The Need to Speak
Topic: Evangelism Scripture: Jonah 3:7–3:10
This morning we continue Jonah’s story by looking at Jonah 3. Jonah 3 is actually a kind of funny and interesting chapter of Jonah’s story because it actually has very little to do with Jonah himself. If you look at it, the entirety of the third chapter of Jonah contains only three references to Jonah’s role at all. Actually, we’ve already heard them and we haven’t even finished the chapter yet. Verse 3 tells us Jonah obeyed. It also tells us that Jonah went. And finally in verse 4 it tells us Jonah began proclaiming. He obeyed. He went. He proclaimed. That’s all that we learn or hear about Jonah in all of the third chapter.
But that doesn’t mean Jonah 3 is without impact. In fact, I think it holds a powerful message not only for the people of God in general but specifically for Presbyterians. This morning I stand before you not only as a Presbyterian pastor but also a full-fledged, card-carrying, John Calvin bobble head owning Presbyterian. But I wasn’t always a Presbyterian. In truth, believe it or not, I had never actually heard the word Presbyterian until I went to college and started volunteering with a large PCUSA church in their middle school ministry. I wanted to know what I was getting into, so one time when I was talking with the pastor that brought me in, I asked him to give me a crash course on the Presbyterian church.
He talked about Reformed theology, Scottish roots, a deep appreciation for the preached word, and a strong conviction towards education. He went on to say, and I quote, “Presbyterians are probably the best there is in terms of education and a love for education.” Being the somewhat snarky, sarcastic college student I was I said, “Is there anything Presbyterians aren’t good at?” I asked it as a half-joke but he responded without a beat and a dead-serious tone: “Evangelism. I don’t think we’re very good at evangelism.”
Now, this is was one pastors opinion who served at one specific church in one specific area of the country. So I hesitate to say it’s a blanket statement for all Presbyterians. I would be lying if I said I never heard this sentiment from others. I’ll go as far as to say I’d be lying if I said I never thought it myself. But that’s one of the reasons Jonah 3 can be such an important message for us. Let’s finish the chapter and then keep going.
*Read Jonah 3:7-10*
Like I said, not a lot of Jonah in this chapter. The entire second half doesn’t mention him at all. Instead, it gives us the response to what Jonah actually did do in chapter 3. Last week, Larry shared about Jonah’s cry to the Lord from within the fish. Hopefully I can spit out an equally compelling message today. Get it? Ok, I promise. I don’t have any more Jonah puns in me. If I did, I’m sure they would spew out. I’m done.
Anyway, after Jonah is spit out, we learn that God again gave His command to Jonah to go and speak God’s message to the city of Ninevah. This time our prophet Jonah obeys and actually heads to this colossal city. This city was so big, the Bible tells us it took three days to walk through it. So Jonah arrives at this gigantic, notoriously hostile city with a single mission. And he begins his God-given assignment in much the same way a kid reluctantly does their chores around the house.
Isaac is just about three and we already experience this. We tell him it’s time to clean up his toys or put away a puzzle and he moans and complains and with dragging feet and a frown, slowly does what we ask of him. I imagine this is not too far from the motions of Jonah. He walks through roughly a third of the city with one line: In 40 days, God is going to wipe you out. A real motivational speaker, that Jonah. But you know what? It worked. We read that the Ninevites believed God and that a far-reaching repentance took place. It even reached the king who issued a decree mandating a city-wide fast in hopes of staving off God’s anger and wrath. And, in what should be a surprise to no one, God responds with mercy and does not bring about their destruction.
This passage reveals to us something crucial about the nature of God. He is for us and not against. There’s a song that’s been playing on WCIC for a while now called More Than You Know by Danny Gokey. One of the verses goes like this: Rumor has it there’s a gavel in my hand. I’m only here to condemn. But let me tell you secrets you have never known. I think of you as my best friend. So much has been said, even done in my name. But I’m showing you now who I really am. That’s what God does in this passage. He shows us His heart and who He is. The God of second chances, fresh starts, and new life. But it starts somewhere and that starting point is the need to speak.
Here’s the thing: The city of Nineveh would not have been changed if not for Jonah’s proclamation throughout the city. If Jonah hadn’t been given the need to speak, even reluctantly as it appears, the fate of these people could have been very different. They needed to be told of the power of God. Whether we like it or not, God used the voice and words of one of his followers to bring about a relationship between God and potentially thousands of people. Voice. Mouth. Speech. Words.
When I was a youth pastor, I lead a seminar once. The title of the seminar was “Why Saint Francis was a Sissy.” Saint Francis was my favorite saint growing up. Now that might sound kind of funny but growing up Roman Catholic I had the chance to hear about the amazing stories of some truly incredible people who loved and followed God in powerful ways. I liked Saint Francis because he was the patron saint of animals. But most folks know of Saint Francis for a different reason, often a misplaced reason.
You probably know the line I’m talking about: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” It’s one of the most heavily-quoted lines in churches. Well, first off. It’s not from Saint Francis. There is zero written or audience-based evidence Francis ever said anything of the sort. The truth is, Francis himself was quite the vocal preacher. He used his words very often. So we can stop attributing the quote to him as a start. Next step is getting the idea out of our heads.
