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Jan 20, 2019

On The Run

Passage: Jonah 3

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: Refresh

Category: Refresh


Have you ever run away from home?  What was the reason and how far did you get?  Earlier this week I posted something about how I ran away once when I was a child.  I didn’t want to practice the piano so I ran away, getting as far away as the grove of trees behind the swimming pool around the corner from my house.  And I’m sure I probably came home about 20 minutes or so later, because when you’re 6 or 7 where do you really go?  Of course that’s a very “literal” kind of running away but there are lots of other ways we can try to “run” or “hide” from our responsibilities.  That’s what we see in the story of Jonah – the subject of our message today. 

The time was about 750 years before the of Jesus and the people of God lived in a land called Israel.  This small land bordered the much larger kingdom of Assyria.  The capital city of Assyria was Nineveh (which is the city of Mosul in Iraq today).  Nineveh was the largest city in the middle east at the time had over 120,000 inhabitants.  According to scripture, the city was founded by a man named Nimrod, who was the great-grandson of Noah.  He helped build the Tower of Babel meaning that the city of Nineveh had long history of rebelling against God.  The culture of the city was that there was not time for faith because people trusted in their own abilities and their own power to get things done.  By the time of our story, there was real tension between the two peoples, and the Israelites – God’s people – certainly didn’t like or respect the Assyrians.

But it was at this time that God came to Jonah, who was an Israelite (one of God’s people).  God wanted him to deliver a message God had for the people of Nineveh.  There were not a lot of details given about what the message was, just the command from God to go and do this.  But Jonah had no interest in going to the rival city – for any reason.  So he ran away in the exact opposite direction from Nineveh.  He ran and ran until he ran out of land, and then he jumped in a boat and sailed as far away from Nineveh as he could.


At sea, a terrible storm arose and all the sailors on the ship prayed to their gods.  Storms were seen as punishment from the gods so they all believed that someone did something to cause a god to be angry.  All this time, Jonah was below the deck asleep; as though hoping it was all a dream and wanting to close his eyes and make it all go away.  But the prayers and sleeping didn’t work.  The storm got worse and so the sailors woke Jonah up and everyone drew straws.  They figured whoever drew the short straw was the one responsible for the storm and alas, the short straw fell to Jonah.  He ended up confessing to the others that he was running away and he convinced them to throw him overboard.  He was the one God wanted, he told them, and if they did this the storm would stop.  They reluctantly agreed to do that and the storm did pass.  (Note: just how badly Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, that would rather drown than go there). 

Of course he didn’t die.  He was actually swallowed by a big fish that God had provided to save him.  For 3 days he was in the belly of the fish and that number 3 is symbolic of transformation and change.  We remember that when Paul converted to Christianity, he was made blind for 3 days first.  And of course before Jesus was transformed from death to life he was in the tomb for 3 days.  Sure enough, after 3 days the fish coughed Jonah up on dry land and here is what happened next… Jonah 3:1-10

Notice that God gave Jonah that same message again.  Go to Nineveh.  And this time Jonah goes.  Because getting caught in a life-threatening storm and being swallowed by a fish has a way of changing a man.  But there’s a lesson at work here.  What we learn from Jonah is that we can’t outrun God!  There is no place to which we could ever run, no place we could ever hide, where God doesn’t know where we are.  As PS 139 says, it is impossible for us to “flee from God’s presence.”  And even while we’re running away, God still provides from us.  Even when we may be trying to give up on God, God doesn’t give up on us.  And we can also note that when God came to Jonah a second time, giving him a second chance to fulfill the mission, God didn’t berate Jonah; or make him feel guilty for running away; or hold his past mistake against him.  God simply said, “Are you ready now?  Because I’m still ready to use you.” 

And Jonah was ready, though the message Jonah was to give the people of Nineveh was a hard one – “In 40 days everyone on this city will be die!!!”  But it worked!  Jonah was prepared to preach this message for 3 days, but it only took 1 for the people to change.  The people heard the message.  They repented.  They acknowledged their selfish ways and they turned to God.  More than this, they showed their remorse by fasting and putting on simple clothing – which were things you did when you want to show sorrow and regret.  The king even ordered that the animals fast!  That’s how seriously they wanted to show their trust in God’s Word. 

One of the most interesting parts of the story is that Jonah didn’t even need to tell the people of Nineveh why they were going to be destroyed in 40 days.  It’s as if they already knew and didn’t need to be told; as though they were hoping to avoid it or confront it.  Like Jonah when he tried to sleep on the ship in the middle of the storm, they’d been trying to hide from this part of themselves.  But they realized that didn’t work.  When they acknowledged this, they discovered that God changed his mind and gave the people a second chance.  God proved to be a God of forgiveness for both Jonah and the people of Nineveh.  God is God of forgiveness and restoration for us, regardless of which side of the fence or border we call home. 

Today is week 2 of our sermon series called “Refresh: New Beginnings” and it’s all about second chances.  Over these six weeks, we are looking at different people in scripture who were given a second chance by God.  For each of them there was a change in the way the way they thought about God.  And that led to a change in the way they lived for God.  As we begin 2019, we hope that these stories can inspire us to faithful changes in the lives we lead.

The story of Jonah invites us to think about specific ways we can change in 2019.  And so we invite you to reflect on these questions as we go into this coming week:

Is there something in your life you’ve been trying to hide from?  Something you’ve tried to avoid doing or confronting?  But deep down you know it’s something you should address?

Are you holding on to some hostility toward someone?  Someone God has already forgiven and is asking you to consider letting go of that hostility?

Do you tend to hold the past mistakes of others against them?  Are you quick to remember their past failures?  God remembered Jonah’s running away, but didn’t hold it against him going forward.  Is there a way for you to do the same?

Like the people of Nineveh, is there something you could do to show remorse to make a situation in your life right again?  They didn’t just say they were sorry to God, they showed their sorrow by fasting and putting on sackcloth?  Is there something you can do to show someone that you want to improve your relationship with them?