Christianity 201

March 30, 2021

Jonah’s First Converts and Easter Atonement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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In the very popular children’s resource, The Jesus Storybook Bible author Sally Lloyd-Jones illustrates that many of the best-known narratives from the Hebrew Bible are foreshadowing the coming of a Savior. Not surprisingly, the book is subtitled, “Every Story Whispers His Name.”

This is true even more so for the book of Jonah, as Jesus himself make a direct connection between the prophet’s three days in the air chamber of a great fish, and his own three days in the tomb before resurrection.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
– Matthew 12:40 (all scriptures NIV except as noted)

Who were Jonah’s first converts? We don’t know anything about their spiritual history from the text in Jonah chapter one, but we know that after Jonah is tossed overboard,

At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (v16)

In other words, Jonah’s first decisive act on the way to Nineveh (or technically, at this stage, on the way to avoid Nineveh) ends in the ship’s crew making an offering and prayers.  (Sidebar: As with much of the Old Testament, we see a collective spiritual response on behalf of the crew as a whole, there isn’t the emphasis on personal response that we have today, though it can certainly be inferred.)

To repeat, the first revival meeting Jonah sets in motion is in the hearts of the crew, a long time before reaching his originally requested destination.

A few other things are worth noting here.

First, the responsibility for the situation is placed on Jonah, just as the weight or burden of our sin is placed on Jesus.

The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (v11-12)

The Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:6 reads,

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Peter directly refers to this passage in 1 Peter 2:24,

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed

The men in Jonah’s story resist the prophet’s suggested solution to their dilemma. They don’t want to be responsible for taking a life. In the same way, Peter — yes, the same Peter who we just quoted — seeks an alternative solution.

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:21-22)

and again we read that at the moment of Jesus being arrested,

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (John 18:10)

Jonah’s nautical crew are filled with remorse at the necessary action they take:

Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”

In the Jesus narrative, Pilate sees the innocence of Jesus and wants no part in his death,

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Matthew 27:24)

The Roman Centurion acknowledges who Jesus really is,

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NLT)

The Jonah narrative continues,

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.

The idea of throwing Jonah overboard was Jonah’s idea.

Similarly, the idea of Jesus giving his life was the plan all along.

And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” (Luke 24:46 NLT)

(Bible scholars tell us that the beginning of God’s redemptive plan can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3.)

Jesus offers up his life willingly, just as Jonah offered himself up as a sacrifice so the men on the ship could be saved.

There are probably many other parallels I missed. I didn’t consult commentaries for this one, but simply responded to the text as I was reading. Clearly God is preparing the hearts of the people living under the first covenant for what will occur in the new covenant…

…So who were Jonah’s next converts? You might say the next great spiritual awakening happens in the heart of Jonah himself, but for that, you’ll have to read chapter two.

 

 

 

April 19, 2020

Jonah and the Psalm

by Ruth Wilkinson

I recently posed this question as an informal Facebook poll: “Did the story of Jonah happen literally as it appears in the Bible?” The majority said yes. No surprise. The Church has been defending the story’s miraculous nature since the early Church Fathers. For many, it’s even a test of faith in God’s sovereignty; can you believe God didn’t do it, without believing God couldn’t do it?

JonahintheWhale_RuePeople often say that it “must have happened—Jesus says it did.” Fair statement, but one that needs some thought. What is the relationship between Jesus and Jonah?

Let’s assume that the event literally happened to Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet to King Jeroboam. That Jonah’s psalm in chapter 2 was his prayer, recorded as he prayed it.

Why would Jonah sing his gratitude to God in the middle of this mess? Why does Jonah never expresses remorse?

And where does Jesus fit in?

Now the Lord had appointed a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights. Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish.

Matthew records Jesus saying: “…For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Matthew 12:40 (HCSB)

Both events involve a prophetic man who comes back after three days of being given up for dead, but in all other respects, narrative contrasts are greater than similarities.

