As books go, Jonah has a wonderful conclusion rarely considered. I may indeed be getting ahead of myself, but it is not too much for me to assume that most people consider the poor estate of Jonah’s aquatic tales and fail to consider prophetic work thereafter. Ah, and there is that word “prophet” which has been so twisted as of late to be left entirely unrecognizable in our modern realm.
The word prophet can best be defined in such a manner, “A prophet is chiefly tasked with revealing the will of God for our salvation.” It is far less exciting than Hollywood would often desire. But it is true nonetheless. Jonah was a prophet. And a prophet is of no use if he keeps his mouth shut.
God had brought Jonah to the dry land courtesy of his own aquatic über and was tasked a second time with this most basic mission, “go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” (Jonah 3:1 ESV) God was merciful Jonah. He returns Jonah to that place of privilege in placing the prophetic mantle, yet again, upon his shoulders. And this time, Jonah finally obeyed. Jonah arrived at the enormous city and preached throughout the metropolis of Nineveh.
If you notice the fragment of his sermon that we receive, its success seems disproportionate to its expression. What do I mean? I challenge you to observe the preachers who are so famous across your televisions and even throughout the internet. Think of the big names who have book deals and something akin to a cult following. Protestants like to claim that we don’t have a pope, but sadly however, the cult of personality has just as much influence (if not more at times). Consider all the famous preachers of today. Which of them has ever preached a message like this, “Yet forty days, an Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). We’ve exchanged the reality of our sin and offense before God in exchange for glitter, busyness and the like.
The people of Nineveh heard the word of the Lord that cut through their stone cold hearts. They were a people committed to idolatry, violence and education. What they needed at that was the harsh reality of God’s impending judgment for their godlessness. Now this is remarkable! In that moment, through Jonah’s words, God saved these people from His wrath to come. The wrath spoken of is not merely an Old Testament appendage, contrary to those today who are unfamiliar with their New Testaments. As we read from the words of the Apostle Paul, the only hope anyone has against such wrath is, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:10 ESV)
When confronted with the truth what happened? We are told that the people of Nineveh “believed God.” (Jonah 3:5 ESV) Much like the pagan sailors of Jonah chapter 1, after hearing the word of God from the prophet of God, their hearts are changed and inclined to believe in Jonah’s God. In addition we read that the people’s new faith breeds new action. James in his famous letter tells us, “faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.” (James 2:17). This is often forgotten in our day. People desire a Christianity void of works. “I don’t need good works” they say. “Jesus saves me and I can do as I wish!” others contend. Or the worst one of all “We are all sinners and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Beloved, what has God told us contrary to the pipe dream of American Evangelicalism? “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:2-3) The faith of the Ninevites gave birth to new actions. This is the nature of gospel repentance. As Matthew Henry wrote, “The nature of repentance is [this]; it is the change of our mind and way, and a return to our work and duty, from which we had turned aside; it is doing that good which we had left undone.”
Repentance is a genuine turning from our sin towards God. Jonah’s faith in God bred new action. Nineveh’s faith in God bred new action. What sort of faith are you broadcasting to the world by your actions? Is it one that seeks to reflect our Holy God, or is it something other? I pray that as consider the evangelistic victory of Jonah, we would be drawn not only to consider His powerful message to them, but our need to consider most basically, “Am I living like one baptized into Christ?”