Sabbath School Lesson for October 28-November 3, 2023

Overview of Lesson 5, Excuses to Avoid Mission

Memory Text: “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’ ” Isaiah 6:8 NKJV

What to expect from this week’s study:

  • Sunday: Our Excuses, Fear–Nineveh was a violent place for Jonah to be sent
  • Monday: Our Excuses, False Views–Jonah had false ideas about his role, and God’s
  • Tuesday: Our Excuses, Inconvenience–mission work requires humility and sacrifice
  • Wednesday: Our Excuses, Uncomfortable Confrontations–we must forget our own reputation and go where God leads
  • Thursday: Here Am I, Send Me–God needs our willingness to serve, like Isaiah’s enthusiastic response when called
  • Friday: Our Challenge–how we can join God’s mission

After seeing how Abraham faithfully answered God’s call to mission, we are surprised to find the story in the Bible of reluctant Jonah. It’s important to examine the many shortcomings Jonah had, however, because we all tend to use one or more of his excuses in our own lives. We, too, will have many missed opportunities to glorify God if we fail to recognize and correct our selfish errors.

Jonah stands out from all reluctant prophets, because he not only refused to go where he was called, he went just as far in the opposite direction as one could go. But God was patient with him nonetheless, and performed many miracles in order to get Jonah and his faulty worldview turned around. The Lord did not desert Jonah, even in his most despairing moments. Just as He will not desert us, when we need Him most.

Jonah is the only book in the Bible that ends with a question, when He asked Jonah, “Shall I not pity Nineveh, that great city?” We would serve God best, if we would remember the answer to that question.

Sunday: Our Excuses–Fear

Doubt, and then fear, are often the first emotions that lead to sin. Fear is often followed by avoidance, resentment, and even retaliation against those we fear. It’s only human to want to survive from whatever, or whoever, is threatening us. There really is no safe place in this sinful world though, outside of God.

Nineveh was a very fearful, violent city. It was the capital of the Assyrian kingdom, which had brutally conquered many nations, including Israel. No one would have liked to walk its streets, day or night. Let alone if God had given them an unpopular message as Jonah had been told to preach.

It’s easy to disapprove of Jonah for being fearful of Nineveh, but we often allow our fears to control us too, which usually gets us in trouble as well. It’s only human to have fear, but giving it to God is essential if we intend to conquer it with His help.

Bible Verses:

Nahum 3:1-4, 19 and 2 Kings 17:5, 6

  • How would these descriptions of Nineveh have affected Jonah’s willingness to go there?
  • When and in what ways have you allowed your fears to keep you from accomplishing something for God?

Jonah 1:1-3

  • With Tarshish, a city far away in southern Spain, why do you think Jonah would set off on such a long, 2,000-mile sea journey, which would take one month, as much time as the land travel to Nineveh, about 560 miles from Jerusalem?

Monday: Our Excuses–False Views

We see that Jonah had many faulty attitudes and beliefs about God in the first chapter of the book. First, he thought he could run away from God by going to Tarshish instead (Jonah 1:3). Then, when the storm at sea came up, he even thought he could escape it by going to the bottom of the ship.

The sailors were frantic in trying to save the ship, knowing that they were struggling against demons who they thought controlled the sea. They, of course, weren’t aware that “the earth and its fullness” belong to God (Psalm 24:1). After they achieved no result from praying to their gods, they thought they could find out the reason for their misfortune by casting lots.

When the lot fell on Jonah, the sailors tried to find out more about their passenger. Perhaps, he would repent and appeal to his God, and their lives could be spared. But Jonah chose a different solution. He suggested that they toss him overboard, so they would be rid of their “problem”. Once again, Jonah let his fear of God’s mission determine his fate without consulting God. He wanted to avoid his mission, even if it cost him his life.

Bible Verses:

Jonah 1:3-5 and Matthew 26:39-41

  • How could Jonah have misunderstood God so much that he felt he could hide from God’s mission, and later from the storm God had sent to wake him up?
  • How and why did the disciples also fail to stay awake and pray with their Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane? What false views did they have of the Savior?

Jonah 2:1-3, 7-10

  • If Jonah had been closer to God, he wouldn’t have needed the big fish to swallow him. What kind of false views about God and himself may have prevented him from praying for deliverance sooner?

James 1:27

  • What false view of God makes people want to keep “unspotted from the world” without having the kind of compassion for others mentioned here? How and why must we do both?

