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  • Writer's picturePastor Jimmy Cason

A Big Fish Story

Please continue to stand as you're able in honor of the reading of God's Word coming to us today from Jonah. Now, if you're like me, even though I sort of have memorized the books of the Bible, Jonah is a little hard to find in the Old Testament because it only has four chapters. It's one of the minor prophets. Not because Jonah is minor, but because it's a short book. Jonah, chapter three, verses one through ten. 

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk to cross. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8 Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9 Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it.

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God, please be seated.

As always, Lord, I pray that you would deliver me from me, hide me behind the shadow of the cross, so that people see Jesus instead of me. And now may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, o Lord, our strength and our redeemer, amen. 

How many of you like to go fishing A few hands? How many of you are great at it? Oh, somebody finally raised their hand. I don't trust you. Because you over exaggerate. I mean, you listen to someone talk about how big the fish was that they caught. And the more they tell the story, the bigger the fish gets, and especially, especially, if that fish got away. I mean, you know just, it just gets bigger and bigger, and bigger and bigger. 

Now, since I'm from Georgia, I used to read and love the late Lewis Grizzard. He might be called the Jerry Clower of Georgia, but the late Lewis Grizzard once said don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. You might call the story of Jonah a big fish story. 

There's controversy over whether this is literal or not. Did Jonah get swallowed by a whale, yes or no? No, somewhere along the way we have sort of been told that it was a whale that swallowed Jonah. We're told it was a big fish. In fact some translation says a sea serpent. No where? Only here we find this is a big, big fish story. 

The problem is that we have squandered learning the real message of Jonah while we argue about whether it's literal or not. 

In this book, Jonah, a Jew, was asked to go to Nineveh to preach a hellfire and damnation kind of sermon. Nineveh was the center of the Assyrian Empire. Violent enemies of the Northern Kingdom, the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, Jonah was asked to go preach to the violent enemies of Israel. The ancient city of Nineveh lies beneath the modern city of Mosul Iraq, enemies of the United States. 

Imagine today if God called you to preach to Hamas or Iran or North Korea or Russia or Iraq. More about that later. 

Jonah refused to go. He rejected God's first call. Jonah fled to Tarshish, a Phoenician settlement in the Western Mediterranean, boarded a boat in Joppa. A great and violent storm occurred and the sailors threw Jonah off the boat and into the sea. God sent the big fish, the sea serpent, to swallow Jonah. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the big fish. 

Actually, God's salvation was brought to Jonah as the big fish rescued him from the violent waters of the sea. It's also a picture of burial and resurrection which foreshadows the resurrection of Jesus on the third day. 

Now I cannot remember which Christian comedian told the following story, but this comedian says that Jonah getting swallowed by the big fish indicates that God has a sense of humor. 

He says imagine that you are a Ninevite and you're sunbathing along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. You're minding your own business when you see a big fish jump out of the water and vomit up Jonah right in front of you. Now keep in mind that Jonah, a dark-skinned Middle Eastern man, has spent three nights in the belly of the big fish. The gastric juices of the fish has whitened Jonah's appearance. All of a sudden, out comes this albino man from inside this fish and the first word he proclaims is repent. I think I would have repented. 

God gives Jonah a second chance. Oh, I'm glad I serve a God who gives me second chances and third chances and hundredth chances and thousandth chances. God is the God of second chances. 

And Jonah preaches like he has never preached before. It's the shortest sermon in recorded history. We preachers ought to take note of that. Here was his message: “40 days more and Ninevah will be overthrown.” Eight words, One sentence. 

How many preachers enjoy telling people they're going straight to hell? Every once in a while I'll have somebody say you know, I wish you were more of a hellfire and damnation kind of preacher. I don't know. I don't think they want me to tell them they're going to hell. They want me to tell somebody else they're going to hell. 

But you know, I don't apologize for not being a hell, fire and damnation kind of preacher, because you see, fear is a short-term motivator. Yes, for a short term, I can scare the hell out of you and I'm not cursing. 

I remember 12 years ago when I had heart bypass surgery, I had 90% blockage in the widowmaker. I am more than blessed to be standing in front of you today. You know, when I got out of the hospital and had that long three-month recovery home, I started eating right because I could remember the pain of all those tubes coming out of me and I didn't want to go through that again. I wanted to eat right out of fear. 

