A few weeks ago, I made a promise to you. I invited you to join me on a five-week study of the book of Jonah and I told you it would surprise you just how powerful and relevant that story is to each one of us personally and the world we live in today. It’s that last part I want focus on in this post.
If you’ve been following along, you know that from beginning to end, Jonah took issue with God’s desire to save the people of Ninevah.
Jonah had nothing but disgust for these people. Anger and bitterness.
We know from history that they committed all kinds of atrocities — they were a warring people who burned and raped and pillaged and tortured and killed, everywhere they went. We know that the people of Israel — Jonah’s people, God’s people — had suffered enormously at their hands, and that it’s possible that Jonah had been personally impacted by this. His hometown or even his own family.
Jonah’s hatred of Ninevah and its people made him refuse the assignment God gave him, go on the run, get swallowed by a sea monster… It was the reason — the “why” (or in this case “why not”) behind it all.
I think if we’re not careful, many of us today are in danger of letting our hearts be hardened just as Jonah’s was.
So many of us feel under attack. We feel our values are under attack, our way of life, our society, our country. Our families. Our faith. Constantly under attack. For a long time, here in the US, it’s mostly been ridicule. But lately we see more and more followers of Christ being harrassed, bullied, targeted, falsely accused, arrested, fined, sued, fired, kicked out of or silenced in public places.
And around the world…. it’s heartbreaking. Devastating.
Even the state department reports that there has never been a time in the modern era when Christians have been so persecuted. Daily we hear of our brothers and sisters being forced from their homes — their businesses and their churches burned or razed to the ground, rapes, murders, beheadings, crucifixions. We hear, that is, if we’re listening. And if we are, it’s easy to be filled with disgust. Anger. Bitterness. Hatred. Fueled not a little by fear and dread.
We look at the people committing these atrocities and it’s easy to wish on them all the evil they commit against others. To wish them dead, all of them. To find just the tiniest consolation in the thought of the judgment awaiting them, from which they will not be able to escape.
Unless they encounter Jesus, that is. Unless they come to know and love Him.
Don’t we want them to?
God looks at these people the same way He looked at the people of Ninevah. He knows which ones are hellbent and don’t have any interest in or desire for Him. But He also sees hundreds, thousands, maybe millions who are just totally lost in darkness, “not knowing their right hand from their left.” (Jonah 4:11)
Wretched sinners, like you and me. Like we would be, if we had lived the life they have and had not experienced God’s mercy and grace.
He loves them just as He loves us. And He wants us to love them, too.
“When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He Himself will give us the love with which to do it. We are neither factories nor reservoirs of His love, only channels.” ~ Nazi Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom
Hate they understand, and the desire for revenge. But love?
That’s what shocks them. Amazes them. Humbles them. Overwhelms them. The same way God’s love and mercy and grace — His compassion — has overwhelmed us.
Someone once said that the best way to defeat your enemies is to make them your friends. To love them into the Kingdom. At least those who are willing. And we just might be surprised who or how many will come. (Remember that the entire city of Ninevah humbled itself and repented and turned from their sin!)
Once the people of Ninevah made themselves right with God, Israel had no reason to fear them. In a very real sense, God saved Israel by saving Ninevah.
All over the world, God is revealing Himself to hungry hearts — in visions, in dreams, through Christian missionaries and ministries, but also through the actions of ordinary men and women who love Him and love others in obedience to Him.
These men and women are triumphing through the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, because they do not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)
So don’t be overcome by evil… frightened by it, embittered by it, hardened by it. But overcome evil with good. Pray not only for those who are suffering persecution but for their persecutors. For your persecutors.
Let God love them — and save them if He will — through you.
You must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into His glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to Him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are His before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.