Jonah and the Great Commission Part 1

Jonah and the Great Commission  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  30:28
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We have several national holidays throughout the year when we celebrate our freedom. One of the particularly freedoms we celebrate is the freedom to worship together in the manner that we believe is fitting. We have the free exercise of our religion, meaning we can live out our faith, or should be able to live out our faith, without the interference of any governmental authority.
In a nation such as ours, where freedoms have been fought for and won, we have a considerate amount of what we call patriotism: A pride and love for our country. Different people exercise their freedoms in different ways. We celebrate by getting together over a barbecue, or go boating or camping, setting off fireworks, and generally having a good time. Flags are flown, red white and blue flowers and decorations are put out, and we show our patriotism.
In other nations, they celebrate patriotism as well. Most people feel some amount of patriotism. Just as we cheer for our local sports team to win, we cheer for our country, our national identity and we desire our nation to be respected and feared, and this means that we also sometimes have another side to our patriotism: a feeling of superiority over other nations, and a disgust and reviling for those nations who we feel are evil and especially those that are know for abusing humans.
So for most of us patriots, we would not feel too sorry if an evil government like that were destroyed. It may could be difficult to love a nation like that enough to want to see them receive the grace of God. What if there were an enemy so known for brutality that if a town knew this nation was coming, the entire town would commit suicide rather than falling into the hands of this enemy? What if the enemy was famous for its methods of torture?
What if this particular enemy employed a type of torture where they would bury a captive up to their neck in the hot desert sand, with only their head sticking out, then piercing a device through the tongue that forced it out of the mouth to dry up while the sun was beating down until the person literally went mad before finally dying? What if that enemy was so hated in the world, and was a constant threat to others? An what if God told you to go and preach to them to repent?
This is exactly what happened to Jonah. All of those things I mentioned are recorded of the Assyrians, the bitter enemy of every other nation, including Israel. Assyria was known as being a vicious, tyrannical nation, and its capital was Nineveh. Leaders of this evil nation were horribly brutal. shurbanipal, the grandson of Sennacherib, was accustomed to tearing off the lips and hands of his victims. Tiglath-Pileser flayed victims alive and made great piles of their skulls. Other methods including drawing and quartering victims, and many other methods of brutality.
Jonah, by the way, was a real person. The story of Jonah is not an allegory, or metaphor, or anything else. He was a real prophet. Prophets in that day gave messages or oracles against other nations, but they always gave them from the safety of their homeland. Jonah had given a message of promise to Israel as recorded in 2 Kings 14:25 (ESV)
2 Kings 14:25 ESV
He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the 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.
This is the type of message that a prophet loves to give. He prophesied that God would restore the border of Israel. This ought to make a prophet popular an loved. Preachers today that only give happy messages are also loved. When God puts into a prophets heart, or a preacher’s heart, a message that is not so popular, there is a temptation to run from it.
When he calls every Christian to share the gospel, and we suspect that someone will not receive it, we could choose to ignore God, and turn the other way. This is especially true if the person He is calling us to speak to is an enemy. Jonah was called to go to Nineveh, the great capital city of the most violent and evil people of his time. And Jonah didn't want to do it.
Jonah 1:1–3 (NIV)
Jonah 1:1–3 ESV
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose 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, away from the presence of the Lord.
So here we see that Jonah, the same Jonah who was recorded in the book of Kings for his positive message towards Israel, being told to go and preach to the most evil enemy you could imagine. We could name some areas of our world today that most of us would not want to go to. What if God did call us to do this? Would we obey? What if he calls you to bless an enemy right here in your community? would you obey? There are a multitude of reasons why it makes sense that Jonah didn’t want this mission. Perhaps he feared for his safety. Perhaps he was a patriot, who couldn't imagine going to preach to an enemy of his nation and an enemy of God. Perhaps he is worried about his image, what people will think of him for reaching out to the wrong kind of people. However, one thing is clear: Jonah did not duck out of the assignment because he was unsure of it. God spoke directly to him, and as we will see later, he knew what God’s will was for Him.
Jonah 1:4–10 (NIV)
Jonah 1:4–10 ESV
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
There are a lot of interesting points here: God is pretty insistent that Jonah give the message he was told to give. He will make things as difficult or uncomfortable as needed to get those who he wants to serve him to do what is required. The same applies today to anyone who is called upon to do God’s work. Many times a message must be given, and God has been clear that it is to be preached.
