Summary: If there is hope for Ninevah -- surprise, there is hope for you!
My roommate in college wanted to be a missionary.
He wanted to go to some distant and exotic part of the world and preach the Gospel.
We both had met missionaries and had heard them tell their stories. My roommate and I had become good friends with a missionary to Pakistan. We corresponded frequently with a missionary to Brazil.
One of our own classmates had gone to Peru. And my roommate had been inspired by these missionaries and had decided to go on the mission field and share the Gospel.
So my roommate packed his bags after graduation and traveled to the distant land of
Hawaii? I couldn’t believe it. What kind of mission field was that, I asked him.
Well, he said, somebody has got to do it. It might as well be him.
Poor old Jonah finds out that the Lord is calling him to the mission field. But it is not sunny Hawaii. It’s Ninevah.
Folks, going to Ninevah is like going to Baghdad at the peak of the civil unrest.
That is not the place a tourist would go. It is not the place that any person in their right mind would go. But it is the place where God calls Jonah to go.
The book of Jonah opens with the Lord speaking to Jonah, saying, "Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it, for its wickedness has come up before me.
Jonah, being both a man of devout faith and of devout reason, does the reasonable thing. Ninevah is in the East. Jonah therefore takes the westbound train.
He heads for the sea and tries to go in the opposite direction from Nineveh.
You see Nineveh was not the kind of place that would welcome a stranger -- especially a stranger who was going to tell them to change their ways. This was a mean city in a mean nation. At one point in their history, the Assyrians would decapitate their enemies and mount the heads on poles at the city gates as a warning to anyone who entered the city.
Now who wants to go visit a city like that?
Jonah doesn’t. So he runs and goes the other way.
Of course, what happens is that while he is at sea Jonah’s boat is caught up in a storm! Jonah is thrown overboard and a giant sea creature is sent by God to swallow Jonah.
This fellow’s having a bad time of it. First he is told by God to go to the worst place or, earth and tell the meanest people on earth to repent of their sires. Then he is caught up in a terrible storm at sea and now he is stuck in the belly of a fish.
It must have beers frightening, dark and it must have smelled terrible. But within that place, Jonah remembered God and praised God. Jonah is then rescued and he goes onto Nineveh, and this is where we pick up the Old Testament lesson for today. Jonah has been rescued and he goes onto Ninevah.
Now, Jonah does not like the people of Ninevah. He is, in a sense, a cultural racist. We all know people like that.
The first time that I became aware of this human failing was when I was in the second grade. My teacher hated Japanese people. She was quite vocal about it, and I never understood that until years later when I learned that her husband had been held as a POW by the Japanese, and he suffered terribly during the Second World War.
Now she no longer cared for Japan. She not only hated the wartime leaders, or the military of Japan, she hated the entire nation.
There are some people who are like that with blacks, or the poor, or Muslims or the Arabs. Jonah was like that with the people of Nineveh. He despised them. But it is perhaps with some pleasure that he pronounces this message of judgment and destruction, announcing that in 40 days the city would be destroyed by God.
Then the people of Ninevah do the most amazing thing.
They listen to Jonah. They repent. They change their way of doing things.
They change their lifestyles.
The king himself issued a proclamation for everyone to pray and to repent. "Who knows," said the king, "Perhaps the Lord will change his mind and not destroy us. " And in fact, that is just what happens. The Lord spares Ninevah.
For Ninevah to repent means that ANYBODY can repent.
Anybody can turn to God. Anybody can change their lifestyle.
I suspect that most of us know someone that we consider to be hopeless.
The parent who is an alcoholic.
The spouse who is abusive.
The child who is a terror.