Summary: The example of Jonah shows us both the positive and negative results associated with or choosing to either obey of disobey the command of God to share the Good News.
Like Jonah of old, many Christians are fleeing from our personal responsibility to be involved in reaching our world for Christ. We would rather spend time talking about evangelism as an abstract concept, rather than as a real command of God that we are to obey.
We are kind of like the drunk I heard about who staggered down a sidewalk and fell backward into some freshly poured concrete. When he was discovered by the workers the next morning, they sought to free him from the hardened concrete. Every time the sledge hammer crashed against the pavement, his body rattled with pain. When he was finally freed, he stood slowly and mumbled, “Getting drunk is all right in the abstract, but it ain’t much in the concrete.”
That’s the opinion of many of us when it comes to the work of evangelism. Evangelism is something we’d just as soon keep as a subject we discuss in the abstract.
Many of us are far better at talking about evangelism and critiquing those who are doing evangelism than we are at doing it.
In his book, Real Evangelism, Bailey Smith says, “Sometimes the church looks to the world like a luxury liner going through the ocean with drowning people all around it. Some are going down for the first time, others for the second time, and still others for the last time. The drowning people look up at the luxury liner (the church) and yell, ‘Help us! Help us; we’re drowning; save us.’ But the voice comes back from the ship, ‘Oh, be quiet, we’re trying to take a study course on how to be concerned for drowning people.’”
Yes, too many of us are content to ride on board the luxury liner and talk about evangelism, rather than help man the life boats and actually do evangelism. Like Jonah, we are running from the clear command of Christ.
1. The Command Given - Jonah 1:1-2
God commanded Jonah to go beyond the borders of his land to declare His Word to the people of Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, the enemies of the Jewish people. God was calling Jonah to go preach His Word to a people who were his sworn enemies. Jonah was called of God to go to a people who would make him feel very uncomfortable, to say the least.
In the same way, God has commanded us to go beyond the fours walls of our church to people who may not be like us at all. Indeed, He has commanded us to reach out to people whose lifestyle may even be one of which we might disapprove. He calls us to go beyond our “comfort zone” to reach out to folks whose lifestyle is often not at all like ours - to reach out to people who might make us uncomfortable.
But the fact is, that you and I, apart from our relationship with Christ, are no different than the people God is calling us to reach out to. Apart from our relationship with Christ, we are no different from any other person in this world. The fact is that there is only one kind of person in this world, and that’s a person for whom Jesus died; and God has told us that all of us who know Him, should go to all of them to let them know of His sacrifice and the new life they can have as a result.
The fact is though, that like Jonah, we are often filled with fear when we think of the command of God to go and make disciples of all nations. Being fearful and uncomfortable about reaching out to others is not an unnatural thing.
Billy Graham has confessed that his hands often go clammy and his knees shake before he preaches. While most would agree that standing in front of a crowd of people is probably not our favorite task either, this is not a confession one would expect from the man who has preached the Gospel to more people than anyone else in history. It is, however, a confession that should encourage a great many of us. "Every time I stand before a crowd I feel so unworthy to preach the Gospel," Graham admitted. "I feel fearful that I may say something or do something that may mislead someone, because I’m talking to eternal souls who have the possibility of living in heaven forever."
Like Dr. Graham and unlike Jonah, we should set aside our fears and seek to obey God’s command, understanding that God doesn’t leave us alone to obey what He has commanded - His commands always come with the promise of His presence to guide us and empower us.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” - Joshua 1:9 (NIV)