Jonah 1:5-6

Sermon preached on January 23, 2005 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

During my first year at university my friends and I had a lot of fun with practical jokes. We all lived on the same floor and we played a lot of pranks on each other. One day I decided to get back at some of my friends for some of the things they had done to me. They used to tease me about being Canadian and saying, "Eh" at the end of every sentence. It was nice that the window for our room was right above the entranceway. So one day they were coming back from class and I had my head stuck out the window and they shouting up teasing me. But when they got right under me I had a bucket of water waiting and I poured it right over them. It was great fun. And of course they got back at me good for that. Another time there were these big fish that filled a nearby stream. There were hundreds of them and if my memory is right we caught some with our hands. Someone thought it would be a good idea to put them in a little pool in the hallway to one of the classroom buildings. We thought that would be a nice place for them to swim around. So we caught four or five and put them in the pool. It was great fun.

And then there were the water balloons, the cherry bombs and so on. One day one of my friends got this huge firecracker. It was as big as a stick of dynamite. We had fun with that.

But a few of us were short of money and near the end of my year there one of my partners in fun suggested that we apply to be RA's the next year. They're guys who get a break on their room costs by looking after a floor. Anyway, we didn't think that our misdeeds were well known and for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to apply to be RA's. So the two of us went to the head of the dorm and told him that we would like to apply to be RA's the next year. I'll never forget his reply. He looked at us and said,

"Do you two think that you're qualified to be RA's?"

We asked him what he meant and he then started to list some of our misdeeds. I honestly don't know how he kept a straight face. Anyway, that was the end of that. We never did become RA's. We couldn't say anything to him. Our misdeeds had put us in a hole and we couldn't get out on our own.

Sin has a way of doing that. Look at Jonah here. He has disobeyed God. He's running away from Him. He's a mess. He's no good to anyone. He's depressed and ineffective. Everyone else on the boat is terrified and in great danger. They don't know the true God and Jonah is not about to tell them about him. He's down below deck sleeping. The pagan captain finds him sleeping and rebukes him. What a scene. A pagan seaman rebuking a prophet. But Jonah couldn't answer.

What a horrible situation Jonah was in. Rather than being a blessing to those around him, rather than pointing them to God and showing them His glories, Jonah had to cower below decks. His sin had made him useless and ineffective.

There are many lessons for us here- lessons for us as individuals and for us as a church. These lessons that call us to obedience. One of the main things our passage teaches us is

how scrupulous you ought to be in your obedience to God.

If we're not, we'll become like Jonah, useless and ineffective, no help to anyone. And as Jesus said in Matthew 5:13f,

"You are the salt of the earth.
But if the salt loses its saltiness,
how can it be made salty again?
It is no longer good for anything,
except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
You are the light of the world.
A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.
Instead they put it on its stand,
and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way,
let your light shine before men,
that they may see your good deeds
and praise your Father in heaven."

So let's look at what Jonah's disobedience did to him.

The main thing we see is that his disobedience broke his fellowship with God and made him useless.

His disobedience stopped him from being a help to anyone.

He had failed to go to Nineveh. He had failed to proclaim God's Word to them. He was supposed to be a blessing to the great city of Nineveh. He was supposed to go there and warn of its impending doom so that hopefully they would repent of their wickedness and be spared. What a great calling he had, what a great commission. God said to him, "Go to Nineveh and preach against it." But Jonah disobeyed. What was the result?

Look at him here on the boat.

By and large these sailors were pagans and they were a mess. They were in trouble and they had no idea where to turn for help. In verse 5 we read that

"each cried out to his own god."

When the captain came and found Jonah asleep, he was just as confused as the rest. He was a true religious pluralist. He didn't know the true God so he told Jonah to call upon his god, whomever he may be. He was one of the smartest people on the ship but he didn't have a clue.

How pitiful the sailors were. They were in such trouble and although they acknowledged a higher being, they had no idea who He really was. So they were going to try all the gods that they knew, hoping to find help somewhere.

