Picture a person who is currently alive who has caused deep amounts of personal pain and distress in your life. Now, realize that in the sovereign nature of God, that person may be destined for salvation as a co-heir with Christ in the kingdom of heaven. How does that make you feel?
The prophet Jonah had great disdain for the Assyrians and the residents of the capital city of Ninevah. When God called Jonah to go to the city and proclaim His message, Jonah initially refused and attempted to travel a few thousand miles in the opposite direction. Most of us know the rest of the story, whereby God causes a massive storm to threaten the ship that he was on, and when the sailors cast Jonah into the sea to appease God, a giant fish swallows Jonah. After three days in the belly of the fish, Jonah is tossed out onto dry land, and he makes the trip to Ninevah. When the proclamation of God’s word causes the 120,000 citizens of Ninevah to repent, Jonah is greatly angered, because he wanted to see God destroy these people who were the enemies of Israel.
In the midst of his complaining to God, Jonah reveals that he understands part of God’s nature. “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” says Jonah. Jonah did not want to see God have compassion on his enemies. Frankly, there is a bit of Jonah in most of us. If we are honest with ourselves, we have a hard time with the idea that those who have harmed us and those who would be considered our enemies could also experience the grace and mercy of God. Our preference, as it was with Jonah, would be to have God’s justice slam down upon them, destroying them just as God wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah.
What is so quickly lost on us is that we were once enemies of God, worthy of the very destruction that we hope for our own enemies. Because He is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, He saved us even though we deserved destruction. Part of the response that God wants from us as a result of this forgiveness and new birth is that our hearts would share a love for our neighbors that is similar to his love for us. And whether we like it or not, Jesus defines the term “neighbor” to include those that we would consider our enemies, and Jesus tells us to bless those who persecute us.
Essentially, Jesus is commanding us to do the same thing that God commanded Jonah to do – we are to share God’s word with those who we would otherwise want to see destroyed. But we have an advantage over Jonah. If we have been born again, born of the Spirit, then the Spirit of God lives inside of us and can transform our hateful hearts into hearts that love everyone, even those who have harmed us. Not on our own strength, but by the strength of God are we able to live as God has called us to live. Indeed, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, even if it means sharing the Gospel with those who have harmed me the most.
Peace and blessings – Pastor Aaron