Jonah 1:1-4:11 by Pastor Dan Walker
Racism is a sin that divides people in America and around the world. All people are created in the image of God and are to be valued and loved. In this message, we look at the book of Jonah to discover how God dealt with Jonah's racism directed toward the brutal and evil Assyrian empire. You will find it a powerful lesson to adjust your own attitudes towards others different than yourself.
Duration:29 mins

Today, my message is entitled “God’s Attack on Racism.”Your first thought may be, “what in the world does missions have to do with racism?”As, we’ll see missions is the solution to eradicating racism.So, let’s begin today by defining racism, since everyone seems to be calling everyone else a racist these days.Racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another. Racism results in discrimination or prejudice towards other people based on race or ethnicity.Since racism has to do with race, what is race? Race is defined as a grouping of people with shared physical traits, ancestry, language or culture. All these are external characteristics. Racism is sin, it divides people and it inhibits missions.

Acts 17:26 (ESV) And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,

We were all created from Adam and really are one race of human beings. External characteristics such as skin color, ancestry, language or culture do not change the fact that we all are made in the image of God and have equal worth in His eyes.

Colossians 3:11 (ESV) Here [in the church] there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

In the kingdom of God, in the church, we mustn’t view people with different external characteristics as being either superior or inferior. Fellow believers are our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are all part of God’s family.

Matthew 22:39b (ESV) … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Each person that we come in contact with is our neighbor and we must love them as ourselves. We’ll all be together in heaven one day and there will be no racism there.

Revelation 7:9 (ESV) After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,

Notice that heaven is populated with people from every nation, all tribes, peoples and languages. And what are they all doing? We will together be worshiping the Lamb, Jesus Christ.In the Lord’s prayer we pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So, the church must reflect the unity and brotherhood of all peoples right here and now.

Today, we’re going to look at a whole book in the Old Testament that is God’s attack on racism through missions. Even though most people are familiar with this book, it’s main message regarding racism is missed by most. So, open your hearts this morning to hear what God is saying.

God calls us to go

Jonah 1:1-2a (ESV) Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go …

Jonah was a Jewish prophet who lived just north of Nazareth in Israel around 800 BC.Prophets are believers who God speaks to and who then obey and proclaim the word of the Lord that they have been given.As we’ll see, God spoke to Jonah, but not to give a word to Israel. No, Jonah would have to go far away to speak God’s Word to a foreign nation.God was calling Jonah to be a foreign missionary.

Go to another culture

Jonah 1:2 (ESV) “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the reigning world power. Nineveh was located on the Tigris River near the modern city of Mosul, Iraq. Assyria was a brutal conquering empire known for its extreme cruelty to defeated foes, including beheading, skinning, gouging out eyes, impaling and cutting off body parts. The people of Israel feared and hated the nation of Assyria. God was calling Jonah to go to the capital of Nineveh, a very risky long-distance journey of over 500 miles, and call out God’s judgement on them.

Disobedience has consequences

Jonah 1:3 (ESV) But Jonah rose 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 the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

Jonah did not want to obey God. At this point in the story, we are not given the reasons why. Most probably, Jonah was afraid of what the Assyrians would do to him if he arrived in their capital city and started proclaiming God’s judgement on them. Later this morning, we’ll see another reason why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. So, Jonah chose to disobey and got on a ship going to Tarshish. Jonah got on a ship sailing from Israel to Tarshish which was a city in Spain, over 2000 miles from Israel in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Jonah was running as far away from God’s call and away from the presence of the Lord as was humanly possible. While on the ship, a fierce storm arose and the sailors despaired of coming out alive. They cast lots, which determined by God’s hand that Jonah was the cause of their peril.

Jonah 1:12 (ESV) He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”

So they threw Jonah into the sea, but rather than drowning, God sent a great fish to swallow him and save him. I’d encourage you to read the whole book of Jonah this week, chapters 1-4, it’s a quick read.

