As we discussed in our first study, the story of Jonah illustrates a foundational principle you’ll constantly find surfacing throughout the New Testament and one you'll never find in the Old. Under the Old Covenant it was evident that God intended for the Nation of Israel to be set apart from the world in order to remain an example unto the world.
Under this dynamic God never commissioned missionary activity whereby He specifically sent Jewish representatives out into foreign lands for the specific purposes of proselytizing. Instead, the people of Israel were to exist as a shinning light that would draw the nations to Jerusalem so that they could encounter the True and Living God at the Temple.
It’s within this context that God’s instruction for Jonah to leave Israel and go to Nineveh broke with all Old Covenant norms - and on a side note is one of the many reasons I believe Jonah wasn’t ethnically Jewish, but a Gentile who converted at a young age. From the macro-perspective of Scripture Jonah’s unique calling presents him as a foreshowing of Christians receiving the Great Commission to go into the world with the Gospel.
You see, in contrast to the Old Testament, the New Covenant of Grace presents the opposite dynamic for the followers of Christ. Instead of seeking to draw the nations to the Temple (a geographical location) to encounter God, Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit and then sent out into the nations. It’s a complete and total reversal.
As opposed to one ethnic group being a beacon unto the world as we see with the Hebrews, the book of Acts describes individuals from all the nations being filled with the Light only to then be sent out by Jesus into the world for the purposes of shinning in the darkness.
It’s really is amazing to consider, but the story of Jonah illustrates the missional nature of the New Covenant some 750 years before Christ’s birth! You need to know it’s not enough that we’re the recipients of God’s love and His grace… Christians have been called and commissioned by Jesus to “arise” and “go” out into the world in order to be a conduit of His love and grace. Believers are not called to be static, but rather we’re called to be active.
In Matthew 28:18-20 we have recorded the Great Commission, “And Jesus came and spoke to His disciples, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”
With all of this in mind let’s look again at Jonah’s calling… Jonah 1:1-2, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.’”
As we noted last Sunday, the Book of Jonah opens with the prophet facing a serious decision. Because the “wickedness” of the Assyrians had reached a point whereby it could no longer be allowed to continue unabated, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah” with a very specific set of matching orders. In actuality, God commands Jonah to do three things:
First, Jonah was to “arise.” Then he was to “go to Nineveh.” And then finally, upon his arrival, he was to “cry out against” their wickedness. In Jonah 3:4 the prophet will later deliver a very simple message to the Assyrians, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
From the context we’re given it appears the situation in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh had reach such a tipping point that God wanted Jonah to go and issue to these wicked people an ultimatum: Either they repent of their sin or face a certain judgment! It’s interesting that in light of their brutality God still desired forgiveness over wrath. What grace!
Which explains why Jonah is commanded to “arise, go, and cry out!” In the original language this directive to “arise” was so strong it was hostile. In today’s vernacular you’d translate this as “rise up!” The command itself intended to stir Jonah from a point of apathy to action.
Keep in mind, before this “word came to Jonah,” the prophet found himself in a great place. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was being blessed. God’s Word was active. And Jonah was right in the middle of the action. He’d prophesied of Israel’s victory and his words had come true. As a result Jonah was a rock star. He was loved and appreciated. The people respected him and he had the ear of the king. Ministry was good.
The last thing Jonah wanted to do was leave Israel - especially for Nineveh! He was comfortable. Things were easy. Life was on cruise control. Yet, what God was commanding him to do threw everything into chaos. It placed his future into uncertainty. You see ultimately God’s command challenged the Lordship of Jonah’s life. Was Jonah’s service to God absolute or was his service contingent upon how it would benefit himself?
As we’ve already noted God knew what He was asking of Jonah would be met with an understandable measure of resistance - which was the fundamental purpose behind the command itself. The story, in its essence, is a tale about God and his dealings with Jonah.
Aside from the fact Jonah would possess a natural fear in proclaiming such a radicle word to such a brutal group of people, God knew even the possibility of mission success (the Ninevites repenting and being saved) would challenge Jonah to his core.
The very idea that God would even consider demonstrating grace to the wicked Ninevites challenged the prophet on several levels. Beyond the spiritual prejudice driven by his religious moralism, the extreme nature of God’s grace would challenge Jonah’s racial bigotry as well as the justifiable animus and hatred he held towards the Ninevites.
