“God saw their actions — that they had turned from their evil ways — so God relented from the disaster he had threatened them with. And he did not do it.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the greatest Christmas movies of all time (after Die Hard) is Home Alone. And whether you agree with me or not, it is a fact that it’s the third highest grossing Christmas movie ever (behind the recent remake of The Grinch at number two and Iron Man 3 running away with the top spot). In any event, one of my favorite scenes comes right at the very end when Kevin walks downstairs Christmas morning and finds his mom standing there. She apologizes earnestly for their forgetting him when they left on vacation and there’s this moment where it looks like he’s deciding whether to forgive her or not. Then he breaks into a big grin and everybody lives happily ever after (except the bad guys). That scene could have been inspired by what happens here in Jonah.
Let’s remember how we got here. Jonah got the call to go to Nineveh, refused at first, slept in a fish for a few days, got the call again, went, and preached the worst sermon of all time. What happened next caught everybody but God totally by surprise. The people of Nineveh repented. All of them. From the king to the beggar in the street, the whole city was swept by a movement of God’s Spirit and entered into a season of genuine repentance. This wasn’t just a show. By all appearances and accounts, this was the real deal.
We can’t explain this other than by the working of God. Nineveh was a pagan city. They had their own gods to follow. They didn’t have any reason to listen to this curmudgeon of a prophet from a country they would later conquer. And yet they did.
But before we go on, let’s add a bit more to the pile of disbelief here. Every historical account we have of Nineveh outside of this period suggests they were a nasty people. They were the ISIS of their day. When the Assyrians (of whom Nineveh was the capital city) came to town, you knew you were toast. Burnt toast. And again, this was the nation God would use to utterly destroy Israel not all that many years later. The real question seems like it should be why God even bothered to give them a chance to repent in the first place? Why not just wipe them out here so they can’t do violence to His people later?
Because that’s not the kind of God we serve. He doesn’t want for anyone to perish regardless of what their descendants may or may not do and He always responds to genuine repentance. That last point is particularly important and is rather gloriously on display here. The people of Nineveh didn’t know how God was going to respond to their repentance. They had no guarantees. They also didn’t have any other option. For whatever reason they believed Jonah’s warning and at that point the only thing they could do was exactly what they did: Repent and hope.
Fortunately for them, God always responds to genuine repentance. Always. What’s more, this hasn’t changed. God still responds to genuine repentance. No matter how much of a mess we have gotten ourselves into, when we finally come to our senses and repent, we can count on His receiving us. In Christ, our confidence of this is far beyond anything the Ninevites could have reasonably mustered. Our faithful God is so committed to a relationship with us that He died to make sure we could get to Him when we repent with sincere hearts.
So, if you’re in a mess of sin, repent. Repent with a genuine heart and go to the Jesus who is absolutely committed to you, to your being in a relationship with the Father through Him. Repent and be washed clean so you can stand in confidence before Him. Rest assured: you’ll be glad you did.