A whale of a tale...

[An excerpt from last week’s message “I am Jonah: I Have Been Forgiven”]

Jonah 1:17, “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

James R. Edwards, in his book, The Divine Intruder, makes a rather shocking confession. He writes this: “Like many people, I was shocked by the catastrophe on Mount Everest in May 1996 in which a dozen mountaineers perished. One of the most disturbing sideshows in that circus of tragedies was the story of two Japanese climbers who in their summit bid bypassed three injured, starving, and freezing climbers. The Japanese had sufficient provisions to render aid to the stranded climbers, but they did not want to jeopardize their ascent by stopping to assist them. As a result, all three climbers died. Later, when asked why they had not stopped to help, one of the climbers said, "We were too tired to help. Above 8,000 meters [26,000 feet] is not a place where people can afford morality."

“The actions of the two climbers and the statement attempting to justify them were, in my judgment,” Edwards writes, “a callous and contemptible example of egoism. On a number of occasions I retold the story in my preaching and teaching to illustrate the true face of egoistic ethics, base and unjustifiable—and doubly so in the mountains, where the dangers inherent in climbing should make all climbers their brothers' keepers.

Edwards goes on to write, “A few years later, while leading a college study tour to the Middle East, I was hiking up Mount Sinai in the darkness before dawn in order to be on the summit at sunrise. The hike up 7,500-foot Mount Sinai is tame in comparison to Mount Everest, where oxygen deprivation impairs physical exertion and judgment itself. “As my students and I neared the top of Mount Sinai we were passed by two Bedouins carrying a man down the mountain. The man was unconscious. His sporadic breathing, rattled and gurgling, indicated he was in critical condition. He was, I suspected, suffering from pulmonary edema, a malady of mountaineering caused by ascending too rapidly. Pulmonary edema is fatal unless the climber affected is taken rapidly to a lower altitude. For a brief moment I considered halting my ascent and helping the Bedouins carry the man down the mountain. But my desire to make it to the top checked my impulse. Without further thought, I gave one of the Bedouins my flashlight and continued upward. They seem to be doing all right by themselves, I assured my uneasy conscience.

“The sunrise from the summit was glorious, but it was overshadowed by what transpired on the way down. Not far below the place where we had passed the Bedouins, a figure draped with a blanket was lying on the ground. Two shoes protruded from under the blanket. The man carried by the Bedouins was dead. Whether he died while being carried down, or was put down and died, I do not know. I do know, however, that every step down the mountain smote my conscience. What I had found so loathsome in the two Japanese climbers on Everest had been essentially repeated in my own action on Mount Sinai.

“That is the message of the book of Jonah. What Jonah detests in Nineveh is present in himself. If only Jonah can see that his heart is as contrary to God as is the heart of Nineveh: "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). [James R. Edwards, The Divine Intruder (NavPress, 2000), pp.103-04]

When Jonah finally comes to the realization he cannot run from God he comes to a stop. He admits his sin (“ I know that it is my fault…” Jonah 1:12).  He then puts himself completely in the hands of God (“Pick me up and throw me into the sea…” Jonah 1:12). But what Jonah finds is not death or judgement, what he deserves, but rather grace (“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah…” Jonah 1:17). We sin. We run from God. We think, ‘There’s no way God will forgive me for this.’ Yet, when we finally stop and admit our sin God surprises us. God doesn’t want to punish you. He wants to restore you. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In Jonah, God’s grace is a whale of a tale. In your life God’s grace can take the simple but beautiful words, “I forgive you.” Will you stop running from God? Will you admit your sin and put yourself in His hands. I can tell you there are no more beautiful words than hearing God say these: “I forgive you.”

Prayer: Father God, we thank You that when we stopped and finally admitted our sin You did not punish us or give us what we deserved. Instead we have received Your amazing grace. It’s by that grace that we move and have our being. And by that grace we come and pray to You. And in that grace we pray, in Jesus name, amen.