And yet, you should also keep in mind, such a command was designed to challenge the very essence of Jonah’s relationship with God. J. Allen Blair rightly observed that “every believer is plagued constantly by the enemy of self” and Jonah was no exception.
The decision to obey this command would require absolute surrender on the part of Jonah. He would have to submit his will and future to the sovereign purposes of God. Heading to Nineveh would require a measure of faith and trust Jonah hadn’t experienced.
God’s command left Jonah with a choice… He could lay aside his religious pride, repent of his racism, let go of his hurt, and die to himself in order to become the conduit of God’s love and grace to the Ninevites or he could reject this mission and remain his own god.
Once again, before we look at Jonah’s decision and in light of the fact his story illustrates the missional aspects of the New Covenant, it’s important we first apply this to our own lives…
Understand, there is a reason we refer to a Great Commission and not a Great Suggestion. Christians have not been saved by Jesus and liberated from sin to remain idle, but to be mobile. We’re saved to be called, not kept comfortable. As Christians our purpose isn’t to congregate, but to go out into this world on a particular mission.
Before I continue it’s important we take a few minutes to address a misguided idea that has not only come to dominate our modern, Westernized, church culture, but has ended up distorting the missional purpose the New Covenant establishes for the individual believer.
Tragically, many Christians have come to falsely see their mission in this world as being “Church-centric” as opposed to “Believer-driven”. What I mean by this is that many have come to see the corporate church in place of the individual believer as being the vehicle by which we reach the lost and fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus.
Instead of the Sunday church service being geared for the development of healthy believers, the purpose of the church-gathering has become largely seen as being similar to God’s purpose for Israel… To provide a physical location whereby the lost come to encounter God.
Since the goal of the church-gathering is then to get unbelievers in the door, every part of the Sunday service is crafted for this intention. Instead of teaching God’s Word out of fear that such concepts like sin and judgment maybe a turn-off for the unbeliever, the focus aims on fostering an inviting, fun environment the unbelieving world will find attractive.
For examples of this look no further than what we refer to as the “Seeker-friendly Church” - which honestly is unfair branding for if you don’t adhere to the model it implies you aren’t interested in being friendly to the seeker. The truth is that it should be called the “Seeker-focused Church” - In actuality such models even boast on being “church for the unchurched.”
And while I’m not advocating the church-gathering can’t be evangelistic or the kind of place that shouldn’t be welcoming to the “weary and brokenhearted”; sadly, what we find is nothing more than an Old Covenant mentality which fosters to two unintended consequences:
First, such a notion that it is the purpose of the church to evangelize, naturally downplays the responsibility of the individual Christian from going out into their world on mission. Instead of the church-gathering crafted with the goal of equipping believers to go out and reach the lost world around them, the Christian mission tragically morphs into supporting the church-gathering to be better equipped and effective at reaching the lost.
We’ve seen this model dominate the church… The focus becomes building an attractive building for unbelievers to come to as opposed to being an effective place believers are equipped and sent from! And the ultimate irony is that such a strategy (while well intentioned) is simply inconsistent with the New Covenant model founded by Jesus.
Secondly, such a perspective that it is the purpose of the church to evangelize is dangerous because it misconstrues the actual purpose of the church-gathering. I imagine some of you are thinking, “Well, Pastor Zach what about the Great Commission you read earlier? Isn’t the church called to reach the lost?” The answer is, “No! It isn’t.”
This is what so many miss… The Great Commission was not given to the institutional church, but to individual Christians! Seriously, Jesus issued the Great Commission to 120 of His followers from the Mount of Olives ten days before the church was even born!
Beyond this… If you examine the history and early formation of the church as recorded in the book of Acts, it will become evident that the church-gathering existed, not as a mechanism to shine a Light onto the world, but rather to be a time that focused on equipped and encouraged believers to take that Light into the darkness by teaching the Word of God.
Also note: Not only will you never find an example of an “altar call” occurring during the church-gathering or for that matter the emphasis of the institutional church being outreach to the unbelieving community, but every example of evangelism in Acts centers upon an equipped Christian, going out into the world, to tell people about Jesus. Individual mission!
Once again it really is the difference between the New Covenant and Old Testament models. Jesus formed His church for the purpose of equipping and sending out Christians to reach the lost, not to be an attractive place the lost gathers to encounter God.
If you believe your job is to support the evangelistic efforts of the church-gathering you sorely have it backwards. Instead, you support the facilitating of the church-gathering because it exists to effectively equip and encourage you to fulfill the evangelistic mission Jesus has called you to be engaged in! It’s why we call the gathering of the church on Sunday a “church service” - what happens intends to be a service to the church, not an outreach to the lost!