Now at its basest parts, the quote – whether misquoted or ever spoken or not – has a sentiment we can get on board with. Yes, our actions and our lives should serve as a declaration of our faith. But there’s a problem. And it has to do with puzzles and toy cars and children’s books. Like I said, Caitlin and I try to get Isaac to clean up his toys before bed. Sometimes he does and sometimes he fights it. He’s recently gotten into the habit of saying, “It’s too hard.” So because it’s hard – or, rather, because he thinks it’s hard – he doesn’t want to do it and says something like, “Daddy, you do it.” Or, “Daddy, help me.” And for a while, I did. And ya know what happened? It became harder and harder to get Isaac to clean up before bed.
The same thing happens with us. Whether it’s through repeating this misquote in our heads or out of fear or just lack of initiative, the more and more we do not speak our faith the harder it can become to do it again or to start at all. And while many will say actions speak louder than words, when it comes to sharing the Gospel, we aren’t given an either/or type of choice between actions or words. Duane Liftin, the president emeritus of Wheaton College (right outside of Chicago), says this: “It's simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behavior.”
These words and the work of Jonah in chapter 3 echo what we hear from Paul in Romans 10:14. He says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” This exact question can be posed about the Ninevites in the story of Jonah. It can also be asked about me. I’m only here with you all today because there were people in my life when I was a teen who told me the Gospel message. Yes, they showed it to me. But they spoke it to me and shared it with me and discussed it with me and let me question it and explore it with them. Their voice became the vessel through which I understood their actions. And the time they took, the risk they took, to share the Gospel with me, became an investment that would grow. I’d go from a self-absorbed teenager to a slightly less self-absorbed teenager who loved Jesus Christ.
That teen made a decision to follow a call to become a youth worker. That youth worker continued to follow that call to seminary. And, eventually, that same youth worker accepted the call to serve here as your Associate Pastor. I can’t begin to imagine how different my life would be if a few people hadn’t felt the need to speak and taken the time, the energy, and the risk to tell me about the message of Jesus of Christ all those years ago.
Like I said, we don’t learn a lot about Jonah the prophet in this chapter. But we learn a profound amount about the work a prophet is called to. The work of sharing the voice and strength and hope of our God. And it’s the same work we are given. We can’t step back and say, “Whoa now. Hold on. I’m no prophet. That’s not my job.” The last command Jesus gave before ascending to heaven is known as the Great Commission. He tells all of those who follow him to go out and make disciples. To teach others of all the things they know about God. This isn’t something we get to be selective about. It doesn’t mean all of us are supposed to become televangelists or smack people over the head with the Bible. It means that God asks us to share with others the very truth that makes us love Him and seek Him in the first place.
We actually do stuff like this all the time. You go to a new restaurant and have a delicious meal and an awesome experience. What do you do? You tell people. You recommend it to your friends. When you see a great movie, you tell folks that they have to see it. Why can we do that when it comes to a steak house or a new romantic comedy but we can’t when it comes to the life and message of Jesus? All of us are going to have different reasons for not answering the need to speak. Some will say they don’t know enough. Some will say they don’t want to be pushy. Some will say they haven’t had the right time. Some will say it’s not their job. But look at Jonah.
You think you don’t know enough? Jonah doesn’t even share the most basic good things about our God. He shares doom and destruction. Some don’t want to be what they consider pushy but would it have been better for the Ninevites if Jonah had simply not been pushy? What if Jonah had persisted that it wasn’t his job to speak to the Ninevites? What if those people in my life had said it wasn’t their job? What if the people who told you about God took that posture?
If we look at the book of Jonah as a story about Jonah then it really is little more than a sad story about a wayward prophet who has a bad attitude and smells like fish. But if we look at it as a story about the Ninevites, well, it changes entirely. It’s now a story of God’s mercy. It’s a story about second chances. It’s a story about newly found faith in God. It’s a story of celebration. And it all comes from God giving Jonah the need to speak.
And that same need to speak is given to each of us. It will look different for every person and in every conversation. But I want to challenge you with this: Who in your life could benefit from hearing how God has changed your life? I’m not asking you to go share a dissertation paper on Christian theology. I’m asking you to consider who in your life would find value in hearing the faith part of your story? When someone pops into your head, likely the first person, hang on to that name. Part two of the challenge is setting up a time to get together with that person and sharing just that – what impact has God has made on your story. When you’re done, finish by saying something like this: Obviously you can see that my relationship with God means something to me. So does our friendship. I’m not pushing anything on you but I wanted you to know that I’m someone who would be willing to have conversations like this with you. I believe God loves you just as He loves me. And my annoying pastor told me I should tell you that.
Then pay for their coffee or lunch, or whatever is in front of them.
My life was changed because a few people felt the need to speak into my life about a God who loved me. Those brief conversations over 15 years ago changed the entire trajectory of my life. And that changed the lives of others. Like Caitlin, like the students I ministered to in PA. It will, I pray have a lasting impact on my children and their children and so on. And I’m willing to bet many of you can see the same ripple effect in your own life emanating from a conversation you had with your parents or a friend or someone else. All because they were given the need to speak. Just like Jonah. And, hopefully, just like you now.