“The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast.”
Scripture: Jonah 3
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
Reader: This is the word of the Lord. Response: Thanks be to God.
What is with the forty days of Lent? The number forty has been significant in the Scriptures for a number of reasons. Think about it. It rained forty days and forty nights bringing the great Flood of Noah’s day. The Israelites wandered forty years in the desert, one year for each day for each day of unbelief when the spies were sent into Canaan to check out the land. Moses was on Mt. Sinai forty days and nights when he received the Ten Commandments. David was king of Israel for forty years. But the core of the forty days of Lent is to be a kind of shadow of Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness. In Jonah’s time, the people of Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes for forty days and revival came to the city. There are many, many more examples in the Scriptures where the number forty plays significance. Numbers are significant in Jewish history. Think of the prominence of 3, 7,10, and 12 for example. What is the common thread in the above examples? The period of forty, whether it be days, months, or years, is frequently a period of testing, trial, probation, or chastisement ending with restoration, revival, or renewal. It is not a period of judgment as such. Rather, it is a time of coming face to face with God and seeing who we really are and what we do in his name. In the case of the Ninevites, much to Jonah’s chagrin, the people repented and God relented in his judgment. Because of the change in the people’s hearts, God’s course of action altered. God responds when people humble themselves and own up to their sin. Such action from God has not changed. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14. The story of Jonah is one of common grace. The Ninevites were not Jewish, they were not God’s chosen people, yet God demonstrated grace to these gentiles. Jonah wanted a God who was exclusive, a God who dealt only with his Chosen People, the Israelites. He did not want a God who granted his grace to everyone, to every race, tribe, and nation. That message came full force at Pentecost in the New Testament. Let this season of the year remind us all that God’s grace is extended to everyone without regard for nationality. This world is not anyone’s exclusive home because God’s grace is extended to all. Christianity is the most inclusive offer humanity has ever received.
Music: “I’m Just a Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger” Johnny Cash
Trace Adkins (in a tribute to Johnny Cash)
Prayer of Repentance: God in Heaven, you have helped my life to grow like a tree. Now something has happened. Satan, like a bird, has carried in one twig of his own choosing after another. Before I knew it he had built a dwelling place and was living in it. Tonight, my Father, I am throwing out both the bird and the nest. –prayer of a Nigerian Christian