This week, we started studying the prophets. The Bible study guide we are using is written by Nancy Guthrie. It is titled The Word of the Lord: Seeing Jesus in the Prophets. This was the first week we studied one of the books. WOW!
Our first book was Jonah. Did you ever think you had anything in common with him? Not the Sunday School Bible story, but the actual book and the man you meet there? Oh my goodness! You will see yourself there for sure…particularly if you have an ounce of self-righteousness in your bones…which I admittedly do!
Two groups of teaching crashed into each other this week!
Dovetailed along with this study was one that was fresh in our minds from last weekend at our Living in Grace conference. The speaker was Ray Cortese. I linked a talk he gave here (not from the weekend).
One of his talks was about the parable in Luke 14:12-24. It’s the one where the Master invites all his friends to a banquet and they give lame excuses for not coming. So he sends his servant to go out and invite the poor, crippled, blind and lame to his banquet. They still don’t have enough people for the party, so he sends them further out into the highways and hedges to compel people to come (a picture of inviting the gentiles and sinners). Finally, the room was full and they were able to have a wonderful party.
This story was told to self-satisfied Pharisees who thought they had their salvation all taken care of. Jesus was telling them they were going to miss the party. He was also telling them a lot of people were going to be there that they wouldn’t expect to be there…and others would be missing…like them!
It’s easy to build an idea in my head and assume what GOD is calling me to, when His call is to something not nearly as grand or dramatic!
This week, as I worked on my weekly study in Jonah from our prophecy books study, the two passages linked! As I studied through the questions in the study, it reinforced part of what Ray talked about this past weekend.
I’m slow to catch the things I most need to get. Sometimes it is because I’m dense. Sometimes it is because I have so many reasons why I know I can’t do what I think I’m being called to do. So the message keeps coming at me from many directions until I get it! Wait girl! I’m just calling you to the simple thing. It isn’t complicated. It’s the humble thing, often it is quiet, not often my kind of thing…unseen.
But He is calling me to change in ways I’m trying to squirm out of. Making up the way I think He wants me to go that isn’t real and is just one of the ways I try to get out of it!But He is calling me to change in ways I'm trying to squirm out of. Click To Tweet
So what is the heart of the message?
How do we feel about the lost people around us? Really?
They may be family members. Co-workers. Neighbors. Or people we don’t even know yet.
When Jonah was called to go preach to some evil people who were blatant enemies of his nation, he headed for transportation that took him in the opposite direction! It would have been something like an American slave who had been horribly treated on a slave ship, beaten and torn away from family, brought on the ships in horrendous conditions, raised in difficult circumstances as a slave but in the end, coming to know Christ along the way and realizing that GOD wanted him to take the gospel to the very slave traders that made his life miserable and ripped him from his beloved home and family.
If he were Jonah, he would run the other direction! And when we think of it, who among us would want to do anything less? But isn’t that the story of the gospel? Jesus knew who He was coming to. He knew what was ahead. But He knew that in order for true reconciliation to occur, death, pain, rejection and suffering, agonizing suffering were ahead. For the sake of a relationship with us, He willingly did it!
I don’t know why, but that illustration of the the slave returning to tell the gospel to the slave trader came to mind as I studied Jonah. As a slave, who would you want to live forever in Hell more than that person? When you think of heaven, do you want a slave trader living next door to you? And even more, do you want to be the one who brought the good news of salvation to him?
But that’s who the Assyrians/Ninevites were! They had captured Jonah’s nation (the northern kingdom). They were known for being cruel and torturing their subjects. Of course, he didn’t want them to repent!
Think of the best known former slave trader: John Newton
Well, there will be at least one slave trader there…John Newton! We know from the rest of his life, that he repented of his sin. He pastored for the rest of his life and ministered to a variety of people. His hymns show he understood the grace of GOD on many levels! Most of all, he didn’t just stay in church, pat people on the back and let them stay in their comfortable ruts.
He mentored people like William Wilberforce…a man who worked through politics to legally end the slave trade. He mentored people like William Cowper…a gifted poet and hymn writer who struggled deeply with depression in ways that completely disabled him at times. He kept Cowper in his home during some of those times! What a gift the gospel was to this one former slave trader and to the Church!
Imagine, if no one told John Newton about the gospel. If someone had run from it like Jonah did at first, or like we often do!
But the story doesn’t end there!
There are so many places Jonah’s story could have ended. It could have ended when he was thrown into the Sea and he could have drowned. But GOD had more for him. So He mercifully sent the big fish!
It could have ended after the Assyrians/Ninevites repented and Jonah was whining because GOD had mercy on them. GOD could have just wiped him away and said, “Jonah, I’m tired of your whining. Poof! You are gone.” But once again, He was merciful. What a relief for me. He hangs in with my spiritual immaturity because He is growing me and keeping His covenant to make me into a person who is special to Him. What a comfort that GOD is willing to stick with me through my growth process that is very sporadic at best! He doesn’t walk away. He sticks with me like He did with Jonah…and just like Jonah, I grow and learn.
The book of Jonah leaves it a bit up in the air about how things ended with him, but the fact that he includes this discussion in the book, indicates to me that GOD changed him. He began to understand that he was no more worthy of the mercy he received than the Assyrians were of the mercy they received.
Do we think we are more deserving of the mercy GOD shows us?
Of course we don’t say it out loud. But often it is at the heart of why we don’t reach out to people we are intimidated by…or “step out of the boat” as Peter did…or trust GOD to help us through situations that make us uncomfortable!
What is He asking you to do this week? Think about it. Ask Him and take a step in that direction, not away from it.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the Lord!”