Today is the fourth day of our VBS at Wellandport. The week’s focus is on faith. And today’s lesson is about obedience. The character for our consideration is the prophet, Jonah.
Jonah is an unusual prophet. Like the other prophets, the book begins by saying, ”Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah…” However, he is not called to preach to Israel, but to go to the Assyrian city of Nineveh. While other prophets proclaimed judgments against foreign nations, only Jonah is called to preach directly to another nation.
The book, however, is not about the message, but the messenger. The narrative is simple and well known. Jonah refused to go to Ninevah. And actually goes the opposite direction and boards a ship to Tarshish.
While on the ship God demonstrates His disapproval of Jonah’s actions by sending a great storm that frightened the sailors. Finally, Jonah is thrown overboard as a sacrifice to the Lord.
God prepared a great fish that swallowed Jonah. After spending three days and nights in its belly, God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land.
Again, God instructed Jonah to go and preach to the people of Ninevah. This time he obeyed. However, the book ends describing Jonah’s displeasure because the people repented and God spared them. It is an unusual conclusion to an otherwise happy ending.
Fifty years ago when I was studying Minor Prophets under Homer Hailey at Florida College, he gave us preacher-boys a simple four-point outline of Jonah.
(1) Jonah ran from God.
Jonah ran from his duty. His responsibility. His calling. But more seriously, he was running from God. Twice the text says he was fleeing “from the presence of the Lord.” What a foolish and futile effort.
The Psalmist David was right when he rhetorically wrote, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? (Ps 139:7). Jonah was seeking to do the impossible. It’s a lesson he learned the hard way. Yet it’s a lesson we sometimes forget.
Do we think we can go on vacation, forget God and flee His presence? People sneak around so friends, family and brethren won’t know about their ungodly deeds, but do they really think they’re hiding from God? Young people go off to college, free from their parent’s supervision, throw caution to the wind, and think they can live however they please. Yet, God sees.
(2) Jonah ran to God.
While in the belly of the great fish, Jonah prayed. He prayed fervently. Humbly. And sincerely. Or so it seemed. Interestingly and ironically he never prayed over God’s call. Or while on the ship. Or during the storm. But he’s praying now.
Too often, like Jonah, we wait until we’re in a stressful, scary and serious situation before we pray. A marriage is on the rocks. Children are rebelling. There are problems at church. Or we’ve succumbed to a sinful temptation. Now we pray. Maybe we should have been praying earlier for wisdom, spiritual strength, and God’s guidance.
(3) Jonah ran with God.
When back on dry land and called the second time, Jonah obeyed God’s command. He went to Nineveh. He preached. He proclaimed the Divine message. And the people received it. And turned from their wickedness.
However, Jonah seems like a reluctant preacher. He obeyed. Yet, we wonder if his heart was really in it. Jonah reminds us the power of God’s Word is in the message preached, not the messenger who proclaims it.
(4) Jonah ran ahead of God.
Shockingly and sadly, Jonah is upset when the people repented. The Bible says he was “greatly displeased” and “became angry.” Why? Because he knew God was gracious and merciful and would forgive them.
Sounds strange, doesn’t it? A preacher that doesn’t want his hearers to respond positively to his preaching? Maybe Jonah had something against the Ninevites? Or he was xenophobic?
Jonah is a testimony that God can use flawed, imperfect people to accomplish His purpose. Preachers and pastors make mistakes. Fall short of the mark. And sometimes fall prey to pettiness and pouting this like prophet.
We’re somewhat left hanging on how the story ends for Jonah. But what about us?
Do we care about what God cares about?
Are His concerns our concerns?
Are we willing to do His will wholeheartedly and without reservation?
Will we accept His calling joyfully and enthusiastically?
Will we take the gospel to everyone regardless of race, background, or social status?
And will we sincerely rejoice when sinners come to Christ?
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman