One of the most successful evangelists in Bible times was a man who needed to learn more about the most powerful weapon he could have used on the enemies of God. The man’s name was Jonah and the weapon was mercy. Our brother Jonah was indeed one conflicted guy! Forget for a moment the entire episode of Jonah, the storm, the fish and the being vomited up on the beach (Yuck!), let’s examine Jonah’s evangelism.
Jonah came to the first day of his evangelistic crusade kicking and screaming. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He didn’t want to go not because he was afraid of being attacked or because he thought he would be a failure. No, on the contrary, Jonah’s greatest fear was that the city would repent and that God would forgive them! Try with me to imagine the thoughts going through Jonah’s mind as he preached. Maybe they sounded a bit like this:
“Okay God so I know I have to obey and preach your message. Here goes: ‘Repent! God is sending destruction on this city!’ ” Then Jonah closed his eyes and prayed that no one would come to the altar! Wow, that might sound like the strangest thing but it was exactly what the Bible tells us. In fact when God chose to forgive the city because everyone was touched by Jonah’s message, he became angry. Let’s listen in on his conversation with the almighty as he is hastily exiting the city. You find this in Jonah 4:2
And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? 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.
Before we laugh too hard at this surly prophet, maybe we need to look in the mirror to see if we are really a lot like him.Like Jonah, we may be missing the entire point of God’s mercy. Today in New York and New Jersey the news is filled with the stories of the most recent acts of terror on American soil. Some of us are so angry and frustrated that any act of destruction by us on parts of the Middle East would suit us just fine. But instead of bitterness, we who are Christians have the greatest opportunity to pull from God’s arsenal his most powerful weapon of all – the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. That weapon of mercy is the most powerful because it was also the most costly. Mercy cost God His only Son! As Jesus hung on the cross and became the object of shame and ridicule he could have asked the Father for justice. But Jesus knew that there was nothing more potent that he had available to use on his enemies than grace.
Our brother Jonah’s dream was not to see Nineveh saved. Oh no! Jonah was hoping for God to do to Nineveh something like what had happened with Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus instead looked past the jeering crowds. Jesus saw beyond his few frightened disciples huddling behind locked doors. Jesus looked all the way to heaven and saw a joy that no earthly power could take away and then He released on the world God’s mightiest weapon:
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments Luke 23:34