It is with some sadness that I leave the book of Jonah behind. On so many levels, this Old Testament story challenged me personally as I researched it and prepared my sermons. It left me wondering about my own obedience when God tells me to Go, and my own repentance when God says No. All too often, my will gets in the way of God’s will. When it does, life doesn’t go well. On the other hand, there is nothing more freeing than living according to God’s commands and turning my back on the things that can lead me astray.
I also loved the way God confronted Nineveh’s fish goddess with a prophet-swallowing whale. The way God beat Ninua (a.k.a. Ishtar) at her own game by trumping her image of a fish in a woman with his miracle of a man in a fish makes me laugh out loud. Check and checkmate!
The best thing about the book of Jonah, however, is its emphasis on God’s compassionate and gracious character. God’s love for Nineveh frustrated Jonah to no end. God’s rebellious prophet was grateful for his own second chance, but he resented God for also giving his hated enemies a second chance. Especially since it meant the probable loss of his reputation as a prophet back home when the destruction that he prophesied did not happen.
Thankfully, out of compassion, God did not send us another Jonah. He sent us Jesus. On this Thanksgiving weekend, nothing should make us more grateful than the love of God in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I see so many comparisons between Jonah and Jesus. Like Jonah, Jesus was sent to a hostile environment. Like Jonah, Jesus spent three days in a dark, deadly place, only to be delivered from certain death. And like Jonah, Jesus ultimately came to show us the compassion of our heavenly father.
But I also see many sharp contrasts between Jonah and Jesus. Jonah was a flawed messenger; Jesus is a perfect Saviour. Jonah was incredibly concerned with his own reputation and physical comfort; Jesus was unconcerned about people’s opinions or material blessings. Jonah couldn’t stand the thought of God loving Israel’s adversaries; Jesus preached and practised love and forgiveness for his enemies. Jonah wanted punishment from a divine fist; Jesus offered God’s open hands. Jonah resented God’s compassion for the world; Jesus IS God’s compassion for the world!
It’s the Thanksgiving weekend, the time of year when we intentionally think about everything and everyone that we appreciate. Thanks to the book of Jonah, the thanksgiving item that has shot to the top of my list is God’s compassion and the mind-blowing, life changing, sacrificial love of Christ for you and for me.
On Sunday, in our worship services, everyone will be given the opportunity to make a thanksgiving list. I hope that God’s compassion and Christ’s love tops your list, too. And I hope that, with a grateful heart, you will find all kinds of beautiful ways to love others as God first loved you.
I especially hope that Hope Fellowship will find a way to extend compassion to one or more refugee families who have fled the province of Nineveh. Almost three thousand years ago, Jonah was sent to Nineveh. Today, the Ninevites are being sent to us. Once again, the people who represent God’s love are being tested. Will these displaced families see Jonah’s self-concern in us or will they see God’s concern and Christ’s compassion in action?
Knowing Hope Fellowship’s heart, I am confident of the answer. And that makes me even more grateful today.
- Pastor Peter