Mission Minded: Excited about the message (Jan 24, 2021)
Mission Minded: Excited about the message
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It’s amazing how attitude can drastically change what we do. Ask me to do dishes or clean up a bit when I have a bad attitude and I will feel like you are laying a burden on me. I’ll avoid doing it as much as possible. Maybe I’ll make excuses as to why I can’t or how I’m too busy. And even when I do finally get around to it, I’m not going to enjoy it. I’ll only do it begrudgingly.
That was the attitude of Jonah, right? Jonah is that guy who got swallowed by the big fish. And the reason why he was swallowed by the big fish was because he was running away from God. God called him to a mission, and he didn’t want to go because he had a bad attitude, so he ran away from the work that God called him to do. He was not a very Mission Minded individual. He was not excited about the message of God he had to share.
So why are we talking about him when our theme is to be Mission Minded? Why are we talking about him when today we want to be excited about the Message? It seems like the last place we would want to go. Well, partially, we are going here because Jonah had the right idea about the message – he really did – he just had the wrong attitude. He knew the power of God’s Message, but he considered his work a burden, a chore – much like doing dishes or cleaning up.
So Jonah runs away. God came to Jonah and called him to serve, saying, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Joh 1:2). And Jonah shuddered at the idea. He ran away from the Lord – at least, he thought he could – and headed in the complete opposite direction, as far as he could get. He refused the Lord’s call. He wasn’t excited about the message. And he didn’t care about the people of Nineveh.
A little background on Nineveh might be helpful in our understanding. Jonah lived during the time of Jeroboam II, who ruled over the Northern Kingdom of Israel shortly before it was destroyed by the Assyrians. Already, however, the Assyrians posed a threat to Israel and presented them with problems and unrest. Not to mention, Assyria and its capital city of Nineveh represented the pride, the power, and the brutality of the kingdoms of this world at their worst. The prophet Nahum’s entire book tells the feeling of dread which the cruel Assyrians instilled in others. With this in view, perhaps you can understand why Jonah wanted so desperately to escape this call and why he ran away. This was a call to go to the enemy, to go to the twisted and brutal people of Assyria and reach out to them with a message of condemnation! So Jonah fled. His heart was fearful. His mind was in the wrong place. And his attitude was all wrong.
So, before God’s message could work on the Ninevites, it had to do its work on Jonah. Jonah, who probably didn’t think he also needed to change. The Lord cut off Jonah’s flight by sending a great storm on the sea as Jonah was on his way to Tarshish. Jonah knew why this was happening already. Jonah knew that the only way to save that ship was to throw him off of it. And although the sailors originally refused, eventually they had no other option. They threw him overboard, and the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.
It was in the belly of that fish, in the depths of the sea, where Jonah finally got his life straightened out… mostly. From inside the fish, hidden in the depths of the sea, Jonah prayed to the Lord. I find it interesting that Jonah tried to run from God but couldn’t. Then, when he was even farther, even more hidden – humanly speaking – it’s there that he turned to the Lord. Because he knew, all along, you can’t run and hide from God. “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry… To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit… Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” (Joh 2:2,6,8,9). After bringing Jonah to an ultimate low, after removing all the things that Jonah trusted in – his home, his way of life, his very freedom of movement – then Jonah remembered the one thing that could never be taken away: his Lord. He remembered that it was God who remained with him even in the deepest lows of life. And even in these deep lows, he still trusted that God cared and could do something about his condition!
Jonah learned the hard way that God is concerned with every individual. He learned the hard way that the message of God can change even the most stubborn of hearts – his own included! And if we are going to take this same message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to the world, we first need to realize that we need it too – just as much as anyone else. I too, live a sinful life. I, just as much as the Ninevites, deserve God’s punishment for my own sin. And if I don’t take this message to heart, then I’ll end up just like Jonah – thinking too highly of my own worthiness, and condemning all those I consider “too sinful” for God’s Message of grace. I am a sinner. Yet, I am a sinner who has heard God’s Message, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15). I am sorry for my sins. And I marvel at the fact that God reached out to me with forgiveness and love! He reaches out to you too! “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15).
