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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.,
Pastor Emeritus

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Afternoon, June 14, 2020

“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” (Jonah 1:1, 2; p. 943 Scofield).

The Book of Jonah had to be written by the prophet Jonah himself. I say that because it reveals Jonah’s thoughts and prayers, that no one else but Jonah himself could have known. The fact of Jonah being an historical person is given in II Kings 14:24-25 when the old rabbis called him, “Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gath-hepher” (II Kings 14:25; p. 439). The Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke of Jonah as a real, historical prophet. Please turn to Matthew 12:39-41 (p. 1013). Stand as I read what Jesus said about Jonah,

“But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas [Jonah]: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here” (Matthew 12:39-41).

Remain standing and turn to Luke 11:29-30 (p. 1091).

“And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas [Jonah] the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation” (Luke 11:29-30).

You may be seated.

So II Kings 14:25 gives the historical information of Jonah. And Luke 11:29-30 gives Jesus Christ’s mention of Jonah as a sign. And Matthew 12:39-41 gives Jonah’s resurrection as a sign of His own burial and resurrection on the third day after His burial. Thus, the Old Testament records Jonah as a real person, and Christ Himself tells us that Jonah’s death and resurrection was a prophecy of Christ’s own death and resurrection.

Sir Winston Churchill well said, “We remain unconvinced by the [liberal] tomes of Professor Gradgrind and Dr. Dryasdust. We may be sure that all of these things happened just as they are set out according to Holy Writ [the Bible].” (Quoted by Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, volume III, note on Jonah, Introduction, p. 738).

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I.   First, Jonah’s call.

“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…” (Jonah 1:1, 2; p. 943).

Verse 3,

“But Jonah rose up to flee…from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3; p. 943).

I understand this man Jonah. That is why the little book of Jonah is one of my favorite books in the Old Testament. Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord. I did not do that. I was called to be a missionary and knew it. But I was such a poor student that I knew I couldn’t graduate from college. I had to be a college and seminary graduate to become a Southern Baptist missionary. But I felt like Jonah anyway. I knew I was called, but I tried to flee from God’s presence out of fear of failing in college. God was telling me to do something impossible.

One young seminary student said to me, “I can’t go into the ministry because I know I will crash and burn.” He was afraid of failing in the ministry. I thought about that. Then I said, “I’ve already crashed and burned so many times that I’m not afraid of it any more.”

It is fear that keeps a God-called man from the ministry. It is always fear in one way or another. This particular young man was a winner at everything he did – but he was afraid of the ministry. His younger brother said of him, “My brother can do anything.” But he could not break free of the fear of “crashing and burning.” He was six feet tall, a straight “A” student, and a gifted preacher. But he fled from the presence of the Lord because he was afraid!

Now, young people, let me tell you something I learned in life, “You can do anything God calls you to do – anything!” The Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13; p. 1261). Because I have proved that verse, I know it is true. Here I am in my 80th year of life, a cancer survivor, with rheumatoid arthritis in my knees, but I am not afraid, even though two wicked men took out 3/4 of our church in a horrible church split. Yet I am as calm as a little baby in my mother’s arms. Am I afraid? Honestly, I am not one bit afraid! My maternal grandmother used to tell me, “You have nothing to fear but fear itself,” which she heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt say during the Great Depression. And I found out that my old grandmother was right!

I also found out that you cannot ever flee “from the presence of the Lord.” Why? Because God goes with you wherever you are – that’s why! You can go, like Jonah did, to Tarshish. But God is as much there as He was at home! And God will not let a preacher go without a great struggle.

I once knew a man who was an alcoholic. I found out later that he drank to block out of his mind that God had called him, but he was too afraid to obey God’s call. So now he got drunk every night to keep from being afraid. His name was John Birch (no kidding!) and there he was with me at the seminary, sneaking in and out of the dormitory because he was drunk!

I knew another man named Alan. I led Alan to Christ, but it was very hard. Why? Alan was afraid if he got saved he would have to go to Heaven! Why was he afraid of going to Heaven? He said to me one day, “I’ll have to see my father again and he is very angry at me for not going to seminary and becoming a Presbyterian preacher like he was.” Alan was over sixty years old. He sat in a Presbyterian church on Sunday, afraid to get saved because his dead father would be angry with him up in Heaven! He was tormented by that thought for over forty years. But I was able to convince him that his father [the Rev. Mr. Black] would smile and hug him, like the father of the prodigal son did, after the boy came home. Alan was the first person I ever led to Christ!

