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THE STORY OF JONAH –
AND THE VISION OF OUR CHURCH

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, June 12, 2016

“Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3).


I love the little book of Jonah. One reason is because I understand this man. He is not a really bad man. He is just a very human man. God told him to go and tell the people of Nineveh that judgment was coming. Jonah would have to go east from Israel to get to Nineveh. Instead he went west on a boat to Tarshish, on the southern coast of Spain. Why did he do that? The Bible says he fled “unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (1:3). He did not want to do what God was telling him!

Reuben was the son of a wealthy corporation lawyer. He lived in a big mansion on 200 acres of land. But his father went bankrupt. Reuben wanted to earn a lot of money. He decided to become a lawyer. He read a book about how to become a Christian, but he was afraid that God would make him a preacher rather than an attorney. So Reuben, like Jonah, ran away “from the presence of the Lord.” He entered a university at the age of 15. He had a good time at college. He was popular with the girls and enjoyed campus life. He put away all thoughts of becoming a Christian. He was afraid God would make him a preacher.

Toward the end of his undergraduate studies he became depressed about life. One night he dreamed that an angel came to him, asking him to preach the Gospel. He woke up greatly disturbed. He had a sudden thought of committing suicide. He hurried, half asleep, to his washstand and took out his straight razor to cut his throat. But he dropped the sharp instrument and knelt by his bed. Snapping back to reality, he prayed for Christ to save him. He prayed, “Deliver me from this burden – I’ll even preach.” Reuben was 18 years old. Following graduation, a few months later, he entered the Yale Divinity School to prepare for the ministry. He went on to become Dr. R. A. Torrey, an internationally known evangelist, and the founder of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles – now known as Biola University – where I was converted on September 28, 1961.

But Jonah’s story was even more dramatic. He fled from the presence of the Lord, and he got in a boat to go to Spain, far from the place God had told him to go. Why did he run away from Nineveh? I believe there were two main reasons. First, the Ninevites were one of the most brutal peoples of the ancient world. Nineveh was the capital of the nation of Assyria. They were Israel's greatest enemy. They slaughtered the Jewish men, and made slaves out of their wives. No wonder Jonah didn't want to go there! He was a Jew! That land is now under the control of “Isis.” The people of Isis are the descendants of the Ninevites. The members of Isis come from the people of Nineveh. The people of Nineveh were every bit as cruel and ruthless as Isis is now. Like Isis, the men of Nineveh hated the Jews. Jonah was a Jew. What would happen to a Jewish preacher today if he went to preach to Isis? It would not be good! Pretty scary! No wonder Jonah ran away from God’s purpose for his life! It's kind of easy to see why he ran away! I might have done the same thing!

Second, God told Jonah to do something He had never told any other Hebrew prophet to do. In the Old Testament, God never sent His prophets as missionaries to other countries. Israel was located where three continents of the world, Europe, Asia and Africa meet. The nations of that day traveled through the land of Israel. God had the people of Israel build a temple as a witness to the world. The invitation was to go up to the house of the Lord and worship Him. Israel witnessed for God at the crossroads of the world. People like the Queen of Sheba came to the Temple in Jerusalem to learn about God. Israel did not send out missionaries. Thus, poor Jonah was told to do something God had never asked any other prophet in Israel to do. God never sent Elijah to preach in India. He never sent Elisha to preach in Egypt. So God was telling Jonah to do something no one else had ever done.

I believe those two points are very much true in our own church, here in the civic center of Los Angeles. We have been given an opportunity that no other church has. The sermons preached in this pulpit go out in 33 languages to every nation on earth. And the videos of these sermons are seen throughout the world in three major languages – Chinese, Spanish and English. Thus our church preaches to tens of thousands of people throughout the world. That is something new. You got used to it. But you should realize that what we are doing is “one of a kind.” No other church does it! None! And we reach into the Muslim world, the Hindu world, the Buddhist world, and the Communist world! Our sermons go where no Western missionaries dare to go. That is truly wonderful! You should thank God for our Internet ministry every day! And pray for it every day!

Our church is coming to life! We have had nineteen young people hopefully saved this year already. We have powerful prayer meetings. Next month two of our young men, John Cagan and Noah Song, will be preaching every Sunday morning for the rest of the summer and fall. It is time for us to rise up and bring in as many young people as possible to become part of this church! Pray for it! Thank God for it! Do it! Pray for God’s presence in our church every time you pray!

Some preachers are very hard on Jonah. But experience has showed me that we should be more gentle with him. After all, the man did finally go and preach to the Ninevites! But God put him through a rough experience to get him to do it.

Most of you know that I felt God wanted me to be a missionary to the Chinese. I spent ten years in a Chinese church, teaching and preaching there, and doing a lot of other work there, while I earned my bachelor’s degree at night, at Cal State L.A.. It was a tough experience, but Christ gave me the strength to do it. After I graduated, I went to the Baptist seminary north of San Francisco. I had a young Chinese girlfriend at the church in Los Angeles, and we wrote affectionate letters to each other. It was before we had any computers. Her mother found my letters and made a big fuss because I was a white man. I was told not to come back to the Chinese church for two years – even though I had done nothing wrong at all. Nothing! It was just a case of racial prejudice against me for being a white man. It made me deeply angry. I was treated badly just for writing a letter to a girl! In fact, it not only made me angry - it really made me hate the Chinese people!

