What Do They Think?

A Sermon on Jonah 1:1-5, by Nate Wilson

Would you turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Jonah? I'm studying this book because it's part of my assignments for my studies here, but as I've studied through the first chapter of Jonah, God has been using it to convict me in the area of my relationship with the world. I haven't come to the point where I feel like I've arrived at a good level of obedience in this area, so I'm not coming to you with an attitude of condemnation. I am coming to you as a fellow struggler, hoping that we can all grow as a result of thinking through this particular issue.

The Bible mentions Jonah in the Book of Second Kings as someone who was involved in his own community of Israel--he anointed King Jehu, and he also prophecied the coming of the Golden age of Israel under King Jereboam II. If Jonah lived today we'd say he was a good Christian who was involved in the church.

But Jonah had a problem with his attitude toward the world around him. He regarded everyone who was not a Jew to not really be worth his time. Today, he'd be a lot like myself, I grew up in a Christian community and I don't really care to rub shoulders with the world. I'm aware that it's out there, and I'm aware that God loves the world--just as Jonah was, but I don't really ever step out of my comfort zone to try to bring the world outside into a confrontation with my God. I'd rather keep to myself and just do my job and not be bothered by anybody, thank you very much.

Have you ever wondered What the SAILORS thought of Jonah?" Let's read chapter 1:

Read from NASV Bible Jonah 1:1-9 "The word of the Lord came to Jonah...I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land."

The sailors first encounter Jonah as he is embarking on their ship. The word for "sailors" in the Hebrew text here is a derivative of the word for "salt." These were "salty-dogs" who hauled freight long-distance across the Mediterranean Ocean. This was Eighth century B.C.; Bronze was no longer the cool thing to make tools with--Iron was all the rage. Tarshish was a mining town on the Cost of Spain, so these salty dogs may have been hauling Iron ingots all over the Mediterranean coast. The sailors were probably from Phoenicia and had docked at the only decent port in Israel--Joppa.

Then this guy Jonah comes up to them, looking for passage. They can tell from his features and dress that he's Semitic. He's also paying a good deal of money for passage to Tarshish--in fact, Jewish commentators say that he bought the whole boat! He was in a hurry to leave and didn't care to wait for other customers to come and load their goods on. That wasn't very considerate, but hey, he had the money... Jonah was obviously leaving his people behind. He didn't want to talk about his people or about his religion--he just wanted to keep to himself and let the sailors do the sailing while he went down into the hull and took a nap.

So what did the sailors think of Jonah? A mysterious gentleman who keeps to himself. Not particularly mean, but not particularly considerate, either. Doesn't talk much; doesn't show any interest in the sailors or their work.

Let's stop here for a minute and ask ourselves a question: How does this compare to the way the world sees you and me? What do non-christians think of us? Would they give us about the same assessment that the sailors gave Jonah?

What bothers me is that when I look at my life, I think that the world probably doesn't see me much differently from the way the sailors saw Jonah. People can probably see that I like children, with my pro-life bumper-sticker on my van and my train of kids following me, and they might guess that we homeschool or maybe even that we're Christians, but when I'm shopping downtown, I'm just another customer--I take my place in line and I pay my money--I'm not particularly mean, but I'm not particularly considerate either. I keep to myself--I'm not really interested in talking about my church or my faith. I just want to let the workers do their job and get on to the next thing. I'm not particularly concerned about the state of their soul.

Jonah's indifference to the sailors wasn't his first manifestation of apathy. The whole reason he was going to Tarshish was because he didn't care about the Assyrians either! What had God commanded Jonah to do? (Field Answer: Preach to Nineveh). If Jonah had cared about the people in Nineveh, the capitol city of Assyria, he would have obeyed God and called on them, but he wanted nothing of the sort! He was heading as far in the opposite direction that he could go--Nineveh was EAST; Tarshish was WEST.

Now, Jonah had a good reason, oh yes! Nineveh was an ENEMY! Their army had overrun Israel 45 years ago, probably killed some of his Dad's friends, and Jonah had been paying taxes to them all his life! He wasn't just apathetic toward Nineveh, he was downright antagonistic, for he says in Chapter 4, verse 2 that he knew that if he preached in Nineveh, the Assyrians would repent and God would show them His grace. Jonah knew that God intended to save Nineveh and he didn't WANT them to be saved.

I sure hope that I'm not as bad as Jonah, but IS there anybody that I donít want to be saved? Is there ANYBODY that I hate enough that if God were to tell me to witness to them, I'd refuse? You know, I wouldn't put it past myself. And that bothers me--it should bother all of us!

Well, thank God that He doesn't write us off! Thank GOD that He takes the time to work with us! There's Jonah, asleep in the bottom of the boat, hoping to be written off, hoping that God won't mess with him anymore. But God whips up a storm and hurls it at the ocean. This storm is going to bring Jonah around to where he shows some concern for those sailors. This storm is going to force him to witness to those sailors. And this storm is going to redirect him to Nineveh!

