Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jonah: Preacher of the Gospel

Jonah is a book of the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Yet often Jonah is counted as a preacher only of the Law, and not of the Gospel. The Gospel is easily seen in the Lord’s dealings with Jonah, and even in His gracious desire that the people of Nineveh should repent and be spared the destruction that they were bringing upon themselves. But Jonah’s message is seldom understood for what it was.

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. (Jonah 3:4)

The key word in this proclamation is the word: YET.

By this word the Lord was declaring through His sent servant of the Word that patience was being extended to the people of doom. The Lord was making it known that Sin would be dealt with fully. Yet forty days were being given before the consequences of Sin would come. The Lord was waiting patiently. He sent Jonah and waited until Jonah’s arrival to begin the countdown. On the first day Jonah began to preach, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

The people and the king of Nineveh heard this “Yet” loudly and clearly. They already knew of the gracious nature of the Lord. The Gospel had been preached to them and among them in the past. This declaration of YET was received as an urgent call to repentance and faith, an urgent call to receive God’s salvation in Christ.

St. Peter reiterates this, saying,

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet 3:9)

The fact that the Lord ordains preachers to preach the Law is in itself a statement of grace. For there is only one reason for the Lord to speak the condemnation of the Law, and that reason is that people should hear and repent and believe the Gospel. The Law is not declared to convince people to live better lives. The Law is not given to urge people to try harder. The Law is the Lord’s proclamation of His extreme patience, patience in withholding the consequences that sinners have chosen for themselves, patience in reaching out to a rebellious people with the urgency of a Father’s love for His wayward children. The Lord’s desire in proclaiming the Law is that people would hear the great “Yet” of the Father’s love and to be turned in faith to the life that He gives in connection with the gift of Jesus.

Jonah knew this, and in his hateful prejudice tried to thwart God’s grace. Jonah was prejudiced toward the people of Nineveh because he counted their sinfulness and their unbelief to be worse than his own. He was not willing that the Law and Gospel should be applied to all equally. The Lord could have sent someone else, but then the Lord’s “Yet” would not have been heard by Jonah as applying also to him.

Certainly this stands as an everlasting message to all Christians, and especially to those whom the Lord ordains to be servants of the Word.

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