This is part of a 7-day series on Jonah in the Lent 2016 reading plan.
I didn’t grow up reading fantasy books. I loved biographies the most—biographies about presidents and athletes and pirates. I read some fiction too. But never any fantasy books.
One reason I couldn’t get into fantasy books was how unbelievable they seemed. Wizards and dragons and magic and goblins and elves? It just wasn’t believable to my mind.
But then I got a little older (okay, a lot older) and read The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and The Harry Potter books. And I loved them! I still read these books all the time, along with my biographies.
Why? What changed?
What drew me in was how relatable the characters were— how they reacted and how they spoke. I was able to enter into these worlds of magic because the characters in them seemed real to me.
In the Jonah story, some nearly unbelievable stuff happens. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived with this story so long that I can buy into the part about the big fish and how Jonah lived inside of it for three days. It’s pretty fantastical, I admit. But I believe it. What is hard for me to get my head around in the Jonah story is the repentance of Nineveh in chapter 3. That is really unbelievable.
Everyone repents, all the way up to the King himself. And all Jonah did was preach to them about the coming destruction of Nineveh. They fasted and put on sackcloth and ashes, even before the King told them to. Jonah preached, and the text says, “they believed God.” They believed God that they were being “evil” and needed to turn to Him. We know Jonah didn’t expect this to happen. They weren’t even part of God’s covenant people. But they took God at His word.
It still shocks me to read about it because I think I would have been far more like the Pharisees than the Ninevites.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41).
You see, the Pharisees (and most of Israel for that matter) refused to hear the preaching of Jesus, the Son of God. They thought they had no need to repent when hearing His message. The people of Nineveh were a wicked people through and through, outsiders to the covenant. But when they heard Jonah’s sermon, they repented. You don’t even catch a hint of them waffling on it.
Maybe the people of Nineveh knew Jonah was right before he even spoke a word. Maybe as soon as they heard they were evil and needed to repent, they saw it as a plain truth because things were so bad—because they were so bad.
And maybe that belief is the key. Actually, we know it is. To repent, you have to believe God when He says you have a serious problem— a problem so serious that it deserves death. You have to believe, like Nineveh, that you deserve to die. You have to believe you need a rescue.
Thank God we have Christ, Who was given to rescue us from our sins.
May God give us the humility of the men of Nineveh to believe not only in our need to repent, but also in the mercy and grace of the One who forgives.
Written by Matthew B. Redmond