Seeing God's Grace and Mercy in the Story of Jonah
Many people like to think that the God of the Old Testament is very different from the God of the New Testament. They seem to think the God of the Old Testament was full of anger, wrath, and justice while the God of the New Testament is loving, kind, merciful, and gracious. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I think it may have been What we need to see is that the Old Testament is an account of an incredibly gracious and merciful God.
I was recently reading the book of Jonah and God’s grace and mercy jumped off the pages at me. It can be easy to miss if we aren’t paying attention, but we see the grace and mercy of God in multiple ways throughout Jonah and I hope to help us recognize it. Jonah isn’t just a great Sunday School story; his story is one we all need to remember and pay attention to.
Jonah is called by God to go and call out against the great city Nineveh. Jonah’s reaction is not a positive one. What does he do? He heads to a ship to go the opposite direction. It’s obvious Jonah doesn’t like the Ninevites. Jonah directly disobeys God. Would God have been just to kill him right there? Yes. Instead, God is gracious and merciful.
He causes a storm to come and it looks bleak for the ship that Jonah is fleeing on. The crew is obviously afraid they are headed for death. Would God have been just to kill Jonah and the entire crew? Yes. Instead, God is gracious and merciful. Each member of this crew was crying out to his false god with no hope of rescue and redemption. Instead, they are committing idolatry and God would have been perfectly just to kill them all. Instead, they find out that Jonah’s God is the true and living God. They cry out to him, “Therefore they called out to the Lord, ‘O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you’ (Jonah 1:14). They throw Jonah into the sea and the storm goes away. What is the result? “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows” (Jonah 1:16). These men now worship the true and living God. God, instead of killing them for their idolatry, reveals himself to them.
Jonah is cast into the sea. God, instead of giving him what he deserves, saves him—more grace and mercy. He has a big fish swallow him. Instead of letting him die by being consumed by a giant fish, God miraculously preserves Jonah and the fish spits him out after Jonah repents of his sin. This, of course, is a grand display of God’s incredible grace and mercy.
Jonah goes to Nineveh and does what God commanded him to do. Nineveh, including their king, repents after hearing Jonah declare God’s warning. What does God do? He shows the entire city grace and mercy and relents of the justice he was going to execute upon them. This city was huge. Jonah 3 says that it would take someone three days to walk from one side of the city to the other. Whatever they were doing did not honor God and God sent the warning that the city would be overthrown in 40 days. God did not even have to warn them, but he did. He didn’t have to show them grace and mercy, but he did.
Jonah, of all people, gets mad that God would show kindness to these people. Once again, instead of giving Jonah what he deserves, God instead gives him an object lesson about his grace, mercy, and sovereignty. The book of Jonah is full of God’s grace and mercy and it is a story we need.
In reality, we are both Jonah and Nineveh. As Christians, God has shown us incredible grace and mercy in the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus. Would God have been just to bring judgment upon all of us? Yes. Instead he sends us one better than Jonah. Jesus says in Matthew 12:41, “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Jonah was sent to be a Savior for Nineveh, but instead he rebelled against God’s commands. Jonah, however, points us to the perfect Savior. Jonah and Jesus were on a boat in a great storm. Jonah and Jesus both slept in this storm. Jonah and Jesus both had people on the boat wake them up begging for help. Jonah offered his life to save those on the ship and spent three days and nights in the depths before being “resurrected”. Jesus offered his life to save sinners and spent three days and three nights in the depths before being resurrected. Jesus is the true and better Jonah.
We are like Jonah in his sin, but Jonah points us to the true Savior. We rebelled like Jonah. Jesus saved better than Jonah. The God of the Old and New Testaments is the same God. His grace and mercy flood every page of the Bible. We just have to train our eyes to see it.