Surprised by Grace
Scene 3: In a Great City
SBG is going to try to finish blogging through Surprised by Grace. I am picking up where Melissa left off.
Jonah, coughed up from the fish’s belly and onto the shore, went straight to the great city of Nineveh to preach God’s message to them: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
“Nineveh was great in population, great in power, great in prestige, and great in importance.” It was also a kingdom great with sin. “It’s safe to say that no people in all the span of biblical history had a worse reputation for brutality and arrogance as the Assyrians. This effect was intentional — part of their design that ‘featured deliberate terror and atrocity as instruments of foreign policy.’ In the chronicles of their reigns, Assyria’s kings boasted of their brutalities for everyone to read and hear about.” Tchividjian’s description of King Ashurnasirpal II’s deeds is gruesome.
One might assume that a king as powerful as the king of Nineveh would not give heed to the ominous words of a traveling man in a seaweed-flecked turban. But “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
I think the ruler of Nineveh, great as he was, knew in that moment that One greater existed over him. And the only way to appeal to Him would to humble himself and command his people to humble themselves. After all, Jonah didn’t explain anything about repentance or the mercy of the Lord or the sacrificial system. He didn’t give the king a list of transgressions; he simply said, Judgment is coming in 40 days. And the king and the entire city responded in repentance.
Can you just imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and find the entire population of your city: people, pets, livestock, old, young, powerful, weak, all lying prostrate in the dust, fasting, denying themselves comfort of any kind for a full 40 days? A citizenry proclaiming faith in Christ Jesus? What kind of mercy would the Lord pour out on that city?!
“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 3:10). Tchividjian writes, “[T]he effect of Jonah’s sermon is large; the turnaround in Nineveh is huge — perhaps the greatest revival that history has ever seen. God has thoroughly humbled a violently arrogant city; he has resurrected a spiritually dead city; and it happens to be the most powerful metropolis in the world.”
Tchividjian closes this chapter with encouraging words to us who wonder sometimes if God could really use us to do anything.
Both the Bible and church history show that God does everything through those who understand that they are nothing, and God does nothing through those who think they are everything…This makes Christianity a unique and liberating breath of fresh air. Why? Because this world values the dominant, not the defeated. Everything in this world caters to the beautiful people. Our world says that for you to be valuable, you must be healthy, attractive, prosperous, and influential. To be useful, you must become powerful. The world and all its religions say, ‘You must become great before you can do great.’ But this story shows us that in God’s eyes, and in Christianity, weakness precedes usefulness.
Jesus is our example. In the gospel, He demonstrates for us how we are to live. Though he was equal with God, King over all, He chose weakness and poverty. He chose to make himself nothing, a servant for sinful humanity (Philippians 2:6-8).
The challenge for me is adjusting (really turning upside down) my life and way of thinking so I am more gospel-centered. As a stay-at-home mom, so much of my life is spent serving. But, for example, what about those moments when I decide that I don’t want to serve anymore? What about when I declare that it’s time for some “me time”? What about those moments when I look at my husband and tell him it’s time for him to serve me (as if he didn’t already do so)? Can I humble myself (to the point of death?) in that moment, press on with the strength of the Spirit, and render myself dead to those selfish desires? Can I sincerely say, “Though I am Queen of this castle, I will be the servant of all for the sake of the gospel.” An entire city may not follow my example, but four pairs of eyes are watching my every move, four pairs of ears are listening to my every word, four growing hearts are interpreting my tone of voice, attitude, and expression. Am I living in a manner worthy of the gospel?
The exhausted SAHM application is the most obvious (and most challenging) for me. But the applications abound!
The solution for the Ninevites and the solution for me is repentance: “heartfelt sorrow for offending God and others.” Christ satisfied God’s wrath for me when he bore my sin on the cross. I know that I am forgiven and that I stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. I am free from his condemnation and I know his peace. His mercy has not been without effect. But he isn’t finished with me.