That All Should Be Saved
Read Jonah 4:10-11 (ESV)
“You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Do you want your enemies to suffer for what they’ve done or repent and turn to God? What does God want our enemies to do?
As an American, when I think about the crimes that terrorist organizations have committed against my homeland and my people, it makes my blood boil. I consider those terrorist groups absolute enemies of my country. But, I have to admit that if God called me to go to one of these groups and preach repentance to them, I would probably hesitate or protest.
Maybe you can relate. When you hear a report of a huge sex trafficking organization or of yet another mass shooting, what is your gut reaction? You might initially think, “Dear God, I hope those responsible suffer for what they’ve done.” But, going to visit horrible criminals on the streets or in prison to preach the Gospel to them is probably not at the forefront of your mind.
But when we go back to the Bible, we see that God called Jonah to do just that—warn his sworn enemies of coming judgment so that they may repent and be saved. The book of Jonah is focused on warning a gentile nation to turn to the Lord. It shows us that God isn’t just concerned about Israel and Judah, He cares about the whole world and offers everyone a chance to repent and turn to Him. That is our Scarlet Thread of redemption for today. Just as Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:4, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In the book of Jonah (written about 760 B.C.), God desired that Nineveh be spared. Nineveh was a mighty city in Assyria, a pagan nation that was famously cruel to its enemies and a huge threat to Israel.
God called Jonah to “arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). But Jonah did not respond in obedience. Instead, he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish. In other words, Jonah went in the opposite direction of where God called him to go.
So God had a storm come upon the sea that had the sailors scared for their lives. Jonah confessed that he knew God was punishing him for his disobedience, so he told them to toss him into the sea. Now, you are probably familiar with this part of the story. God could have allowed Jonah to perish in the sea for his disobedience. But He didn’t. Instead, He extended Jonah grace and mercy. He sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah whole and he stayed in the belly of the fish for three days and nights. Jonah recognized that the fish was God’s way of saving him and he was grateful: “But I with a voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9). Then the fish threw Jonah up onto land.
God gave Jonah a second chance at obedience and sent him to Nineveh again. This time, Jonah complied. He went into the middle of the city and proclaimed, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). Amazingly, Nineveh believed God and repented immediately! The pagans who were sent a prophet from the Lord, fasted and put on sackcloth in humble repentance (Jonah 3:5-10).
Now, you’d think Jonah would be rejoicing at the lives spared by God because of his message to them. But sadly, he wasn’t. In Jonah 4:2, he said, “...that is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” In other words, Jonah didn’t want Nineveh to be spared. He wanted them to suffer. So God sent Jonah a shade plant to teach him a lesson. Jonah enjoyed the shade of it but by the next day, a worm and a wind gust destroyed the plant that he had just been given. This really upset Jonah!
In today’s verses, God pointed out the irony of Jonah’s anger and concern over the loss of life for the plant when just before, he was upset that God had spared 120,000 human lives. Jonah would have been content with a massive loss of human life, but he was not ok with his pet plant withering up. God called the people of Nineveh people who “don’t know their right hand from their left.” In other words, these people were spiritually lost. Unlike Israel and Judah, the people of Nineveh did not have God’s Law, they didn’t have the Levitical priesthood, they didn’t have the sacrificial system to atone for their sins. Jonah should have had compassion for them.
Friends, it is clear from the book of Jonah that God desires all people to be saved. He values every human life, and He patiently sends warnings so that everyone can know to be right with God. Who are we to be like Jonah and try to hide the Good News from others? Who are we to hoard God’s mercy and grace?
Lord, please give me Your compassion for lost people. Help me to set aside any hard feelings and offer the same grace and mercy that has been given freely to me. After all, I know that I didn’t deserve to be saved either. Thank You for Your mercy. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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