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Nineveh Repents (Part 2 of 2)

Nineveh Repents

Part 2 of 2

Based on an exposition of Jonah 3 by Pastor Linus Chua during a PCC Evening Worship Service

In the last article, we looked at the nature of true repentance based on the repentance of the people of Nineveh recorded in Jonah chapter 3. In this article, we’ll like to consider some reasons or encouragements for repentance as well as a call to repentance.

The Reasons for Repentance

The first reason is that repentance is pleasing in God’s sight. In chapter 1 verse 2, we are told that their great wickedness had gone up before God. And again in chapter 3, we have seen how the king of Nineveh himself confessed that God was very angry with them for their sins.

But right at the very end of chapter 3, we read that when the Lord saw that they had truly repented, He withdrew His threat of judgment from them so that they were not destroyed. Indeed, the Lord is well pleased when sinners truly repent of their sins.

Remember how in our Lord’s parables in Luke 15, we are told that there is rejoicing in heaven among the angels of God when just one sinner repents. Imagine the rejoicing that took place in heaven that day when, not one, but the whole city of over one hundred thousand repented.

Yes, God delights in demonstrating His justice in the just punishment of wicked sinners. But God delights even more in showing His great mercy in the salvation of penitent sinners. So the first motive or reason or encouragement to repent is that God is well-pleased when sinners repent.

The second reason we may draw from our text is that repentance staves off or turns away judgment from the land. In Genesis 13:13, we read that the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly. The people of Nineveh were no better. They were wicked, violent, and just as abhorrent in God’s sight.

And they too were headed for the same end as Sodom. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

The word “overthrown” here is the exact same word used in Genesis 19 to describe what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah.

The difference between Sodom and Nineveh was not in the degree of their depravity or the heinousness of their sins. A big difference was that one repented while the other did not. Repentance makes a huge difference in the way that God deals with a land or nation. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him…” (Isaiah 55:7) Sodom did not forsake her wicked ways and she did not find mercy with the LORD. In contrast, Nineveh repented and the LORD was merciful to her land.

Let us, who are God’s people, be the first to truly repent of our sins and to call upon God to be merciful to our land. Not only will our repentance avert God’s judgment, but according to that familiar verse in 2 Chronicles 7:14 it will even bring healing to the land. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

The third reason or encouragement for repentance is found in the fact that a time is coming when the door of repentance will forever be shut. The Lord gave the people of Nineveh 40 days to repent before He unleashed His fury upon them. The number 40 in scriptures is symbolic of either punishment and judgment or trial and testing. In the case of Nineveh, it was both. If during this period of trial or testing, they refused to repent, then the judgment would come.

But the Bible speaks of another judgment to come at the end of time which would be much worse than any judgment that has ever fallen or will fall in history. This final judgment would be so terrible that even now the demons are dreading and fearing it. The book of Revelation describes the place of this judgment as the lake of fire and brimstone, which would far exceed the fire and brimstone that the LORD rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah from heaven.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah perished after only a few brief moments of terror and agony. But according to Revelation 20:10, those who are thrown into the lake of fire shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever; and they shall be there without any possibility of release and without any tiny bit of relief.

Dear friends and brethren, that final Day of Judgment is getting closer and closer with each passing day. And only those who repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ will escape it.

This brings us finally to a call to repentance.

A Call to Repentance

Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh was a message of judgment and a message of great urgency. But above all, it was a message of repentance.

Now it is true that our text does not explicitly say that Jonah called the people to repent of their sins. Most probably what we have recorded in chapter 3 verse 4 is but a brief summary of Jonah’s preaching. But regardless of whether Jonah explicitly stated it or not, the implications of his preaching were clear and the Ninevites got the message. They repented, which was the whole purpose of Jonah traveling almost 800 km there to minister to them. They repented and God responded in mercy.

Today, this call to repentance is issued much more clearly and explicitly to all men everywhere. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul as he preached to the Greeks on Mars’ Hill in Acts 17:30-31, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained…”

All men everywhere in all nations and of all tongues and languages are now explicitly called to repent of their sins and to turn to God. Why? Because God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness. And He will do it by that Man whom He has ordained, even the Lord Jesus Christ – the God-man.

But He who will someday be the judge all men is today the saviour of mankind and the only mediator between God and man. If you would escape His condemnation in that day, then you must turn to Him today in true faith and humble repentance.

Only in Jesus Christ can one find mercy with the Lord. His blood, His righteousness, and His perfect obedience in life and death, is the only ground or basis or foundation upon which we can have all our sins forgiven and be accepted by God as righteous. Our repentance and faith of themselves do not save. They are but the means by which we receive His pardon and salvation.

And so I call upon you even now to repent and to believe. Confess your sins. Mourn for them. Abhor yourself for who you are – a guilty sinner in Adam and in yourself. Forsake your wicked ways. Turn to the Lord and He will abundantly pardon and have mercy. And if you do not find it in your heart to believe and repent, O would you not seek the Lord for them. Beg of Him to grant you these twin gifts of His grace, without which you shall die in your sins.

And most of all, faithfully and continually attend to the preaching of the word. The preached word was the means of converting the people of Nineveh and bringing them to true repentance. If you would be saved, you too must give yourself to sound and faithful preaching, which is the primary means of grace.

But finally, a word to you my dear brethren – never cease to bless God for this precious gift of repentance, which Christ our Lord has purchased for us and which the Holy Spirit applies to us.

And remember that repentance unto life is not a one time or one off exercise. Rather, it is something that we ought to be engaged in throughout our life on this earth until we be rid of every single trace of remaining corruption in eternity, and then the gift of repentance would finally be unnecessary.

“So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” Amen.

—Linus Chua