  • Jesus is in conversation with God all through his approach to the grave: Jonah is silent until he can’t stand it any more.
  • Jesus laments God’s turning His face away; Jonah is the one who turns his back.
  • Jesus enters his grave as an act of submission: Jonah embraces death as part of his rebellion.
  • Jesus, as God, returns by an act of power and of will: Jonah as vomit.

I called to the Lord in my distress, and He answered me.
I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol; You heard my voice.

Jonah finally breaks his silence. Some suggest he’d been unconscious, others that Jonah physically died and was resurrected, based on Matthew’s “sign of Jonah,” and the reference to Sheol.

For Christians, “Sheol” can bring to mind medieval pictures of Hell, but to Jonah the image is very different. Sheol was beneath the earth, the farthest place from Heaven, where the dead descended to (or were raised from if God opened the gate). Those who entered it became silent shadows, without knowledge, passion, or hope. Yet God ruled there, and in the Messiah’s day the righteous would be released to joyously participate in His kingdom.

Some see a connection here with 1 Peter 3:18-20 and Ephesians 4:9 but there’s no real support in scripture for the idea of Jesus “descending to Hell.” Peter speaks of earth, and Paul of the past, not of metaphysics. Instead, they drive home for us the understanding that Jesus overcame time and space to walk in the dust, and “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.”1

You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas,
and the current overcame me. All Your breakers and Your billows swept over me.

For modern songwriters, switching ‘voice’ mid-song is a no-no. Not true for the Psalmists who switch from addressing God, to His people, to the writer’s own soul and back again. Jonah moves from speaking about God, to direct, dramatic accusation.

Jesus also recognizes God’s hand in directing his path, but He does it with an attitude of humility and submission that culminates in His prayer, “If this cannot pass… Your will be done,”2 modelling not blame but trust and obedience.

But I said: I have been banished from Your sight,
yet I will look once more toward Your holy temple.
The waters engulfed me up to the neck;
the watery depths overcame me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.

Jonah has what he wanted—to be far from the face of God—and realizes he should have been more careful in his wishing.

He’s bound and suffocating, tangled in something beyond his strength. He echoes Psalm 88: drowning, God’s wrath, an innocent sufferer, accusation, demands for rescue, loneliness.

At His loneliest moment, Jesus draws instead from Psalm 22 and its anticipation of praise in better days. Like Jonah, Jesus grieves God’s absence. Like Jonah, He identifies Himself as an innocent. Unlike Jonah, He actually is one.

At least Jonah is looking in the right direction—back where he came from.

I sank to the foundations of the mountains;
the earth with its prison bars closed behind me forever!
But You raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God!
As my life was fading away, I remembered Yahweh.
My prayer came to You, to Your holy temple.

Jonah continues to deny the cause of his trouble—his own choices. But something has changed.

He’s run as far as he can but still has a connection to the One from whom He ran. He knows to whom he speaks, how he will sound in those ears and what the response is likely to be.

In the darkest place possible, his heart and mind turn to the brightest. In the grip of the worst monster, he looks toward the most loving Father. At his farthest from home, his mind turns to the Holy of Holies, the centre of all Creation.

To “remember” is not just to recall, but to be intentionally mindful. Of the past—what God has done. Of the present—where He meets us. Of the future—in which he awaits.

This is where Jonah comes closest to Jesus, who in His own climactic moment on the cross contradicted His own sense of abandonment and declared the words of Psalm 31:5, “Into Your hand I entrust my spirit…” trusting God to “…redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

Jonah, weakened and lost, cannot save himself but Yahweh-remembered can and will. Jonah is freed from the pit.

Those who cling to worthless idols forsake faithful love

Has Jonah learned anything? Has he changed? He hasn’t admitted his guilt. We see no contrition. Instead, he condemns “those” who forsake faithful love which comes from the God that Jonah fled. So who is he talking about?