If we’re honest, people like the Old Testament model because it’s easier! If you see the church you support having massive altar calls it tends to make you feel better about not evangelizing yourself. I don’t want to sugar coat it or look beyond the obvious… it’s true going out into the world to share the Gospel with the lost is challenging. Stepping out in such a way can be uncertain - even scary. And since we love our comfort it requires sacrifice.
Honestly, this is one of the reasons “Seeker-focused” churches are so vibrant and flush with cash. The truth is that people prefer to support someone else doing the job Jesus has called them to do, because it’s easier and doesn’t require they step outside their comfort zone.
Sadly, church leaders even prefer the seeker-focused dynamic because it’s easier to grow numerically. As opposed to relying on believers in the church to evangelize the lost, they just encourage their members to bring their unsaved friends to church to hear the Gospel.
And while I’m not advocating it’s wrong to bring a seeker to church, here’s the problem with the “You bring um and I’ll get um saved” mentality… Aside from the fact believers end up being challenged to get saved every single week as opposed to growing through the teaching of God’s Word, it enables a Christian to do the very minimum and still feel like they’ve done their part! Sure, the results are better because more people are getting saved, but since it’s happening the wrong way it creates a culture of apathetic Christians.
It’s like a parent who does their kids homework for them - yes, the child is making better grades than they would have (the results are great), but the kid is a moron! Doing the job for the child - no matter how hard, robs the kid of the opportunity to learn, grow, and mature.
The truth is that inviting the lost to church is not fulfilling the Great Commission! Bringing a friend to church should come after you’ve shared with them the Gospel - how the amazing grace of Jesus has transformed your life and can change theirs as well!
I was asked recently why we never give an altar call at Calvary316. My answer was simple… That’s not my purpose as your pastor and it isn’t the purpose of our church service. Though I have a deep passion to reach the lost world around me with the Gospel, that’s my individual mission as a believer - not the mission of the church. The church-gathering should be believer-focused for no other reason than that’s what Jesus had in mind for His church.
“Well how do you expect the church to grow?” Our model is based on a simple principle that has proven effective for 2000 years - Healthy sheep reproduce! Not only does this mean we need you to make more babies, but our focus centers upon seeing you grow to the point where you’ll answer the call, embrace your mission, and go into your world with the Gospel.
I don’t mean to put a guilt trip on anyone, but I want you to be honest with yourself. When was the last time you told someone about Jesus or at a minimum told someone what Jesus has done in your life - your story? When was the last time you led someone in a prayer to receive Christ? Have you ever? You see it’s not my job to be a Light in your world… It’s your job and I don’t want to give you an easy out by doing it for you!
Christian, Jesus comes to you and I with the same command He gave to Jonah… “Arise” and “Go!” Ironically, this very commission challenges us in the same way it did the prophet. As we turn our attention to Jonah’s response, I want you to personalize this story…
Since you’ve been saved to be sent on a mission… What is your Nineveh? To whom is God sending you or have you fallen into the trap of seeing ministry as the thing your pastor does? Take a minute and be honest… Who is God sending you to reach?
Is your mission a work-place, a specific co-worker, even a boss? Is your Nineveh a neighbor or entire neighborhood? Is it a family member, book-club, team, school, PTA, gym, or for that matter another country (like New York or California)? What Nineveh has God called and sent you to bring His message to? And if you don’t know, pray that God would make that clear!
And keep in mind… Like we see with Jonah, the purpose of the mission is much greater than simply reaching the intended target. God calls people to reach people because He’s wanting to challenge us in profound ways. Is God calling you to show grace to someone who’s hurt you so that you’ll experience the depths of His love in a more radicle way?
Is He calling you to lay aside a moral prejudice by befriending the gay couple in your neighborhood, the single lady who’s had an abortion, or the co-worker going through a divorce all so you’ll come to understand that apart from His grace you’re no better off?
Is Jesus calling you to serve the homeless or work in the projects because He’s wanting to work out of your heart some type of racial bias? Never forget this truth… Receiving God’s love and grace, though incredibly powerful in its own right, is not nearly as transformative as demonstrating His love and grace to those you don’t believe deserve it.
Consider - “The word of the Lord” has come to you for the same reason it came to Jonah… God is calling you to “arise” and “go” to a specific place and a particular people to preach the Good News. The message you’ve been given for your world is the same Jonah was given for Nineveh… While sin will result in a certain judgment, repentance will yield His salvation.
