What We Can Learn From Jonah at Nineveh
A busy time of year calls for a simple and straight-forward gospel message. Strike that. Every time of year calls for it. One of the things I love about preaching is that my task is fairly uncomplicated. I am to stand in the pulpit (or the street-corner if available) and proclaim Christ and Him crucified for sinners. Even better than that is the fact that I am not to ignore the play the offensive coordinator has sent in, but I am to rest in the wisdom of the Person of the Godhead who knows a lot more than me what it is I should say on a Lord’s Day morning and evening. My playbook is sixty-six books of perfection which would be daft to think wasn’t sufficient for the task at hand. Too many pastors in our day don’t (or won’t) comprehend the beauty of coloring in the lines and being thankful to stay true to the game plan drafted by the one who invented the game. There is no need to reinvent what has worked, will work, and does work to bring men to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.
On Sunday nights here recently we’ve been reading through Jonah as we walk through the minor prophets in the first Scripture reading. A small difference between our opening Bible verses in the morning and what we do at dusk is that I give a beefier sense of the passage in our second service. It’s not that I’m trying to get away with taking two sermons in one time of worship, it’s that the evening gathering is geared more towards learning than the 11:00am meeting. That being said we heard from Jonah 3 about the initial work of evangelism that Jonah did in the city of Nineveh after his exit from the belly of the whale. A detail I emphasized was that the town was three-days walk, yet here we have the Lord’s prophet, by himself, to proselytize all those people, and how does God want him to do it? Remember Jonah didn’t have Facebook Live (oops), Youtube, or Twitter, or any other means of reaching such a large group on his own. However, what happens? According to Jonah 3:5, “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.” You mean to tell me he was able to convict that many people through preaching in one day? Well, no. He didn’t do it in one day, the LORD did.
When we read the book we need to remember that Jonah accomplished this work because God called him to go to Nineveh and do this thing. The prophet was merely the conduit to achieve this mighty act of grace. Yet, it wasn’t just the going that did it, it was the fact Jonah stayed faithful to the message given to him to proclaim. Jonah 3:4 says, “And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” I can only imagine what contemporary men who seek influence with the world would say to such a strategy! Where are the gimmicks? Doesn’t Jonah know unbelievers need to be relationalized before you can spring the gospel on them? Jonah is so old-fashioned. I mean he sounds like a fundamentalist. The horror! He seems to absently miss the flash and nuance needed to talk to people in the 21st-century. You can’t just tell people they are sinners in need of repentance! You have to bring them in with light shows and games, etc… At least that is what all the literature says. So much of the problem in the Church today is either related to our being embarrassed of the gospel, or thinking it needs gussied up by men. Of course there is nothing new under the sun. The same was true in the days Aaron and the Golden Calf (I’m sure God will think it’s pretty!) as it was with the false teachers in Galatia and elsewhere.
However, the Lord has another and better way, as He always does.
Think for a moment of the first two preachers we read about in the New Testament. When the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of John the Baptist to bring the good news to the Jews, and prepare the way of the coming of the Messiah what does He say? Only that which he is moved to proclaim in accordance with what was revealed to him by the word and the Spirit. What does Jesus preach when called upon? Repent and believe. Even our Lord sees the perfection of the gift of the Prophets and has no interest in either changing what they said in the Old Testament, nor “fixing it” for the new world in which He is living. Does He explain it in a way they can understand? For sure. We don’t just slavishly use the same illustrations as days gone by, but you can rest assured that an orthodox, faithful Church minister is going to be knowing nothing of his own labors, but that which has been given to him by God, for reproof and instruction in righteousness. If your minister (or me) is not keeping on the straight and narrow on this front you need to keep an eye out for the exit.
In closing, I want to bring it back to something about Jonah’s sermon that is important to take note of for our own walk. It exposes our great need, of being made right with God. For without the mercies of the blood of the lamb we are dead in sin and ripe for the judgment. We are blessed to be reminded in Jonah 5:4 ourselves not only of the reality of the sentence which is ours due to Adam’s fall and our own transgression, but of the hope we have of reconciliation, of forgiveness, and the blessed truth of the innocent verdict made because our Redeemer has paid the penalty we could not. Christians need to hear it as much as unbelievers, because it’s what the Bible teaches. Jesus has come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Turn away this day, turn to the Savior of sinners, and find eternal peace in the eternal promise of the God of Jonah, and the Lord of grace and love.
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church