People God Uses- Jonah
Most of what I have to say is not new, as Sue reminded us last week.
So why preach?
• According to 2 Peter 1: 10 – 15 it’s a way of keeping us in touch with God’s purposes for our lives. We forget things so easily;
• According to Romans 1: 16 the preached gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. It gets us saved and it keeps us saved!
The power of the preached word of God:
• Pentecost (Acts 2) – 3000 saved;
• Jesus @ Nazareth (Luke 4) – inflamed passions;
The Bible symbols of God’s word include things like:
• Double-edged sword
If you pick up a Bible, you pick up something very powerful. If you listen to the declared word of God, you are listening to dangerous stuff – it changes lives!
Jonah – a man used by God
There’s often a significance to the names of people who pop up in the Bible. Jonah means dove.
So Jonah is a gentle person? One who is peaceful? Not the characteristics we usually associate with him!
He was a prophet. So what’s one of them?
• God’s representative to the people. Not only the message, but also his name and characteristics tell us something about God;
• The representative of the people to God. His name, his life, is a reflection of us.
So what is the name dove telling us?
A dove is one of the lesser known images used in the Bible to describe Israel. How is it used? Here are some examples:
• In Psalm 74: 19 it suggests that the people of God are precious to God and protected by him. Good isn’t it? So in line with God’s word to us over and over again these last few years.
• In Psalm 68: 13 it suggests that God’s people are those who are in receipt of God’s lavish gifts. This is so true. We are a blessed people indeed.
The next one is a little bit different!
• In Hosea 7:11 it suggests that the characteristics of doves are that they are silly and senseless. Instead of following God, his people go running off after other pursuits!
A strange mix of symbols. Let’s see how Jonah fleshed out these characteristics and see whether they have anything to say to us today.
The Bible book of Jonah isn’t the only place in the Bible we read about him. There’s a very brief reference to him in 2 Kings 14: 23 – 25. There we discover that Jonah lived at a time when the nation of Israel was very weak; the nation’s enemies had annexed much of Israel’s territory, and it was virtually defenceless. Jonah’s preaching had inspired the new king of Israel to devote his energies to recovering the lost land and by God’s grace, the king had been very successful, resulting in the country not only recovering everything it had lost, but also becoming fairly dominant in its local area. But now there is a new threat to Israel arising: Assyria, with its capital, Nineveh.
Now, in the book that bears his name, Jonah is given a new task by God. The people of Nineveh are terribly sinful – so sinful that God has only one option: destroy them.
You can imagine Jonah’s response. These are the people who are the new threat to Israel. With one act of terrible judgement, God is going to wipe them out! Oh yes!
Not so quick, Jonah. I don’t want to destroy them. I’ve chosen you to go preach to them. Tell them there’s a way of escape. All they have to do is repent.
What? You must be joking! Save them? That’s the last thing we want. And besides; they’re our enemies. You don’t spare enemies – you kill them! Don’t forget, you’re the
one who commanded Israel to destroy completely her enemies when they came to the Promised Land!
(Ever done that – try to lecture God on how to be God? How did you get on?)
So Jonah’s having none of this. ‘Let ‘em rot, I say! I’m off!’
Jonah heads off in the opposite direction. Nineveh’s this way – I’m going that way!
As a famous preacher once said: The trouble with God is, he thinks he’s God! Jonah has to be taught a lesson. A storm brews up, the sailors try to save the boat, but nothing appears to be working.
Jonah’s a prophet. He might be a bit rebellious, but he knows God in the end will have his way. He knows that, in this storm, he’s the target. To save the ship and crew, he says, ‘Throw me overboard.’
Now God’s got a problem. Jonah’s in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and it’s a long way to swim to shore. No problem really, when you’re God, so he provides some free transport. Once on shore, Jonah is reminded by God of his task.
Short break from the story here.
What can we deduce from the story so far?
• God requires obedience. There’s no picking and choosing which bits you obey and which bits you don’t.
Read again books in the OT like Leviticus or Numbers: see how God expects his people to conform in the minutiae of life.
Or look at how Paul writes to the Ephesians: ‘I urge you, live a life worthy of the calling you have received,’ and, ‘I tell you this, and insist upon it in the Lord; you must no longer live as the Gentiles do . . ‘
• In the words of Romans 11: 29, ‘God does not repent of the gifts he makes or of the calls he issues.’ God is committed to us!
Once God calls us to a task, he will hold us to it. If we avoid it, he has a habit of bringing us back to the point of decision again. He did it to Israel on the borders of the Promised Land; he did it to Jonah; my own suspicion is that he has done it to us. It seems to me that we have been where we are now before.
• God is passionate about his word. He doesn’t just speak for the sake of it. Keith reminded us of this a few weeks ago, when he said, ‘Do you realise that God has spoken the same thing to us on 5 occasions recently?’ He encouraged us to read our copy of Rehearse the Word. If we don’t get what he’s saying, he will keep saying it until we do.
Back to the story.
Jonah repents of his disobedience and goes to Nineveh. Amazingly the evil, cruel Assyrians repent and are spared. Jonah of course is overjoyed – not!
And here’s my final point, and the thing that most struck me when I read the book. (Always beware a preacher who says, ‘This is my final point.’)
For a man who is supposed to have repented, Jonah is incredibly self-centred. When you get the time, look again at Ch 4. He has done what God told him, but there has been no change of heart over the Assyrians; he hated them before, and he still hates them with a vengeance!
Although the Ninevites repented, Jonah waits to see whether God will destroy them anyway (You never know: perhaps they didn’t repent enough). And when it becomes evident that God won’t punish them, Jonah goes into a huge strop: ‘I knew it! I know what you’re like, all that compassion and grace stuff! That’s why I did a runner to start off with! I knew I did the right thing!’
You are seriously out of order if you start having a go at God for being compassionate and merciful. I mean, how are we ever going to make it otherwise?
So here’s my point. Consider Jonah: his heart is wrong, his attitude is wrong, his motives are wrong, and he’s got the worst case of B.O. in the entire history of the world. Yet despite all of that, God acted through him, bringing repentance even to the enemies of God’s people.
Who of us here is perfect?
Ok then, try this question:
- Who here, like Jonah, has ever seriously disqualified themselves from ever being useful to God?
- Or wondered whether God will really keep his word to us?
- Or thought they knew better than God?
Why did God use Jonah so powerfully? Does it mean that our attitudes and motives don’t matter? Of course that’s not true.
The secret was simply this – he obeyed. He was one of God’s doves. He may have been silly and senseless at times, but he was precious to God and God honoured his word spoken through Jonah. You see, God’s word to Jonah at that time was not, ‘Go sort your attitude out.’ It was, ‘Go preach to the Ninevites.’
God is able to change us later – he’s got a lot of time on his hands. What matters now, more than anything else, for us who believe, is that we obey.
Like Jonah, we have been entrusted with a message. Let’s stop looking at ourselves and seeing all the problems. Instead, let’s listen to what he is asking of us, do what we hear him say to us – and then see what he will do:
• for us,
• in us and
• through us.