But it didn't take long before the memory of all that pain was in the past and fear did not always motivate me to eat right. I believe the love of God, the precious love of God, the overwhelming love of God, the amazing love of God. We are drawn more to the love of God than we are to the short-term fear of God. 

Well, Jonah preached this hell, fire and damnation. He sort of kind of enjoyed it. I know preachers today it seems like that they are right at the door of hell and they're counting the turnstiles to see how many people are going there, because they seem to be happy that people are going to hell. 

Jonah sort of enjoyed that, because he couldn't wait to see the enemies of Israel destroy it. But a strange thing happened. The people of Nineveh repented. The violent king repented. What if that had been Saddam Hussein? Jonah's preaching was successful. God changed his mind and did not bring destruction upon the people, and Jonah was outraged. 

He had already stood at the gates of hell and preached the hellfire and damnation kind of sermon. How dare God the same God who had chosen Israel as his very favorite, but also the same God who had allowed this heathen nation to conquer his favorite people due to their disobedience how dare God allow these evil people to turn from their wicked ways and follow the God of his nation? And what about us? Obviously, the United States is God's favorite country, the new Israel. 

Now, I am just as patriotic as anyone. I'll put my patriotism up with your patriotism any day. When I'm asked to stand at an athletic event and the national anthem is played, sometimes chills run up and down my spine. I've traveled to several countries overseas and when I get back to the United States I find myself wishing that I could just kiss the ground, because I feel like that we're living in the greatest nation on the face of this earth. 

However, one of the failings of today's church is that we have Americanized Christianity. It is no longer God and Country, but we've combined our politics with our religion to the point that outsiders cannot tell the difference. 

When I hear people say one of either two things: how can a Christian vote for a Democrat, or how can a Christian vote for Republicans? I hear it on both sides. We want to claim God for ourselves, for our political opinions, for certainly we're on the side of God and God is always on our side. Now I want to go on record as saying that I fully support Israel's right to defend themselves after the violent attacks of hamas. However, why is it that we always believe that God is on our side when there are others on the other side claiming that God is on their side? 

When will we learn that God loves people white people and black people and Hispanic people and Asian people and Native American people, rich people, middle class people, poor people, homeless people, older people, younger people, gay people, straight people, african people, north Koreans, iranians, jewish people, muslim people, palestinian people, homeless people, all people. 

We sang it as a child. Jesus loves the little children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. {amen} It’s okay for children to say amen, it's okay for children to believe that message, but it doesn't take us long to outgrow that message. 

I read this story and I hope it's true. 

Mohammed, the founder of Islam, born in Mecca, modern day Saudi Arabia, in 570, grew up as an eccentric young man. He had an interest in two people: the Jews and the Christians. They were both people of the book, and that impressed him. However, when he expressed an interest in learning more about Christianity, some thought him too strange and brushed him off. So, instead of perhaps becoming a Christian, he followed his own course, wrote his own book, the Quran, and founded his own religion. I cannot help but wonder what might have happened if someone had responded to Mohammed with concern rather than callousness. 

Look at the impact that Mohammed has had on the world. What if he had had that same impact for Jesus? I wonder if we might not be having to be the referee between Hamas and Israel right now. 

Why bother with evangelism? Why bother trying to foster goodwill between all people? Why bother trying to introduce people to a God who loves all people. Just ask Mohammed. 

The late Henry Nowan wrote this: “For Jesus there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved.” Amen, let us pray. 

Lord, we confess that sometimes we would rather hear about how much you hate other people. We find that loving all people is perhaps the hardest thing we've ever been asked to do. You tell us about our neighbors that we're supposed to love and then you don't say to us if you have enemies, love them. You just simply tell us to love our enemies, our neighbors, those who think like we do, our enemies, those who oppose everything that we think or do, no difference. 

Lord you go out of your way to chase us down, putting someone in the belly of a big fish for three days and three nights? You are still the hound of heaven, still running after us, still asking us when will you ever get it? When will you ever start practicing what I've been preaching. In the quietness of this moment, may we look at ourselves, not anyone else, but look at ourselves. What parts of our life do not measure up to the overwhelming, amazing love that you want us to share? Speak to us, lord, at our own point of need and give us the courage to say yes, lord, in the name of Christ, we pray Amen. 


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