It’s this same, powerful message of God which Jonah finally took to Nineveh – after God caused the fish to spit him out on dry land. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’” (Joh 3:1). This time, Jonah went. He knew the power of God. He knew the power of God’s message. And he knew the mercy of God. “Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh…. Jonah began proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’” (Joh 1:4). How do you think that worked out? A Hebrew prophet from a small nation that was frankly just a doormat in the way of the Assyrians proclaimed their destruction by his God. But, as stern as this warning was, it carried with it an inherent reason for hope. If God had decided to destroy the city for its wickedness, and if there was no hope that he might relent, there would be no real purpose for Jonah’s message. So, the message is not just a threat of punishment, but also a reason for hoping that God would spare the Ninevites!
The Lord’s message, proclaimed by Jonah, quickly worked in the hearts of the people. They believed God. They believed that his message was true, and they produced outward actions of repentance which had taken place in their hearts. They put on sackcloth – an ancient symbol of mourning over sin. Even the king himself believed the message, took it seriously, and hoped for God’s mercy. “Let everyone call urgently on God,” He said. “Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (Joh 3:9-10).
Wow, if God’s Message can change the hearts of a people like the Ninevites of Assyria, it truly can work wonders. And if God relents and has mercy on a people as brutal as the Assyrians, how great is his love for all people! Jonah knew this from the beginning. He even states it in the very next chapter. “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” (Joh 4:2). He knew this all along! He knew of God’s mercy and the power of his Message. But his attitude was all wrong. Jonah didn’t care about the Ninevites. And, perhaps he thought that God would relent anyway, perhaps sending someone else to preach that powerful Message! It’s amazing how attitude changes everything.
Do you see the power of God’s Message?! Do you see the amazing grace and love of God for all people! Even when the message sounds harsh, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown!” (Joh 3:4). “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15). Even when the message sounds harsh, it carries with it God’s power and God’s love. God says he doesn’t want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt 3:9). God says that he “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Let’s not prevent anyone from hearing this Message. Let’s not underestimate the power and love of God to change hearts and lives and actions.
Think about it this way. You wouldn’t withhold from someone life-saving information simply because you know it will be a hard pill to swallow. That would be like a doctor knowing without a doubt that his patient has cancer, but he doesn’t want to share the news because it would be hard for his patient to hear. Even if there is a treatment with a very high success rate. Yet sometimes we do this! You and I know, without a doubt, that everyone in this world has a terminal illness. It’s called sin. You and I also know that there is a treatment for this terminal illness that has a 100% success rate. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Rm 3:23). Why would we want to withhold that from people?!
Why? I think sometimes it’s because we have a hard time believing it ourselves. Either we don’t realize the terminal nature of our own sinfulness, and so devalue the Message of God. Or, we don’t trust the gift of God, and so we despair in our sinfulness. I think, sometimes, it’s because we doubt the efficacy of the Message. Sadly, we feel that the effectiveness of the message is contingent upon us. But it’s Jesus’ Mission we are on, and Jesus’ Message we proclaim. No one was ever saved because John made baptism what it is. No one was ever saved because Paul gave his message power. It’s God who saves through Baptism. It’s God who gives his message power. It’s God who works in people’s hearts to change lives and save. And, if you are worried about people rejecting what you have to say, remember it’s not you they are rejecting, nor your Message. It’s Jesus they are rejecting and his Message. So share the good news of forgiveness and leave it in God’s hands!
Jonah knew the compassion of God. And he knew the power of God’s Message. Sadly, his attitude was all wrong. But we read two other parts of Scripture today where people had very different attitudes. As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew and called to them, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mk 1:17). “At once they left their nets and followed him” (Mk 1 :18). Jesus went a little farther and called again to James and John. “Come, follow me!” “And they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him” (Mk 1:20). Two others, in the epistle reading. God said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Ac 13:2). And the two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went right to work, sailing to the island of Cyprus. When they arrived, “The proclaimed the Word of God in the Jewish synagogues” (Ac 13:5).
It’s interesting how attitude changes everything. It’s much easier to do something you are excited about rather than something you do begrudgingly. Ask me to do chores when I have a proper attitude – out of love for my wife and family, and because it is a way to take care of our home, and I’ll gladly do it. Perhaps I’ll take it one step farther, ask me to do something I inherently enjoy – like building a swing for the kids, or changing the oil on the car – and I’ll jump at the opportunity! All these things are needed and beneficial for the family. The difference is attitude.
Brothers and sisters, there’s nothing needed more than the life-saving Message of the Gospel. It’s a message of love, even when we may have to use harsh words. It’s a message that’s powerful! Look at the hearts it has changed in Jonah chapter 3! It’s a powerful message of love that you get to share!