This Sunday we end our sermon series on Jonah. It’s time to ask: what’s this book about, anyway?
It’s definitely about Jonah running. It’s also definitely about Jonah being saved from certain death by a big fish that does God’s bidding. It’s also about Jonah’s startlingly successful preaching campaign. And finally, it’s about Jonah’s anger at this startlingly successful preaching campaign.
Note what this means. Every chapter is about the man Jonah. The last chapter is especially telling, because do we really need to hear about Jonah’s petty anger? Can’t the book end on the more important note, that the Ninevites sought the Lord and the mission was successful? But no, it appears that the book really was about Jonah. It’s a biography.
Or is it?
Let’s consider the abrupt, open-ended conclusion to the book. God gets the final word — or rather, the final question: “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11)
Then the reader cries out: what happened next?! Did Jonah reconsider things? Did he repent and agree with God’s concerns for this foreign nation? We don’t know — and after four chapters of hearing about Jonah, we are caught up in Jonah’s situation and God’s question. The reader is now involved. We are engaged. What are we rooting for Jonah to do next? What should he do? And hey, was God in the right?
Notice what is happening. The reader who meditates on God’s Word will be drawn to these questions. Meanwhile, Jonah recedes into the background. The story of his mission has served its purpose, and God’s final question lingers in our ears and hearts. What do we think of this type of mission and a God who shows mercy and relents from disaster? (4:2) And what do we think of Him inconveniencing Jonah to take part in this?
The book ends with God justifying his right to be on mission to the world. Implicitly, too, the book justifies God’s right to call for our participation, as well.
The book of Jonah is a sign, Jesus tells us (Matt 12:38-45). We looked at this in a sermon a few weeks ago. It points beyond itself, to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and yes– a mission to the nations (Matt 28:18-20). We get a glimpse of a future inspired by the Great Commission, and the book both foreshadows and interrogates the reader about this future.
Are we okay with Jonah’s assigned task? Are we on board with God’s mission, and our participation in it? Moreover, are we enthusiastic about it? (After all, what a privilege! What excitement!)
Our church sends missionaries around the world. Obviously missions is a team effort — some go, some stay, and all give. But wherever we are, we are called to be on mission. God has entrusted us with a better message than Jonah had, namely, the gospel of reconciliation through the death of God’s own son (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
Is there better a message? Whether in Asia or the Easton Road corridor, we are on mission.