How other people might respond when we talk about God…
Resurrection is not the end of the story. In many ways, it’s just the beginning.
Jonah’s story does not end with him being saved from the belly of the whale. There’s no ‘And he lived happily ever after.’ He has work to do – not work to earn God’s love and salvation. He’s already experienced that. No, this work is because of God’s love and salvation. In direct response to God’s grace. Because of what God has done for him.
Now he understands why everyone must hear God’s message. Everyone. Even the enemies of his people, the Assyrians in Nineveh. Jonah is scared. He has every reason to be. He’s initially so terrified that he runs in the opposite direction. He has no faith that these people will listen to what he has to say.
Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
‘By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:4-10
And yet the response was:-
The Ninevites believed God. That’s it. No question. No doubt. As if they’d be waiting for this opportunity. For Jonah to come and invite them to follow his God.
Everyone humbled themselves before the one true God. They took off their clothes, the symbols of their status and position. They put on sackcloth instead. Sackcloth was a symbol of mourning the loss of someone you loved, but also a symbol of repentance – mourning for a lost relationship with the Creator God. A public sign of humility before God.
‘Let everyone call urgently on God.’ Jonah had told them that they had just forty days to turn things around and they had no reason to doubt him. They’d seen what this God was capable of. They feared this God. He was now turning his attention onto them and their evil deeds and they had no time to lose.
The people immediately took steps to make things right with God. They fasted. They put on sackcloth. Even the animals were to fast and be covered in sackcloth. They would do whatever it took to show God they were serious.
‘Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.’ The response of the people was not just about what they did, but about what they stopped doing too. What they turned away from. Repentance is a change of mind that involves a conscious turning away from wrong. Returning to God and turning away from evil.
‘Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’ The Ninevites had no idea whether any of this would make any difference or not. Jonah had not given them any indication that God would be prepared to show them any mercy. They didn’t know this God well enough to know how He would respond. Yet they still had to try. They still had enough hope to reach out to God.
It worked. God relented. God did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. They changed God’s mind by throwing themselves on His mercy. God is a God of love and mercy and compassion. God is a God who saves.
We have absolutely no idea how people will respond when we talk to them about God’s love. About our need, the need of every single person who ever lived, to turn away from what separates us from God and to reach out in humility and hope to the one who created us and loves us.
There’s only one way to find out…