Jonah. It's a felt-board story from the Scriptures that is set firmly in our cultural conscious. If you asked someone on the street what they know about the story of Jonah, you will probably get a variation of this: it's about a runaway prophet who gets swallowed by a big fish and we need to not be reluctant so we don't get swallowed up by the things of this life too.
And therein lies the danger that most of us approach the Scriptures with. Whether it's the story of Jonah or David and Goliath or even Jesus, many times our best attempts to interpret the meaning of the passage slides into a "moral of the story" conclusion. Why? Because we believe everything revolves around us. Even the sacred Scriptures.
But what if Jonah really isn't about Jonah. Or us. What if it's bigger than that?
My contention is that all of Scripture points to one thing: Jesus. Another way to say this is that in every passage of the Bible, we see echoes, shadows, types of Jesus. And Jonah is no exception.
In the book of Jonah, we find a reluctant prophet. God gave him a word to speak and he ran away. He fled. Jonah didn't try to reason with God like Moses at the burning bush. He just gets up, sets out for the seaport, locates a ship, pays his passage, and gets on board.
When God spoke to Jonah, God's will and Jonah's collided. Jonah had his own desires, plans, and ambitions to fulfill. God shone a spotlight into a space of Jonah's life that had never been put to the test before. It exposed a nerve. It touched something that would bring a discovery of what was really there. God's Word has a way of doing that.
So what happens when we run from God? Jonah, the runaway prophet, is aboard a ship headed to Tarshish and immediately God confirms just how impossible it is for anyone to flee the presence of God by sending a storm. A mighty tempest.
If you've ever read this story, you've probably thought at this point "Man, God must really be mad at Jonah." The storm seems to reveal an angry God giving the runaway prophet a piece of his mind in the form of a storm. But this storm tells us something remarkable.
The storm actually tells us that God responds to great sin with great mercy. When we are running from God -- when we are in the crucible of pain or hurt -- God is not punishing us, he is actually rescuing us. He is intervening. In this story, this storm is the kindness of God, leading Jonah to repentance.
Interventions are for those who are in great trouble -- who are self-destructing but they don't realize it. Why do loved ones get involved in the mess of an intervention? Loved ones move towards those who are destroying themselves because they ultimately want what's best for them. They love them too much to let them ruin themselves.
Jonah here is in great danger. He needs an intervention. He thinks running from God will make him free but he doesn't realize that running from God makes him a slave. In running from God, Jonah is choosing to be his own god.
There is nothing more enslaving when we choose to be our own god, our own savior. Self-dependence and self-reliance is what the Bible calls slavery. When you go through life thinking that everything is about you -- everything depends on you -- you live in bondage to your own abilities, your own strengths. And when your life is out of control, you are depressed. You are discouraged.
In trusting himself over God, Jonah was in great danger of enslaving himself. So, this great storm was sent into Jonah's life, not because of God's anger but because of God's affection. This was not punishment but was God's gracious and merciful intervention. This storm was sent to rescue Jonah from Jonah. This storm was God's way of loosening Jonah's chains of self-dependence.
See, God spares no expense in coming after those who run away. This is seen no clearer than in the person and work of Jesus. He sends himself to be the rescue plan.
This is good news because we are all born running! We are all born fleeing from the God of the universe. It's good news because if the person of Jesus tells us anything at all, it tells us that God confronts human running with might and strength. Jesus is God's great wind. Jesus is God's mighty tempest in response to human running and rebellion.
Ephesians 2 tells us that we enter the world as enemies of God. Paul calls us "children of wrath." So when we think about Jesus and all that God has done to come after runners -- after us -- through him, we humbly realize that Jesus is God's loud statement that you can run but you can't hide.
Jesus is God's deafening shout. Jonah's running and God's storm shows us the mercy of God's ways. Jonah runs and God -- in the storm -- moves toward Jonah in strength and might. We run and God sends Jesus as a means of moving towards us, chasing rebels down like us.
In the story of Jonah, we see that while you and I are great sinners, God is a great Savior. We see that while our sin reaches far, his grace always reaches farther. Always.
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