Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Jonah 1:1-6, ESV
Any child who has spent much time at all in a Sunday School class knows the story of Jonah and the whale. It is a fabulous account of a man who is called by God, rejects that call, suffers the consequences, repents and receives grace, and then obeys. That is the Sunday School story. However, there is more in the book of the prophet Jonah than this basic story.
The story of Jonah really begins in 2 Kings 14:25. There we read of Jonah, a prophet during the rule of Jeroboam II of Israel. Jonah prophesies to Israel that she will expand their borders at the expense of her enemies. However, in the book of Jonah God calls Jonah to preach to the hated enemy Assyrians. It is only a few decades before Israel is invaded by this constant enemy. What a turn of events for Jonah: from preaching victory over the enemy at home to being called to preach a message of repentance and forgiveness to that same enemy!
The book of Jonah gets right to the point. God calls; Jonah hops a ship going in the opposite direction. He seems to think he can actually get away from God. God reminds him that he cannot by bringing a nasty storm to bear on the ship. Things look hopeless. The sailors are taking every possible measure to save the ship. They even hold a prayer meeting—praying to their false gods. The captain finds Jonah sleeping through the whole affair and berates him for not adding some prayers to his deity.
At this point let us remember that Jonah is a true prophet of God, already used in the life of Israel. He is a man used to hearing from God and speaking for God to the people of God. But when God calls him to do something distasteful and difficult, Jonah runs. He runs physically and he runs spiritually. The pagan sailors are praying, but their false gods will not save them. Jonah is sleeping. They need a man of God to cry out to the one true God on their behalf. But Jonah is all wrapped up in himself, asleep while everyone around him is engulfed in fear.
Friends, we are in a Jonah moment. Whether it is fear of a virus, fear for the economy, or fear of lost liberties, fear is the word of the day. Those all around us are wrapped up in it. In these days filled with fear, we are called by God to make disciples of all peoples. Sadly, some of us are joining in the fear and behaving like the sinking sailors that surround us, devoting ourselves to their solutions. Others of us are sleeping in the boat, not taking the message of hope to those in fear but instead focusing on ourselves and just hoping it will all be over soon.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not wait for the world to ask for our help. Let us trade in our fear for faith and our indifference for action. Let us repent and proclaim to a fear-filled world that Jesus saves. He saves from something worse than viruses or crashing economies or bad government. Jesus saves sinners from the deadliest of storms, one that leads to eternal destruction. Instead of joining the world in fear, let us off them a message of repentance, forgiveness, and eternal hope.
I am praying for you in this endeavor and I ask that you pray for me as well.