I love playing with my grandson, Jaxon. A favorite book of his is the “Gingerbread Man” and one of our favorite games is when I chase him around the house singing, “Run, run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man.” He goes screaming off and I “run” after him and since he’s pretty little I don’t have too far to run before I catch him up in my arms and give him one of my famous “zurbit” kisses on the back of his neck. Then it’s his turn to chase me. Right now I can keep pace with him but I’m betting as he gets older, he’ll be a lot harder to catch!!
It’s funny how we like to play those “catch-me-if-you-can” games as children. “Tag, you’re it!” or “hide and seek”; the object of the game is not to get caught.
Ever notice as you got older that playing similar games but with an “adult twist” resulted in dire consequences if you were caught? For instance: have you noticed that as an adult one of the best places to hide is right out in the open? You come to church and someone asks you this question, “How are you doing today?” What’s the automatic response? “Fine.” You say it out loud and the person expects that socially-correct answer, but basically you’re just hiding behind a mask so that you don’t get caught or have to deal with revealing something messy or personal about how you are REALLY feeling.
What about hiding from the consequences of sin? Do we think that we can run far enough away from God that we won’t get caught? Do we honestly believe we can ever find the perfect hiding spot to escape God’s judgement? As scripture tells us in Numbers 32:23, “your sins will find you out…” That’s what my husband and I have always prayed for our children. It still freaks them out that they can’t seem to get away with anything. They are ever mindful that if they do something that they know we might not approve of, we will eventually find out about it and there will be consequences to pay.
In the Bible, Jonah thought he could run away and hide himself from God and not get caught. Jonah had been given an assignment by God to preach against the great city of Nineveh but instead, Jonah dashed off in the opposite direction, climbing aboard a ship headed for Tarshish. Well, we know the story: Jonah ended up regretting that decision, and after he was cast overboard by the sailors and then swallowed by a massive fish, God in His mercy, spared Jonah and gave him a few days to repent of his willful disobedience before commanding the fish to spit (actually it reads “vomit”) Jonah onto dry land.
We pick up what happened next in Chapter three: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”
You would have thought that Jonah would have been relieved that despite spending three days inside a great fish, he had been spared eternal punishment when he finally obeyed and did what the Lord had requested him to do, but scripture reads in Ch. 4 that Jonah was “greatly displeased (with the Lord) and became angry.” Why? Because God did not do what Jonah had wanted Him to do.
Jonah didn’t much like the Ninevites and he wanted God to rain down the same judgement on the heads of the Ninevites as He had done to Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, that is the reason Jonah turned and ran away in the first place because he had a feeling God might spare the Ninevites instead of destroying them. Jonah wanted judgement. God gave mercy. To Jonah’s dismay, God treated the Ninevites with “gracious compassion”. So, in what can only be described as a childish “hissy fit” against God, Jonah stalked off to sulk and throw himself a huge pity party, saying, “I am angry enough to die.”
Wow. Sort of sounds the same as a little child whose been fairly caught in a game of “Tag” and gets so angry that she “doesn’t want to play the game anymore.”
Or the way we might feel if “our sins have been found out” and we’re embarrassed and hurt, not so much because we have sinned, but the fact that we were found out and caught in the act. Or the way we might be disappointed when God does something far different or unexpected than what we wanted Him to do. We might get upset when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we wanted Him to. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
God provided a living illustration that clearly showed the condition of Jonah’s heart. While Jonah moped in self-pity, God comforted Jonah by allowing a leafy plant to shade him from the scorching sun. Just as Jonah was starting to get comfortable, God removed the plant. Notice how Jonah was happy when the plant was alive (when things were going his way), but angry when the plant died (when things didn’t go his way). Who did he blame? God. Are we not a lot like Jonah?
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
This sounds vaguely familiar does it not? Luke 15:3-7: “So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
God pursues us, even when we sin, when we’re lost, when we’re disobedient, when all we want to do is hide away. God pursues us. He wants to show gracious compassion to us even when we are the least deserving of it.
Psalm 23 gives comfort and encouragement but verse six is particularly applicable to us today: “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” The Hebrew word for “follow” in this verse is the same word used for a pursuing army. Therefore we can translate that verse to: “surely goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life.” It speaks of God’s passionate pursuit of us like the shepherd going in search of that one lost sheep, or of the woman who turns her entire house upside down in search of one lost coin. It is a tenacious pursuit.
“And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:10
“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8
Is it not the fact that God is taking the initiative to come to us while we are still sinners one of the most defining truths of the Gospel?
God pursued Jonah all through this book. He was merciful and compassionate to Jonah even when he ran in the opposite direction and was disobedient. God even spared his life! It would appear that Jonah forgot all about that act of mercy towards him, when he complained about God showing the same mercy towards the people of Nineveh. Jonah did not realize that God had been in hot pursuit of all the people of Nineveh, not for their destruction but for their salvation!
Let’s be thankful that our God is a loving, tenacious, pursuing God. We cannot hide from Him…no matter how hard we try, and that He wants to show compassion and mercy to us rather than inflict the harsh judgement that we all deserve.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16