And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV).
Our Sovereign Lord wants his people to reach out to the lost with the good news of salvation in Jesus the Messiah. He wants us to do this in love, compassion, and kindness. It is his way of bringing glory to his name and sharing his overflowing glory with his creatures. It is his mission, and it is the mission of us his people, regardless of our being engaged in it or not. The Lord Jesus tells us to make learners of him, to baptize (immerse) learners of him, and to teach learners of him to obey everything that he has commanded. He will always be with us in this mission (Matthew 28:19-20).
The difficult problem is that most professed learners of Jesus are not involved in the mission. Though we sincerely appreciate everything that people do in local gatherings of learners (a.k.a. local “churches”), doing tasks during a morning gathering is not making disciples and it is not a substitute for that. Certainly, in small groups we can work together in the mission, but too many substitute physical chores for involvement with people that need to know the Lord. As we read this section of Jonah, there is a miserable contrast between Jonah and his shipmates.
Jonah fell asleep during the storm; the others were filled with fear (1:5). I can understand their fear out on the sea, though I haven’t experienced it. I’m the first to put on a life vest, whether it’s a ride in a motorboat on a lake or a paddle boat on a shallow pond! I can’t relate to how Jonah could stay asleep in a violent storm. (Please don’t tell me he wanted to die. Chapter four disproves that thesis, even if he used the words.) Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Got it. But where was his love for his shipmates? He was unconcerned about them.
Jonah’s shipmates prayed, and he did not (1:5-6). Most people pray and/or seek someone to pray for them when they or their loved ones are in danger. During years as a pastor, people constantly asked me to pray for them. (I think some thought that I had a special line open to heaven that they lacked.) They cried out to false gods; Jonah failed to pray to the true and living God. The prayerlessness of professing learners of Jesus Christ is appalling. It out to make us sick and angry. Plan a church dinner and you will probably fill the room; plan a church prayer meeting, and you can probably count those who show up on your fingers. Lack of interest in prayer and praying together is a sign of spiritual coldness.
Jonah knew who he was, and they searched for answers (1:7-10). His shipmates felt the utter terror of a great storm at sea, but they didn’t know why it had come. People like to know reasons for their problems, for we suppose that knowledge will give us the key to fix them. People also like to blame someone for the problem they are in. That usually doesn’t fix anything, but it lets us vent our anger at someone. Those men chose to cast lots to discover the culprit. God’s hand controlled the outcome of the lots. So then, there was nothing Jonah could do but own up to his blameworthiness. But how he did that leaves you shaking your head. He answered them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 CSB). How could he say this with a straight face? He had told them that he was running away from the Lord, and then he claimed to worship the Lord. This was a strange worshiper! He dared to take to the sea, which was always a risky endeavor in ancient times, when he was running away from the Maker of the sea? His shipmates would have thought this incredible, if they had not been in mortal danger. Jonah knew who he was and the power of the Lord, but it didn’t do him enough good to lead him to obey the Lord of all.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has commanded us to make learners of Christ. Yet are we trying to run away from our responsibility? Let’s lose all the supposed reasons and outright excuses for failing to fish for people (Mark 1:17). Let’s humble ourselves before the Lord, ask for forgiveness, and then head in the direction of fulfilling the commission that Jesus has given us.
Grace and peace, David