“Then the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth — from the greatest of them to the least. When word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever witnessed something incredible happening? I’m not worried about exactly what it was right now, but have you seen it with your own eyes? Better yet, have you ever seen something incredible happen that was the direct result of something you had done? What happened right here in the city of Nineveh was incredible. But, while it may look like it, it had a lot less to do with what Jonah did than you might think.
I’m trying to think through incredible things I’ve seen happen first person. I was there to see the Colorado Rockies win game 4 of the NLCS over their divisional rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks, to advance to their first ever World Series appearance. That was an incredible moment, but all I did was buy tickets and show up.
Another time I was staying at a hotel and all the power went off one morning while we were getting dressed. On a whim I announced, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’” and all the power came back on right then. I don’t think that qualifies as incredible, though, so much as humorously unlikely and highly coincidental timing.
Perhaps the most incredible things I’ve seen was being there as each of my three boys made their official appearance into the world. That was incredible and it was the direct result of something I’d been a part of (although not nearly as big a part as my wife had played).
What we see happening here in Jonah 3 is incredible too. Jonah delivers the worst sermon ever preached and the entire city of Nineveh responds with heartfelt repentance. Every single creature in the city takes part in a three-day fast from the king in his palace all the way down to the cows in the field (the cows probably found a way to eat, but the symbolism of the declaration that they be included in the fast helps show just how serious the king was that everyone should participate in this act of repentance).
As far as Jonah was concerned this was probably the absolute least likely outcome to his embarrassingly lazy and pathetic sermon. As a matter of fact, we learn in the next chapter that this was exactly what he was counting on not happening, thus his incredibly meager efforts.
So what gives? How did this happen? It happened because God was at work. He was moving in the hearts of this people long before Jonah got there and He planned for Jonah’s sermon, as pathetic as it was, to be the thing that finally pushed them over the edge. This response from Nineveh was exactly why He pushed Jonah to go in the first place. It’s why He kept pushing Jonah even after he ran. Jonah was exceptionally unqualified for this task. But, His qualifications weren’t one of the factors God considered. He was up to something big, and by calling Jonah, He was making sure no one was going to be able to take credit for this except Him.
This same kind of thing is true in our own lives. When God calls us to some kingdom-advancing work, He’s not calling us to something new He’s starting. He’s calling us to join Him in something He’s already been doing. And in those moments when He has called you, the reason He’s called you is that He wants you to do whatever it is. Your particular qualifications don’t matter. Your personal assessment of your abilities matters even less. He’s up to something and you are the vessel through whom He plans to accomplish it. As the angel told Mary, with God all things are possible.
So, what is it that God in Christ has called you to do? Whether it seems big like preaching to a whole city, or small like having a conversation with someone, He’s got plans to advance His kingdom through that work. All He’s waiting on is you to trust Him and obey His call. Everything else will fall into place from there.