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The Prison Experiences Of The Bible

Sermon #4


Jonah 1:1-17


Intro:  During the awful, bloody days of World War I, there was a British soldier who became so distraught with the war, the suffering and the death that he deserted. He tried to find his way to the coast so he could catch a boat and make his way back secretly to his homeland in England.

      In the darkness of the night he lost his way.  After a while, he stumbled upon a road sign. It was pitch black and he was terribly lost. He had no idea where he was or what the sign said. He decided to climb the pole to see if he could read the sign and figure out which way he needed to go. When he got to the crossbeam, he held on to read the sign. Taking out a match, he lit it, and looked directly in the face of Jesus Christ. He had climbed an outdoor crucifix!

      Stunned by what he saw, he realized the shame of his life. He was looking into the face of the One who had endured it all and had never turned back. The next morning the soldier was back in the trenches.

      God has an amazing was of getting our attention!  He will call us to a task in His kingdom work and we will draw back from Him and seek to go our own way.  When that happens, the Lord will come after us and pursue us until He brings us back to Him and to His plan for our lives.  When the Lord has an assignment for you, He is determined that you carry it out.  He will not just allow you to walk away while He does nothing. He will persistently and patiently work in your life until He brings you to the place where He can use you for the task He has in mind.  He will do whatever He needs to do to get your attention and bring you to the place where you are willing to do what He tells you.

      This is one of the lessons taught here in the book of Jonah.  God called the prophet to a task he did not want to do and he ran from the Lord.  But, God persevered and sent Jonah into a prison experience to get his attention and gain his cooperation.

      This prison wasn’t constructed of brick, mortar and metal bars.  It was a prison built of flash and blood, with bars of ivory.  Yet, it was in this strange prison that Jonah was convinced that god’s plan was the right plan.

      I want to join Jonah in his prison and deal with the truths that we find there.  I want to show you that you can run from God and from His will for your life, but you can never hide.  If necessary, He will send you into a prison experience to get your attention and gain your cooperation.  Let’s look together at The Prison Of His Perseverance.


  I.                               THE ROAD TO THIS PRISON

A.  1:1-3  It Is A Road Of Disobedience – God had called Jonah to a specific task.  He was told to go and warn the city of Nineveh that judgment was coming to their town.  God wanted to extend His grace to a lost and needy people, and Jonah wanted no part of it!  God wanted to save the heathen people of Nineveh, 4:1.  Jonah, on the other hand, hated them and could have cared less if they had died and went to Hell!

            Why did Jonah possess such a deep hatred for the people of Nineveh?  There are several reasons, let me suggest a few.

·         Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire.  The Assyrians were a fierce, warlike people.

·         The Ninevites were idol worshipers.

·         The Ninevites were not Jewish.  Jonah was probably a racist.

·         The Ninevites were known for their cruelty to the people they attacked and defeated.  For instance, they were know to skin their victims alive and then impale their bodies on sharpened stakes and leave them there to die.  They often forced parents to watch their children being burned alive, just before the parents themselves were killed.  The Ninevites were also known to bury their victims up to their necks in the sand and leave them to die of hunger, thirst or wild animal attack.  Whole cities had been known to commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Ninevites.

·         The Ninevites had focused their attention on Israel.  It was common knowledge that the Assyrians were coming and that they intended to destroy the people of God.

      So, when Jonah hears the call to go and evangelize the city of Nineveh, he makes a decision to go to Tarshish.  Tarshish was located on the western coast of Spain, some 2,000 miles in the opposite direction.  It was far as Jonah could go in his effort to get away from God.

      Jonah seemed to think that he could escape from God’s plans and God’s gaze by running away.  He didn’t want to do what the Lord was telling him to do, so he fled from God.  Apparently, Jonah held to too small a view of God.  He seems to think that God is a local God.  He seems to believe that if he can run far enough away, God will not be able to find him.  Jonah holds to a faulty theology.  Psalm 139:7-10 lets us know what God can see and where He operates!

