Friday, November 9, 2007

The Reluctant Prophet

I am not certain what happened to the conclusion of this sermon...sorry....again if you want more listen to really shaped many of my Jonah sermons:

Scripture Introduction:

The continuing I really want to preach on this?
I think the message of Jonah is one we need to hear as a church

What is the message of Jonah?

First of all the book of Jonah is unique in that the book of Jonah is that we do not want to be like the books main character. Typically we are to model ourselves after the biblical characters. Joshua, Ruth, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micha, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, John, Jude…all of these are authors of books and are models for us to live our lives after. But not Jonah. Don’t follow Jonah. The book of Jonah is all about not following its name bearer. Why should we not follow Jonah? Let me retell you briefly the story of Jonah and you will certainly see.

Jonah was sent by God to minister to the Ninevites. The Ninevites were an incredibly wicked people. You can read about their wickedness in the book of Nahum which was written over 100 years after the story of Jonah. They were wicked then and this was only 100 years after they repented, so you can only imagine how wicked they were in Jonah’s day. But Jonah runs the other way. Rather than faithfully deliver the message to the Ninevites. Jonah goes to Tarshish.

Look at the map here so you can catch what Jonah is doing. He is trading a 500 mile, 3 month long journey for a year long journey that would have been very expensive. He flees to Tarshish, which many believe to be on the tip of Spain. Spain was about as Far West as the known world went in Jonah’s day. So, it appears that Jonah is trying to fall of the face of the earth rather than be available to God.

He goes to the port city of Joppa. Which by the way did not belong to Israel, so more than likely he is trying to not be seen by his own people, what shame would it have been for a prophet to have to confess he is running away from the Lord?

But sometime after God causes a great wind to come up and it tosses the boat all over the place. The pagan sailors are wondering what is going on, they cast lots try to figure out who is responsible for this—of course, it comes down to Jonah. They try to row back, but it’s too hard. The pagans pray and ask that they might not be held guilty for Jonah’s death as they throw him overboard. Then we find at the end of chapter 1 that the Lord appoints a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And while in the belly of the fish Jonah prays and he repents and says that he will go to Nineveh. The fish pukes up Jonah.

Then we have the second section of the book. Jonah going to Nineveh. God call him a second time and he goes. Nineveh apparently takes three entire days to walk across. And Jonah does just this, preaching a sermon. Perhaps, many congregations wish that their pastor would preach. It seems that his sermon is about 8 words long in English (I believe 5 in the Hebrew). But something marvelous happens. The people repent. The king repents. The whole nation repents. And it says in 3:10 that God relents and does not destroy Nineveh.

Yeah, everyone celebrates and the story ends…right? Not so with Jonah. Chapter 4 begins with, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry”. He complains to God. “I knew you would save them, that is why I didn’t want to go.” Jonah pleads with God to take his life. So, God teaches Jonah a little lesson, and it is part of his lesson for us in the book of Jonah.

As Jonah pitches his tent outside the city, the Lord causes a plant to grow up and give Jonah shade for his head, to save him from discomfort. So, Jonah was stoked about this plant. Perhaps life is worth living after all. But then the next day, God sends a worm and it destroys the plant. The sun rises and scorches Jonah’s head, and makes him sun-sick. So, Jonah wants to die again. And God points out to Jonah his hypocrisy and his wicked heart. Jonah treasures this little plant that he had nothing to do with growing, it dies and he wants to die with it. Yet, he does not shed a tear and is in fact furious when God is gracious to Nineveh. Should God not have compassion on Nineveh?

And the story ends. No happy ending. No sign that Jonah “gets it”. It just ends. In this narrative there is a very good lesson for us. It is true historically by the way. There really was a man named Jonah, he really was rebellious, and he really did get eaten by a big giant fish. Either that really happened or Jesus was ignorant. Because Jesus seemed to think that there really was a Jonah. He said he would be in the belly of the earth just like Jonah was in the belly of the fish. So, what can we learn from this book? What is the book of Jonah about?

It’s not about a big fish swallowing a man. It’s not about whale puke. It’s not about what it would be like inside the belly of a big fish for 3 days. It’s about a prophet that doesn’t get it. It’s about the great purpose of God. The book of Jonah is ultimately about the great truth that “through the seed of Abraham all nations will be blessed.”

There are many messages that are in the book of Jonah I want us to notice 3. First of all,
1) Prejudice and Evangelism
2) Jonah’s theology and ours
3) How does Jonah point us to Jesus?

I. Prejudice and Evangelism

Earlier I mentioned that we should not be like Jonah. Jonah was a bigoted man. He was angry and he seemed to be racist. Jonah is angry at the love and mercy of God. What a hard heart he must have had. But sadly this book is also a picture of the Jewish nation—but it also points to us in Christianity. Jonah still has a message for us today.

Look at what the nation of Israel was to be—it is all over the book of Isaiah. The nation of Israel was to be a light-bearer to the Gentile nations. They were to declare the salvation of God to the nations. Isaiah 42:6 God says, “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind,…and again in 49:6 God speaks of the servant of the Lord who would be, “a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”. It has always been the purpose of God to spread his glory to the ends of the earth. That glory is ultimately spread in the person of Jesus Christ, but in the Old Testament Israel was to represent that light. They were the light-bearers, just as we in the New Testament age are to be.

