You’ve probably heard of the story of Jonah who famously got swallowed by a big fish, stayed in the fish’s belly for three days, and was ultimately vomited up by the fish on a beach. Apparently humans don’t digest well. What does this have to do with Christmas? Everything!
It all started when Jonah was given a mission to go preach to the huge Assyrian city of Nineveh and instead ran away in the opposite direction as hard as he could go. Why? Maybe for good reason. Have you ever thought that Jonah had a justifiable reason for running? Do you ever think, “Yeah, if I were Jonah, I’d run too!” Let me explain.
Lately my pastor has been doing a series of sermons from the book of Jonah. The sermons have been quite good, and they have been rather eye opening. Here are some of my thoughts on what I’ve learned.
Jonah was commanded by God to go preach to the Assyrians, and he didn’t want to go. Why? Is it because Jonah was simply a disobedient runaway prophet who insisted on his own way? Or did Jonah have a good reason for running?
First, let’s take a look at the Assyrians. From all I’ve read about the Assyrian army, they were brutal warriors who destroyed the people that they conquered and showed no mercy to the weak or innocent. Heads on pikes, raping and pillaging, flaying, impaling people alive, and it goes on. Who wants to go preach salvation to people who conquer nations and then brutalize the people just because they can. It’s very possible that Jonah had experienced the Assyrian brutality first hand from the loss of a loved one, a friend, or a whole group of people who died at their hands. And there they sit in that great city of Nineveh. And to top it all off, God wants Jonah to go preach to them.
I read that asking Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach might have been like asking a Jew to go to Nazi Germany to preach. “No thanks, God. I’m catching a plane to Alaska. Talk to me after the winter thaw.”
This person wouldn’t run just because they feared for their life or because of what the Nazi’s might do to them. They would run far away because in their hearts they want the Nazis punished, judged by God, and ultimately suffering. That’s what Jonah wanted, and my first reaction to this is to say, “I don’t blame him!”
And why should I blame Jonah? I’ve been in his shoes in a very small way when God has said, “Love this person!” But I keep thinking how that person made me angry with their behavior, and I feel justified in going through the motions, but not really feeling the love. I don’t want to get involved because deep down, if I’m honest, I’d rather see them suffer. Just a little.
So like Jonah, I go find myself a place to sit and stew.
And then God in His mercy whispers to me. To deny them God’s love because they don’t deserve it means I need to deny myself God’s love, because I certainly don’t deserve it. It’s obvious from the prior paragraph that I can be a selfish beast. And it seems that I need to lose the pride and realize that I am a beggar, just like Jonah, telling other beggars where to find bread. A selfish beast telling other selfish beasts where to find salvation.
And what if I really can’t feel the love, yet obey God anyway? What if the words come out of my mouth out of obedience to God, like Jonah, but I’m not really loving that person? Then just like Jonah, I might get to see God work. I might get the opportunity through the whole experience to have my own heart changed, and then ultimately to forgive. Which might be a bit better than carrying around anger, resentment, judgement, and hate.
May I have a heart that gives up my agenda and prejudices for God’s perfect plan. And if I don’t understand the perfect plan, may I do it just because He said so, even if I don’t feel like it. Because to do otherwise means carrying around a load of bitterness that gets awfully heavy. And it also means I might just find myself very grateful, like Jonah, to be beached in the equivalent of a pool of fish vomit.
But ultimately may I have a heart that loves and forgives. Not because I deserve such a heart, but because I’ve seen such a heart and it is beautiful. I serve a King who died for me when I was deep in my sinful state, wicked, and unloving. And then he came to me with His loving heart and offered me salvation. May I also extend a forgiving, loving, heart because I have an eternity of love to look forward to, and I don’t deserve a minute of it.
This, my friend is the the ultimate Christmas story. A king who became a human baby and died in our place so that selfish beasts like me can have an eternity of love with Him. What a reason to rejoice and celebrate! And to make merry!
So Merry Christmas from Take Time for Art! And may your coming New Year be filled with love and forgiveness.
Photo Credit: By Sargis Babayan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32665853