Jonah 1:3, “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
While most stories build to a tragedy, the tale of Jonah waists no time! Jonah had a decision to make, and sadly he choose poorly. Sure, though it’s obvious why Jonah decides not to make the 500 mile trek north to Nineveh, the compulsion to then head 2000 miles west is bizarre. The very fact Jonah decides to “flee to Tarshish” is frankly a strange twist.
What demanded Jonah go anywhere? Couldn’t he have simply remained in Israel? Why does Jonah now feel the inescapable need to move when he didn’t have too? I think there are two reasons Jonah decides to flee for Tarshish:
First, Jonah’s compulsion to flee manifested as a natural reaction to “the word of the Lord.” In Isaiah 55 God makes it clear that His Word never returns void… This means that the power contained in the Word of God will always spawn an action of some kind.
It’s interesting that God’s Word always yields what it intends in the amoral natural world. In Genesis 1 God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” He commanded the waters to divide and they divided accordingly. We even see that creation submits to the words of Jesus. He verbally rebuked the storm on the Sea of Galilee and it immediately obeyed.
But man is different because, unlike the rest of creation, God has given us a freewill to make our own decisions. Now understand, this doesn’t mean our freewill provides an immunity to the power of God’s word - quite the contrary. You see the only difference between moral man and amoral creation is that, while all of nature automatically submits to the intentions of God’s Word, we can largely dictate the reaction through our free-willed decisions.
To this point J. Allen Blair observed concerning Jonah’s reaction to God’s Word, “Whenever the word of God comes to a soul, it disturbs that soul until there is a response. No man is ever the same after the Word of the Lord comes upon him. Either we respond to the voice of God, to do His blessed and holy will, or we turn from Him to go in the way of the flesh.”
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah” and command he “arise and go to Nineveh”; and yet, because he wasn’t willing to go to Nineveh God’s Word wouldn’t allow him to idly remain in Israel. He had to go somewhere so he arose and went the opposition direction to Tarshish.
Greg Laurie said, “There are only two roads in life. One road leads to Nineveh. The other road leads to Tarshish. One road is the will of God. The other is disobedience to His will.” Because Jonah choose not to go to Nineveh, the only other path took him to Tarshish.
Friend, this is the danger in attending a church that faithfully teaches God’s Word. Because it will not return void, it will yield a response in your life. If you accept His Word and submit to it, God will work in awesome ways. If you reject His Word, it will eventually drive you from His presence. This is one of the reasons we tend to be very patient when it’s brought to our attention someone is living immorally. God’s Word will change them or they’ll simply leave.
The second reason Jonah fled to Tarshish is pretty evident from our text… “But Jonah arose to flee from the presence of the Lord.” To his credit Jonah at least understood his refusal to submit to the will of God and answer the call would carry with it profound effects on his relationship with “the Lord.” His status quo would completely change.
Jonah rightly knew his rebellion and rejection of God’s command to go to Nineveh would yield serious consequences in his own life. Jonah knew there was no way he could have it both ways: Refuse God’s command and remain in fellowship with the Lord.
Keep in mind, the idea behind Jonah “fleeing from the presence of the Lord” doesn’t mean he honestly believed he could escape God’s presence. As a prophet, there is no doubt Jonah knew God was omnipresent (everywhere at once). Instead, the idea behind this phrase is that Jonah was making a willful decision to break fellowship with the Lord. To this point the word we find in the Hebrew for “presence” can be translated into English as “face”.
This is rather radicle, but what this means is that Jonah found the very notion that God would forgive the Ninevites if they repented so appalling that he was no longer willing to be associated with God. It’s interesting, but Jonah doesn’t argue with the Lord. He doesn’t lobby God to reconsider. He mounts no defense. The way the scene is set is that Jonah has now learned something about God he can no longer tolerate.
Jonah heads to Tarshish because he doesn’t want to be in Israel. Leaving for the other side of the world was Jonah’s way of breaking ties. You see Jonah was renouncing his religion, rejecting his God, departing from his people, and resigning from the position of prophet.
The extreme nature of God’s grace was simply more than Jonah could handle. What the command said of God was so disturbing Jonah wants nothing to do with the Lord anymore. Jonah is choosing to hate God if his only other option included loving the Assyrians. It’s provocative, but Jonah is willing to be damned if it meant Nineveh was destroyed.
