Tuesday, March 2, 2010

“Mission to the Community” International Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending March 7, 2010

Purpose: To recognize the importance of obeying God's call to serve a community

Scripture Text: Jonah 1:1-3; Jonah 3:1-9 (NRSV)

Jonah 1:1-3
(1)Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, (2)‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ (3)But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

Jonah 3:1-9
(1)The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, (2)‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ (3)So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. (4)Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ (5)And the people of My Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

(6) When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.(7)Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. (8)Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. (9)Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

For the next 3 months we will be talking about “community” in our lesson series. In the Old Testament the communities were labeled in Hebrew by “tribe” (sheber and matteh), “clan” (mishpachah) and “family” (beth ab). In the New Testament primarily two Greek terms are used for “family” (patria) and “household” (oikos).

Our lesson text is really about two communities, one is Nineveh and the other is the Northern Kingdom of Israel, where Jonah was a prophet. Many modern day scholars have a problem with the Book of Jonah, and refuse to take it as a historical fact but would rather believe it as a parable, or allegory. For me, since Jesus referenced it in Matthew (12:39-41; 16:4) and Luke (11:29-30) it seems clear that it was an actual event.

Jonah was a prophet, in the time of Jeroboam II (790-749 B.C.), in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, after the division of the Nation of Israel after the reign of Solomon (II Kings 14:25), and was a factor in restoring part of the territory taken by the Assyrians, the very people Jonah is sent to save from destruction.

Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire and that Empire was the most powerful force in the world at this time in history. They ruled from modern day Iran to Egypt. Assyria was plundering and absorbing the Northern Kingdom of Israel, a piece at a time. No wonder that Jonah was not just hesitant but outright defiant when ask by God to go and preach a message of repentance to such a despicable place. Jonah was more interested in destroying Nineveh, than saving Nineveh. When Jonah goes to Joppa and gets on a boat bound for Spain he was defying God's call, unlike Moses and others that made excuses Jonah just did the opposite of what God wanted him to do. No wonder he ends up back in Joppa as part of fish vomit.

So what was God thinking, why Nineveh? A few interesting observations, Jonah was from Garth-Hepher very close to Jesus' home town of Nazareth, and Joppa was the place where Peter saw a vision and realized the Gospel was not just for the Jews, but for all nations (Acts 10). So it is no great leap of faith, when we say, the story of Jonah is a picture of the Messiah's resurrection and mission to all nations. God, seven centuries before Jesus comes as a babe in manger, reaches out to Nineveh and offers them a chance at redemption and they were not His chosen people.

I like the frankness of Jonah's message, unlike other prophets that were all about their words, Jonah only uses a few to declare God's message, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” This must have come as quite a shock to the most powerful Empire on earth. Regardless, the people believed what Jonah was saying and much to Jonah's disgust they repented. It is possible this bought a few years for the Northern Kingdom, or it resulted in the action referred to earlier, of Israel reclaiming some of its lost territory. If indeed that is true, we can see that Jonah's actions benefited both communities. Both communities received a blessing, but God reaching out to those that were not His chosen people, is the real message. It is a true representation of Jesus’ ministry to the whole world.

Eventually God used the Assyrian Empire to Judge the Northern Kingdom of Israel for their worship of other Gods, but in the process He was able to make a great city like Nineveh stop and worship Him, if only for a few brief minutes in history. That is the power of God at work in the world. It should be noted that after the captivity that lasted for seventy years, the remnant of Jews that remained became very careful not to worship other Gods. Maybe that lesson was learned. As for Jonah, God continued to teach him about grace and mercy. Notice the final verse from The Book of Jonah (4:11) And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’ That is grace.

When we receive God's call we have choices, we can delay, ignore, defy, make excuses or run the other way. How do you respond when God calls you to a special task? What did you learn from Jonah's experience?

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