The story of Jonah has always been a favorite Bible story in Sunday School. Few things capture the imagination of kids more than a violent storm at sea, and a man being swallowed alive by a whale (technically, a great fish), only to be spat out three days later onto dry land!
But is this a fanciful story just for kids, or an historically true and accurate account that has profound spiritual and practical applications for adults as well? Jesus himself argued for the latter (Matthew 12:38-41).
On the heels of our hugely successful Missions Campaign, we wanted to continue to be inspired and challenged in our own personal outreach to the lost. And a post-Covid summer is an ideal time for personal outreach — both in Fort Collins and in our new church plant in Severance! New people are visiting our church every week. Are we taking advantage of that opportunity, or just assuming others will? How Jonah-like are we, really?
The story of Jonah isn’t just about [spoiler alert] a reluctant missionary and the repentance of a notoriously wicked, ancient city. It’s about God’s discipleship of an individual, who, just like each of us, sometimes struggled to obey. But beyond mere obedience, it is about God’s desire for us to share his heart of compassion for people, no matter who they are, or what they’ve done. Without such compassion (i.e. love), we are just a brash irritation — a noisy gong or clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Prophets in the Old Testament were not merely spokesmen for God. Their lives were often a graphic, visual display of the spiritual condition of national Israel as a whole. Jonah’s reluctance was a picture of Israel’s selfish hoarding mentality toward their their privileged knowledge of God and his great blessings. Rather than being God’s intended beacon of light to the nations, they viewed all non-Jews with a snobbish contempt. God’s lesson to Jonah was an indictment of all God’s people, and it can apply to the church today.
Our world today needs Jesus Christ more than ever. And Jesus’ Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all the nations” in Matthew 29:18-20 is clearly intended for every believer. Yet sadly, only around 19 percent of Christians today say that they proactively try to share their faith with non-Christians. Have comfort or complacency dulled our compassion? Have our fears caused us to run away from God’s command? Or like Jonah, are we simply asleep below deck, oblivious to the storm raging outside?
We’ll be taking the next four weeks to explore these questions in this short, but very practical book. God is intent to get to the heart of things – our hearts – and to lovingly disturb our status quo. He wants to challenge our idols, deepen our trust, and astound us afresh with the power of his gospel.
Jonah ends with a big question mark, so that future generations of believers would personalize the book and take inventory themselves regarding its “whale” of a message. Don’t “run away,” but join us for this series, beginning Sunday, June 27!
– Perry Paulding