Jesus said "Go and make disciples of all the nations", but why has this Great Commission been more frequently interpreted as the Great Suggestion? Why is it that after almost 2000 years of Christian mission, about half of the world still has not heard the Gospel? Dr. Ralph Winter (US Centre for World Mission) once asked: "Why is it easier to get ten people saved than to get one Christian to be a missionary?" In this article, we will examine these questions through the lens of Jonah's story.
Missiologist Johannes Verkuyl described Jonah as "a missionary who has no heart for the Gentiles and who cannot tolerate God who shows them mercy." The story of Jonah teaches us the need for a major change of heart and a complete restructuring of one's life, in order to be serviceable for God's purpose.
Jonah knew that God had a job for him. But he didn't want to do it (Jonah 1:1-3). When God gives us directions through His Word, often we too run in fear or resentment. God responds to Jonah's disobdience by sending a mighty storm but Jonah sleeps in the bottom of the boat, not knowing that the storm is directed at him (Jonah 1:4-6). Often we too sleeps right through the storm in this world, assuming that the wind outside has nothing to do with us.
When the crew identified Jonah as the culprit by casting lots, Jonah confessed that he worships the God of heaven, who made the seas and the land. Jonah's running away not only caused the threat to his own life, but also to the Gentile sailors who have nothing to do with his charge! Often we too are ignorant of the fact that our disobedience to God brings havoc to other innocent people.
Then here comes, in my view, the most interesting part. Knowing that he is at fault, Jonah asked the sailors to throw him into the sea. But instead the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land (Jonah 1:12-14). The Gentiles Jonah is totally unconcerned showed him more compassion by trying to spare his life! Often we too are indifferent to those who need salvation. And sometimes, their actions are better than ours!
After a second order from Jonah, the sailors cried out to the Jonah's God for mercy and finally threw him overboard. The strom stopped immediately and the sailors offered God a sacrifice and vowed to serve Him (Jonah 1:15-16). Ironically, they are more open to God than the very prophet himself!
While inside the fish, Jonah plead for forgiveness. He then obeyed God and went to Nineveh, finally delivering God's message. When people of Nineveh repented of their sins, God forgave them and reversed the charge. This shows that God is merciful to anyone who turn to Him.
Then why did Jonah become very angry at God's mercy? (Jonah 4:1-3) Because God is treating those 'outside the covenant' the same as those within! Jonah didn't understand that the God of Israel is also the God of the world. Often we too think that some people are undeserving of God's forgiveness. But the question is: do you deserve it? If God forgives them, we should rejoice with them.
In the finale, God used a tree as an analogy to teach this poor missionary His true heart for all humanity. Johannes Verkuyl described Jonah as "the father to all those Christians who desire the benefits and blessings but refuse its responsibility". All too often we are like Jonah.
Isobel Kuhn, a missionary to China, once said: "Everywhere I go, I constantly meet with men and women who say to me 'When I was young, I wanted to be a missionary but I got married instead, or my parents dissuaded me, or some such thing.' No, it is not God who does not call, It is man who did not respond."
The question is not whether mission is for me, or whether mission should have a part of my ministry, but rather, what is my part in mission because I am a true Christian. May God bless you and renew your heart today.
Daniel Jang from Newcastle, New South Wales is serving with (Operation Mobilisation) OM's ship - Logos Hope. For more information, visit www.gbaships.org
Daniel's archive of articles may be found at www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html