Calls Back, Again
oday we hear again the familiar story that Jesus himself retold in one of his sermons. He related the three days that Jonah spent in "...the whale's belly..." to the same three days that he would soon spend "in the heart of the earth." (Matt. 12:39-41). Indeed, the truth that Jesus was emphasizing is the same message from the story of Jonah that we focus on this Sunday, "...out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice." (Jonah 2:2, KJV)
God calls to us, and sometimes He has to call back if He does not hear from us. God monitors our cries from the belly of the whale, or from some tormented hell, or even in a jail cell. He never quits, He's always listening, and calling back. One fellow said that he keeps his cell phone on during church because, "God might call."
God called Jonah to go to the major metropolitan city of Nineveh (today's Iraq) and Jonah exercised his freedom to shake his fist in the face of God and cry NO! In fact, Jonah was so opposed to preaching in that wild and crazy city that he decided to run and hide from God's call by escaping by ship to the far end of the Mediterranean Sea (Spain). You know the story from VBS: There arose such a violent storm at sea, that the sailors blamed on Jonah, that they threw him overboard. Actually, he encouraged them to throw him overboard because he felt guilty and to blame for what appeared to be an immanent death for everyone on board that ship.
The part of the story that gets the usual focus in sermons is that God created a big fish to swallowed Jonah, who was drowning anyway, and then spit him back upon his home shoreline. Folks seem to have a problem with whether Jonah could survive in a whale's belly for that long; however, there are many unusual things that happen still today that are sometimes hard to swallow. "Ripley's Believe it or Not," can not top this story. I like the response of the child who was asked his opinion about what the whale story teaches and he simply said, "It proves that people make fish sick."
Of course there is far more to this story than what appears upon first reading. This incident teaches that God does not give up easily whenever He is rebuffed. He calls back, again. Just as God came to Jonah, and then came back and recalled him; so He continues to pursue us. God is like the persistent suitor who keeps on seeking a response from us and will never give up. He will never quit calling out to us, aboard a ship sailing to a place out of His range; for indeed, nothing is out of His range. Jonah learned that God is omnipresent and inescapable. Of course, we all know folks who have continued to run from Him
My parents had a dear friend who had been called to preach as a teenager. He was just the type of candidate that you would go after, if you were God. I knew him when he was in his forties and he was still good looking and personable. He was a sharp dresser and had a way with words and with people. Yet, there was an obvious sadness about him whenever I saw him with my parents, because they knew that he had missed his calling. Although he had made well in the used car business there was a despondency about him that reflected his inward heartache. However, he did teach me the lifelong lesson that a person may run but can never hide from God's call. Jonah learned that lesson the hard was as he lay on a sandy beach all sticky, blenched and cowered. He became a preacher, if reluctantly. He did finally proclaim God's message to the sinful city of Nineveh and was amazed that they repented, in mass. Jonah was probably the only person that could have delivered that message so effectively
I also learned from my experiences around preachers and visiting evangelists in the parsonage that it is God's plan for the redemption of the world to accomplish His task through preachers. They were sometimes a motley crew: some handsome and some bent, some self assured and others bent. Some with natural gifts of oration and others somewhat halting. But the common denominator was that they had all been called by God to preach; and preach with power they did. I came up with a great respect for the preacher and it wrought my salvation. Yet, there are some folks, to use an idiomatic southern expression, "Who ain't got no respect for a preacher." And the sad part about that is that it seems to gives them a way to shut out the gospel. Parents who train their children to not respect the preacher are essentially cutting them off from the means of salvation. I say that not in defense of myself as a preacher, but because this is the means of grace.
Preaching was an effective means of crying out to the sacred souls at Nineveh. Preaching has been the instrument behind every great Revival throughout Christian history. John Wesley, John Calvin and John Knox were all faithful preachers of the gospel and were all persecuted for it. One of the practical skills of the early Methodist Circuit Riders was the art of "standing down the mob."
Jonah brought his persecution upon himself by his resentful attitude toward the repentant Ninevites. Their positive response to God's call stands in contrast to the stubbornness of the people of Israel. But Jonah sat down and pouted. But God showed mercy to the Ninevites
And that is the end of the story. We are not told if Jonah lived a long and happy life, but we suspect that he died a dejected and grumpy old man. Mad at the world, angry at God, because he forgave Israel's hated enemies and used Jonah as His means of extending forgiveness. God had used him for a great purpose but Jonah refused God's last call. We might say that Jonah hung up on God.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor