Jonah 3.8-10 ESV
8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
10 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.
It’s a famous story—a man called by God who runs the other way; he’s thrown overboard his ship and swallowed by a large fish; he prays, confesses, and is released from the fish; he prophesies to a great city of the coming destruction, only to see them turn and repent; and the story ends with the prophet sulking because God had mercy on the repentant city rather than destroying it as He said He would. There are different aspects of this text that each of us can connect to, but it’s what we learn about God that is the most important for us today.
The whole story begins with God calling Jonah to pronounced judgment on Nineveh, the great capitol city of Israel’s worst enemy. God has seen it fit to bring down wrath against a city that has gotten so of control due to their sin that He has judged it worthy of destruction. It’s not hard to see that things in the city of Nineveh are bad.
What do we learn? We learn that God takes sin seriously. Living our lives as we see fit, when all the while being broken and incapable of living life to its created fullness, means that we need God in order to live successfully. When things get out of control, God steps in. But when God steps in and it requires such measures as to pronounce terrible judgment, then there seems to be no hope.
Then something amazing happens in the text. Unsolicited, the people consider their sin, the king declares everyone to repent, and he believes that if the city confesses their sin and turns from it that God can forgive them. They do it and God forgives them. Now we learn something else about God, namely, that God sees the heart and the genuine turning away from death to life. Without any guarantee of salvation, the city turns to God. My encouragement today is that we would do the same.
The biggest difference between us and them is that we are living in an age of mercy, having the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to cover our sins and GUARANTEE our salvation, if we will just turn and believe.
The biggest issue we run into today is that people don’t take sin seriously. They do not believe that there is a terrible hell or even a God that cares about the minutia of our lives. But let me remind you of something eternally important. The God of Jonah is the Jesus of the Gospels, and though we have Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we must remember that the reason that crucifixion took place was to save us from the wrath to come—the same wrath that threatened Nineveh.
God sees sin no different than He did the day Adam and Eve ate of the fruit. God sees sin no different than He did Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. Sin is sin and it doesn’t matter what book of the Bible or what period in history, each of us is accountable for our lives and each of us is in danger of the fires of hell if we do not cling to Jesus and the cross.
And that’s the trick, is it not? The Cross of Jesus Christ is the vehicle through which we have eternal life. The cross is the nail in the coffin of death. Jesus sacrifice covers us but we must accept it. We must turn from our life and embrace God’s life, freely given to us.
The will of God is a threat to a life that seeks to live apart from that will. But the will of God is mercy to those who would live in that will. We are threatened every day with the possibly of being separated from God, unless we repent as the Ninevites did and walk with Christ, the One Who is here to walk with us.
I encourage you take sin seriously, because God does. And at the same time, understand that God is merciful and takes His mercy seriously, as He has sent His Son to save us.
Be blessed by the fact that God is quick to forgive. Hold on to the mercy and let it drive you into a life that is joyful because of what you’ve been given. And when you do that, show others that same mercy and let it introduce them to the God who desires to forgive. Amen.