Though our published schedule calls for us to turn today to the book of Nahum, let’s cover that the next two days, while we add an additional thought on Jonah today.
God gets a bad rap sometimes from Bible readers – particularly about the Old Testament. There is just so much judgment and wrath against people groups and nations. And it is certainly not as if his own chosen people get off the hook. To the simple mind, God seems so angry and vindictive – nothing like this God of love that Christians talk about. And so, even scholars will sometimes talk about the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, as if they are two people.
God cares about lost people. And that is not just something God stumbled upon in the New Testament. He has always cared about lost people… way more than His own redeemed people (in any era) have ever cared about the unreached. Telling Jonah to go to Nineveh was a tough assignment. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire – the big bad boys on the block, and the enemies of Israel. The Assyrians were bad people. They were famous for doing things like impaling their enemies on a giant stick and making human popsicles out of them. Going to Nineveh would be like being sent to Tokyo in 1943! Or maybe like being told to have an evangelistic rally in Tehran or Baghdad today (or Mosul – the modern name for Nineveh!). Or possibly, it might be more like the difficulty of taking the Gospel to that ungodly foreman at work who does not deserve God’s grace!
The fact of the matter for Jonah was that he did not really desire the repentance of the Ninevites. Their destruction was cool with him… let ‘em toast! When he saw that God had relented upon His plan to destroy them, Jonah was angry and basically said, “See, didn’t I tell you that this is exactly what would happen?”
So Jonah sat down to watch what would happen to the city. It was blistering hot! And God provided a fast growing plant with large leaves to provide shade for Jonah, which pleased him immensely. But when a worm ate the plant and a sirocco (the actual word) came along and caused the plant and Jonah to dry up, he was immensely displeased. God rightly pointed out to Jonah that he cared more about the plant (his creature comfort) than he did about the grace of God displayed to 120,000 people!
Is it possible for creature comforts to limit the zeal for outreach in our generation? I think so. We fear the repercussions of what people will think of us if we seek to speak intimately with them about their faith. We may worry how it will impact our job relationship, or our standing in the community. Who wants to be seen as a fanatic, or to be viewed as making judgments upon others’ beliefs? Fear of not having enough material resources for our pleasures may prevent us from generous and greater involvement in the worldwide cause of Christ.
Maybe for you it is like what a famous person in Texas told me about pastors. He said “Preachers are good, and I love them; but I love them in someone else’s family.” I’m afraid a lot of Christians think, “Evangelism is good, and I’m glad it happens; but I’m happier if someone else does it.” However, we all have a command to do it! Let’s not be Jonahs who run in the opposite direction!
Contrast Jonah with Jesus, and not just the statement that Jesus made in Matthew 12 …
“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.”
Beyond Jesus referencing the story of Jonah, consider the contrast of the characters themselves. Jonah set up shop outside the city of Nineveh to see it destroyed, whereas Jesus went outside the city of Jerusalem to give his life that others may live. And the heart of Christ is seen when he says of his city, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
As in all things, it is our goal to become more like Christ. Yet on the matter of outreach, it is so much easier to be more like Jonah – only doing it if you simply have to, and not possessing any compassion for people who are, in a word, lost.