      While he has a small view of God, Jonah seems to have a large view of self.  Jonah thinks he is smarter than God.  He thinks he can run away and hide from God.  Apparently, Jonah thinks he can serve God when it is convenient to Jonah; but when hard times comes and an unpleasant assignment comes, he thinks that he is free to abandon God and to walk away from God’s call on his life.


(Note: Let’s not be too hard on Jonah.  Do we not think the same way from time to time?  We do not mind serving the Lord when it is convenient.  But, when He tells us to do something we do not want to do, we rebel and we disobey Him. 

      We may not go to Tarshish, but we do go away from the Lord!  We think we know more than He does.  We think we are in control.  We think we can call the shots and do as we please.

      Let me just remind you that when the Lord saved you, He took total possession of your life.  He owns you, body and soul, 1 Cor 6:19-20.  He alone has the right to tell you what to do; where to go; and how to live your life.  And, when He comes along with an assignment for you to fulfill, all He wants to hear from your mouth is what He heard from Isaiah, Isa. 6:8.  Anything less is disobedience and rebellion and that attitude will not go unchallenged by the Lord, Rev. 3:19.  Ill. Preachers who run from the Lord.  It is not a badge of honor to say that you refused to do what the Lord told you to do!

      Has God been speaking to your heart about something He wants you to do?  Are you obeying His voice?  Or, are you doing as you please, going on your way and going against God’s will for your life?)


B.  1:3-12  It Is A Road Of Disappointments – When Jonah hits the road, things go well at first.  He finds a ship heading to the right place.  Such a ship probably didn’t come along but once every six months or so.  He was able to pay the fare, board the ship and lay down for a little rest.  He thinks that he is going to have a soothing cruise and then start a new life in a new location.  Jonah has it all planned out!

                  The disappointments begin right away. 

·         Did you notice that Jonah is on a downward path, v. 4-5?  If Jonah had followed God’s plan for his life, he would have been used of God is a powerful way.  His road would have led him upward and not downward.

·         Did you notice that Jonah had to pay his own expenses, v. 3?  If Jonah had stayed with the Lord, God would have paid his bills for him.

·         Did you notice that the captain and the crew soon found out who he was and are amazed at the condition of Jonah’s heart and life, v. 6-10?  If Jonah’s heart had been right with the Lord, he would not have lost his witness and damaged his testimony before these pagan sailors.

·         Did you notice that Jonah ended up in a place he never imagined himself being, v. 15-17?  If he had stayed with God’s plan, Jonah would have been in Nineveh preaching and enjoying a great revival, instead of fighting for his life in a storm and having to go to through a whale of a prison experience.

·         Nothing worked out like Jonah planned it!


(Note: The same scenario will play itself out in the lives of all those who choose their own path over God’s plan.  They will experience trials, tribulations, disappointments and hardships that could have been avoided.  The Bible reminds us in Pro. 13:15b, “…the way of transgressors is hard.”  The Bible also gives us this word, “7.) Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  8.) For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.  9.) And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not,” Galatians 6:7-9.

      If the Lord has been calling you to follow a certain pathway, and choose to go in another direction, do not be surprised when troubles and disappointments come your way!


C.  1:4-17  It Is A Road Of Disasters – Jonah made his decision and set his plan in motion.  He boarded his ship and set out for Tarshish.  His goal was to “flee from the presence of the Lord”, v. 3.  Did you notice the first word of verse 5 – “But”?  Jonah had his plan, but God had the final say!

