Jonah Part 2: Nineveh Repents

Click the link to read the first post in this series, Jonah Part 1

Have you ever seen someone’s life totally turned around? Do you have a friend who has come to Christ and it is like a 180 degree turn?  It is always amazing to me to hear the stories of these amazing testimonies of these people.  God has truly done the miraculous in their lives.  We might not always have such a radical testimony, but they are encouraging to hear none the less.  The people of Nineveh are a people with that sort of testimony.  The whole city makes a 180 degree turn when Jonah comes to preach the Word of the Lord.

Jonah Goes to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-5)

Jonah gets a second chance at obedience.  After deliberately disobeying God and going to Tarshish, God calls Jonah a second time.  He tells him to go to Nineveh again.  God intends to use Jonah to deliver this message to Nineveh, whether he wants to or not.  God is going to use him.  Jonah goes to the city of Nineveh.  It was a big city.  The Scripture says it was three days in breadth, meaning that it took him three whole days to preach his message to the surrounding areas of the city.

What was the heart of Jonah’s message?  In 40 days, Nineveh will be over thrown.

Although I’m sure Jonah’s message was more lengthy than this one sentence, but this one sentence does reveal a little bit about Jonah’s heart.  Notice Jonah preaches the condemnation of the people without calling them to repentance.  Jonah doesn’t invite them to turn away from their wicked deeds, he just tells them.... You’ve got 40 days.

Jonah continues to remain apathetic towards the people God has called him to minister too.  He didn’t care for the pagan sailors on the boat, he doesn’t really care for the Ninevites.  He wants God’s wrath to be poured out on the people.  In some twisted way, Jonah desires that the city perish.  We don’t see that fully here, but in chapter 4 Jonah reveals to us his true heart and motivation.  The wretched hate in Jonah’s heart is despicable and describes the same hate in our own hearts.  We look at people who are different than us.  Who are maybe of a different skin color or a different nationality.  We see those who live in open flagrant sin, and we hate them.  We don’t want them to repent.  We don’t want them to turn to God.  We just want them to burn.

If we are really honest with ourselves, many of us think more like Westboro Baptist Church than we would like to admit.  We refuse to cross the rail road tracks to share the Gospel with another ethnicity.  A heart of racism runs through many Christians.  Although none of us would claim to be racist, many of us live that way.  We joke about racial stereotypes.  We segregate ourselves at our schools.  We even segregate our churches so often.  At the end of the day, we find ourselves wanting God to bring down his wrath on them rather than God’s kindness leading them to repentance.  Westboro Baptist Church is just like Jonah.  They preach condemnation and wrath, but the do not desire repentance.  The do not desire this nation come to Christ.  They hate this country and they hate the people who live here.  You and I must not be like this.  We are not to hate the very people God has called us to reach.  If God shows his love to wicked idolatrous people, so should we.  We shouldn’t hate them, but love them and share with them about Jesus in hopes that they would repent and believe the Gospel!

Yet, even though Jonah wishes ill on the city.  God does the miraculous.  Jonah preaches his fire and brimstone message of coming destruction, and the people begin to repent!  Verse 5 tells us that the people of Nineveh believed God.  The fasted and put on sackcloth, which is a sign of humble repentance.  And this wasn’t just the poor and lowly people who were repenting.  All of them, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  The whole city began to abandon their evil ways and trust God!

The People of Nineveh Repent (Jonah 3:6-10)

The word of God eventually reached the king of Nineveh, and something amazing happens.  He repents too!  He coveres himself with sack cloth and ashes.  The King of Nineveh publishes a proclamation that everyone in the city, including the beasts, fast and be covered in sackcloth.  He commands them to call out to God.  So the whole city, down to the animals fall on their face calling out to God to mercy! Imagine how extravagant this scene must have been to watch!  Seeing a whole city repent and believe God!  Imagine of something like that happened in your city. What kind of transformation would happen?  Can you picture the thousands and thousands of people falling on their face calling out to God. The whole city turned from their evil ways.  They pray that God might spare them from His wrath.  They do not want to perish!

The contrast between Jonah and the Ninevites could not be more stark.  The Ninevites do not want to perish, and Jonah could care less.  He did the same thing with the sailors on the boat.  Jonah is only concerned about number one.  He doesn't want himself to perish by being tossed into the sea, but when it comes to lost people, Jonah doesn’t want to see them saved.  He is completely apathetic towards them.  Then we see something even more amazing.  Not only does the whole city repent, but God shows them mercy (v. 10).  When God sees how the city of Nineveh turned from their evil ways, God has compassion on them.  He spares them from his wrath.  As we will see in chapter 4, Jonah isn’t going to respond to well to this!

Jonah Points us to Jesus

Despite Jonah’s failures, his life points us to the greater Jonah, Jesus.  Jesus succeeds where Jonah fails.  You see, Jesus the jewish Messiah, brings the nations to repentance and faith.  Jonah who has figuratively been raised from the dead after three days in the belly of the fish calls out to the pagan people and they come to repentance and faith.  Jesus who was literally raised from the dead after three days in the tomb calls out to the nations of the earth and they come to repentance and faith.

You see, a major theme that runs throughout all the Bible is God’s passion to bring every nation and people group to praise his glorious name.  He wants all the nations to worship him.  He says in Psalm 46, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth”.  So when God chooses the children of Abraham, the nation of Israel as his covenant people, God never intends to isolate his love and mercy only on them. The people of Israel were supposed to be a nation of priests interceding on behalf of the nations of the earth to the great and powerful God. However, Israel’s election as the people of God bolstered them with pride and ego.  They began to despise the very nations God had called them to interceded for.  They began to look down on all the other sinners, and feel self-righteous and confident.  The tragic mistake of Israel is that they would not repent of their idolatry.  They continued to become like the nations rather than reaching the nations.  The contrast between Israel and Nineveh is astounding.  Nineveh repents and turns to God at the word of the prophet Jonah.  Israel rebels and disobeys God.  The pagan nations repent, Israel rebels.

Israel fails all through out their history.  They are condemned because the do not repent.  This is why in Matthew 12:41 Jesus says, “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”  What is Jesus saying here?  He is telling the Jews that the Ninevites put them to shame.  The pagan nations repent, but the chosen people of God do not.  Jesus tells them the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, and Jesus tells them “I am the greater Jonah and you, Israel, do not listen to me and repent”.  This stiff-necked people refuses to believe the Prophets of God.  Indeed Israel rejected their own Messiah.  They mocked him.  They tried him.  They crucified him.  They rejected THE prophet of God, Yet Jesus tells us that the stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone.  The rejected Messiah of Israel is the Messiah for the whole world and now invites the nations, pagan, gentile sinners like many of us, to repentance and faith.

Jesus is the greater Jonah. I know the temptation for us is to look upon Israel with disgust.  How could the people of God refuse repentance?  How could the people of God reject their prophets?  How could they become so self-righteous and filled with pride?  How could they hate the people God asked them to reach? Be very careful Christian, your thinking indicates that you might very well be like the nation of Israel.  In fact, those of us who grow up in the church have a tendency to be far more like the people of Israel than we may know.   You and I have the Word of the Lord.  We have faithful pastors who preach it to us week in and week out, yet we deliberately disobey.  We look down on others because we think that we are more moral and superior.  We refuse to share the Gospel with others, and do not desire to see our friends come to repentance and faith.  You and I are much more like Israel than we care to admit.

May we be like Nineveh and respond to our sin with incredible repentance!  May we fall on our face and be humbled.  May we turn from our wicked ways and turn to Jesus and be saved!