Does anyone feel uncomfortable with evangelism? It’s not necessarily abnormal or uncommon. But we’ve got to overcome that feeling of being apprehensive, of being hesitant.
What was Jonah called to do?
He was called to evangelize to the Ninevites.
We’ve got this guy Jonah, and he gets called to Tarshish, toward Spain. He’s obviously fleeing from what God has called him to.
The question we have to address is why would Jonah flee? Understanding why Jonah fled will help us to understand why we often flee from what God has called us to do.
Jonah is on a sea, and the storm is his fault. He tells the people to throw him off and the storm will stop, and they eventually do it. He’s in the belly of a fish for 3 days and he repents, and the fish spits him out.
Something that always stands out to me is the sermon that Jonah gave. He tells them that they have 40 days until they are destroyed. How would you respond to this sermon? It seems pretty hopeless, and they don’t even know who Jonah is. He’s a foreigner in their land.
Look at how the people respond in verses 6-10
They listened to Jonah and repented. This is super surprising. It’s a convention with the Old Testament prophets that the people don’t listen to them. But the Ninevities listened to Jonah and repented. This is a miracle.
And they don’t even have any assurance that God will relent from His anger. Jonah says, “who knows if God will turn from His anger,” but the Ninevities still repent in hope that God will have mercy.
Who were the Ninevities? They were Assyrians and lived in what would soon be the capital of Assyria, which was the America of the time. They were wealthy and influential, they were the biggest country with the most power. Israel was on their border, and were relatively tiny. During this time, Assyria was expanding their borders, and Israel was put at risk.
There was a certain imminence to their situation because Assyria would soon conquer them.
2 Kings 14:25
King Jeroboam the second is the king they are talking about. Contemporary to this time period, Israel is also going through an expansion. They were expanding their own empire. And who was proclaiming that this is what God wanted? Jonah. So you’ve got this guy who is an advocate for Israel being called into the territory of his enemies, the one who threatened the well-being of his own country.
This response makes so much more sense when we know how Jonah was operating. God asks him a question, “Do you do well?” And we see that Jonah is not doing well. He was operating under the assumption that in order for God to be for Israel, He had to be against Assyria.
What happens when the assumptions we make are challenged? We get defensive, angry, resistant. We become resistant to the truth when everything we thought to be true fails us, when our assumptions are challenged.
Our default is to think that we are the most important thing in the universe; we are wired to believe that the world is centred around us. A lot of the things I do are centred around my own comfort and around little things that add up to my convenience.
So what does Jonah do? He goes up on a hill and watches the city. Meanwhile, you have people waiting against all hope to see if God will show mercy and spare them from destruction. And then we have Jonah, who knows that God has relented and does have mercy, but refuses to tell the people who don’t know.
Then God appoints a plant to grow over Jonah and give him shade from the sun. The plant dies, and Jonah says, “It it better for me to die than to live.” So God asks him, “Do you do well to pity the plant?” Jonah responds, “yes.” Look at what God says:
“And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Do you see what’s happening here? Jonah was so concerned with this plant that his whole hope of living was tied to this plant. He was so concerned with the plant that he completely ignored the value of the lives of 120,000 people who don’t know God.
Jonah was more concerned with his own comfort than he was with the lives of thousands of people. It’s easy for us to criticise Jonah, but we do the same thing. We hate people. That is strong language, but we have to admit that we have hatred for people. It may not be as dramatic as Jonah’s experience with his enemies, but it could be someone who gets on your nerves, or someone who you really just don’t like. It could be a sibling who you’re not showing love to. It’s as simple as that. And sometimes that hatred can keep us from sharing the most important news with people, from truly loving them.
The story ends with a question. We don’t know how it ends, whether Jonah goes and tells them. What are the alternatives to this Jonah story? What if he went into Ninevah and told them about God?
Why was Jonah not accurately representing God? It wasn’t wrong for Jonah to warn them of destruction, but it was wrong for them to not share the news that God had chosen to be merciful. He knew that going into this. In chapter 2, he confirms this. He admits that those who pay attention to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love for the Lord, and that salvation belongs to the Lord. Our choice is not who gets to be in and who gets to be out; we don’t get to decide who gets salvation. We are invited to be part of God’s work in extending mercy to people bound for destruction.
If we continue to choose our worship of self, our worship of our own world views, we will miss out on the incredible joy of watching others find salvation and redemption in Jesus Christ.