      God first sent a storm to get Jonah’s attention.  This must have been a very severe storm because the sailors were terrified.  They had weathered other storms on the Mediterranean Sea; but they had never seen a storm as ferocious as this.  Jonah slept right through the storm, v. 5-6.  Apparently, the sailors have concluded that God is behind the storm and they cast lots to discover who the vile sinner is and Jonah is selected.  He is forced to confess his rebellion to a bunch of men who do not know the Lord.  Jonah suggests that they throw him overboard, because he is the cause of the storm.  Those pagan sailors have more compassion that he does, because they try to save the ship and Jonah, v. 13.  When this doesn’t work, they are forced to pick Jonah up and to throw him into the sea.  When they do, the storm is gone in an instant, v. 15.  God used this event to bring about the conversion of those pagan sailors, v. 16.  (Ill. When you get the backsliders out of your midst, you can have revival!)  Then, Jonah finds himself swallowed alive by a special fish, prepared just for him.  He is imprisoned there for three days.


(Note: For years, infidels and skeptics have mocked the Bible for this account of a man being swallowed by a giant fish and living to tell the tale.  They claim that it is an absolute impossibility.

      In 1891, off the coast of the Falkland Islands, a man on a whaling vessel named James Bartlett fell overboard.  As he bobbed in the ocean, he was swallowed whole by a huge whale.

      A day and a half later, the crew on his boat caught a large whale and when they began the process of disemboweling the animal, they saw movement in the whale’s stomach.  They cut it open and found James Bartlett in there.  His skin had been bleached white and his hair eaten off by the gastric juices of the whale, and he was unconscious, but he was alive.

      He revived and was able to talk of his experience.  What happened to that whaler proves that what the Bible says is accurate.)


(Note: One thing after another went wrong until Jonah found himself in a place of utter helplessness.  He thought he could do battle with God, but he found out that his arms were too short to box with God.  By the way, so are yours and mine!  God knows how to bring us to our knees!  He knows how to take the “but” out of you, v. 3! (Ill. Moses – Ex. 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10 – God answered every objection Moses offered.  He will do the same for you!)

      Regardless of what He wants you to do, do it!  If you rebel, you will find that you pathway will be filled with disappointments and disasters.  He will not let you get away, but He will pursue you and He will do whatever it takes to get you in a place of absolute submission!

      Is God trying to get you to do something?  Is He calling you to a new ministry; to a deeper walk with Him; to a new kind of work?  If He is, my advice to you is this: to not run from Him, but run to Him and yield to His will.  He will not change His mind, Rom. 11:29.)


(Ill. This prison had the desired effect in Job’s life.  After he was placed there, the Lord began to affect the changes that were needed to rehabilitate Jonah.)

A.  2:1, 4, 7-9  Jonah’s Acknowledgement Before The Lord – Out of that whale’s belly, Jonah prays and calls on God, v. 2.  He turns his eyes and his heart in God’s direction once again, v. 4.  He comes back to God and praises the Lord for Who God is and for how he works, v. 7-9.  Verse 8 seems to be a confession of his sin and foolishness.

B.  2:9b  Jonah’s Agreement With The Lord – He says “I will pay that I have vowed”.  In other words, Jonah is saying, “Lord, I am through running now!  You called me to be a prophet and I will deliver your message when and where you tell me too.  Wherever You lead I will go!”

C.  2:2, 10; 3:1-2  Jonah’s Acceptance By The Lord – We know that Jonah made things right with the Lord because God heard his prayers, v. 2.  God delivered him from his prison, v. 10.  God renewed His call on Jonah’s life and gave him a second chance to carry out God’s will, 3:1-2.


(Note: Jonah paid a high price for his rebellion.  He suffered greatly and damaged his testimony because he refused to walk in the will of the Lord.  But, when God got his attention, Jonah repented and made things right with God and the Lord forgave him and restored him!

      I praise the Lord that God always stands ready to receive His wayward child back again.  When the rebellious child of God comes to himself and comes clean with the Lord, God will forgive his failures.  All He is looking for a heart willing to tell the truth, I John 1:9. Psa. 32:5.  When He finds that heart, He will forgive that person and put them back in right standing with Himself.

