For the past couple of articles, I have been focusing on the truths that we have been learning and teaching to the kids at our day camps this summer. It has been really neat to see people’s reaction when they study the Bible for the first time in their lives, especially when they understand how interesting and practical the Bible is. The children are journalists, sent out on a mission to find out what happened to Jonah and why. By doing the first 2 lessons, they learn that there are 3 types of people in this world, 1) those who are far from God’s presence, 2) those who are running from God’s presence, and 3) those who are seeking God’s presence. They learned how to be people who seek after God. In the second and third lessons they study Jonah chapter 2 and figure that disobedience to God has consequences but that God can rescue a person from his despair if we will turn to Him in true repentance. Today’s article focuses more on what true repentance is and how it is manifested in a person’s life.
I. True repentance must be fully preached.
God is consistent in sending people to preach the message of repentance. God sent His Word to Jonah the first time yet Jonah did not want to preach repentance to his arch enemies, the people of Nineveh. His prayer was that they would not repent and that they would be severely punished by God. He knew from reading the Old T. that the people of Nineveh, the Assyrians, were going to come and conquer his people, Israel, so he was hoping that if he did not preach repentance to the people of Nineveh, they would not repent and not be able to attack some years later. If you know history, the people of Nineveh were able to come and conquer the Northern half of Israel (the 10 tribes of the North), taking many Hebrews into what is known as the Assyrian captivity (722 B.C.) Since Jonah did not go the first time, chapter 3 opens with the following verse.
And the Word of Jehovah came to Jonah the second time, saying “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out to it the proclamation that I am declaring to you(Jon 3:1-2)
God gives Jonah a second chance but the same command. Go to Nineveh and preach repentance to them. Jonah obeys this time (mostly). Jonah goes to Nineveh to “preach” so superficially, he can say that he was being obedient to God. His message and effort, on the other hand, were greatly lacking.
And Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the Word of Jehovah. And Nineveh was a very great city of three days’ journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried and said, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown! (Jon 3:3-4)
God wants true repentance to be fully preached yet people try to limit the message and it efficiency. It took 3 days to travel on foot throughout the city of Nineveh yet Jonah only walked for one day. He was not excited about preaching the message to all of the people. He is being very superficial in his obedience to God. His message was not about repentance. He just spoke of the destruction to come. He did not offer hope. He did not show them a way out (although he had been rescued twice by God’s mercy). Is your obedience to God superficial? Do you technically do what He tells you to do? Are you quick to offer people a second chance by showing them the mercy of God or are you like Jonah, just hoping that people get what they deserve? How do you view nonbelievers, as precious people who need the message of salvation or as fuel for the fires of hell? If you take the message of the Gospel to them and preach repentance to them, then that shows that you see them as precious people who need God’s mercy. If you do not, then you can make your own conclusions.
II. True repentance causes a complete lifestyle change.
What kind of people are the people of Nineveh? They are very wicked and very immoral. When they receive the bad news of the coming destruction, they repent and turn to God for His mercy. In verses 5-8 of Jonah 3, we see 4 key points to true repentance.
And the people of Nineveh believed God. And they called a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne. And he laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he cried out and said in Nineveh by the decree of the king and his great ones, saying, Do not let man or beast, herd or flock taste anything; do not let them feed, nor drink water. But let man and animal be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God. And let them each one turn from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. (Jon 3:5-8)
1) You must hear God’s message and believe it. The people of Nineveh did not try and excuse themselves by saying that they are basically good people or that there are other people who are worse than they are. Right away, they believed the message, that God was going to destroy them because of their wicked ways. This belief led to action. True belief is not some vague concept but instead it is something tangible. When you believe God’s Word then you take action, doing what God says to do. 2) You must set your pride aside. Jonah could not do that in chapter 1 so God had to humble him. The people of Nineveh set their pride aside and this was manifested in the fact that they fasted and put on sackcloth and ashes. Even the great king who could do as he pleased, set his great pride aside and also put on sackcloth and ashes. Are you controlled by your pride (what other people think about you, the image that you portray to others)? Pride will lead you to the belly of a great fish if you are not careful. 3)You have to return to the Lord with all of your heart. This was manifested in the fact that they even resisted the basic necessities of life (food and water) so that they could focus on the Lord and receiving His mercy. Is there anything in your life that stands between you and God (maybe food, or family, or money, or a job, or the list could go on and on)? What would you not be willing to give up for God? 4) You have to turn away from your wicked ways. Verse 8 says that they became obedient to God by turning away from their wicked ways. Before experiencing God’s mercy, they were sexually immoral and cruel people but once they met God, they left those things behind. What about you, are you controlled by sexual immorality (porn, erotic chat, erotic novels, etc.)? Are you drawn to violence and cruelty? Are you cruel in the words that you use? Do you kill people with your tongue? If you have experience true repentance then you have rejected all of those things to serve and obey God.
III. True repentance causes God to forgive completely and remove His wrath.
Many people think of God the way they think of other people. They will say one thing but do another. They will say something yet not really mean it. God is not like man. He keeps His Word, always! Verses 9-10 show us what happens when people experience genuine repentance.
Who knows? He may repent, and God may have pity and turn away from the glow of His anger, so that we do not perish. And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. And God was compassionate over the evil that He had said to do to them, and He did not do it. (Jon 3:9-10)
God will turn away from His burning anger when we repent. God is a just God and He hates sin. When we sin, we deserve the wrath of God right away, yet He is merciful and does not pour out His wrath immediately (although sin must eventually be punished). He holds off His wrath, waiting for us to repent. He is able to forgive us and be merciful because He has already poured out His wrath on sin when Jesus Christ went to the cross. God can forgive and be merciful and still be just at the same time by punishing every form of sin. When we accept God’s message and repent then He removes His wrath from over our heads. But, if we do not repent, then we continue to store up God’s wrath and one day, He will pour it all out on us. Which have you chosen, to experience God’s mercy or His wrath?
True repentance has been preached to you through this article. What will you do with it? Will you stay prideful, making up excuses like “I am not that bad” or “well he is worse than I am or she is a greater sinner than I am” or, will you humble yourself before the Lord and accept His message and mercy? The choice is yours. You can experience the wrath of God or the mercy of God? May God help us choose His mercy and share that mercy with others.