The book of Jonah has much to say to contemporary Christians. Those in the Western Church should particularly take the time to re-examine their own lives in light of the teachings found in this powerful story. Let me illustrate some of the lessons we can find in Jonah.
1) Jonah shows us our failure to share God’s concerns for the salvation of others. Why else would the Western church spend so much time and money on itself and not on evangelizing those who have yet to hear the gospel? Why else would Christianity be shrinking in the Western world? We have failed to preach the good news of the kingdom – repentance of sin. Yes I believe that salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and that He has elected those He will save. I also believe He has elected us, His servants, to be the means by which that salvation is offered. Otherwise He would simply take us to heaven the moment we were born again. We are called to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Why has it taken 2,000 years and we still have thousands of unreached, unengaged people groups on our planet? The church needs to call a worldwide fast and solemn assembly for repenting to God of our blatant disregard of a simple command. As Jonah was unconcerned for the spiritual needs of the Ninevites, we are unconcerned with the spiritual needs of much of the world.
2) Jonah shows us our failure to value souls more than gourds. A mere pittance is spent by the church on missions compared with the latest gadgets, gizmos and large sanctuaries here at home. Instead of using those blessings to penetrate the darkness we have become enamored with our toys and value them more than souls. If it took all we had, if we had to bankrupt every church to see one soul come to salvation, it would be a bargain. A soul is of unbelievable worth – in fact, a human soul is worth the price of God’s Son dying to redeem it.
3) Jonah shows us our failure to let the love of God cast out our hatred of men. Just as Jonah believed the Ninevites deserved punishment (which, in fact, they did) we believe certain people are deserving of punishment. What we fail to realize is that all of have been given grace, shown unmerited mercy and favor with God who expects us to show that same kind of love and mercy to all people. This includes those trapped in Islam, spiritualism, Buddhism and all the other religious and political belief systems that exist. We cannot pick and choose who is deserving and yet we do — just crunch the number of missionaries to Sub-Saharan Africa versus the Middle East or those to South America versus SE Asia. We cannot play it safe and only concentrate on “safe” countries. God is no respecter of persons and neither should we be. Instead of that great Caribbean 10 day trip to play religious tourist, what about Bhutan or Japan where it takes actual courage to evangelize? Like Jonah faced going to Assyria?
4) Jonah shows us that our personal responsibility is to be involved in the saving of souls. If one gets nothing else out of the book of Jonah, this should slam you between the eyes. We are called by God to proclaim the good news to everyone. A Savior has come to the world. Forgiveness of sins is possible. A new life is being offered by God to all who will respond. And we are guaranteed by Scripture to see people from every tribe, tongue and nation accept this message. This is what gives us hope to go to Assyria and beyond, in the knowledge that God’s Word will not return void when it is sent out