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The Man Who Said No (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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July 15, 2023 4:00 am

The Man Who Said No (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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July 15, 2023 4:00 am

God sent Jonah to warn the wicked city of Nineveh about the coming wrath. Thinking that the Ninevites didn’t deserve warning, Jonah blatantly defied God’s call. Listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg explores God’s greater reluctance and motivation.


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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!


God Sent the Prophet Jonah to Warn the Wicked City of Nineveh About God's Coming Wrath. Jonah, however, blatantly defied God's call because he didn't think the Ninevites deserved to be warned. Today on Truth for Life weekend we'll see how God's reluctance was even greater than Jonah's, but his motivation for concern was completely different. Alistair Begg is teaching from the opening verses in the Old Testament book of Jonah. So that is the place that's involved—the great city of Nineveh.

That's the place. Here's the proclamation. What are you supposed to say? Well, I want you to go to the great city of Nineveh, he says, and preach against it. The reason being that its wickedness has come up before me. God is enraged about the circumstances in Nineveh. So he goes to his man, and he says, Jonah, you're my man for the moment. This is the place, and here's the proclamation.

Go in there and denounce it for its wickedness. Now, the interesting thing is this, that when you read the denunciations of God, you discover that it is always in the heart of God, too long, that as a result of his declaration of judgment and condemnation, it may stir within those who hear it a heart of repentance and of faith so that what he says he will do in judgment he will end up not doing on account of his mercy. So he says, I want you to go to Nineveh, and I want you to denounce it. Both God and his servant know they have enough theology—at least Jonah has enough theology—to understand that if he goes and pronounces condemnation, the possibility is that the people will turn in sackcloth and ashes and repent.

And that, as we shall see, unsettles him. So the place is clear, the proclamation is clear, and what about the purpose? What about the purpose? What is the purpose of this little book? Why is it even in the Bible? Do you ever think that when you're doing your Bible reading, you come to this, and it starts off, The Word of the Lord gave to Jonah son of Amittai? It makes you think about your tie.

You know, you start saying things like, Amittai, have a tie, do I have a tie, where's my tie, stuff like that. Before you know where you are, you're completely nothing to do with the Bible at all. You're going through it as fast as you can. How many verses am I supposed to read?

You look up your sheet. Seventeen. Okay, let's go.

Let's get through seventeen of them. Oh, good, that's the whole chapter. Fine. Lovely. Okay, Jonah, yes, I must come back to that sometime. Sometime.

I don't know when, though. Now, the fact is we don't know why it's there, so we need to ask the question, why is the book even there? What has God left the book in the Bible for?

Well, there are more answers than we can even give. One is to make perfectly clear to the people of his day and to us that God's ways in dealing with nations and cities and individuals are not our ways. That it is impossible for us to explain the world geographically, historically, sociologically, psychologically. All of these things may point us in a certain direction, but ultimately, we cannot make sense of the rise and fall of empires, the advancement of cities and their demise, except for the fact that God is the God who has judged over all the earth, and he sets things up and he brings them down. Now, much of that will not be apparent to us until finally we get to glory. And we are then treated to a huge panorama of world history. And we say, oh, so that's why that happened. So that's why that place never prospered.

So that's why this came to nothing at all. And the book of Jonah is a classic reminder to us that the actions of God in judgment and in mercy are not constrained by our understanding of what's taking place. In other words, we don't have to understand everything so as to give credence to the hand and the heart of God. Indeed, the fact of the matter is that our very finitude prevents us from understanding everything, and if we make the understanding of everything the basis whereby we determine what God can or cannot do, then, of course, we put ourselves in the place of God, and he does only what we see fit. And the book of Jonah, classically to Jonah, says, I'm God. You go.

I'll do what I'm going to do. And Jonah is a sulker. Jonah is a defiant. I bet Jonah was a right wee rascal when he was a boy.

I bet he knew how to stamp his foot and say that he wasn't having any more cereal and he wasn't doing this and he wasn't doing that, because here his personality comes to the fore. You go. No. I said, Go.

I said, No. Now, is that the end of the purposes of God for Nineveh? Can one man's no circumvent the eternal plan of God? Our capacity to understand and approve of what God does does not establish the standard to which God is supposed to adhere.

