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A study on Jonah
"This wicked and adulterous generation seeks a miraculous sign, but no sign will be given but that of Jonah." Matthew 16: 4
Generally, people look for miraculous signs to discern the times or they want someone to tell them what is going to happen with their life, that there will be heaven, a picture appears or we hear a voice and understand what is going to happen, what they tell me the purpose for which I exist, how I should live, what happened to my family, my job, my children, my career or my profession, or just to tell me, who will I marry? Signs to know where to go and what to do. It also happens to pastors and we ask many similar questions but in relation to the church: "Lord I want everyone to follow me, that the church has thousands and thousands of members … tell me: what should I do?", "Give me a miraculous sign "
The same thing happened in the time of Jesus and the Lord answered "no other sign will be given than the sign of Jonah." It makes reference to the story of Jonah so that we think and reflect …
Jonah is an interesting character that appears in 2 Kings Chap. 14:25 prophesying in the reign of Jeroboam II where he tells the King that he must extend his borders and recover the lost territory. We find it in the northern reign, the richest and most powerful reign of a divided kingdom whose renta in the North is Samaria. He is described as a prophet and his name Jonah son of Amitay, which means he is the son of truth. God sends him to preach to the Assyrians known for their evil and cruelty, in this case he must go to Nineveh. The order is: "get up, go, go to that great city to preach to them"
What did it mean for the People of God to become world-class servants?
1 – They must understand that God is God of all nations (Psalm 47: 8)
God is also God of Nineveh, of Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Algeria, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. and not just my neighborhood, my family, my interests, my church, my nation. Nineveh is not excluded from his love and compassion. It is interesting that Jonah is the son of Amitay, the son of truth, who knows and has the truth; When the truth of God confronts them, what they do is flee. He embarks on Tarsis, a place totally opposite Nineveh. He is not willing to listen and accept that God must be available to everyone, who is the God for all nations.
On the one hand he says his King extends the borders, we recover the lost territory, "this comes from God". But on the other side he must carry the message of God to his enemies because God is Lord of all nations Psalm 47: 8.
Jonah declares in 1: 9 "I am a Hebrew and I fear the Lord," but he is only willing to call him Lord as long as that Lordship suits his interests. We, like Jonah, often do the same to us. We know that we must be salt and light in the midst of society and bring the integral message of the gospel to all nations but we add … as long as it suits my interests.
We say we are going to go everywhere but in practice there are certain fields that we do not want to step on. We refuse to go to Nineveh and the result is that Nineveh continues to walk on roads of destruction.
On the one hand we have an excellent theology (1: 9) but in practice we want God to serve us and we disengage from others. God is calling us to the Nínives of politics, justice, technology, health, sports, education, the media, culture with its different expressions, to certain socio-cultural and economic groups, to the Nínives de the nations.
We run the risk as Israel of thinking that God has only chosen us to give us blessing, to receive the privileges of election without the responsibility of being a blessing to the nations, to all mankind (Genesis 12: 3b). Jonah becomes master of the narrow concept of choice and this is the cause of disobedience.
The same thing happens with the church. Her choice is not for herself and to be blessed with special privileges. It is to be salt and light to the world. We believe that we are in the church so that we can prosper only ourselves: grow inward, self-absorbed, ethnocentric, with a narrow concept. We run the risk of limiting God's action to the sphere of the Church, as Jonah wanted to limit it to the sphere of Israel. This attitude leads to disobedience. The temptation of Jonah is the temptation of the Church: Do not get involved!
The mission is always of God and he invites us to participate in his mission. When we do not do everything, it becomes a void, we flee to Tarsis and to God himself.
2 – It means to understand that we were created for a Mission.
The church and the Christian have been sent to the world to be on mission, but when we do not, we find ourselves running from God.
The Tarsis where we fled we call him "good of the church". We say: "How are we going to spend our resources on something that does not bring any benefit to the church? What do I have to do with those people from Africa, India, Indonesia, Asia, Sudan, Afghanistan, or from this neighborhood or from this other church that are not of our same background, etc.? "Others say:" The church's task is only spiritual. " But the mission also has to do with justice, with those who have no voice, the malnourished, the sick and the marginalized.
Created for a Mission means that we must have FAITH. Sometimes we find ourselves fleeing to Tarsis for not having everything resolved (questions, problems, resources, etc.) Faith is believing that something is true, it is trusting in that truth but it is more … it is to surrender to that truth. Can we have faith, stop a few moments, think and obey before embarking desperately on Tarsis?
Can the city of Joppa help us understand that we were created for a mission? Or will it be the final point to materialize our disobedience? This city occupies a central place in two biblical stories, that of Jonah and that of Peter in Acts 10: 9-48. The two face similar calls. One should go to Nineveh and the other to Caesarea to visit a Gentile. Both feel rejection towards the "unreached, gentile or ethnic group" as it is translated (gentile comes from the root of the word where ethnics is translated, other ethnic groups that are different from us).
