Albu van Eeden
I appreciate Mr Dube’s opening prayer for this service. From the beginning of the revival, he has had the gift of intercession.
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.
12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Jonah 1: 1 – 4; 12
The word wickedness refers to great evil. These are the people for whom the gospel is meant. There are two reasons why a person meets with great tempests: The Lord is testing our faith or we have abandoned God. In Jonah’s case it was because he abandoned God. Due to the disobedience of a child of God, God can expose a whole group of people or a nation to a tempest. This is what can happen to you, child of God, if you are disobedient to God and do not do what God expects you to. Our country can be cursed because you and I are not doing what we are supposed to. When the sailors threw Jonah into the sea it calmed. We know the story - God sent a fish to swallow Jonah and it spat him out on dry land. Jonah had learnt his lesson to a certain extent.
4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.7And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. Jonah 3:4 – 7; 10
What God told Jonah to do, is what you and I should be doing. We should preach the Gospel of Christ to wicked people so that they can repent, receive forgiveness of sins and be cleansed.
This sermon has two parts: 1. What God had in mind and what He wanted to do through Jonah. 2. What Jonah got stuck into and the mess he landed himself in.
In the text we read what God wanted to do through Jonah. I have never read anything similar in the Old Testament where an entire heathen nation - a city of 120 000 people - is convicted of their sins and everyone from the king to the common man, cry for mercy. In the Old Testament individual people from heathen nations became part of the nation of Israel and got to know God for example, Ruth who went with her mother-in-law, Naomi to Israel or Nahaman, the Syrian general who was healed of his leprosy by Elisha. The Old Testament was a different dispensation. You will recall in the New Testament how radical it seemed when God showed Peter and Paul that the Gospel was also for the heathen nations. They had to fight against people who opposed them for preaching to heathen nations. This is the glory that God had in mind for Jonah - a revival in a heathen nation in the Old Testament. Jonah walks into this heathen Syrian nation and the whole nation is convicted of their sins and they beg for mercy. The Gospel is meant for wicked people. This is what God wanted to use Jonah for – to save people from obvious sins. It was not people who had problems with subtleties such as ‘I was treated coldly, they were very stern with me’ – no, it was for people who had honestly committed evil sins before God.
We read the list of these sins in Galatians 5: Sexual immorality; whether you have been sexually immoral with someone of the same sex, the opposite sex or with yourself, in your body or your mind. It is for these people that the Gospel has come. It has come for people who are impure and those who have been defiled by lustful pleasures and orgies, people whom the Pharisees would look down on. It has come for people who are blatant sinners and who have fallen into idolatry. It has come for those who do not serve the living God but their idols of cigarettes, booze and sport.
Galatians speaks of hostility, aggression and being enemy-like. A hostile person is aggressive to others, he wants to destroy them and get them back. Galatians speaks about jealousy and people who do all kinds of things to other people because of jealousy. Do you know friend that you must be saved from your jealousy otherwise you will go to hell? Do you know that God views your jealousy so seriously that He was willing to send His Son to die on the cross so that you can get rid of that jealousy? If you are not set free of your jealousy, your eternity is in hell and not in heaven. You are jealous because someone has a car you do not have. You are jealous because someone married the girl you wanted to marry. You are jealous because someone cheated you out of a job that you were going to apply for. You are jealous because someone got honour which you feel he does not need or deserve because he is not worthy of it. Such a person may go to hell because he is not worthy of what he has received but you will go to hell because you are a jealous person. Do not compare yourself to murderers and such people, God’s word says jealousy will take you to hell. You scheme how to get a person back. Why? You are jealous of that person. You will one day stand before the great white throne of the living God who does not just see what you do on this earth but He even sees your thoughts, your mind and your motives. You may be doing a good thing but God discards your good deed because there is an evil motive behind it which you dare not tell anybody, just you and a friend or you and your spouse know about the evil motive for your deeds.
Galatians speak of outbursts of anger. How many times have you lost your temper with your colleagues, your school mates, your family? Have they not witnessed outbursts of anger? That’s a sin for which we will go to hell.
God also mentions selfish ambition in Galatians. When you finish school, why do you do what you do? Why do you study the degree you study? Why do you get a particular job? Why do you aim to marry this man or that woman? Is it because God tells you to do it or are you doing it because of selfish ambition? You may be rolling in the money and be stinking rich but everything you have you got through selfish ambition and God says your selfish ambition draws a cross over everything you have done in your life because you have done it for yourself. You got married for yourself, not because God told you to get married or another person told you or your pastor. God should tell you if you should marry and whom you should marry.
The next sin that Galatians mentions is dissension, i.e. breaking away into different groups, separating and splitting the church because of different factions – we are here, they are there, they do this, we do not. Drunkenness, wild parties, maliciousness. What is maliciousness? To be malicious is to do something with the intent of hurting another person or group of people. If you are not treated the way you expect or want to be treated at church or work, you say, “Well, we’ll see what they’ll do without me! Yes, I am leaving because I was not treated the way I think I should have been but I am leaving as well because I want to hurt them. Wait and see what will happen.” This is maliciousness. You leave because you want to hurt them. You feel you that you have not been treated the way that you should have been.
