Jonah 3 – The Gospel
There are three reported times in the Gospels that Jesus references the story of Jonah. Each time he suggests that Jonah was a sign for the people of Ninevah and that Christ would also give a sign like Jonah had. Jonah’s “burial” inside the fish and third day “resurrection” were precursors to Christ’s actual resurrection after His sacrificial death. There is another common thread that runs through the stories of Christ and Jonah. Both Christ and Jonah upon their resurrections rose to allow repentance to be brought to those whom God had chosen for such an opportunity. Jonah for the city of Ninevah, and Christ for the world. Repentance is a means by which the Spirit can begin the work of sanctification in our lives. It is the Spirit that initiates the work of repentance and through that initiation we turn from the things that pull our allegiance from Christ.
It has been my experience that most people in churches today have a limited understanding of what true repentance looks like. Most people believe that it is something that happens at the point of salvation and must be repeated only if we fall back into some kind of “really bad” sin. Repentance is not something that happens once and then can be laid to rest. It is a daily practice that any follower of Christ must learn. The Spirit’s initiation of repentance is often voiced in simple, clear messages, much like that of Jonah’s; turn or experience the consequences of alienation from God. Despite the simplicity of the message, the work of the Spirit is profound. So profound in fact that an entire metropolis, peopled with over one hundred thousand citizens, turns from their wickedness and mourns their sin. Christ’s death and resurrection made the way for us to know the kindness and mercy of God, just as Jonah’s emergence from the belly of the fish allowed a great city to know them.
One of the key things we should glean from this reality revealed to us by Christ is that Jonah is a story primarily about the Gospel, and secondarily, as we will see in chapter 4, is the story of a stubborn and misguided prophet. Both aspects are beneficial for the growth of a believer, but only one is essential. Only one permeates the entire meta narrative of Scripture. Only one brings salvation. And too often, the Gospel story found in the book of Jonah is the one neglected for the sake of character study. It is lost in our fascination with the whiny and relatable prophet. We get sucked into the entertainment of imagining a man being swallowed whole by a giant fish and surviving. And too often, we miss the Gospel. We skip over what is essential for the sake of what is makes us feel more important. We would much rather be the reluctant prophet who is pursued and saved by God instead of being the wicked Ninevites who end up mourning in sackcloth and ash when their wickedness is addressed. We must learn to find the Gospel in the Scriptures, keeping God’s revelation of Himself at the forefront. Too often we like to bring the human element to the front. We want to be the main character. We want to be the hero. But more often than that we are the villain who has to undergo an unlikely and often painful transformation in order to be redeemed. That is our part in the Gospel story. We are the evil ones, the disobedient ones, the ones who constantly screw things up and wander from the plan. Christ and Christ alone is the hero. The one who saves. The one who accomplishes the impossible. May we not miss knowing who God truly is by putting ourselves in His place in the story. Lord forgive us when we think of ourselves more highly than we ought. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,