Appointments Broken and Kept; Mission Aborted and Fulfilled
I am writing about Jonah and Jesus, not because they are so much alike, but rather, because they are so different. Let me say at the beginning that this study is convicting to me personally, not because I am so much like Jesus, but rather, because I am so much like Jonah.
Both Jonah and Jesus are sent “from the presence of the Lord” (1:3,10). This is a difficult concept in view of God’s omnipresence. After all, where does the presence of the Lord start and stop? The phrase describes not so much one’s location as one’s relation to God’s mission. And here we find a key to the difference between Jonah and Jesus: Jonah left the presence of the Lord in order to “flee” mission; Jesus left the Father’s glory in order to “fulfill” mission.
The reader of this little narrative describing the recalcitrant prophet must grapple with the issue of how we ourselves avoid God’s mission. “Fleeing” can be translated in our lives as avoiding the glare of God’s expectations, isolating one’s self from that which is unpleasant and distasteful, distracting oneself with any number of pursuits (which may better be called “flights,’ as in “fleeing,” rather than “pursuits,” which denotes some kind of legitimate engagement). For whom would God have me pray today? With whom would God have me share both spiritual and physical blessings with which I have been favored? To whom would God have me speak words of grace and truth? What stands in the way of my involvement in these engagements? Is it the attitude of the reluctant priest and the recalcitrant prophet? Is the story of my life one of flight, avoidance, isolation, evasion, and distraction?
We happily enter into debates both great and small about issues of divine sovereignty and human freedom. This story displays for us the amazing amplitude that God allows in His servants – His servants who willfully refuse to serve. God commands the weather, and it instantly responds. God appoints the fish, and it does His will? He appoints the plant, and the scorching wind, and they instantly appear? But Jonah – he disappears.
Jesus is so different from Jonah. “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7,8). “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43). Jesus left the throne room of heaven in order to fulfill and accomplish the appointed mission. Jonah removed himself from before the face of God in order to flee and avoid the appointed mission.
Ultimately, Ninevah’s fate was not bound up with Jonah’s faithfulness. It was secured by God’s amazing mercy which brought about a miraculous repentance in that great city. The fate of our families and churches likewise are not fettered by our own feeble faithfulness, but with Christ’s perfect fulfillment. But the call of God remains. And the questions still stands: will I flee from the mission in Jonah-like fashion, or will I fulfill its call as a faithful follower of Jesus.
Jonah prays in 2:4: “I have been expelled from Your sight.” It is perhaps impossible to discern what is faith and what is fake in this prayer. Is Jonah saying that, having fled from the face of God, it is now God’s fault that there is great distance between them? Or is there a great truth, that when I avoid the mission that God has placed upon my life, that there will necessarily be a break of fellowship with God. Somehow, it seems that God allows us to do what we want, and then brings to bear the consequences that we ourselves have chosen. “I have been expelled,” and that is pretty much what I wanted, though it looks a little uglier right now as fish food than it did when I was on a cruise ship.
Jesus prays in Matt 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Was Jesus expelled from the presence of God? Yes. Was it because he was fleeing from God’s mission? No. Rather, he was expelled from God’s presence in the very fulfillment of God’s mission, as the sinbearer for a rebellious people.
Jonah makes me think about Jesus, not because they are so much alike, but because they are so different.