God Pursues

Part II

In Luke 15, we find our Lord’s well-known Parable of the Lost Son. In this parable, the father is pictured as waiting and watching for his son to return. The emphasis is on the unchanging love of the Father and His willingness to receive His wayward children when they repent and return.

It is however important not to think that God is merely and passively waiting for sinners to turn from their sins and come to Him. That would be a wrong interpretation of that parable. The reality is that it was the love and grace of God that followed the wayward son into that distant land. 

And it was His love that brought all the adversity and trouble in the life of His son so that His son might carefully consider his life and come to his senses and return to his Father’s house. It was ultimately the love of God that drew the prodigal home.

Jonah chapter 1 provides us a real life historical example of the love and grace of God pursuing His wayward child in order to bring him back.

Observations from the text

God hurled a great wind into the sea and a mighty storm started to form. It was so great that the ship was on the verge of being broken up. The verb translated ‘like’ in verse 4 actually means to ‘consider’ or ‘regard’. It was as if the ship was aware of the severity of the storm and was conscious that it was going to break into pieces very soon.

In verse 5, we have another indication of the extraordinary nature of this storm. The experienced sailors were all afraid. They had not been in anything like this before. And so they immediately cried to their gods and hurled their cargo into the sea.

It is interesting to note that Jonah was the only one who did not respond to this storm. Everyone else in the ship was panicking. Even the very ship itself is described as being conscious of the seriousness of the situation.

But Jonah was fast asleep. It is not a good thing for a person to be able to sleep so soundly when he is living in disobedience to God. Sound sleep ought to belong rather to those who busy themselves with doing the will of God.

In the New Testament, we read of another person who was sleeping soundly in a boat in the midst of a fierce storm. After a full day of ministering to the people, and faithfully doing the will of God, the Lord Jesus was exhausted and He went down into the boat to sleep.

But that night as they sailed across the Sea of Galilee, a great storm arose and the disciples, who were seasoned fishermen, became desperate and they cried out to the Lord to save them, and He did. Well, something similar happened to Jonah.

The captain of the ship woke Jonah from his sleep. He was clearly dissatisfied with Jonah’s indifference to the situation. Here they were on the brink of losing their lives and there he was in dreamland. The very least, he could do was to cry to his God.

At this point Jonah was fully awake and he must have realized that he was the one to be blamed for the storm. But he said nothing. Nevertheless, his silence did not last long. God was going to use the sailors to draw out a confession from his lips.

The sailors had come to the conclusion that this unusual storm was upon them because of someone onboard and they were determined to find that individual. They cast lots to identify the guilty party. And with the lot falling on him, Jonah was put on trial. He had no choice but to tell the sailors who he was and why this terrible storm had come upon them.

The sailors become exceedingly frightened when they hear Jonah’s confession. They were afraid of the storm, but now, they are exceedingly afraid at the words of Jonah.

The sailors then asked him what they should do to cause the storm to cease. Jonah responded by telling them to hurl him into the sea, and assured them that such an action would result in the calming of the sea.

But these pagan sailors were not willing to hurl him overboard just yet. Despite all the trouble that Jonah had brought upon them, these sailors still valued Jonah’s life and did everything in their power and strength to save him.

In contrast, Jonah did not value the lives of the people of Nineveh and he used all his might to get away from having to preach to them so that they might be saved. These pagan sailors were putting God’s prophet to shame in terms of their great compassion and concern for the lives of others.

But even more tragic than Jonah’s lack of compassion was his stubbornness. He would rather die than to repent of his disobedience and obey God’s commission to go to Nineveh. What Jonah should really have done at this point was to confess and repent of his sins, ask the LORD for forgiveness, resolve to go to Nineveh to preach, and then tell the sailors to turn the boat around and return to Joppa.

If he had done that, I suspect the storm would have immediately stopped and they would have had the best possible wind back to Joppa. But Jonah did not do that. He was so determined to resist the will of God for his life that he was willing to die in his rebellion.

Then after trying very hard and wasting a lot of energy, the sailors were finally willing to give up and to submit to the will of God. If Jonah would not repent, he would have to be thrown overboard.

