“The Mission of God”
In my mind, the greatest characteristic of God is His love for people. He loves us more than we will ever know and in ways we will never understand; and He also goes to great extremes to demonstrate that love. And more than anything else, He wants us to receive it. There are two "Minor Prophets" whose stories and prophecies represent God's love perhaps more than any other. In one we find a demonstration of that love and in the other we see how God's love is to be demonstrated in our own lives. Our focus today, on "Key to the Kingdom," will be to allow these messages to remind us, once again, how much God loves us. He longs for us to receive His love and then put it into practice. I hope you will stay with us the next few minutes as these two prophets remind us of God's greatest characteristic.
The greatest theme found in this book called the Bible revolves around the love of God. Yes, God's love is demonstrated in a variety of ways and He goes to great lengths to let us know He loves people. And perhaps one of the very best places to see that in the Old Testament part the Bible is in the book of Jonah; and Jonah is one of two books that receive our attention in today's lesson. Jonah was what we might call a missionary prophet. God had a mission for Jonah to accomplish in this world, and yet Jonah was very reluctant to do what God called upon him to do. In fact he did just the opposite. And yet, more than any other prophet of which we read here in the Old Testament, he experienced positive results. And he did so because the people heard and responded to his message. His message revolved around only seven words, which are found in chapter 3 and verse 4: "In forty days, Nineveh will be destroyed." Yet, that prophecy did not come true, because the people responded to his message, and they turned to God, and they avoided destruction. I want us to take a look at this book and this man named Jonah, and how God goes to great extremes to demonstrate His love for people. In chapter 1, God calls upon Jonah to go on this mission. And He tells him this, in verse 2, "Go to that great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me." In this particular time in history, the Ninevites were some of the vilest and evil and cruel people on the face of the Earth. They did all kinds of things that were immoral and bad, and God noticed their wickedness. But yet, He wants them to hear about His love for them and so He sends Jonah on this mission. But, Jonah doesn't want to go. In fact, he goes the opposite direction. He goes to the city of Joppa. He gets on a boat and goes to Tarshish, which is exactly the opposite direction of Nineveh. He gets on that boat and tells the sailors what he is doing and then he goes to the bottom of the boat and falls asleep. When that happens, God causes a great storm to come upon the sea, to the point the sailors fear for their lives. The wind and the waves are beating against the boat and the sailors don't know for sure what to do, and they work hard to get things under control. They even begin to throw some of the cargo overboard in order to lighten the ship. And then they call upon the names of their various gods, whom they worship and serve, asking for some kind of relief and protection and help. But none of that works, and so the captain of the ship wakes up Jonah and says, "Can you not call upon the name of your God? Perhaps He will hear you and help us." And Jonah says, "Well, the problem here is that I have been disobedient to God and that is why we are in such a mess out here on the sea. But if you would but throw me overboard, things will be okay." Well, the sailors really did not want to do that, but they did. And Jonah went overboard, and as soon as he did there was a calmness that came over the sea. Then God caused a great big fish to swallow Jonah; we might call that fish a whale, today. And for 3 days and 3 nights Jonah was in the belly of that great big fish. I want you to think about that for just a moment. What do you think it was like in the belly of that fish? I guess it was completely dark. It was filled up with water. There was all kinds of seaweed and other things the fish might have swallowed, out in the depths of that sea, and Jonah was right in the middle of it. My guess is that he was quite scared. He did not know for sure if he would live or die, and so he spent time praying to God. He confessed his sin. He recognized to God that he had been disobedient and rebellious toward the mission God had put him on, and he cried out to God for a second chance. And God heard Jonah's prayer, even from the depths of the fish. And then He calls that great fish to spit Jonah out on dry land. And it was then that Jonah realized, this is my second chance, I had better do what is right this time. And so Jonah traveled to the city of Nineveh, a large city, it took three days to get around it all, and he began to proclaim that message: in forty days Nineveh will be overthrown. But the people heard it, and they responded to the message Jonah proclaimed. And from the least of them to the greatest, they all repented and they all turned their lives to God. One would think that Jonah would be very excited about what has just happened [hey, the people responded to my message] and he would rejoice with them in their newfound salvation, but Jonah did not do that, at all. He was very resentful of what had happened and he was angry with God. We read about that over in the 3rd chapter and the 4th chapter of Jonah. Listen to these words beginning with verse 10 of chapter 3 and reading through verse 3 of chapter 4. < When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased, and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” > Isn't that interesting? Jonah resents the fact that these wicked and evil people have responded to God's love. And he says basically, "God you could have done this without me, and so I'm mad. I just want to die." But instead of doing that, Jonah moves to the outskirts of the city and sets up a tent. He wants to see what will happen with these people. And while he is there, God causes a strong wind to come upon Jonah, and the sun beats down upon him. But at the same time, He also causes