But there's more. Because Jonah's fulfillment of this commission would have helped to fulfill the role of provoking the people of God to respond to God. And I don't have time to delve back into this, but you find it all the way through the Old Testament and right into the New. And it's most common to us in Romans chapter 10, where God talks about the fact that if you go to the pagans and the pagans turn in repentance and faith, then it will provoke my people to return to me in the way that they should. That you find in Deuteronomy.

That you will find through the prophets. You've got Amos coming and just absolutely hammering the people. Then you've got Jonah coming and taking it in a different way. And through it all, God is working his plan and his purpose out for those who are his own people. And the dramatic thing here is this, that he is doing this with people that are the most unlikely people to be saved. And it is this, as we shall see, which absolutely annoys Jonah.

Because Jonah doesn't like the fact that these people may possibly be converted. This, of course, is nothing new to us, because in Luke chapter 4, when we were reading way back then, we discovered that Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees of his day that he was prepared to take the message of the gospel everywhere. And you remember, he says in Luke chapter 4, around verse 24, he points out Elijah. And he says, you know, Elijah was surrounded by widows in his day, many people that he could have ministered to, and yet it was to a widow from Cydonia, Cydonia, that he went. Elijah was surrounded by lots of people who had leprosy, and yet it was to Naaman the Syrian that he went. The mercy of God is not limited in this particular way. So he says, I want you to go to Nineveh.

I want you to go and say this, and I want you to do it now. And then verse 3, but Jonah ran away from the Lord. And he headed for Tarshish. Tarshish actually means a refinery or a smelter.

The word is used of a number of medieval sites where Phoenician traders had gone and established these various smelting projects. When Tarshish is mentioned in Isaiah and in Psalm 72, it is simply referred to as a remote and a distant place. So Jonah determines that he won't go to God's place, he'll run away to his own place, and he's going to get as far away as he possibly can.

Now, the question that must arise if we're thinking is simply this. Why didn't Jonah go? I mean, you read all the other prophets, and it says, And God came to Isaiah, and he said, Do this, and he did it. And he came to Jeremiah, and he said, Do this, and he did it.

And he came to someone else, and he said, Do this, and he did it. And the Word of God came to Jonah, and he said, Go here, and Jonah ran away from the Lord. Now, there's no answer given to us in the opening verses. You have to get to the second verse of chapter 4 in order to understand just exactly what was going on in his mind. O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That's why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sin and calamity.

What's he referring to? He's referring to the fact that when the people of Nineveh heard the message of judgment, they repented in sackcloth, and Jonah didn't like it. Why didn't Jonah want to obey? I think the bottom-line answer is simply this, because he didn't want the Lord to spare Nineveh. He didn't want the Lord to spare Nineveh. He had previously been involved in propounding a message of prosperity to his own people in 2 Kings 14. They were going to take back territory from Assyria. And now it would appear that if he does what God asked them to do, the chances are that the Assyrian people may prosper so much that they may come and take back the territory all over again.

And he frankly doesn't fancy that. After all, these people were pagan. These folks were hostile.

These people deserved judgment. Why can't God keep it all nice and tidy? Why can't he just save the nice people like us?

What's he doing going over there and dealing with those other people? We're not going to do that, God. We're not going over there with those ugly people. Why should we go over and then speak to those sinners and tell them there's a message of judgment, that there's hell to pay for their actions? What about if we tell them that, and they say, well, is there an answer to our hell? And we have to say, yes, there's a heaven. And then they say, how do you get there?

And we say, by the cross. And then they get there. They don't deserve to get there. They shouldn't be there. They're bad. They're pagan. They're hostile. They're disinterested. They're not church-going people. They are not the right kind of people. Now, somebody looking down from a high vantage point may be forced to conclude, in looking at the average church congregation in suburban North America, that that is exactly how we all feel about everything. That we have bought into the church-growth notion that the way that you reach people is just by reaching people that are peculiarly like you.

And unless a person is really like you, they're not going to like you, and therefore, you can't say anything to them. Therefore, there's no point in going to people who have their hair painted 45 different colors, have rings sticking out of every orifice of their body, and look like nothing on earth. There's no reason to go to those people. Ah, they've made their beds. Let them lie in it. Look at them.

