Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When Wicked People Repent

In the book of Jonah we  read about the great success of the first foreign missionary that God called and sent to a foreign land. Jonah's Journey for God took some strange twist before it was complete. Jonah could also be called the reluctant missionary and the unhappy missionary. How many servants of the Lord are reluctant or unhappy about the mission God has called them too? Jonah is not alone in his reluctance. Many are the excuses that people give for not serving the Lord.

 Jonah had a few misunderstandings about God:

1. Jonah tried to trim God down to size. He wanted God to be only on the side of the Hebrew people and that did not wish to include the people of Nineveh as God's children. How many nations at war have called on God to be on their side and destroy their enemy?

2. Jonah expected God to show mercy only on the people of Israel. The other nations had their gods and Israel had YHWH and that was the way it should be. Let them die was his thought on the matter.

3. Jonah counted God as a citizen of Israel. He believed in the idea of exclusive ownership of God's power, forgiveness and mercy for the Hebrew people.

Jonah discovered to his personal dismay that God is bigger than his idea of God. Jonah like many people had a few deep personal prejudices. Many people have the idea that if God loves me then God can not love my enemies. Prejudice is not logical and often gets in our way.

Like the ten-year-old boy who was ask if he liked spinach. He answered, "No, and I'm glad, I don't like it, because if I liked it, I'd eat it, and I couldn't stand that because I hate it."

Jonah hated Nineveh and when God told him that unless the people of that city repented, he would destroy it like Sodom. Jonah's reply was let them burn. It was not a matter of what was right and wrong, but what would meet Jonah's expectations and desire for revenge. He wanted a powerful neighbor destroyed.

After major coaxing from God Jonah did accept his mission and go to Nineveh.... He preached long and hard about how God was going to destroy them, because of their wickedness.... To Jonah's utter surprise they listened, even the King repented and the most remarkable thing happened. God was merciful and forgave them. This is not often stated in the bible like this in Jonah 3:10,

"When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed His mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it." God changed His mind, and the whole city was saved!

Now if I held a city wide revival and the whole city repented, I would be one happy evangelist. Jonah was not! Jonah went out and sulked. The day was his! Success was his and he was mad about it. "God, I told you what would happen, now look."

Consider that some of the most vile, wicked people on earth at that time, heard the word of God and repented. Are there people you know that seem so bad, so sinful, that you believe are beyond reach? Is there some reason that you are holding back and not going to them with the Gospel? Are there sinners so bad that you want them to be punished regardless of their repentance or their value to God?

Are we a little like Jonah?   Do we let our own feelings get in the way of doing God's assigned work of reaching out to sinners? Are there people we know that we would just as soon see burn in hell? Is that why we do not go to them with the Love of God? Does the book of Jonah have a lesson for us today?

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