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September 22, 2010
In the biblical Book of Jonah, the main character runs away from God’s instruction to take a word of salvation to the massive city of Ninevah. Jonah disobeys God stirs up a storm, and sailors on a boat pitch Jonah overboard in an effort to save themselves. God sends a big fish to scoop up the wayward prophet.
“The big fish is not God’s judgment, it is God’s mercy which saves Jonah from the depths of the sea,” said Afshin Ziafat, a Christian speaker known for his compelling personal testimony of faith, during a weekly chapel service Sept. 22 at OBU.
The fish spit Jonah onto the beach, where God gave him a second chance to obey his instruction to serve as an evangelist to the people of Ninevah, who were known to be gruesome, vicious people. The opportunity for Jonah to change his mind, Ziafat said, is the definition of repentence –- and it is the truly big miracle of the Book of Jonah. He said the opportunity for repentance was extended not only to the people of Ninevah, but also to Jonah –- because even the people God uses as messengers sometimes need a second chance.
The story resembles Ziafat’s own walk with God –- and God’s opportunity for repentance for all people.
Born in Houston, Texas, Ziafat moved with his family to their native country of Iran when he was 2 years old. In the midst of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, his family returned to Houston when he was 6 years old. In the second grade, he received a Bible from a tutor who was teaching him the English language. Ten years later, as a senior in high school, he read the Bible and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior.
As a college student in a Christian fraternity, Ziafat said he heard a speaker who pointedly told him that God wanted him to be an evangelist. He avoided God’s call to ministry in his life. A year later, the speaker returned with a message from the Bible about the errant prophet Jonah. He pointed his finger at Ziafat and said, “It’s sort of like Afshin over there.”
“The hardest thing I had to do was go tell my Dad,” Ziafat said. “But God came to me a second time.”
Ultimately, Ziafat’s family disowned him because of his faith in Christ –- and his choice to be an evangelist rather than a doctor –- before later being reconciled. Yet Ziafat said he believes his story is one of hope and inspiration that demonstrates the truth taught in Matthew 16:25 –- that whoever loses his life for the sake of Christ will find it.
Ziafat contended every Christian believer is called to share a message of evangelism, based on the idea that evangelism is essentially having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ which results in a personal message to share with the world about going through life with Christ. Based on Matthew 10:19-20, Ziafat said Christians do not have to worry about what to say because God will provide the message.
“If you do not have a message to share, it may be that you are not walking with God closely,” Ziafat said. “Because when you walk with him, you will always have something to share.”
When Jonah finally relented and went one-third of the journey into Ninevah, his message was only five Hebrew words, translated to eight words in English: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”
“Everybody thinks the great miracle of Jonah is the big fish,” Ziafat said. “That is a great miracle, yes. But that is not really the great miracle of Jonah. But let me tell you what the great miracle is: That God took a man who was rebellious, who ran from him, used that man going only one-third of the way into the city one day, and he preached five words, and the entire city repented. That is the great miracle of Jonah. It tells you the power of God’s Word.”
Ziafat said the message Jonah proclaimed was a call to repentance. The word God used for “overthrown,” in Hebrew, had a double meaning: it could represent either physical destruction or spiritual repentance. Repentance occurs when a person hears from God and chooses to be God-centered, rather than self-centered. It literally means changing one’s mind.
“The essence of the Gospel is this denying of yourself,” Ziafat said.
God’s message, Ziafat told students, is that there are two roads in life: one leads to destruction, and one leads to life. He said unconfessed sin will wreak havoc in any life.
“God did not come to make bad people good people,” he said. “He came to make dead people alive people.”