The preacher often has a dilemma. If he preaches the message God has given him, and the message is offensive, or challenging, he is tempted to preach a different message. Yet God will pursue that preacher until he gives the message he is called to give. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, recorded that he would get physically sick until he gave the Word God had commanded him to give. Then, he says he would figuratively vomit out the word, and afterwards feel relief as one who has had a stomach illness.
Jonah certainly had to know better, yet he turned and went the other way. Before we condemn him for doing so, we should ask ourselves: How often do we know of the right course to take, having a clear direction from God, whether from scripture or from guidance through His Holy Spirit, and yet we turn and go in the wrong direction. And like Jonah, we find ourselves in some kind of predicament, where we know we were wrong, and that as a result of our disobedience, we are experiencing some amount of difficulty.
Now we must be careful here that we do not say that anyone experiencing difficulty is not in God’s will. In fact, often when one is in God’s will, the enemy of our souls is most active in coming against us. Sometimes difficulty is because we are running from God, like Jonah did, and sometimes difficulty comes because we are serving God, like Paul, who was stoned, jailed, and eventually died for his faith.
How can you know if the difficulty you are encountering is because you are out of God’s will or in it, or whether you are just simply going through life with its ups and downs? The one who daily seeks God, never ceasing in prayer, searching the scriptures and applying the wisdom of God to every situation, will know. The one who goes along, just happy to be saved, and never really fully committing to a life of devotion to God, will never be able to tell. The bible tells us that God grants discernment to those who seek it.
So God sends a storm, and while Jonah sleeps below, the sailors are doing everything they know of to save the ship and themselves. They must have had an idea of the supernatural origin of this storm for two good reasons: Experienced sailors don’t set out in stormy weather, and it seems this storm began quickly as they set out on their voyage.
Second, it says the sailors cried out to their own gods. Being pagans in those days, it would be typical to worship several gods. In most cases, people had what they considered a personal god, a family god, or clan god, and a national god. Here it records that they were each crying out to their own god. They throw the cargo off the ship. This was to lighten the ship to ride above the water, and possibly as a type of sacrifice to the god of the sea, though this is not recorded.
Meanwhile, Jonah sleeps. How can he be sleeping in such a storm? Perhaps he was in a depression, having sinned against God, and some people, when they are depressed, can sleep quite easily. Perhaps he was simply tired. We aren’t told the reason, but he was sleeping.
The captain says, “come and join our prayer meeting”. They are desperate for an escape from the storm. Perhaps if Jonah prays to his deity, they will be relieved. Now they cast lots. This was probably a type of dice that was used in those days. This is not a reference to gambling, but rather was a superstitious type of divination, where they hoped to learn something of a spiritual matter.
While this is not God’s way of doing things, he apparently intervened in the process, causing a realization that Jonah was guilty. So now Jonah gets peppered with questions: What is your occupation, where are you from , what is your country, who are your people?
Notice Jonah’s answer, I am a Hebrew. This would alert the sailors immediately of his religion and the fact that he is a monotheist, someone who believes in only one God. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” This confession terrifies them, and in the circumstances, they may be beginning to realize that the God of the Hebrews is powerful.
Jonah apparently had told them he was running from God, as verse 10 tells us. Then they say “What have you done?” When a non-believer says “what have you done?” pay attention. Heaven forbid that we be accused by nonbelievers for not living up to our proclamation of faith. In fact, one of the great tools of the enemy in keeping others away from the church is hypocrisy, or a failure to live in a manner worthy of our calling.
When the world looks at us, and sees us not practicing what we claim to believe, even they know that there is something wrong. We need to strive to live up to our profession of faith. This would have been a very condemning statement to Jonah. The prophet of God, the one who should be proclaiming God’s words, shamed by those who say to him, “What have you done?”
Finally, you see the sailors coming to an understanding of the power of God. What should we do? Jonah answers, but his answer gives them quite a conundrum. If this God, who they now realize is powerful, is causing the storm, and if this man belongs to that God, they think it must be insanity to throw Jonah overboard. So they try again to get to shore. Yet, they continue to be tossed about and the sea grows even wilder than before.
Now they clearly understand. They must listen to this man. They must obey him and throw him overboard. Yet, they are still concerned that they will be guilty for his life. Even in those days, it was murder to kill a man without a trial. So they cry out to God that He not hold it against them. Immediately, the storm subsides. The sailors are safe. The whole incident has caused them to fear, and they make a sacrifice to the Lord.
