TODAY’S READING: Jonah
Of all the prophetic books Jonah is unique as it’s a narrative, not poetry, exemplifying in so many ways that the work of missions is more often problematic than poetic. The irrepressible joy of God expressed by loving all peoples through allowing them to glorify Him bursts forth in this book. The Old Testament norm for missions might be centripetal (the nations come to meet Jehovah in Israel), but God’s heart is centrifugal, ever launching out to search for the one who has not heard.
To run away from God’s call to go to the difficult places and peoples of earth is to forfeit the presence of Jehovah (Jonah 1:3). Maybe we look for revival and renewal in the wrong places. Maybe revival tarries because we want it at home, delivered on our schedule in our language with our pre-determined settings. Maybe Jehovah’s presence hovers over Iraq and we won’t be awakened until we go there—whether through prayers, giving, or physical presence. Many are the sons and daughters of God who legitimately fear Him (v. 9) and run away from His missions call at the same time. There’s something fishy about that.
The problem with running away from God’s missionary mandate is that it always hurts the innocent (v. 10). Whenever we try to preserve ourselves, we damage those closest to us. Whenever we throw ourselves into the sea of God’s mercy, it gospelizes those who observe (v. 16). Some think Jonah died in the belly of the fish (and Jesus’ reference to the sign of Jonah was a reference to dying and resurrection). Whether Jonah physically died or not, we will learn one day, but we know he died to self, fear, and disobedience, even if he was grumpy about it. Jesus keep us from going to the nations, speaking a message of grace while reeking with the whale vomit of bitter obedience. Missionary witness should smile from both the mouth and spirit.
Essentially, Jonah agreed to be a missionary because he wanted God to judge the Assyrians, the ones who terrorized Israel. He realized that everyone needs a chance, but with a forty-day limit and the improbability of repentance among irascible enemies, Jonah was content to go through the motions of warning and then to sit back and enjoy the fireworks. If Jehovah blasted Sodom, just think how He would light up Nineveh! I find the same harsh spirit that wormed its way into Jonah’s heart can worm its way into mine. If I’m honest, there are some days I just want God to smite the nations and I forget He has promised mercy will triumph over judgment.
The appeal in the book of Jonah is a missionary one, and we are cautioned to not go out into all the world preaching the gospel because deep down we just want to check off the warning box that the judgment of God will fall—on our schedule. Certainly, the day of judgment comes, but the God of mercy delays it both for the nations and for us, the hard-hearted. Why Nineveh? It was the largest and most influential city of its day. It had 120,000 children along with its many adults. It had 1,500 towers and walls 200 feet high. If Nineveh, the center of global power at the time, repented, so too could and should all nations. Why Nineveh? Because God uses missions to provoke holy jealousy. If the most wicked of the world can fall on their faces with tears and repent, then certainly God’s children can follow their example. Missions may well be the last offer from a patient Jehovah to His own. The best hope for revival here at home is to be fully engaged in God’s mission abroad.