Summary: True obedience often involves more than what we avoid doing. It also involves our positive response to God’s call to service.
Answering God’s Call
When the name “Jonah” is mentioned, most people immediately think of a man being swallowed by a great fish. Yet this remarkable event is really only a minor part of a much more important story.
The book of Jonah is really the story of a missionary—a reluctant missionary. It is the story of a man who tried to set himself up as the judge of who is worthy to receive God’s pardon. In response to God’s call Jonah began running:
I. Running From God (chapter one)
A. Jonah’s disobedience was a sin of omission. It was willful refusal to answer God’s call. True obedience often involves more than what we avoid doing. It also involves our positive response to God’s call to service.
B. God held Jonah accountable for his refusal to answer His call.
1. Jonah’s attempt to defy God was futile. Where does one run in an attempt to get away from God?
2. God’s judgment of Jonah was appropriate to his sin. The one fleeing is trapped. The means of his attempted escape (the sea) becomes the instrument of his punishment.
II. Running Toward God (chapter two)
A. Jonah’s repentance was motivated by God’s judgment.
1. The consequences of his sin forced him to reconsider the error of his ways.
2. Sometimes we, like Jonah, must suffer the consequences of our sin before we are ready to repent.
B. Jonah’s repentance was motivated by God’s mercy.
1. Notice that Jonah’s prayer thanks God for a deliverance already begun. The creature which the Lord “provided” had saved Jonah from drowning and anticipated a greater deliverance to come.
2. Likewise, God delivers us from the full consequences of our sin as an invitation to seek his even greater pardon.
III. Running With God (chapter three)
A. Jonah received a second chance to obey God’s calling.
1. God is a God of “second chances.” He does not quickly give up on his children.
2. God is responsive to our repentance. When we seek his mercy, he does not begrudge it.
B. When Jonah obeyed God’s call and cooperated with His will, his ministry was blessed with power and success.
1. At the preaching of a Hebrew prophet a hostile, pagan nation was led to repentance.
2. The power of God’s word to change lives is often released through a life that has fully submitted to His will.
IV. Running Ahead of God (chapter four)
A. Jonah second-guesses God.
1. He resents God’s offer of grace to Israel’s enemies. Jonah is an intolerant nationalist who wishes to see his nation’s enemies destroyed, not saved.
2. The Ninevites have been brutally dominating Israel for decades. Jonah wants God to repay them, to give them what they deserve.
B. God censures Jonah’s intolerance and prejudice.
1. Through the incident of the withered vine, God shows Jonah that He, not Jonah, decides who shall receive His grace.
2. Our responsibility is not to decide who is worthy to receive God’s pardon. Our responsibility is to proclaim God’s pardon.
The church today still has its reluctant missionaries—church members, who by their prejudices and judgmental attitudes, seek to limit the proclamation of the gospel to “all the nations.” When we are tempted to put limits on God’s grace and boundaries on his forgiveness, let us remember the lesson of Jonah.