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Point of Reference

    by Fred Price

The Significance of JONAH
Date Posted: June 29, 2018

Jonah, called by God to preach to the Ninevites; gentiles – considered ignorant and unclean. He didn’t want to. Travel was inconvenient; he would have to leave his home, family, job and friends. All this for people he disrespected, disliked and maybe even hated. He went elsewhere and made himself unavailable.

You know the story. There was a storm at sea. Others on board approached to ask who he was, where he came from, what God he served. They didn’t know why this calamity had overtaken them and hoped he could help figure it out. Was he responsible? Could his God help? Jonah admitted his sin and told them to throw him overboard to save themselves. Appalled, they tried to row ashore, lightening the load by dumping cargo and provisions; but nothing worked. In despair, they followed his advice and the sea did indeed calm, Jonah then being swallowed by a “big fish”. (Modern news reports have corroborated this story by recording men being swallowed whole by certain types of whales and later rescued, acid burnt but alive.) He spent three days and three nights in it’s belly; God providing him with some quiet time to think things through. Jonah called out to God in repentance, resolving to do what he was told. The whale spit him out, vomiting him into shallow water – onto firm ground.

Having learned his lesson, albeit the hard way, Jonah made good his vow to do God’s will; which hadn’t changed. God again instructing him to go and preach to the Ninevites. He did, proclaiming a message of destruction because of their wickedness; being surprised by their response. They heard his message throughout the city and actually listened to what he had to say, repenting of their evil and proving that repentance by their subsequent deeds. And, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” Jonah 3:10

This should not have surprised Jonah. God’s intent has always been for, “…all people everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30 For “God does not want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 He has provided throughout all time for people to acknowledge him as God and Savior, as “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 However, many yet today face the same problem the Ninevites did. “How…can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14 That’s where Jonah – and we – come in. “…how can they preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10:15 Our message may be somewhat different, but the opportunity for salvation is the same though more complete. As, “…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17

So what did Jonah do? He went outside the city – disappointed. He had preached his message of “gloom and doom” and then watched to see the wicked punished; they were saved instead. So he built a shelter and sat down to wait; waiting to see if they would hold fast to their new found salvation. Maybe God would yet punish them as Jonah felt they so richly deserved. To his credit, he was following the criteria voiced years later by Paul. “…I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” Acts 26:20 Even though he may have secretly hoped they wouldn’t. Evidently they did – further disappointing Jonah.

As a result, God began to further address the issue of Jonah’s sin. He caused a vine to grow over his hut for shade. Jonah, confused and depressed, found joy in such a little thing; but it died, further angering him. Even the little things he might take pleasure in were denied him! His attitude, expectations, and comfort level were all out of focus. Because his priorities were being questioned and his beliefs challenged, he no longer knew who he was, what he believed, what he should do; having reached a point of distracted despair he cried out, “It would be better for me to die…” Jonah 4:8 But God demanded, ‘How can you be upset over the loss of personal pleasure and questioned attitudes – but not over the possible death of 120,000 men, women and children?’ You didn’t care enough to do all you could to save them but fuss and work to save a plant – or a garden – a house – a car – a pet – a job; or anything else that might please or fulfill us.

It’s all about priorities! As Christians, we aren’t called to be fishermen, or CEO’s, psychiatrists, factory workers, doctors, sales reps, farmers, nurses, etc.! But fishers of men. That is what we are truly responsible for. Whatever else we do vocationally is important and there is nothing wrong with expending effort to live our lives well. In fact, that’s part of our witness; and if we allow him to, God often times will lead us to a particular vocation that will ultimately further our calling in him. The problem is that most of us spend untold hours, effort and money establishing ourselves in a lifestyle and then – if we have time, money or energy left – we try to witness a little as well. Our first calling is Matthew 28 – to lead others to Christ! The rich young ruler, who claimed perfect obedience to the law being told by Jesus to sell all he had and follow Him; not because he couldn’t follow Christ as a rich young man, but because Jesus knew the distractions money probably caused him. Christ challenged him to aspire to a higher calling, to be willing to sacrifice all he thought he had to gain what he really craved – eternal life.

In virtually every situation we are called to be more interested in giving rather than getting; what a social revolution that would be. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen; Paul, Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers. People have to support themselves, but our overriding concern and mission must be obedience to God and service to mankind. That is the only way the world is going to be effectively reached for Christ and it’s present condition changed!

Are you ready – willing – to accept the call of Jonah?

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Biography Information:

Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.

Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker.  He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today.  Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.  

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