In 26 years of marriage, Tonya and I have lived in San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Denver – all great cities. We are city people. We like to joke that one criteria for where we live is to be close to professional baseball, though some years the Padres and Rockies tested the definition.
Personally, I love being close to music, theater, shopping, and people!
As a pastor, I believe that reaching cities with the gospel is the key to truly and significantly impacting our culture.
That is why helping start new churches and Mountainview campuses is so important. Cities change countries and only God can change a city.
God loves Denver and we believe he wants to use our church to change the spiritual landscape.
Over the next 4 weeks we are going to preach straight through the book of Jonah. The story of Jonah is perhaps most famous for one thing: a big whale. But it’s about much more than that. It’s about how much God cares for people.
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” – Jonah 1:1-2
There is an old saying, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” If any nation on earth had good reasons to curse the existence of Nineveh it was Israel.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the arch enemy of Israel. When God says it was a wicked city, he meant it … Some scholars have referred to Nineveh as the Third Reich of the ancient world. It was brutal, barbaric, and the last place Jonah wanted to go.
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. – Jonah 1:3
For Jonah, Ninevah was a dangerous place but it was less dangerous than where that boat was headed – outside of God’s will for him. But he had to find that out for himself.
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” [There is an extreme irony here: a pagan sea captain is pleading with a Hebrew prophet to pray to his God.] 7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) 11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” 12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” – Jonah 1:4-12
Jonah thought his disobedience was a private matter. How many times have I talked to people who thought no one else would get hurt by the poor choices they were making! Just ask the sailors on that ship if Jonah’s decision to run from God was impacting them or not.
When you don’t allow God to be in control of your life, it will affect those around you.
Someone once said the only difference between Jesus running my life and me ruining my life is the letter I.
A good example of that is found in the reaction of the sailors to Jonah’s request to be thrown into the sea … they didn’t accept it.
13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. – Jonah 1:13
They tried everything humanly possible to prevent a mass drowning. “But they could not.” Such sad words. Disappointing words.
There is an important lesson in these words: Your best effort, hard work, and religious practices cannot buy salvation for anyone. Salvation is up to God and only he can get us safely back to shore.
14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this manʼs life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. – Jonah 1:14-16
The moment Jonah is thrown overboard peace is restored. In theological terms, this is an echo of what is to come with Jesus. Only by placing our trust in Jesus will we experience real peace.
17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:17
For some of you, the story of Jonah just became a cartoon. It might be tempting to simply dismiss the story as another of Aesop’s Fables. But Jesus didn’t dismiss the story. He not only took story of Jonah seriously, he used it to predict the 3 days and 3 nights between his death and resurrection:
40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. – Matthew 12:40
Here’s the point of the big fish: God doesn’t give up on us as easily as we give up on ourselves.
When Jonah fled, he was looking to change his geography but not his heart. God wants to change your heart. He wants you to see people the way he sees people.
We hear Jesus say, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” and think, but if only he knew my neighbors. He DOES know your neighbors! He knows every street, every sidewalk across South Denver.
How does this apply to the church? We believe God wants to use our church to change our city.
As we think about changing Denver, there are two key words used throughout Jonah.
The word for “big” is used 14 times in four chapters. Big city, big fear, big storm, big fish, big anger, big revival.
The story of Jonah challenges us to step outside of the boundaries of what we think is normal and to believe that anything is possible.
The second word is the Hebrew word ra-ah. Translated two ways: discomfort and destruction. Jonah was discomforted. Nineveh faced destruction.
God will sometimes discomfort his people so that others will not be destroyed.
God will not grow your faith or the faith of our church inside of our comfort zones.
May 2017 be the year of holy discomfort.