“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
Jesus referred to the book of Jonah twice to describe his own ministry. The crowds that came to Jesus were increasing greatly. And everyone was looking for a sign and asking Jesus, “How will you build your kingdom?” It meant, “How are you going to do the work of God?” In Luke 11:30 Jesus responded, “For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.”
Then Jesus called his disciples, and taught them to continue God’s work after him. So through this study, we pray to learn how we can participate with Jesus in his ministry to build God’s kingdom in our generation.
Let’s pray: Father in heaven, thank you for establishing this prayer meeting every Wednesday. Please bless this meeting tonight and give us one clear word. Help us to learn how to build the kingdom of God in our generation. We thank you and pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
First, Go to the great city of Nineveh (1-2)
Look at Verses 1-2. “The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Ammitai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ ”
This passage reveals two things: 1) God’s compassion to a lost generation, and 2) the spiritual duty of God’s servants. We have three main characters here: The Lord God, Jonah, and Nineveh.
The Lord God is working as the Judge. The wickedness of Nineveh has come up before him and he is going to take action. It was to send his servant Jonah. Jonah was a prophet from the Northern Kingdom Israel during the latter part of the time of the kings, some seven centuries before Christ. He was like an advisor to the king. He was also a nationalist who was concerned with building the kingdom of Israel. Indeed, in Jonah’s time, the kingdom of Israel was filled with all kinds of wickedness, meaning they had enough problems of their own, especially from the leaders. Nineveh is described as a “great city.” It was the capital of the Assyrian empire, the leading world power at the time. It was also filled with wickedness that reached to heaven. Despite their greatness as a city and a people, wickedness abounded in their lives. The action God took was to save the people of Nineveh through sending Jonah. In his righteousness, God could have just destroyed them. But God’s compassion is displayed through this calling. God’s mercy extends to all peoples on earth, even to our enemies, to the wicked, and to foreigners. So God called one of his servants, Jonah.
“The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ ”
This command teaches us the way to build the kingdom of God. It is through challenging the wickedness of our generation. Look at verse 2 again: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” Preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me. Again, when Jesus referred to the story of Jonah, he mentioned about his generation. Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here” (Luke 11:29-32). This reference has the message of preaching and repentance. Without preaching, there is no repentance. As Jesus says, without repentance there will only be great sorrow and condemnation at the judgment and the resurrection. Jonah’s generation was declared wicked. Jesus’ generation was also declared generation. Our generation is the same. However, we are called as agents of righteousness, truth, and light. We are agents of judgment for this world. (1 Cor 6:2) We must challenge the wickedness of our generation, if we have God’s interests in mind. And bring many to repentance and faith in Jesus.
In the Bible are many great examples of men who preached against the wickedness of their generation to bring about God’s salvation, and they were all highly acknowledged for it. John the Baptist preached against the people to prepare for Jesus’ coming. Most notably, John the Baptist said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near . . . You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mat 3:2,7-8). When Jesus first began his ministry, he had the same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” (Mat 4:17) So when met his first disciples, he helped them to repent of their sins and follow him. Simon Peter confessed at Jesus’ feet, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” This was the beginning of salvation to work in Peter’s life—and his life was changed drastically. Then later the Apostle Peter challenged the people of his day: “Repent and be baptized, everyone one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit . . . save yourselves from this corrupt generation . . . for salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 2:38,40; 4:12). The Apostle Paul also said directly that now God commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30-31) As all of these servants mentioned, the cross of Jesus is the best way to preach against the wickedness of our generation. We must tell over and over again, the old, old story of Jesus who suffered and died on the cross for the sin of the world and was raised from the dead and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
At the Bible Conference we saw a glimpse of the kingdom of God, and found out that no impure thing can enter it—so many experienced and saw the work of God newly and gave thanks to God. It brought us joy and gave us hope. God opened our eyes to see that people are in need of the Lord’s mercy, although they may not know it. How can we help them? As the passage says, we need to go out, speak to them, and teach them to obey Jesus and help them to get their sin problem solved in him alone. It sounds risky to bring up the sin problems of other people. In fact, to mention others’ sin can be one of the most burdensome things to do, and we had rather not feel so uncomfortable or confrontational.
Our natural tendency is to avoid as much conflict with others as possible. Right? “Mind your own business.” “You take care yourself, and I’ll take care of myself.” And, “Who are you to judge me?” This kind of attitude makes obeying the Lord’s command to preach against the wickedness of our time difficult and burdensome. But selfishness, and especially good-mindedness, does not bring people into the kingdom of God. As long as sin remains, there cannot be fellowship with God. If we really want to help our Bible students and those in need around us, then we need to accept the Lord’s compassion – which means giving them this message, helping them to repent and obey Jesus for the forgiveness of sin. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, after his resurrection, he commanded his disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mat 28:18-20). It is because the Lord God knows that as long as wickedness and sin remains in the hearts of people, they will be in need, and that need is eternally deep, and they will only suffer.
Lastly, we see God’s concern for great cities, for important cultural centers of the day. Later, the Lord God inspired the Apostle Paul who said, “I must go to Rome,” and so he appealed to the court to visit the Emperor, Caesar. This has been God’s way throughout history even to today: God sent Moses to Egypt, Daniel to Babylon, Jonah to Nineveh in Assyria. And God is doing the same today. Today, the college campuses are like great cities with tens of thousands of people who are the next generation of leaders. They definitely require our attention.