      I praise the Lord that we serve the God of the Second Chance! He doesn’t write His people off when they mess up, but He forgives them, restores them and uses them again for His glory.  Just look at Moses, he was a murderer, Ex. 2:12.  Consider Mark, he abandoned Paul and Barnabas on a mission trip, Acts 15:38; but God restored him and used him in a great way, 2 Tim. 4:11.  Look at David, he messed up in some mighty big ways, but God still used his and his life for His glory.  Then there is Peter; he denied the Lord three times, but Jesus forgave him and used him as a mighty preacher of the Word of God.)


(Note: There are times when we can fail the Lord and lose our right to hold certain offices.  There are times hen our influence with men is so devastated that it can never be fully repaired.  But, there will never be a time when the Lord will refuse to forgive His repenting child and to restore them to a place of fellowship!  It is possible that you might not be able to do what you once did, but there is a place of service for all those who will repent and call out to the Lord once again!)


III.                            THE RESULTS OF THIS PRISON

(Ill. When Jonah comes out of this prison, he is a different man.  God sent Jonah into that fish to bring about some desired changes in Jonah’s life. Let’s look at the results of Jonah’s prison experience in his life.)          

A.  3:3  God’s Man Is Changed – This time Jonah is not running from the Lord; he is running with the Lord!  Jonah picks up his Gospel trumpet and heads off to Nineveh.


(Ill. How he must have looked as he entered that city and began to preach his message of judgment.  His skin bleached with by the gastric juices in the whale’s stomach; his hair dissolved off his body.  He was a changed man physically, but more importantly, he was changed spiritually.  Jonah is on the Lord’s team now!)


B.  3:4  God’s Message Is Communicated – Jonah enters Nineveh and preaches the message God sent him to proclaim.  The people of Nineveh hear that the judgment of God is headed their way.  They are evangelized.

C.  3:5-10  God’s Mission Is Accomplished – When the people of Nineveh hear the message of Jonah, they repent of their sins and seek the face of the Lord.  The greatest revival in history breaks out and an entire town is converted to the Lord!  At least 120,000 children are saved, 4:11.  It is estimated that Nineveh had a population of nearly 600,000 at this time.  This event is a great demonstration of the power and grace of God in saving sinners.

      All this came about because Jonah was changed in his prison experience and he began to go with God instead of against Him.


(Note: When we get in a place where the Lord can use us, He will use us!  After all, that is why He saved us from our sins!  He saved us to be vessels of honor for His glory, 2 Tim. 2:20-21.  He saved us from our sins to use us for His glory.  He saved us to go to work for Him in this world, Eph. 2:10.

      God is looking for people He can clean up and use in a powerful way.  Look at our Lord’s disciples; He took them and in spite of their weaknesses, their failures, their pasts, and He used them for His glory.  Right here in this room, there are people who have failed the Lord and you may think your ability to serve Him has been forfeited forever.  You are wrong!  The Lord can restore you, bless you and use you, if you will yield to Him and go with His plan for your life!)


(Note: We know that Jonah’s heart was not made totally right.  He is still mad that the Ninevites got off the hook.  He is angry and discouraged.  He should have been praising the Lord for what God has done, but Jonah is upset.  The book closes with him still in that condition.  How sad!)



Conc:  The prison of His perseverance can be a hard place to live. But, it can be a blessing in some ways too.

·         This prison reminds us that God loves us, Heb. 12:6-12.

·         This prison helps prepare us for greater service.

·         This prison can focus our affections and set our hearts on God’s plan for our lives. 

      A father had a rather strong-willed son. On the way to the store he kept telling the child, “Sit down and buckle the seat belt.” But the little kid just kept standing in the seat. Again he said, “Sit down and buckle the seat belt.” And after a time or two more the boy was convinced he had better sit down or disaster would strike. So he slipped down onto the seat, snapped the seat belt closed, and said, “Daddy, I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m still standing up on the inside.”

      Has God been calling you to do something for His glory?  Have you been taking a different path than His?  Wouldn’t today be a great day to come to Him and tell Him that you are through running and fighting, and that you are ready to go with the Lord? 

      If He has spoken to your heart, or if you would just like to recommit to a life of service to Him, this altar is open.

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