39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. – Matthew 12:39
The story of Jonah is one that well known as it has been from children classes, to Sunday schools and also from the pulpit. One of the lessons I had always learnt from it based on what I was taught was that you should refuse the calling of God in your life or God will lead you into dangers and troubles until you surrender to Him.
This was one of the most legalistic teachings that has founded many ministries that do not have a foundation in rest. Today there many ministers who have already quit but have not thrown in the towel yet because they would not want a greater damnation from God. The real question is this. Is this message that God was passing across to us?
We have to understand the scriptures are a revelation of Jesus and the finished work but coded in personalities and events. If we look at the scriptures from our own position we always fall short and end up either guilt or condemnation.
Now lets look at the book again:
We all know that Jonah was the prophet who was reluctant to bear God’s message. He was called by God to take the message of repentance to a heathen nation, Nineveh. Jonah ran from the call and ended up being swallowed by a whale. After three days and nights in the whale’s belly, he was vomited up on the shore. Then he goes to Nineveh and God moves greatly, stirring repentance in the hearts of all that hear him preach. For most people, the story ends there.
The book of Jonah however, does not end with Nineveh’s repentance. Instead, the book takes a twist as it reveals the reason for Jonah’s reluctance. We see Jonah outside of the walls of Nineveh, and finds him angry with God. Jonah did not avoid going to Nineveh because he was afraid of the people or the calling, though he would have had every reason to be. The men of Nineveh were a savage nation, sacrificing humans to their strange gods; skinning their prisoners alive to use the skins as dried leather for furniture and piling the skulls of their executed on a large mound outside of the city gates to warn foreigners and thieves. Jonah avoids going to Nineveh because they have been perpetual persecutors of Israel, and Jonah wants them to suffer the wrath of God. He knows that God is merciful and that He will forgive them if they ask, and Jonah wants no part of it.
This is something most Christians in our day and age don’t know about God. They would have preferred to go to Nineveh to pronounce God’s judgment, fire and brimstone.
God causes a gourd, a quick growing shrub in that part of the world, to grow up overnight to shadow Jonah from the hot sun, and then prepares a worm to eat it up. This act of God was to teach Jonah one final and crucial lesson about the heart of God.
God asks Jonah if he is angry about the gourd being destroyed. Jonah replies that he has a right to be angry, even to the point of suicide (Jonah 4:9). God’s response is to teach Jonah the contrast between his love for the gourd and God’s love for Nineveh:
“Then said the Lord, ‘Thou has had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand (120,000) persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?’” (Jonah 4:10, 11)
It’s interesting that God was defending the savage and heathen nation.
Jonah was angry over the loss of something that he did nothing to create. God shows him that in Nineveh are people whom God loves, who He did create and who He wants to save. How much more should God do all to reach Nineveh? There are 120,000 people there that cannot tell the difference between their right hand and their left. God wanted to spare Nineveh because He wanted the next generation get another chance. He has not changed to this day.
Now in the New testament, we find this story replay itself again.
After Jesus had resurrected he gave the disciples a charge to spread the message of salvation to the Jews and eventually to the utmost parts of the earth. But did Peter understand that the gospel of the kingdom was also for the gentiles? I didn’t think so.
One must remember that there was a long-standing “middle wall of partition” (the Mosaic law) that separated these two segments of humanity. The Gentiles (i.e., all non-Jews) were considered an “alien” body of people, indeed, “strangers” as viewed by the Hebrews (cf. Ephesians 2:12-14), who were being used in a special way for the coming of Jesus into this world. It would take a mighty effort, therefore, to change Jewish hearts of resistance to those of compliance to embrace them.
First, there was an amazing vision in which Cornelius saw an angel sent from God in Acts 10:3. The heavenly being engaged the centurion in conversation, assuring him that the Lord had taken note of his prayers. He thus was to send a message to a Jew in Joppa, Simon Peter. Cornelius was informed exactly where and with whom Peter was residing in the city.
3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?”
So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.
If you note carefully this Simon was in Joppa. Jonah went to Joppa to plan his escape from the call to preach the word.
3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish;…”– Jonah 1:3
Also another interesting revelation is that this Simon was called Barjona by Jesus in Matthew 16:17
“Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
The word “bar” in Hebrew means son. Peter called Simon son of Jonah. He was about to replay the book of Jonah. God was again reaching to those outside the common wealth of Israel this time with a better covenant.
Now this same Peter was also receiving a message from God to spread the word of the gospel to the gentiles. Peter went up on the flat roof of his host’s house. It was about mid-day and the apostle became hungry. He fell into a trance during which he saw a great sheet let down from heaven. It contained a variety of creatures which, by Old Testament law, were declared unclean (cf. Leviticus 11).
This may be shocking news for some, but that is not at all how God sees us! Jesus made us clean, worthy, holy, and righteous by his blood! Don’t call ”unclean” what Jesus has made clean (Acts 10:28). Every time we condemn ourselves we are calling unclean what God calls clean; meaning that we are doubting God’s very word that He has spoken concerning us.
Peter was commanded to “kill and eat,” but he promptly refused, appealing to his rigorous devotion to the law. Twice more the scene was repeated, and it perplexed the apostle greatly. Just as he contemplated this puzzling matter, the servants dispatched from Cornelius arrived at the gate below and inquired about Peter (the timings in Acts are astounding!).
When the messengers explained the background of their visit, together with the prodding of the Holy Spirit (v. 19), the truth “clicked” in the apostle’s mind. He called the messengers in (Gentiles, no less!) and had them lodge overnight. The following morning, Peter, the three messengers, and six Jewish brethren (who would serve as witnesses) began the trip back to Caesarea.
While Peter spoke, a supernatural manifestation of the Spirit’s power fell upon the Gentile audience. The Holy Spirit embrace the gentiles when Peter hit the heart of God.
“To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”– Acts 10:43
These non-Hebrews suddenly were granted the ability to speak in languages without any altar calls or tarrying. This was to let us know that God just couldn’t wait. He had always longed for this moment.
The next time you look at people you consider terrible sinners and hope that they, “God’s judgment in hell”, think of the 120,000 in Nineveh, whom God wanted to save in spite of their sinful conditions. The love of Jesus is still great for all who do not deserve it, including you and me.