Agonizomai: Jonah 3:5-6 - Fruit of Regeneration

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Jonah 3:5-6 - Fruit of Regeneration
5-6 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

The language here is exactly that which is used of Abraham. "Abraham believed God (and it was counted unto him for righteousness)." Is God the God of the Jews only? Or is He also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, and of all mankind. So let’s be clear here that God’s requirement for salvation to the Jews, the Gentiles and to those in the age of grace is to believe in the Word of God. The promise given and the promise fulfilled.

New life - without which no-one can know GodIt wasn’t because of the sackcloth and ashes that God relented. It was because they believed His word. It wasn’t even because they repented – because their repentance was a result of first believing. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (or, by the preaching of Christ). Faith is sometimes called a mystery. How one person believes and another does not when hearing the same word is wrapped up in the counsels of God. But it is God Who regenerates according to His will - and it is as a result of this regeneration that men believe and repent. It would be a grave error to conclude that the one who believed did so because he was humbler/smarter/better than the other. We must ask the question, "Who makes one to differ from another?" {1Co 4:7} As the Bible in Basic English has it...
For who made you better than your brother? or what have you that has not been given to you? but if it has been given to you, what cause have you for pride, as if it had not been given to you?
What happened with Nineveh was what might have happened with all of the surrounding nations. Israel was equipped to take the Word of God to the world, but two things went wrong.

Firstly, Israel constantly apostasised to the point where the name of God was a made byword among the heathen. Who would want a God Whose people were hypocrites, and who differed only in what they said, and not what they did, from the wicked and heathen practices that surrounded them on all sides?

Secondly, the Jews did not see God as loving anyone but them. Their understanding of themselves as a chosen nation was correct – but their conclusion that their election as a nation meant that God either did not have others outside, or that He did not care for the others was a slanderous caricature of the truth.

It is still the same with election today. The true church is indeed elect of God from the foundation of the world, but those who receive Him (thus proving themselves to be elect) had better not get the idea that they are better than those who are unsaved. And we had better not treat unsaved people unlovingly as if the God Who has saved us didn’t care. He cares. And if the God Who saved us by grace alone cares about the perishing even though He knows which ones will never be granted repentance (which we don’t), then who are we to have a different attitude?

I don’t want to create the impression, however, that Israel ought to have been proselytizing ceaselessly to the darkest corners of the earth. Israel ought to have been doing what God commanded and led them to do as circumstances revealed. Here, Jonah preaches to Nineveh not because they are lost (though they seem to be) – not out of some vague imperative, but because God specifically told Jonah where to go, who to speak to and when to do it. He was not going about so called "Christian work" - the busyness of doing things "because something had to be done." He was being led by the Spirit of God to do a specific thing consistent with God’s generally revealed truth.

So here we have the Word preached in accordance with the specific will of God and we see the effect of the preaching of the Word upon the hearers. And what a lesson for us! You just never know who will hear. Who would have thought that Nineveh, from the least to the greatest would have believed and repented? Who but God? The God Whose word always accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it. And so we must conclude that God sent the message in order to bring about the change of heart in the Ninevites. Not in the hope that they would turn - but because He had determined that they would receive grace.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

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