Those” sailors whose misfortune it was to give Jonah a ride? They’d been pagan until they met with Yahweh. Afterward they’d sacrificed and made vows to the LORD, a step toward becoming “Hebrews.” But Jonah didn’t see that happen. He was already underwater and sinking. All Jonah knew of them was that they were “those who cling to worthless idols.” Perhaps he assumes they’ve lost their chance.

Those” Ninevites, violent and cruel people? He’s endangered his own life to scuttle their chance at receiving the faithful love of God. Is he hoping that this proverb is a promise?

All that’s left is himself—the prophet who clung to the idol of his nationalistic hatred, forsaking the faithful love of God. Jonah’s not the only prophet to object to his assignment. So did Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. He is, however, the only one who upped sticks and ran. The others spoke honestly to God and received His response. Jonah built a wall of silence and refusal between himself and God.

Jonah and Jesus again part ways. Jesus didn’t only accept His role, He chose it. “…He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.”

One rabbinic writer said:

Jeremiah sought the honor of God and the honor of Israel;

Elijah sought the honor of God and not the honor of Israel;

Jonah sought the honor of Israel and not the honor of God.”

One might even substitute “Jonah sought the honor of himself…” Jesus sought the honor of the Father through obedience, pursuing and rescuing those who clung to their idols and could not, on their own, find the freedom of letting go.

…but as for me, I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving.
I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the Lord!

Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The fish has been carrying around 180 extra pounds of ballast. Enough is enough. The LORD lets her off the hook. It’s time for Jonah to head inland.

Three days of silence, a burst of eloquent gratitude, and either hypocritical self-righteousness, or an excuse to head to Jerusalem instead of Nineveh. No wonder she was sick.

Jonah heads reluctantly to Nineveh, wanders around—in silence for three days—before delivering his message.

But Jesus spent His ministry reaching out and being available to not only men like Himself, but to enemies and invaders, strangers and rejects, women and children, heretics and hypocrites. After His resurrection, He allowed only moments to pass before reconnecting with the people he’d come to save.

****

However… what if instead of Matthew’s rendering, we look at Luke’s record of the same statement: For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. Luke 11:30 (HCSB)

Despite the fact that Luke wouldn’t have heard it first hand, his understanding of the Jonah/Jesus parallel seems better grounded: just as Jonah’s message of God’s grace toward Nineveh had “overturned” the city, so would Jesus’ overturn the world.

The verb in Jonah’s message to Nineveh seems intentionally ambiguous. Throughout Scripture, it’s translated as demolished, overturned, overthrown, transformed or turned around. Those who (eventually) heard it inferred a threat of destruction, creating fearful repentance. But was this true prophet of Israel not also used to point to an alternative fulfillment?

Nineveh was beautifully, life-givingly “overturned.”

So, yes. Jesus wanted us to remember this story. He wanted us to learn from it.

I’d argue that the least important question about this story is whether it “happened.” What matters is that we learn from Jonah’s mistakes and are free to not repeat them. That we learn from Jesus’ example and are free to make it real in our lives.


1 Philippians 2:8 HCSB

2 Matthew 26:42

September 16, 2015

January 14, 2015

When You are Angry

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Time for our weekly visit from Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon.  (Watch for gratuitous Canadian reference below!)

When Anger Flares

anger-mYou find yourself in a moment of anger. You are not a happy camper, and worse yet, the person that offended you is either oblivious to your hurt, or doesn’t care. And to make matters seem much worse, ringing through your head comes an expression you heard in Sunday School: “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” You hope it is not in the Bible, for then you may feel obligated to do something about your anger. But it is:

26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27 NRSV)

To make matters worse still, you are a Canadian, it is winter, and the sun goes down very early indeed. What do you do?

Before you do anything, pray.

Then, ask this question: “Are my expectations of the person who offended me reasonable?”

