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When God Commands!

April 26, 2009

(This message is based upon the sermon given by Father Mapple in the book “Moby Dick”)

 

Today’s message deals with obedience; a hard thing for many of us to put into practice! Now we claim to love Jesus…we claim that we are His disciples…but what is a disciple? A disciple is one who follows for the purpose of learning. As Christians we claim to sit at the feet of Jesus, learning of Him. But I’m here to tell you that learning isn’t enough…because the true disciple then seeks to emulate his master/teacher/leader.

 

So what are we to think of those who say but do not do? Well first of all we can say that they either have very little or no love at all for Jesus Christ for He Himself declared in Joh 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” You see, there is a correlation between words and deeds. If we say, we will do! Remember from the scriptures that whatever we practice demonstrates what we are, who we love, where we are going! James hammers the point home in Jas 1:22 saying, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. Are we deluding ourselves? Jesus said in Re 22:12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. 

 

The example I want to use this morning comes from the book of the prophet Jonah for in him we see both disobedience and obedience. We see both a proper heart and a rebellious heart. Now look with me to chapter 1 beginning at verse 1 “The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. 4 The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. 5 Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. 6 So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.” 7 Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” for the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. 11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the LORD and said, “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased.” 15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. 17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. In keeping with our practice, today’s message will be a soul searching message. Our text is found in the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah- “And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

 

This book, containing only four chapters- is one of the smallest in the mighty canon of Scripture. Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah’s life reveal! Pastor John would say “What a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet!” What horrors of the human soul can be seen in the rebellion of Jonah!

What fear and reverence we can discover as we see the awesome Sovereignty of the Living God. What magnificent truths are revealed in Jonah’s prayer from within the fish’s belly! And what a glorious illustration of grace and forgiveness do we see as God delivers the undeliverable. As we read of the judgment upon Jonah We can actually feel the floods surging over us as we descend with him to the bottom of the sea. And what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? It is a lesson of revelation for it reveals the sink of sin that is the human heart! It is a lesson of divine Sovereignty: when the Sovereign of the Universe speaks, we have no choice but to obey! It is an illustration of the results of trying to kick against the goads! If you try to fight against God YOU WILL LOSE!

 

But oh what a blessed place it is to be in His will, to be walking in obedience to His commands, to be filled with His Spirit and to enjoy His presence.

 

God lays our hearts bare in this account of Jonah for here we see our own hearts if we are honest. This is an account of sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally deliverance. As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of Amittai was in his willful disobedience of the command of God which he found to be a hard command. But all the things that God would have us do are hard for us to do- remember that. To obey God means we must deny ourselves…disobey ourselves…turn our backs upon our human nature or the old man. Paul tells us in Ga 5:17 “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” “The good that I would, I do not and the evil that I would not, that I do!”

 

Now get this truth deep into your being. God doesn’t seek to persuade or to suggest: He Commands! His call is His divine edict.

 

In verse 1 God issues a command “The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2  “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” Now who is Jonah? He is a prophet of the Lord God who delivers God’s messages to whomever God directs. This is Jonah’s calling. It’s what he does. But Jonah doesn’t like Nineveh for they have enslaved the Israelites. He wants them dead and he has a sneaking hunch that God has a plan that doesn’t involve destruction. Note verse 3 “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. Jonah’s response to the command of God…He refuses. Then he goes further and with a rebellious heart of disobedience in him, Jonah thumbs his nose at God further by seeking to flee from Him.

 

Isn’t it interesting that Jonah believes God is somehow finite, limited to certain localities! How often do we act like God doesn’t see or know what we are doing? We forget that The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”Pr 15:3 He sins further in exalting man above God in that he thinks that a ship made by men, will be able to carry him into countries where God does not. So he skulks about the wharves of Joppa, and seeks a ship that’s bound for Tarshish.  

 

Now geographically, Tarshish is the modern city of Cadiz which is found in Spain. This was basically as far way from Joppa as Jonah could possibly have sailed in those ancient days for these were the days when the Atlantic was an almost unknown sea. Because Joppa is on the most easterly coast of the Mediterranean, in Syria; and Tarshish was more than two thousand miles to the west from that, just outside the Straits of Gibraltar; do you now begin to understand what Jonah had cooked up in his mind?

 

Consider this illustration from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: “What a miserable man! Oh, most contemptible and worthy of all scorn; with slouched hat and guilty eye, skulking from his God; prowling among the shipping like a vile burglar hastening to cross the seas.

So disordered, self-condemning in his look, that had there been policemen in those days, Jonah, on the mere suspicion of something wrong, would have been arrested before he ever touched a deck. It is so plainly that he’s a fugitive! He has no baggage, no trunk, suitcase or even carpet-bag. He has no friends accompany him to the wharf with their farewells. At last he finds the Tarshish ship receiving the last items of her cargo; and as he steps on board to see its Captain. All the sailors for the moment desist from hoisting in the goods, to mark the stranger’s evil eye.” Jonah sees this and vainly tries to look at ease and confident. He vainly tries to smile but it is a wretched smile but it is evident that he is anything but innocent. Indeed by his very presence he is a marked man.

