E-book: Jonah, the reluctant missionary (Part 8)

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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

Our missionary God is more than a tribal deity

Some Christians view religion as something exclusively cultural. "We have our religion; they have theirs," they say. They think the various religions have evolved to fit different cultures. Such a feeling isn't something new born of 21st century pluralistic tolerance. Throughout Old Testament times, many Israelites felt that Yahweh belonged to Israel in a special way. The Holy Spirit is using Jonah's story to refute that belief.

The fish was swallowing Jonah even as the grateful sailors offered sacrifice to Yahweh. What a dramatic picture! The pagan sailors who had not known Yahweh, gratefully acknowledge His deliverance. At that same time, Jonah, who had believed in God all along, sank below the waves, apparently going to his death.

Just before the sailors threw Jonah overboard he told them they were dealing with the Creator of the universe and not a mere tribal deity. Earlier, however, such a limited tribal deity seems to have been in Jonah's mind. When he headed for that ship at Joppa, Jonah was running -- or at least he thought he was -- away from God's presence. Jonah was apparently thinking that no god (Yahweh included) had much power outside the country that worshiped him or her (or it). As Jonah would soon be reminded, however, God has cosmic sovereignty. His reign was not limited to the Temple area in Jerusalem or even to the borders of the Promised Land. He is far more than a tribal god.

The people on that Tarshish-bound ship believed in lots of limited tribal gods. When the shipmaster awoke Jonah, he begged him: "Call on your God" (Jonah 1:6). The captain was not trying to figure out if there was one true God or many. He just wanted to be sure every possible deity was being called on.

Sadly, Jonah failed to tell that ship captain that the Israelites' God was not a limited tribal deity. The truth began to come out a bit when Jonah admitted to the sailors that he was running from God (Jonah 1:10). Then, as we've mentioned, in his prayer from inside the fish, Jonah says that what many people worship are actually false deities (Jonah 2:8).

From the outset, God's purpose in sending Jonah to Nineveh was redemptive. Why else would He send a prophet there? Jonah didn't need to be in Nineveh to predict its downfall. That message could have been given in his home town. Other prophets had already given such long-distance predictions concerning heathen nations and cities. Had the Lord permitted Jonah to speak about Nineveh from Palestine, Jonah probably would not have rebelled like he did. It was hearing that he had to go to Nineveh that ignited Jonah's rebellious spirit. Jonah sensed, as he intimated, that warning of God's judgment would open the door to the Ninevites' repentance. Jonah hated those Ninevites. So he refused to go (Jonah 4:2).

One of the Jewish special holidays is called Yom Kipper. Each year during Yom Kipper celebrations the book of Jonah is read aloud in Jewish synagogues. Despite hearing Jonah's story over and over again, the Jews have missed the boat along with Jonah. Jonah's story heaps ridicule on nationalistic exclusivism. No nation has a corner on God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob yearns for "all nations" to honor Him. Therefore, we do not hold up Christ as the one and only mediator between God and human beings out of a sense of religious superiority. We proclaim "there is no other name" because it is so. If Jesus was God Incarnate come to earth, then He and He alone can save us. That's why God has to be so missionary in His character. There is no other way of salvation. . . . [ continue reading ]

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A missionary God offers salvation

Next chapterA God of grace who offers salvation. . . [ read more ]

SNU missions course materials and syllabi

Cultural Anthropology    Introduction to Missions    Linguistics    Missions Strategies    Modern Missionary Movement (History of&nbs p;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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