Jonah 3:4-5 – 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
How does the heart of man turn to the Lord? Who is ultimately in charge? What methods should we use to try to help people turn to the grace offered by Jesus?
In the book of Jonah, we see something astounding which helps us to grasp the calling on us all as we try to help the world see their need for a Savior. The prophet Jonah had no desire to see the people of the city of Nineveh turn to God. Jonah hated those people and their cruel empire. He did not want to see God have mercy on them. But, the Lord called Jonah to preach to the city, and so Jonah went there after a bit of a detour and a near-death experience.
Look at Jonah’s message. See in it all the beauty, the clever turning of phrase, the eloquence. See in Jonah’s words the deep, heartfelt persuasion. See the seeker-sensitivity on the lips of the prophet.
Do you not see those characteristics in Jonah’s sermon? You should not see them, as Jonah had none of them. Jonah’s message was a simple declaration of truth, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
What do we want to model about Jonah? I would suggest only one thing: Jonah told the truth. Jonah lacked compassion, and we do not want that to be us. Jonah lacked any desire that the people repent, and we do not want that. Jonah did not offer grace, and we do not want to model that. But, Jonah told the people the truth, and this is what we need to do.
What happened when truth inspired by God was declared to a hard-hearted and rebellious people? Verse 5 shows us that the people repented. They believed Jonah’s warning, and they cried out to God for mercy. For a time, we see signs of genuine conversion.
How could that happen? The people were dead in their sins. They heard a message that was full of issues, lacking compassion, lacking invitation, and even lacking desire that the people be saved. Yet, when the truth came to the people, something changed in the hearts of the people. Did Jonah persuade them? I doubt that very seriously. What appears to have happened is that the Lord, by his sovereign power and for his glory, reached down into the hearts of people and drew them to himself. God took a message that should not have had any impact at all, empowered it with his Spirit, and changed hearts. Yes, the people responded. They were not without responsibility. But, I would argue that any person looking at this story fairly would grasp that God moved the people who then turned to him. God is the one ultimately responsible for the salvation of the people of the city.
And what shall we model? Let us be like the one good thing in Jonah. Let us be a people who tell the world around us the truth. Yes, let us have better tenderness and compassion. Yes, let us speak the truth in love. But may we be people who tell the world the truth and entrust the results to God. Let us know that our persuasive tactics do not change hearts. Instead, let us grasp that a true message of the word of God, when inspired by God, can and will lead to results because of the sovereignty of God. May we trust the Lord, love the lost, and tell the truth. Then, when we see results, may we give God all the glory, 100% of the glory, because no person comes to life without being raised from the dead, and that is a miracle in the hands of the Lord.