Despite the fact that Jonah may be one of the most familiar stories in the Bible, it is probably also among the least understood. Behind the well-known narrative is a powerful demonstration of one of the most important themes of the Christian faith: the disruptive grace of God. The word disruptive is key, because the book of Jonah demonstrates that God’s grace often comes in ways that can turn our lives upside down.
From the very start of chapter 1, we see the disruptive grace of God at work. When the command of God comes to Jonah, he runs. The reason he runs is left to be answered later, but Jonah’s running is meant to provoke every reader of this story to consider how we run from God, just like him. Though the book never uses the word “sin,” the story depicts sin in narrative form: sin is refusing to put the person and plan of God at the very center of our lives. When we refuse to do so, our own plans, desires and needs become the motivating engine of our lives.
If sin is running from God, then grace in essence is God chasing us down to bring us back. Jonah does nothing to get back to God; God does everything to get Jonah back to him, including the purposeful use of a hurricane and a giant fish. So many of us can point to ways that some major disruption in our lives brought us to God when we were not even looking for him. God disrupts our lives because he loves us.
In preparation for this Sunday and for this series, I encourage you to watch this video from our friends at the Bible Project which summarizes the whole book. It takes less than 10 minutes and is a great preparation for our journey.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”.