Mission - Compassion - Heart - February 7, 2016 _____________________________________________________________________________
Pastor Dale Lloyd
Scripture Reading: Jonah
Theme: Mission – Compassion -- Heart
People resist or refuse mission for many reasons. Most relate to issues in their life: family issues, personal issues, health issues, financial issues, and issues of education or other qualifications. Some issues, of course, relate to the mission they are called to. They may not like the climate, or they may not like the people; perhaps even fear the people.
And then there are those who refuse mission because of their view of God. God is hard, vengeful, exacting, angry, judgemental, and endlessly demanding. Essentially, there is no way to please Him – no way to meet His standard – and this produces fear of failure, and this fear keeps us from going on mission entirely, or restricts us greatly in fulfilling our mission.
Jonah also ran away from mission because of what he knew about God. He had a fear of God based on what he knew of God.
What did he know about God that caused him to fear so profoundly that he ran away from mission? Jonah did not fear the Ninevehites. His fear had nothing to do with the people he preached to. His fear related entirely to the God he was preaching about, and here is what he feared about that God: Jonah 4: 2 He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness! (The Message)
What are we to do when God loves people we don’t even like – much less love? And what are we to do when He sends us on mission to those very people?
What is clear in this book of Jonah is that God was on a mission. That mission was two pronged: one toward Nineveh and one toward Jonah the prophet. It is my strong conviction that God is always about one thing – one reality – in His mission: Everything He does is redemptive in nature – the goal of which is reconciliation, restoration, and alignment with the divine order.
Concerning Nineveh, the heart of God was to redeem it. Concerning Jonah, the heart of God was to redeem the heart of the prophet regarding an attitude that was entirely unlike God’s heart.
At the heart of this two-pronged mission was one motivation on the part of God. We discover it in God’s final word to Jonah: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
The beating heart of every God-mission is compassion. Concerning that compassion there is a great lesson before us in this book. If I were to inform you of even the slightest piece of the history of the people of Nineveh – as to their unprecedented cruelty – you would immediately know why Jonah hated them with a passion. On the one hand we have this wicked city that had no clue about God. On the other hand, we have Jonah, God’s own prophet.
Here then is the question regarding God’s compassion: Did he have more compassion for Nineveh than for Jonah? Did he have more compassion for Jonah than for Nineveh? Or did He have the same compassion for both?
Long after the book of Jonah, we are told that Christ saw the lost multitudes as sheep without a shepherd, and ‘being moved with compassion He healed all that were sick and oppressed of the devil.’ In that compassion there was no discrimination.
And there was no discrimination in God’s compassion for both Nineveh and Jonah. He was out to redeem a city and transform an ugliness in the heart of His own prophet; he would do so with equal compassion towards both.
Jonah knew (based on his conversations with God) that Nineveh was ripe for God’s judgements. He also knew that God was sending him there to provide one last chance to avoid that judgement. And knowing that his God was full of tender mercies and compassion, he understood perfectly how God would respond if the Ninevehites took advantage of that last chance before judgement.
If it wasn’t so pathetic it would almost be laughable: God calls Jonah into a mission that was motivated entirely by the compassionate heart of God, and yet the
one called into the mission was entirely devoid of compassion and had nothing in his heart but revengeful judgement.
So the question that arises is: Why would God call such a person into His mission? And the answer is: Because He is full of compassion toward all of the Jonahs in the church who are lacking in that same compassion.
There are some hard lessons in this book of Jonah. The first is this: The mission Jonah was called into was a valid, God ordained mission, and beyond that the mission was wonderfully successful – 120,000 conversions. The lesson is that neither the validity of the mission or the success of the mission proved that the heart of the missionary was in the right place.
A second great lesson is found in the final chapter of the book where it is clear that Jonah wants God to deal with him with deep compassion, while he himself fails to see why he should extend that same compassion. He wanted God to treat him one way, while treating the city of Nineveh the exact opposite way; have compassion on me, but judge them. He wanted God to be discriminatory in His compassion.
There was much more going on in this mission than just the conversion of Nineveh. There was also the heart-transformation of the missionary. And both missions were the fruit of the indiscriminate compassion of God’s heart. I am sure God could have found someone who loved Nineveh to do this mission. He deliberately chose the one who hated the city, and He did this out of compassion for Jonah. By sending him to the people he really disliked, God revealed the heart of the prophet. This was not about shaming him, humiliating him, condemning him, or rejecting him. It was entirely about healing him of a core ugliness.
In forty six years of ministry I have watched and dealt with people whose response to the people they dislike is to run away. And so we run away from our marriages, our families, our employment, our communities, and most of all we run away from the local church God brought us to. Every place we arrive at we make the same old discovery: there are Ninevehites that we don’t like. Time to run away again!
I used to dislike people a lot more than I do now at my present age; and here’s why: I have learned that when God places me among the Ninevehites (the people I dislike) it is not entirely about the conversion of the Ninevehite; it is equally about
the exposure of my heart. And in running away from that Ninevehite I am actually trying to escape an issue in my own heart.