E-book: Jonah, the reluctant missionary (Part 7)

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This electronic book (e-book) is about the theology of missions. Its basis is an Old Testament character named Jonah, a man whose story is often used to teach obedience. These 10 short chapters reflect on what Jonah's story has to say about God's desire that the entire world be evangelized.

2. The missionary heart of God

     To many believers, the 1,200 or so words of Jonah's story is a great children's tale that teaches us not to disobey God. Nothing more; nothing less. Reducing Jonah to an object lesson on obedience is a popular misuse of it. God went to great lengths to keep His plans for Nineveh from being thwarted by Jonah's disobedience. Jonah's story clearly shows that God doesn't lightly gloss over disobedience. Still, lessons about the dangers of disobeying God are simply footnotes to Jonah's main point. This has to be more than an obedience lesson, for although Jonah winds up obeying God, God is still very unhappy with him at the end of the story. Jonah's obedience or disobedience was never the main issue.

Some of Jesus' last words to His disciples are what we call the Great Commission.1 Matthew's version of it says: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).

People think of this command as the primary Scriptural motivation for missions. It certainly is a powerful one. Yet, Jonah's story clearly shows us that the Great Commission is not a brand-new thought. The Great Commission is simply a restatement of God's passion for "all nations" found all throughout the Bible. Jonah's story highlights the biblical call for missionary outreach. Looking at Jonah, we see that our missions' motivation does not grow out of one or two isolated divine commands in the New Testament. Any passion we have for missions is rooted in God's very character.

Jonah did not want to reach the lost Ninevites. To the contrary, he wanted to restrict God's providence to the Israelites. He didn't want those Ninevites to have any part in Abraham's legacy. He was wrong. It was God, the very God those Ninevites had offended with their sin and idolatry, who wanted to reach out to them. God did not send us a Savior because we first begged Him to be merciful and save us. God has always taken the initiative. After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they did not go looking for God. It was God who came seeking them. Robertson McQuilkin has written: "It is not too much to say that every major activity of God among men since the Fall has been a saving, missionary act." That's the God Jonah's story clearly reveals.

So, Yahweh is clearly a missionary God. He is a God who both seeks the lost and sends others to seek them. Part of God's message to Abraham in Genesis 12 is a promise that all peoples would be blessed through Abraham's descendants. That call is the basis of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 and of "you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). These words of Jesus are restatements of what God had been saying to His people from the time of Abraham.

Our Missionary God Is Actively at Work

Jonah declares that Jehovah is the Creator (Jonah 1:9). It's also clear from Jonah's story that God did not create the world and then sit back to watch it run. God got directly involved in Jonah's life. His story highlights the direct connection that exists between God and natural events, a connection that a secular scientific worldview balks at seeing. In Jonah's story, God made the first move. He called Jonah to go to Nineveh. Then He continued to actively shape events. God caused the storm and then it was He one who stilled it (Jonah 1:4, 12). It was God who "prepared" the great fish (Jonah 1:17). Clearly, God does more than simply use events. He makes things happen.

Jonah's story shows us that God's dealings with us is a relationship, not a cold appraisal. His will is not fixed and static. Instead, He continually interacts with us. God comes seeking, searching and then sending. In the changing situations of life, we never see God perplexed on what to do next. That seems clear from Jonah's story.

As kind of a side note, God used the storm to draw the pagan sailors to Himself. These sailors were impressed with God's hand at work in stilling the storm after they dumped Jonah overboard. So, they "feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows" (Jonah 1:16). It's hard to know their level of understanding. We can not assume that they had arrived at the same understanding of God as we have. Yet, after having been disappointed by a man who clearly knew what God was up to, these sailors are deeply impressed by His God. While the story's focus quickly returns to Jonah, the brief appearance of these sailors highlights the missionary character of God. This little episode reiterates God's desire to draw all nations to Himself. . . . [ continue reading ]

1Who was the first to use the phrase Great Commission? It may have been Dutch missionary Justinian von Welz. He certainly is the one that popularized the words "Great Commission" to describe Matthew 28:19-20.

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We have our religion; they have theirs

Next chapterOur God is more than a tribal God. . . [ read more ]

SNU missions course materials and syllabi

Cultural Anthropology    Introduction to Missions    Linguistics    Missions Strategies    Modern Missionary Movement  (History of Missions)    Nazarene Missions   Church Growth and Christian Missions    Theology of Missions    Traditional Religions    World Religions
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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658
Updated: February 19, 2019

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