Summary: Repentance is the key to the Christian faith, but how do we know if we’ve done it? Jonah 3 teaches us what real repentance looks like
The nature of repentance
On the day of Pentecost, after the Spirit comes, the disciples are shaken by the sound of a rushing wind, tongues of fire appear on their heads, they head out on to the street praising God and speaking in tongues. Peter explains to the crowds what is happening. He explains the Gospel, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
38Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:37-39)
All through Scripture we are told that for the forgiveness of the things that we do wrong in our lives, we need to repent. But “repent is not as word that gets used outside of Church very often. Which is why many of us don’t always know what it means, and some Christians worry that they have not truly repented for their sins, while others assume that they have when it appears to me that they have a different definition of repentance from the Bible.
Jonah 3 gives us 2 great examples of repentance; first in Jonah the prophet and then in the Ninevites that he is prophesying to.
1) Repentance is taking a U-turn
We will come back to this, but the basic meaning of the word “repent” is to turn from doing something wrong to doing something right. This is important because there are a lot of things that get mistaken for repentance that do not include actually stopping our bad behavior.
2) What repentance looks like
- Confession (8b)
Repentance begins with an awareness that what we have done is wrong. They say that recognizing your problem is the first step in solving it.
Jonah, somewhere between Chapter 1, verse 3 and Chapter 3 verse one, realizes that he was wrong. Jonah was called by God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city because of its wickedness. Nineveh is wicked, and powerful, so Jonah is afraid for his life. Instead of taking the next camel train to Nineveh, he jumps on a ship and heads for Tarshish, which is at the exact opposite end of the then known world. He is running from God, but God runs after him with a huge storm that threatens to break up the ship. The sailors figure out that Jonah is the problem, they ask him what they should do, and he says that they must throw him overboard into the raging sea. They don’t want to do it, but the storm is so bad that they finally throw him over. The storm stops as Jonah sinks to the bottom. God doesn’t let him drown, but sends a fish to come and swallow him. Jonah is three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. While he is there he prays, and admits his wrong.
The fish spits him up on to dry land, where God calls him again to go to Nineveh. This time he obeys, and he goes and preaches to them.
It would have taken about three days to cover the city, on the first day Jonah begins his task, and prophesies God’s message to them. Jonah may have said more, but all we are told that he said was “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” He may have shouted as he walked, or he may have said it to individuals as he passed them, he may have mumbled it under his breath for all we know. What we do know is that he is only one day into his three-day preaching stint and the people repent.
The people of Nineveh did not need to repent. They were a powerful, arrogant, violent, wicked people. Jonah was this little guy from a weak nation at the edge of their soon to be empire. They could have strung him up from dising their fine city. But they don’t – they listen to him. Mind you, it might be easier to listen to a prophet of doom when he just spent the last three days in the belly of a fish. His skin and hair are bleached white from the digestive juices, his clothes are half digested, there is a dried up piece of kelp hanging off his left ear. – I might listen to a guy like that: “Repent, or God will do to you what he did to me!”
Whether Jonah showed up like that, or he cleaned himself up a little before arriving, the people hear his message and believe it. They recognize that they have been doing great evil and they express it.