But what were the sailors thinking now? I'll tell you what they were thinking. The famous epic poem, The Odyssey, was written right about the time of Jonah, about a man named Odysseus, who sailed across the Mediterranean Sea on his way back home from the Trojan War. I think we can take it to describe pretty accurately what those sailors were thinking when the storm arose.

Read from MYTHOLOGY book, p. 208-209: "The fifth morning after Hermes' visit found Odysseus putting out to sea... Odysseus had to swim for two days and nights before he reached land and cold find a safe landing-place."

Now, can you tell me what the sailors were thinking? (Field Answer: The gods were upset.) These pagan sailors worshipped lots of different gods, and their life was oriented around keeping these capricious, unpredictable gods happy so they could sail on calm seas and make their living. They automatically assumed that some god had whipped this storm up and they were trying to figure out what to do. First they threw the cargo overboard (which meant no paycheck when they got home!), then they resorted to rolling dice to try to figure out what was going on. In their minds, the gods were unpredictable, and there was no way to figure out what had gotten under their skin until you had gotten some kind of word from them. They'd make long journeys to go to the temple of a god to hear their oracles from a priest or priestess at the temple so they could know what to do. But here, Jonah knows well enough what's going on, yet he's asleep at the bottom of the boat, oblivious to the men around him who are desperately looking for an answer!

Is that how we treat the world ourselves? Do we sit back in the Christian Cloister of Horn Creek and Sangre de Cristo Seminary, too much concerned about our Christian activity to care about the world around us which is desperate to find the answers to life? When was the last time you shared your faith? When was the last time you thought about the two hundred million Muslims in North India who never will have a chance to even hear about Jesus before they die and go to hell? Remember now, I'm preaching to myself here just as much as to you, because I see this very problem in myself. It's been three years since I last shared my faith with a non-Christian--and that's because I was in the middle of an evangelism course! I don't think I care enough about the world around me! I'm afraid we are more like Jonah than we want to think. In too many ways, we are asleep while the world around us goes to hell.

BUT GOD WILL WORK WITH US. He WANTS to use us to declare His glory to the world, and if He figured out a way to get Jonah--unwilling as he was--to talk to those sailors, how much more will He figure out a way to help us if we are WANTING to grow in this area!

Let's take the next few minutes to ask God to help us wake up from our apathy and to help us declare His glory to the world around us! Feel free to lift up the concerns you have for relatives and friends, but ask God to use the difficulties they are going through to bring them to Himself and advance His glory in the world around them.


What do we say?

A sermon on Jonah 1:9, by Nate Wilson

Last week, as we looked at the first chapter of Jonah, the picture didn't look so good. Jonah was asleep in the bottom of the boat, oblivious to the desperation of the sailors who were about to be overwhelmed by the storm. We asked ourselves the question, "are we just as apathetic toward the world around us as Jonah was?" But we took encouragement from the hope that if God could use Jonah--unwilling as he was, how much more might God use us to declare His gory to the world if we are seeking to serve Him.

I'd like to move on in chapter one to verses 7-16. In these verses we see how God used Jonah to make a real impact on the sailors in the boat. I'd like to examine how Jonah goes about "witnessing" to them and draw some lessons from this on how we can be a witness in the world.

Read passage (Jonah 1:7-16)

In verse 7, the superstitious soldiers are casting lots to see if they can figure out what the gods are up to. They had a handful of stones, and they tossed them onto the deck, somehow determining the outcome by the way the stones fell on the deck. Prov. 16:33 says, "The lot is cast into the lap, but the outcome is the LORD's," and sure enough, God causes this action to needle Jonah. The sailors then start asking all sorts of questions of this stranger--who until now had kept himself so aloof.

Jonah is now faced with a decision. Will he confess his sin to these detestable pagans and try to save them, or will he remain aloof, save his pride, and give a noncommittal answer?

I ran into a funny situation at a guitar shop in Southside Birmingham several years ago where I overheard a guy trying to witness, and the poor guy wasn't doing so well. I was waiting at the counter while my guitar was being worked on, listening to a fellow in the display room playing one of the guitars. In walked this guy and sat down next to the guitar player. After a while, he looked earnestly into the guitar player's face and asked, "Are you washed in the blood?" The guitar player didn't respond, he just kept playing, so the guy said, "I mean have you been justified and sanctified?" This didn't appear to clear the matter up for the guitar player. I didn't hear the end of that conversation because the shop owner came back with my guitar, but I somehow doubt that the guitar player got saved that day!

What Jonah said to the sailors, however made a big impact on them. Jonah said: I am a Hebrew, and I fear Jehovah, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land. And Jonah went on to confess that he was trying to flee from the presence of this God. Even when he had been caught in sin--by a bunch of pagans, no less!--Jonah did the right thing, and that was to tell the truth about God and confess his sin.

Let me stop right here and say, if you have friendships with non-Christians and haven't told them yet that you are a Christian, and you haven't yet told them about our God, it is not too late to confess your sin of apathy to them and witness to them. Jonah starts by identifying his people--today that would be analogous to saying "I am a Christian"--and then he introduces His God.

