Not all of God’s messengers in scripture were as eager as we would like to think. Not everyone responded as quickly and wholeheartedly as Peter and Levi. Moses said he wasn’t a good speaker. Isaiah had lip problems – how could he speak for God when he had said some things that weren’t so godly and reflected an inner spirit that needed some correction? Jeremiah explained God that he was too young to speak for God. Jonah was as reluctant as the rest but he was different. He didn’t make excuses – he just ran!
We have a lot of reluctant messengers in the church. Many, like Moses doubt their ability to talk to others. Others, like Isaiah don’t want to be a hypocrite and talk about things they aren’t personally living out. Still others, like Jeremiah, think evangelism is only for the adults and so they think they will just have to wait until they are a bit older. Finally some, like Jonah, ran as far and fast as possible away from God and avoid it all together.
Identifying the Problem:
What is the problem? Do we need more sermons on why evangelism is important? I doubt it? Do we need to make people feel more guilty for not doing it? Hardly. Maybe we need to spend more time convincing people that being lost is dangerous and deathly – I think we already know that too! So what are we missing? How do we help move people from reluctance to proclamation? I think we can find the answer in Jonah because I think like Jonah we already know that God’s message is important we just aren’t always if we are the best person for the job. Jonah was an experienced and successful prophet (2 Kings 14:25). Jonah didn’t have it easy. If you put yourself in his shoes you can understand why he didn’t want to preach to Nineveh that they were wicked and needed to repent because the God of Israel said so. Read what Nahum had to say about the wickedness of Nineveh. They were evil and deadly people. You can be sure Jonah thought he would get his throat cut for preaching that sermon in those streets. How many of you would volunteer to preach the gospel in the streets of Baghdad – not in the Green Zone – really in the streets preaching a Christ-centered message of repentance to a Muslim-centered community where there is no shortage of violence? So he fled. I think many in the church have the same problem. They are on their way to some other goal, some other Tarshish when all the while God wants them headed to Nineveh. Most of the people in the pews have heard the call to reach the lost yet they spend their time going in so many other directions and giving their attention to everything but God. Like Jonah, God has to get their attention.
Getting Our Attention:
God got Jonah’s attention. He got it through a storm and a “big fish”. While we may not face a literal storm or a gigantic fish we do face things that may be designed to get our attention and put us on the right path. Many of us, like Jonah have been hurled overboard directly into the storm. When we read the story of Jonah we know he is going to be okay but as he fell toward the raging waters I am sure he thought he was going to die. When he was swallowed by the big fish I am sure he initially thought it was over. But then he turned to God and prayed a prayer of hope in chapter 2. God finally had his attention. Once that happened, he was spit out and given the command again to go preach to Nineveh. This time he went.
The Message is Simple:
Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches the shortest sermon in the Bible (5 Hebrew words) and has the biggest response (120,000 people) in the entire Bible. Paul said that the message of Christ is not complicated and does not depend on eloquent words:
- If you are a Moses and are worried that you may not tell people the Gospel very clearly listen to what Paul had to say about that in 1 Cor 2:1-5. It does not depend on us. It is not complicated. Just tell them about Jesus and him crucified. Paul came to them in weakness, fear and trembling and they still believed. Why? Because it was not about Paul’s ability. It was about the content of the message and the truth of the message about God’s desire for us! Like Jonah our message is short and sweet.
- If you are an Isaiah and don’t want to be a hypocrite when telling others about Christ because you have sin in your life – Paul did too. He called himself the worst of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).
- If you are a Jeremiah and think you are too young, listen to what Paul said to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Tim 4:12).
- If you are a Jonah and have been running headlong to Tarshish, maybe God has been trying to get your attention to get your life turned around for his mission rather than your own. Jonah couldn’t escape God. Even if he had made it to Spain, God would have been there too! Jonah couldn’t fight God and win. Yet we try so hard to do both instead of embracing the simple message God has given us to preach.
So stop running. Stop fighting. Listen, go, proclaim. Reluctance is a fatal disease to someone else’s soul.