Jonah chapter 3 is one of the great surprise chapters in the bible. An unwilling Jewish man goes all on his own to the great capital city of a huge godless empire. And he brings with him a message of 8 words from God, “40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” A simple stark warning about God’s coming judgement. Everything about the beginning of this evangelistic campaign seems unimpressive. And yet what happens next defies all our expectations.
“The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast...from the greatest of them to the least of them.” The whole city believed Jonah’s message and turned to God in repentance, and so God spared them from his terrifying justice. What a wonderful surprise. What an extraordinary moment in bible history - the greatest pagan city on earth turned to God in repentance. Through one man, through one message.
And here’s the thing that makes this story so wonderful. Jonah’s ministry is picture of our ministry. Well, to be more accurate, his ministry is a picture of Christ’s ministry: one man who sacrifices himself to save others, is (close to) dead for three days; and then is miraculously raised to life; and then his message goes out to the gentile world. That’s Jonah’s life and ministry and that’s Jesus life and ministry. And that is very exciting indeed. It means that as we carry Jesus’ message to a disinterested, godless world - we know it is God’s plan that thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people will believe the message and repent.