Their situation reminds me of the words that Jesus spoke in
Matthew 9. When Jesus saw the crowds He had compassion on them, (verse 36)

"because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd."

These poor sailors were like that only they were in immediate danger from the raging sea. They didn't have a clue as to how to appease God.

What was Jonah doing? He was sleeping, seemingly oblivious to their danger, to the raging storm.

In many ways today's society reminds me of the captain and the sailors.

Consider all the false and conflicting ideas that people have. Aren't they harassed and helpless? Many of them don't even acknowledge God. They don't believe that there is a God. These people who were made in the image of God, who were made to bring Him glory, honor and praise, deny their dignity and tell us that they've evolved from pond scum, that it's all a big accident that we're here. They miss out on the true mean and purpose of life.

It's interesting that it bothers some of them. Last year I read a book by a scientist who described the search going on today in some scientific circles trying to find the 'theory of everything'—a simple equation that will explain everything. Einstein's theory of relativity seems to adequately describe how big things work, how stars and planets operate. That's called the theory of the big. Quantum mechanics seems to adequately describe how things work on the atomic level. That's called the theory of the small. But the problem is that the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics don't seem to agree with each other. As Kaku writes, (Hyperspace, p. 112-113)

"In almost every sense of the word, quantum theory is the opposite of Einstein's theory… the two theories are hostile opposites."

They don't seem to go together. The theory of the big seemly deals with certainties, where you can predict with absolute accuracy the motion of the stars and planets. Indeed, Kaku speaks of, (p. 115)

"the Newtonian dream of mathematically predicting the motion of all the particles in the universe."

Quantum theory, on the other hand, deals with uncertainty and probability.

So the two are diametrically opposed to each other. Yet scientists believe that there must be a theory that will encompass and unify both. Thus the quest for a 'theory of everything'.

Anyway, that's what the book is about. But it's very interesting how he closed his book. He spoke about how the quest and attainment of knowledge gave meaning to life. He wrote, (p. 334)

"the power of even our limited intellect is such that we can abstract the deepest secrets of nature. Does this give meaning or purpose to life? Some people seek meaning in life through personal gain, through personal relationships, or through personal experiences. However, it seems to me that being blessed with the intellect to divine the ultimate secrets of nature gives meaning enough to life."

When I first read that, I thought,

"What about all the people who aren't intellectual giants? Where's the meaning in life for them?"

Kaku's answer is inadequate. His answer gives a somewhat plausible meaning to life for smart people, but it totally leaves out the rest.

But even for smart people, all their attainment of knowledge about the universe is not going to help them when they stand before the Great Judge. For all their knowledge, they missed the true meaning of life—to know God through Jesus Christ and to serve and glorify Him.

In a way, I feel sorry for those brilliant scientists who have their eyes closed to the ultimate truths of the universe, that we were created in God's image for His glory. In spite of all their brilliance, they have been blinded by the god of this world.

What this means for us is that

we have a mission to the universities.

There are four universities near us. They contain many very smart and brilliant people. But they don't know Christ.

In order to reach them we have to be the opposite of Jonah. We need to stand firm on the truth of God's Word, boldly proclaiming it, bolding showing that this world and everything in it belongs to God and was created by Him and for His glory. We can do that intelligently and cogently because is in line with truth.

Jonah slept. Are we going to do the same. We have four universities around us. We need to be praying for them, asking that God would open their eyes to the truths of His word. We are to be doing everything that we can to show them Christ and His glory.

We also have a mission to the religious people around us who are mistaken.

Many of the sailors aboard Jonah's boat worshipped false gods and had incorrect ideas about what pleases Him. This is true about many around us. One of the churches in our community has a sign which reads, (something like)

"A welcoming congregation for gays, lesibans, bisexuals, and transgender people."

Today's society is very tolerant. But there's one thing that it's not tolerant of—and that's calling sin, sin. They will want us to fit in and be content with religious pluralism and tolerance.