The word Jonah uses here for God is actually the proper name for God in the Old Testament. You'll notice in your pew Bible that the word is in all cap's "LORD." If you were to look in the Hebrew text, you'd see the word which is transliterated "Yahweh" or "Jehovah." This is not a generic name for a divine being, such as the word "El" or "God," and it is not the appellation for a sovereign, such as the word "Adonai" or "Lord." This was the specific, proper name of the God of the Hebrews--"Jehovah." It stems from the Hebrew verb "to be." Somewhere during the time between when the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Jews decided to stop pronouncing this proper name for God and substitute the word "Adonai" or "Lord" so as to avoid the possibility of taking God's name in vain, and that is why we have the word "LORD" in most of our English Bibles instead of "Yahweh" or "Jehovah."

Today, I think the closest thing we have to a proper name for our God is the name "Jesus." We should use the name of Jesus to distinguish our God from all the others in the world, just as Jonah used the name "Jehovah" to distinguish his God from the gods of all the sailors.

Jonah describes God in a way that dumbfounds the sailors: the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land. You see, in no other religion except for Judeo-Christianity is there only one God to be worshipped, who is totally sovereign over the heavens, the sea, and the dry land. This was a totally new concept to the sailors. They assumed that there was one god over the heavens--perhaps Zeus, and another god over the sea--such as Poseidon, another god over the land--perhaps Apollo, and yet another God of the underworld--Hades. Not one god over ALL. In the Book of I Kings, chapter 20, we have a similar situation, where the Syrians attack the Israelites in the hill country of Israel and lose. The Syrians assume that the God of Israel protected the Israelites in their hill country, but the Syrians cannot conceive of a God who is sovereign both over the hill country and over the plains, so they regroup and attack the Israelites in the plains, assuming that God would be powerless to protect them there... The Syrians learned a lesson that day about God's sovereignty as the Israelites whupped up on them in the plains, too! Today we face a similar situation where people believe that all religious views are valid--Muhammed is good for Muslims, Krishna is good for Hindus, crystals are good for New-Agers, and Jesus is good for Christians. Modern man is not reconciled to the fact that there is only one true God for all mankind. This is the revelation Jonah brings to the sailors--this deity that the Hebrews worship in Israel is also sovereign over the sea that the Phoenician sailors trade upon. This was a God to be reckoned with!

The fact that God is sovereign over heaven, sea, and dry land is implied by Jonah's statement that God MADE the sea and the dry land. Creation is a Biblical starting point for evangelism. Not only does Jonah start with creation, it is a pattern throughout the Bible. In every instance in the book of Acts where it is recorded what the apostles said when they witnessed to non-Jews, they start with creation:

When Paul and Barnabus entered the city of Lystra, and were mistaken as Jupiter and Mercury, Acts chapter 14 says that they, "cried out, saying... ye should turn from these vain things unto a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is." Three chapters later, Paul is in Athens, standing before the philosophers, and he starts off the same way, speaking of "The God that made the world and all things therein, being Lord of heaven and earth." Paul saw the importance of clearly establishing God's supremacy through creation as the foundation for witnessing to Pagans. Only AFTER this fundamental groundwork of creation is laid, did he proceed to the work of Christ. When the apostles witnessed to Jews, they could move right on into preaching about Jesus, because the Jews already had a clear understanding of God's creation and sovereignty.

When we talk to our non-Christian friends about God, this principle of God as Creator and Sovereign over the world is where we should start, too. If we don't start with creation and establish the supremacy of our God over all others, our friends will simply add Jesus to their list of gods rather than worshipping Him as the only true God.

It is also important to establish the supremacy of God from creation because when a person becomes a Christian, they have to face a lot of scary circumstances, and having the assurance of a totally sovereign God is the greatest reassurance! I've seen this to be true in my research on foreign mission work, where conversion to Christianity can mean alienation from family, loss of income, or even the death sentence from religious authorities. A new convert must be absolutely convinced that this new God he is following is in control of the entire world!

I'll never forget one movie called "EE-TAOW." It chronicles the labors of missionaries among the Muku tribe in Papua New Guinea. For years they had taught about Jesus, and gotten no response. Finally, the missionaries decided to start from the beginning of the Bible and tell the whole story in one long seminar, beginning at creation. The whole tribe came out to hear and were riveted. By the end of the seminar, they were begging to become Christians! Maybe there is a good reason why the Bible starts with Genesis!

Jonah's assertion that his God is "the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land." certainly impressed the sailors on the boat. They trembled with fear at the prospect of an almighty God who was messing with them! Then, when they threw Jonah overboard and saw the sea suddenly become placid again, they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that what Jonah had said about this God was true and they began worshipping the true and living God.

Do you think that Jonah's brief witness to those sailors made an impact on the world? You better believe it did, and there's even some evidence that the sailors told others about what happened, because there is a story in Greek mythology about a poet named Arion which is very similar to the story of Jonah, and dates to Jonah's time! ("Arion" could mean about the same thing in Greek as "Jonah" does in Hebrew, too.)

Who knows what kind of impact we can have by declaring the glory of God to people around us? Let us take every opportunity to tell people about our God, Jesus, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land!

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