Have you ever thought to yourself: I can’t tell those people about Jesus because I know they might actually believe? I have been working along side of people for years helping to equip them for the work of the Gospel, and I can’t tell you how many times I have heard some reference to this idea. People are afraid of people, especially people who are wildly different than them. People who have experienced the grace, love and mercy of Jesus know that Jesus will be such to those who don’t know him.
This sometimes drives us to be hostile against the idea of mission, both mission where we are and where we are going. Our response is just that of Jonah’s. In Jonah’s story God tells Jonah to go to a town known for being really bad, they were simply engaged in all sorts of promiscuous activity, and had given themselves over to a variety of other Gods. Jonah knew this and wanted nothing to do with this mission. In fact the scriptures tell us that he tried to escape the presence of God. Can you imagine trying to escape the presence of someone who is ever present?
Through the occurrence of some unforeseen events Jonah ends up in this city and does just as God had asked him to do. Yet while the response to the proclamation was great Jonah was less than excited, in fact he was angry. His charge to God was: “see I knew this was going to happen, I knew your grace was too much, and your love undeniable.” Jonah was upset because these people who he had known to be the worst of the worst now were a part of the same faith family that he was, this so upset Jonah that he thought it better to die.
And so we find a resonance in this response, we often don’t want to bring the Gospel to people who are different than us because we are afraid that God might actually bring them into the fold of our family. The problem is we often don’t just accept death for ourselves we would rather die as expressions of the church than to have different people come into our fellowship. So the expression of church in the west is in decline, and we wonder more “why can’t people be more like us?”
God’s response to this has not changed. He still asks in different ways “Do you do well to be angry?” In God’s own way he also produces something for our comfort and then removes it to give a better illustration. Yet the point is still the same: “Do you do well to be angry?” And I guess the question for us is do we? When we arrive in Glory the kingdom of heaven will be more diverse than anything we have ever experienced and it will be beautiful. In this expression of diversity we will all worship under the same banner. Why would expressions of the church look any different?
We don’t do well to be angry about different people coming to Jesus. And how much better is it to live for Christ than to want the death of an embittered person consumed with the likeness of self? The Gospel calls us out from ourselves from our likes and our dislikes, from our preferences of more of the same to something greater. The Gospel calls us to be like Jesus who was the ultimate outreacher to the different.