We are Jonah

by Lynn on July 28, 2013


The story of Jonah is not only a wild adventure, but an example of God’s love, for both his disobedient servant and for a group of people who didn’t even know him. In the Old Testament, God directs his reluctant prophet to go to the city of Nineveh, and preach to the people about their sin and impending destruction.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. Jonah 1:2-3, NIV

God deals with Jonah’s disobedience by sending a violent storm. The sailors, afraid for their lives, pray to their pagan gods. The storm continues to worsen, and the sailors begin to question Jonah. Recognizing that he is responsible for their predicament, he tells them about his God.

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” Jonah 1:9-12, NIV

The sailors do indeed throw him overboard, and as Jonah struggles in the churning sea, his death is all but certain until God arranges a rescue of sorts, by sending a huge fish (sometimes translated whale) to swallow Jonah.

Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17, NIV

Within the belly of the great fish, Jonah has an opportunity to contemplate his disobedience, and all of but one verse in chapter two is devoted to Jonah’s repentance.

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.

I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.

But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”
Jonah 2:1-9, NIV

At the conclusion of Jonah’s very eloquent prayer, he is given a second chance to obey God. His conveyance is directed to transport Jonah to a local beach where he may resume his journey.

And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 2:10, NIV

Jonah takes his smelly self to Nineveh, where no doubt his first impression on the people was not quite so “fresh-as-a-daisy” as it might otherwise had been, before he spent three days with his new aquatic friend. Jonah however, proceeds with his mission and delivers God’s message, even though it could not have been a very popular one.

Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Jonah 3:3-4, NIV

To his amazement, the people of Nineveh repent and God spares them from destruction.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:6-10, NIV

Despite Jonah’s lack of enthusiasm for his mission, God uses him to bring salvation to the people of Nineveh, much in the same way he has used other preachers and prophets throughout the ages, to deliver his message of love and repentance. In the New Testament, Jesus commands believing Christians to share the Good News.

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Mark 16:15, NIV

However, we must be careful that the message we share be accurately represented. Editing God’s word changes it from God’s message to our own. We are commanded to deliver the news, not to re-write it for people who might find the original version unpalatable. Repentance came to Nineveh because Jonah preached the message of God. He didn’t just tell the people what they wanted to hear.

Some churches today focus heavily on the love of God, but conveniently leave out the topics of sin, judgment and repentance, so as not to make the audience feel uncomfortable. These pastors do their congregations a great disservice because they offer a false gospel—and a false gospel brings false hope.

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, NIV

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! Galatians 1:6-8, NIV

People who consider themselves Christians, but embrace a doctrine that does not require them to acknowledge that they are sinners or are in need of a Savior, are blindly and blissfully moving away from God and toward destruction. They’ve accepted only half of the message.

The Good News is only good news if you know about the bad news. Otherwise, hearing about God’s love just provides another warm and fuzzy feeling without the critical warning of danger up ahead and instructions for avoiding said danger.

True representation of the Gospel offers both love and a warning of judgment for those who reject Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23, NIV

In a false gospel, good and evil are really just semantics and since a loving God would never send such nice people to hell, why bring up all that negative stuff that makes people not want to come to church? These people are left to their own personal interpretations of the Bible, embracing the parts that make them feel good about themselves and discarding the parts that make them feel bad. Such a false gospel leaves people wondering about their salvation because they are never given clear direction on exactly how they are saved.

The true Gospel brings repentance, a transformed life and true eternal hope. Those who put their faith in the living God are certain about their salvation. They know their eternal home is already under construction in heaven.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:2-3, NIV

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1John 5:13, NIV

So, what is the Good News?

One-To recognize that we’ve all fallen short of God’s holy perfect standard, and that we are in need of help.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10, NIV

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Romans 3:20

Two-To acknowledge that Jesus Christ, being God himself, was the only one uniquely qualified to die in our place, and did so.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6, NIV

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12, NIV

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. 1 Timothy 2:5-6a, NIV

Three-To repent of our sins, accept the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, and believe that he rose from the dead.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9, NIV

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9, NIV

The cross is the key. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is no remission of sin and mankind is forever doomed. The hope of salvation is found only in the cross of Jesus.

Pastor Greg Laurie once asked the Reverend Billy Graham, now in his nineties, “If you could go back in time and give the young Billy Graham a piece of advice what would you tell him?” To which he replied, “I’d preach more on the cross of Christ and of the blood, because that is where the power is.”

So, what lessons can we glean from the story of Jonah? Here are just a handful:

Because of his great love for us, God gives second chances even when we’ve been disobedient.

God can use anybody to deliver his message.

God takes the Great Commission seriously.

We are not permitted to edit God’s message, but are called to deliver both the Good News and the bad news.

God can bring revival to even the most wayward of people.

We are Jonah and our own sphere of influence is our Nineveh.

“If God can bring revival to Nineveh with no better representative than Jonah, with no more Gospel than he preached on their streets, then he can bring revival to America.” –Greg Laurie

On the journey toward Home,

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