Acts 10:28 describes the way of thinking about what it means to cross cultural and religious barriers. The two are called an unusual mission against their cultural and religious principles. One accepts the call and the other does not. We have to decide between the flight of Jonah or the obedience of Peter.
Which of these two attitudes will be a sign of obedience to God?
Jonah was very grateful for what God had done in his own land and wants to ignore the nations. God sends his church to the whole world, but his church often only looks at what he has achieved, everything he has, his power in buildings, people, offerings, budgets, organization, theology, etc. It is like Jonah boasting about the conquests of Jeroboam (2 Kings 14:25) and refusing to go to Nineveh. When we do not want to go to the nations and embark on other projects that seem generoso and worthy, we are like Jonah wanting to embark Tarsis.
As churches and pastors many times we go to Tarsis. Being made for a mission means that we must decide between the good and the best. It is good to stay in my land, my country, my region, my structure, my church, my denomination, my tradition; but it is better to unite ourselves to the mission of God in the world.
In Joppa, Jonah and Peter are alone with their God. Pastors are often in the same situation. The same thing happens to the missionaries or the servants that God is raising, but the church leaves them alone. Will the church always have to leave alone those who are forced to make difficult decisions?
3 – The practice of theology must be manifested in obedience.
Being an unconditional disciple of Jesus Christ means "to be what God wants you to be, to do what God wants you to do and go where God wants you to go."
The image of Jonah we have is that of a nationalist patriot. He is disobedient not by whim or lack of courage. Their disobedience has to do with seeking benefits only for their "institution", that is, their Israel.
Obedience does not happen to be near the temple, it is not synonymous with being closer to God. The people of Israel were religious but with a heart far from God.
It was in captivity far from the "Temple" of religiosity, that they turned to God and knew him much more. We can be very religious but with a heart away from God. We can participate in many activities in the life of the church but do it without really knowing God.
We limit ourselves to the close obedience of the holy land and the temple. We prefer a God limited to certain places. We prefer to be close to the known, instead of listening to a call to today's Nínives. "Society and nations are Nineveh, let's not go there." As much as we stay in the realm of religiosity, the church or the temple, God does not stop there. It is the God of John 3:16.
The result is that when we do not obey God everything is anguish and despair. We put at risk those we love as much as the family, the children, the churches, the brothers, the community.
When our minds become narrow and closed what happens is that we abandon the love of God, his mercy, and we stop having his heart. Jonah is convinced that he must recognize God, and fulfill the promises he made (2: 9). So and all this is not enough.
4 – God saves us to save others.
The "pastor" Jonah had a second chance.
"Go, go to the great city of Nineveh and tell him the message that I am going to give you" (Jonah 3: 1-10)
God does not save Jonah for Jonah himself. The reason for saving Jonah is not for him to continue on his way to Tarshish or to return to Israel. God saves him so that he fulfills his mission to go to Nineveh. God saves us with the purpose that we live for him who gave everything for us (2 Corinthians 5:15). "Do not live for yourself anymore."
God saves those who repent according to him chapter 2; but God saves Jonah to go to Nineveh according to him chapter 3. The purpose is to have a life according to the will of God. He does not save him because he is Hebrew, chosen, special, anointed, prophet, but because he wants to save Nineveh and wants to use the "shepherd" Jonah not for what he is, but for what he will do through him.
God saves his church today not so much for himself but for his mission to the world. The church of the Lord is "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people that belongs to God …", but for what? "… so that they may proclaim the wonderful works of him who called them out of darkness into his admirable light. "(1 Peter 2: 9). (See also Matthew 5:16)
Our choice has to do with exercising our responsibility. If we are saved and preserved it is so that we can be instruments of salvation to others (Isaiah 49: 6). This implies that as Churches we must begin, continue and remain in an "intentional process" to bring the whole gospel to all ethnic groups. We also need repentance like the Ninivites of the time of Jonah. It is going back to God when we have been very far from Him.
Why do we get angry like Christians?
"But this displeased Jonah and made him angry" (Chapter 4: 1)
1. We can not tolerate such a broad love and we do not want to leave our land
From here, Jonas' feelings and the reasons for his action are revealed. The city repented, but this "much displeased Jonah and made him angry", therefore Nineveh's conversion and God's forgiveness did great harm to Jonah. " He got irritated.
"So I pray to the Lord in this way: – Oh Lord! Was not this what I said when I was still in my land? (Jonah 4: 2 a)
It is compared to Exodus 14:12 The people of Israel who say to God: Leave us alone! We prefer to serve the Egyptians. Both reveal the desire not to abandon an earlier security, Egypt for the Israelites and "My land" for Jonah. The importance of the land for Jonah is stronger than facing a new dangerous situation. The Israelites complained that God had taken them out of Egypt, now Jonah complains about what he has brought to Nineveh.