We thank and praise God for his compassion. We live in a great city. May God help us to see our great city from the point of view of God’s compassion. May God help us to make disciples of all nations through preaching the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. May God change the youth of our generation, especially on the college campuses. May the Lord also help us to see the great cities of this world, and pick up a missionary spirit, so that the important, influential cities of our generation may repent and have faith in Jesus Christ. This is our spiritual duty in the Lord.
Please pray for God’s mercy to Cal State LA. Please pray for God’s strength to me and my coworkers to expand God’s kingdom through this message of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins at Cal State LA!
Second, But Jonah ran away from the Lord (3-13)
Let’s look at Jonah’s response in verse 3: “But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fee, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.”
Verses 3-13 show Jonah’s stubborn struggle with the Lord. He was even ready to die than serve his great mission. When he heard God’s calling, Jonah raised his fist into the air and yelled, “No way! I’m not going!”
Where did Jonah go first? Jonah thought best to run to Tarshish. Tarshish was a wealthy port city in present day Spain, where much gold and silver was imported and exported. It is believed that the ancients thought of Spain as the extent of the boundaries of the known world. Even simpler is that, from Galilee, where Jonah is from, Spain is in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Jonah was trying to get as far away as physically possible.
Jonah’s cold attitude is contrasted to God’s compassion. God did not like that and would not let Jonah go so easily. Look at verses 4 and 5: “Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.”
Jonah lost the first round. So where did he run to next? Look at verse 5b: “but Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.” Sleep is a good way to get away. It’s still the most popular and effective method for running from the Lord. And most of all, it’s free.
What was God’s counterattack? To take away Jonah’s sleep too. The sailors came and bombarded Jonah with many questions, “How can you sleep?” they said in a wild, annoying frenzy, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble to us? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you? What have you done?” And finally they said, with direct implications, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” (6-11) How did Jonah respond? Round three. Look at verse 12. Jonah decided to die: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this storm has come upon you” (12). Jonah chose suicide. But he tried to make it look like murder at the hands of desperate sailors. What a stubborn man! He was willing to die than accept God’s mission.
Rejecting God’s mission is the clearest indicator of man’s selfishness. When we reject God’s mission, we may think that we are only damaging ourselves—mainly that others are not involved. But this is not the case. In the immediate case, Jonah put the lives of these sailors into jeopardy. Because of him, they had already lost all of their cargo and personal belongings. They might have even thrown the food overboard. In the hit movie, Napoleon Dynamite, the lead character sets the mood at the beginning of the movie by saying, “I’ll do whatever I want, gosh.” We like to do whatever we want. But when we do whatever we want, the truth is that we put others in danger, physically and spiritually. When we ignore God’s calling, many lives will suffer. May God open our eyes, to see the greatness of his compassion, even for the wicked, through his calling.
Third, They greatly feared the Lord (14-17)
In these verses the men give up trying to escape the Lord’s storm. They were caught in the cross fire between Jonah and the Lord. The sailors did their best to row back to land, but God made the winds stronger and stronger and would not let them leave the sea, as long as they were taking Jonah in the wrong direction. So they gave in and surrendered. Look at verses 14-16. “Then they cried to the LORD, ‘O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.’ Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.” Once the sailors gave Jonah up, the sea grew calm. Then they sacrificed to the Lord and made vows to him. The passage says that “they greatly feared the Lord.” This shows how stubborn Jonah was. These foreigners even acknowledged the Lord as God, sacrificed to him and made vows to him, and yet Jonah would not accept the calling to go to Nineveh. And without fighting back, or even saying one word, Jonah was willingly thrown overboard to his presumed death. It was Jonah’s way to get the upper hand on God.
But God came in with the final counter attack, and Jonah lost the last round. Look at verse 17: “But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”
At the Lord’s command, a “great fish” swallowed Jonah. This teaches us that it is not a light matter to reject, put aside, or ignore God’s calling, whatever we may think about it. And it does no good to fight against God, even if you’re as stubborn as Jonah. We see in this passage that the lives of many people are in the balance. If we hear God’s calling, we must remember the Lord’s great compassion—even to the most wicked. The Lord’s struggle with Jonah in today’s passage was as much for the people of Nineveh as it was for Jonah. Most importantly, this shows us the importance of our mission life. God’s calling in our lives to his mission is the most important aspect of our lives, and we must not neglect it or put it off to another day, or try to sleep it off.
For the past six months I had been trying to run away from my mission life. I thought it would be better to seek my own security for a change and get a good, full time job while I finish my Master’s program. But God did not let me run away. After six months of working, I had reasonable financial security, almost all of my debt paid off. But I was still so tired and did not have any ministry. Finally, through the help of God’s servants, I came to the word of God and saw that I was so miserable because I forsook my mission. Then, based on God’s word from Exodus to free the Israelites from Egypt, I prayed for God’s help to free me to serve his mission again. And so the Lord helped me to quit my job and offer my life to his mission. This is the greatest purpose of my life. I praise and thank God for not letting me flee in my selfishness.
In conclusion, we learned of God’s great compassion for this sinful generation. In his compassion, God calls men and women of each generation to go and preach the gospel of Jesus to help others to repent and believe. May God help us to learn to build his kingdom through preaching repentance and challenging the wickedness of our generation, particularly through campus mission and 1:1 Bible study. May God strengthen us to fear God, and not men, and bless America to be a missionary sending nation, beginning from Downey UBF.
One Word: Go and preach against it
Let’s pray: Father, thank you for your compassion to all peoples on earth. Help each of us to challenge our generation with the message of repentance and the cross of Jesus. We thank you and pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.