It was at a pastor’s retreat that I first heard the concept that anger often comes from unmet expectations. We can see this in Jonah who expected that God should have judged the enemy of Israel, the Ninevites, with no chance for repentance. God did not meet that expectation which was great news for the Ninevites, but a great disappointment for Jonah. God responds to Jonah’s anger by asking “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4 NRSV). In other words, “are your expectations of how I should act appropriate and reasonable?” God goes on to use a rapidly growing, then declining, bush to teach an angry again Jonah a lesson about appropriate expectations:

9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals (Jonah 4:9-11 NRSV emphasis mine)

Jonah needed to adjust his expectations of what God would do and how God would act. Now back to your anger toward someone who has offended you. Before you do anything with it, you can ask that same question God had of Jonah: “Is it right for you to be angry?” Are your expectations of the person who has offended you reasonable and appropriate? If the answer is ‘no, I have been expecting too much,’ then go back, adjust your expectations and your anger will subside even though the sun may yet have a long way to go.

But suppose you have prayed and reviewed your expectations, and you have discerned that, yes indeed your expectations are reasonable, and yes, the reason for your anger lies at the feet of the offender. They have messed up, and you have the right, some might push it here and say obligation, to be angry. Now what?

You now have two options before the sun goes down. 

The first option is to go and talk with the offender about how you feel offended.

This is in keeping with a Biblical principal given to us by Jesus:

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. (Matthew NRSV)

We do not have room here to go into Jesus’ instruction on the involvement of church family in verses 16 to 17. That is for another day. But for now, here is some wisdom that may help you in your chat with the offender:

1. Read and commit to living out the rest of the passage:

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. . .  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (from Ephesians 4:25-5:2 NRSV)

Then read and commit to living out the rest of Ephesians. In fact you may as well read and commit to living out the rest of the Bible. By the time you are done this, you may forget why you are angry! All joking aside, when you go to someone you are angry with, go as someone who who is Jesus-following, Spirit-filled, and Bible-informed. My Mum’s daily advice growing up rings through well: “Remember Whose you are and Whom you serve.”

2. Make it easier for your offender to get into putty mode than potty mode. That is, you want to communicate in a way that makes it easier for your offender to consider their offence and how they might have done better, and do better, rather than putting them on the defensive and getting them all angry too. This can be done by beginning with ‘I’ statements, like “can we talk about how I felt when something happened?” rather than ‘you’ statements such as “you did this to me.” Not only will beginning with ‘I’ be less likely to put the offender on the defensive, but it also starts with something the offender cannot deny; your experience. It is also good to avoid words like ‘always’ and ‘never.’ It is better to keep the discussion to the one offence that aroused your anger rather than make the offender feel like they have always been losers and never been good enough. That is how your offender may receive “you always” and “you never” statements.

The second option is to let it go.

This is not the best option if the offence is serious, or if the repeating of the offence will make it serious, or if this offence will be serious when repeated in the lives of others. But it sometimes can be the best option. We can be so easily offended and so quick to take offence. Perhaps we might benefit from growing a thicker skin? You might object and say “this is impossible, I could never let an offence go!” It might seem that way but like everything else, this gets easier with practice. We should note here that because God is holy, He can never let offence go unpunished. Instead He offers to pay the penalty for us, through Jesus Christ at the cross. When we are angry we do well to remember that amazing grace! Our offender may need grace. We might need it too.

March 21, 2014

Loving Those Who Could — Or Will — Destroy You

We looked at Jonah just a few weeks ago, considering Nineveh’s sin and our sin. This time around we go deeper and look at the topic from the point of view of loving our enemies and those that even go beyond the category of enemies.  Nineveh was Jonah’s “Samaria” and their repentance was not his desire. This is from Kersley Fitzgerald and Blogos and appears on their “Exploring the Word” category (see the tabs in the right margin on their site when you click through). This article appeared under the title Nineveh

I’m going to assume you know the story of Jonah. God told him to go to Nineveh and tell them if they didn’t shape up, God would smash them. Jonah didn’t want Nineveh to repent, so he ran in the other direction. Got swallowed by a fish or possibly a whale. Got spit up and went to Nineveh. If you’re not familiar, set this aside and read the book of Jonah — it’s short.

