Last week we began a series on the Book of Jonah. In chapter one, we took a trip with Jonah on a boat headed to Tarshish, which was in the exact opposite direction of where God had sent him. Jonah thought that he could get away from “the presence of the Lord.” Perhaps you have never done such a thing, but I know there have been times when I have run from God. But we know that God’s presence is always with us and so it is with Jonah. The boat encounters a raging storm, the sailors determine that Jonah is the cause of the storm and they throw him overboard. Verse 17 tells us that “The Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. We ended last week thinking about what a dismal place that would be – a place of hopelessness and despair. Yet, we also remembered that even in that place of despair – there is God and there is hope of rescue.
Today we look at Jonah 2 and Jonah is still there – in the belly of the fish. But something interesting is happening. Jonah is praying! After all that time running, trying to escape the “presence of the Lord,” Jonah prays to the Lord God. It is about time. What we read in chapter 2, as Jonah’s prayer, interestingly enough, is a psalm of thanksgiving from Jonah instead of a prayer of lament. That is good, right? Thankfulness is always a good thing, but there is something about Jonah’s prayer of praise that is a little off. In spite of all that has happened – running from God, endangering his fellow shipmates, hiding in the hold of the ship – Jonah remains – well, seemingly oblivious to what he has done wrong. He focuses on himself and his predicament, it is a grave situation that he is in for certain. Yet, Jonah does not repent of his disobedience to God, in fact, he doesn’t even mention his own disobedience at all. Instead, his tone becomes even a little defiant when, in verse 8, he brings up “those who worship vain idols and forsake their true loyalty.” “But I,” he goes on, “with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you.”
Oh Jonah, Jonah, Jonah – how often are we so much like you? God calls, we answer by springing into action, just not the action God asks of us. Sometimes, we do everything but what God would have us do (or even stop doing). Sometimes things happen to us as a result. Sometimes, we respond with (what we think) is graciousness – O Lord, thank you – and never ever see that the whole thing could have been avoided if we just followed God’s leading in our lives.
Perhaps you have never been in this situation, but I have. Remember when I shared last week about my 15 year-old self booking it to Tarshish by leaving the church and leaving my faith behind? Much of what made my life so difficult during that time was me. My own poor decisions put me, so to speak, in the belly of the fish. I looked for others to blame, my perception of reality was distorted. And that is the situation with Jonah. His perception of the reality of the situation is distorted. Jonah is self-centered, he even is arrogant enough to elevate himself above others who are disobedient to God.
But thanks be to God, that even though we stubbornly follow our own (ideas), and even in spite of our dismissal of God as being important, even when we pack our bags and run for Tarshish, God is a God of second chances.
How many of you have heard of Veggie Tales? Veggie Tales is an animated cartoon series that has vegetables as its main characters. Larry the cucumber and Bob the tomato are the mainstays of this silly show. They often retell familiar Bible stories in a unique way. Jonah is one of the Bible stories retold Veggie Tales style. I wanted to share a clip with you this morning from the movie, Jonah. In this clip, Jonah who is played by an asparagus, is in the belly of the great fish, along with a worm, Kahlil, and they are visited by some heavenly asparagus. This segment is a little long – it’s five minutes, but I think you will enjoy it. You might even find yourself tapping along, or raising your hands, maybe even dancing. Let’s watch.
(God of second chances video clip)
This is so true that our God is a God of second chances, and third chances and ON AND ON. So why do you think it takes us so many times to get it right? Why do we need all of those chances? Why did Jonah, even in the belly of the fish, continue to make it all about himself? Why are we so stubborn. I really don’t know. In the end of chapter 2, Jonah finally seems to get it right: “Deliverance belongs to the Lord,” he says. (v9)
In the end it is the need for repentance. In our youth group this past week we learned about repentance and belief. Repent really means to change your mind. You change your mind from thinking you have all the answers, you change your mind from thinking you know what is best, from thinking that you are in charge and you believe that what God says is true. You believe and you trust. You trust and obey. “If you believe God’s love is true, then you should know what you should do.” Next week as we look at chapter 3, it is all about repentance and about God’s desire to give everyone, not just Jonah a second chance. It is about the miraculous things that can happen when we change our mind and turn toward God.
Why does God give us so many chances to turn to him? The answer is simple. It is because he loves us. That deep love is never more evident than in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and freed, we are removed from the belly of the fish and brought into the presence of God’s vast, unmeasured love. Through Christ, who lived, and died, and was resurrected we are given a fullness of life beyond anything we would think of for ourselves. When we are ready to repent, to give up our self-centeredness, when we are ready to place Christ at the center we find ourselves rescued from despair, and immersed in the deep, deep love of Jesus.
Lord, we are so grateful that you are the God of second chances. We can be so stubborn and willful that we need all of the chances we can get. But today, we declare that we no longer want to live in despair, or hopelessness. Instead, we want to claim our place in your kingdom. So we repent and declare our belief in you and our desire to follow you.