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Merritt: Miracle of Jonah isn’t the fish

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The central story of the book of Jonah is not that of a big fish, but of the grace and mercy of a loving God, Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt said in a June 22 sermon at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Merritt said that while some people try to run from God, the story of Jonah shows that — despite the contentions of some — man can never actually escape from God. Merritt was on campus as part of a special chapel service in conjunction with the Greater Louisville Billy Graham Crusade. Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., also preached.

“I’ve heard parents say, ‘My children are running from God,'” said Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga. “You know, really and truly, you can’t run from God. How can you run away from the presence of God? How can you really get away from God? You can’t.”

Jonah tried to escape from preaching the gospel to the sinful people at Ninevah, but God used a large fish ultimately to bring him to the city. While Jonah’s disobedience resulted in him being swallowed by a fish, Merritt said the fish is not the central point of the book. The prevailing theme of Jonah is the grace of God in turning away his wrath from Ninevah.

“You need to put a big circle around chapter three, verse 10,” Merritt said. “This is the real miracle of Jonah. The real miracle is not a physical miracle about a great fish; it is the spiritual miracle of a gracious father, of a father who looked at a city and said ‘You gave me 175,000 reasons to burn you up with the smoke of my wrath, but I sent a preacher to preach the gospel, to tell you to repent. … Because you have turned toward me, I have turned away my wrath.’

“That’s the lesson of Jonah,” Merritt added. “Sometimes we get so hung up on the fish, and it makes for good reading and all that, but I’m convinced that people really don’t understand the lesson of the book of Jonah.”

Vines, relating to the Graham Crusade that was underway in Louisville, preached on Paul’s “crusade” in Phillipi, found in Acts 16. Vines said God’s drawing sinners such as Lydia to Himself through Paul’s preaching demonstrates how God operates on tender and tormented human hearts.

“Lydia was a career woman,” he said. “She was a prosperous woman, but did you know that it is possible for you to be as rich as Bill Gates and to be a pauper inside. … The Lord knows how to deal with the human heart.

“Like a flower to the sun, the Holy Spirit opened her heart. Here you see that beautiful tandem of the Divine initiative and human response. It is the Lord who opens up the heart. It is God who takes the initiative in the human heart, and she’s the first testimony of the crusade there in Phillipi.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JERRY VINES.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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