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As Christians, we believe we have “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Jesus Christ came into the world to “save sinners,” including us (1 Timothy 1:15). But saved from what? If the salvation of sinners is the good news of the gospel, then the judgment of sinners is the bad news of the gospel.
The Prophet Jonah was a bad news evangelist. Consider what we read in Jonah 3:1-5:
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city-a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Notice several things about these verses:
First, God is the God of Second Chances. When God first commissioned Jonah to “preach against” Nineveh (Jonah 1:2), Jonah disobeyed him, running literally as far away from Nineveh as possible. But Jonah’s initial disobedience was not the end of the story. God brought him back to the starting line and gave him the commission all over again. If God gave his disobedient prophet a second chance, might he give Nineveh a second chance too?
Second, evangelism is urgent. Nineveh, we read, required a three-day visit. Jonah didn’t waste any time. “On the first day,” he began to proclaim his message. If the good news is a matter of life and death, we too should feel more urgency about sharing it with others.
Third, the evangelistic message includes bad news. In a real sense, Jonah was not an evangelist at all. His entire message was one of judgment: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” That’s all God told him to say. And yet, since God is the God of Second Chances, the bad news of the gospel is always a prelude to grace. As Paul states the matter in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Ninevites certainly interpreted Jonah’s message as a call to repentance. “They believed God” and “declared a fast,” which is a symbol of repentance. They did not believe Jonah. They did not believe Jonah’s message. They believed God. That’s important. It indicates that they had taken Jonah’s message to heart as God’s personal word to them. And recognizing that God stood opposed to their sin, they turned to him for gracious forgiveness.
We don’t hear a lot of talk about God’s judgment of sin today. But unless we understand the bad news of the gospel, we can’t even begin to understand why the good news of the gospel is supposed to produce “great joy.”