Pagan Believers and Religious Doubters – Jonah 1

The second message in our Jonah Study.
(Find the other messages from this series here)

Sermon Video

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How many of you have ever had to deal with the consequences of someone else’s foolish decisions? How many of you have ever had to clean up someone else’s mess?

Now last week I asked how many of you have ever made a mistake, and most of your raised your hands, but you raised your hands a lot faster this week… It’s much easier to admit someone else mistakes than our own. It’s much easier to listen to sermons that someone else needs to hear…

In fact, I’d imagine that some of you, this week during the Olympics have watched elite athletes make a mistake, ice skaters have fallen during a jump, skiers miss a gate, or something along those lines and you’ve said- what are they thinking? While you finish off a bag of chips on the couch…

It’s much easier to point out the flaws in someone else…

We often feel that we have done nothing wrong and that everything is everyone else’s fault…

However, in today’s message we are going to look at some characters in Jonah’s story who weren’t in the wrong, but they dealt with the consequences of someone else’s wrongdoing.

Last week in our first message on Jonah, I pointed out that Jonah is unlike most books in that Jonah isn’t the imperfect example of the faith, he’s not even a complex hero- he’s not the hero at all.

He’s not the protagonist, he’s the antagonist.

He’s not the hero, at best he’s the fool, at worst he’s the villain.

Today we are going to focus on some other characters in chapter 1.

The ships crew. We’ll pick up reading in verse 4 and by this point Jonah has already been told to go to Nineveh and instead has gone in the opposite direction and got a boat to Tarshish.

Read Jonah 1:4-16

You may remember a story a told a few years ago about a guy who was seemingly very unlucky…
In 2012 the Canadian Press reported of a man who had taken a nap on a grassy hill and awoke to find himself surrounded by a grass fire, so he jumped up and hopped on his bike to flee the fire but was then hit by a train.

Talk about horrible luck.

But as authorities treated the man for his minor injuries they realized that the reason he was sleeping in the grassy field was that he wasn’t napping, he had passed out there because he was drunk and the reason for the fire was that he was smoking when he passed out. He ran into the train because he was still drunk and attempting to flee the scene of the fire he had just started.

Everything happens for a reason and sometimes the reason is that you’re foolish. – That’s what happened to Jonah.

Everything happens for a reason and sometimes the reason is that the world is evil. – That’s what happened to the ships crew.

These men are bystanders in this storm that is sent by Jonah.

They were unfortunate enough to be on the boat that Jonah got on.

Now, in comparison to Jonah, these guys start to look like the good guys of this story. They are working hard to keep the ship afloat.

They are working hard to overcome the consequences of Jonah’s choices.

It is fitting that while they are hard at work that Jonah is asleep in the hull of the boat, because if you have ever had to deal with the consequences of someone else poor choices, you know that they are usually the last person to recognize the mess they’ve gotten everyone into.

In the actions of the ships crew, I want you to see a parallel to how we often try to get ourselves out of trouble, how we often try to make things right.

  1. The crew all call upon their own gods. (v. 5)

While the crew recognized that this storm was no natural phenomenon, they saw that it wasn’t simply bad timing, there was something supernatural about this storm, they did not understand who they should call on for help.

They were taking a shotgun approach to their spirituality.

A rifle has a single piece of lead, that makes a singular puncture point… A shot gun shell has a multitude of pieces of lead that spread out when fired… making a wider impact…

Today, our world approaches spirituality with a shotgun approach, covering all of their bases, taking a little bit of this and little bit of that… A little bit of Eastern Religion, a little bit mysticism.

The idea in our culture today is not just that all roads lead to God, but that you can simultaneously take every road.

The God of heaven would not be appeased by their prayers to many different false gods…

When we put our trust in false gods we set ourselves up with false hope.

  1. The crew throws cargo overboard to lighten the ship and appease the gods. (v. 5)

What the crew did next had a practical application as well as a spiritual component as well. They were lightening the ship but also hoping to get rid of whatever it may be that had brought this evil upon them.

I’m sure that as the boat got lighter, it did better in the raging sea, but the sea didn’t cease from raging. The storm was still threatening to tear the ship apart.

Practical steps may keep you afloat, but they won’t bring deliverance.

This was a practical step, but it wasn’t enough.

There are many actions you can take to improve your life, there are many steps you can take with your relationships, there are practical decisions you can make about your finances, and they’ll be helpful, but they won’t stop the storm, they won’t deliver you.

There are no 3 step plans to deliverance from the brokenness of this world. There is no 40 day challenge that will save our souls.

You work Dave Ramsey’s get out debt plan, you will be better off.

You work the 12 steps and get sober, you will be better off.

You go on a diet and lose some weight, you will be better off, but the world will still be broken- there has to be something more if we are going to have peace.

