This is the first evangelism sermon I've ever preached. I'm grateful to David Gortner here at VTS and to so many of my classmates for their help shaping my heart for this ministry.
Our hearts have to go out to Jonah. He’s a tough prophet to admire, but an easy one to love. Who in the Bible can we better relate to than someone one who, a couple chapters earlier, receives “the word of the LORD” …and promptly runs away.1 You may remember that he hops on a boat headed for Tarshish, which means he’s fleeing west when God had sent him east.2 I can think of a few times I’ve tried a similar move. Here too is a prophet who knows what it’s like to have a bad day. Shortly after boarding that westbound ship, he gets thrown from it by a cowardly but discerning crew who want nothing to do with someone trying to flee from the presence of God Almighty. And as you know, that’s where the story truly takes a turn for the bizarre: Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish. But he doesn’t rail against God or pout about this most recent indignity. No, instead, he undergoes what has to be the most distinctive conversion story in the entire Bible: he sings a psalm of thanksgiving “from the belly of the fish,”3 praising God’s name for delivering him from the depths of the sea. And after the fish vomits him out on dry land, the story picks up as we heard it a few moments ago: “The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’’’4
2See note at 1:3. Mary Joan Winn Leith, “Jonah” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael D. Coogan (New York: Oxford, 2007): HB 1322
9BCP, 163 (The Collect of the Day).
11David Gortner, Transforming Evangelism (New York: Church Publishing, 2008): 2.
13W. H. Vanstone, “Morning glory, starlit sky” in The Hymnal 1982 (New York: Church Publishing, 1985): Hymn 525.
14F. D. Maurice, Reconstructing Christian Ethics: Selected Writings, ed. Ellen K. Wondra (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 210â“211, emphasis added.