The Bible doesn’t give too many details about Nineveh itself. It was the capital city of Assyria. Going by the biblical timeline, it was probably one of the first cities settled after the Flood. Shortly after, it was headquarters of the worship of the goddess Ishtar, the “Queen of Heaven.” You may also know her as one of her later variants: Ashera, Ashtoreth, Astarte, Isis, Venus, or Aphrodite. Her worship included temple prostitution so vile that she is one of the few gods the Bible specifically warns against worshiping (Deuteronomy 16:21; Judges 6:25-26).

She was also the goddess of war, which the Assyrians honored very much.

The first few verses of Nahum 3 describe the city:

Woe to the bloody city,
all full of lies and plunder —
no end to the prey!
The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end —
they stumble over the bodies!
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
and peoples with her charms.

Ashurnasirpal, king of Assyria, recorded some of his exploits:

I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes,…and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled…Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers(?), of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts (tree trunks) round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire…Twenty men I captured alive and I immured them in the wall of his palace…The rest of them [their warriors] I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates. [1]

Inspiration for Vlad the Impaler maybe?

When the Assyrian army captured another city or nation, which was often, the entire population was either massacred or resettled elsewhere (see 2 Kings 29:24). Captured kings were beheaded, their heads displayed on staffs in the banquet hall and then left to rot on the city walls. One general was flayed alive; his brother was dismembered and pieces of his body sent about as souvenirs.

Still, Nineveh was glorious. The city wall was seven and a half miles long, surrounding 1730 acres. Gardens, zoos, aqueducts, and 120,000 men, women, and children. Also cattle (Jonah 4:11).

Nineveh was on the east bank of the Tigris River, by modern-day Mosul. It laid about 536 miles from Samaria, where Jeroboam reigned. That’s quite a distance when you have to walk. Through enemy territory.

Which Jonah did.

Jonah is first mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet during the time of the Israelite king Jeroboam. We don’t know when in Jeroboam’s 41-year reign Jonah was called to go to Nineveh, but we do know that about 42 years after Jeroboam, Assyria demolished Israel.

So God asked Jonah to travel to Israel’s mortal enemy, the cruelest place on the planet, to offer a message of repentance and forgiveness.

Not only that, if they accepted the message, Jonah would have rescued the method of Israel’s future destruction.

Brings to mind the stories of people being held up at gunpoint who wind up taking their robber to dinner. Or the imprisoned evangelists who had the chance to escape but stayed to witness to their jailer (Acts 16:25-34).

Does this apply to us now? We’re no longer threatened with extinction by communists. Aliens have not just passed the orbit of Pluto on a collision course. So what horribly cruel culture is about to catastrophically damage the influence of modern Christians? What ignorant, lost people are steps away from destroying the Christian culture? Ready to cart us away. Separate us from the things we value — both holy and profane. Maybe even kill us. It could be that this is the culture God is calling us to reach — while we have the chance.

Before ears are closed completely. Because what the Bible doesn’t tell us is how many Assyrians became authentic God-followers during those 40 or so years. Less than 100 years after Assyria wiped out Israel, the Prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah came to pass — Babylon obliterated the great city of Nineveh. Nineveh was so utterly ruined it wasn’t until the nineteenth century AD that Bible critics found enough archaeological evidence to admit it existed.

Revelation and Daniel tell us this will be the fate of the cultures that currently threaten Christianity. So take those prophecies. Then take Matthew 28:19-20 and 2 Timothy 3:12 and you get the same message to us that God gave to Jonah:

Go tell your enemies about Me now because soon they are going take your freedom and your business and your children and your eyes and your head and your voice.

And then, when they are done, they are all going to die.

