Running on Empty

The Essential Jesus Day 15

Previews of a Savior: Running on Empty

PRAY:  Lord, forgive me for my busyness, for my lack of attention to people and especially to you. Help me to savor every moment of today—moments that are a gift from you. Amen

READ: Jonah 1:1-4:11

REFLECT: Children love the story of Jonah. I think they especially love the part when he is swallowed by the giant fish! During Vacation Bible School this past summer, I told the preschool children the story of Jonah. We even acted it out.

We ran in place as we fled from God, determined not to go to Nineveh where God had told us to go and preach repentance. Then we boarded a boat. After the boat set sail, we made sound effects to mimic the storm raging all around us. The wind roared and the thunder crackled. The lights flashed on and off like lightening. We rocked back and forth as the waves battered the ship. When it came time for the sailors to toss Jonah into the ocean, they children all jumped out of the boat onto a blue tarp. We then all pretended to be drowning as we sank deep beneath the waves. My daughter, Ellie, and I threw a big blanket over the kids. We were now in the belly of a great big fish! The children squealed with delight. I sprayed them with water. We held our noses and pretended it stank really badly. We shivered in the cold. We imagined what it would be like stuck in the belly of a fish for three days. We prayed to God to save us. Eventually, the fish vomits Jonah out, so we all jumped out onto the carpet. The children then walked in place as we headed to Nineveh and called out, “Repent! Turn back to God!”

The message God gave Jonah to share with the people of Nineveh was simple, “Repent!” But he didn’t want to go. Why? Well it could have been he was shy. Maybe he just wasn’t gifted at sharing God’s message with others. You know, it’s the pastor’s job (or priest in Jonah’s case). Maybe he was terrified. After all, Nineveh was known for its inhuman cruelty. And they were certainly no friend of the Israelites!

The real reason is revealed in chapter 4 verses 1 to 3. He prays to God saying, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” The people of Nineveh heard the message and repented. So God does not destroy the city. Jonah is not happy. He knew that God would not destroy Nineveh. They were the enemies and he wanted them destroyed.

In Matthew 12:38-45, the Pharisees and teachers of the law demand that Jesus show them a miraculous sign. They wanted proof that Jesus was who he said he was—proof that he had a right to say what he said and teach what he taught. Now Jesus had already done many miracles and would do many more. But they were blind and refused to believe. So he tells them that the only sign they will be given is the sign of Jonah. Three days in the belly of a fish! The son of man will stay three days in the belly of the earth—and then arise to newness life. Jesus came preaching repentance. He came to demonstrate that God is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He came to set people free from sin and death.

APPLY: Are you, like Jonah, running away from God in any aspect of your life? What is it? Why are you running? What should you do? How is God using events in your life to teach you? How does the sign of Jonah offer you hope? What message is God asking you to share with a friend, fellow student, coworker or family member? What is stopping you?

PRAY: God of heaven and earth, forgive me for my disobedience, for trying to run away from you and do my own thing. Save me from my disobedience and willfulness. Amen.

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