I know in light of the harshness of this idea what I’m about to say might be a weird way of looking at Jonah, but there is an aspect to his actions I can at least respect. Jonah knew he had to be consistent. As it pertains to God he knew it was either/or - never both/and. Jonah knew he was either all in or he was all the way out. There was no grey area.
It’s sad that Jonah refused to submit to God’s will. It’s tragic he resisted God’s call. It’s even offensive that his hatred for the Ninevites ran so deep he’d rather reject the very grace he’d be given if it meant he’d have to demonstrate that grace to these people. And yet, of all the things you could say about Jonah “hypocrite” is not one of them.
Personally, I’m convinced the worst thing Jonah could have done after rejecting the call of God was remain a prophet in Israel. In such a scenario Jonah would have been a complete hypocrite… You see remaining in Israel wouldn’t have changed the reality Jonah’s heart was still very far away from the presence of God.
Please understand, there is only one person God can’t reach… And it’s the hypocrite. You see if you aren’t willing to be honest how can the truth ever set you free? I believe the reason God pursues Jonah boiled down to the fact he was willing to be completely honest and even accept the consequences of his actions. What was good for Jonah was the fact his feet took him where his heart wanted to go, but God was still fast on his tail.
In closing there is one more point I want to make and it relates to how “Jesus is a greater Jonah.” I’ve mentioned this before, but Jonah’s hatred for the Assyrians was in some ways justified. They were deplorable, wicked and vial. It’s likely their barbarity had even hurt Jonah personally. As a kid living in an area subject to random attacks, he’d seen first-hand the savage nature of these people. Men flayed alive, decapitated. Women raped and mutilated.
Jonah refused to go to Nineveh because he wanted these people to be judged - to get what they deserved. Jonah craved justice. He longed for vengeance. This is why the very possibility God would instead grant mercy and demonstrate grace was more than he could stomach. Ultimately, Jonah rejected God because he believed grace wasn’t fair or just.
And if we’re honest, though we can sympathize with Jonah and his perspective, the reality is that Jesus can as well. Consider that God’s commission of Jesus as well as the essence of His message was almost identical to Jonah. Jesus was sent to earth with a message of repentance in place of judgment just as Jonah had been called to go to Nineveh.
Furthermore, if you think about it Jesus could have used all the same justifications Jonah had for refusing His mission to earth. Humanity is deplorable. We’re wicked and vial - capable of all kinds of wickedness. Jesus would have been justified if He’d desired judgment, vengeance, and justice. Honestly, it’s what fallen, sinful man deserves.
And yet, “Jesus is a greater Jonah” because while Jonah rejected his calling, Jesus willingly accepted His! Unlike the attitude we see in Jonah, Jesus has a deeper longing to see men saved than judged. Jesus preferred the demonstration of God’s grace in place of His wrath.
Like Jonah, Jesus had a decision to make. Jesus could have allowed hurt, like Jonah, to taint His perspective, but He didn’t. God said to Jesus as He commanded Jonah, “Arise” and “Go!” And what makes “Jesus greater than Jonah” is that He accepted the call and came.
While Jonah refused to lay aside his wicked prejudices, Jesus willingly laid aside His heavenly glory to come to us. While Jonah was consumed with his hurt and hate, Jesus was more interested in demonstrating God’s love and forgiveness.
While Jonah ran from the will of God, Jesus willingly submitted Himself to the will of His Father - even to the point of death. While Jonah was unwilling to let go his moral pride, Jesus humbly endured the humiliation of a Roman cross. While Jonah wanted to see the Ninevites judged by God, Jesus desired that all sinful men might be saved.
Jonah refused his calling. Jesus accepted His. Jonah ran to Joppa. Jesus hurried to Jerusalem. Jonah boarded a boat. Jesus was nailed to a cross. Jonah rejected his purpose. Jesus died to fulfill His! Jonah resisted grace and it would take him down a difficult path. Jesus desired to demonstrate grace and He changed the world forever.
Christian, if you need a motivation to embrace your mission, look beyond Jonah and see Jesus. There is a lost world all around you in desperate need of the grace you’ve experienced. The world doesn’t need more Jonah’s who run from their heavenly calling. The world needs Christians willing to go out and be the conduit of God’s grace and love.
Always remember… While the person closing their fist to God’s grace will find it impossible to share anything but hate to those they encounter, it is the open hand to God’s grace that will be more than willing to share that grace with others!
No Additional Links.