The real issue in the story of Jonah is God's grace for all people. God directly confronts the racial and religious hatred of Jonah. Jonah was swallowed by the huge fish to save him from his rebellion and to ensure that he did the job God wanted him to do: preach to Jonah's hated enemies, the people of Nineveh. However, Jonah knew that if the Ninevites repented of their sin, God would forgive them and spare their city. Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh and all her inhabitants. This story ends with God revealing to Jonah just how petty and bigoted Jonah really was.
With so much warfare and bitter hatred between nations, tribes, ethnicities, regions, and religions in our world today, followers of Jesus can easily get swept up in the vile and cynical sentiments of the day. When political talk show hosts appear to share conservative moral values, believers can get caught up in the ungodly talk about other nations, the "aliens" among us, and "our enemies." We can easily lose sight of God's way for us to treat those among us and around us who are different from us (Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 24:17-21).
Before long, we can become like Jonah. Our hatred and distrust can grow so strong that we wouldn't like "these other people" even if they repented and turned to God. We can get where we don't want to be reminded of God's desire to save them (1 John 2:1-2). We don't want to remember that Jesus died to redeem them just as he died to redeem us (John 3:16-17; 1 John 2:1-2). We ignore the last words of Jesus to go and reach people of nations with his message (Matthew 28:18-20). We forget that without someone crossing the racial and cultural divide to bring the gospel to us, we would be:
... separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12 TNIV).
So the Holy Spirit made sure the Old Testament embeds the brightly colored gems of grace in the stories of Rahab, Ruth, Jonah, and Naaman in the story to remind us of God's love for all peoples. The Holy Spirit continues embedding these gems in the story of Jesus. The Magi (Iranian astrologers) journey from the east to bring gifts to baby Jesus as the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-12). Jesus praises the great faith of a Roman Centurion who came to Jesus wanting his servant healed (Matthew 8:5-13). Jesus welcomes the pariah tax collector Matthew into the band of his closest followers, stating that he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:9-13). Jesus extends mercy to a Syrian woman because of her faith, tenacity, and cleverness (Matthew 15:21-28).
So throughout the Bible, God places these colorful gems of grace into the story to remind us that it isn't about race, or culture, or language, or tribe, or color. It's about people, all kinds of people, coming to him through Jesus. In fact, God's dream will ultimately come true in heaven where all of his colorful gems are on display:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. ... And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:9-10).
So when we move from a narrow church view of things to the expansive Kingdom view of the world (C2K), we know we must be mission-minded and compelled by the love of Jesus. We are followers of Jesus because someone saw it as their mission to reach out to us so that we could be included in God's story of grace. We must acknowledge that our prejudices — racial, social, political, regional, ethnic, or national — are an affront to the holy God who longs for all peoples to come to know the grace provided for them in Jesus. When we come to Jesus, our view of people must be transformed. We must not see people through mere human eyes, but through the heart of God. Jesus moves us from our biases — whether politically inflamed or socially engrained or family trained — into his view of a new humanity:
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation ... And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:14-19).
So this week, I want to challenge each of us to put on our mission-minded glasses and look at people as Jesus does. Let's turn on our mission-minded filter when we see people who are different than we are, when we hear reports about immigration issues and debates, when we see homeless folks on the street, when we react to someone else based on a racial or social stereotype, or bump into someone who is not from our group. And let's ask God to remind us to Rahab, Ruth, the folks in Nineveh, Naaman, the Magi, the Roman Centurion, Matthew the tax collector, and the Syrian woman. Let's ask him to give us the heart of Jesus for these folks the Father wants us to reach and bring into the family.
Instead of looking at people from a worldly point of view, let's put on our mission-minded glasses and live as Christ's ambassadors, passionately living out God's ministry of reconciliation toward all people!
This week, as you see people, monitor yourself and capture all the messages you play in your mind about people of other races, social groups, schools, ethnic backgrounds, locales, and nationalities. Listen for these in jokes, comedy skits, hurtful comments, or insensitive statements.
How can you speak God's truth about his love for these people into your heart?
What should be your reaction when you hear these things said about others?
How will you reconcile God's teachings about caring for the foreigner and alien among us and the political tensions that exist over this issue?
How can you have redemptive impact in the lives of those around you who are "not of your group" and with whom you normally don't make contact?
How can you do this without being condescending or demeaning, but genuinely inquiring about their culture, their lives, and their need for Jesus?
How can you fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus in your daily routine — going across cultures to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them about Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20)?
Why do you think it is often easier to reach across cultures by going on an international mission trip rather than connecting with someone of a different culture in our own town?