Why Study the Book of Jonah?

Every pastor has their own methodology to preparing and writing sermons. Having said that, I don’t think I am making too radical of a statement to suggest that almost every pastor shares one identical element of sermon preparation:  Trimming. Once we have delimited a text, examined the Scripture, consulted the appropriate extra-biblical help, and shaped the basic structure of the sermon, there will almost always be material, sometimes very good material, that must be left on the cutting room floor. Sermons need to be long enough to do justice to the pericope of Scripture but not so long that they stretch into 3, 4, and 5 parts on a single passage. For those of us who tend to preach through books of the Bible, it isn’t the best idea to spend 5 years in a single book (unless you are John Piper, and even then I’m not convinced it is a good thing). This is one reason why sermons typically should focus on one “big idea” and avoid the incredible temptation to mention everything you can find packed into the text. What is left out can always be addressed at a different time or in a different setting. 

 In writing the first sermon for a series through the book of Jonah which I am currently preaching, I prepared some introductory remarks that highlighted 4 reasons why we should study and preach through Jonah. After all, don’t we all know this story? How many times can we listen to people talk about this guy who was swallowed by a big fish? Well, I think there are lots of reasons why we need to revisit Jonah. I had written 4 of them in my sermon, but had to remove them due to time constraints. I thought it might be fun to list them here on the website. So, here it goes:

1. It is in the Bible. Sounds like a bumper sticker, I know. “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” Well, even though that slogan might not be the most helpful way of thinking about things, the fact remains that God in His infinite wisdom provided the book of Jonah for us. I am one of those guys who believes that all of Scripture is profitable and all of it should be preached. When we consider that God is the author of Scripture it should remind us that the depths of the riches in any given book or text, regardless of how many times we have heard it presented, are never fully discovered. To ever say “I already know that stuff” when discussing a new Sunday School class topic or sermon series is to say words of self-incrimination. 

2. It is a story that points to Jesus Christ. Don’t they all? Why yes they do as a matter of fact! But Jonah is especially rich in its Christocentric nature. Since Jesus himself references Jonah in speaking of his own death and resurrection (Matthew 12:40), this story safely falls into the category of “type” where the man Jonah represents not only his own life experiences, but also pre-figures the life and events of Jesus Christ.

3. It is a story that points to ourselves. Among other things, what makes the Bible incredibly relevant for Christians today is its astonishing accuracy in describing the human condition. The characters of Scripture who are scattered about engaged in all kinds of various activities are able to speak to us because they are us. Reading Jonah is like looking into a mirror. We find someone who loves God but doesn’t always act in a loving way. We find someone who has a history of obedience followed by a selfish act of rebellion. We find someone who struggles to keep God’s priorities ahead of his own. Sound familiar? It should.

4. It is a story that points to our mission. The book of Jonah paints for its readers a beautiful glimpse into the heart of God for the nations. God loves people. God desires people to be saved. God sends us. I suppose in some ways those three little ideas need to be the morning reminder for us Christians – God Loves, God Desires, God Sends. We don’t have to wait until Matthew 28 and the famous “Great Commission” to see God’s heart and understand our mission. Right here in the OT book of Jonah we learn that unless we go, folks will not have the opportunity to repent. Equally important is how Jonah teaches God’s complete sovereignty through the redemptive process. In other words, God doesn’t cross his fingers and hope that Jonah obeys. God has a purpose and a plan that will be completed in his own time and way and that plan involves an incredible showing of love and mercy to the nations. As God loves, so are we to love.

The list could go on and on. But there are four little reasons why I believe Jonah is a book worthy to read and preach. If you would like to follow along in the sermons, you can do so by visiting this webpage. Blessings.      

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