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God’s Grace for the World

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, a densely populated city filled with great wickedness. They were certainly no friends of Israel. Yet it was to these people that God sent the prophet Jonah. Most of us know the story of Jonah,

the runaway prophet who was swallowed by a great fish. We often miss an important message of the book, however, by overlooking a significant detail. The reason for Jonah’s reluctance to go to Nineveh was not fear of danger or ridicule. Rather, he was worried that God might be too gracious to Israel’s enemies! Look at Jonah’s words after the Ninevites repented and God relented. He explained his fear and his reason for fleeing: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (4:1–2). Rather than celebrate God’s character, Jonah was so angry that he asked God to take his life.

In response, God asked: “Is it right for you to be angry?” (4:4), and then demonstrated His grace by providing a shade plant for Jonah. When the plant later withered, Jonah complained again: “It would be better for me to die than to live” (4:8). God then used that plant to illustrate His own concern for the Ninevites: “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people? (4:11).

God’s concern extends much further than our own, even to those whom we may consider too wicked to deserve forgiveness. Jesus, too, extended His grace to those whom many considered far beyond God’s covenant and care; He commissioned His disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

Apply the Word

As we approach the Christmas celebration of God’s love made incarnate, are we like Jonah—stingy about extending God’s grace to others? Who are the “Ninevites” in your life? Pray for them today, asking God to give you a chance to share Christ’s love with them in tangible ways. Be prepared, then, to act when God answers that prayer!

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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