Jonah 4:1-3 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
Jonah had a definite call from God to leave his homeland and carry God’s message to a heathen people (for something strikingly similar, see Mark 16:15 and Acts 1:8). You know the story. He didn’t go. At least not at first. The Lord took what we’ll call drastic measures to convince Jonah of how serious He was about the mission He had given.
Consider with me 3 reasons why Jonah didn’t go. I’m afraid that in many cases, these are some of the same reasons that many of God’s harvest fields remain empty (Matthew 9:35-38).
1. Jonah didn’t share God’s heart for the people of Nineveh.
In the verses above, Jonah admitted the reason he did everything he could to escape God’s call, and it basically comes down to the fact that although God wanted to save Nineveh, Jonah wanted Him to destroy it. He knew the fact that God was gracious meant that He’d repent if they would, and he didn’t want to give them the chance. The reason for Jonah’s hatred is of no consequence. The fact remains Jonah knew God’s heart for the people of Nineveh. He just didn’t feel the same way about them.
Now, you and I know God’s heart for the world. He so loved the world that He gave… But I wonder, do we feel the same way about the world that He does? Are we “after God’s heart” when it comes to missions. Do we love the world God loves enough to do about it what He did about it – give?
I’m remind of the verse from that great missions hymn, O Zion Haste: “Give of your sons to bear the message glorious. Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way. Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious, And all thou spendest Jesus will repay. Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace, tidings of Jesus, redemption, and release!”
2. Jonah had grown comfortable and complacent.
When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh (1:1-2), He had to say, “ARISE and go.” The fact that God had to tell Jonah to get up before He could tell him to go sure makes it sound like Jonah was taking it easy.
Jonah did arise and go, he just didn’t go where God told him to. He boarded a ship headed the opposite direction. That ship got caught in a “mighty tempest.” It was about to break, and the professional sailors were afraid for their lives. And when they went to find Jonah to call on his God, guess where they found him? Down in the sides of the ship, fast asleep. Just like today’s church, as the world around it is dying and going to hell at the rate of 150,000 people a day.
Romans 13:11-12 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.
1 Corinthians 15:34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
Ephesians 5:14-17 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
I’m afraid that many, like Jonah, have allowed the comforts of life in America to keep us from fulfilling our Divine commission. I’m afraid that some, like Jonah, have grown so comfortable in God’s place with God’s people hearing God’s truth that God can’t convince them to leave all that and carry His message to some people He wants to hear it.
3. Jonah misunderstood the goodness of God as a reason to disobey Him.
In the verses above, Jonah said that He didn’t go to Nineveh because He knew that God was good. He understood that goodness to mean His willingness to forgive the Ninevites, but maybe in addition to that, he misunderstood that goodness to mean he didn’t need to be afraid of fleeing from His presence.
Lost people misunderstand the love of God to mean that He’s OK with sin and isn’t going to judge it. And I’m afraid that many saved people misunderstand the goodness of God to mean that He’s not all that concerned about our obedience.
The point is this: I don’t think Jonah realized just how serious God was about what He had told him to do (the whole whale encounter). And I’m afraid that the modern-day church and many of us in it have failed to realize how serious God is about the job He’s given us to reach this world with the gospel.
Clifford Clark said, “All believers are not called to be foreign missionaries, but they should all struggle with the possibility.” Not everybody can be a missionary. But more people could be. The fields are white, but the laborers are few. By the grace of God, let’s not allow any of these things to keep us out of God’s harvest fields.
Click here to listen to a sermon by the same title.