Now, it has often been said that even in Jonah’s disobedience, he used him to save these sailors. We must be careful not to put more than what scripture said into this. In the polytheistic mindset of these men, (polytheistic means they worshipped many gods), it may be that they simply added the God of the Hebrews to the number of Gods they already worshipped. Or it is possible that they went and made sacrifices to Yahweh, made oaths to him, and that was it. It is possible that some of them converted to Judaism, but the Bible simply does not tell us that.
Just as today, we cannot assume that everyone who comes to church on Easter or Christmas, nor even everyone who makes a profession of faith, is truly a saved person. The bible says we must confess with our mouth and believe in our heart that Jesus is Lord. Only God knows the heart of every person. Many who say, “Lord, Lord” will not enter the kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus Christ.
However, we could say that these men did have an experience that certainly should have helped them understand that Yahweh is the God who controls the wind and the sea, and this experience may very well have made some of them into sincere seekers. Again, we must not go further than what the bible tells us.
When it comes to people learning about God and accepting Him as the God, it often happens in different steps. Some hear the gospel proclaimed and accept it immediately. Others hear it many times and it never is received by faith, or believed. Some hear it and seem to accept it and later walk away from it, and some accept it and grow and live the life of the saved. This is what Jesus said in the parable of the seeds. The results are not up to us, being faithful to what he calls each of us to do individually is up to us.
In the case of these sailors, if nothing else, they were without excuse. God made himself known to them in power and if this caused them to follow Him, then he would have honored that, and if they went back to their pagan gods, then on their judgment day they were without excuse. When we share the gospel, the results are not up to us.
So what does Jonah have to do with the Great Commission? Well, let’s read it: Matthew 28:16–20
Matthew 28:16–20 ESV
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus calls believers to make other disciples. This passage has been preached in many different ways. Some say the biggest point of emphasis is “Go”. Others say it is “make disciples”. Others focus on baptizing, and some see this as mainly a passage about the empowering of the Holy Spirit. All of these are true. But what is the focus? Well, we should focus on the entire command: Using Christ’s authority that he gives us, we are to go; for some, we go into our community, workplace, or family. For others, they go to other cities, states, or countries. All are to go.
We are to make disciples. Notice this doesn't say, “make converts”. Jesus is not only interested in people “getting saved”, he is interested in them becoming disciples. A disciple becomes like the one he follows. Each Christian should be ever growing to be more like Christ. We are to baptize. As Jesus showed by example by humbling himself to be baptized by John in obedience to the Father, so is each Christian to humble themselves and in obedience to Christ, be baptized. Finally, we are to be teaching all the Jesus commanded and remember that he is with us always.
Finally, we must not look only to what is known as the Great Commission for instruction: Luke 24:46-49 has another command of Jesus: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Note that repentance and forgiveness of sins is linked here. Without repentance, you cannot have forgiveness. We must be clear when presenting the gospel, that salvation only comes after repentance. The message of the cross is not that God saves everyone who wants to be saved, but that He saves those who are truly repentant. Forgiveness from God is dependent on the repentance of man. So don’t live in sin and say “I’m ok with Jesus”. Anyone who lives in continual sin, being unrepentant and willfully continuing in that sin, is not ok with Jesus. Remember, this isn't about perfection, it is about the heart. The person with a repentant heart may slip and fail to live up to the standard, but they will always be saddened and regretful about their sin, and confess it to Christ in order to move forward in growth.
A person who proudly sins, or makes excuses for behavior, or who, year by year, is no more sanctified than the year before, is not repentant. True repentance brings the grace of God, but the willfully disobedient person will bring judgment upon themselves. Choose to be repentant. And be repentant daily.
Isaiah 1:16–20
Isaiah 1:16–20 ESV
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
God has called us to a task. Like Jonah, the task may at times seem difficult or even dangerous. We are given the Great Commission. Jonah was sent to Nineveh. Will you accept your commission? Or like Jonah, will you shy away. Either way, God’s will is going to happen. He will use every person for his purposes. What is your choice? Will you willingly follow, and say “all to Jesus, I surrender?” or will you turn away from His will, and suffer the consequences of not living your life entirely for Him?
Jonah could justify his actions only so far. He may have said to himself, “the Assyrians are my enemy! I would shame myself by going to them. They may kill me! They don’t deserve to hear from a prophet! Even if they don’t kill me, my own country men certainly will when I return!” yet all the while, he knew in his heart that he was wrong. This is clear from what we read in chapter 1 of Jonah. Next week, we will see how Jonah dealt with the next part of this story, when he was in the fish.
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