Put Your Trust in Jonah

BY DOMINICK SANTORE

No, that is not a typo. I am telling you to put your trust in this Old Testament prophet. I want you to look at him and be assured of God’s love for you.

We know that Jesus is our true hope, and the faith He gives us to believe in Him assures us of that salvation. We do not and never will have any skin in the game when it comes to our position in Christ. It’s all paid for at the cross, and in that great exchange for our sin, we get to wear a great white robe of righteousness given to us by Christ Himself. 

And yet, if we’re honest, it’s hard to live in the reality of that. We often have to be reminded that works have no bearing on our salvation. God doesn’t need our works but our neighbors do. Most of us get that. I certainly do, and it’s still hard to grasp as a fixed reality. Knowing our works play no part in our salvation does not remove the guilt we sometimes put ourselves through. Sure, we know it’s not about our works, but man, we still think we can’t measure up for whatever reason we can come up with. “I don’t look the part, act the part or feel the part. Why would God even want me?”

To that I say, “Look to Jonah.”

Pick an Old Testament book and people will find ways to excavate it for some life lesson about faith, obedience, doing what’s right, etc… Jonah is no different. People will ignore so much of this book to find that one thing that they can use in scripture to turn it into some kind of law to follow that guarantees some reward. But for me, the best life lesson I can pull out of Jonah nowadays is, “God loves you, even when you’re a jerk ON PURPOSE MOST OF THE TIME!” This prophet, called by God to speak His Word to the world, was probably one of the most WILLFULLY pig-headed, ungrateful and disobedient people ever to walk through this inspired Word, let alone be the one to spread His message to others. If there is anyone we can identify with, and KNOW we can still belong to God, it’s Jonah.

The moment Jonah is given his marching orders to preach the word of repentance to Nineveh, he was on a boat sailing off to Tarshish. When God began to intervene with a great storm, a storm that made even the experienced sailors fear and challenge their faith, Jonah’s conscious was pricked by God’s actions and the plight of all these poor sailors. He quickly and emphatically pleaded for these men’s lives before his creator! Wait… That’s not right… He was actually sleeping in the bottom of the boat. If I have even an inkling of worry on my mind about anything, sleep evades me. It’s just hard for me to relax and settle down. It seems that Jonah wasn’t just running from God’s commands, but may have been completely comfortable with his decision that was contrary to God’s will.

Again, no “special prompting” or spiritual “revelation.” The Captain of the ship had to wake him up and ask him to petition for his God’s help so they wouldn’t perish. Of course Jonah, now being spiritually convicted of this horrible sin of disobedience and the damage it had wrought in the great storm about to overtake him and the entire crew of the ship, bravely admits his faults and takes responsibility for his actions! Wait… that’s not right either… Jonah silently waited as the crew cast lots to find the culprit of their current calamity.  It fell on Jonah, and he finally admitted his part in their woes when it seemed he had no other choice.

I have to wonder as Jonah wrestled against God to do His will, if he didn’t welcome being tossed in the sea for another reason other than to spare the ship and its crew. Jonah wasn’t looking for a fish to swallow him up. In fact, he probably expected death once tossed over the side. If he was dead, then he wouldn’t ever have to preach to those Ninevites. But even in the midst of Jonah constantly trying to twist away from God, God would have none of it as He prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah up and keep him alive. Sometimes we are so adamant about how we want things to go. We are willing to go to our death to defend it. How great our God is that he won’t let us. He gives us mercy and grace (a great fish), even when so many times we don’t want it, seek it, or deserve it.

Jonah, a man of God, a prophet of God, was spared a death and destruction of his own making. He finally did God’s will, and halfheartedly called the people of Nineveh to repent. No great message of God’s love and mercy. This was, NYC subway platform, soapbox standing, end-times, “repent or else” type stuff. If there is any proof that salvation is not up to how well we convey the gospel sometimes, here it is!

Nineveh repented and Jonah, this great man of God, was moved and overcome with emotions. He was amazed and grateful to God for using his poor miserable soul to save these people. He rejoiced and danced with jubilation over the dramatic change in the lives of the Ninevites! HALLELUJAH! WHAT A SAVIOUR! Wait, that’s still not right. Instead, he went outside of the city, still angry over having to even offer them repentance and watched and waited, hoping to witness the destruction of these people who he never wanted to preach to. 

At best, Jonah obeyed God, BARELY! At worst, he was a sinning, pride-filled mess, that didn’t deserve God’s mercy and grace any more than he thought the people of Nineveh deserved it.  Jonah, a man of God. A prophet. A man called by God to do His will. At the same time God is calling Nineveh, a people that knew nothing of Him, to repentance, He was calling Jonah, to see his own need for repentance. This book does not end with Jonah being cast out. In fact, in the midst of his shameful and still unrepentant attitude, God is still talking to Jonah, reasoning with him and showing him mercy and grace. God is still stooping down to meet him.

That’s what God does. In Christ, he stooped down to meet us, to love us, and reason with us with grace and mercy. Sometimes He has to do that with stubborn, mule-headed people. People, like Jonah, who aren’t always willing to do the right thing, who are quick to run the other way and not pay it any mind. We sometimes even sleep peacefully, and wait until the last possible second to admit our guilt and sin.

 
He still keeps us, and loves us, even when we concede half-heartedly and barely put effort into whatever it is we should do.
 

Jonah was a horribly flawed and sinful man. He was rebellious and had sin in his heart right up until the end of the book. He was God’s prophet. He was a man of God. When I tell you to put your trust in Jonah, I am asking you to remember when we don’t feel like we measure up, and even have days where we don’t WANT to measure. It is God who keeps us. It is God who saves us and calls us His. It is not by anything we do or don’t do enough of. It is a life of Grace given to us.

We don’t see the lightbulb go off over Jonah’s head. He’s pretty stubborn, right up to the end of the book. God has not turned his back on him. Sometimes that lightbulb over own head is pretty dim. God does not turn his back on us.

Rejoice that salvation is out of our sin-stained hands and rests in the nail-scarred ones…

Amen

A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?

Twitter: @adefeatedvictor