  1. The crew attempts to outwork the storm. (v. 13)

When Jonah tells the crew who he is, what he has done, and that they need to throw him overboard. They don’t like that idea.

Instead they try very hard to row to shore.

Look at verse 13.

Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.

Nevertheless – they were told what they needed to do, but they wanted to try one more thing…

Can I tell you that I have watched so many people play this scenario out?

You need to surrender to Christ, nevertheless they struggle hard to reach the shore on their own…

The men rowed HARD.

They were giving it everything that they had. They really tried.

I commend them, they are doing everything they can.

They are really trying.

But they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.

They couldn’t make it because the wind and the waves were against them.

Hard work will take you far in life, but not far enough.

Some of you can absolutely relate to this, you are trying as hard as you can, you are giving it everything you’ve got, doing everything you know to do, and getting no where and you feel like the world is against you…

Quit rowing and surrender. Stop trying and start trusting

The Lord required justice.

Notice that Jonah didn’t say, if you take me back it will be ok. If you get me back to the shore so that I can go where I’m supposed to… no the only way the storm is going to stop is if thy throw him into the see, if they surrender him to the raging water.

Neither Jonah or the Mariners are successful.

Jonah was trying to get away with something, the crew was trying to the right thing, and neither was successful.

Whether you try to get away from God, run from and hide


If you try to make it to God on your own, you’ll never be successful.

It’s not in your power to do either.

The Lord requires justice.

Jonah has to be sacrificed to the sea, however because of God’s grace Jonah isn’t lost, even in the sea.

When we trust the Lord, His Justice and Grace meet for our deliverance.

This is how God’s justice and grace meet.

Imagine I backed into your car.

I say, listen, I can’t pay. I don’t have the money.

So you take me to court.

In court I tell the judge, listen judge I’m guilty but I can’t pay. I don’t have the money. The judge is a good judge, so you feel confident he’ll make me pay, the judge is a gracious judge, so I hope he’ll forgive my faults…

If he rules in favor of justice, you benefit, but I lose.

If he rules in favor of grace, I benefit but you don’t.

Our God is a judge that forgives the debt and covers the damages Himself.

2Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin.

3Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.

4Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.

10Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

I want you to see something about this whole situation.

The people who are trying so hard to the do the right thing are the pagans. They are the people who din’t know God’s truth.

They believed that if they threw Jonah overboard that they would be in big trouble. They feared what would happen to them.

Jonah knew the God of heaven, had received a message from him, but didn’t fear the Lord, he turned on him and ran from him.

Now this book was written to turn all of our preconceived notions on their heads.

Jonah the Hebrew turns out to be the one who doesn’t fear the Lord and the pagan ships crew turns out to be the ones who do fear the Lord.

You see, there’s a big difference between religious affiliation and religious adherence.

Studies have shown that regions that have high religions affiliation often have very low religious adherence.

A map (first map slide) was recently put together. It looks like a topographical map.

With high elevation being represented with greens, yellows, and oranges. And low elevations made to look like water, with the deeper areas being a darker blue.

Only, this map isn’t based on actual elevation, but rather it’s based upon religious adherence. Not religious affiliation, religious adherence. Do people actually practice what they claim to believe.

They name the high regions different mountain ranges and the low areas they named as bodies of water.

Let me show you close up (second map slide) where we are at on this map of the US religious adherence… we are in a low spot in Warrick County, they named it Warrick Bay.

You see, all around us are people who would claim Christian or evangelical on a survey, but they don’t attend, serve, or give to any local congregation.

They are like Jonah, they are affiliated with God, but they don’t follow Him, don’t fear Him, don’t honor Him.

They are religious doubters or religious atheists or Christian atheists.

The pagan ships crew had more faith in God’s righteousness than the religious prophet.

They cast lots on the boat and Jonah won that game of dice.

That’s not the only lottery that Jonah won. He won the lottery when he was born into the people of God.

He was blessed when he was given an opportunity to serve the Lord, and instead he cast it aside.

In comparison to Jonah, the ships crew looks like the good guys.

If Jonah isn’t the protagonist, maybe the crew is? Is the crew the hero of this story?


The hero of this story isn’t Jonah, or the crew, or the big fish.

The hero of Jonah’s story is God.

We often think of ourselves as the hero of our story, as the main character in our story, this life isn’t about us, it’s about God…

The Bible isn’t a story of good guys and bad guys. The Bible is the story of a bunch of bad guys and one good God.

There’s only ever been one truly good guy, 

and he died for all the bad things everyone else has done.

You’ve no doubt had to deal with the consequences of someone else’s poor choices, but guess what… Other people have had to deal with the consequences of your poor choices too…

You aren’t the good guy in your story. There are no good guys in your story, There’s only a good God.