There are many other sins that God’s word mentions such as slander and deceit. Have you deceived people in your life? What about that car that you sold at a higher price than you should have? You knew you were selling a scrap. You have been deceitful. Division and quarrelling - this destroys the body of Christ.
These are the wicked deeds for which God sent His Son to die and this is what the people in Nineveh were like when God sent Jonah to Nineveh. God is gracious. He wanted Jonah to go there and preach to them.
We do not really know why Jonah did not want to go. The Ninevites were part of the Assyrian nation, a world power. At one stage they even took Israel captive. They were known for their brutality. They slit pregnant women open and their babies fell out and died. There was something cruel about the Assyrians. They were crueller than the Babylonians, Egyptians and the Greeks. They were a very, very brutal people. We do not know whether it was for this reason that Jonah did not want to go. Jonah may have seen them as great enemies of God because God used the Assyrians to punish Israel when they were disobedient to Him. In the minds of many Jews, the heathen could not get converted. Jonah may have feared for his life. His throat could have been slit when he entered the city and his body thrown onto a dung heap. Whatever the reason, Jonah decided that he was not going to do what God wanted. The Bible says he fled from the presence of God. Friend, if you want to flee from the presence of God, God will allow it and you will get away from His presence. We tend to say that it is impossible to flee from God’s presence because He is omnipresent. Even hell is open before God. You cannot get away from God.
But you can flee from the presence of God where God is no longer with you. You can confess your sins away from the presence of God. You can kneel next to your bed and confess your sins but find no relief because God has withdrawn His presence from you because of your sins. Some people confess their sins, but they want to do it where they are away from His presence. ‘I do not want to speak to a child of God and expose what I have done because then I feel as if I am in God’s presence.’
After David had sinned with Bathsheba, he said, For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. Psalm 32:3 Do you really think David thought God did not see his sin? Do you really think David thought that God who had helped him fight against bears and lions and against Goliath, would not be aware of what he had done? His bones dried up because he was away from the presence of God until the prophet Nathan said, “David, you are the man who took the sheep of the poor man for yourself.” It was through the voice of the prophet that David was drawn back into the presence of God and able to confess his sins. Do you do everything in the presence of God? Do you sometimes ask the Lord to stand aside because you want to allow yourself some thoughts, you want to think of things God would not approve of? “I know these thoughts are unacceptable to You, I know you will not approve of them but just stand aside and allow me to think what I want,” is that what you say to the Lord? You are fleeing from the presence of God, just as Jonah did. After Adam and Eve sinned, they fled from God’s presence. Cain also left God’s presence after he had killed Abel. The godly man is always, in everything he does, in the presence of God. The godless man is never in the presence of God.
We see direction Jonah took when he refused to go to Nineveh. Keep in mind God’s glorious plan for Jonah. He was sent to Nineveh where there would be a revival of 120 000 people. We read that God did not bring punishment on the city for 200 years. It is only when they returned to their sins, that the punishment returned. The people who heard Jonah truly repented.
What makes Jonah’s sin so evil, so grievous? He did not just sin personally against God but he brought shame upon the name of the Lord. This is not something we always consider. After David had sinned with Bathsheba, she became pregnant. David married her to hide his sin. The child was born and the Lord spoke to David. 14Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” 2 Samuel 12:14 David did not only harm his own soul by sinning but he brought shame upon the name of the God of Israel. When Israel sinned against God in the desert, God said to Moses, “I will wipe them out. I will make a new nation of Israel out of you, but I have had enough of this.” What did Moses do when he prayed? He said, “Lord, I know what they have done to You but just think what the nations will say if You wipe them out in the desert. Your name, Lord will be blasphemed by the nations. People will say that You brought them out of Egypt but let them die in the wilderness. You are not a God who cares for His people.” Friends, every temptation comes with a danger of losing the calling for which God created us. You may have left the way of the Lord, young person, who grew up on this mission. You may have left the way of the Lord, you may have followed your own heart, you may have made a success of your own life, but God says that you have brought shame on My name. Not only does sin make us bring shame on God’s name, it also keeps us from being used by God. God wanted to use Jonah but he ended on a ship. A storm arose and finally he said just throw me overboard into the water and then I will die. Failure to spread the Gospel if you have received it, makes you guilty before God and thousands of souls may be in hell one day because you deserted God’s way. You started living according to your selfish ambition.
