BE THE GOSPEL by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: Sometime back I was fishing at a friend’s pond with the boys and one of them wanted to use a spinner bait. I thought I knew what I was doing. So I tied it and decided to give it a shot. I did catch a fish for about 10 seconds before the fish took the bait from me. Just like a good dad, I blamed them for tying the wrong knot. In today’s message we will learn how a fish caught a man. It’s not a hoax. The message is about Jonah in the Old Testament and it is titled “BE THE GOSPEL.”
Matthew 12 38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
Context: Many of you may remember that 3 years ago I preached a series of messages on the Book of Jonah called “Running from God.” (You can still access them on my blog site and podcast.) The most amazing lesson for me in that series was not that Jonah was still alive after being inside the great fish for 3 days and 3 nights. God can do any miracle. The most amazing thing for me was that the people of Nineveh repented after Jonah preached only 8 words to them (at least in English) – “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Wow! Jonah must be some preacher! What was so powerful in his message that the people were willing to believe God so quickly? What was so radical in his sermon that even the king would decree that every man and beast would fast, seek God and repent? The answer is very simple – “Jonah became the gospel.”
Question: Before we see what that really means, have you heard the old adage – “You are the only Bible some people will ever read”? Let me tweak that a little – “You are the only gospel some people will ever see.” Meaning: It’s not enough to preach the gospel. We also have to live it out. We have to demonstrate in our lives the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. People around us need to see the gospel of salvation in us. Can the people around you see the gospel of Christ in you? Have you ever responded to the gospel in your life? Are you a witness of Christ?
This morning we’re going to focus on how Jonah became the gospel to others:
I. It began with a wakeup call.
Jonah 1 1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” The word for “arise” in Hebrew is “qum” meaning “up.” Jonah was comfortably asleep when God came to him. I believe that there is a double meaning here. Jonah was not only physically asleep but he was also spiritually asleep. The reason we can say that is because of his reaction to God’s call. 3 “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” People run from God when there is sin in their lives. Case in point: Adam and Eve hid from God after eating the forbidden fruit. What Jonah didn’t realize at that time was that this wakeup call was not just for Nineveh but also for him.
Principle: When God awakens you to do something, don’t see it as something you are doing for God. Primarily, it’s for you.
II. It unleashed a storm of troubles.
Jonah 1:4 “But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.” Jonah made the same mistake that people make today – I know what God expects of me and I don’t like it. I’m going to take a break from God. I’m going stop coming to church for a while or I’m going to try some other churches because I feel like Pastor Shah is singling me out. I’m going to move to another city/state because I feel like I need a fresh start in my life. Sometimes it’s not physical relocation but mental relocation like a makeover or a new hobby or a new set of friends, anything to keep me from facing God. Jonah believed in the old cliché – “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Principle: God may be out of your sight and out of your mind but you are never out of his reach.
III. It brought discipline from God.
Jonah 1:12 And 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 this great tempest is because of me.” Jonah knew right away that he was the reason for the storm and that God had come to deal with him. But please don’t misunderstand – Jonah was not committing suicide. If this were the case, he would’ve just jumped overboard. Jonah was a prophet of God who knew the ways of God. He knew that God did not punish his children but he disciplined them. By the way, there is a big difference between punishment and discipline. In punishment the goal is the past but in discipline the goal is the future. God’s purpose in Jonah’s discipline was to change his mindset about the gospel. The reason Jonah ran from God was because he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He felt that God had no business saving the pagans. God had to change Jonah’s understanding of the gospel. God was about to give Jonah a glimpse in the coming death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- To start with, Jonah did not just jump overboard. Instead, he asked the sailors to throw him into the raging sea. So also, Jesus was taken by lawless hands and nailed to the cross.
- As the great fish nose-dived into the deep, Jonah cried to God “For You cast me into the deep.” (Jonah 2:3) So also, Jesus was not a victim of the cruel and the evil. He was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23)
- Jonah felt abandoned by God and cried, “I have been cast out of Your sight.” (Jonah 2:4) So also, Jesus, at the ninth hour from the cross, cried out with a loud voice – “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)
- Jonah described his physical condition inside the great fish as, “The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.” (Jonah 2:5) So also, Jesus felt the death grip of sin rising around him. And what did he have on his head? A crown of thorns.
- Jonah described how he was cut off from the earth – “I went down to the moorings of the mountains. The earth with its bars closed behind me forever.” (Jonah 2:6) So also, Jesus was “cut off from the land of the living…” says Isaiah 53:8
- How long was Jonah inside the great fish? 3 days and 3 nights. How long was Jesus in the grave? 3 days.
- What happened to Jonah after that? Jonah 2:10“So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry” What happened to Jesus on the third day? God raised him up “having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” (Acts 2:24) Just the way God told the fish to spit out Jonah, God told death to spit out Jesus.
Can you see how Jonah got a glimpse of the gospel in his discipline?
Principle: When God disciplines his children, his goal is not pain but progress. He doesn’t leave you bruised and battered. He leaves you resembling the image of the crucified, buried, and risen Savior.
IV. It led to a great outpouring of salvation.
Jonah 3 1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” Before we jump to the reaction of the Ninevites, we need to say a word or two about Nineveh – It was one of the most ancient cities in the world. Its name was from the Sumerian logogram NINUA, which is fish. There was another town with a similar name “NINA” which worshipped the fish goddess Nanshe. More than likely, the people of Nineveh also worshipped the same fish goddess. Her symbol was a “fish.” Also, a Greek historian by the name of Berossus tells us that the Assyrians had a myth that a half-fish, half-man god called “Oannes” or “Uanna” had come up out of the sea and brought them wisdom, sciences, and art. An archaeologist from the 19th century tells us that outside a large chamber in Nineveh there was a bas relief of a half-fish, half-man being.
The text doesn’t tell us but I can only imagine what Jonah looked like when he approached Nineveh. They say that whales have a multilayered stomach like cows, sheep, and deer. In the first stomach, food is crushed and in the second stomach, the gastric juices break it down. I don’t know how far he made it. I picture him as totally bleached from top to bottom. He looks creepy to say the least. Plus, people must have seen a big fishing floating to the shores. As they got near, they see this man being vomited out! I believe word got out that this Jewish prophet had just come out of a big fish. He goes to a city whose very name is dedicated to the fish god. Imagine their shocker when they ask him – “What’s your name?” Jonah. Sounds very much like “Uanna.” Are you god? “Of course not. I am a prophet of the Living God. My God told your god what to do. He put me inside the big fish to show me that one day He is coming and he will be face death and sin for all, including you. You have 40 days to believe in him and if not “Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Someone might say – “That’s too much speculation.” Listen to what Jesus said in Luke 11 29 And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation.
Do you understand now that it was not 8 threatening words that turned Nineveh around? Jonah represented the gospel through his very life.
Invitation: We do not need a big fish experience to become the gospel to others. Everything we go through in life should testify to the watching world of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our obedience to the Word of God, we become a sign of the gospel of Christ to the lost world around us.
Have you received this gospel? Are you running from God?