a vine, or a tree, to rise up over Jonah to provide shade for him and protection from the wind and the sun. And Jonah was very pleased that that happened. But the very next day, God then caused a worm to come and to eat away at that shade tree, and before he knew it, it was gone. And Jonah, again, was very displeased and angry and upset, because the shade tree, for which he did not even work, had been taken away. Once again, he thought it would be better for him to die than to live. You know, throughout this story, Jonah has very little concern for an entire city, who needed to hear a message about the love of God. He was only concerned about what he wanted to do. He was only concerned about his own interests and his own comfort. And yet, God knew what was important. He allowed Jonah to share that message of love. And then in mercy and compassion, God blessed the people of Nineveh. And then, the story ends in some what of a strange way. It ends with a question that God asks Jonah, in chapter 4 and verse 11. < "Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" > Yes God lets Jonah know, we have all kinds of people here who need to hear about My love for them: people who don't know right from wrong; good from evil; their right hand from their left hand. Shouldn't I be concerned about them? Obviously, the answer is yes. Perhaps God wants us to ask ourselves that very same question. Should we not be concerned about those people who have not heard the story of God's love; even if we think, like Jonah thought, they don't deserve it? Even if those people might be wicked or corrupt or evil in some way, it's not our role to judge such individuals, but rather it is our role to fulfill God's mission in this world, to share His story of love with people everywhere. Oh, it is easy to focus on Jonah and the fish, but the book is really about God and His love. It is about God's continual pursuit of people, and His desire to save them, and for them to receive His great gift of love. And God goes to great lengths to do that! Whether we live in large cities or small villages throughout this world, God loves people. No matter who we are, no matter where we live, God loves each and every person on the face of this Earth. And more than anything else, He wants us to receive that love and to respond to His free gift of salvation. Take a look at this video clip entitled "God Loves People," as it illustrates the story of Jonah.
Recently I read there are over 7.3 billion people living on the face of the Earth today. Wow, that's lots of people. In fact, that is more people living on the Earth at any one single time than any other point in history. And those people live in towns and cities like this one. They live in small villages and out in the country. Some of those people are male, some are female. Some are older, some are younger. Some live scattered in the 200 various nations throughout this world, different skin colors and different kinds of languages. There are all kinds of people throughout this world. But there is one thing they all have in common, and that is God knows each and every one of them. In fact, God made each and every one of them. He knows more about us than we even know about ourselves. He knows our DNA. And, God loves each and every one of us and He wants us to receive the eternal salvation that He offers through His one and only son Jesus Christ. Oh, God is not angry. He is not going to be unforgiving. But, He is patient and kind and merciful, and He wants all of us to receive that free gift that He offers through His son. In John 3:17 we read that God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. You and I are one of the 7.3 billion living on this Earth today, and God wants us to receive the gift of salvation that He has to offer. And I would hope and encourage that we receive Jesus Christ.
Yes, Jonah story is about God's mission in this world, to save people, and how He uses other individuals to accomplish that purpose so that people will know about His love and experience His salvation. Well, the next prophet in the Old Testament is called Micah, and he goes to great lengths to tell people what that love and what that salvation, once received, is to look like in a person's life. And that, too, is part of God's mission in this world; to take the love of God and to allow it to change our lives so that we can be a blessing to those around us. Micah was a farmer living out in the country, but he was called upon to speak to people living in the cities. And as Micah spoke to people, he saw judges, and priests, and even false prophets all taking advantage of those who were poor. He witnessed corruption, and immorality, and even the abuse of power. Oh, he loved the people of Israel and Judah, but he proclaimed a message to them that was very vital and important for them to hear and to understand. He prophesied to God's people who lacked moral and ethical standards. They live basically any way they wanted to live. And he warned them about taking advantage of those who were poor and those who were less fortunate. Yet he also, at the same time, like all of the other prophets, reminded the people of God's love for them and how that He would bless them once they returned to Him. The primary problem, it seems, is that these people had forgotten about God. They had forgotten what God had done for their forefathers and also what He had done for them. And now, they were living any way they wanted to live. They had also forgotten how they were to treat the people God had put into their life. Yes, God had treated them with love, and with kindness, and compassion, and mercy, but they were not doing any of those things with the people that lived among them. Oh, the rich people were getting richer. And they were even asking themselves, how can we become even richer than what we are now? How can those who are poor be even less disadvantaged than what they are now? The leaders also were filled with materialism and corruption, as they misused their power and exercised their authority in improper ways over those they were supposed to serve. And even the general public was guilty. They were driving poor people from their homes. They were bribing and catering to