The "pastor" Jonah's complaint is not because he doubts the love of God but because his love is too broad. Many times we do not want to have a "too broad love". We desire that one love for us, for our own care and pleasure, not for those who are further away. We have to fight against our selfishness and our own interests. We are not willing to give that love by translating it into availability, time, emotional, spiritual and material resources towards the least and unreached.
Nor do we want too broad a love that goes against my interests: to forgive others, to set aside revenge, to give material, spiritual and emotional help. It is to love others as myself. Many times we say that we can not live such a broad love. This leads Jonah to his worst crisis: for Jonah death is preferable.
He did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew the love of God and the extent of that love caused him disgust.
2. We want to justify disobedience.
"That is why I anticipate fleeing to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a kind and compassionate God, slow to anger and full of love, that you change your mind and do not destroy" (Jonah 4: 2 b)
Jonah had a correct theology, but his obedience left much to be desired. He dares to justify his disobedience through his theology. Jonah quotes the words that God himself had used to describe himself. He knew divine love and suspected that God would forgive Nineveh. There can not be better theology. The formula that he declares, he turns to himself as a formula of accusation because he disobeys. It escapes the theological Tarsis.
God wants from us, more than a good theology, a correct obedience. Any theology that leads to disobedience or serves to avoid obedience is bad theology.
We run the risk of being like Jonah or rather being as ridiculous as Jonah, sitting down to lament that God is not as we pretend and use the word of God to justify disobedience. Many say: "Those who did not hear about Jesus will be saved in some way, it will be because of their conscience, God is just, why bother them ?, There is so much to do in our nation"
No theological position should deny that "the whole church" must go to "all ethnic groups" carrying "the whole gospel". If we deny this, we deny that we now live for Him. There is no Christianity without a cross. It implies an unconditional obedience to Jesus Christ.
What commitment are we running away from?
Sometimes we flee from our neighbor, from a brother who is difficult to face, from those who have hurt me and do not pray for them; neither do we bless our enemies because I desire as Jonah the destruction for them.
It is petty to think like that, but is this what infuriates us?
Do I want others to do badly to show that I was right and a sense of judgment was fulfilled, revenge towards those who did not know me, did not take me into account, embarrassed me, abused me, etc.?
We simply lack love and forgiveness.
3. We do not want to crucify our flesh, our old nature, our SELF.
"Jonah went out and camped east of the city. There he made a bower and sat under his shadow to see what would happen to the city. "" To relieve him of his discomfort, God the Lord arranged a plant. Which grew to cover Jonah's head with his shadow. Jonah was very happy for the plant. " (Jonah 4: 5-6)
Jonah would want a result like the one Elijah had with the prophets of Baal
(Kings 18:40) In response to that caprice, anger and bad mood, God gives a lesson through the pumpkin or plant
Jonah expects to see the destruction of the city, makes a hut, type hut and sits waiting. Jonah builds a hut, but God provides a plant by grace. The hut gives him shade but does not free him from his discomfort. The plant will give shade and the result is that "Jonah was very happy for the plant." There is an apparent reconciliation between Jonah and God. While Jonah is happy with God, God is still not happy with Jonah.
We can remember the passage in Genesis 4: 6 with Cain: "Why are you angry? Why are you crestfallen? If you do the right thing, you could walk with your head held high. But if you do wrong, sin stalks you, like a fierce ready to catch you. However, you can master it. "
4. Plants often dry up and things do not go the way we want. We need to experience the Grace of God.
"But at dawn the next day God arranged for a worm to wound it and the plant to wither." "As the sun came up, God arranged a scorching oriental wind. In addition, the sun hurt Jonah in the head, so that it fainted "" With desires to die, exclaimed: I prefer to die than to continue living !. But God told Jonah: Are you right to be so angry about the plant? – Of course I have it! He replied – I'm dying of rage! The Lord told him: "You feel sorry for a plant that, without any effort on your part, grew in one night and in the other it perished. And from Nineveh, a great city where there are … people who do not distinguish their right from their left, … would not I have to pity myself? (Jonah 4: 6-11)
We are as stubborn and stubborn as Jonah. God intervenes by taking Jonah out of his comfort and pleasure. God arranges a worm and then an east wind. The worm wounded the plant and it dried up, followed by a dry and hot wind, suffocating, cutting. The hut is destroyed. The sun attacks him in the head to the point that it fainted.
We want to build our own lives and solve with our own constructions the different situations that are presented to us, but only what God provides by grace is what brings relief, gives joy, brings out the discomfort, makes us focus on its purpose.
The lesson of Grace wants to take us further. It means being always grateful, when the plant grows and when the plant dries. It is the grace of God that is acting in our own life and always wants to take us to another level of understanding, commitment and dimension.