I can say to you, quite frankly, that I became very bitter. I was bitter, and I began to hate the Chinese! I kept my membership in that Chinese church for another twelve years. I went there to preach many times in later years. But I was still angry and bitter at the Chinese people in general. Then one day God spoke to my heart very clearly. He told me that our church would never prosper unless I got rid of that bitterness and hatred. My son Leslie remembers that day, because I told him about it at the time. I became very close to my elderly Chinese pastor, and he asked for me to speak at his funeral. Since then God has blessed our church with many wonderful Chinese kids. It felt like a curse had been lifted from my ministry when I confessed and forsook the sin of bitterness.

My dear friends, racial prejudice is an ugly thing, and it is a great sin. When you get to know people, we are all so much alike that we should overlook one another’s skin color. I am so proud that we have members of over 20 ethnic groups in our church! And I say to you young people, who will soon be leading our church, please work very hard to keep it that way! Work to make every person, of every race, equal in our church! That is the way to have God’s presence and God’s blessings!

Jonah went through a horrible experience because of his racial prejudice against the people of Nineveh. He was cast into the ocean and spent three days in the stomach of a sea monster for his disobedience to God and his racial prejudice! Don’t ever let that happen in our church! Jonah finally learned that lesson. From the belly of that sea creature he cried out,

“They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:8-10).

Let this church always be open and loving to all races and all tribes of the earth! Let that be our vision! Stand and sing hymn number 7.

Fill all my vision, Saviour, I pray, Let me see only Jesus today;
   Though through the valley Thou leadest me, Thy fadeless glory encompasseth me.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine, Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
   Fill all my vision, that all may see Thy Holy Image reflected in me.

Fill all my vision, every desire Keep for Thy glory; my soul inspire,
   With Thy perfection, Thy holy love, Flooding my pathway with light from above.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine, Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
   Fill all my vision, that all may see Thy Holy Image reflected in me.
(“Fill All My Vision” by Avis Burgeson Christiansen, 1895-1985).

You may be seated.

Now look at Jonah, chapter 3:1-8.

“And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands” (Jonah 3:1-8).

The people of Nineveh repented when they heard the preaching of Jonah. Dr. J. Vernon McGee called this, “the greatest revival in the history of the world...What happened in Nineveh makes the Day of Pentecost look very small. A few thousand people turned to God on the Day of Pentecost, but there were several hundred thousand people in the city of Nineveh who turned to God. There has never been anything quite like it – an entire city turned to God!...However, the greatest revival, the greatest turning to God, is in the future” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible; note on Jonah 3:1).

I believe we may well see a revival in our church. We have had many conversions this year – some of them very miraculous. We should pray for God to be present in every service. Pray for God’s presence in our services every time you pray! And pray for God to one day open Heaven and come down among us in an even greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit – to convict of sin, and make Jesus Christ known to the people we bring in.

But when revival comes it will not help some people. I know a preacher who saw a mighty revival, but then he became a bitter man and an alcoholic! That was what happened to Jonah. He saw the entire city of Nineveh saved in that great revival. Yet we are told in Jonah 4:1 that “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (Jonah 4:1). What was the matter with him? He didn’t love the people who were saved!

No matter what great things God does in our church – no matter how many people are saved – we will not be joyful ourselves unless we love the people who come. We will gather with our own little group of friends and not reach out in love to the new ones coming in. We have to work at it. We have to deliberately learn the names of the new ones. We have to take care of them, love them, and pray for them by name. Some of us are like the old hyper-Calvinist who prayed,

Lord, bless me and my wife,
My son John and his wife,
Us four and no more. Amen.

If we think like that, we will never be joyful, no matter what blessings the Lord pours out on us. That is the message of Jonah – let it be the vision of our church – to bring in the lost, lead them to Jesus, and love them with all our hearts! That is our message, that is our theme, and that is our vision! Please stand and sing the last stanza of hymn number seven.

Fill all my vision, let naught of sin Shadow the brightness shining within.
   Let me see only Thy blessed face, Feasting my soul on Thy infinite grace.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine, Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
   Fill all my vision, that all may see Thy Holy Image reflected in me.

Sing the first two stanzas as well!

Fill all my vision, Saviour, I pray, Let me see only Jesus today;
   Though through the valley Thou leadest me, Thy fadeless glory encompasseth me.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine, Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
   Fill all my vision, that all may see Thy Holy Image reflected in me.

Fill all my vision, every desire Keep for Thy glory; my soul inspire,
   With Thy perfection, Thy holy love, Flooding my pathway with light from above.
Fill all my vision, Saviour divine, Till with Thy glory my spirit shall shine.
   Fill all my vision, that all may see Thy Holy Image reflected in me.

Dear friends, Jesus died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sin. Jesus shed His Blood on that cross to cleanse you from all sin. Jesus is now up in Heaven, in another dimension. Turn from your sin and trust Him. Jesus will save you! He will save you now. Go to the back of this auditorium if you would like to speak with us about trusting Jesus. Dr. Cagan, John Cagan, and Noah Song will take you to a quiet room where we can talk and pray. Amen. Dr. Chan, please lead us in prayer.

If this sermon blessed you Dr. Hymers would like to hear from you. WHEN YOU WRITE TO DR. HYMERS YOU MUST TELL HIM WHAT COUNTRY YOU ARE WRITING FROM OR HE CANNOT ANSWER YOUR E-MAIL. If these sermons bless you send an e-mail to Dr. Hymers and tell him, but always include what country you are writing from. Dr. Hymers’ e-mail is at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net (click here). You can write to Dr. Hymers in any language, but write in English if you can. If you want to write to Dr. Hymers by postal mail, his address is P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. You may telephone him at (818)352-0452.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Matthew 12:38-41.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Fill All My Vision” (by Avis Burgeson Christiansen, 1895-1985).