When I was at the seminary, a college-age girl got saved in one of our meetings. She was a shy girl, but I noticed that she was troubled, so I went to speak with her. She said, “I am afraid to tell my mother that I’m saved.” I said, “Go and tell her. She won’t be mad.” But I was wrong. When her mother learned she was saved, she kicked that girl out of the house. I saw the girl crying. So I said, “Let me go and talk to your mother.” I got all dressed up with a suit and tie, and went to see the woman. When she found out who I was, she started screaming at me. Finally I got into the woman’s living room. I said, “Won’t you let your daughter come home?” She said, “I could stand it when she was having sex and taking drugs. But now she is a Christian! And I will never have her in my house again.”

The poor girl moved into someone’s house in the church and got a job, and finished her college. She finally married a fine young Christian man. I understand that her mother did not attend the wedding. That young couple went as missionaries to a certain country in Europe. We send money to them every month to help them.

Then one day I heard that newspapers were piled up at the door of her mother’s house. The police broke in and found the mother – dead on the floor – her hand clutching a half empty vodka bottle!

Oh, what tears and pain that girl had to go through to become a Christian and a missionary! But she loved Jesus enough to overcome her fears and follow the Lord onto the mission field! And she was spiritual enough to hear what Jesus said, and obey what He said.

Stand and turn in your Bible to Matthew 10:34-39 (p. 1009).

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes [enemies] shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

You may be seated.

I know that some of you have parents who will try their best to get you to leave our church. Please remember this girl’s courage and follow her example. If you do, they will be very angry with you – for a while. But when they see your good life, they will finally – in the future – come to our church with you. But you must have faith to follow Christ, even if they never again accept you! Don’t be like Jonah and try to flee from the presence of the Lord!!!

At the Chinese church, I had two close friends – named Ben and Jack. Ben was rebellious against Dr. Lin. At last he eloped with his girlfriend. I never saw him again. But Jack trained to be a pharmacist. Yet he didn’t like it, so he went to Talbot Seminary and became a preacher. He was a very close friend of mine. I was the best man at his wedding. He trusted Jesus in one of our meetings. He then wrote, “Years later this yielded the fruit of the salvation of my own father and mother…I witnessed my father train and serve as a Sunday School teacher, impacting the lives of his students and contributing to the growth of the church.”

II. Second, Jonah’s affliction.

“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. But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken” (Jonah 1:3-4; p. 943).

Look up. Jonah knew that the storm was from God.

“And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you” (Jonah 1:12; p. 943).

Finally the sailors took Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from her raging.

“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly” (Jonah 1:17-2:1; p. 944).

I had trouble believing this at first. But later I saw that this incident was a type of Jesus, who died on the Cross, was buried, and then resurrected from the dead.

Later I read what Dr. M. R. DeHaan said about Jonah and the great fish. Dr. DeHaan said that Jonah was dead inside the great fish. Dr. J. Vernon McGee said,

This book is actually prophetic of the resurrection. The Lord Jesus Himself said that just as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, He would be a sign to His generation in His resurrection from the dead…The little book of Jonah illustrates and teaches the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Thru the Bible, note on Jonah’s resurrection from the dead, volume III, p. 739).

Look at Jonah 1:17.

“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17; p. 944).

Now look at the most important words in the Book of Jonah, the last five words of Jonah 2:9,

“Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9b; p. 944).

Let me stop here and give my own thoughts about Jonah’s affliction in the great fish.

As I read the Book of Jonah the other night, I was struck by something I had never thought of before. It is common to think that revivals are “sparked” by outward circumstances. Several well-known preachers are saying that the coronavirus will “spark” a revival. I do not believe that at all!!! That is a thought from Finney, and it is not true at all.

But here is the true fact of revival – it is “sparked” (I hate the words used by new-evangelicals today) – revival is “sparked” by God Himself, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9b).

But here is what I saw clearly the other night – In reading of the great revivals of history, we discover that all the major revivals begin with the leaders going through afflictions. I will name a few of them that come to mind.

John Wesley – I am just lifting out a few of the afflictions he experienced before the First Great Awakening. He was a failure as a missionary in Georgia. He experienced conflicts with demons. He was burned in effigy. He nearly died. His friend George Whitefield broke fellowship with him. He was slandered by his own denomination. He was slandered in his father’s church and refused the Lord’s Supper by the pastor. He married a woman who pulled his hair out and left him. Then Wesley experienced his own Pentecost. Only then did he experience his own Pentecost! Thousands of people stood in freezing weather to hear him preach. His life and work were spoken of by the King’s attorney: “No single figure influenced so many minds. No single voice touched so many hearts. No other man did such a life’s work for England.” One publishing house said recently, that John Wesley was “one of the most powerful preachers since Apostolic times.”

Marie Monsen – She began to fast and pray for revival in China. The Devil pulled her to the ground and coiled about her body like a great snake. She went on without help or support, a lonely, single woman missionary who prayed down the great revival that continues to this day in the house churches of China.

