We're studying the book of Jonah – the tale of that reluctant, cranky, but wildly successful prophet. There are three reasons the book needs to be studied.
(i) It's the first missionary book in the Bible. The Israelites had seen limited success in sharing their understanding of God and his character to other peoples and nations, but it was usually only through the centripetal force of individuals being attracted to what they saw in Israel. People like Rahab and Ruth were drawn into the worship of Yahweh. But, until Jonah, you don’t find anyone being sent out to go and preach to foreigners about God. That makes Jonah unique, and in many ways, a prototype of the missionaries of the church era.
(ii) Nineveh is a city, just like London. The Bible has this ambiguous relationship with cities. They’re seen as the concentration or amplification of the character and tendencies of humankind. Whatever is good in us (creativity, organisation, compassion) can be exaggerated in cities and displayed in amazing ways. Equally, whatever is evil in us (our lusts and selfish desires, as well as our longing for power and leanings towards corruption) tend to be on display in cities in equal measure. There is so much that the Bible celebrates about cities, and it ends with a great city coming down from heaven to fill the whole earth (a symbol of the coming kingdom). Yet, at the same time, cities are also the focus of so much attention because of their great darkness and their need to be saved.
(iii) It’s a gospel book. Jonah reminds us of Jesus in lots of ways. And he has the same kind of message: the warning of God’s judgment, with the possibility of mercy.
My hope is that we’ll find our hearts captivated with Christ, convicted of our own likeness to this rebel prophet, and enchanted with the call to reach our great city for Jesus. We would love for you to visit.