Message of Jonah: Can You Run from God?
During a message at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, John Piper described heaven as the place where God himself supremely resides. ‘Even if we arrived in heaven and received everything else that we wanted – friends, family, health, riches – we would be uninterested in being there if God himself was not present,’ he declared. God is the center of it all. In that sense, then, ‘the people who are preparing for heaven are the people who are increasingly centered on God and God’s presence already.’
Meditating on this truth, Mark Dever later noted that the opposite is true as well. In reflection he wrote,
‘Hell is the place where God and his presence are absent (his pleasing presence, anyway; God is present in hell only to judge). And the individuals whom Scripture promises will go to hell are individuals whose lives are already marked by indifference to God, by coldness to God, by opposition to God. These individuals follow laws different than God’s laws, and they pursue loves different than God’s loves.’
Does that sound like the life you live, a life characterized by loving what God does not love and by ignoring what he does love?
In our study this week on the Minor Prophets, we find a man running away from God’s laws and God’s loves, and, strangely, that man is one of God’s prophets – the prophet Jonah. As we’ve remarked several times, these prophets are called ‘Minor Prophets’ not because they are unimportant but rather because they are smaller in size than those called ‘Major Prophets,’ such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
This summer we are considering these often-neglected books of the Old Testament through an overview of each of the books. Thus, every week we are looking at a different Minor Prophet in the hopes of whetting your appetite to study them more fully. Using Mark Dever’s book, “Messages of the Old Testament: Promises Made,” we are placing these prophets in the context of an eternal question. This week we come to the book of Jonah.
The most well-known minor prophet these days is surely Jonah. Jonah’s book is composed of four short chapters, and each chapter reflects a different setting. The first chapter is set mostly at sea; the second chapter is set in the belly of a great fish. The third chapter is set in the city of Nineveh, then the capital of the Assyrian Empire. And the fourth is set just outside of Nineveh.
Jonah’s book is unique among the prophets because it is a story and contains very little ‘prophecy.’ Some have suggested that we should read this story as a fable, a myth, or possibly a parable. Now, we could present several good reasons to argue against this suggestion. But, for us, the most important reason is that Jesus treated the story of Jonah as historical (Matt. 12:4-41; Luke 11:30, 32).
In our study, we want to think about Jonah, his story, and the book’s basic themes. Thinking back for a moment, we saw in our study of Hosea that God loves his people. In Amos, we observed God’s promise of judgment on his people, but also his offer of hope. In Obadiah, we saw that God promised to judge the foreign nation of Edom as an enemy; and after that study you may well have wondered whether God loves the nations as he loves Israel, because the same promise of rescue and deliverance is not explicitly extended to them. Is God concerned about anyone other than Israel? Well, the story of Jonah answers this question. But it also raises questions for us today – questions like, are you running from God’s will? And are you running from God’s love?
I hope you can join us in worship this coming Lord’s Day as we consider: Can you Run from God? from the book of Jonah. What about you, are you running from God’s will? Or are you running from Gods’ love? Of course, we could ask this final question like such: Are you running from those whom God loves? Let me encourage you to invite someone to come along with you as we come together to worship the Lord.