The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: Jonah 1:1 (NIV).
Jesus quoted fourteen of the thirty-nine books that comprise the Old Testament. He knew them all; He inspired them all. And, as a young man, He would have been taught them in the synagogue. In the New Testament books that contain Jesus’ quotes, however, He directly quoted verses from fourteen of them.
One of those books was Jonah, the one we’re in now. A fifty-thousand-foot overview of Jonah’s story is that God tells Jonah to go to the wicked city of Ninevah to preach His Word to them. Jonah gets scared and runs away, so God has a big fish scoop him out of the sea, and Jonah spends 3 days inside the fish. There, Jonah prayed earnestly for mercy, so God had the fish spit him out onto dry land. Jonah then goes to Ninevah and obeys God. Surprisingly, the Ninevites take the message to heart and repent, which makes Jonah angry. As the book ends, God reminds Jonah that it is His place to show mercy.
Jesus quoted Jonah twice in the New Testament. Most likely, it was the same conversation, recorded differently because the approach taken in both citations is different. Both talk about ‘the sign of Jonah,’ pointing to the three days it would take for God to deliver His people from sin. Yet one (Matthew) talks about both Jonah being in the belly of a fish for three days as well as the witness of the Ninevites, while the other (Luke) talks only about the Ninevites’ witness.
Yet the most amazing part of the whole miraculous story is contained in the very first words: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah.” The word of God came to Jonah. The word of God – the most powerful force in the universe – came to a lowly man who God knew would be frightened, intimidated, repentant, and angry. And God came anyway.
Our world isn’t so different from Jonah’s; our hometowns could be thought of as little Ninevahs. We know wickedness; we are rebellious. We sin against God in what we think, say, and do. We ignore God’s commands; we ignore Him; we run away. I’m the worst sinner I know; how about you? You and me: we’re Jonah. We’re the sinners of Ninevah. We deserve to be wiped out…and God comes to us anyway. God sent Jonah to Ninevah. God sent Jesus to us. The same Jesus who recounted Jonah’s story told His disciples (including us) that this is important to remember.
It’s the sign of Jonah, it’s the message of the Gospel: in the middle of our worst sins, God came to us anyway.
For further reading: 1 Kings 14:25, Matthew 12:39-41, Luke 11:29-32, Jonah 1:2
Lord God, thank You for coming to us. And thank You for Jonah’s story.
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