Our great, sovereign God is a merciful and gracious God. When He would have every right to condemn us to hell for our sins, He instead offers us mercy, grace, forgiveness, love, and justification. No wonder Romans 5:6 states, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." And 2 Corinthians 5:21 expresses God's saving, sacrificial love, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
God continually sends His gracious Word of forgiveness and salvation to all people. We must repent and believe the good news (Mk. 1:14-15). The gospel of Jesus Christ is sufficient to save all people, but it is efficient only for those who repent and believe the good news. And it is efficient only for those whom the Lord calls (Jn. 6:44; Rom. 9:14-18), so if we hear the voice of God in the gospel of God we must not remain in the hardness of our hearts; God is calling we must answer.
This brings us to the life of Jonah, that reluctant, prejudice prophet who cared little for the eternal condition of the inhabitants of pagan Nineveh. When the word of the Lord came to Jonah the first time (1:1) he ran from the call of God and the God who was calling him (1:3). Though Jonah was on the run and his life was headed in a downward spiral (1:3-17), we learn much about God's mercy and grace from the entire scope of Jonah's life. We know:
1. God cared enough to send a storm to get Jonah's attention (1:4); He who commands the wind and the waves can orchestrate a storm to get our attention.
2. God cared enough to send a fish to swallow Jonah as a judgment and as a protection (1:17); God judged Jonah's rebellion by "swallowing him up," yet had God not swallowed Jonah up he would have drowned.
3. God cared enough to hear Jonah's prayer of repentance (2:1-9); it's amazing what circumstances can drive us to pray and acknowledge "...salvation belongs to our God..." (2:9) and He will give it to whom He pleases, even pagan Nineveh. Jonah had trouble with who God wanted to save.
4. God cared enough to deliver Jonah out of the Great Fish (2:10); can you see the image of Jonah covered in whale saliva, standing on dry ground? Sometimes our deliverance from sin is ugly.
5. God cared enough to send the first word to Jonah a second time (3:1); we often run from God's initial word because we don't like it. We expect God to change our marching orders and we won't listen or obey until He does. Jonah teaches us that God is the God of the second chance, but that second chance is often the opportunity to do what God called us to do in the first place.
6. God cared enough to save Nineveh (3:3-10). Enough said.
Like Jonah, we, too, must acknowledge that God's Word has come to us. God's Word has come to us in three main ways. First, God's Word comes and calls us to be saved, to hear the good news, repent of our sin, and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, God's Word comes to us, calling us to serve God in the power of the Holy Spirit for His glory so that we continually find our complete satisfaction in Jesus Christ, which is what most glorifies God – when we are most satisfied in Him. And third, God's Word comes to us to go and preach the good news to all people, even pagans.
This is why the Book of Jonah causes me to ask myself some serious, heart-wrenching questions. It's as if the life story of Jonah becomes a diagnostic tool so that we might evaluate my own soul. What are these penetrating, Jonah-like questions?
1. Has God spoken to me?
God is a speaking God. God speaks to us through the general revelation of His creation (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:19-20), though this form of revelation is not enough to personally know God or to save us. This is why God has spoken to us in the special revelation of His written Word, the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and through the special revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-4). Further, it is the person of the Holy Spirit who awakens our souls and illumines our minds to the truth of God's Word and the identity of the person of Jesus Christ. The main focus of God's speaking to us is through His Word, the Bible. So, God is speaking, but are we listening? Have we heard the voice of God? Are we deaf? Let us ask that God would open our ears to hear. Are we spiritually blind? Let us ask that God would open our eyes to see. Are we ignorant and unlearned? Let us ask God to open our minds to understand. Again, God is speaking. Are we listening?
2. Am I running from God?
If God has spoken to us and we have heard His voice, are we running from God? Jonah ran and the trajectory of his life was down, down, down. Jonah was swallowed up. Have we decided to continue in our sin? God calls us, yet we ignore His call. In fact, we were born ignoring God's voice because we are born in sin, spiritually dead, blind, deaf, and rebellious. We're dead and He must make us alive (Eph. 2:4). So when the voice of God is heard we must not remain in our sin and rebellion. To those who run let this truth ring loud – you may run, but there is no place to hide from the God who knows all. He is the "hound of heaven" and if He has you in His sights He has every resource available to overcome and conquer your rebellion.
3. Are my sins swallowing me up?
If we are running from God, denying and rejecting God's call upon our life are we, then, being swallowed up by our sins? Get this scenario. God calls us to be saved, to have a fresh start, to live His way by His Word. Instead, we run. God calls us to serve. When we run we forfeit God's forgiveness and protection. And when this happens bad things happen. When we're in sin bad things happen. Sin will swallow us up, just as that Great Fish swallowed up Jonah (Jonah 1:17). Yet, when we're swallowed up we blame God for being a mean-spirited God who doesn't care about us. In other words, we want to live "our own way," yet blame God when living "our own way" lands us in trouble. Sin will swallow you.
4. Do I love the grace of God that saves sinners?
Another gut-wrenching question the story of Jonah demands that I ask myself is: do I love the grace of God? Most of us would immediately answer with a resounding YES! In fact, Jonah had to acknowledge that God was a gracious God (4:2): "…for I knew you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." Most of us are O.K. with the grace of God when it extends to us; but when it comes to extending grace to others we often run into trouble. It's easy to embrace the grace of God for ourselves and maybe even for our close friends, but let that grace be extended to people like the pagans of Nineveh and it's a completely different story. Jonah demands that I ask myself: do I really understand God's grace and what it means for me and how it calls me to live?
5. Has life made me an angry, bitter person?
We discover an additional problem with Jonah that causes me to ask myself a blisteringly honest question: have I become a bitter, angry person or am I living in the love and grace of God? Jonah 4:1 tells us Jonah's reaction to God's gracious saving of Nineveh: "And it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry." Jonah was angry at the pagans in Nineveh, he was angry with God, and he hated his own life to the point that he wanted to die. In fact, Jonah was so angry and bitter that he twice asked to die: in 4:3 Jonah said "...it is better for me to die than to live." And, in 4:8 Jonah said, "It is better for me to die than to live."
Anger is the first cousin of gracelessness. Fall out of love with the God of grace and the grace of God and you will fall into anger, bitterness, and envy. The story of Jonah causes me to ask myself this difficult question: have the sins of the world caused me to hate my enemies? In others words, who is my Nineveh? There's plenty of sin to be angry at these days. But let it be warned, anger reminds us of James 1:19-20, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." It reminds us of what Ephesians 4:26-27 says, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sin go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil." How does a person get angry and not sin? They resolve their anger – before the sun goes down – not allowing Satan to have a foothold in their life. Ephesians 4:31-32 goes on to state, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor, and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Anger and bitterness had taken root in Jonah's life. Has anger taken root in your life?
6. Do I care about the lost?
Finally, Jonah causes me to ask myself: Do I care about the lost enough to go to them and preach God's gracious warning and God's gracious good news? What are the reason conversions are down in all evangelical churches? The reasons are many, but one of the main reasons is that we do not love lost people. Do we weep over people or do we get angry at them? Do we care about the lost like Paul did when he prayed for his fellow Israelites in Romans 10:1, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved." Have we become so angry and disillusioned with the world that sinners have become our enemies? And if sinners have become our enemies then where and who is our mission field? To love God means that we love the things God loves. God loves to save sinners. Do we love the same?