Friday, April 24, 2015

Are You Sitting With Jonah Under His Tree?

The title to this post may seem a bit disconcerting to some.  But I think it's an honest question; one that needs to be truthfully answered by many of us who profess Jesus Christ.  If you will take a moment and consider my own personal reflection regarding my witness to unsaved friends and family, you may discover like I did that you are more like Jonah than you are willing to admit.  With that said, let's briefly refresh our memories about his story.  (For the complete account, please click on this link.)

Jonah, a prophet of God, received a message from the Almighty he really didn't want to hear.  He was to go to the Gentile people of Ninevah and tell them to repent or face the wrath of God.  For a Jew, the people God chose to take His message of salvation to all nations, Jonah greatly resented what God was asking him to do.  So he took off in another direction, forgetting that God is omniscient and aware of every thought and move he was making.

Jonah jumped aboard a ship that was headed to Tarshish, so God summoned a great storm on the sea.  While Jonah slept, the pagan crewmen threw everything they could overboard to try and prevent the ship from sinking, but to no avail.  Rousing Jonah, they cast lots to determine who the person was that had brought what they viewed as "evil" upon them, and the lot fell on Jonah.  They demanded he call out to his God for deliverance because they understood Jonah was fleeing from Him and they would be unwilling victims of His wrath.  But instead of turning to God in repentance for his disobedience, and still stubbornly obstinate, Jonah told them to throw him overboard in order to save themselves.  Unwilling to follow through with Jonah's request, they attempted to out-row the tempestuous waves, but the billows and waves only grew more intense.

What follows is interesting, considering that the ship's crew were idol worshiping pagans.  It appears that the people of Ninevah weren't the only ones to receive God's message, and their somewhat disturbing action in throwing a man overboard to drown in the sea, then watching as the sea became calm and their lives were spared, was enough evidence that Jonah's God was, indeed, genuine:

Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.”  So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.  Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. (Jonah 1:14-16)

Ultimately, Jonah is swallowed by the great fish God had summoned, spends three days in its belly - miserably, I am sure - acknowledging the sovereignty and power of the Almighty, then spit up onto dry land.  The LORD once again commands Jonah to go to Ninevah, and Jonah begrudgingly yields.  The message to turn from their evil ways and repent, lest they suffer the wrath God had in store for them, was given.  The king decreed that the people of Ninevah obey this edict and God relented of the judgment He was going to bring upon them.

One would think that after all he had gone through, Jonah would have exalted God and praised Him for His great love for all mankind.  However,  Jonah grew angry, jealously grumbling that a Gentile would receive such favor.  He even went so far as to once again ask God to take his life.  When it became clear that God had no such intention, Jonah stomped up to the top of a hillside, built a covering to keep the brutal sun from baking him, and sat down to watch the destruction he still thought would be coming to that great city.  As he watched with anticipation, God continued to show mercy on Jonah and caused a plant to grow above his head to spare him from any discomfort.  The next morning, however, God sent a worm to kill the leafy tree, brought a scorching east wind, and an even more scorching sun to beat down upon Jonah.

Further enraged, Jonah once again requested that God let him die.  God's response to Jonah came in the form of a question and should have caused him to realize the compassion God had for all men, including the 120,000 people (which, if we include all the children, could have realistically been nearly half a million people) in Ninevah.

Although I have often wondered if there was more to the conclusion of Jonah's story, it ends there.  We are left to ponder Jonah's response to God's final question.  Did Jonah humble himself and repent?  Did he understand from that point forward the tremendous responsibility the Israelites had been given, to take God's message to the entire world, which meant Gentiles like the Ninevites he so despised?  Or did Jonah make his way back home and keep his trial to himself, fearing the reaction his people would have, thus sparing himself from having to stand up and proclaim God's true plan of salvation?

It's evident from their continued unbelief that God's chosen people have yet to acknowledge this great truth; to recognize their Savior Jesus Christ and take the Good News of His salvation to every corner of the earth.  That will ultimately come, but not until God deems it time.

Ironically, we converted Gentiles have been passed the witness baton.  It's very unlikely God will send a great fish to swallow us, but He can and will send storms into our lives to wake us from our slumber.  I am sure many of you can recall times when your disobedience brought on unwelcome trials.  I sure can.  But we should ask ourselves if we are any more faithful than Jonah in this regard.  Are we obeying Jesus' command to go out and make disciples of men?  Are we faithfully and willingly answering God's call to give the Gospel to a lost and dying world every chance we get?  Are we deeply concerned for our friends and family, even the stranger on the street, who could possibly suffer the wrath God had in store for the unrepentant Ninevah?

Or are we comfortable in our own salvation and running from God in the opposite direction as Jonah did?

An even harder question is this:  have we found ourselves sitting with Jonah under his tree, sulking in unbelief that the message we delivered fell on deaf ears, and waiting to exclaim, "See!  I told you this was a waste of time!"?

These are questions all Christians should ask themselves.  There is a vast world out there that's growing more wicked with each day and desperately needs to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God has written that there will be a time when the opportunity to receive salvation will end; a time that is growing closer with each breath we take.

Don't run from Him.  And more importantly, don't fume in anger expecting your own selfish results.  The work of salvation belongs to the Holy Spirit.  We are merely the messengers who, unlike Jonah when called, joyfully respond, then wait with eager anticipation to see how God will work for His glory.

God will have His children drawn to Him, even if He has to use extraordinary means and unwilling servants to achieve it.

Charles H. Spurgeon once wrote,  "If there existed only one man or woman who did not love the Savior, and if that person lived among the wilds of Siberia, and if it were necessary that all the millions of believers on the face of the earth should journey there, and every one of them plead with him to come to Jesus before he could be converted, it would be well worth all the zeal, labor, and expense. If we had to preach to thousands year after year, and never rescued but one soul, that one soul would be full reward for all our labor, for a soul is of countless price."

So, get out from under that tree and go.

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