Jon. 3:1-5, 10; 1 Cor. 7:29-31; Mk. 1:14-20
The story of Jonah and the Whale is one of the oddest accounts in the Bible. God commanded Jonah to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh.
Jonah found this order unbearable. Nineveh was known for its wickedness. It was also the capital of the Assyrian empire, one of Israel's fiercest enemies. Jonah was a stubborn fellow so did just the opposite of what he was told. He went down to the seaport of Joppa and boarded a ship to Tarshish, heading directly away from Nineveh.
God did not want to leave him. God sent a violent storm, which threatened to break the ship to pieces. The terrified crew cast lots and found that Jonah was responsible for the storm. The waves got stronger and higher. The sailors finally tossed Jonah into the sea, and the water immediately grew calm. But, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. In the belly of the whale, Jonah repented and cried out to God in prayer.
Jonah was in the giant fish three days. God commanded the whale, and it vomited the reluctant prophet onto dry land. This time Jonah obeyed God. He walked through Nineveh proclaiming that in forty days the city would be destroyed. Surprisingly, the Ninevites believed Jonah's message and repented, wearing sackcloth and covering themselves in ashes. God had compassion on them and did not destroy them.
Call to repentance is the message of all the prophets. Prophets called people to turn away and repent. John warned people and urged them to repent. Jesus began his ministry with an invitation to repent. Jesus invitation to repent was different from that of all the prophets. Prophets preached repentance as a means of escaping from the imminent punishment. Prophet Jonah announced that the city of Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days, there they had to repent to escape from that imminent wrath of God.
Jesus admonished the people to repent in order to prepare themselves to receive the good news. Jesus message was a good news of truth – revelation of God.
In the history of human race one of the greatest searches was the search for God. Philosophers and religious men spent their life in search of God. Rejecting worship of unresponsive idols, Abraham spent time outdoors where he senses an unseen hand directing the movements of the moon, sun, storm, and rainbow. He concludes that "God is everywhere. God is in everything. God is something we know with our hearts." Moses searched for God. God appeared to Moses in the form of Fire. The people of Israel had seen God in clouds and in fire. Prophets herd God call them. But men could only guess and grope after God. Job cried out, "O that I knew where I might find him." (Job 23:3). But with the coming of Jesus men could see clearly what God is like. No longer do they need to guess and grope.
Jesus' message was good news of hope. The ancient world was a pessimistic world. In the essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus introduces his philosophy of the absurd: man's futile search for meaning, unity and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world. He begins by describing the absurd condition: much of our life is built on the hope for tomorrow yet tomorrow brings us closer to death and is the ultimate enemy; people live as if they didn't know about the certainty of death; once stripped of its common romanticisms, the world is a foreign, strange and inhuman place; true knowledge is impossible and rationality and science cannot explain the world: their stories ultimately end in meaningless abstractions, in metaphors. The final chapter compares the absurdity of man's life with the situation of Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. In their struggle for goodness men were defeated. The message of Jesus brings hope to the hopeless heart.
Jesus called people to repent in order to receive this good news. When Jesus demanded repentance, he demanded a total change of heart. But, we often confuse two things – sorrow for the consequences of sin and sorrow for the sin itself. Manny of us feel sorry for a certain action because of the mess it gets us into, but if we can reasonably get out of it we would do it again. It is not the sin that we try to avoid but its consequence. Real repentance is that a man should avoid the sin itself.
After announcing the precepts of His Kingdom Jesus proceeded to build up His staff. The men Jesus picked up were simple folk. They did not come from school and the colleges. They did not come from the aristocracy. They were ordinary men, engaged in ordinary business of life. When Jesus called them they were engaged in their day's work. It was so with many prophets. Prophet Amos was called from the farms where he was engaged in rearing the sheep. The call of God can come to us not only in the house of God, not only in the secret places, not only in the house of God, but in the middle of the day's work. The most important aspect is our willingness to accept it.
Jesus's summoned his first disciples with the words "follow me." We should not think that Jesus stood for the first time before them and said, "Follow me." No doubt they had stood in the crowd and listened to Him. No doubt they had already felt the magic of his presence. No doubt that they had been charmed by his words of wisdom. It all began with a personal relationship. Jesus might have extended the invitation to many, but only a few accepted it. We know the story of the young man, who rejected the invitation of Jesus to follow him. When he rejected the invitation he had to renounce the place that had been reserved for him in history. Jesus invitation to follow him comes to us in the middle of our day's work. To recognize this we have repent and maintain purity of heart. If our attention is downed in the distractions of the world, if our attention is blurred by sin, there is no wonder that we will not be able to recognize his call. Jesus tells them "believe"
There was this Christian lady sitting next to a man. When he saw her pull out her Bible he gave a little chuckle and went back to what he was doing.
After a while he turned to her and asked "You don't really believe all that stuff in there do you?"
The lady replied "Of course I do! It is the Bible."
He said "Well what about that guy that was swallowed by that whale?"
She replied "Oh, Jonah. Yes I believe that; it is in the Bible. The Bible says Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and I believe it. And if it had said that Jonah had swallowed the whale, I would believe that too!"
He asked "Well, how do you suppose he survived all that time inside the whale?"
The lady said "Well I don't really know. I guess when I get to heaven I will ask him." "What if he isn't in heaven?" the man asked sarcastically.
"Then you can ask him when you reach the hell," replied the lady.
Lastly Jesus call was not to a life of comfortable ease, idleness and lethargic inactivity, but he invited them and offered them a task in which they would have to spend themselves and burn themselves up. His invitation was an invitation to a task where they will be able to serve others. Jesus invitation comes to us with a specific demand. We should be ready to accept the challenges.
Schembechler was the coach of the Michigan Wolverines. It's said that Schembechler used to work his players especially hard during spring practice to see what kind of young men he had, winners or quitters. He made a sign with a slogan on it and hung it above the locker room door. The sign read like this: "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions." Of course, not everyone stayed. Not everyone has what it takes to answer the call to be a champion, regardless of the field or profession. Well, you get the idea. Not everyone is cut out to play football. Not everyone will be happy as a sailor. And not everyone was called to be among Jesus' original twelve disciples. Jesus calls many, but only a few heed his summons. In most churches, only a few of the congregation are really involved in the life of the church. A few are are relatively faithful in worship, but can't truly be counted on for anything else. A few are sporadic attenders. So the fact that these first disciples were willing not only to say "yes" to the Master, but also to leave their homes and follow him is no little matter. They did not ask for explanation. They did not stop to think of their families. They did not give a thought to what they were leaving behind. But they just followed Him. As it is said, "showing up is half the battle."