These last few weeks the women’s group at my church has been focusing on a Servant’s Heart. Today a dear sister presented Jonah, as a sort of antithesis of what a servant’s heart should look like.
To make a brief story even briefer Jonah was called to bring the Lord to the cruel and idolatrous city of Nineveh. Naturally, Jonah jumped at the chance to serve the Lord and bring people to the one true God, so he packed his bags and set sail. Jonah was zealous for the Lord and his example led to the conversion of the whole nation of Assyria and Jonah was lauded as the Saint who brought God to the gentiles…
That story may be a figment of my imagination, but let’s just have a moment of honesty and admit that that’s how we feel things should go when we sacrifice of ourselves and obey God. While we’re being honest, let me admit that the book of Jonah has always annoyed me. No ending? That’s just cruel to a mind that wants to know what everything means and why things are the way they are. We are never told what becomes of Jonah, we are told very little of what happens to the people of Nineveh, we don’t know what the mariners do with the rest of their lives, we don’t even know what kind of fish rescued Jonah from a watery grave. How are we supposed to learn our lessons without the details?!?
In reality, Jonah was actually like most of us. He was stubborn, thought that Nineveh should get what was coming to them, he ran from the presence of God, he would rather have died than do what God was asking of him, he cared more about a plant that sprang up overnight than hundreds of thousands of souls, and was just generally someone with whom we probably wouldn’t want to be best buds. Some servant, right? But still, no ending is weird. As my sister was discussing how the book having no ending is probably genius and very purposeful, and looking at the book in the context of having a heart to serve, while Jonah is no example to follow, looking at the big picture, it was made very clear that the ending doesn’t matter.
In the famous sermon “Ten Shekels and a Shirt” which played such a pivotal role in my surrender to Christ, Paris Reidhead described his experience wrestling with God. He went to Africa thinking he would swoop in and bring the Word of God and the people would accept it joyfully and leave their sinful ways behind and flock to worship the One True God. What he quickly learned was that the people had already heard the way of salvation, but they loved their sin. The Lord told him:
"Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? The Heathen are lost. And they're going to go to Hell, but not because they haven't heard the gospel. They're going to go to Hell because they are sinners WHO LOVE THEIR SIN, and because they deserve Hell. But, I didn't send you out there for them. I didn't send you out there for their sakes."
And I heard as clearly as I've ever heard, though it wasn't with physical voice but it was the echo of truth of the ages finding its way into an open heart. I heard God say to my heart that day something like this: "I didn't send you to Africa for the sake of the heathen, I sent you to Africa for My sake. They deserved Hell! But I love them! And I endured the agonies of Hell for them! I didn’t send you out there for them! I sent you out there for me! Do I not deserve the reward of my suffering? Don’t I deserve those for whom I died?”
Nahum 3 describes what a wicked, cruel, and blood thirsty place Assyria was (of which Nineveh was the capitol city.) King Nebuchadnezzar carried out Assyria’s destruction in 612 B.C., but the events of Jonah happened around the early to mid 700’s B.C. It seems safe to assume that the conversion that is mentioned in Jonah, though genuine and widespread, didn’t last long. There are several examples in the New Testament of people having a redeeming experience, of coming in direct contact with Jesus himself, but they just didn’t have the staying power (think Luke 17). Love never grew. Like the plant in Jonah 4:6 that sprang up overnight, it withered away overnight and never took root.
A collision of these two examples, among so many other lessons to be gleaned, shows us that the result of obedience (or serving) is not the purpose of obedience. The ending doesn’t matter. The purpose of obedience is our love for the One who lived as a man even though He was a King, who didn’t count it robbery to make himself lower than the angels that used to serve him, who died so that we could live, who bore our shame and iniquity so that we could stand before the Father clothed in robes of righteousness. The purpose of obedience is that He deserves the reward of His suffering. Our obedience may yield a new life in Christ, it may give seeds that are watered and flourish years down the road, or maybe our obedience leads to someone, or an entire city flat out rejecting God. As co-heirs with Jesus, we are to never grow weary of doing good. Let us never grow weary of obedience because it doesn’t produce the fruit we expected.
Jesus told us in Peter that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. Obedience is essential in loving God. Sometimes our obedience (service) leads us into a trial, sometimes it leads us to a city like Nineveh that kills babies as a part of idolatrous worship, sometimes it leads us straight into a blessing, and sometimes it leads us straight to jail. The point is that the result of our obedience shouldn’t determine whether or not we are obedient, we trust that God knows where He is leading us, and that wherever that is, though it may not be safe, it will always be good.
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