Jonah 3:4-5 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he cried, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
In the 3rd article of the Creed, we say that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. In the 5th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we say, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The question today, is, do we really mean what we say. Of course we want God to forgive us – I don’t think that is the question – but how much do we really want God to forgive others? Or to be very pointed – how tolerant would we be about God forgiving our enemies?
That is the real question in Jonah. You see, when God sent Jonah to Nineveh, we was not sending him to just some city – but he was sending him to the capital city of one of Israel’s greatest enemies – the Assyrians were almost always giving Israel grief. When the word of God came to Jonah the first time, his first response to God’s call to go to Nineveh and preach repentance was to get on a boat going in the opposite direction. It was more than just running away from God, it was rebellion. Jonah knew he had sinned. He knew when the storm came up and the boat was about to sink, He knew this was the wrath of God. He knew he deserved to die for his rebellion, and he did not complain when the sailors threw him overboard, he expected to die.
Perhaps you have met someone who is stubborn in their refusal to repent of their sin. Its not hard to imagine Jonah saying, I may be going to drown, but at least Nineveh will also perish. But Jonah didn’t drown, for God sent a big fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of that big fish for 3 days. And God directed that fish to the gates of Nineveh, and there Jonah was spat out, onto dry ground, and the word of God came to Jonah a second time, calling him to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. You might think that Jonah would have been grateful, he had just received his life back from the dead, God had forgiven him for his rebellion, and God had called him to work a second time. And although Jonah did not rebel, there does not seem to be much hope or encouragement in his preaching of repentance – Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown, does not sound much like, John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
And yet, even though there was little encouragement, the people of Nineveh did repent, for that is what the text means when it tells us that they believed God, proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth. It is quite different than the other response, that of the world, who on hearing of the end – proclaim a feast – and they eat, drink, and be merry. So Nineveh proclaimed a fast, they repented of their sin, and turned from their evil ways, and God forgave them. And Jonah is angry with God, because God did not give Nineveh what it deserved, but because God forgave. And it as this point that God asks Jonah a question – Jonah 4:4 "Is it right for you to be angry?" And one more time God explains that de desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
So what does this have to do with us? How are we like Jonah? That is, are we willing to accept, and even take for granted that God should forgive us, and those we love – but intolerant if God should forgive our enemies? For example, how about the people who do abortions? It is not hard to see such people as murderers of innocent babies and deserving of death – in fact some feel so strongly that they would go out and seek to kill such doctors for the sake of the babies. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be enough love to call the doctors and the nation to repent and to turn from its wicked ways. But is that not what God is calling us to do, for this sin, and for all the sins when we are permitting among us?
And that is why I asked the question, Do we really believe in the forgiveness of sins? If we do, such belief we spur us on to action – nothing big, just calling people to repent, and telling them of the forgiveness that is ours in Jesus Christ – and that is what it is to be a disciple.