In simple terms, the story of Jonah is about a big fish that swallows a man whole and spits him out on the sands of a beach. But the story is about so much more than that. Jonah demonstrates the love of God to those who might be considered undesirable, unworthy and deserving of God’s wrath, according to Pastor Max Lucado, in "The Inspirational Bible." Teens often identify with young Jonah for many reasons -- often times, teens are told to do things they don't want to do. As did Jonah, many teens face the temptation of running from their problems as opposed to choosing obedience. These aspects of Jonah's story makes it an ideal one to preach to teens.
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Tell Jonah’s story and include background information that brings his story to life. Jonah had no love for the people of Nineveh, who were known pagans said to be cruel, bloodthirsty and enemies of the Jews, according to John L. McKenizie in “Dictionary of the Bible.” Nineveh was the capital of Assyaria. The story can be dramatized as a short play, displayed in an animated form, or told or read from the Bible. Dramatizing the story in a play or animated form can grab the attention of a teenaged crowd and add new dimension to a familiar Bible story. Teens might not know that the Assyrians worshiped Dagan, a pagan god who was half man and half fish. A large fish vomiting up a man on the beach near Nineveh would have captured the attention of Ninevites because of Dagan.
Express God’s concern for the people of Nineveh in relation to the ministry of Jesus. Jonah wasn’t concerned about the spiritual condition of the Ninevites, but God was. Jesus’ ministry to all the world demonstrated that God is concerned about more than his chosen people, as is true in the story of Jonah. Tell the teens, “God sent Jonah to tell the inhabitants of Nineveh that he cared about them and wanted them to turn to him and repent. God can send you to tell your friends and complete strangers the Gospel message.”
Address the futility of running from God. No matter how far Jonah planned to run from God, it wasn’t far enough for Jonah to reach a place where God couldn’t find him. Explain, “You might think that you can escape doing what God has called you to do, or that God won’t leave you with little choice by to obey sometimes. Not only did God pursue Jonah when he ran in the opposite direction of where God wanted him to go, He had a plan to get Jonah back to where he needed to be to complete the mission God called him to make.” List various reasons people try to run from God, such as wanting to do things their own way, too afraid to do what God says or thinking the job is too hard. Identify with times in your life when you ran from God or wanted to. Help teens to see that this response is common.
End the sermon with a prayer for the teens for courage when God calls. Affirm your hope that they are willing to share the Gospel with others and do so with grace and a willingness to serve.