The name Jonah means “son of my faithfulness”; with such a name, you’d think his life would be one marked by faithfulness. Sadly, his life reflects nothing of his name. Instead, Jonah is the story of a man in self-imposed exile. With every opportunity to declare grace to others in trouble, he selfishly chooses solitude.
Rebellion is never “just” personal
As the narrative of chapters one and two reminds us, the great God of the Bible calls Jonah to mission among the peoples, but he initially rebels in isolation. In some ways this is understandable. The people Jonah was called to—the Assyrians—were bitter enemies of the Hebrew people. To avoid going to Nineveh and offering his enemies a chance for repentance and God’s grace, Jonah boarded a ship in the opposite direction.
As you read chapter one, you will see that with each step away from God’s calling, Jonah went down further into disobedience. (The words “went down” in the Old Testament are also used as a Hebrew expression for death.) Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship (1:3) Jonah boarded a ship that was heading down to Tarshish (1:3). On the boat Jonah went down into the bowels of the boat to sleep (1:5). At this point, it’s not only Jonah’s life that is at stake because of rebellion, but also the Ninevites’ from lack of access to God’s offer of grace.
But it became worse still. Once Jonah was aboard the ship, God hurled a storm among the waves. Jonah was about to go down in his rebellion, and take everyone on the boat down with him! The sailors tried to row themselves to safety to no avail. In the midst of the storm, Jonah knows there is only one way to save those on the ship. Jonah tells the sailors to hurl him overboard—he was to blame for the storm that God had hurled at the sea. By hurling Jonah into the sea to face God’s wrath, the sailors were saved.
One of the things we can learn from Jonah’s story is that our response to God’s mission affects others. Rebellion has personal consequences, but those consequences are never just personal. By turning his back on what God has called him to, Jonah was abandoning the people he had been called to minister to—and endangering the lives of the sailors carrying him to Tarshish.
The greater Jonah who never rebelled
Consider Jesus compared to Jonah. Jesus’ mission is to go to another place—a place where He would be rejected and despised, slaughtered and sacrificed by His people’s bitter enemies. Unlike Jonah’s initial response, Jesus said yes.
The entire world is like Nineveh. We are Nineveh, and Jesus came to save us. Like the sailors and the Ninevites, we need to be saved from God’s judgment against our sin. Sin and death is not a storm we can row ourselves away from or ignore.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has provided a way of salvation. Jesus (though He did not deserve it like Jonah did) hurled himself into the storm of God’s wrath so that you and I might be saved. When Jesus sunk to the depths of death on our behalf, he made it possible for us to arrive safely on the shore of eternity. That is not only good news for us; it’s also good news for those around us.
But as Carl F.H. Henry once said, “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.” That means people must hear the gospel—and that someone must go to them with the gospel (see Romans 10:14–17). That “someone” is us. We have all been called and commanded to share this good news. It is a calling that we dare not abandon or ignore.
The fact is, there will always be a ship in the harbor ready to take you away from what God has called you to. When you board that ship, you abandon God’s call, and you abandon the people God has called you to. Your response to God’s mission affects others. The question to us is the same question posed to Jonah. Will we go? Will we call others to obedience and faith in the one true God of the universe?
Today’s post is by Matt Capps. Matt serves as Senior Pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, North Carolina. He is working toward a DMin in pastoral ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Matt and his wife, Laura, have three children, Solomon, Ruby, and Abby.