But we must resist. The message God gave Jonah to bring to Nineveh
was one of hope and deliverance, but it was couched in negative terms. God said to Jonah,

"Go to the great city of Nineveh
and preach against it,
because its wickedness has come up before me."

The message of hope of the gospel is also couched in negative terms. John the Baptist came preaching with the words, (Matthew 3:2)

for the kingdom of heaven is near."

Jesus came preaching with the words, (Matthew 4:17)

for the kingdom of heaven is near."

On his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter said, (Acts 2:38)

"Repent and be baptized,
every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ
for the forgiveness of your sins."

Our message is partly negative. It is necessarily so. In order for people to turn to Christ they have to turn from their sin. We are to urge people to turn from their sin and to find life in Jesus. As Peter preached in Acts 4:12,

"Salvation is found in no one else,
for there is no other name under heaven
given to men by which we must be saved."

There is one way of salvation—through belief in Jesus Christ. There is no other name under heaven whereby we may be saved.

The men on Jonah's ship were given
a great sign. Jonah had to show them that the only way for them to be spared was for them to throw him overboard. Then they would see that the sea would become calm. They had to see that one had to be sacrificed in order that many would be saved.

This pointed to Jesus and His work.

As Jesus would later say, (Matthew 12:39f)

"A wicked and adulterous generation
asks for a miraculous sign!
But none will be given it
except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
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."

The sailors saw a sign of Christ. Perhaps they even saw the fish swallow Jonah. They saw what their sins deserved. They saw one perish and so make peace with God.

We also have a message to those around us who are caught up in our materialistic society.

Many people around us live for money and wealth. They spend their whole lives accumulating it. They think that there's some truth in the joke,

"He who dies with the most toys, wins."

But there's not. We brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out.

Consider the sailors in the ship. They correctly saw that their cargo was something that was against them. They threw it overboard. John
Calvin writes,

"for men, to save their lives, will deprive themselves willingly of all their goods. We hence see how precious is life to man; for he will not hesitate to strip himself of all he has, that he may not lose his life... men ever prefer their life to all their possessions; for what are the good things of this world, but certain additions to our life?"

I love a particular line from the movie, "Aliens". Representatives of the company didn't believe Ripley's story and an alien endangering her life and that's why she blew up her huge cargo spaceship. They told her that she had destroyed a ship worth several billion dollars. I love her response. She said,

"They can bill me."

In other words, her life was worth more to her than the cost of that ship.

Do you remember Jesus words about the rich man who had so many possessions that he tore down his barns to build bigger barns? God said to him, (Luke 12:20)

"You fool!
This very night
your life will be demanded from you.
Then who will get
what you have prepared for yourself?"

So many in our society are deceived by riches. We need to show them true riches. After Jonah was cast into the sea the sailors knew about it. It's a life lived knowing the true God and being at peace with him through Jesus Christ. As Jesus said, (Matthew 13:44f)

"The kingdom of heaven
is like treasure hidden in a field.
When a man found it,
he hid it again,
and then in his joy went
and sold all he had and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven
is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.
When he found one of great value,
he went away
and sold everything he had and bought it."

Living here in the north country is like being on a ship in a stormy sea.

Who are you going to be like? Are you going to be like Jonah on his ship in the storm, or like Paul in his ship in the storm on his way to Rome.

Jonah slept. He was no help to those around him. His plan would have had them perishing. He was useless and ineffective.

Paul, on the other hand, even though he was a prisoner, was a shining light in the midst of the dark storm. He was such a witness for Christ. He was able to show them that he was close to God. He warned them about the storm. He encouraged them when things looked darkest, telling them they would all be spared. Indeed, we are told that they were all spared because of Paul. The angel said to Paul, (Acts 27:24)

"God has graciously given you
the lives of all who sail with you."

Paul was able to alert the centurion of the sailors deception in seeking to abandon the ship. He was able to save the other prisoners from the plan of the soldiers to kill them. At the end, they all knew that Paul was a servant of the Most High. How Paul shone for Jesus.

Who are you going to be like—Paul or Jonah?