The Surprising and Often Severe Grace of God

An exposition ofjonah Jonah 1:1-16. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, March 7, 2010.

As the family set around the table following Sunday dinner, talk turned to Sunday School.  Little Johnny, the 7-year old, was asked what he had learned that day.  “We learned about the children of Israel fleeing Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.”  Smiling approved dad said, “Why don’t you tell us the story son.”  Johnny took a deep breath and said, “Well, the children of Israel made it as far as the Red Sea when the Egyptian army was gaining on them.  Old Pharaoh had decided it was a mistake to let them go.  The people were real scared but Moses called in some engineers and they built these pontoon bridges that allowed the people to get across the Sea.  Moses made sure that the last group across were special forces soldiers and they planted explosives on the bridges and waited for the Egyptians.  When the Egyptians got on the bridges they set off the explosions and killed the entire Egyptian army!”  The whole family was stunned.  Mom finally said, “Is that what they taught you this morning in Sunday School?”  Johnny, bowing his head in shame, said, “No, but I knew you would never believer the whopper they told us!”

There are those stories that seem unbelievable.  Those biblical accounts that stand out as just too incredible to be true.  And I understand natural minds struggling to believe.  I understand people who begin by saying, “Miracles do not happen because miracles cannot happen” have difficulty accepting the miraculous.  But if you begin with a God who spoke and worlds came into being – then it’s not a problem.  A God who created everything that exists by the power of His word has no trouble parting the Red Sea.  He is not hinder in causing the walls of Jericho to come “tumbling down.”  And He has no problem causing a fish to swallow a man only to spit up on dry ground three days later.  This evening we begin a quick look at the book of Jonah.  The story of Jonah is a familiar tale.  If you’ve been around church awhile you’ve heard the story many times.  Jonah is one of the “Minor Prophets.”  So named not because they are unimportant but because their books are generally shorter than the other prophets.  Jonah, for instance, is just 4 chapters.  The story is told in a straightforward manner.  Through the years some have suggested that it be read as an allegory or a parable.  The problem with that view is that is doesn’t read like a parable.  There are too many details and historical references.  In addition there is nothing in the text to indicate that it should be read anyway other than literal.  In fact Jesus refers to it in a historical sense in Matthew 12:39-40.

We know from a reference in 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah was from Gath-hepher, a small village 3 miles north of Nazareth in Galilee.  Further we know that he ministered to the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (782-753 B.C.).  Most likely the events recorded in the book of Jonah happened around 760 during a time of mild decline in the power of the Assyrian empire.  It was also following a time of earthquakes, drought and famine.  Looking at the book as a whole it could be broken down by 4 words – Rebellion (1), Repentance (2), Revival (3) and Regret (4).  It is an interesting tale of God’s sovereignty and mercy; of His judgment and His grace.  This evening we consider the drama of chapter 1.

Text: Jonah 1:1-16

As we work our way through the chapter keep your eye on…

The surprising, fearful and often severe grace of God.

I’ve chosen those words carefully.  I think they’re important because I fear we have a limited understanding of grace.  We tend to think simplistically – law = bad, grace = good.  We think of grace only in terms of “good things” rather than understanding grace is God’s working for our good.  And sometimes the gracious thing is a hard thing.  Sometimes the gracious thing is a painful thing.  Jonah is a great example of what I’m talking about.

There are four acts to the drama of chapter 1.

  • Act 1 – A Sovereign and Gracious Call – (1:1-2)
  • Act 2 – An Arrogant and Doomed Rebellion – (1:3)
  • Act 3 – A Response of Severe Grace – (1:4-15)
  • Act 4 – A Surprising Revival – (1:16)

So what do we learn?  You can resist God’s will.  You can pay the fare and head your own direction but His surprising, fearful and often severe grace will track you down for your good and His glory.

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