September 18

Truth (God and Jonah)

Daniel Watts

The human body is amazing. Having studied physics at the university, I am consistently amazed at the complexity and fragile nature of the body.

It amazes me that with all that complexity, my own body functions moment by moment throughout the day. There are at least ten separate systems that make up a human body (muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, and skeletal).

Each one is amazingly complex with medical experts specializing within each. Somehow, each of the systems works together with the others in a beautiful harmony that is the human body.

The body is a metaphor used by the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 12) and is often a New Testament expression of Christ’s presence in this world through those He calls His own.

Several books have been dedicated to this “body” theme, including the classic Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, written by Dr. Paul Brand and Phillip Yancey. 

With the body metaphor in mind, I would like to suggest that Bible truth is akin to the skeleton. It is the framework that connects all the elements of the body.

As such, it is the core of the Christian life and the core of a transformational children’s ministry. In early blogs, we have suggested that Deuteronomy 6:4-9 contains five keys to a transformational children’s ministry (Relationship, Experience, Truth, Discussion, and Response).

We are in the middle of a look at how God uses these same five qualities with Jonah in his namesake book.

Of these five, Truth stands as the skeleton— the fundamental core.

We will see that God’s interactions with Jonah include all five elements and are all connected to and revolve around fundamental biblical truth. We will focus on two of the major biblical truths that lie at the center of the book. 

The Mercy of God

The Mercy of God

When God calls Jonah to preach a message of judgment in Nineveh, Jonah responds by trying to run and hide from God. His disobedience lies at the heart of the first chapter.

God responds to Jonah by causing a great storm to threaten Jonah’s transportation away from Nineveh. This storm appears to be designed to bring Jonah to his senses.

God causes a natural calamity for the purpose of bringing Jonah to a place of repentance and then a commitment to obey God. This is an act of mercy on God’s part. God could have moved on to a more willing prophet and ended Jonah’s prophetic career and life.

In God’s great mercy, He allows Jonah a chance to turn about and obey Him. Caught in the middle of the storm are the sailors aboard the ship. They attempt to save themselves, but end up throwing themselves on the mercy of God. 

He responds with mercy by calming the storm after Jonah’s departure. Given a merciful second chance, Jonah brings the message of imminent doom to Nineveh as commanded.

The Ninevites are convicted of their wrongdoing, throwing themselves on God’s mercy. God relents from the threatened destruction and shows mercy to the entire city, including the repentant King—a great act of mercy to a people who had treated Israel so badly.

Finally, Jonah responds to God’s mercy in anger. He is bitterly upset over God showing love and mercy to those he despised. Again, rather than moving on to another prophet, God shows great patience and mercy towards Jonah.

The central Bible truth that “God is merciful” is woven throughout His close relationship with Jonah, the experiential activities He gives to teach the prophet, the frank discussions He has with him, and the responses of Jonah. God is merciful!

God and the Nations

God and the Nations

An equally important truth is the emphasis within the book is God’s concern for Israel and their calling to be a blessing to the nations.

The initial calling of Jonah, although one of judgment, indicates God’s concern for the Ninevites. God is aware and concerned by their sinfulness and intends to take appropriate action. Jonah fears Israel’s archenemy and therefore attempts to flee and leave them to their evil ways.

God’s concern, however, remains unswerving and so the storm and fish provide incentives for Jonah to submit to God. Jonah speaks the truth in 2:10, when he acknowledges that salvation comes from the LORD. Little does he know that this will come true for the Ninevites.

When the Ninevites repent and call on God for mercy, God grants them just such grace. God’s love for the Ninevites and the nations that they represent stands at the core of the book.

This contrasts with an enraged Jonah who cannot believe that God would reveal His loving mercy and grace to a heathen people.

The book concludes with God’s love for the nations, particularly Nineveh, in contrast with Jonah’s indifference. God invites Jonah— and us—to join Him in His concern. 

We are building the case that the book of Jonah is in some sense a great “lesson” for Jonah. As such, it has the five elements, identified in Deuteronomy 6:4-9: relationship, experience, truth, discussion, and response.

In two previous blogs, we have outlined the nature of the relationship as well as the experiential teaching methods.

In today’s blog, we see truth at the very core of all five elements. The other four are fleshed out around that skeleton of truth. Every element is connected through the truth

Bible truth is the central element in a transformational children’s ministry. 

Every activity and lesson element springs up from the truth. Relationships are built around truth. Experiential activities are just “activities” without truth, discussion is purposeless without truth, and there is nothing to which we respond without truth.

This weekend, as you enter your children’s ministry, remember that Bible truth is the skeleton, the core of a life-changing ministry with boys and girls. 

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