All Roads Lead To Jesus - Jonah

Jonah – Jesus is a Compassionate Missionary
Reading – Jonah 4, Matthew 12:38-42

It was the Spring of 2010. I had set out on my own to plant a church in my hometown. I was feeling the momentum of being part of something new and fresh. I was 34 years old and ready for the big things God had in store for me and our critical mass of church planters. We had finished preaching through two compelling series that set the tone for our massive plans. We were ready to give everything up and trade everything in for Jesus. We were asking all of the right questions about religion and engaging our communities with the love of Christ. We were well branded, well-funded, and well-attended in those early days.

The Lord led me to preach through our first book of the Bible. It would be Jonah. After all, Jonah was a missionary sent by God to a community of people and God did mighty things along the way. Truth be told, I wanted to preach through Jonah because I figured the shine of church planting might already be wearing off. What would the church become when the work was hard and laborious?

I called the series, “Pinto Jesus”. When I was growing up my family owned a Pinto car. The Pinto was a piece of garbage. It was meant to be like a sporty Mustang, but it was nowhere near the Mustang in terms of performance or coolness. It sort of looked sporty, it was a car, it had four wheels and an engine (I think), but it was not a Mustang. It was not a Challenger. It was not a Corvette. In the same way, Jonah the prophet was not Jesus.

Over the next 10 years, I realized that the series I preached in Jonah was for me. God calls us to do things that we do not want to do and when we are obedient, we experience a great blessing. It is crazy that even after we receive that blessing that we repeat the whole cycle again. I enjoy the story of Jonah because the man is not perfect. In fact, he was a middle-aged grump who was quite bitter about the culture, politics, his job, and his situation. Sound familiar?

God called Jonah to minister to the sworn enemies of Israel in the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh. The Assyrians crushed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century before Jesus. The events of Jonah took place some 30 years before the fall of Israel. This is important because it helps us to empathize with Jonah. The tensions between Assyria and Israel had been growing for some time.  It wasn’t safe for Jonah. So, he ran.

As the story goes, Jonah boarded a ship to sail for Tarshish which was in the opposite direction of Nineveh. On the voyage, a storm raged that threatened to sink the ship. When the crew figured out that Jonah was the cause of the storm, he was thrown into the ocean where he most likely drowned. Jonah’s body was swallowed by a large fish and three days later he was regurgitated onto the shores of Nineveh.

The narrative is keen to tell us that every step of the way was a step downward for Jonah. He went “down to Tarshish”.  He went “down into the ship”. He went “down into the water”. He went “down into the fish”. Every step away from God was a step into oblivion.

But God was gracious and resurrected Jonah. The prophet made his way to Nineveh and preached repentance to his enemies. Then, the worst possible thing that Jonah could imagine had happened – Nineveh repented, and God relented.

Jonah did what God had asked but it was only after he had lost everything and had no other place to run. By the end of the story, Jonah is a complaining man who is quite bitter with God. He was a missionary, but his heart certainly wasn’t in it.

The person of Christ is not hard to see in the story of Jonah. The most obvious way in which we see Jesus is in the death and resurrection of Jonah. I realize that not every biblical scholar agrees that Jonah died. It is not necessary to hold to my position that Jonah died in order to see Christ’s resurrection in the story of Jonah. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself uses Jonah as a sign from the Old Testament that pointed forward to his resurrection. No matter what our position, the fish represents the grave in which Christ was buried. Both Jonah and Jesus were in those graves for three days. Both Jonah and Jesus overcame those graves by the power of God. Both Jonah and Jesus preached repentance to the world. One was a Pinto and the other was the real thing.

The faults of Jonah actually highlight the glory of Jesus Christ. Jesus also went down, down, down. Jesus left the glory of heaven and humbled himself. He humbled himself by becoming a person and being born in the way that we are born. Jesus humbled himself by living as we live and suffering as we suffer. Jesus submitted himself to the Law of God and lived in perfect obedience even when it was hard. Jesus was rejected and abandoned by his closest friends and family. Jesus was tempted in every way that we are tempted. Jesus went down into Jerusalem. Jesus went down to Golgotha with a Cross. Jesus went down into the grave and suffered the torment of hell.

But like Jonah, yet even greater than Jonah, Jesus came back up from the grave. Jesus came up to set captive people free and to call the Father’s people into a new and better Kingdom. Whereas Jonah was disobedient and proud, Jesus was obedient and humble. Whereas Jonah preached because he had to, Jesus preached because he loved the world. Jesus is a compassionate missionary. When we read the story of Jonah, we long for a true and better prophet who has compassion for undeserving sinners.

Jonah is sort of like a poorly written prequel to a movie franchise that we love with all of our hearts. Like the prequel, Jonah has some of the same storylines, but he isn’t the main storyline. He has some of the qualities, but he’s missing something. He is a prophet, but he is not the prophet. He is a missionary, but he is not the missionary. Jonah leaves us wanting more, and the person we want more is Jesus.

The past 2000 years have attached so many things to Jesus that we sometimes lose the grand picture of Christ that is painted for us in the Scriptures. Jesus and his words have been weaponized so often that we sometimes miss the compassion that Christ had for the same people that the world hated and discarded.

Jesus is a compassionate missionary and he calls his people to follow him on the path of compassion. Compassion means that we love those who hate us. It means that we pray for those who disagree with us. It means that we meet the needs of those that would just as quickly punch us in the face.

We live in a culture that hates compassion. It is for the weak. It is for the losers. Jesus was the most compassionate man that ever walked the face of the earth. This meant that he went to places and ministered to people who were hard to love and care for. He ate with those that didn’t share his politics or vision for the world. He healed those and touched those who were deemed untouchable and unlovely. Ultimately, Jesus was crucified for his compassion.

In order for us to be compassionate, we must first wrap our minds around the compassion the Lord has shown us in saving us from our own sin. We must stop focusing our attention on the sin of others that we forget the depths from which our Lord has pulled us. We would like to think that if we were Jonah, and we had been swallowed by a fish only to be rescued by God that we would live lives worthy of that mercy and compassion. But we are Jonah. We are all Pintos and Prequels. We are not the good guys in the story for there is only one good guy. But this is all the more reason for us to pursue a heart of compassion for those that the Lord might put in our path.

Compassion becomes much more of a possibility when we are grateful for the compassion that has been shown to us in Christ. We have to hold onto the memory of the depths from which we have been drawn so that we can attain the heights of glory for which we have been marked. Our personal history of redemption and the historical facts of the Gospel in the story of redemption must move us toward a missional life of compassion.

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