Think for a moment about the greatest hug you ever got. I’m not talking about those half-hugs you sometimes get from people you don’t really know, or just know in passing. I’m not talking about those awkward half handshakes/ half hugs where you pat each other on the back, but think to the bear hug that got you off your feet, the full body embrace, and the hug where you held nothing back. It is amazing how powerful a hug can sometimes be, knowing you aren’t alone, and feeling that someone else cares. Ironically, there are even online support groups with the name: I NEED A HUG. A quick scroll through the posts showed people in need of hugs for all sorts of reasons: “bad day at the doctors, could really use a big long hug.” / Another young woman wrote: I just admitted myself to a mental hospital; others were feeling ignored by family, some were having a bad day, others were dealing with sadness and frustration. Each person regardless of their circumstances didn’t want to feel alone. Over 8,287 people joined the group searching for an embrace. As you think back to your experience with a hug, I’m betting that the longer you had been absent, the more distance you had covered literally or figuratively, the harder life had been, the greater the embrace.
Today, it is as we continue in our sermon series called PURSUED that we find this is true on an even larger scale. Jonah’s had a pretty adventurous journey. His great escape ended with him being thrown overboard and his great exchange showed him God’s grace (check out earlier posts). As Jonah headed to Nineveh in Jonah chapter 3, the stage was set for a GREAT EMBRACE with the cruel and sinful people.
God’s Heart & Convincing the Jury (Jonah 3:2-4a) 2Then 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.”3 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. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city… God was persistent in his call that Jonah needed to go to Nineveh using almost identical words as Jonah 1:1-2. The commission to “Go to the great city of Nineveh” was actually a common idiom [she’s pulling my leg] meaning literally, “Nineveh was a great city to God.” It reinforces a common theme throughout the book, that God’s heart is for pursuing those who are far from Him. After 3 days in the single occupancy of a fish’s stomach, the city of Nineveh must have seemed all the larger to Jonah, but he didn’t completely leave behind his experience. In fact, many postulate that Jonah most likely carried with him the signs of his struggles—skin that was discolored as a result from the gastric juices inside the fish- a man who stood apart and demanded a hearing.
The book Harmony of Science and Scripture recounts a story of an English fishing boat in the late 19th century, we aren’t talking 2,700 hundred years ago, we are talking in the modern era. “The Star of the East, a whaling ship operating off the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, was in pursuit of a large whale. Its harpoon boats were launched, and the whale was successfully speared. However, in the violence that followed, one of the smaller boats capsized — throwing two crew members into the sea. One of them was found drowned, but the other, James Bartley, disappeared without a trace. The whale was eventually subdued, and its carcass hoisted onto the ship where the crew began carving it up for blubber.
After a couple of days, they worked down to the stomach, where they noticed something large moving around inside. They cut the stomach open—and there lay James Bartley. He was doubled up, unconscious, and even somewhat digested, but he was alive! They doused him with seawater, put him in the captain’s cabin to recover—and after a few weeks of bed-rest, he was back on the job.
Some accounts include a detailed description of what Bartley experienced and felt during his whale of a journey. He said that he remembered flying through the air when the whale struck the boat with its tail. Then suddenly, darkness surrounded him as he slipped along a smooth passage of some sort. He then came into a larger area marked by a slimy substance that shrunk from his touch. He soon realized that he was in the whale. He could breathe, but it was also very hot! He said that later he lost consciousness, and the next thing he remembered was the crew caring for him. Other accounts say that Bartley’s skin was permanently affected by the gastric juices in the whale, and that he had a bleached-white appearance for the remainder of his life. Other versions describe his skin as having a bluish color after his rescue.”
Jesus even commented on Jonah’s journey (Luke 11:30), “For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.” It was Jonah’s embrace with the power of God that gave him a witness in the world of Nineveh—3 days and nights in the fish—just as the Son of Man’s 3 days enduring death and resurrection allow him to sway the jury of human devotion for generations to come. It reminds us that our past isn’t a waste, but rather a weapon in a testimony that pulls people in to hear your experience with a Risen Lord. People around you don’t want and won’t respond to your neatly packaged story of perfection, but your journey through struggles, reliance over short-comings, and finding grace over personal goodness can all go a long way in swaying the jury of those who are far from Jesus.