Jonathan Goforth – He and his wife went to China where they suffered greatly. Four of their babies died. Mr. Goforth himself nearly died twice. He had to take his dead babies in a cart for 12 hours to give them a Christian burial. I wish I had time to tell you how Mrs. Goforth and her children suffered. When their baby Constance died, “our little Constance’s body was laid beside her sister’s graves on her birthday, October 13, 1902.”

Only then did the revival fire of God come down on Goforth’s meetings. An opportunity was given for prayer. Mrs. Goforth said, “It came with the suddenness and violence of a thunderstorm…So it was here with the storm of prayer. There was no restraining it, and no attempt to do so…As men and women came under the power of God… Some who had wandered far away from God, now came back to Him publicly confessing their sins…There was no confusion. The whole congregation was united in prayer…We would all go directly to the meetings from our knees, and, oh, the gladness and glory of it!...We could only bow our heads and listen to God’s voice say to us, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Now we have learned that it is ‘not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.’

Great throngs, well over 700, were crowding to the front to confess their sins…It was difficult to bring the meetings to a close. Each meeting lasted about three hours. Indeed, each meeting lasted all day…A short message was given by Goforth to go on from this beginning to something better in the experience of each life. These were strict Presbyterians, ordinarily restrained, crying out to God, for mercy…One strong Presbyterian preacher was found later, alone in his room, sobbing in great agony of soul.” Mrs. Goforth said, “Such prayers – in directness and simplicity, in assurance! It was an inspiration to be in such an atmosphere!”

“The white missionaries took part with their Chinese brethren in confessing their faults and sins and short-comings. It was a time of all being brought together – Chinese to Chinese, missionary to Chinese, and all because they were united together in Christ. And Christ was saying to us all, ‘That they all be one…I in them and Thee in Me, that they may all be made perfect in one.’”

We had some meetings in our former church that appeared outwardly like the meetings with Dr. Goforth in China. I said “outwardly” on purpose. But most of the “leaders” in our church lied to God when they confessed their sins. Thus, as Dr. Tozer said, they committed two sins – the sin of lying, and the sin of lying in God’s name! Kreighton lied to Dr. Cagan when he said he did not need to “preach” to be “fulfilled.” Thus this sad little man became more like Judas, who betrayed Christ, than like Peter who sincerely repented.

The real revival under Jonathan Goforth was much like the real revival I personally saw under Dr. Timothy Lin, at the First Chinese Baptist Church in the late 1960’s, where there was no emphasis on the “gifts of the Spirit” – but only sincere repentances and prayer. Sadly, it seems to me, that the “conviction and repentance” were only emotional – but not sincere. It still amazes me that men like Kreighton and Griffith seemed that they thought they could fool God!!! What blindness!!!

As I was writing this sermon in our bathroom a few nights ago, I was seated on the edge of our bathtub. At one point I fell backward into the bathtub, crashing my head into the bottom of our tub. There I lay with my feet going straight up. I tried to wiggle free, but I couldn’t do it. As I lay there, trapped in the tub, I thought I had broken my neck. But I could wiggle my toes, so I knew I had not broken my spinal cord.

As I lay there in that horrible condition, the Devil told me that we would never have a real revival. That is when God showed me that the greatest revivals in history came after people like Wesley, Marie Monsen, and Jonathan Goforth, and others like John Sung, had been through an experience of great testing, like Jonah in the stomach of the great fish, before God could trust them with such a revival. Can we have a real revival now? Maybe. But we must be very sincere and very truthful, or God will not send down the real revival that some of us have been praying for all these years!

Like Jonah, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand was in the fish’s stomach for 14 years in a Communist prison. He spent three of those 14 years in solitary confinement, seeing no one but his Communist torturers. Why did God let Wurmbrand go through all that? If you read his books you will see that God used his prison cell to teach him to be loving and sincere. I have never met a man as sincere as Richard Wurmbrand. He learned in solitary confinement to speak sincerely to the whole world after he was released from prison. Small men like Kreighton and Griffith were never sincere men. They even lied to God. They even “confessed” sins that never meant anything of value to them.

It is easy enough to see that John Wesley, Marie Monsen, and Jonathan Goforth were serious people, not triflers. So was Jonah!

Dr. A. W. Tozer said, “If we are foolish enough to do it, we may spend the year vainly begging God to send revival, while we blindly overlook His requirements and continue to break His laws. Or we can begin now to obey and learn the blessedness of obedience. The Word of God is before us. We have only to read and do what is written there and revival…will come as naturally as the harvest comes after the sowing and planting” (“What About Revival? – Part I”). Sincerity is what God is looking for!