Living to Tell the Tale
In one of the most captivating stories in the Bible, a prophet is held up, not as an example of the faithful messenger and mouthpiece of God, but as one who opposed the mercy of God to sinful rebels. In Jonah 4:1-4, the prophet explains why he ran from God when told to preach to Nineveh and call them to repentance. “I knew you were a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah was angry at God’s grace. He knew what the Ninevites had done, what they deserved. Jonah was only willing to be a preacher of condemnation. He wanted to hear justice fall on the Ninevites, but had no taste or desire for God’s mercy.
Very few of us would be willing to verbalize a request to God that he would destroy our enemies as clearly as Jonah. But we do all have Jonah-like heart tendencies - my lack of a heart to extend quick forgiveness, my desire to be proven right and others wrong. Jonah had himself been shown mercy in the belly of the great fish. But as soon as his toes touch the dry ground of Nineveh, he is already forgetting the grace the Lord had given him and quickly moves toward wanting the Ninevites to pay for their sins in their own blood.
The fact that the story of Jonah was written demonstrates that God didn’t destroy Jonah for his sin. He lived to tell the tale. Many scholars have speculated that Jonah is written from the perspective of a changed man - someone who after pushing, pushing, pushing against God’s grace was finally won over, even after the book of Jonah was complete. Why else would a prophet record such self-implicating details unless he was pointing to the way God was preparing him to understand the persistent grace Jonah had yet to understand?
I hope that we all sense this summer that we are a little bit in Jonah’s shoes. We too have lived to tell the tale. We aren’t all Old Testament prophets, but God has shown his mercy towards us over and over again. This mercy cost Jesus, the perfect Son of God, as he faced our judgment on the cross. In his first coming, Christ could have come preaching instantaneous destruction. Jesus’ disciples thought that this might have been an appropriate response after they were passing a city of the Samaritans that had rejected the Gospel: “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). Jesus had to rebuke them. It wasn’t the right time. We are living in the season of God’s patience (2 Peter 3:9). If God hadn’t waited to judge the world, as Jonah had hoped he would, none of us would have had any hope. We have lived to tell the tale.
I’ve been so encouraged by the efforts that have begun this summer “living to tell the tale.” Every moment God has shown us mercy should lead us to repentance and then a desire to share that transformation with others.
In His Service,
What Pastor Adrian is reading . . .
The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
by Ray Ortlund
Ortlund makes a compelling case that we can have a precisely accurate Gospel doctrine without embodying Gospel culture. I’ve been praying that I’ll continue to grow in not only teaching what is true, but living a life that has the fragrance of the Gospel.
by Atul Gawande
This book is reminding me of Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air since it is also written by a surgeon with a liberal arts background. Both books are excellently written. Gawande explains well the fact that doctors haven’t always thought about what “success” should look like when they are recommending risky procedures to patients who will at best extend their lives for a short period of time. I find this book fascinating.
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