When God saw…how (those people) turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind… Jonah 3:10
My first year as a pastor I was 26 years old and did a very foolish thing. A pastor friend of mine and I went to an old fashion tent revival. We sat in our cars, rolled down our windows, ate popcorn, drank Dr. Pepper and watched the Pentecostal show. The preaching was loud, boisterous full of antics. People would faint, dance in the isle, come forward for dramatic healing, and confession of scandalous sin. And we would watch it all as if we were at a drive-in movie. We had a grand old carnal time.
Inevitably at the end of the service the preacher with the gravelly voice and bad comb-over would pull the microphone close to his sweaty upper lip and scream to the top of his lungs, “Repent, and Ye shall be saved!”
Culturally we tend to moth-ball the world “repent” and we assume that the word means in essence, “You should feel really bad about something.”
Well, I want to redeem the word. Because the original intent of the word was not connected to immoral behavior. In fact, the word was not originally a religious word at all. It was used in the Monday-through-Saturday world of the ancient times. It is a word that simply meant “change directions.”
To repent is to become aware of God’s invitation into the kingdom, recoil with awareness of your sin and brokenness, and rethink your strategy for living, now that the option of the kingdom is at hand.~~Dallas Willard
Repentance is the fundamental way that we respond to what God has done to rescue us and His creation in Jesus.
A funny thing happened on the way to the apocalypse, the Ninevites believed God.
Why use Jonah? God could have written that eight word message in the sky. God could have gone all Shrek on them and had a donkey walk through preaching that message. I mean, we’ve already seen he is not opposed to using animals to do his work.
The Word of the Lord came to Jonah two times, he’s beat up by a storm, almost drowns, is swallowed by a great fish, then unceremoniously vomited out on to the shores so that Jonah finally is a the place where he is ready to say, “Okay! I’ll go to Nineveh. In fact I’ll go to Seattle, Los Angles, Nineveh or even Marysville—just don’t put me back inside Shamu!”
He is not very impressive as he walks into Nineveh. Jonah smells bad, his face is blotchy, his clothes are half eaten away from stomach bile in belly of the fish, he has kelp hanging from his ear and wild crazed look on his face and all he is saying is, “Repent! The end of the world is at hand!” Come to think of it, I might repent if I saw that coming at me.
He doesn’t explain who God is, or preach a sweet soft message of love and grace. There is no reflective music at the end of his sermon, no tear-jerking story, no poem, no dim lights. And it is an eight-word sermon. He doesn’t even tell them what they can do to avoid the judgment. He just says, “Forty days and you are toast.” And yet God uses it mightily and the people turn towards God.
God changed his mind and did not destroy the Ninevites. Was God playing a game? Was He faking it? No. There is a lot of mystery here, but the vital thing for us to see is that God turns towards these broken people in mercy, grace and love. God has set His grace with a hair-trigger and has it pointed at this sorry, dark world and says, “Give me a reason!”
All we have to do is flinch.
The Ninevites have turned towards God and God has turned towards the Ninevites, now Jonah needs to turn towards them. Through clinched teeth Jonah says, “I knew it! God, you are a sucker for sackcloth and ashes every time. All they have to do is sniffle, pray and tear their clothes and you are ready to forgive and love them.”
While the Ninevites practiced genocide as a part of their scorched earth strategy in war, Jonah was perfectly willing to pay for his ticket buy some popcorn and Dr. Pepper and watch God wipe them off the face of the earth. What’s the difference? God refuses to settle for the violence in Nineveh or the poisonous violence in Jonah’s own religious heart.
We do this with external behaviors all the time. There is me and then there are “those people.” Political conservatives look down on liberals as weak. Liberals look down on conservatives as stupid. Country music lovers look down on jazz lovers as arrogant and snotty. And Jazz lovers don’t even think about country music lovers at all.
But the gospel of the Kingdom of God says both you and “those people” are equally broken and equally loved by God. The Gospel of the Kingdom turns us towards God in humility and turns us towards “those people” and helps us to see them as people who are beloved of God.
So, dear friends, repent and ye shall be saved.
At least that is an option for us now that the Kingdom of God is at hand—in the Jesus Way.
There is a scene in the film The Mission that to me personally, is one the greatest moments in all cinema. Robert DeNiro plays a slave trader in colonial Latin America. He had dedicated himself to capturing Indians and selling them as slaves. Jeremy Irons plays a Jesuit missionary who helped convert the Indians, and who defended them.
When DeNiro is thrown in prison for murder, Irons shows him mercy, and ransoms him to come serve in the jungle mission. DeNiro is so overwhelmed by this act of grace that he insists on making the long journey to the mountain mission dragging his armor in a bundle behind him. He drags the weight of his sin and his filth to the top — where he meets the same people, now Christians, whose families he had been pressing into slavery. And where, if they killed him, justice would have been served.
As DeNiro is on his knees in the mud with the burden of his past tied to his back, the chief gives an order. Someone picks up a knife and runs to DeNiro and pulls his head upward with his face pointing to the very people he had hunted down like animals. The knife flashes and glints in the sunlight as the chief gives another order and the knife cuts the rope to the burden on DeNiro’s back. It tumbles down over a waterfall hundreds of feet; the same waterfall he had just climbed.
He is confused. He looks into the faces of his former enemies for understanding. And one by one they begin to laugh. Not the laughter of contempt, the laughter of forgiveness and delight. And suddenly the face etched in pain and agony for all the guilt of his selfish life begins to melt away to first a smile, then a grin, and finally an open-mouth laugh of joy.
He spent the rest of his life loving those for which he had such contempt.
And the Kingdom advanced one soul further towards bringing Up There, Down Here.
And so brothers and sisters, “Repent and Ye shall be saved.”