A group of sailors are changed forever because of their encounter with Jonah, a person who was going the wrong way, a person who was running from God.
This story finds a group of who are preparing to take their merchant ship to Spain, probably on an expedition of international trade. A Hebrew named Jonah, who is fleeing from God, comes down from Jerusalem to join them. Jonah travels down to Joppa, a Palestinian seaport town, and probably already feels like he has escaped God, for in this town he is very unlikely to run into any other God-worshipers or Israelites. He buys a ticket and down into the ship he goes, again confident he will be the only Israelite. Jonah proceeds down into the hold below the deck and down he lays falling into a sound sleep.
As the sailors take off to sea, such a great storm arises that it threatens to tear the ship apart. The sailors are afraid! They cry aloud, each praying to their own god, as they throw their cargo overboard attempting to lighten the ship… doing everything they can to increase their chances of survival.
The captain goes below deck and frantically arouses Jonah from his deep sleep, “How can you sleep at a time like this! What’s a matter with you! Get up and start praying to your god! Shout loudly to your god and maybe he’ll hear and save us from death.”
As the storm worsens the sailors cast lots, probably each choosing a small stone. Jonah gets the colored stone, the only one of its kind, and the sailors begin throwing questions at him in rapid succession, wanting to quickly find out the cause of the storm.
Jonah responds, as if with pride, “I am a Hebrew! And I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
Well, this frightens the sailors all the more, because they are on the sea and they really want to be on dry land right now!
The sailors then basically ask Jonah, “What have you done to make the Lord this angry and to put all of our lives in danger!”
They continue asking, “What should we do to you so that the sea might calm down for us?” Jonah, taking responsibility says to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea to make the sea quiet down, because I know it’s my fault you are in this severe storm.”
These sailors are basically good people. They don’t want to kill anybody. And they don’t want to die. And at this point they are afraid they’re going to die whether they throw Jonah over or not. So, first they try digging their oars hard and deep into the stormy waters, trying to head to dry land. But they just cannot. The storm gets even fiercer. So they relent, and throw Jonah overboard.
At this moment the sea becomes calm.
Our wrong turns effect others
How many of you have been tossed around by the storms of life? You’ve
made a wrong turn. OR someone else has made a wrong turn and they’re
riding on the same boat as you are.
It only takes one addict in a household to effect the whole household. One alcoholic, one drug addict, one workaholic: when one consistently chooses work over time with their family, if effects the family, it effects his/her marriage, it effects our kids.
In the math’s and sciences this is called the Butterfly Effect where it is calculated that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a disturbance that continues to amplified and the outcome is unpredictable… perhaps a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.
When we as Christians don’t act like Christians and do things that are opposite of what Christians are to do, it hurts the witness of the Church. When we don’t do what God call us to do, it hurts the witness of the Church.
One person’s actions, the wrong turn of Jonah, effected the lives of many others.
It may be because we or someone else has made a wrong turn, but sometimes God, in his love and compassion, causes the storms of life.
I wouldn’t want to make a wrong turn and there be no turbulence… there would be no signal that anything was wrong! That’s like having a heart attack and there being no pain. The pain is the warning sign. For a pregnant woman, contractions are different kind of warning sign. They mean, you’d better get to the hospital, because the baby is a coming! Most women complain that they are in labor too long. Well, I had a girlfriend who’s labor was so brief she almost didn’t make it to the hospital in time. Pain, serves a purpose. We could be dying… we could be lost at sea… and never know it. But the storm, just like physical pain, is our warning sign. So sometimes there is a very good reason for the storms in life.
What do you do in the storm?
Now if we know there are going to be storms in life, the question becomes, "How do you respond?"
Basically this story gives us two choices: Denial or Action
You can respond like Jonah and just disappear below deck, out of sight, lay low for a while and hope that the storm passes over. Denying that you’ve done anything to cause the storm.
Or you can respond like the sailors who take action…
They pray; they do what they can to make the situation better. They work together… lightening the load [as we are instructed in the NT to “carry one another burdens.] They try to find the cause of the storm, by asking, “What can we do to make the situation right?” When the sailors cast lots, they are NOT looking for someone to blame… they don’t know Jonah is the one to blame when he comes up with the colored stone. They believe he is the one with the answers; that he can tell them what they need to do to make this storm go away. When the begin questioning him, they don’t ask him what he did; they ask him who he is. They certainly never expect the cure to be Jonah saying, “throw me overboard.” And they even reject that answer at first. Again they don’t want someone to blame, they just want to know how to make the situation right.
One doesn’t ask the question, “What can I do to make the situation right?” without being teachable. Unlike Jonah, the sailors are ready to learn. Jonah already knows more than he’s applying. He’s the one who says “I am a Hebrew! I belong to the high God of heaven, the One enthroned over all creation, the One who made this very sea that is threatening our lives.” But Jonah says “NO” to what he knows. He says, “I don’t want to make it better. I don’t like what God has asked me to do. I’m mad at God right now… and I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to change.”
So Jonah, would rather just go to sleep… and sometimes in our unteachable moments we need someone like the captain of the ship, to come and give us a good shaking… and tell us to wake up and start talking to God.
Now remember, Jonah is the “Christian” here. He’s the one who knows God. He’s the one who is to be setting the example. And he is missing the mark. The sailors who don’t know God can see more clearly and are far more teachable than Jonah.
And it is the sailors who are the winners in this story. They are the ones who obey and throw Jonah overboard. They are the ones whose lives are changed. They are the ones who learn to call on the one true God in their time of trouble… and God answers and preserves their lives.
We noted earlier that when we go the wrong way it can negatively effect those around us; but God can also use our wrong turns to positively effect others… Jonah went the wrong way, and God used it for good, revealing himself to the sailors.
And as is the case with Jonah, sometimes when we go the wrong way, God can change our wrong turns into u-turns…
See Randy’s sermon Jonah Goes to Nineveh to read part 2 of this sermon.