In the beginning there was no life. Everything was dark, formless, and void. Then, one day God spoke and creation took shape. Light broke through the darkness, order out of chaos, and something came out of nothing. He took humanity and breathed life into us. Giving us all we needed to survive – food, space, community, and purpose. But, it wouldn’t be long before we started to doubt His goodness and stop trusting in His sovereignty. We wanted more – He wasn’t good enough anymore. We fell for an alternative story, a lesser story, a lie. What story are you living by today?
The lesser story led to pain, suffering, guilt, shame, broken relationships, and death. We died relationally, spiritually, and physically. When we chose to live without God we learned quickly that life without Him is painful. In fact, there is no life apart from the one who breathed life into us. We tried to hide from Him, in our guilt and shame, but we failed. He quickly found us. We could see the hurt in His eyes and hear the compassion in His voice. He wanted us back. We started to wonder – how can we ever get back? Who will ever be able to save us?
God didn’t leave us in this death for long before He started working on His plan to redeem us and bring us back to the good He originally created us for. We failed and continued to turn from Him, over and over and over. But, He is persistent and continued to pursue us. Even saving us from our own sin and chaos time and time again. Eventually He sent Jesus, His only Son, to die for us and put an end to the death. Jesus was the One we have been waiting for. He is the one to save us. God isn’t just our creator, now we know Him as our redeemer.
This redemption wasn’t just from death but it was also to life. All along the way we can see where His redemptive plan was breaking through and His grace was at work. That time our enemy became our friend. That mountain that got moved. The wall that got knocked down. The chains that fell off. The freedom we found. The countless victories He won for us. All this gives us hope that one day we will be in His good presence fully and be back with Him walking in that good and perfect garden. One day, we will be back in chapter 1. We just need to trust Him again. We need to hold on to His story.
Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
The last chapter in Jonah leaves us wanting more. We want to know how Jonah answered that question. I for one would really like to know where Jonah went from here. All we really know about Jonah is that he did not want God to act in His compassion, that we was rebellious, and apparently loved the plant more than he loved his fellow humans. But, in this story we learn a lot about God. We can clearly see that God is gracious and compassionate with all of His creation.
In this final question to Jonah God also says a lot about Himself. Jonah looked at the city of Nineveh as evil. He looked at this city and these people as a threat, someone that needed to be destroyed so his way of life could be preserved. Jonah put limits on the very same gracious compassion that God had just showed him (an underserving, rebellious prophet). But, God didn’t see a rebellious prophet or an evil city full of His enemies. God saw a man who was struggling with God’s grace and who needed to be saved. He saw a city full of people who were lost and needed some direction to find their way. In both cases, they were His creation, whom He loved dearly.
God moved in His compassion way more than He moves in His anger. Praise God for that! We understand Jesus to be God’s revelation of Himself to us – God in the flesh, the Word coming to life and living with us. Jesus didn’t come out of God’s anger and Jesus didn’t reveal God’s anger to us. Jesus came out of God’s compassion and came to show us just how much God loves us. He came to reveal God’s grace and compassion.
Jonah had things wrong. In his self-righteousness he cared more for the plant than he did for the people. When we allow our own self preservation to take over and when we are moved by our anger we will put limits on God’s compassion and limits on the compassion we show. Which leaves us with the same question to answer – do we want God to be compassionate or not?
Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time
I am so thankful that we serve the God of second chances! God spoke, again, to a rebellious prophet who had run from Him and was even attempting to hide from Him. God then used that prophet to extend a chance to an evil and violent city. Jonah chapter 3 is full of second chances and stands to be the most encouraging chapter in the book of Jonah. Who of us couldn’t use a second chance here and there?
One of the things we can learn from Jonah’s second chance, though, is that they aren’t always easy. Jonah still had a long journey ahead of him as he headed back to the place God originally called him. At this point he had about 500 miles to travel – it would have taken him about a month if he was able to find a camel or donkey to ride. Had he just listened the first time he would have a much easier journey. That is so true for all of us, often times the journey we are on got harder because of a mistake we made.
Despite our mistakes or the length of the journey we know it is always worth it as long as we travel in God’s grace. As a result of Jonah’s obedience, this time, Nineveh is given an opportunity to be saved. This city was destroying itself by the way they were living. At this point things were starting to fall apart, so when Jonah showed up with the message he had from God they jumped on it. They repented and ceased their violent ways. God’s grace was able to save Jonah and the Ninevites. There is nothing God’s grace can’t do and no person God’s grace can’t reach.
I am praying that today you have received God’s grace and that now you embark on a life of obedience. You never know what a life lived in God’s grace will accomplish. Jonah’s saved a city. Maybe God will use you to save a city too? Maybe He will use you to reach your neighborhood, your family, or your friends? I don’t know how God will use you, but I know He will. When we get a second chance and use it to live for God amazing things happen. So, go today, embark on the journey of living obediently in God’s grace and see what happens!
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish….Salvation is from the Lord.
Jonah 1:17-2:1, 9
Not much is said in the story of Jonah about this great fish that God had swallow Jonah. We aren't told how big it is, what it looked like, or even what kind of fish it was. Obviously it was big enough to swallow Jonah whole and big enough for Jonah to stay alive in its stomach for three days. We don’t know the details, but I want to give this fish a name – Grace. Grace swallowed Jonah that day, Grace got Jonah back on track with God, and Grace took Jonah where he needed to be.
When you think of grace what do you normally think of? You probably don’t picture a big man eating fish do you? Grace, simply defined, is us receiving what we do not deserve. Which sounds great. But, grace is more profound than that. The grace Jesus came and revealed to us is the gift of a relationship and a life full of purpose. It wasn’t cheap, but quite expensive as it cost Him His life. Grace is salvation from, but also salvation to. In grace we are receiving the salvation we do not deserve while at the same time receiving the transformation (the life) we do not deserve.
Consider Jonah. A failed and rebellious prophet of God lost at sea having given his own life for those of the pagan sailors. He refused to accept all of God, but wanted Him on his own terms. Grace found him though, in the sea, and swallowed him up so God could transform him into the man God knew he could be – a prophet with a life transforming message.
That fish was the crucible of grace Jonah desperately needed. We need those moments, those events in our lives that take us to our bottom so we can receive God’s grace more fully. We need to realize we are unable to save or change ourselves and surrender fully to God, who alone can save us. We need sometimes to not be told how far from God we are, but shown how much we need Him. It is in those moments we realize how precious of a gift grace is and what it is God has done for us and wants to keep doing in us.
Know that God, in His grace, wants to save you and make you into the best version of you – the version He created you to be.
Pastor Matt Huff leads Portland Central Nazarene Church. He loves being in ministry and seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ.