[Article written by Matt Nevins. Originally published in his email newsletter "The Lamp."]
I remember learning about the prophet Jonah as a young boy. The emphasis was usually on obedience to God when looking at Jonah trying to flee the presence of the Lord. Certainly this account is a good example to consider what happens as a result of obedience and disobedience. Yet there are other grand lessons that can be learned if we rewind the clock and consider what happens before the choice of obedience or disobedience is made. Let us consider the message that is given which requires the decision of an individual. We will not look at the message given to Jonah which caused him to make a decision, but rather the sermon Jonah presented that called for a city to repent.
The crux of the sermon is recorded for us in Jonah 3:4 when Jonah cried out, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” This is all that we have recorded that Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh. This short, yet powerful sermon caused the city to repent. The king issued a decree for each person to fast and wear sackcloth while calling on God (Jon. 3:7-8). In just the one statement recorded, we can see the seriousness of the matter, the brevity of time, and real judgment for a real group of people.
Yet forty days
These words show the pertinence of the message being delivered. Jonah lets the people know that time is about up and now is the allotted time to make corrections. People take time for granted and procrastinate. I know I have been subject to procrastination like others. Several times I procrastinated till the last minute when writing school papers. It usually dawned on me that time was nearly up when the teacher would remind the students of the deadline. No matter how much I disliked it and didn’t want to think about it, the deadline was approaching. There would be consequences for not completing the assignment, but life would go on. When time ceases, life will not go on for anyone on earth. The consequences at that moment will last eternally.
We need to realize the importance of having God integrated in our daily lives. James notes for us that our lives are short lived like vapor (Jms. 4:14). Yet forty days and our lives could be gone. Man lives, dies, and then faces judgment for the life that was lived (Heb. 9:27; Rom. 14:12). Those who lived righteously will receive eternal life, whereas the wicked will receive eternal separation from God (Rom. 6:23). We are here for a short while, therefore we need to do what is right (Eph. 5:16; 2 Pet. 3:8-13). Yet forty days and our time may expire.
Nineveh was a real place, inhabited by real people. How often do we forget this basic truth? We can take the story of this group of people and find different lessons to better ourselves today (Rom. 15:4). We can learn first of all that change is possible. A change is evident for God to relent from destroying the wicked city (Jonah 1:2, 3:10). Change is hard at times, but it is not impossible. Paul commends the Corinthians for their decision to change and repent from their sins (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Paul had preached against the errors and sin that was present in the area and those who believed made the necessary changes.
Society devises different illusions to justify sinful habits. People hold the belief that homosexuality is genetic is an example of trying to justify a sinful act and lifestyle. This illusion has people fooled that homosexuals cannot help their sexual preference. Society tries to make homosexuality just as natural as heterosexuality. However, the Scriptures do not support this error. God created all things and gave a woman to be man’s complement for his needs (Gen. 2:20-22). Furthermore Paul noted that the Gentiles had traded the natural relationship between man and woman for the unnatural relationship with a member of the same sex (Rom. 1:26-27). Certainly there are other illusions created in differing theologies, but the remains that powerful preaching is needed to stop the illusions.
We also learn that there are people who are simply ignorant of right and wrong (Jonah 4:11). This needs to be a motivator for us as Christians to be patient with individuals who are not in the body of Christ. God is our ultimate example of one who is patient (2 Pet. 3:9), compassionate (Jms. 5:11), merciful (Tit. 2:5), and justness (1 Jno. 1:9). If God has extended these attributes to a sinful world, then what makes us better than God to disregard our neighbors? Jonah was wrong in his desire for Nineveh to be destroyed, and we are just as guilty when we have the same attitude today. God taught Jonah a lesson in compassion in Jonah 4, a lesson preserved for people throughout time-even for people of today. The task for us now becomes to educate the ignorant of the goodness and severity of God.
Will be destroyed
Nobody enjoys punishment. Obedience to the rules set forth by the authoritative figure will prevent any punishment. Whether you are in a classroom, on the road, in a game, or in a number of other areas, punishment comes to the rule violators. Nineveh was going to be destroyed because of their sin (Jonah 3:4). People will suffer eternally in hell because of sin (Mt. 7:21-23, Lk. 13:5, Rev. 20:15). God’s nature is truly unchanging in that obedience is rewarded and disobedience is punished (Heb. 13:8, Rom. 11:22). An honest heart that studies the Scriptures cannot dispute this due to the supporting examples in both Old and New Testaments.
We can see that different groups in society will work to delete hell from the Scriptures. Some that are ignorant will say there is no such place as hell, where others will say hell exists but only for a short duration. Both positions are false and will cause souls to go to a real place called hell eternally. If we choose to disregard all the warnings in the New Testament, we will be no better than the man in Luke 12:16-21. This man did not retain knowledge of God and only invested in the pleasures of this life (Lk. 12:17). God called him a fool because he did not look out for the welfare of his soul (Lk. 12:20). Hell is real, and the punishment is real (Mrk. 16:16, Lk. 16:19-31). Therefore what manner are you living today?
“Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” is a sermon that is not preached enough today. The gospel of Christ is powerful and effective today as it was nearly 2000 years ago (Acts 2:39). Yet many religious entities will compromise the truth and accept everyone, no matter what lifestyle a person lives and if the same person will repent. This idea of ‘unity in diversity’ is unloving in nature. It is just as unloving as a parent not telling a child the stove is hot. The danger and consequences are real, whether or not we accept it. The denominations of today may accept sin, but the just God in heaven will not (1 Jno. 3:8). Time is short (Jms. 4:14), real souls are held in the balance (1 Pet. 4:6), and judgment is near (2 Pet. 3:10). God’s word is true and certain, and there is no force that can prevent God’s judgment.