Text: Jonah 3:1-5,10
Title: God’s Grace for Niniveh
(NKJ) Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh,
that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh,
according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey
in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Dear Friends in Christ, Jesus Christ is the most bountiful expression of God’s overwhelming grace and mercy for us. We know that God so loved the world because He sent His one and only Son to be our savior and the sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 2:2 says He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. Jesus came for the whole world, including the people of Israel and the people of Niniveh and you and I.
You may think of Jonah primarily in terms of the first two chapters of his book, which deal with God calling him to go be a prophet to Niniveh and he tries to run away on a ship, gets tossed in the sea and swallowed by a great fish and God finally delivers him from that. The passage we examine today deals with what happened after that. God again calls for Jonah to go a prophesy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah learned from the first time that it is not a good idea to try to run away from God. He sees us no matter where we are or what we do.
Nineveh was a large city, possibly about 200,000 in population. It was spread out so that it would take three days to walk from one boundary to the other. It was the capital of the Assyrian people. Later, in about 100 years, they became a powerful empire. In fact, God raised them up to punish the people of the Northern Kingdom of Irsrael. They conquerored that kingdom and hauled the people off in exile. In the time of Jonah the empire was not active, but the city was still quite large.
Jonah entered the city and proclaimed the message God had given him. What is recorded is a quite simple message: Forty days and Nineveh would be destroyed. We don’t know if there was more to the message, but only that short statement is reported for us in the text. Upon hearing of Jonah’s proclamation, the people turned from evil and following other gods to be believers in the one true God, the same God we worship. Now, to whom shall we give the credit for this dramatic change?
Was it the people of Nineveh who all made their decision to turn away from evil and toward God? No, we can’t give them credit for that. They, like you and I and all people, are lost if left on our own. Ephesians 2:4-5 says: But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We are dead people who are unable to make ourselves alive. Rather, by grace you have been saved. This means it was God’s action to save us and it was God’s action to save the people of Nineveh. God gets allthe credit. It is not that we contribute some part to it. No, it is all God. That is true whether it is one person who is made to believe in the true God or 200,000. However, it was indeed a mighty miracle that God performed in bringing all the people of Nineveh to believe in Him.
The people responded to their turn from evil toward God by showing their sorrow over their sins. They clothed themselves in the most humble garments made of gunny sacks. They stopped eating. In the end, God had converted all the people to be believers and so He did not deliver the destruction of Nineveh as the prophecy had warned.
This miraculous change in Nineveh is later held up by Jesus in Matthew 12. After mentioning how He will be like Jonah three days in the fish, because He will be three days in the grave. Then Jesus criticizes the people for not hearing His message: (Mat 12:41) The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
I pray we all hear that message of Jesus, speaking of God’s grace and mercy for all people. We can sit in awe of what happened in Nineveh. We can know the same God came to us as our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.