The book of Jonah illustrates the depth of God’s love for all people. It is a revelation of how far God will go to bring the message of repentance and forgiveness to a people; even a people who are in direct rebellion to His Word. The Lord Jesus Christ was the ultimate revelation of God’s love; He became the sacrifice for each of us, opening the door to salvation through His name.
The book of Jonah also illustrates how followers and servants of the Lord can react when God calls them to do something they do not want to do or calls them to a people that they do not like. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Jonah ran away from God’s call, refusing to deliver God’s message to Nineveh for fear that the people would repent and be spared the judgment of God (Jonah 4:1-2). Jonah did not want God to have mercy on the people of Nineveh. At the time, Nineveh was the capital of the kingdom of Assyria and Assyria was an enemy of the nation of Israel.
I want to briefly consider what Jonah did when faced with a call from God to reach a people that Jonah did not want to see saved; he paid to get away from them, trying to run away from the presence of God.
The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish. (Jonah 1:1-3 NLT)
The mission and message that the Lord had placed upon Jonah was one that Jonah rebelled against immediately. As we read the four chapters of the Old Testament Minor Prophet we find very candid statements from Jonah concerning his rebellion, his reasons for running and his significant displeasure at God having mercy upon the people of Nineveh circa 760 B.C.
Does this happen in the church today? Are there believers who not only refuse to accept the calling of God upon their lives but flee in the opposite direction?
There are many reasons that each of us can provide for not answering the call of God upon our lives but will any of them be valid when we stand before Jesus Christ? Here are the words of our Savior to each of us who believe:
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NLT)
I am not writing this message to browbeat you into a life of ministry or service; nor is it my desire to condemn you or criticize you. My hope in writing this is that the Holy Spirit will provoke you to surrender more of your life to Him; that He might use you to reach those in this world who have not believed. Jesus went to the cross so that everyone might be saved; we have to get the message of life to them.
Believing and Following.
In the gospels we find Jesus preaching the message of the Kingdom of God to the masses. Beginning in Matthew 4:17 we find Jesus preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
There are literally millions of people across the earth today that declare they believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Christianity is the world’s largest religion. Within the masses of believers there are those whose faith in devout and sincere and there are those whose faith appears to be nominal. It is highly probable that a significant portion of those who profess belief in the Lord live their lives without following His teachings or obeying His Word.
I think that each of can be honest enough with ourselves to agree that there is a great difference between believing in Jesus and following Jesus. Some would say the difference is found between lip service and actual service or that the difference is between going to church and being the church.
Following Jesus Christ involves more than belief and acceptance of the truth of the Gospel; it involves surrendering our lives to the will and purpose of God. We do not live our lives for ourselves; we live our lives for Jesus Christ.
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 NLT)
Let’s go to the Gospels and see two groups of people that Jesus asked to follow him:
Peter, Andrew, James & John
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.
A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. (Matthew 4:18-19 NLT)
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9 NLT)
Philip & Nathanael
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.
Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”…
Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!” (John 1:43-45, 49 NLT)
Each of these men had heard the preaching of Jesus. They had seen the miracles that He had performed on the sick. They had believed the message was true and when asked to follow Jesus they did.
The Gospels record that they left their current lives behind to follow the Son of God.
There were others in the Gospel that Jesus asked to follow Him that did not leave their lives behind.
Those who did not follow:
The Rich Man
Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:21-22 NLT)
As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”
The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”
Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 NLT)
Each of these men had heard the preaching of Jesus. They had seen the miracles that He had performed on the sick. They had believed the message was true and when asked to follow Jesus they did not because the requirements of following Jesus were more than they were willing to give.
The challenge and call of Jesus Christ is to leave our lives that are self-directed and to follow Him. We are to take up the cross daily; dying to ourselves, that we might follow Him. Possessions may have to be surrendered. Prestige and position may be forfeited. Our pride will definitely be a casualty of this life following Christ. We must be willing to sell out and surrender all. We let go of who we are so that we might become the person He created us to be.
Our calling may take us to the world of business. Our calling may take us to an impoverished nation. Our calling may take us to an unfamiliar people group. Our calling may take us anywhere, but it will always take us to the place where we find ourselves in need of His grace.
The call of Jesus Christ upon your life is not limited to fulltime Christian ministry. The gospel of Jesus Christ is to be lived and preached everywhere and the greatest need for it is not inside the walls of our sanctuaries but in the halls of our schools, businesses, governments and marketplaces. Following Christ may lead you to a pulpit but if it does not it will always lead you to people who need the love of Christ and the truth of the Gospel that lives inside of you.
Our choice is the same as that of Jonah, Matthew, James, Peter and John. We will pay to flee from the call of God upon our lives or will we follow Jesus Christ with all of our hearts; regardless of where He leads?
My prayer for each of us is that we will follow Christ anywhere He asks us to go.