Jonah is one of the most intriguing books in the Bible to me. It almost doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities other than the Ninevites full acceptance of God’s mercy and grace. Jonah never got the whole picture, which is why it’s probably in there. Jonah stayed committed to his position although God kept dragging him along in the story. I am afraid too many Christians make the same mistakes Jonah made, I know I have. Fortunately, we have Jonah’s example to follow and can learn from it so we don’t miss out on the amazing story of redemption God has for lost people. Here are a few things Jonah missed in his assessment of God’s assignment for him.
- Jonah dismissed God’s saving work for “Those people.” Jonah was a prophet for the nation of Israel. He would proclaim the message to “God’s people.” Anyone else was simply out of luck unless they went through the proper steps of identifying as an Israelite. In Jonah’s mind, his message was exclusive, which means that he was comfortable with people being cut off from God’s grace, mercy, and love. Jonah missed out on the possibility of seeing God do a saving work in the lives of so many because his message was simply not for “Those people.”
- Jonah denied that God could work “There.” Jonah knew beyond doubt that God wanted a relationship with the Israelites, but Jonah was sure that God wouldn’t work in Nineveh. In Jonah’s mind, God was at work “Here” but not “There.” This is so dangerous for any believer to think that God cannot in fact work in a particular location. As if too say that they are “too bad,” “too lost,” or “unlovable/unredeemable.” Jonah missed the magnificent power of God’s saving grace. The Ninevites had a reputation of being evil and hostile, but not more powerful than God. Yet, Jonah refused to see how God could use him “There.”
- Jonah dissed the Savior until he needed one. Jonah was so convinced he was right and that God was out of touch with reality; that he ran from God (Any five-year old can tell you how stupid a plan this is, but adults are dumb enough to try. This adult included.) He was willing to go anywhere except where God told him. If you read the account in the book of Jonah, you see how God chased Jonah with a storm and a large fish. Jonah didn’t want God to save Nineveh, because he didn’t see there need to be saved. (You might read that sentence again.) The Ninevites were so bad in his eyes that they were somehow outside God’s plan of redeeming lost mankind. We do this in churches everywhere in this country. We cut people off based on race, nationality, socio-economic status, pedigree, community, political affiliation, gender, sin bias, etc. All the while saying, “I don’t really want to see God save you, because you are from ‘there’!!” Christians with a Jonah attitude are taking ground for the enemy not from the enemy. Jonah knew he couldn’t run from God forever so He thought a quick suicide by drowning was a way to get out of his assignment. But God appointed a giant fish to swallow Jonah and put him in a spiritual time out for three days. It was here that Jonah’s prideful heart was tested. Jonah had to admit now that he needed a Savior, before the digestion process took effect. The flip side of thinking that people are too bad to receive the Savior is thinking that you are too good to need a Savior. That is where Jonah was at before he became fish chow. Look who needed saving this time, Jonah?!?!
- Jonah disagreed with God’s results. Jonah recognized that God wouldn’t give up on sending Jonah to Nineveh, so he reluctantly agreed to go. Jonah kinda preached repentance to the Ninevites (Jonah 3:3-4, see if he doesn’t seem a bit bitter as he preached.) Yet, to Jonah’s surprise the people of Nineveh overwhelmingly turned their heart to God. They repented from the greatest to the smallest. A great awakening took place where Jonah thought it least possible. Jonah should have rejoiced over being an instrument of God’s choosing, but Jonah went a different way. Jonah left the town and hoped God would still destroy the Ninevites. Jonah had a real problem in his head and in his heart. Jonah would rather see 120,000 people dead than that many turn to God with their whole heart. Honestly, that is what you and I are saying when we reserve the Gospel for certain people.
Jonah just couldn’t see the bigger picture. He held on to his preferences, comfort zone, and hard heartedness, instead of surrendering to the will of God. Fortunately God’s plan took control of Jonah, even though he was unwilling to be “there.”
What can you and I learn from Jonah’s story? Here are a few self evaluating questions: Is there anyone or people groups whom I feel can’t be saved? Is there anyone I view too bad to be saved? Is there anyone I avoid or avoid sharing the gospel with? Is there anywhere that I refuse to go when instructed by God? Have I forgotten why I need a Savior? Have I reserved God’s message for certain people?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then you have only one option. Repent! God wants to use you to redeem a lost world. He can do it with or without you. You can cheat yourself out of your divine purpose or you can get your heart right and comply. Choice is yours. We should be a people of hope, life, and love. We, as Christ followers, ought to be the most excited people on the planet because of the hope we have to share with others. Our churches would certainly look and feel differently if we truly lived this way. But sadly, they smell like fish vomit and we aren’t happy to be there. We truly need to get before the Savior and examine our heart/motives as he has called each of us to differing assignments. Please Don’t Be a Jonah!!!!
Grace and Peace to you as you sprinkle hope and God’s message to all people and all the places you go. Beware if you don’t, God might appoint a fish for you!!!