They Greatly Feared – Gospel in Life

They Greatly Feared

Tim Keller |  September 23, 2001

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  • Cities
  • Anxiety
Jonah 1:4-17
RS 139-2


Jonah is a prophet. God has come to him and told him to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, the implacable foe, the implacable enemy of his country. “Go to that city and preach against it. Warn them about God’s anger.” What Jonah does, of course, is he runs away. He refuses to do it. He goes in another direction.

Jonah’s on the run. Why? Because Jonah has fear in his heart. He’s afraid to go to Nineveh, because–why put himself in the very midst of his enemies?

We’re going to see what the Bible says about fear by noticing three features of the story: the stormy sea, the religious sailors, and the willing substitute. The stormy sea is who we are. The religious sailors show us the wrong thing to do about it. And the willing substitute is what to do about it.

Understanding Jonah 1:4–17

The story of Jonah is much like our own. Jonah, a prophet, runs away from what God asks him to do because he’s scared and angry. This story has three important parts – a storm at sea, some confused sailors, and a willing sacrifice – which can help us understand how to deal with our own fears. This story highlights how fear is a part of life, but it also gives us a way to face our fears.

1. The stormy sea

Storms remind us that we need God. Even people who don’t believe in God often find themselves praying when times get tough. This shows how we all, deep down, know we need God. The big question is, what do we do when we realize we need Him?

2. The religious sailors

Just being religious isn’t enough to overcome fear or find real comfort. Both the ancient sailors with many gods and modern people without any god show us this. The things we own or achieve can’t really protect us or make us truly happy. Only by understanding that God loves us, and by loving Him back, can we build a real relationship with Him and find freedom from our fears.

3. The willing substitute

Jonah is a mix of rebellion and surrender. He shows his guilt and is willing to give up his life, which makes the sailors respect him. This reminds us that fear of God doesn’t just mean being scared of Him, but also being amazed by His greatness. The story tells us how vital it is to understand God’s love, cautions us against just following religious rules, and encourages us to keep seeking God, even when we feel weak, because this is what makes our faith stronger.



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