Monday, February 18, 2019
Jonah 4:1 – 3 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Matthew 6:14 – 15 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
The Old Testament story of Jonah is fascinating because of what it teaches us about forgiveness. Here are the key points of the story to refresh our memories.
Nineveh was a wicked city, and that may be an understatement. Nineveh was located on the Tigris river in the Assyrian Empire, and had a population of around 600,000 people – 120,000 of them were children.
The Assyrians were vicious warriors. When they returned from battle with their captives, they would scare them into obedience by posting the heads of their victims on posts around the walls of their city. This kept outsiders out and insiders in. If anyone was caught trying to escape, they would be impaled alive on a pole from bottom to top. They showed no compassion and did not value another person’s life beyond what value it could bring to their own.
The wickedness of the people in this city was a concern to God. Jonah was aware that Assyria had been chosen by God to be the nation that would take Israel into captivity because of its own sin. God is working to prepare the Assyrians to be able to be used as His instrument of discipline. But Jonah doesn’t want that to happen. Not only have the Assyrians already done enough to be destroyed, but to even think that such an evil nation could be used by God to correct His chosen people is absurd. Jonah cannot fathom the embarrassment and humiliation that his people would have to endure by having their sins exposed by a more sinful nation. So, when God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to them, he refuses and runs away from the Presence of the Lord.
Following an almost tragic boat ride and an encounter with a great fish, Jonah obeys God and travels to Nineveh. He preaches a simple message – only 8 words in total – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” But God used that simple message to save the city. The people repented of their sins and God forgave them.
WOW! 600,000 converts. Jonah must be ecstatic. But he isn’t. He’s actually mad, because he didn’t really want the people to repent. He wanted them to be destroyed because he felt their sins warranted it. He goes outside the city and pouts. He even tries to defend his feelings to God. He says, “See, I knew this would happen. I knew you would forgive them because I know who you are. But I disagree with what you are doing because you obviously didn’t consider me in all of this. It would be better for me to die right now than to have to go back home and face the condemnation of my own people because of what I have done.”
Jonah was more concerned about his own feelings and freedom from possible suffering than he was about the liberation of others who were already suffering. He is no different than any of us who make judgments about others based on their actions when we should be praying for their deliverance from the bondage of sin that causes them to choose those actions.
Check your heart right now. If the worst criminal you can think of was captured, and God specifically sent you to share the Gospel with him, would you go? Or would you stay home because you want him to pay for what he has done? Even if he was still condemned to death by the courts, would you want him to die in his sin or would you have the compassion of God and want him to die as a brother in Christ?
Let’s bring it a little closer to home. How have you been treating the last person who hurt you? Or maybe you need to think about the first person who ever hurt you. I didn’t say this was easy. I know how hard it is to not only forgive a person who has hurt me but then to treat them with love and kindness even when they refuse to accept it. I’m in that situation right now. But we must recognize that anything short of forgiveness, acceptance, and restoration for those who have hurt us is totally of the flesh and is a product of our pride. We can argue with God all we want about our reasons for our feelings, but none of them can change the eternal fact that God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love. He wants to forgive, and he wants us to forgive also. In fact, Jesus said that the degree to which we forgive others is the degree to which we ourselves are forgiven.
So check your heart. Against whom are you harboring an unforgiving spirit? Repent of that sin today, and then go and forgive them. Their spiritual life is of far greater importance than your personal feelings. Life is not about us or about our glory – it’s about God and His glory. His glory is seen when we respond to people the way He would. Let God’s glory be seen in the way you forgive others.