those who were wealthy. They were even stealing from one another, as they had no regard for their fellow man. Oh needless to say, God was very disappointed by the behavior of His people. He was offended. He was insulted. And, Micah states that every unethical act God notices and He is insulted by. And as a result of that kind of behavior, they now stand in God's judgment. They are about to be punished and taken away into slavery. And yet in the midst of this great rebuke, there also remains a message of hope. And we find it in a couple of places; the first one is in chapter 2 of Micah. Notice these words, beginning with verse 12 of that 2nd chapter. < “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their King will pass through before them, the Lord as their head.” > Oh even though these people will be carried away into captivity for a period of time, a remnant or a group of them will return. And once they do, hopefully they will have learned their lesson and begin to practice mercy and kindness and justice toward other people. Yes when God's people are brought back and they begin to submit to Him, then God's blessings will flow into their lives once again. Now as great as that day will be, there is coming an even greater day, and it revolves around the coming of God's one and only son, Jesus Christ. And there are several Old Testament prophets who look forward to that day, and Micah is one of them. And in a couple of places here, he looks forward to the arrival of God's Son. I want to read one of these passages, in the 4th chapter of Micah beginning with verse 1. < In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.” The Law will go out from Zion, the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. > Yes, there is coming a time when a new leader will arrive and things will be much different, things will be much better and people and nations will live together in peace. Yes, this new leader will be God's representative and He will be the ultimate ruler. He will be the King that will far succeed and reign over all other kings, and this new leader is the Messiah, the Anointed One and the Son of God. And no doubt, this message brought hope and encouragement to the people to whom Micah spoke. And we know that as Jesus Christ has already come into the world, today, it brings hope and encouragement to us, as well. There is one passage of Scripture here in Micah that is one of the most familiar, perhaps, in all of the Bible, and I want us to take just a moment to look at a very simple and important statement. It's found in the 6th chapter of Micah beginning with verse 6. < With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. > Micah asks a question and then answers it: what does the Lord require of you? And his answer revolves around three basic simple principles of living right, of true religion: to act justly; and to love mercy; and to walk humbly with God. And that was exactly opposite of the way these people were living, the leaders and even the general public. And Micah tells them that true religion is found in honest and ethical judicial systems; it is found in proper business practices; and in a devoted priesthood; and when people humble themselves before God and walk in humility with Him. Oh when these people returned to their land and are given a second chance, hopefully they will make these changes and adjustments in their life, and they will demonstrate not only love for God but also love and mercy and compassion for others. Micah reminds the people, God is more interested in mercy than He is in sacrifice. And, their salvation is demonstrated in the way they treat others, by living with good moral and ethical behavior. Yes the people are to maintain a close and personal walk with God, but their newfound salvation is also to make a difference in the way they live from day to day. As I think about the book of Micah, there are three things that impress me about it. Number one, God's salvation changes lives. And for those of us who have received that, we know that. It changes who we are. It changes our eternal destiny. And hopefully, it changes the way we live each day. Number two, careless use of our wealth often times hurts the very heart of God. When we use our wealth and our power and our authority for our own gain, God is insulted and He can quickly take it away, just as quickly as He gave it to us. And then thirdly, religion and ethics are inseparable, as we cannot have one without the other for they go hand in hand. Through His servant Micah, God asks us to walk humbly with Him every day, whether it is in our homes, in our churches, out in the community, or out in the world. We are to turn away from that which grieves His heart by treating other people with the same compassion and kindness that He has treated us. And when we truly recognize and receive the ultimate King over all of the Earth, the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ himself, then it will change our lives on the inside and on the outside. Yes, God's mission in this world is to seek and to save people, and we saw that with Jonah. God goes to great extremes to do that. He has done that already, through His son Jesus Christ, and He wants us to receive that love, to receive that salvation. And then, as Micah points out, to allow it to make a difference in the way we live and in the way we treat the people that God puts into our life. My prayer for us today is that we will take the challenge of Jonah and Micah, these two great prophets, and we will apply their messages to our lives.
Thank you for joining us for today's broadcast. It has been our pleasure to share this message from God's Word. If you would like to know more about our ministry or hear this message again, please go to our website. There you can access previous messages as well as a free Bible study. You can also call the number on the screen to request that same Bible study without any cost or obligation, and it will assist you in knowing more about God's love. I hope you will take advantage of these free offers. Once again, thank you for tuning in to today's program. And, I invite you to join us again next time, as we study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."