In my previous post, I shared the manuscript of the first message I wrote. Here is the sermon I actually preached. I worked this up this morning. I sat down to read my first manuscript, and while it wasn't terrible, it was not right either. I don't know if this one is right, but it is what the church got.
Faith out of Fear (Jonah 1:4-16)
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, October 30, 2016
The men of the sea, the mariners, were among the bravest of people in the ancient world. Their ships were ancient. If they ran into trouble on the open ocean, no coast guard was coming. There would be no search with the coordinated efforts of several nations. They were on their own. And they certainly would run into trouble.
But, they did it. They set out on the Mediterranean Sea in search of adventure and prophet. They came from different places, different cultures. And on the ship, with nothing but trust in one another, they journeyed about the known world. They were definite believers in God or in many gods, but their religious practice amounted to superstition more than faith.
On this day, at port in Joppa, they would make the Tarshish run as they had before. A few days at sea would bring temporary wealth and at the end rest and relaxation awaited. They took on passengers as they had before – this time an Israelite who said as little as possible and kept to himself. He was aloof. Did he think himself superior? Did he look down on the sailors? Would they make life miserable for him because of his standoffishness?
It did not matter. The captain admitted him passage and took his money. They had no care for why he came. The simply told him to stay out of the way as they did their work. They did not ask for his story – not at first.
Was it a beautiful day when they set sail? The port of Joppa shrunk behind them as they moved into the deeper waters. They were experienced navigators who by the stars and the winds and the familiar landmarks always knew their location. The one thing that might throw them was if a significant storm arose.
It did. The winds started up as the sky blackened. No panic. They had seen this before. But when the lightning cracked across the sky, it felt particularly close. When waves began to rise, sailors began to comment in a way more tinged with fear than the normal seaman exaggerations. “I’ve not seen waves like this before,” said one man. This was his third Joppa to Tarshish run. “That rain is running sideways,” another exclaimed. And he was far saltier than the first who spoke. Then, the man who had been on the seas longer than any spoke solemnly. With a note finality he said, “Men this is trouble. Call on your gods.”
As they followed their elder’s advice, the boat began to toss and turn, nearly heeling over. At this point, their prayers were fear-filled prayers. They made recitations. They promised things. They prayed panicked prayers. Have you ever prayed a promised-filled, panicked prayer in your life? Then you might understand what this men were doing.
The prayers didn’t work. They began tossing cargo – their prophets – overboard. This entire trip would be for nothing. No money waiting in Tarshish; and not a one of them even paused, because in panic, we throw whatever we have overboard if it will save our lives.
The prayers didn’t work. Neither did lightening the load. There was nothing left to throw overboard. They were going to die, and die completely penniless. The captain ran below deck. Was he turning coward? Not this captain. He was tough, windblown, and fearless. A moment later he re-emerged with the Israelite.
Now these superstitious sailors were all interested in his story. This storm was an act of God. They had no doubt. Each one had prayed. Then, they took a dice that had black on three sides and white on three. In the midst of the tempest they lined up and each man rolled. Each one came up white. The Israelite might as well join them in their panic. He rolled. Black. What had he done?
The sailors were in his face. “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”
“I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. I am on the run, fleeing my God. He has brought this upon us.” He said this soberly, with no trace of terror. Who was high-minded fool? Was he so taken with his own dignity that he could not see the death about to swallow them?
The men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” He looked into the driving rain and let the drops, like wet bullets, pelt his face. “Tell us, darn you. “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”
He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.”
Fool. Fool! Fool! Fool! God was punishing the boat, the sailors, and the sea itself because of his arrogance. Did he think these sailors wanted to bring God’s wrath on themselves by sending him to death? They began rowing furiously, praying they were headed south, to the coast of Egypt. It would be a full day’s row in ideal conditions. But we don’t act logically when we are panicked, do we? Have you ever been there? Life is so out of control that you do something that makes no sense in an attempt to fix things. That’s why we say, “she’s losing it.”
Reality set in on them. Prayer hadn’t worked and only increased their fear. Throwing everything overboard had not worked. When they confronted Jonah and heard his story, their fear spiked. Now, they saw the insanity of rowing in this squall. One more prayer was all they had left.
“Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging.
What conversations did they have in the blue-skyed, quiet calm? Not a one. Not one sailor said a thing. The image of Jonah sinking to the depths was emblazoned on their minds. Those sailors would never forget that image. At every turn in this tale, one thing was clear. The fear in those men grew incrementally. Each new twist drove the tremors deeper in their souls. Now, with the danger past, they were spent. The men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
After chapter 1, we don’t hear from the sailors again in the story, but by the end of Jonah, we are left to wonder. What did their lives look like after they worshiped on the deck of their ship as the soft waves gently rocked them? We suppose that they made it to Tarshish, but then what? As each sailor, got off that boat, how was his life different after his encounter with the living God.
How about our lives? One of the cornerstones of the way we try to live as a body of believers is the encounter. We pray that when we gather, people will meet God in this place, this gathering of believers. In that meeting with God, when holiness exposes us completely, including our darkest secrets and deepest pains, will fear drive us to our knees in confession and worship? Or will fear make us runaway and pretend that God is far off somewhere, mostly uninterested in our lives? We at HillSong try to set conditions so that you will meet God here and stay with Him. Meet God and be made new in the process.
God controls how He will reveal himself. When he does, we decide if we will run away, or if stripped down, we will kneel at the cross and receive forgiveness and grace and new life. I don’t know what you’ve been through today. I don’t know the pains stabbing at your heart. I don’t know the brokenness that drove you to panic and then despair.
I pray this morning, you’ll open your eyes and mind and heart wide enough to see God. When you see God, I urge you step into the fear. Step to the cross and let the Lord hang your sins on it. Name your personal disasters, see God in them, and then give yourself to Him. Let the Lord wash you and bring you up from the waters clean, refreshed, renewed, and alive. The sailors in Jonah 1 help me see the new possibilities of life that come when, in our fears, we step to God. Faith can come out of those moments – life renewing faith. I pray you will see that too and that you will step toward God right now.