 

As he descends below decks he hears a voice. “‘Who’s there?’ cries the Captain at his busy desk, hurriedly making out his papers for the Customs- ‘Who’s there?’ Oh how that harmless question mangles Jonah! For the instant he almost turns to flee again. But he rallies. ‘I seek a passage in this ship to Tarshish; how soon sail ye, sir?’ Thus far the busy Captain had not looked up to Jonah, though the man now stands before him; but no sooner does he hear that hollow voice, than he darts a scrutinizing glance. ‘We sail with the next coming tide,’ at last he slowly answered, still intently eyeing him. ‘No sooner sir?’  ‘Soon enough for any honest man that goes as a passenger.’ Ha! Jonah, that’s another stab. But he swiftly calls away the Captain from that scent. ‘I’ll sail with you,’- he says,- ‘the passage money how much is that?- I’ll pay now.’

 

Jonah wanted to get away so badly that he paid the fare in advance! All dressed and dusty as he is, Jonah throws himself into his cabin below decks which interestingly will be a foretaste of the trial he will shortly undertake in the belly of the great fish. And soon he is fast asleep. The time has come as the tide rises and the ship casts off her lines and the journey to Tarshish has begun. But soon the sea rebels; it will not bare this wicked burden for we read in verse 4 “The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. The sea begins to reel and heave in omnipotent frenzy and the winds slam against the ship in terrifying power and might so as to break it apart.

 

5 “Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.” First the sailors are afraid and this must be noted for doubtless they are experienced sailors who have weathered many a storm. I am reminded of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. Remember that they too were experienced seamen but when the storm arose on that Sea the disciples too became very afraid. That storm had arisen to test their faith. Jesus had said, “Let us go to the other side of the Lake.” They had seen Him perform miracles. They had declared their belief that He was the Son of God. But did they really believe it? This storm was a test of their faith! And when they came up short, Jesus rebuked them Mr 4:40 “And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

 

Something about the storm in our account from Jonah terrified these men too. I would venture to say that it is the very presence of God who has scared the living daylights out of them. They seemed to understand that this was a divine judgment and so they each 5 … cried to his god,. But this was an exercise in futility for stone and wood cannot do anything. They can neither see, hear, nor speak! And this storm has been sent by the one true and living God who created heaven and earth and all the things that dwell therein. Finally they think to lighten the load of the ship and so begin to throw the cargo overboard. Now understand that this cargo included the provisions that would have sustained them on their voyage to Tarshish. Can you see the desperation involved here?

 

And all these things are going on right over Jonah’s head.

 

But we read that “Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep.” While the sailors are fighting for their lives, Jonah sleeps his hideous sleep of rebellion. He sees no black sky and raging sea, He does not feel the reeling of the ship. And he has no idea that even now a mighty whale is on its way to meet him. He is ignorant of all these things.

Psalm 73 speaks of the wicked and how nothing seems to affect them. Note that passage with me: 1 “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart! 2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no pains in their death and their body is fat. 5 They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; the garment of violence covers them. 7 Their eye bulges from fatness; the imaginations of their heart run riot. 8 They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high. 9 They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue parades through the earth. 10 Therefore his people return to this place, and waters of abundance are drunk by them. 11 They say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” 12 Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Here is the heart of Jonah. In the midst of the storm he sleeps. He is not moved. He has sought to run away from the presence of God to a place where his conscience will not be troubled.

 

But now the frightened captain comes to him, and shrieks into his rebellion deafened ear, 6 “So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.” The moment has arrived. Jonah is jerked awake and the reality of the situation has come flooding in along with the water that flows down the stairs into his cabin. He has come face to face with the fact that you cannot run away from God. Jehovah will not let you get away. When God calls you to do something, when He commands you in the scriptures to obey Him, you will-you must obey. You cannot-will not be able to do otherwise.

 

Jonah has escaped from the presence of God for as Psalm 139 declares; 7 “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10  Even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

 

The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” Pr 15:3

 

Joe Louis, the Heavyweight Boxing Champ was challenged by light-heavyweight champ Billy Conn.  Conn declared that he would dance around and be too elusive for Louis to hit. Conn said, ‘You can’t hit what you can’t see” to which Louis replied “You can run but you can’t hide.” Joe was right. Conn danced around for several rounds and was ahead on points when he got careless…got too close…and was knocked out by Louis. “You can run but you can’t hide.”

 

But with God, you can’t even run! There is nowhere to go. God is everywhere. He fills His creation. Wherever you go, God is there already. Jonah would learn this lesson the hard way!

 

Now interestingly the sailors had come to the conclusion that someone on their ship had sinned against God and they were determined to find out who it was. So we read in verse 7 “Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.” It is interesting to me how that the scriptures are fulfilled in the scriptures for we read in Pr 16:33 “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.” Here in Jonah, this passage from Proverbs finds a fulfillment. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. Whatever you sow you shall also reap.

 

Jonah wanted to get away from it all and he was about to, big time!

 

The lot has fallen to Jonah and then the questions begin to flood in. 8 “Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation?

