Sudhir Isaiah, Ph.D.
The Forgotten Calling
In Genesis 12:2, our Father promises to Israel: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” In Genesis 22:18, God tells Israel, “through your offering all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Jonah and Israel have either forgotten or taken lightly their missionary calling to the nations to be a blessing. Jonah’s book is a story of a reluctant and runaway missionary.
Story of a Missionary God
In the book of Jonah, it is not so much the fish that we are so familiar with in the story that matters. It is the story of a missionary God and His missionary compassion and mercy for a sinful world. He continues to reach out to such a world to Jonah’s great displeasure.
The ‘church culture’ of the book of Jonah introduces us to the typical present day ‘church culture’ with regard to the general apathy of its missionary life and calling. Sadly, much of the church is also like a ‘runaway’ missionary in a sense today. This explains why more than half of the world remains not fully reached or least reached with the gospel until today.
Beginning with a Problem and a Solution!
The book of Jonah begins with a problem and a solution (chapter 1:2).
Problem: ‘Their wickedness has come up before me.’
Solutioin: “Arise, Go!’
Several Major Themes from the Book of Jonah
The book of Jonah has several major themes that speak of the missionary heart of God.
1. Divine Sovereignty: Jonah tried to run away, but God showed His loving character, by re-directing Jonah’s path and by displaying His mercy for a sinful world.
The message of salvation is for the whole world and not just the Jews. God showed His love for every creature. 2 Peter 3:9 is clear when it says that “It is not the wish of the Father that any should perish, but come to repentance.” God forgives all those who repent, but the preacher must GO – Jonah had to GO. God is patiently waiting for the sinners to repent and turn to him for forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.
A great display of God’s Love, Mercy, Compassion and Patience
The Assyrians were so wicked and evil and did not deserve to be saved, but God’s love reached out to them and He spared them destruction. Jonah was disobedient, but God did not reject him either.
2. Three Mission Distinctives
Let us now briefly consider the mission distinctives in the book of Jonah.
Display of God’s Character
Throughout the book there is a magnificent display of the missionary heart of God. The wickedness of the Assyrians did not stop God from showing His missionary heart.
The little plant that grew at God’s bidding to provide some shelter for Jonah, and subsequently eaten by worm needs to be seen as God’s humor in a difficult situation. This is rather humorous, but it brings out Jonah’s character in its “true colors”!
God’s Concern for the Spiritually Blind
God was deeply concerned for the blind Nineveh people as they could not tell the difference between the “left and the right hand.” The spiritual blindness and deception was so great that they could not know the difference.
3. Three Mission Lessons for Us
- God freely forgives when they repent, and has compassion toward those that we sometimes want “destroyed.” Therefore, we need to preach the message of repentance and forgiveness and the missionary heart of God.
- We did not deserve to be forgiven, but He freely forgave us. We need to always be mindful of the fact that God’s grace is free, though not cheap!
- It is so natural for us to be selfish and unconcerned. We become more concerned about our own needs and our reputation than the spiritual needs of those around us. Therefore, we need to rise above our own, “I, Me, and Myself” kind of philosophy and open our eyes to see a needy world around us. As a Church called to mission, we simply cannot afford to be a “Runaway,” or “Reluctant” missionary Church.
All people in the world deserve to be saved. God desires that we bring healing to the nations because His heart beats for the nations. What does your heart beat for?
Sudhir Isaiah, Ph.D.
Bethany International University