Focal Passage: Jonah 3:1-4:11
Individualistic Americans may be surprised that God often deals with people in groups, as nations, cities, or even churches.
Corporate guilt passes to the individual members of the group.
Nineveh was one of the greatest, largest, most powerful cities in the world.
It lay on the eastern banks of the Tigris, across the river from modern day Mosul, Iraq. It was the capital of the Assyrian empire.
But Assyria was an atrociously cruel empire. Even the king of Assyria acknowledges, in 3:8, that “violence” was the key sin of that city.
And, that violent empire was threatening Jonah’s homeland of Israel. In Jonah’s eyes, Nineveh was a city in need of destruction.
Jonah fled, when God called, because he was afraid what happened, would happen. He was afraid they would repent and God would, in His mercy, spare them.
It would be as if God called someone to go preach the gospel in Berlin during World War II or personally to Osama bin Laden now.
What if they repent? Then they won’t be destroyed. And that’s not what we want.
To Jonah’s dismay, the people of Nineveh believed God and repented. They even specifically named their characteristic sin of violence. Some today think sins can just be excused, unconfessed.
But that’s wrong. True repentance produces the kind of contrition the people of Nineveh show: they afflict themselves, they fast, they name their sin. Then — not before — there is forgiveness and God turns from judgment.
In one church a man seeking to undermine his pastor said, “Some of us are Joshuas and some are Jonahs.”
He likened his going around gathering and encouraging complaints to be either like a brave prophet or a reluctant prophet.
His pastor responded, “Some are Judases!” Jonah is not a story about easy-believism, forgiveness without repentance.
It’s about a God so merciful, he sends a prophet to bring true repentance.
In God’s eyes, Nineveh was in need of grace. They repented. God relented of the disaster He had planned for them. Jonah was angry.
Their salvation was what he feared his preaching would produce. He had more mercy on the plant that gave him shade than he did on the people of that city.
He could only think of himself.
Are there people – individuals or groups (like races) — you don’t care about the gospel going out to?
Does your church care more for their little comforts (like padded pews, familiar hymns, old fashioned dress and Bible versions) or the salvation of sinners?