Jonah 3:1-2 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you."
Last week we learned how the boy, Samuel, learned to listen to the voice of the Lord, it is a good thing to listen to God, and his word. This week we learn what happens when we donít listen to the Word of God, and we learn about forgiveness. Our story begins at the beginning of the book, the Word of God comes to Jonah, and Jonah runs away from God. The Word of God called Jonah east to Nineveh, and Jonah went the other way, west to Tarshish (Spain). Jonah went down to Joppa, down to the harbor, down to the boat, and when they got to sea, Jonah went down below deck. God sent a storm, and the captain and crew did everything they could to save the ship, finally they turned to Jonah and asked him, what he had done, that God was so angry, and he told them, and they were even more afraid. So Jonah told them to through him overboard, and after prayer to God, they did so, so Jonah went down into the depth of the ocean, it certainly looked like death, and as he was going down, God appointed a big fish to swallow Jonah, and so Jonah went down into the belly of the whale, and then Jonah prayed. Jonah had fallen about as far as one can, and yet he had not escaped from the presence of God. But even more than that, Jonah realized that there was no place to turn, except to the Lord God, for there was no other place where one could find salvation.
And the Lord God heard Jonahís prayer, and God spoke to the fish, and the fish vomited Jonah up on dry land. And then God spoke to Jonah a second time, and for the second time, sent him to Nineveh, and this time Jonah went. Nineveh was a great city, it took 3 days to walk across, and Jonah spoke Godís message "40 days, and Nineveh will be overthrown." Now this was a remarkable message, because Nineveh had been under siege many times, and had never fallen, never the less, the people of Nineveh heard the word of God, repented of their sin, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sack cloth and ashes, as a sign of their repentance. And the Lord God saw what they had done, saw how they had turned from their evil way, and God forgave the people of Nineveh, and did not let loose his wrath of destruction upon them.
Had Jonah learned about forgiveness? Not yet, for he was angry that God had forgiven Nineveh. Jonah was angry because he knew God was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Jonah knew that if the people of Nineveh repented, that God would forgive them, but Jonah wasnít ready to forgive, he would rather die, than forgive, and so he sat outside the city waiting to see what would happen, or to die, which ever came first. And isnít that they way of people who hold grudges and will not forgive as they have been forgiven, the only thing they have to live for, is getting revenge. You see forgiveness does not come out of justice, but out of mercy, and if you canít show pity, how can you receive the gift of pity, which is forgiveness? What is pity? It is feeling sorry for people who donít know any better. The people of Nineveh could not tell their right had from their left, how could they know good from evil? But the people of Nineveh could hear and receive a warning, they could learn to turn from evil, and so God had pity on them and forgave them. In the end Jonah learned about pity, and came to understand the nature of forgiveness. But what of us?
Can we learn pity for those who do not know better? Can we learn to forgive, as we have been forgiven? Not by ourselves, but by the grace of God, all things are possible. And so it is that God calls us to reach out to those who do not know: with law which shows them their sins, and tells them with the need for forgiveness; and with Gospel which shows the grace of God in Jesus Christ, telling them of how God sent his only Son to suffer and die for our sins, that we might not die, but have forgiveness, and in forgiveness of Jesus blood, have everlasting life.
If believers are called to be fishers of men, is it not a call to bring those who are running from the God of wrath, back to God, in whom they will not find wrath, but rather forgiveness of sins. We may not have been sent to Nineveh, but certainly we can begin where we are, for we do not need to go far to find people who do not know God, nor do they know how to find forgiveness -- and so we can begin today to bring them the good news.