January 1996 – Can you imagine being inside the belly of a whale? Honestly, I don’t want to imagine being inside the belly of a whale – or “large fish” as the New International Version reads – but such was the situation of a man named Jonah. His story is between the books of Obadiah and Micah.
The first few verses read: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’
“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
A few thoughts related – some not so closely – to this story.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were going to run away from the Lord, I would find a more appealing place to go than a town called Tarshish. Sounds like something New Yorkers put on a hotdog.
I wonder what was going through Jonah’s mind when he decided to “run away” from Almighty God? How does one make travel plans for such a mission? Somehow, I think Jonah knew he couldn’t get away from the Lord. Maybe he thought that if he turned and went the other way the Lord would accept his answer and drop the issue, or call someone else to go tell those folks they were wicked. Calling people to repentance from sin and wickedness was not the most enjoyable of tasks in those days. Men weren’t waiting in line to go speak to the people about the holiness and righteousness of God and His judgment. The same is true today.
When I speak to churches and other groups I usually tell them right off the bat that I’d rather be talking about love, peace and happiness than about pornography, homosexuality and moral decline. And I do try to balance my messages with the hope that only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can bring, but these moral issues must be discussed and addressed. We can’t just sit in our “bless me clubs” while our country – morally speaking – goes to hell in a hand basket. Let’s see, how can I be more direct?
From time to time we get letters from well-meaning Christians who say, “We just need to concentrate on leading people to faith in Christ and the rest will take care of itself. You people get involved in too much controversy.”
I’m sure that one of the reasons Jonah tried to run from God was that he didn’t want to get involved in controversy. Who needs the criticism? Who needs the heat?
My response to my “just preach love!” friends is the New Testament. Jesus didn’t go looking for trouble and controversy but He met it – in large part – because of what He stood for and stood against. His values. His standards. Yes, His morality. He stood for holiness and righteousness and against sin and wickedness. It seems to me it was when he spoke against sin that – in today’s vernacular – ticked people off. The same can be said of Paul, Peter, and many of the other leaders in the early church.
People don’t want to hear about sin or the consequences of sin. Many pastors have been run out of churches for preaching against sin.
Let me finish by saying it is wise to do what the Lord calls us to do, regardless of the unpopularity of the task. And besides, there are worse places to be than preaching in Nineveh.
Like the belly of a whale, for instance.