But too often the Israelites were reluctant witnesses just like Jonah. We see this throughout the life of Christ. During his earthly ministry much of it was in convincing the Jewish nation that God’s salvation is not only for the Jews. It is also for Samaria. It is also for Gentiles. It is also for women. God’s mercy has no bounds. But to often the Israelites rather than being light-bearers kept the light for themselves. They tried to maintain holiness and purity from the outside nations. They thought that if they went to the other nations they would be polluted. And sadly, that was often the case. But what they did instead of being holy and taking that light to the nations they became bigoted and racist. They thought God only wanted to save them. They thought to hell with the rest of the world. We’ve got the light, God is for us, and may he kill everyone else.

This is primarily one of Jonah’s problems. He knows that God is going to bring repentance to the Ninevites and he wants to close the door on them. He wants to see them come to justice. How in the world could it be that God could just forgive them if they repented? Have not the Assyrians been a thorn in Israel’s side for years now? Have they not been the big bully of the ancient world? How can they just “get off” like that? No, Nineveh must be punished. They made their bed, no go lay in it.

Now before we look down our noses at Jonah we need to remove the plank from our own eye. We too are Jonah. Perhaps we aren’t racist but we certainly are not taking light into the dark world. Maybe we have a different struggle than Jonah. Maybe we look at the alcoholics at the bar and think, “They made their bed, now go lay in it”. Maybe we look at the gambler who is losing his house and his family. Well, he shouldn’t gamble. He did the crime, now he’ll do the time. Maybe he’ll learn. Or maybe the teenage girl that slept around and ended up getting pregnant. Well she made some bad choices now she is going to suffer the consequences. The students that drink themselves stupid, smoke pot every day, “well they just are not going to change.” Or what about the gay couple that is dying from AIDS. Well, if you weren’t queer you wouldn’t get AIDS; serves you right.

Maybe we are more like Jonah than you think. We probably would not go to the extreme and be this calloused I understand that. But wisdom is proved right by her actions. If we really do have compassion for the nations then you’d be witnessing to the drunkard, to the gambler, to the pregnant teen, to the AIDS victim. I am not saying we need to “let these things go”. We must preach holiness and we must preach repentance. You don’t tell the gay couple (stay together if you love each other—its okay) you tell them their sin is an abomination to God, you tell them they need to change.

Don’t be like Jonah. Don’t be a racist. Don’t be a bigot. Preach the gospel TO THE NATIONS. No matter whom and no matter what circumstance they are in. Preach the gospel!

II. Jonah’s theology and ours

We have hinted at it earlier, but what is the reason that Jonah does not want to go to Nineveh? Is it fear? Is it that Nineveh is such a wicked city and Jonah is lacking confidence? Remember Moses…he lacked confidence in his ability—not Jonah. Remember Jeremiah…he wondered how God could use him because of his age—not Jonah. Jonah’s reason was different. Look at 4:2. The reason that he gives for fleeing is the loving and gracious character of God. He flees because he knew that God was calling him to Nineveh, he knew that his preaching would get results. He knew that if God called him to a place to plead for repentance that they would come. He knew that Nineveh would turn. This is why he ran.

Honestly our motivation is often not bigotry. I very seriously doubt that any of you would stand up tonight and say, I refuse to share the gospel with a black man. I am thankful for this, but I believe we are Jonah; we are just as guilty as Jonah is. I believe our lack of evangelism stems from a lack of proper theology.

Let me be vulnerable and tell you how I am Jonah. I believe God has clearly told Nikki and I to begin a Bible study in our neighborhood. We have been Jonah. Is it bigotry, perhaps. But more than that it is fear. Fear is apparently the number one obstacle to evangelism. What will dissolve our fear and motivate and sustain evangelism?

We can look through the history of the Church and find that one thing has been present in every revival. And that is a passion for God’s glory, or to put it another way, worship. What we see is that those who have been mightily used by God have been used because a fear of others is displaced by a “fear” of the Almighty. By a reverent awe and desire to see God worshipped and glorified.

The reason my fear is so disgusting is because it reflects a really small God. It means that I treasure my pride, my image, and perhaps my time more than the glory of God. Jonah treasured his national pride more, Jonah was a bigot and treasured that more than the glory of God. But we hold one thing in common a belittling of God’s glory. This is no light thing.

So, I want to encourage us to embrace Jonah’s theology but reject his attitude. We should reflect Jonah’s theology in understanding that God desires to save the nations. God desires to spread his glory throughout New London. If God is calling us to do this, we should have the confidence that Jonah had. We should understand that if God intends to save people he is going to do it. We should reflect the prayer of Jonah in 2:9, “Salvation belongs to the LORD”. He dispenses it as he sees fit. Jonah understood this. But he did not treasure it. It made him angry.
Let us embrace fully Jonah’s theology and know Jonah’s big God, but reject his attitude and treasure this mighty God with a heart for the nations.

III. How does Jonah point us to Jesus?

No comments: