I’m getting ready to preach through Jonah at Cross of Christ Fellowship. In my sermon prep, I’m still wrestling through the main theme of Jonah. Is there a main overarching idea or theme that the author of Jonah wanted to convey, and what is it?
At first, my inclination is assume that the main theme or message of Jonah is ‘God’s mercy to the lost.’ We see that this is what takes place in the book as God is merciful to those in Nineveh, and Jonah is challenged to see that this is what God is like at the end of the book.
Another attempt led me to conclude that perhaps the main idea is actually something like‘God brings about salvation to the lost in spite of His sinful and immature people.’ This is what we see in the book: God is intent on saving people and this takes place in spite of Jonah’s actions and attitudes.
Theme of Jonah: God’s Mercy toward His People and those who Call on Him.
However, after further study, I think while those approaches are true to a degree, but the actual focus of the book is found in God’s relationship with Jonah. God pursues and mercifully works with Jonah, leading him into a right understanding of Himself, frustrating his attempt to disobey, exposing Jonah’s sinful and immature attitude. Jonah is God’s sulky, selfish, and at times disobedient prophet, but God is merciful and pursues Jonah. God wants to work through Jonah to show mercy to those who are far from Him.
The theme then is God’s mercy to His people and those who call on Him.
We find this focus by considering how almost the entire book is found in this context of God’s dealings with Jonah–and how God blesses those around Jonah in spite of Jonah.
1. God calls Jonah (1:1-2)
2. Jonah disobeys God’s call (1:3)
3. God frustrates Jonah’s plan to disobey (1:4-16)
4. God appoints a great fish to rescue Jonah from certain death (1:17)
5. God hears the prayer of Jonah and transports him back to dry land and the path of obedience (2:1-2:10)
6. God calls Jonah a second time (3:1-2)
7. God blesses the preaching of Jonah, in spite of Jonah’s wishes, showing us God’s gracious and merciful character to the lost who repent and believe (3:3-10)
8. God ministers to Jonah: bringing about comfort and distress to expose his sinful attitude; asking him questions that help Jonah (and us) see the gracious and merciful character of God, which Jonah Himself is meant to imitate (4:1-11).
In conclusion, Jonah teaches us about the lavish, rich, gracious mercy of God, a mercy expressed toward His people and those in the world. God is merciful toward us in our weakness and sin and He continues to pursue us, even as we fall into sin again: He is intent to complete the good work that He started in us (Phil 1:6). God is also merciful to the lost, graciously saving all who call on Him in faith–God desires us to be like Him and have a heart of mercy toward those who are lost, reaching out to them with the gospel.