Excuses to Avoid Mission

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(Jonah 1- 4)
Lesson Number: 

Lesson 5

Excuses to Avoid Mission

(Jonah 1-4)

Copr. 2023, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. If you normally receive this lesson by e-mail, but it is lost one week, you can find it by clicking on this link: http://www.GoBible.org. Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you study.

Introduction: One of the strongest arguments for believing the Bible is the way it describes its heroes. My experience as a lawyer is that people (including me) like to tell a story in a way that makes the storyteller look good. With time we might even forget the uncomfortable details. The story of Jonah is filled with details that make him look bad. And not just bad, he looks like a terrible human being! The goal of our study is to put away excuses to avoid engaging in our mission. A problem with using Jonah as our teaching subject is that we don’t want to believe that we are that bad. As we plunge into our study of the Bible, consider why God used a flawed man to reach terrible people!

  1. National Hero
    1. Read Jonah 1:1. What positive message do we see about Jonah? (God speaks directly to him.)
    2. Read 2 Kings 14:25. Is this the same Jonah as in Jonah 1:1? (Yes. This is Jonah the son of Amittai from Gath-hepher.)
      1. What is Jonah’s job as revealed in 2 Kings 14:25? (Again, God is speaking through Jonah. Jonah is the prophet who predicts that Israel will win battles that will restore its former glory.)
        1. How do you think the citizens of Israel viewed Jonah? (He was a great national hero! He revealed that God was on their side. He predicted that Israel would defeat its enemies. It was great to be Jonah.)
  2. New Job Assignment
    1. Read Jonah 1:2. What is God’s new assignment for Jonah? (To call out the evil done in the city of Nineveh.)
      1. Is that much different than Jonah’s prior work? He is still speaking out against the bad guys. (Jonah is no longer speaking from the relative safety of Israel, where he is a home town hero. Instead, he is going into the heart of the enemy nation to tell them face to face that God is calling out their evil.)
      2. Is calling sin by its correct name a common virtue today?
    2. Read Jonah 1:3. Does Jonah like his new assignment? (Obviously not. The phrase he “rose to flee” suggests that Jonah is afraid. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrians. I’ve previously studied them and they were very brutal and cruel. It would be natural to fear calling them out.)
    3. Read Jonah 4:2. Jonah provides an additional reason why he ran away. What is it? (We read in Jonah 3:10 that after Jonah condemned the Ninevites they repented of their sins and God decided not to destroy them. This distressed Jonah because he thought he would be considered a false prophet. Jonah was not only fearful, but even if he gathered up his courage and went, he figured that God would not destroy the evil people after all - and that would cause Jonah to look bad.)
      1. If you had to identify Jonah’s core sin, what would it be? (He was most concerned about himself - his safety, his reputation. Plus, he did not trust God.)
        1. Had God previously tested Jonah on those issues? (We don’t know enough about Jonah to say for sure, but his prior assignment was the popular and relatively safe job of predicting doom for the enemies of Israel from the safety of his home.)
  3. The Boat, the Fish, and Free Choice
    1. What happens next is that a terrible storm arises that makes the sailors of Jonah’s boat believe they are going to die. The storm is so bad they conclude only the gods can save them. Read Jonah 1:6-9. What does Jonah say about his God and the sea? (God made the sea.)
      1. Let’s re-read Jonah 1:3. What does this suggest is Jonah’s views of God’s territorial influence? (Back then it was popular to believe that a god was in charge of certain territories or natural elements. Jonah says he is going to flee to a place where God does not have authority. Now we see Jonah admitting that God is in charge of heaven, sea, and the dry land.)
    2. Read Jonah 1:11-12 and Jonah 1:14-16. The sailors were converted. How would you describe Jonah and the sailors view of God? (This is a God of judgment. The love of God does not seem to be the point made here.)
    3. Read Jonah 1:17 and Jonah 2:1-10. Let’s focus on Jonah 2:9-10. Jonah thinks that he is going to die, but he does not deny the power of God, rather he embraces it. What attitude of Jonah is reflected in Jonah 2:9-10? (Jonah submits to God’s authority. Jonah says that he will do “what I have vowed.”)
      1. What does this say about God and human free-choice?
      2. Have you made bad decisions in the past and God saved you from them? (One way to look at this is that God is coercing Jonah’s choice - although Jonah still has free choice with consequences. The better way to look at this is based in part on my experience. There are times when I’ve rejected evil, and other times when God saved me from evil when I was weak. God is a force for good in Jonah’s life.)
      3. What lesson should we learn from this when it comes to God’s mission for us? (God wants willing volunteers! Jonah should have feared God more than the Assyrians. But God did not give up on Jonah.)
  4. The Miracle
    1. Read Jonah 3:1-3. Could Jonah have rejected this call?
    2. Read Jonah 3:4-6. What miracle takes place? (Jonah, through the power of God, converts the city. All the people repent.)
    3. Read Jonah 3:7-9. Is this one of the greatest mass conversions in history?
      1. Let’s stand back and consider a few questions. Is this outcome worth the recent unpleasantness in Jonah’s life? (Absolutely. These were terrible people.)
      2. What is the message that caused the Ninevites to turn to God? (Look again at Jonah 3:9.This conversion takes place because of a fear of the anger of God. Jesus came to earth to show God’s unfathomable love for us. The church must be balanced in our representation of God. Right now some think that plain sin should be honored because of the force of love. That is unbalanced. Jesus paid the penalty for sin. That does not make sin acceptable. It makes it more terrible because it cost Jesus so much.)
    4. Read Jonah 3:10. What does God show to the people of Nineveh? And why does He show it? (They turned away from evil and God showed them mercy.)
  5. The Angry Prophet
    1. Read Jonah 4:1. What kind of agent of God is Jonah? (Not a very good one. He is angry that more than 120,000 people(Jonah 4:11)were not killed.)
    2. Read Jonah 4:5-6. Why is Jonah sitting down to watch Nineveh? (He is hoping to see it destroyed by God.)
    3. Read Jonah 4:7-9. How mature is Jonah? (He is acting like a little child.)
      1. Are you encouraged by that? (I am! Consider this picture of God’s love for Jonah. Jonah is being idiotic and God stays with him.)
    4. Read Jonah 4:10-11. In last week’s lesson we saw God destroy some very wicked people. The point of concern for Sodom, according to the Biblical account, were the righteous people. Who is God concerned about in Nineveh? (The wicked who repented.)
      1. Aside from the odd statement about not knowing right from left, what other odd statement do you find in these verses? (The right from left statement probably refers to children. It might refer to the fact that the people of Nineveh did not have a knowledge of God. For me, the oddest statement is that God’s concern and love extends even to the cattle.)
    5. Friend, the story of Jonah is one of love and judgment for flawed people. First, the flawed Jonah, and second the flawed citizens of Nineveh. God is willing to execute judgment, but He goes to extraordinary steps to save sinners. God wants to save you? Will you decide, right now, to make Him your Lord and Savior?
  6. Next week: Motivation and Preparation for Mission.