It's fascinating to me that when God recommissions Jonah to go to Ninevah he doesn't lighten the load for Jonah the second time around. He doesn't say, "Okay, I realize I gave you a pretty tall order that first time, and it was a bit out of reach for you, so let me make this a little easier for you. Let's throw in some adjustments so your success is guaranteed."
No, God doesn't budge. He doesn't negotiate. God is stable, consistent: "For I the LORD do not change" (Mal. 3:6). He won't bend to make our lives temporarily better when larger, longer-term issues are at stake.
If you want to live for things that bring only temporary comfort and happiness, there's plenty to choose from-plenty of ships sailing for Tarshish. Only God can take you beyond that-if you want to go beyond what you could ever become on your own.
God's grace isn't seen in the lessening of his demands toward us; he always has and always will demand perfect obedience. His grace is experienced when we come to realize that his perfect demands for each of us have already been met by Jesus. He lived the life we couldn't live and died the death we should have died.
This rescue doesn't come apart from God's law but rather in the perfect fulfillment of the law through the person of Jesus, who perfectly kept that law on behalf of sinners like you and me. Christianity is the only faith system where God both makes the demands and meets them.
God is more interested in the worker than he is in the work the worker does. He's more interested in you than in what you can accomplish. If accomplishing Project Nineveh was all God cared about, he could have discarded Jonah and found a more reliable prophet. He knew Jonah would run; so why did he ask Jonah to go in the first place? It was because Jonah was God's project. God comes after Jonah not because he needs Jonah, but because Jonah needs God.
All of us need to be continually rescued by God, whether from sin's power and presence, or also (once and for all) from its penalty. And one expression of God's amazing grace is that he pursues our rescue even though we cannot do one thing for him. God doesn't need you and me to increase his value and esteem. In and of himself he is already of infinite value and worth. The reason he seeks sinners, saves sinners, and sends sinners like Jonah (and like you and me) is that God loves sinners.
No other object of worship loves sinners like God does.
Jack Miller, a noted Presbyterian pastor and author in Philadelphia in the last century, often summed up the gospel this way: Cheer up; you're a lot worse off than you think you are, but in Jesus you're far more loved than you ever could have imagined.
Adapted from Tullian Tchividjian's upcoming book, Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, to be released by Crossway Books on May 31, 2010.