Let's take a drive and see if we can look out the window at some of them. Look at these pagan, hostile people. And God says, I want you to go down there and tell them that there's a judgment coming. I'm not going down there and tell them there's a judgment coming. Let them face the judgment. If I go and tell them there's a judgment coming, they may ask if there's a way to escape it. And then what'll happen? Then they'll start becoming, then we'll have to have them here.

We don't want them here. That's Jonah, the prophet, who doesn't want to preach. No, the prophet who wants to preach, but only wants to preach where he wants to preach.

The guy who only wants to preach to whom he wants to preach. Did he really expect to change anything by running away? To run away from the presence of the Lord down to Joppa, modern-day Jaffa, about thirty-five miles away from Jerusalem, down in the travel agents at Joppa.

And what are you looking for today, Mr. Jonah? Oh, I'm seeing you just take a trip. And anywhere in particular?

No, nowhere in particular. Just basically, I'd like to get out of here. Any distance in mind?

No, really, just as far away as possible. Have you ever thought of a cruise? Well, I'm not much of a sailor. We Hebrews don't do a lot of sailing, but I suppose if that's all you've got, I'm prepared.

I'll have a go at anything. Listen, when you and I want to run away from the Lord, we will have a go at anything. We will get out of here on a bus, on a bike, on our hands and knees, any place, to run, if we might, from the presence of the Lord. Anyone running this morning? The Lord has spoken very clearly to you about some issue in your life through the Bible, through the context and circumstances of your lives, and you've decided, I'm just going to run away from the Lord.

Do you think you'll achieve anything by that? This is, of course, what Adam and Eve thought they would do. As soon as they fouled up, they said, We'll make a run for it.

Let's go run and hide in the trees. And the Lord came and sought them out, said, Where are you? Of course, he knew where they were. He wanted them just to answer.

Jonah wanted to avoid the one he had offended. I think he probably wanted to be away, so that when his replacement went in and preached, he wasn't there to see exactly what had happened. And so, in his attempt to get as far away as possible, he's prepared to take anything to get anywhere. It's a quite striking verse, isn't it? He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port—i.e., the port of Tarshish.

He probably justified it in his mind. See, if I'd been supposed to go to Nineveh, there wouldn't have been a ship here waiting for me. And I'm sure that I'm really supposed to go to Tarshish, because after all, there's a ship here, and I want to go on a ship, and there's a ship, and there's… Do you do that? God, I frankly don't want to do this. Now, over here, we're trying to rearrange our lives. Say, Well, if the car hadn't been there, if she hadn't been there, if that hadn't been there, I'm not supposed to do this.

And we play around in our minds with all kinds of nonsense. Look very carefully at what it says, that he found a ship bound for the port, and after paying the fare, he went aboard. I tell you what, the devil will always have a conveyance waiting for you when you're determined to run away from the presence of the Lord. You can be guaranteed a way out of town. But be very careful. You will pay the fare.

He may provide the right, but you will pay the fare. And what does it tell us? It tells us that the man who was called to arise is on his way down, because the course of disobedience is always down until the Lord intervenes. Verse 3, he went down to Joppa. This spiritualizes it a little bit.

It is quite naughty, but I can't miss the chance. He went down to Joppa. Verse 5, he went below the deck where he fell asleep. We'll come to that later on. The prophet sleeps while the pagans scream.

What's wrong with this picture? He went down to Joppa. He went down below the deck, and in verse 6 of chapter 2, the engulfing waters threatened me. To the roots of the mountains I sank down. And so he probably said to himself, as he grabbed his backpack and he pulled it up, and he got on board and he looked at the motley crew of the sailors and said, Boy, I bet there's some stories on this boat. And then he went down below the deck and he said to himself, Well, sweet dreams to Nineveh! I'm glad I've got that over with.

Just me now, and the sailors, and Tarshish, here I come. But it wasn't that simple. And it never is. If you've ever tried doing a runner from God, you know it isn't that simple. Number one, you can't do it on your own. You get everybody goofed up with you—your family, your friends, your business associates, and even casual people that you meet in bus stations when you're running from God. The whole thing goes haywire. And that's where we leave him.