The sea immediately ceased from its raging after the sailors hurled Jonah into the sea. Jonah was a true prophet. What he predicted came to pass exactly as he had said. And Jonah’s God is the living and true God, the all powerful God of the heaven, the sea and the dry land. He is able to do what all the false gods and idols, combined, cannot.

Applications from the text

First, we learn that it is never safe for a believer to disobey God, and that sometimes, even those around us are endangered because of our failure to obey God. Jonah had the wonderful opportunity to become a channel of blessing to the great multitudes in Nineveh. But instead, he brought great trouble to a few unsuspecting sailors.

Walking contrary to the will of God is dangerous business, especially for Christians. And sometimes, our disobedience can bring a lot of trouble into our lives as well as the lives of others around.

Do not be a curse to other people you come into contact with, whether your family or brethren or friends or colleagues or just people who happen to cross your path in life, as in the case of Jonah.

When trials and troubles come into our lives and families and churches and even countries, we should examine ourselves to see if perhaps we have not been the cause of the trouble. Let us not be quick to point the finger at others but to take a careful look at our own selves first.

We should pray as David did in Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

We see a great contrast between Christ and Jonah. Rather than bringing trouble to people through disobedience, Christ bore God’s judgment in His own person and He brought blessing to sinners through His obedience.

Thank God for our Saviour Jesus Christ. Were it not for His perfect obedience on our behalf, we would still be in our sins and in deep trouble with Almighty God. But because of Him and on His account, we enjoy everlasting life and perfect blessedness.

Let us look to the greater Jonah for our deliverance and let us follow in His example rather than in the example of Jonah.

But the second thing we must learn is that God pursues His lost sheep when they have gone astray in order to bring them back to Himself. Jonah fled from the presence of God, and for a short time, it seemed as if he would succeed in his flight. But the path that Jonah took away from God was really a downward path that led to death.

Nevertheless, God loved His wayward prophet too much to let him destroy himself in his sin. And so in His great grace, God pursued Jonah in order to bring him back. One writer wrote, “God’s grace has a persistence that exceeds all human determination.”

Indeed, Jonah was stubborn, and he was determined to get away, but God’s grace wouldn’t let him. In fact, so persistent and determined was God’s grace that it eventually overcame the stubborn determination and will of Jonah. Like a good shepherd, the LORD went out in search of His one lost sheep in order to restore him to the fold.

But sometimes, God’s restoration process may appear to be very harsh and unkind. The fierce winds, the huge waves, the terrific storm, the fear and panic on board the ship, and later the three days and three nights in the big fish – who would have thought that all these things came about as a result of God’s pursuing grace? But they did.

Yes, God’s grace can be very fierce and even violent at times, and often we see only the fierceness and violence of the situation but forget the graciousness of it. There is a beautiful verse in Psalm 51 that speaks of the violence of grace. Verse 8 reads, “Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.” Sometimes God’s grace can be so violent that it breaks our bones in the process, whether literally or figuratively.

As Christians, we can sometimes get too comfortable with our sins so that we are no longer bothered or troubled in our conscience by them. Jonah’s going down into the deepest part of the boat and falling into a deep sleep all the while that he was living in open rebellion against God’s revealed will is a striking picture of that.

Because of the remnant of corruption, we all have this perverse capacity to be comfortable with sin. And so it is sometimes necessary for God to send forth His violent and uncomfortable grace to wake us up.

Paul Tripp writes, “God’s grace isn’t always comfortable because he isn’t primarily working on our comfort; He is working on our character. With violent grace He will crush us because He loves us and is committed to our restoration, deliverance, and refinement.”

If you, like Jonah, belong to the LORD, then be reminded that in the midst of all your trials, whatever form they may take, God’s grace is there. Whatever storm might arise in the course of our lives, God has a gracious purpose in it all.

Sometimes, it may be because we have gone astray and have gone contrary to His revealed will. At other times, it may simply be that God is purifying us in the furnace of afflictions to make us more Christ-like. But whichever the case may be, look beyond the trials, and by faith, behold the gracious hand of God in it all.


—Linus Chua