And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” But mark now the behavior of Jonah. The eager mariners have asked him who he is, and where he is from. To these questions they receive an answer. But another unasked question is also answered. 9 He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”

 

10 Then the men became extremely frightened Now why would these men who were crying out to stone and wood suddenly become extremely frightened? Again you see the parallel of this account and that of Jesus and the disciples sailing across the sea of Galilee are interesting. Remember that when Jesus calmed the storm the disciples became even more frightened than when they feared death by drowning. So these sailors are even now being tossed about on the ocean like a cork, and suddenly they become extremely frightened!

 

Why?

 

It is because, even to this day men were still talking about how God destroyed the Egyptians, how He had split the Red Sea, how the giant, Og, king of Bashan had fallen, and how Sihon king of the Ammorites had been destroyed along with his armies; how He had thrown down the walls of the mighty city of Jericho. God, the true God, is a God to be feared…And they said to him, “How could you do this?” for the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. “What were you thinking Jonah? You are attempting to do the impossible. There is no place to go from the presence of this God whom you serve and fear. Even we know that!

 

11 “So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.”

 

From Melville again; “‘I am a Hebrew,’ he cries- and then- ‘I fear the Lord the God of Heaven who hath made the sea and the dry land!’ Fear him, O Jonah? Aye, well mightest thou fear the Lord God then! Straightway, but still are pitiful. For when Jonah, not yet supplicating God for mercy, since he but too well knew the darkness of his deserts,- when wretched Jonah cries out to them to take him and cast him forth into the sea, for he knew that for his sake this great tempest was upon them; they mercifully turn from him, and seek by other means to save the ship.

 

 But all in vain; the indignant gale howls louder; then, with one hand raised invokingly to God, with the other they not unreluctantly lay hold of Jonah.

 

“And now behold Jonah taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea; when instantly an oily calmness floats out from the east, and the sea is as Jonah carries down the gale with him, leaving smooth water behind. He goes down in the whirling heart of such a master-less commotion that he scarce heeds the moment when he drops seething into the yawning jaws awaiting him; and the whale shoots-to all his ivory teeth, like so many white bolts, upon his prison.”

 

Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord out of the fish’s belly. Observe his prayer, and learn a weighty lesson. Jonah 2:1-9 “Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish, 2 and he said, “I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. 3 “For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. 4 “So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 “I descended to the roots of the mountains.

The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. 7 “While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple. 8 “Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, 9  but I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.”

 

Sinful as he is, Jonah does not weep and wail for direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that spite of all his pains and pangs, he will still look towards God’s holy temple. And here is true and faithful repentance; we do not behold a man shrieking for some supposedly deserved pardon, but we see a man broken of his rebellion and one who believes he is receiving his punishment justly. And how pleasing to God this demeanor of Jonah was, is shown in the eventual deliverance of him from the sea and the whale.

 

God has placed Jonah before us as an example of what happens when we rebel as well as how to react when we are chastened for our rebellion! Sin not; but if you do, take heed to repent of it like Jonah.

 

I have spoken to you by the light God has given me concerning what Jonah teaches to all sinners; to you and to me. And I stand before you as a sinner saved by grace who has ringing within my ears this truth, 1Co 9:16 “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” Like that anointed prophet of old I too stand behind this holy desk as a speaker of truth and bidden by the Lord to declare those unwelcome truths in the ears of the wicked unrepentant sinners of this world.

 

Note that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance for we read in verse 10 “Then the LORD commanded the fish, and from the shuddering cold and blackness of the sea, it came shooting up out of the depths of the sea, towards the warm and pleasant sun, and all the delights of air and earth; it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” And when the word of the Lord came a second time; Jonah, bruised and beaten- his ears, like two sea-shells, still echoing the sounds of the ocean- did the Almighty’s bidding. And what was that? To preach the Truth to the face of falsehood! That was it!

 

This is the second lesson for us and woe to that disciple of the living God who seeks like Jonah to avoid it. Woe to him who shrinks from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to lessen the commands of God to sinners or as Father Mapple would say, “Who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale!” Woe to him who seeks to be a man pleaser rather than to dismay with the Truth! Woe to him whose personal reputation is more to him than the righteousness of God which comes by faith! Woe to him who seeks to be honorable in the eyes of this world, he may gain the whole world but he will lose his soul! Yea, woe to him who as Paul said, while preaching to others is himself a castaway!

 

There is true delight, true honor, true peace only in the presence of God and in the doing of His will! Ps 16:11 “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Therefore delight yourself in Him who will break in peaces the proud gods and rulers of this earth. Delight yourself in Him whose strong arms support hold you and protect you against the wiles of the wicked one. Delight yourself in Him whose truth gives no even to the Senators and Judges of this world. Those who know and love their God will be able to stand firm in the face of falsehood; no storm of falsehood will defeat him; and no boisterous mob will ever shake him from this sure Rock of Ages. Eternal delight and peace will be his, who coming to the end of his life will be able to say with his final breath- O Father!- known to me by thy gracious gift of faith, here I die. I have endeavored to be totally yours more than this world’s, or even my own. Yet this is nothing. All is of grace and by thy grace “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” 2Ti 4:7 I leave eternity to Thee and therefore, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.

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