But let me point this out to you as I finish. There are multiple lessons here. One of the lessons is simply that God is concerned for all mankind. We're going to see this unfold, that he is not willing that any should perish, that he loves saving people. And that one of the challenges that must be coming to us again and again as a church and as individuals is the challenge to our parochialism. If it is God's plan for us to remain in Cleveland, if it is for us to live out our lives in this way and in this place, then so be it we will do that to the glory of God. But if God is stirring within our hearts, concerning the Muslim world, and sacrificing ourselves and our notoriety and our future for the seeing of unbelieving Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ, then if God says go, we then say no. What are we going to do with the teeming masses of India? What are we going to do with the vast, vast hordes of mainland China?

Who is really there in Taiwan to add to the voice of those declaring the glory and the power of forgiveness in Jesus? Ninety-eight percent of the power, the personnel, the money, the influence that is generated in the United States of America that has the capacity to make a radical impact on the world—the largest percentage—is being utilized right here in the continental United States. It also contains a warning against disobedience.

I've made that point. It also gives to us a display of divine grace in that it conveys the great reluctance. Because the great reluctance that you find here in the book of Jonah is actually not the reluctance of Jonah to do what he's told, but it is the reluctance of God to leave his servant in dejection and misery brought about by his disobedience. What a great God! That he comes to us again and again and again, even when we put our fingers in our ears and run off down the streets and say, I had enough of that. I'm not doing that anymore. I'm not going there anymore.

I'm not obeying that anymore. And by the whisper of a child, by the loss of a tire on the freeway, by the rising of a great storm, he pursues his wandering child, because he loves us so much that he doesn't want to leave us in the belly of a great fish. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life Weekend with a message she's titled The Man Who Said No. I hope you found some great takeaways to meditate on this weekend.

Alistair, we'll be back to close today's program in just a minute. We're learning in this series that God pursues us. He even pursues those who seem unlikely to be saved. So we shouldn't be reluctant to talk to others about Jesus, even if it seems like they're not likely to listen. To help you share your faith, Truth for Life has many online resources that you can access and share for free. They're on our website at You can watch or listen to thousands of Alistair's messages. You'll also find study guides on several topics to help you deepen your understanding of scripture.

Each study is designed for you to work through on your own or together with a friend or in a small group. You can listen to one message at a time as you complete the corresponding section in the study guide. The messages and the study guides are both free to download and we're always working to add more.

Check out the current selection by clicking on study guide in our online store at slash store. While you're on our website, don't forget to check out the book Dream Small, The Secret Power of the Ordinary Christian Life. This is the last weekend we'll be mentioning this book.

You can learn more about the book Dream Small on the Truth for Life mobile app or on our website at Now here's Alistair to close with prayer. Father, out of all of these words I do pray that we might hear your voice. I pray for some this morning who came to church and they said, you know, this is my last Sunday.

I have had enough of this. I want to say no to God and no to the Bible and no to everything else and they can't believe that they ran slap bang into Jonah. Thank you, Father.

Show yourself strong in their lives. Others of us who have determined that you really are only interested in saving nice people like us need to have a baptism of clear seeing and need to be reminded of the extent of your mercy because we're so proud. We think we deserve to be saved. We don't realize how ugly and willful and defiant we are.

And if we understood how wretched we really are, then we would realize that there is no reason under heaven while these pagan, defiant, apparently distasteful individuals should not be the recipients of the message of mercy and judgment. Father, I pray that you will turn the gaze of us as a congregation out. Don't allow us to become a marina here.

Don't let us sail our boats around and congratulate one another on a new headlight and a little more horsepower. Send us out, Lord, onto the sea, we pray, to rescue the perishing and to care for the dying and to tell them of Jesus the mighty to save. And may the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be our abiding portion today and forevermore. Amen.

I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for studying with us this weekend. Do you think you're the only one affected when you run away from God? You need to think again. Next weekend, we'll get a closer look at the ripple effect of disobedience. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-15 04:37:47 / 2023-07-15 04:47:15 / 9

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