The Book of Jonah: A mini-series
God's Mercy and an Unwilling Missionary
20 September 2015
At its heart, Jonah is a book about God. Whilst the book is named after a disobedient prophet, the protagonist is overwhelmingly a sovereign, benevolent God. This sermon examines God's actions in the opening verses of Jonah, why Jonah chose to disobey his call, and commands believers to examine themselves today.
Jonah was a prophet in Israel during a time of peace and prosperity. During this time, Jonah would have been a popular prophet as his messages were not ones of warning or judgment. But Israel soon grew lax and forgot God. During this time, God raised up Amos and Hosea to warn the nation; but as for Jonah, He called him to "arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach against it, for their wickedness has come up before me" (v. 2). Immediately, Jonah got up and ran, because he did not want the Ninevites to hear the message and repent. The Ninevites were part of Assyria, a cruel and barbaric nation that had invaded Israel multiple times. For God to call Jonah to preach to such people would be similar for Him to call us to preach to ISIS. And yet, God, in his benevolence, called.
Scripture records that, “Jonah rose up to flee... he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid its fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh” (v. 3). In contrast, David asks in Psalm 139, “Where could I go from your Spirit? Or where could I flee from your presence?”
In the new covenant, all believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and we know that God is always present with us. Still, we have the capacity to be disobedient, turn from God, and forsake His call. First John says that “if we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie, and don't tell the truth” (1 John 1:6). It is possible for Christians, when they are out of fellowship with God, to run from His call and His presence instead of embracing it. The question for Christians is this: will we stay in fellowship with God; and when He calls, will we obey?
The opening of Jonah provides a brief glimpse at the prophet Jonah, his backsliding, and the kind intention of God to save a ruthless nation. It asks of Christians, “will we obey God?”