Jesus has mandated His Church to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and through being His witnesses (evangelism) to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). This is His mandate to His Church. The Church is the people. His mandate to the Church includes every Born Again member of the Church. Why is it that so few in His Church have a passion to see souls saved? We may push doctrine and theology … and I support that. We may push a Church’s government style … and I support that. We may push a unique denomination or grouping … and I support that. We may push a certain style of singing … and I support that … yet all of these good things put together cannot and will not ever replace the need for evangelism! Without evangelism we will have all the above and either no Church or a small Church that fulfils our peculiar bent but blocks out God’s will for “our” Church … or rather “His” Church.
I’m reading Frank Retief’s latest book called “God said YES”. In chapter 2 he writes … “I always seem to drift to the great realities of Christ, eternal life and the need to make a decision because of the reality of a future judgment.”
One cannot evangelize if you have no fear of hell and that Great Day of Judgment. To wrap your head around that Day, someone needs to explain the Gospel to you. Understanding the Gospel’s message leads to a desire for Eternal Life because you want to be forgiven and escape the Day of Judgment. I will suggest that that was the feeling and experience of the Ninevites! Let us consider:
Jnh 3:8 “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
The two remaining matter relating to repentance that I want to dealing with today is prayer and the pursuit of holiness. 1) Urgent prayer. Remember these people were heathen and once they heard God’s message through Jonah … the king instructed … Let everyone call urgently on God. They were not to call on their localized town god. They were to call upon Jonah’s God … to call upon the one who was unhappy with their wicked lifestyle. When you see the three parts of the king’s instruction … sackcloth, call [prayer] and giving up wickedness … they were in the middle of the process. To feel badly about sin is not repentance. It is an expression of guilt but might not necessary mean heartfelt. So the next step is to turn to God in urgent prayer. The picture before you as you look at Nineveh is one of desperation. The word urgent implies immediate! In verse 4 we hear Jonah, speaking on God’s behalf, giving them … forty days … “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” Maybe this was not exactly forty days … most likely it was a phrase or expression used for a limited period. Although nothing to do with heaven and hell and being right with God, I have a limited period to get our house ready because it is going on the market on 15 August. From the time of deciding on the date with the Property Agent, I had 34 working days and 6 of those days have passed. I feel the pressure … literally it is immense. That is Nineveh. The pressure is on … the days are ticking away. Each day will be deducted from the period forty stood for! “Call urgently on God” … is not just urgent. It is serious and would come from a heart that is genuine, understanding God’s person, God’s message and God’s requirement. Without this understanding prayer would be to an unknown God, not knowing exactly what this God required. That way it would have been nothing but hopelessness. This is why, to understand these people at Nineveh, one needs to grasp the king’s requirement in full … sackcloth, prayer and repentance! What follows in verses 8-9 and verse 10 implies they understood who God was and their prayers were hitting target.
2) Stop wickedness. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. This is where all the stages of repentance come together in meaningful business before God.
(1) “Evil ways” would be their immoral, sinful lifestyle, be it socially, religiously, in business or family.
(2) “Violence” does not capture the meaning intended. If you could picture a pack of wild dogs or hyenas … who are forever hungry … always going after prey. To say they are always ravenous and excessively greedy would be an understatement. They will attack just about any animal … including leopards and lions. They literally tear their prey apart in the most violent manner … even when it is still living. As used by the king it includes both physical harm and the infringement of human rights. When we consider “evil ways” and violence” explained like this, we need to reflect upon the way we sin against God that affects and impacts upon others, and we need to ask …
(a) Does my sin cause infringement upon the human rights of other people?
(b) Am I living in disobedience towards God, even if I am a Christian?
(c) Does my sin prevent salvation if I am not a believer yet?
3) The uncertainty of their future. The king was sensible! He says to his people
Jnh 3:9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.
Will God be merciful? He did not know, but going all the way to meaningful, real repentance is exactly what God’s message required. Throughout the Bible, when people exercise real faith and intentional repentance, God does exercise compassion … and He does save souls … and communities!
Jnh 3:10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
The omniscient God saw them honoring what He required of them and withheld the calamity He intended for them. Should a people, a nation, a family, a congregation or an individual respond to God this way, He will do the same. God is in the business of honoring His Word.
Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
God’s business with human beings is that they believe, be saved and escape eternal death. Although the story of the Ninevites is a true account of wickedness to holiness, lost-ness to salvation … it is a great model within God Word, showing people what real and genuine repentance and what the results are.
Merciful God, You who are filled with compassion, pouring out grace upon those who are truly repentant. Help pastors and evangelists to proclaim truth for the Spirit to use wooing people into salvation. Amen.