About, Face; Forward, March!
I find it interesting that it took THREE DAYS in the belly of the fish before Jonah finally repented! I mean, I’ve known some really stubborn people in my life (myself included), but you’d think that five or ten minutes in a fish’s stomach would have been more than enough time to solicit repentance from even the worst of us! So why did it take THREE DAYS for Jonah to repent? Well, most likely, Jonah began to cry out to God immediately after he was swallowed, but it probably took that long before GENUINE repentance took place!
In the early 1970’s I was an Adult Probation Officer for Harris County, Texas (the Houston area), and I had a caseload of over 100 people placed on probation by the District Court for some kind of felony offense. Back then, Possession of Marijuana was considered a felony offense, so my caseload consisted of people on probation for everything from possession of an ounce of marijuana to committing murder, and everything in between. I placed a couple of Christian posters up in my cubicle, and I took advantage of every opportunity I could to witness to those who had to report to me on a regular basis. Several actually gave their hearts to the Lord during that time, but there were also quite a few who got in trouble again while on probation and wound up back in jail. Some of them would then write to me from jail and describe how they had begun praying and asking God to forgive them; then they would ask me to help them get out! They were experiencing what I began to refer to as a “jail-house conversion.” Oh, they were truly sorry, all right; sorry they got caught; sorry they were paying the consequences of their actions; and they were trying to “plea-bargain” with God! You know what that is, right? It’s when you say something like, “God, if you’ll just get me out of this, I promise that I will ___________ (fill in the blank)!” Of course, none of us has ever done anything like that, right?!?
But that is not genuine repentance. Genuine repentance is something that begins in the heart. This is what Jonah was expressing in chapter 2. He wasn’t looking for an escape; he was speaking out of a heart that had truly changed! True repentance begins when we see our sin for what it really is in all of its ugliness, and we are truly sorry for what we have done. The Greek word in the New Testament that we translate as “repent” is the same word that would have been used in the military to give the command, “About, face!” It means that we must first make a 180 degree turn IN OUR HEARTS, and that we then begin to walk it out in our lives (“Forward, march!”).
The walking-it-out part is where our repentance is made complete. Without it, our “repentance” is just faith without works which, as Paul tells us, is useless (Jas.2:20 NAS). It is at this point that we must rely heavily upon the grace of God (Grace = God doing in us, for us, with us, through us, or to us what we cannot do ourselves.)! Without His grace we try to change and fail, then we fall into condemnation and eventually give up. Or, if by some chance we manage to walk part of it out in our own strength, we fall prey to pride and need to repent again! However, when we ask for His grace to walk out what has transpired in our heart, then He gets the praise and the glory as we see our lives being changed!
When God saw that Jonah had truly had a change of heart, He responded with His grace and caused the fish to vomit Jonah out on dry ground! Jonah now had the opportunity to walk out his repentance!
Next: Part 5, HOW’D YOU DO THAT?!?