We are so familiar with the Scripture telling us to love our enemies, but we don’t take it to its logical conclusion. Don’t just tell people who have hurt us about Jesus — tell people who will destroy us.

Annoyingly convicting questions arise: Are we Jonah? Are we refusing to spread the message of repentance and forgiveness to the authors of our future destruction? Who is it we need to reach before we are silenced? Not all of us will be called to witness to our enemy, but if we are, do we value God enough to do it?


1. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by D. D. Luckenbill, 1926, Vol. I, pp. 145, 147, 153, 162.

February 7, 2014

Am I Like Jonah?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:46 pm
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Byron Myers is a Texas teacher who posts at Weekly Devotional Thoughts. Click here to read today’s devotional and learn how to purchase his writing in book form.

Jonah 3:10-4:2  When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.  But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.  He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

For years, I was taught that Jonah ran away from God’s call because he was afraid of the people of Nineveh. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that Jonah was not afraid of the people of Nineveh, but afraid that God would be gracious to such an evil city and its people. The people of Nineveh were evil to the core and brutal to those they defeated. They beheaded men and stacked the heads outside the city. They skinned people alive and laid the skins on the walls. They impaled men with spears and left them standing for all to see.

The belief is that Jonah did not want the city of Nineveh to repent. Jonah knew that God was gracious and would forgive. So, Jonah ran. I catch myself feeling like Jonah. I watch as many deny God, deny His law, mock His goodness, continue in a life of sin expecting God’s grace to cover, etc. What do I want for those? Many times I want God to smite them with His power and might. I want God to punish and show them who He is. Yet this does not match the Gospels and Jesus teaching that I should go and “make disciples”.

There are certain sins that tend to bother me more than others. Some sins, I have a tolerant attitude toward and have compassion for the “sinner” around. Other sins, however, trigger a strong reaction in me. I will avoid the offender like a plague. Yet, all sin is equal in the eyes of God. All sin separates us from a Holy God. Jesus even pointed out to the Pharisees; those without sin, to cast the first stone. I recognize that many times I am like Jonah and do not want those “sinners” saved. From that recognition, I realize that for much of my Christian life, I have made my morality and judgment my Christianity.

Growing up in this materialistic culture, I have fought the immorality I have observed. I have been hurt by it, jealous of it, and afraid of it. Therefore, I have built this moral life with an attitude that I would not be like “that”. And, out of that self-righteous morality, I have become condescending and judgmental at times. I am not saying that I shouldn’t be moral. I am not saying that I should not hate sin. But, I have built my Christian life off of this morality and not a Spiritual walk. So, am I like Jonah? Do I avoid being Jesus to others because of my morality and judgment? Do I run the other way when God places people in my life that I have strong opinions about their morality?

Where do I go from here? One, I need to learn from Jonah. If God is calling me to face what I have strong feelings about, I am not to run. Look how that turned out for Jonah. God knows best and He loves His children; to the point of giving them a chance to repent. Two, even though my morality is based on Biblical truth and that truth is right, I am to set aside my personal judgment for the sake of the Gospel. The key is to be honest about my opinion without pushing the “sinner” away with a judgmental, self-righteous attitude. I’ve been on a theme lately of loving relationship. Love the person(s), looking past the sin without condoning the sin. All the while, I must realize that my life is full of sin, just different sin.

I am challenged by this balance in order to reach more for Jesus. I am thankful that stories like Jonah are in God’s Word to help me to see my life and how I need to improve.

Questions/challenges:

1. What are some of the sins you cannot stand?
2. How do you handle those whose lifestyle you disagree with?
3. Where do you feel like Jonah when it comes to God’s mercy on others?
4. Where are you like Jonah; running from what God is calling you to do?
5. Pay attention this week to your “sin” triggers. Notice how you feel. Find the source of why that triggers you. Notice whether or not you want to be like Jonah or are willing to step in where God may be calling you. Ask God to show you a clear direction. Take it.

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