Jonah could simply not get it over his heart to preach to his enemies. Even after he had preached and the city had gone into repentance, he sat on a mountain to see whether God would still destroy them. This would have made him very happy. If God has a calling on your life, nobody can take it away from you as long as you remain faithful to the Lord. No amount of persecution, suffering or difficulty can rob you of the calling of God upon your life. Even though it seems as if people are destroying your calling and making it seem worthless, when all the doors are closed to you, can you forget about living out your calling to preach the Gospel? No, do not be a fool! No person can remove your calling from you if God has put a calling on your life that you must carry out. Even if you are a vulnerable, young child and older people abuse you, if you hold on to God, it will not remove God’s calling from you. Look at Joseph. He had dreams when he was in his father’s house. He dreamt that the sun, moon and stars would bow before him, which was a sign that his father, mother and brothers would bow before him. At the back of Joseph’s mind he knew that God had given him the dreams. Then his brothers abused him, they discussed whether they should kill him or not and then they sold him as a slave. That is cruel! ‘Brothers, do you know what you have done? You have destroyed Joseph’s calling. Do you know what you have done? Joseph’s dream was from God, not man. You have stuck your finger into God’s eye. You have destroyed what God wanted to do for this innocent, defenceless child.’ No, they did not destroy God’s calling. It remained. Everything was on track. He went as a slave to Egypt. He was tempted by Potiphar’s wife. Everything went against him. He was thrown into prison as good as being buried alive. That did not even destroy the calling upon Joseph’s life because he did not allow sin into his life.
There are times Reverend Stegen has spoken to his children. When he was going through hell because people spat on him and despised him, he said to his children, “Children, as long as you do not sin, whatever you do, do not sin.” I will never forget a New Year’s sermon he preached two or three years ago. He repeatedly said, “Do not sin whatever happens to you. Do not sin. God never gives you a ticket to sin.” When I walked out of that service and I realised that God laid the foundation in this service for the mission in years to come even when Rev Stegen will no longer be here.
Do not allow anybody to convince you that someone can destroy God’s plan for your life. No person, no demon can destroy God’s calling on your life. Do not allow the devil to discourage you and cause you to lose hope. Do not allow the devil frustrate, anger or irritate you. Whatever man does to you will only serve one purpose - it will boost God’s plan for what He wants to do with your life. It cannot be destroyed.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ 5 The waters closed in over me to take my life, the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head 6at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. 7When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Jonah 2:4-7 This is a descent into death, into hell. Do you see what happened to Jonah in his disobedience? He handled his sin in the wrong way. He became confused. This man of God decided that the right thing to do for his sins was to commit suicide. He had this glorious calling but because of his disobedience he ended up in this dark, confused and totally lost state, as if he was in hell. If you are away from the presence of God even what you try and do to make things right will just make things worse. There is no alternative, return to God. Return to the presence of God with your sins. If you sink into that darkness, you will become the loneliest person in the world even though the whole world may think you are a hero, even if all the newspapers sing your praises and everybody says how good you are. You are the loneliest person in the world. You hate what everybody does for you because evil, darkness and bitterness has filled your heart. This is the spirit of the world. You will want to take your own life. You may be dressed like a fashion model with the nails, the hair style, the dress but I tell you, you are the loneliest person in the world and you will be so unhappy. The Bible says that in the last days this is what things will look like People will become lovers of themselves.
Look at the example of the Good Samaritan and the traveller who lay beaten and bruised next to the road. If that man had today’s spirit, he would not have been thankful for what the Good Samaritan did by taking him to an inn and paying for his care. He would have been unhappy because the Good Samaritan did not put him into a 5-star hotel. How does the darkness, hatred and evil grow in your heart? Even years after what the Good Samaritan has done for you, 15-20 years later, you will speak evil things against the Good Samaritan because he did not give you 5-star hotel treatment. One would think that time would change your mind and you would realise the good that the Samaritan did. With this hatred and darkness in your heart, you are on your way to hell. You may have received huge subsidies from the Good Samaritan to go to school, you may have received a first-class education but all you can do is hate and break down. What a miserable creature you have become. You can do what you like. You can have the Good Samaritan thrown into prison, but you will be the most miserable creature on earth - not the Good Samaritan. You have drunk the poison of hell and you are still eating it and living from it. Why? The world has become your model, not God’s word. What the world thinks is right and popular is your role model. You think you are very righteous but you are sticking your finger in God’s eye.
Jesus and shall it ever be
Jesus! and shall it ever be
A mortal man ashamed of Thee
Ashamed of Thee whose angels praise,
Whose glories shine through endless days?
Ashamed of Jesus! sooner far
Let evening blush to own a star.
He sheds the beam of light divine
O'er all this benighted soul of mine.
Ashamed of Jesus just as soon
Let midnight be ashamed of noon;
‘Tis midnight with my soul till He,
Bright morning star, bid darkness flee.
"Ashamed of Jesus, that dear Friend
On Whom for heaven my hopes depend!
No, when I blush, let this be this my shame,
That I no more revere His name.
"Ashamed of Jesus! yes, I may,
When I've no guilt to wash away;
No tear to wipe, no good to crave,
No fears to quell, no soul to save.
"Till then, nor is my boasting vain,
Till then I boast a Saviour slain:
And oh, may this my glory be,
That Christ is not ashamed of me! "
I will conclude with this verse in Ezekiel 13:22 22Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life… God accuses them. To follow a man who has forsaken his calling will drag you into darkness like Judas. Do not do that. Do not follow a person who has abandoned his calling.
I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. 7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Jonah 2:4 – 7
When you and I were so far from God that we could not do anything anymore there was a Man of whom we should never be ashamed of, a man who was forsaken by God like Jonah. He hung on the cross and He shouted, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Why? He was not ashamed of you. He opens the door for you to cry like Jonah did when he had sinned and to return to Him.