Micah 6:8 (ESV)
8He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
The idea is that God has a path in life for everyone. While the path in life that you walk may be different than mine, we both have the love and patience of a Heavenly Father who desire to walk beside us and guide us.
Over the last weeks of the series we’ve looked at some of the most famous of Bible characters and their paths:
- Adam & Eve – Sin robbed them of their path
- Abraham – God set him on a path to greatness
- Joseph – He walked with God and knew that even though God seemed silent he was never, ever absent.
- Moses and Israel – Moses led the disobedient children of Israel on their path even when they rejected that path
- Daniel – Daniel lived in a foreign land under foreign control but he stayed committed to faith.
This week we’re talking about Jonah. The book of Jonah is a very short book in the Old Testament. We’re familiar with the part of Jonah being in the belly of the whale (big fish) – a favorite in Sunday School.
But the story of Jonah is one of grace. What happens when God lays out your path for you and you decide to run from it?
Jonah 1:1–3 (ESV)
1Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3But 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.
Jonah is the only Old Testament prophet on record whom God sent to a heathen nation with a message of repentance.
Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, stood on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. It had walls 100 feet high and 50 feet thick, and the main one, punctuated by 15 gates, was over seven and one half miles long. The total population was probably about 600,000 including the people who lived in the suburbs outside the city walls.
It was a mighty city. We might look at this story and wonder why God plans to destroy them. That’s often the question in the Old Testament – why is God so angry? The truth is God wanted to save them from destruction. He had given them the chance to follow him.
He was sending Jonah to save them. Here is where Jonah’s story becomes our story.
Jonah had his life laid out. He had his own plans and goals, just like Nineveh and just like we do.
The truth is our lives are given to something – our plans are made. For some it is our work or our children or church. We have important plans for our lives and the lives of our families. While these are important and honorable concerns, they are secondary to our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Jonah ran from the plan that God put before him. He ran from the path that God had put him on. He is the only story that we have where he ran from God’s plans even before he got started.
It’s in Jonah’s life that we see two things:
First, God wants to make us messengers. In one sense God needs no one and nothing because He is self-sufficient. However in another sense He has chosen send His messages to His creation through people. Paul says it this way:
Romans 10:14–16 (ESV)
14How 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? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
Simply put God gives us the responsibility to preach, teach and lead others to Him.
That’s pretty much what you would expect me to say. God wants us to tell others about Him.
But Jonah shows us something different and when we look at the lives and paths of people in scripture we’ll see the same thing
God desires to change us!
That’s scary isn’t it? And to be honest a bit frustrating! Who says that we need to be changed? We’re OK right? We live good lives and raise our children and are responsible, right?
But what if? What if what we see as the best isn’t them very best for our lives? God know that. He knows that he has the best – for us and for the world!
He demonstrates that with us.
This is the second thing that we see in Jonah’s path:
As we examine God’s dealings with Jonah, He is persistent and patient with the messengers He selects. We see this in God’s not abandoning Jonah when he boarded the ship to Tarshish. We see it in God’s preparing a fish to preserve and transport him back to dry land. We see it in God recommissioning Jonah. In all these instances we see God lovingly guiding Jonah. We see God being to walk with Jonah through the plans that he has for him.
We don’t have to be preachers or teachers or foreign missionaries, but we are all called to be lovers. If we give our lives to this we will begin to see our purpose and our design with new eyes.
Paul said it like this:
1 Corinthians 13:1–7 (ESV)
1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
In other words God didn’t just want to use Jonah to share a message with Ninevah. And the truth is that God doesn’t want to just use us to share a message with the world.
He wants to guide us into being changed through the message that he wants us to share. He does want to walk with us and be our God, too.
Our Heavenly Father has not only given us eternal life but also earthy lives that have meaning and purpose far above what we can conjure ourselves.
When God walked in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve He demonstrated ultimate love for them. He wanted to spend time, conversation and air with His creation. It is this environment that we will live in the New Heaven and New Earth. But we can’t forget that God has always desired to be our God and for us to be his people, which means that we can receive the life that He desires for us now. A life where we walk with Him, talk with Him and breathe His air.
So Jonah relented and walked the path that God had for Him.
Jonah 3:1–10 (ESV)
1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
The final message that I want us to see in Jonah is that God wants to give us His heart of love and compassion for those that are headed for destruction. In church we call them the lost or people that are far from God.
It is easy to be caught up in our own lives. But if we do we will miss the big story is God’s love and compassion was sent for everyone and we aren’t changed simply by church attendance or even simply by Bible reading or changed simply by prayer. We are most changed by lives that cling to God as our Savior – as the best thing for our lives and the lives of our children and the lives of our world. It is realizing that God’s love changes us most when we give it away. It’s then that attending church, reading our Bibles and praying will take on a whole new meaning.
What we need to do is begin obeying the call that God has given us. Hopefully our obedience will arise out of love for Him, but it may arise out of our learning that disregarding that commission can result in much pain for us. In any case we need to obey. Then God will begin to teach us love for the unlovely. That too may be a painful learning process, but God will be very tender with us as He teaches us. We will also enter into true fellowship with our Savior who wept over Jerusalem because we will share His heart of compassion.