People (Matthew 12:41)

Photo by Tran Phu on Unsplash

Jesus knows that God’s message spoken in God’s time by God’s prophet will  have the  result that God wants. But what God wants is nothing more than a witness of Himself. The response of the people is entirely dependent on the condition of their own hearts. Sadly, their hearts are not always open to Him. Some will have already considered Him and rejected His offer of forgiveness, even before the offer is made verbally. 

That won’t stop God from sending them witnesses, or even from witnessing to them Himself through story, Scripture and circumstance. But to those who persist in rejection God has harsh words indeed, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”

Jesus said that after being insulted by the Pharisees, and now they and the scribes (teachers of the law) have come to ask Him for yet another miraculous sign. But He knows their hearts. He can see that they really just want fodder for more pointless debate among themselves, and opportunities to level inane technical accusations against Him. His response is to point out that only the circumstance of the resurrection will be given to them, just as only the circumstance of Jonah was given to the men of Nineveh.

When Jonah got out of the fish, God spoke to him again and told him to finish the job He had commanded him to do in the first place. He was to go to Nineveh – the chief city of the enemy of Israel – and preach repentance. So Jonah reluctantly went. 

Nineveh was a huge city. It took three days to walk through it in a straight line. Jonah – who had just endured the tremendous trial and miracle of surviving three days in the depths of the sea in the belly of a huge fish – preached a fire and brimstone message of “repent or perish”. The Scripture records what happened, “On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” To Jonah’s great shock, the people actually listened to his incredibly simple message. The whole city turned from their wickedness and repented. An entire generation was saved and the city was spared.  

For Jonah, that was actually problematic. Jonah used to be highly esteemed as a prophet in his hometown. 2Kings 14:25 tells us that Jonah successfully prophesized in Israel. He was recognized for it. His calling as a prophet was as solid as they come. In fact, one might well surmise that the reason Jonah ran from God’s command to go to Nineveh was that he knew that going to Israel’s enemies and prophesying to them would result in their salvation, which would make him a stench back home in Israel. His personal honour as an esteemed individual among his countrymen would be ruined. 

The one who sends is always greater than the one who delivers the message. Jesus is infinitely greater than Jonah. For not only was Jesus God in the flesh, but Jesus was also willing to go to His enemies, and even die for them (Rom 5:8). Yet in spite of all that, not all who hear of Christ are willing to listen to His message. So if the resurrection is not enough to make the sinner believe, there is no more recovery than there would’ve been for Nineveh had they not repented. 

That many who are called by the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, does not arise from the want of the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross, nor from its insufficiency, but from their own fault.

The Synod of Dort (1619)

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

Praise God that He receives every sinner who repents.