Running from God
American boxing legend Joe Louis is credited with first using the line “He can run, but he can’t hide.”
Louis' string of lightly-regarded competition ended with his bout against Billy Conn, the light-heavyweight champion and a highly-regarded contender. The fighters met on June 18, 1941, in front of a crowd of 54,487 fans at the Polo Grounds in New York City. The fight turned out to be one of the greatest heavyweight boxing fights of all time.
Conn would not gain weight for the challenge against Louis, saying instead that he would rely on a "hit and run" strategy. This precipitated Louis' famous response, "He can run, but he can't hide."
However, Louis had clearly underestimated Conn's threat. In his autobiography, Joe Louis said, "I made a mistake going into that fight. I knew Conn was kinda small and I didn't want them to say in the papers that I beat up on some little guy so the day before the fight I did a little roadwork to break a sweat and drank as little water as possible so I could weigh in under 200 pounds.
Conn had the better of the fight through twelve rounds, although Louis was able to stun Conn with a left hook in the fifth, cutting his eye and nose. By the eighth round, Louis began suffering from dehydration. By the twelfth round, Louis was exhausted, with Conn ahead on two of three boxing scorecards. But against the advice of his corner, Conn continued to closely engage Louis in the later stages of the fight. Louis made the most of the opportunity, knocking Conn out with two seconds left in the thirteenth round
While that is a relatively modern day story the statement could be a quote from God regarding the prophet Jonah.
This is the story of Jonah. He was a prophet of God who is mentioned the Old Testament book of 2 Kings 14:25 as being the person God used to announce that King Jeroboam II would be expanding his kingdom. This message would have made him popular but when God called and asked him to preach to the city of Nineveh he rebelled against the will of God.
For a little context let me just tell you that Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. History has shown that the Assyrians were a cruel and heartless people who thought nothing of burying their enemies alive, skinning them alive or impaling them on sharp poles under the hot sun. Jonah viewed the occupants of this city as the enemy and spoke directly with God about his orders to go and warn them about God’s judgment. He pushed back and then he took matters into his own hands.
Today we are going to hear the story of a man who tried to run from God and from His will for His life.
1. Resignation: A lesson in God’s patience
“1 The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. (Other translations of this have rendered it, “He fled the presence of the Lord.”)
He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish.” Jonah 1:1-3 NLT
“But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. 6 So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.”
7 Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. 8 “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
9 Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
10 The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the LORD. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. 11 And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?”
12 “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”
13 Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it. 14 Then they cried out to the LORD, Jonah’s God. “O LORD,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O LORD, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”
15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! 16 The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
17 [a]Now the LORD had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:4-17 NLT
Jonah resigned his calling! When a person has truly discovered the call of God on their life it is something that you cannot easily escape.
Causes: Jonah had a bad attitude toward God’s will and toward his enemies.
Course: The course of Jonah’s backsliding was downward. He went down into the ship, down into the sea and he went down into the fish.
Consequences: He lost God’s voice because now God had to speak to him in a storm. He lost his spiritual energy and momentum and went to sleep in the bottom of the ship. He lost power in prayer and even the desire to pray. The heathen sailors were praying and the prophet was sleeping.
2. Repentance: A Lesson in God’s pardon
“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from inside the fish.
“I cried out to the LORD in my great trouble, and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead and LORD, you heard me!
You threw me into the ocean depths, and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me; I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O LORD, you have driven me from your presence.
Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.” Jonah 2:1-4 NLT
It is important to realize what the Bible calls the “chastening hand of God.” We read about this in Hebrews 12: 5-13:
“My child,[e] don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
6 For the LORD disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”[f]
7 As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? 8 If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. 9 Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?[g]
10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. 13 Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.
Repentance ought to be a word that we are intimately acquainted with. When we find that we have strayed from God’s will in our lives the only way back is to repent. That means you humble yourself before God. You seek forgiveness and ask Him to hear your prayer. You determine to change your ways and submit to God’s discipline in your life.
Psalm 51 is one of the most excellent examples of a prayer of repentance. This prayer was prayed by King David after he had lusted, committed adultery and murder. I have encouraged lots of people to pray this prayer on their knees when seeking to return to God.
When you pray and authentic prayer of repentance the outcome is always the same. Revival happens. Revival is a biblical concept. It is not a series of meetings with a speaker from out of town as some would define it today. It is a rebirth and renewal of spiritual fervor and commitment.
3. Revival: A lesson in God’s power
“Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”
3 This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all.[a] 4 On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” 5 The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.” Jonah 3:1-5 NLT
There were nearly a million people in this city. It was an incredibly wicked city with no regard for God. Jonah knew it but now in his renewed commitment to carry out God’s plan he shows up and begins to deliver God’s message of judgment but also of forgiveness. Greater than even the transformation of Jonah is the transformation that happened in the city of Nineveh.
“When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. 7 Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city:
“No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. 8 People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. 9 Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
10 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” Jonah 3:6-10 NLT
In the New Testament, Jesus referenced this story to illustrate an important point. He had preached for three years to a generation of Jews and had reinforced His message with the demonstration of miracles, yet they would not repent or believe. They followed the crowds but not the Christ. Jesus reminded them in Matthew 12:38-41, that the Ninevites had heard one sermon from one preacher, emphasizing wrath and judgment not love—yet they repented and were forgiven! His own people the Jews heard Jesus for three years yet for the most part declined to hear it with their hearts and repent. They refused to follow.
What about you? Are you following the Lord today? Are you doing what is right or what you want to do and what feels good?
I have a pretty good notion that there are people sitting right here in this room that have strayed and “gone down to Tarshish!”
Have you given up on your faith today? Are you about to do something that is as foolish as Jonah running from God?
Let me tell you the end of the story for Jonah. He never quite repented all the way. This is another chance for me to remind you to let the experiences of life make you better not bitter.
4. Rebellion: A lesson in God’s pity
“This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. 2 So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. 3 Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” Jonah 4:1-3 NLT
In some ways the behavior of Jonah is almost comical and at the very least childish.
The LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
5 Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 And the LORD God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
7 But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. 8 And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.
9 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
10 Then the LORD said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”Jonah 4:4-11 NLT
This whole book is a lesson in God’s pity and mercy. You would think that you would find Jonah settling down in this city to teach the people the ways of God but instead you find him feeling sorry for himself and having a little personal pity party.
We never know how this story ends. We never find out for sure if Jonah ever recovers but you know that is not really the important question today.
The question today is what is going on in your life?
Can you or will you allow yourself to have some moments of honesty today?
Where are you really going with your life? Are you headed toward God and His will or away from it?
Prussian king Frederick the Great was once touring a Berlin prison. The prisoners fell on their knees before him to proclaim their innocence—except for one man, who remained silent. Frederick called to him, “Why are you here?” “Armed robbery, Your Majesty,” was the reply. “And are you guilty?” “Yes indeed, Your Majesty, I deserve my punishment.” Frederick then summoned the jailer and ordered him, “Release this guilty wretch at once. I will not have him kept in this prison where he will corrupt all the fine innocent people who occupy it.” Today in the Word, December 4, 1992
The student of a great philosopher entered the house of ill-repute. The teacher came to the door and asked him to come out. The student refused because he was ashamed. The teacher replied, "There is no shame in leaving the house of ill-repute, but there is great shame in staying." We responsible to take the needed action to move toward knowing Christ, becoming like Christ and accomplishing for Christ. There is no shame in leaving failure behind and pushing ahead. In Christ, forgiveness is available for everyone who asks.
Wouldn’t you like to get back on track today? Wouldn’t you like to quit running?
Benediction: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT