Our pastor preached on the reality of hell yesterday. It seems as if we don't hear much about hell these days as churches are so afraid of offending. To keep the people in their seats and to draw more in, preachers talk about God's love, His blessings and forgiveness. Our pastor had us envision someone we knew who most likely didn't have their eternal life nailed down. As he explained what all hell would encompass, you couldn't help but keep that person's picture in your mind. It was a powerful sermon in how each of us are called to share God's love with others, yes. But we are also to state the cold, hard facts about eternity, as there are only two choices.
So I've been reading more about Jonah lately and saw some things I've never noticed before. You probably know the story pretty well yourself.
Jonah was a prophet in Israel, so we know he was already telling others about God. God asked him to go to Nineveh (the capital of Assyria) with an important message: repent or God will destroy you. The Assyrians were a rowdy bunch. They worshipped idols and were old enemies of Israel. I'm sure Jonah thought the world would be a better place if God made good on His promise and destroyed them anyway! So when God asked Jonah, he said no and ran in the opposite direction.
Jonah climbs aboard a ship and a huge storm stirs on the water. After throwing cargo off the ship, the crew finally throws Jonah overboard. The seas calm and three days later, a big fish deposits Jonah onto dry land. Although Jonah didn't do what God asked him to do, God did a miracle for Jonah anyway. Think he got the message? Nope. So God tried again.
"The Word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.' So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord."--Jonah 3:1-3
Jonah obeys this time around and preaches to Nineveh. All 120,000 people in the city repent and God spared them from destruction. Everyone was happy, except Jonah. You would think Jonah would see the importance of doing God's will and telling others about Him. You would think Jonah would be motivated to continue serving whenever asked, but Jonah wasn't. It says in, Jonah 4:1, "It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry."
Right down the end of the chapter, Jonah argues with God about His plans and motives for Jonah. He's sure God has made a big mistake in his life. It boils down to this: Jonah cannot accept God's mission for him is to show God's compassion to people he doesn't like.
Do you see the horrible sadness in this story? I've never seen it before until now. Jonah knew he was born to serve God. He knew he had been sent by God, but he didn't let the reality of hell get to him. Jonah refused to love others the way God loved him. If you are running from the mission God has given you, God will patiently pursue, right up to your last self-absorbed complaint.