A remarkable preacher visited us in Church today, he has come before. His ability to communicate is impressive and I have greatly enjoyed his familiar/evangelistic style from the pulpit. His name is Chris Brown and he’s a pastor at the North Coast Church in Southern California.
Pastor Brown spoke about Jonah and the Whale which he prefaced by artful storytelling about Jonah sitting on a wharf waiting for his ship to Tarshsish while sipping coffee. The amazing thing about the two sermons I’ve seen Pastor Brown deliver is his ability to connect the audience to the place and the time, he is a storyteller of the first order.
But if he could only tell stories and spin visual images of the Bible he would not be the effective Pastor he is. He looks deeper into the Bible and delivers the message in a meaningful way. Chris Brown is quite a remarkable preacher.
Pastor Brown explained how Jonah got into the whale and why. He explained how God had directed Jonah – a renowned prophet – to go to the Assyrians and denounce them in the name of God. Jonah knew that the Assyrians were vile, vicious people who were unlikely to well receive such a message. So Jonah, fearing for his life, prepared to go 2000 miles to the west instead of the 500 miles east as Goad had directed him. Jonah was in full retreat from God’s command.
As the story goes, the ship is tossed by a violent storm. The sailors are fearful and cast lots to decide who among them was responsible for the storm, the person who God was angry at. When the lots indicated Jonah, he admitted that he was fleeing from God and that they should cast him overboard to save themselves and their ship. After a time, they did indeed throw Jonah overboard and immediately the storm ceased. Jonah was swallowed by a whale as we all know.
Pastor Chris explained to us that as we flee from God – as we disobey – we endanger everyone in our boat. He also explained that it is difficult to call out to a God you’re running from. He also explained that the storms in our life may or may not be brought upon us by God but that the possibility is real and that a father would go to any length to bring us back to Him, even inflicting hardship.
One final note from the sermon today was that not all open doors are presented by God. Jonah probably thought that finding a ship going to Tarshish was great luck, that a door had opened for him to escape from doing God’s will. After all this was not a plumb assignment, Pastor Brown likened God’s command to Jonah as similar to someone being told they were to march into Berlin in 1932 and publicly denounce the Nazi regime.
I doubt that I’ve done any justice to the impact of Chris Brown’s sermon today but I hope the main points are clear. It is remarkable to me that all of this great thinking came out of what is commonly believed to be a children’s story, it points out the importance of understanding the Bible’s context as well as its content.