Tuesday: Our Excuses, Inconvenience

Jonah may have thought at first that it was more convenient to go Tarshish, instead of Nineveh. But God used the events of the storm and having the big fish swallow him to reveal what inconvenience really looked like.

It also showed him how much God loved him. It was a miracle of love from God that prompted the fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him out on dry ground. The third chapter of Jonah relates how God’s love was enough to convince him to turn around and go preach in Nineveh as God had originally planned. But evidently, as we learn later, it didn’t change Jonah’s unloving attitude toward those in Nineveh.

We, too, often have feelings of prejudice for certain individuals or groups of people. We judge and avoid them, rather than ignoring our misgivings and trying to forge any kind of relationship with them. We choose the path of convenience, rather than the one that requires humility and sacrifice.

Bible Verses:

Jonah 2:9, 10 and Jonah 3:1-3

  • Why would it be important for Jonah to love Nineveh, as well as God, as he went on God’s mission?

Jonah 3:10, 4:1

  • Why do you think Jonah was angry at the outcome of his preaching?

Wednesday: Our Excuses, Uncomfortable Confrontations

The last chapter of Jonah clearly reveals the nature of his unhealthy worldview, and why he hesitated to confront the sinners of Nineveh. It appears Jonah would have been happy to see Nineveh become another Sodom and Gomorrah. When the city was spared because of their repentance, Jonah was more concerned that his reputation was tarnished, when his prediction failed to result in Nineveh’s destruction.

This selfish thinking, coupled with Jonah’s disdain for the people of Nineveh, was apparent with Jonah’s words and behavior following his preaching assignment (Jonah 4:1). He still conversed with God about it, but God knew that words alone would not make a difference in Jonah’s unkind attitude toward the Ninevites.

Worldviews are most likely changed through our life experiences, so God sent a plant to shade Jonah. bringing much-needed relief from his misery. But during the night, God sent a worm and then a strong wind to eliminate that shady plant by the next day, and Jonah was not happy about it. God, however, pointed out that Jonah was exhibiting more concern for a plant than he had shown mercy for the vast population of Nineveh (Jonah 4:10, 11).

Bible Verses:

Jonah 4:1-4

  • What prevented Jonah from seeing the full nature of God’s mercy?

Jonah 4:5-8

  • Why does God continue to use miracles to get Job’s attention?

Jonah 4:9-11

  • How would you answer God’s final question here?
  • How do you think Jonah may have answered it?

Thursday: Here Am I, Send Me

When God called Isaiah to be a prophet, He got a response much closer to the one God would have liked from Jonah. Isaiah, like Moses, first recognized his inadequacies. Moses said, “I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10). Isaiah, too, was humbled, and said, “I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5).

But God had ways to equip each of these humble prophets.  For Isaiah, his iniquity was gone when an angel touched his lips with fire on the altar in the vision he was given (Isaiah 6:6, 7). God always has ways to make us ready for service when we humbly consider partnering with Him.

It was obvious that God’s calling was voluntary. When God asked whom He would send, Isaiah enthusiastically replied, “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8). God needs such willing messengers today to go to places like Nineveh. Even when we feel overwhelmed with fear or the busyness and cares of  city life, God can use us to bless the world with His message of love and hope.

Bible Verses:

Isaiah 6:1-8

  • How do these verses encourage you to actively seek witnessing opportunities, so you can share God’s message with those who truly need it?

Acts 4:31

  • Who does God call to be His disciples, and what does it take on our part to answer that call?

Friday: Our Weekly Mission Challenge

On a blank sheet of paper or in your prayer journal, make a list of ten people you know who are not believers. We will call them your “disciples”. List them by name if possible. Keep this list close by, and for the rest of the quarter, pray daily for each of your ten disciples. Pray that God will help you become casual friends with those who are acquaintances. Pray that you can develop deeper, closer, trusting friendships with your casual friends. As you deepen your relationships, carefully watch and listen so you can identify their specific needs, hurts, and pain. Then pray that God will meet them in that area of need.

Choose a city near you as well as a city in another part of the world. Begin praying for the people who live and work in each. Ask that God will raise up a strong Adventist presence that can share the truth as we know it–the truth about the soon coming of Jesus.

For discussion: Why is it important to be specific in our prayers for others? Why is it important to foster relationships with people that may lead to witnessing opportunities? How do city encounters differ from ones in more rural areas, and how can we adjust to the different ways people relate with one another?

Next Week: Motivation and Preparation for Mission

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