Jonah’s story is a cautionary tale. This genuine prophet who was theologically orthodox blatantly disobeyed the command of God to evangelize the wicked Ninevites. And not because he was afraid of them but instead because he despised them. Sinclair Ferguson explains:
“How perverse Jonah was. Living in a favored nation where spiritual light had been shone only because of the great mercy of God, he had come to assume that Israel deserved grace, whereas others had ill-deserved it. What a perversion! Yet it lies like a hidden poison in the hearts of some of us who most fervently profess evangelical convictions. It is an unwritten rule in our hearts—others do not deserve the gospel, so why should we exhaust our lives in taking it to them? Alas, when we think like that we show how little we know of our own need, how little we really know of the grace of God.”
The author of Jonah wants us to discern this hidden poison not only in Jonah but where it might exist in our hearts. The author wants the reader to ask, does my heart reflect the heart of Jonah or the merciful heart of God?
So how can we discern if this hidden poison of self-righteousness has infected our hearts? Well, is there anyone you are reluctant to pray for, reach out to, or share the gospel with? Is there someone you have concluded doesn’t deserve the mercy of God?
The cautionary tale of Jonah is relevant to the church—relevant to each of us. Relevant in this time of racial tension and hostility. Relevant in this time of political tension and turmoil. So let me ask you: Is there a Ninevite in your life? Someone perhaps of a different ethnicity or political persuasion that you think doesn’t deserve the mercy of God?
Jonah didn’t understand that he differed from the Ninevites only because of the great mercy of God. And we must never forget that we differ only because “God, being rich in mercy, because of the the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).