God rescues those who pray

Jonah 2:1-2 (ESV) Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

Jonah prayed as he was sinking down into the water and God rescued him by sending the great fish. Inside the fish, Jonah prays a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s answer and rescue. Even now, not knowing how he would ever get to dry land. Yet Jonah’s heart had been changed. He was repentant for his disobedience and ready to do what God had commanded him to do. God could have given up on Jonah and raised up another prophet. Yet, He was merciful and rescued Jonah from sure death. As we’ll see, God’s call on Jonah’s life was not over.


So, God had called Jonah to be His witness to a cruel and evil culture. Jonah had chosen to disobey, out of fear and as we’ll see, out of racism. The Assyrians were guilty of some of the most atrocious war crimes in history. They worshipped idols and foreign gods rather than the one true god. Yet God cared about them and called Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s Word to them.

What about us today? Yes, God does call missionaries to many sensitive countries today, where there is great evil. And we must partner with those missionaries in giving and prayer. But God also calls each of us, right here in St. Louis. He calls us to speak His truth to the lost of all the cultures that are represented in our city.
Perhaps you’re afraid to speak, afraid of what people may say or do. Yet, as followers of Jesus, we must obey. We must spread the Gospel to lost people who look like us and those who look different or our from different backgrounds. We must respond to God’s call to go. Even if you’ve resisted being a witness in the past …

God gives second chances

Jonah 3:1-2 (ESV) Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”

The fish spewed out Jonah onto dry land and God spoke to Jonah a second time with the same command. This time, Jonah was ready to go, but his heart attitude still was going to need adjustment.

Obedience produces good fruit

Jonah 3:4-5 (ESV) Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

So, Jonah went on the long, difficult journey of hundreds of miles to reach Nineveh. When he got there, he began to proclaim God’s message of judgement. Because of the great evil of the Assyrian empire, God was going to overthrow it within forty days. Rather than arresting Jonah for disturbing the peace, rather than writing him off as a false prophet not to be listened, the brutal idol worshippers of Nineveh believed that God was truly speaking to them. The people and the king himself fasted, repented of their evil ways and prayed that God’s judgment would not fall on them. Who would have ever thought this was even possible and …

Jonah 3:10 (ESV) When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

So, Jonah’s obedience on his second chance resulted in the city turning to God. However, Jonah’s …

Attitudes must be changed

Jonah 4:1-2 (ESV) But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

So, now Jonah’s heart attitude is revealed. He did not want to go to Nineveh because he wanted God to judge Assyria, rather than forgive them. Jonah did not want to give the people a chance to repent, which they had now done. So, God had forgiven them and forgone his judgment. I might add that Nineveh, the largest city in the world at that time, did eventually face God’s judgment. It was destroyed by the Medes and the Persians 200 years later in 612 BC. Jonah still hated the Assyrians and truly wanted God’s judgment to fall on them. He needed to learn the lesson that …

We must love all peoples

Jonah 4:10-11 (ESV) And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Jonah was so angry with God that he wanted to die. God made a plant grow to shade Jonah from the sun, but then made the plant die. Again Jonah was angry with the plant for not giving him shade. God was exposing Jonah’s selfishness and lack of compassion for the people of Nineveh. Jonah cared more about his own comfort then the lives of the Ninevites. God had compassion on the people of Nineveh despite their evil ways and God wanted Jonah to have that same compassion and love for every human being, no matter what their past was or what nation they were from.


So, God wants us to move beyond prejudice and racism and have his heart of compassion and love for all people. In St. Louis, it seems that the greatest issue is racism between black and white skin color. As believers, our brothers and sisters are not those who have the same skin color as us. Our brothers and sisters are our fellow believers, no matter what their skin color. At Life Church, our vision is to be a church that represents the kingdom of God. We seek to reach out to and embrace people of every nationality, race, color or age.
God loves each and every human being made in His image and so must we.

The book of Jonah is not mainly about a prophet being swallowed by a great fish. Jonah is about a prophet running from the call of God to be a missionary to different nation. May God help us to not run from the call of God to be missionaries right here in St. Louis. May God give us second chances to be His witnesses in every way that we can. Whether through Facebook, personal conversation, invitation or prayer. If you have an attitude about certain kinds of people, ask God to change your heart. May all of us have God’s love and compassion for all the people He has created.