Jonah’s Christmas

By John A. White
Contributing Writer
July 05, 2022

Read more from John A. White

Jonah is not about a prophet running from God, a city with 120,000 people or a big fish with acid reflux syndrome. This small book is a juxtaposition of behaviors with an ironic twist, of the behavior of God’s people against the behavior of those who don’t know God. Jonah is a condemnation of the ungodliness of God’s people.

We all know the story well enough but lets ask “Why?” For example:

• Why does Jonah run away from Nineveh? Because his heart was hardened and corrupted by a misunderstanding of what it meant to be “God’s people.” While God loved the world, Jonah didn’t; he was hardened to both the lost and to God’s sovereignty.
• Why do the sailors do everything they can to spare human life? Because unlike Jonah, who was more than willing to let the people of Nineveh perish in their ignorance, the sailors valued life and people; they despaired when they realize they would have to through Jonah into the sea carrying out God’s judgment on Jonah.
• Why was Jonah reluctant? Jonah didn’t consider the Ninevites worthy of his time even though God considered them. The sailors on the other hand, regard all humanity. Jonah’s religious pride blinded him to humanity.
• Why is Jonah angry that Nineveh repents and is saved from judgment? On that day heaven must have been having a huge party! No so with Jonah, he was “angry enough to die” because he thought that he had to share the eternal blessings of God with other people diluting the blessing for him and his people. Jonah had no concept of the abundance of heaven neither God’s love for all people.

In Jonah we see the ungodly (the sailors and Ninevites) behaving the way we would expect Jonah and Israel to behave; responding to God’s will. Counterpunctually, we see the Godly (Jonah) behaving the way we would expect the ungodly to; rejecting God’s will. How can this happen? I believe that Jonah unconsciously deified programs, statement’s of faith, personal creeds and other important points of his Godly identity and justify their shortfalls with a misunderstanding of God’s grace and love. In the same sense, we do the same as Jonah.

A wealthy church considered feeding the homeless and poor. After a lot of discussion, the ministry was abandon because it was said the church could not afford the insurance for the every day use of the kitchen. What is hidden in this story is the fact the Church had a secret sacred cow; no one said it but it was understood that financial responsibility was more important than the poor that Jesus’ command the church to care for. Shortly after, the couple that initiated the discussion left the church, went down the street and started the same ministry through another church; a church considered to be less spiritual. So how do you think our “spiritual” brothers and sisters responded? They criticized the success of the ministry and the growth of the church. In so doing, they proclaimed that Jonah lives.

So what does this have to do with Christmas and worship? First I believe that a Christians’ worship after-burners should be fired up during Christmas. To do this, we must things that douse the raging fire of worship… to strengthen the weak knees and make our worship lead straight to God. We should be asking some tough questions: Are we allowing, like Jonah did, my ritual and religion to protect me from sacrificial service (Rom 12:1-2)? Are the Christmas Carols we hear worshipping more then what we say to family, friends, and work and shopping mates (2 Cor 2:3)? Does the world proclaim the joy of Santa Clause more than we’ve proclaiming the joy of Christ’s birth (Luke 19:40)? Did we spend more money on Christmas presents than the yearly sum of joyful giving to our churches (Matt. 6:21)? Are people, who don’t know God, doing things that put our Christianity to shame (Matt 5:20)? If so, then our consciences, like Jonah’s, have been seared by misunderstanding God’s grace.

Second, we need to be responsive to God and strip away any part of Jonah that lives inside. Allow me to share with you my worship commitment to God during Christmas and I bet that you have some to share as well:

1. I will “greatly rejoice” (worship) in the costly gift of grace found in Jesus’ birth as the shepherds and wise men did upon their discovery, especially where it is demonstrated, even in the smallest ways, wherever I see it.
2. I will proclaim and testify of Christ’s birth louder than the world proclaims the good fortune of Santa Clause.
3. I will allow others to witness God’s love and grace through the time and attention I give them more than the presents I give. I will not expect an inanimate object to say what I need to say… “I love you.”
4. I will be courteous in the parking lot, streets and highways knowing that my destiny is greater than being two steps away from the mall or two seconds earlier to my destination.
5. I will look for divine appointments where I can testify of divine love.
6. I will look for opportunities were I can carry on Jesus’ ministry of easing pain, comforting the afflicted, feeding and clothing the needy and so on with the hope that I might be acting Christ-like and give people the opportunity to witness authentic Christianity.
7. I will make love-giving to my family and friends unrestricted even at personal sacrifice with the hope that they will taste a bit of heaven on earth in the love that I freely and openly give.

In the end of Jonah, God says “shouldn’t I have pity on Nineveh.” I’m glad God had pity on Nineveh because that is where I used to live, at least until the day I accepted Christ. In fact, we all lived in Nineveh, a place where people could not tell their left hand from their right. Yet God revealed and gave Himself to us beginning with a promised child in a manger whom the angles proclaimed as “Christ the Lord.” I hear God still calling His people to Nineveh to proclaim God’s message of salvation. During Christmas, we have the opportunity to worship God in a way that speaks louder then grievous Christmas commercialism: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be on upon His shoulders. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (NKJ, Is 9:6).

Happy Birthday Jesus and Merry Christmas to the saints and all humankind.

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