Jonah is one of the most popular books in the Old Testament. The story of Jonah in the belly of the great fish is enough to keep any child awake before bedtime. We may often think that Jonah is relevant to those that are fleeing the call to full-time vocational ministry, but if we look closely, the story of Jonah has relevance for every Christian life. In the first 6 verses we learn of God’s love for the nations, His reaction to sin, and His discipline for a rebellious people.
In the beginning of the book, the reader is met with a prominent character in the book-Jonah. Although Jonah is mentioned at the beginning of the book, this book is not the beginning of his ministry. In 2 Kings 14:23-25 we read,
“In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.”
According to Redmond, “It was through Jonah’s preaching that Jeroboam II fixed Israel’s border that had been weakened during early conflicts with Assyria. This kept Israel from being blotted out as a people (Jonah, 5).”
At the beginning of chapter 1, we can tell, from 2 Kings, that Jonah had been walking with God for a large portion of his life. He was no stranger to God and His ways. Yet, in chapter 1, we see the prophet flee from the command of God on his life. God graciously calls Jonah to go and proclaim the life-saving news to a lost and dying people. In the New Testament, God gives every believer a similar charge: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20).”
Too often, Christians hear this command from God and believe that it’s reserved for the “religious elite”, or pastors, but the truth of the matter is that this command is for every disciple of Jesus Christ. Yet, too often, Christians neglect this calling on their lives. We must realize that when we fail to tell people about the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are guilty of the same rebellion as Jonah. There are three lessons that we can learn from the first 6 verses of Jonah. They are: Rebellion from God leads to rejection of God, rebellion invokes the wrath of God, and rebellion denies sinners the hope of God.
Rebellion leads to Rejection
If you were to ask most Christians if they reject God they might laugh at the thought, but what we see from Jonah 1 is that all disobedience to God is a rejection of God. God commanded Jonah to go and call out against Nineveh. However, Jonah flees from the “presence of the LORD.” Sin, in any form, is a rejection of God. When we sin, we are declaring at that moment that God is not worthy to be trusted and obeyed. Jonah is a rebel against God’s Word and so are we when we fail to tell others about the gospel of God. You might read God’s command and sympathize with Jonah. You might think, “Well, God called Jonah alone, to go to Nineveh, a wicked city, and preach against its sins. That’s a difficult calling. I can understand why he might rebel.”
However, as we have seen in 2 Kings, Jonah has already seen what God is capable of through one mans’ faithful proclamation. In the same way, as Christians, we have a detailed record of what God is capable of doing. He is capable of bringing the dead to life, healing diseases, bringing Jericho to ruins through a trumpet blast, destroying His enemies, and turning the hardest of hearts to call on Him as Lord. Jonah has experienced the Almighty and yet disobeyed. How often are we guilty of this same rebellion? The Word of God testifies to the fact that “if God is for us, who can be against us (Rom. 8:31)?” Scripture testifies to the fact that as Christians, we have no reason to fear the world around us.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).” One of the ways that we are equipped for the work of God is by recounting the Word of God. It’s in the Word of God that Christians are strengthened and encouraged by the greatness and faithfulness of God.
Rebellion Invokes the Discipline of the Lord
As Jonah flees for Tarshish, we read that God caused a great storm to inflict him and his peers. This scene must remind us that God does not simply ignore the rebellion of man. Some might read this and think that God is unloving and unkind, but when we understand the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God, we must marvel at the fact that God didn’t bring an end to everyone’s life on that boat. Sin is a great desecration to the holiness of God. Often times we fail to understand the sinfulness of sin.
How would we like God to deal with Jonah’s and our rebellion? Would we like for God to simply sweep it under the rug as if it didn’t happen? If so, God would be denying His holiness. As William Blanks states, “Rebellion never escapes God’s notice, and it is foolish for men to think they can resist God’s will with impunity…. The Lord may let a man go to a certain point before He steps in, but when He does move, He moves with no uncertainty (Jonah, 2).”
If you have children, you should understand the necessity of discipline. Is it unloving for me to discipline my daughter for wandering into traffic? Absolutely not. I discipline her for this act because I love her, and I don’t want her to get hurt. In the same way, God, in His omniscience, knows what is best for our lives. Therefore, He disciplines those whom He loves so that we will walk in safety and communion with Him. What we see from this scene in Jonah is that the discipline of the Lord is actually loving. God knows that for us to reject His purpose is to reject our best purpose (Redmond, 10).
Rebellion Denies Sinners the Hope of God
The men on the ship were doing everything in their power to escape the tumultuous storm. They were hauling cargo off their ship in hopes that they would be better equipped to weather the storm (no pun intended). Sadly, these attempts were useless. The only one that had the solution to their problem was asleep at the bottom of the boat! As Redmond states, “All around him [Jonah] are people who want a solution to escape death, but Jonah is trying to flee from the presence of the solution (Redmond, 11)!”
In the same way, there are people who are wandering around aimlessly in this world needing a solution to their greatest problem.
As Christians, we are equipped to bring a solution to their greatest need, which is fellowship with God. Question 85 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?” The answer, “To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.”
The Apostle Paul stated, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent (Rom. 10:14-15)?” He adds in v. 17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Christian, you and I are equipped with the precious remedy for man’s greatest need-the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I finish, I am reminded of a quote from the great Charles Spurgeon. He once said,
“Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leapt to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
May we be a people that are relentlessly wrapping our arms around the wandering, imploring them to turn to faith in Christ, because we have seen the riches of God’s immense grace in our lives. May we be a people that echo the words of this prayer found in the Valley of Vision, which says,
O that I could be a flame of fire in thy service, always burning out in one continual blaze.
Fit me for singular usefulness in this world.
Fit me to exult in distresses of every kind if they but promote the advancement of thy kingdom.
Fit me to quit all hopes of the world’s friendship, and give me a deeper sense of my sinfulness.
Fit me to accept as just desert from thee any trial that may befall me.
Fit me to be totally resigned to the denial of pleasures I desire, and to be content to spend my time with thee.
Fit me to pray with a sense of joy of divine communion, to find all times happy seasons to my soul, to see my own nothingness, and wonder that I am allowed to serve thee.
Fit me to enter the blessed world where no unclean thing is, and to know thee with me always.
Soli Deo Gloria
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