There was a man in Israel many years ago. He was a “good” man and a Jew, one of God’s chosen people. In fact, he was a prophet, one of the chosen messengers of Yahweh. One day God had a task for this man. There was a great city in the heart of the Assyrian empire that was extremely wicked, exceedingly evil. God told this man to go to the people of the city and to call them to repent. But he was reluctant. No way was he going to these Gentiles! He knew that God would be merciful if they repented and this prophet didn’t want that.
So what did he do? He ran.
As far as he could; as fast as he could. All he wanted was to be away from the presence of Yahweh. Of course that’s what sin does, makes us separated and afraid of the Lord. But the story doesn’t end there. This prophet had found a ship going as far away from the wicked city as you could get in those days (they didn’t have space travel yet) and boarded it. But God wasn’t over with him yet.
Soon the waters turned violent and a storm arose. It threatened to destroy the ship and the sailors were afraid, they each called out to their own god. The captain went and found our runaway prophet sleeping in the inner part of the ship and called him to call out to his god with hope that maybe that god would hear them. The sailors soon realized that this was happening because of someone’s evil. They cast lots and the lot fell on the prophet. He confessed that he was running from the Lord God Yahweh and the sailors were greatly afraid.
After trying to row back to shore, they realized that the only way for this storm to stop was to throw the sinful prophet into the sea. As soon as that happened the storm ceased completely. Then something unexpected happened. The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow the prophet. Our prophet spent three days in the belly of this fish, crying out to God for mercy and forgiveness despite his sin. God heard him and caused the fish to spit the prophet onto dry land. Again God called him to go to the wicked city, this time he knew better than to disobey. So he went to these people and told them of their eminent destruction.
What happened? The sinful people repented of their sins.
This shocked the prophet and he mourned. For he did not want God to show these people grace. The story doesn’t have a happy ending. The prophet waited for the city to be destroyed and even when God showed his mercy to him again he still had no mercy inside his own heart. He ended up having more compassion towards a plant then the whole city.
The prophet I spoke of was Jonah as many of you already figured out. The story of Jonah is one that those growing up in the church have heard since we could sit in our parents laps as they read to us. It’s so familiar and so we often overlook it. This story is so rich though, it holds so much truth for us no matter our age. Though there are many lessons to learn from Jonah, one that has struck me lately is his response to God’s call. He down right refused to do what God commanded because the job was hard and he despised the people of Nineveh. This is an amazing contrast to another prophet in the Bible, Isaiah.
There Isaiah was, before God’s holy throne in heaven. With the angels and seraphim bowing before the amazing glory of the Most High, the Lord of Hosts. I wont even try to begin to describe the awe inspiring glory of God, for is it not only impossible, but it often limits the glory of God. When Isaiah beheld God’s radiance he was sure he would die. For he was “a man of unclean lips dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips” yet he had “seen the King, the Lord of hosts”.
Then a seraphim flew to him with a burning coal in his hands and touched that coal to Isaiah’s lips saying, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sins atoned for”. Then Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”. “Here I am! Send me,” Was his reply to the Most High.
God had big plans in store for Isaiah. Not only would Isaiah tell the people of their evil and call for repentance, but he would foretell the birth and death of Christ! He did amazing things and the words God gave him composed the largest book of prophesy in the Bible. Of course God did things through Jonah too. God used Jonah, even if he was not willing to be used, but Jonah got no reward.
We are presented here with two completely different prophets. One that had a heart that turned a cold shoulder to God and despised His mercy. The other, when hearing that God wanted an ambassador, he cried out in an offering of himself. I wish I could say that I had the heart of Isaiah, but far too often my heart is like Jonah’s. I’m afraid that if I do what God tells me to do the results wont be what I want. If I surrender to God maybe things wont quite turn out right. The truth is, that God is perfect and when He calls us to do anything for Him, He knows what He’s doing.
God is continually calling us to do “something”. Whether it’s simple things like reaching out to our single mother neighbor and shoveling her driveway or even just being faithful in our quiet times or it’s huge things like going to the mission field or continuing to trust in the Lord when your daughter dies, there is a constant call. So what will your response be? Will you humbly cry out to God, “here I am, send me!” or will you turn and run the other way?