“Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:4-5, 10)
When we come to church every week we find it to be a sanctuary. The church is a refuge, a shelter from the storms and cares of life, as well as from a culture that has grown increasingly worldly, selfish, immoral and hostile to the message of the Gospel. Here we meet with God by His Spirit, in His word, the sacrament of the altar, and the fellowship of the saints. Here we find God’s mercy that forgives us for our sins. Here we find truth, strength and hope to sustain as we daily interact with the world.
The church should also be a sanctuary of mercy and hope to unbelievers as well. We are Christ’s ambassadors, called to minister to the needs of the lost with what we received from our interaction with the Lord. Often, however, our actions and attitudes carry the opposite message: we don’t like outsiders, people who are different from us, people of other cultures, people who are immoral, sinners in general. We don’t want to share the hope that we have with them.
Jonah felt that way about the sinful people of Nineveh. Jonah did not like God’s idea of so easily forgiving people who deserved punishment. He was angry with God. Yes God is just and holy. He must punish sin. Yet. God loves to extend mercy to people who do not deserve it. As we also know or should know, the sins of those who repent and are forgiven don’t go unpunished. God Himself suffered the punishment for sin in the person of Jesus. On the cross Jesus suffered the punishment for the sins of all mankind. He took our place because we human beings could never become righteous by our actions or deeds. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. It was God’s love and compassion that made up for our helplessness. So we ought to preach the gospel Jonah preached but with an attitude of joy and thanksgiving for God uses us as His instruments of mercy.