Asking Jonah to preach in Nineveh would be like asking a Jew to go to the Nazis or the parents of the Japanese journalist who was beheaded to go to ISIS. The thought of mercy in light of unspeakable atrocities is repelling to a sense of justice. Think cross and the unthinkable crime.
Jonah finally went. He preached judgment, and God released mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Js. 2:13). Christ gets the curse, and sinners receive righteousness. God told Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (33:11). Jonah was right: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God…” (4:2). God loves sinners. The Spirit (not the preacher) convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment, bringing mercy for the repentant. If we preach judgment, we do it, as D. L. Moody says, with tears. The last line of the book of Jonah is most telling regarding God’s heart. He reasons with Jonah, “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Can we hear Him say, “Should I not be concerned about the Twin Cities?” “…about Seattle? Moscow? Tokyo?”
God initiates revival but looks for partners. “How can they hear without a preacher?” This shows the incarnational character of revival: it is both a divine and human event. No revival has ever been a solo flight from heaven. God always looks for co-workers. And He uses all kinds. Elijah showed his fragility only moments after one of the most incredible days any prophet could imagine—fire from heaven and the demolition of the prophets of Baal. John the Baptist showed his weakness when behind bars. And Jonah did not want to abandon his anger toward Assyria. Yet God chose to use him. And He will use you. Sign up!
The pagans come off looking better than Jonah. First, the sailors were reluctant to throw Jonah over. When they realized they had to, they offered a humble prayer showing that they believed what Jonah said about his God: “You, O Lord, have done as you pleased.” Second, the preaching of Jonah evoked incredible city-wide repentance. What a lowly response from a king: “Who know? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” The greatest resisters to a move of God are sometimes the people of God. In the case of Nineveh, it was the prophet. Guard your heart when revival breaks.
Six centuries after Assyria fell, “a wicked and adulterous generation” asked for a sign. Jesus gave them Jonah, who prefigured His death and resurrection. The greatest proof of His Sonship was not the healing of a demonized blind man—enough of a sign, but His coming out of the tomb, just as Jonah came out from a death-defying ordeal in the same time-frame. Jesus also said remarkably, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here” (Matt. 12:41). Listen to that: they were truly converted—by a prejudiced preacher. They will say to religious resisters, “What?! We repented with Jonah, and you didn’t even repent with the Son of God!” Powerful book, powerful message, powerful God!