Sometimes we are not "grateful" with everything that "we already have". We do not want what we already have and we look like a spoiled child who has dozens of toys and kicks to buy another. We forget all the blessings.
Other times something goes wrong and we look like Jonah in his anger. A project that is not given, someone fails us, we do not achieve the position we wanted, a disease, a problem in the church, lack of resources, criticism, a family problem, we break something in the house or a collision with the vehicle and we get angry.
When the gourd dries this can also be a sign of God's care and is not less than when the plant grows. God makes her grow to care for and cheer up Jonah but God makes her die to teach him a lesson. This dried plant is a sign that God is working in our lives to see another dimension. It is to take us to live a deeper level of Faith, focused on doing his will and depending on Him.
The life of the Christian must be a life that is always expanding. That it gives new steps of Faith and assumes new commitments. It is seeing the breadth of his love for the unreached and acting accordingly.
What happens when your pumpkin or mine dries up? How do we react?
Do we find it hard to see many times that God is acting and wants to start another process? The key is to be grateful to God for what he is already doing.
Many times when God allows certain things do not progress or stages or processes are completed is to get closer to Nineveh. It's where he wants us to go and serve him. If everything were joy, peace and genérico well-being in the churches we would forget the rest of the world.
Perhaps our pumpkins or plants dry from time to time to make us in solidarity with a world of need, where the sun burns and there are no pumpkins to cover. Maybe sitting in front of our dry plants God tell us: "you hurt for this difficulty and do not you see that I mourn for the great difficulties and pains of the world to which I send?
Every time Jonás is trapped or discouraged he asks for his spiritual Tarsis, he prefers death to keep living, it is his last escape.
We find a person who gets very angry because God has mercy to forgive Nineveh and he gets angry too when things do not go the way he wants. Jonah felt sorry for the plant, but he was dead with rage, he was not forgiving. Your problem is not to forgive when something does not go as expected. Jonah's anger is ridiculous. Actually, he does not regret the plant but for his own discomfort.
Jonah "the pastor" sat waiting for God to give in his way of thinking, meanwhile God is waiting for Jonases to give in and change their way of loving. God looks for the weak and helpless. He does not look at each nation because of his power and if God grants him one more day of life it is because he is thinking of the unprotected who can not distinguish the right hand from the left. God is still active in directing the process among the nations and invites his church to participate.
The Israelites reserved all their privileges and rights in their relationship with God but did not realize that God was directing the story of Nineveh. They did not join God's mission in the world. Today we can run the same danger.
Not a word is told about the response of the "pastor" Jonah, whether or not he returned to Israel. There is no answer because the important thing is not what Jonah answered but what the servant pastors respond to in similar situations today.
What attitude will we take? There is a question and an answer is expected. Each new generation of Christians and servant pastors must answer it.
If a person accepts the blood of Jesus to have eternal life and yet refuses to spread the good news among others, it is in effect sabotaging the purpose of God himself. Jonah is the father of all those Christians who want the benefits of choice, but reject their responsibility.
Jonah and Israel were created to become servants of integral reach. Light to the nations … but in the fulfillment of the call they end up filming the movie The Fugitive. More lost than Job in the day of the friend. The same thing may be happening to us.
Conclusion and Appeal
"This wicked and adulterous generation seeks a miraculous sign, but no sign will be given but that of Jonah" (Matthew 16: 4)
In a world that looks for signs and churches too, we will not be given any other sign than the sign of Jonah. We want answers but the only valid signal is Jonah's.
The sign is that the Ninivites were more willing to listen and obey God than the prophet Jonah. The sign of the Queen of Sheba showing wisdom that Solomon. The Sign of Jesus for which the crucified reigns, the poor receive the good news and those who are far away are brought near. (Matthew 12: 38-45, Luke 11: 29-32). What are least likely are the ones that respond the most.
Jonah had obeyed God by going to Nineveh. I preach the message of God; but in his attitude he lacked love. Jonah knew what the character of God was but fled. I did not want others to have the possibility of forgiveness and salvation.
God acts, shows Jonah how absurd it is to think only of him and his own comfort. It confronts him with his selfishness: not seeking the welfare of others. The love of God is to be poured out to all, it is a surrendering love, a decision of the will, not selfish, it seeks to give welfare through the liberation of sin.
Although God punishes disobedience, He still desires to give mercy. God has an interest in all the unreached where they are. Ask your servants and church to bring you the message of the good news.
As Christians and Pastors Servants we are called to "hear God, believe in God, work according to his plans". It implies starting processes, guiding them, following them up, continuity, training the whole church to be "a world church". We can do it, we must do it, we have to do it because we understand the Sign of Jonah.
Author: Carlos Scott
Carlos is a member of the executive committee and integral leadership council of the Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Resides in Buenos Aires.
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