that he was a contemporary of Amos and Hosea and is quite possibly the oldest of all the prophets. Jonah was a missionary to the "heathen" Ninevites, as one commentator put it and was a type of the "Son of Man" as his ministry ultimately points to Jesus' ministry. Jonah was intensely patriotic which may explain his reluctance to preach to the Ninevites whom he knew would eventually be used by God to punish Israel.
We could approach the book of Jonah from several different angles. We could focus on Jonah, his attitude, his response to God's calling, his reluctance to obey, his running from God, and his ultimate return. We could focus on the wickedness of the Ninevites, their idolatry, and their eventual repentance and turning to God and during this study we will look at these in great detail but instead we want to take this short time we have together to focus on God and see how He reveals Himself through the text, see how glorious His character is, how magnificent His plans are, and how great His love is.
So that's our introduction. Let's look at Jonah 1:1-2 this morning.
Jonah 1:1-2 "1The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."
God calls to His man, the prophet, the preacher, Jonah and gives him the command to go to Nineveh and preach against it because it was wicked.
Nineveh first appears in Genesis 10:11 where we are told that it was built by Nimrod, the first great king on the earth. Nineveh was:
"A great city" as described by God in Jonah 1:1
The ancient capital of Assyria
Extensive City - three days journey - Jonah 3:3
City of commerce and great trade
Populous - at least 120,000 people
The prophet Nahum describes Nineveh as:
full of lies, robbery, and idolaters
Full of witchcraft
Called the "blood city"
Question #1 - Why did God call Jonah to preach against Nineveh instead of just destroying such a wicked, adulterous, idol worshiping group of people?
Point #1 - God loves people
1 Timothy 1:1-6 "1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all,"
Scripture urges us to pray for everyone, for all people, of all walks of life, friends, family, co-workers, political leaders, rulers, even enemies. These prayers are the prayers that are pleasing to God and that He desires that all people be saved and come to know the truth. The truth being that Jesus is God, that He lived a perfect, sinless life, that He died in our place for our sins, that He was buried, that three days later Jesus rose from the dead conquering sin, hell, and death and that everyone who calls on Jesus to save them will be saved, their sins will be forgiven, and they will have a home in heaven.
1 John 4:9-10 "9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
God is love (1 John 4:16), God loves people (John 3:16), and God's love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4), and in His love and desire that all people should be saved God is merciful to those who do not love Him.
Isaiah 55:7 "7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon."
Point #2 - God loves cities. (the following data/information is taken from a sermon by pastor Mark Driscoll on Loving the City)
God loves people and there are a lot of people in cities. Today over half of the world's population live in cities. It has been estimated that by 2030 over 60% of all people will live in major urban centers like Atlanta, New York, and Chicago. Cities are important and strategic in many ways.
Everything flows from the cities to the surrounding suburban and rural areas.
Government is centralized in the city - laws are made in the city.
Education is centralized in the city - major universities and colleges are located in the city.
Art and entertainment come from the city.
Information comes from the city as TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and magazines all are centralized in the city.
Urban areas are important due to the high concentration of people and the strong role played in culture making.
What is Jesus attitude toward cities?
Jesus wept for the city - Luke 19:41-44
Jesus called us the light of the world and a city on a hill - Matthew 5:14
In John 14:2 Jesus tells us He is preparing a place for us...He is working on a city.
And in Revelation chapters 21 and 22 the Bible talks about heaven and the new Jerusalem being a great city, the greatest city of all.
For many today the vision of the city today is that it is vile, crude, godless, filled with sin, and should be avoided at all costs. Instead of running to the city we tend to run from the city which is completely opposite from the majority of Christianity's history.
The apostle Paul spent the majority of his time traveling from city to city preaching the gospel and planting churches. Cities like Galatia, Philippi, Corinth, Thesolonica, and Ephesus..all strategic urban centers from which laws, entertainment, and culture flowed from.
Christians have typically gone to the cities to reach people for Jesus so that more people would be impacted as the city, which is the center for art, law, culture, entertainment, and information would be transformed by the gospel of Jesus.
God could have destroyed Nineveh but instead He called Jonah to go to Nineveh because it was:
The capital of the pagan empire.
Packed with people.
Had great influence over the world at the time.
And because God loves people and desires that all people be saved.
Point #3 - God calls us to go.
Matthew 28-18-20 Jesus, having all authority given to Him, commands each of us to go and make disciples of all nations and it has been ordained by God that the primary means of hearing the gospel come through our words, through the preaching, teaching, and sharing of the gospel.
Romans 10:14 "14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"
God called Jonah to go and preach against the great city of Nineveh in order that they might hear, believe, repent, and be saved and so our call is to go and share with those around us, those who we may not like and who may not like us, share with those who are opposed to God not because of who we are but because of who God is in His great love, mercy, and grace and not for our glory but for the glory of Jesus Christ alone.
God, in His sovereignty has placed us in this church, in this city, in our neighborhoods, in our jobs, specifically either to hear the gospel of Jesus and be saved or to be on mission to those around us who do not yet know Jesus and need to hear so that they too can be saved. Jesus has given every believer the command to go so that those who have not yet heard can be saved.
Will you go?