Two Sunday’s ago, Julian shared with us a children’s talk about Jonah sitting under the shade of a vine tree that God provided for him. He was sitting on a hill overlooking the great Assyrian city of Nineveh waiting to see what God would do with the city’s inhabitants. I think this is perhaps one of the saddest scenes in the whole Bible. It is hard to imagine a prophet, a man of God, sitting and wilfully hoping the city would be destroyed. I find it ever so tragic to think that Jonah had just completed a mission of mercy. His task was to warn the city’s inhabitants of God’s impending judgement because of their wickedness. He did so and as he did there was an amazing result. The citizens, from the lowest in the land to the highest, acknowledged their sins; humbled themselves before the Lord in genuine fear; sought forgiveness for their wickedness and repented. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.
Jonah went to the city’s lookout. He had front row seats. He was hoping against all hope that he would witness a display of God’s vengeance upon his and Israel’s arch enemies. After all, they deserved God’s judgement for all of their wickedness and the hardship they had poured out to his people. When God showed forgiveness to the people of Nineveh Jonah became angry! So angry in fact that he asked God to end his life! Staggering! It is hard to believe his antics! How could a man of God have such a deep hatred for those God chose to save? We would never be like Jonah, would we?
Forgiveness is a wonderful grace when it is openly displayed. Yet forgiveness is one of the most difficult actions for a person to do. Why? Why is it so hard to forgive others, when we, with a multitude of sins, have been forgiven by God through the work of Jesus? As a pastor, I am saddened to see so few people willing to forgive others when they have been wronged. Yet forgiveness and grace is the hallmark of the Christian faith! Before we are quick to condemn Jonah, we must look at how we go when we have to forgive others. Jesus reminds us in 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.”
God reminds Jonah that He has a heart for the wicked people of Nineveh who do not know Him. We too should have that same heart that seeks to forgive and through this act of forgiveness brings people to the Lord!