Tim Keller | August 26, 1990
Nineveh, which is the capital of Assyria, was the greatest city the world had yet seen. Nobody in their right mind would even think of besieging the city, let alone trying to capture the city, because you couldn’t even get an army around it. Who had an army that could stretch around the circumference of this city? But the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, and God decides, not just to besiege the city, but to sack it with an army of one.
God did it by taking one man and turning that one man into a city-changer, into a world-changer. Then, by doing so, he was able to sack the greatest city in the history of the world up to that time. How did God make Jonah an army of one? First, God’s persistent grace makes you an army of one. Second, God’s calling makes you an army of one. Third, God’s strategy. And finally, God’s power.
The story of Jonah and Nineveh shows how God can use one person to change a whole city. It challenges us to think about our desire to be important and make a difference, while also pointing out our tendency to be self-focused and doubtful. It prompts us to look for something bigger than ourselves to live for, suggesting that Christians, through God’s steady grace, calling, strategy, and power, can be the ones to bring about change.
1. Steady grace
God often chooses people who have made mistakes or have weaknesses to play important roles, like Jonah and Peter in the Bible. This idea, called the Jonah principle, means that our struggles and failures can help us grow and become kinder, humbler, and more willing to help others. But, we have to let these experiences change us, which reminds us of God’s steady grace that keeps working in our lives even when we mess up or face tough times.
God invites everyone, no matter their skills or experience, to join His mission, showing us His true character and asking us to copy it. By stepping out of our comfort zones and being willing to take risks, like Jesus did, we can find joy in serving God and others instead of just living for ourselves. Understanding that God’s goal is to change lives and the world, and responding willingly, helps us align with our true identity in Him.
God’s plan for Christians includes being active in cities, which have always been places of change and open to new ideas. People in cities have been more likely to become Christians, like in the Roman Empire by AD 300. Christians are asked to serve and influence these city societies, making a real difference through their service instead of using the city for their own benefit.
God’s power can change people and even whole cities when they truly repent, as we see in the story of Jonah and during the Welsh revival. This change doesn’t come from bargaining or worldly methods, but from a deep, life-changing shift in our hearts and minds. As representatives of Jesus, we should welcome repentance, understand its power to transform, and use our struggles to bring about change, knowing that whatever it costs us is small compared to what Jesus gave up for us.
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