This morning I walked around the neighborhood of our church. As I walked, I prayed, asking God to work in the homes and hearts of our community. Our church is situated among a vast array of large and expensive homes inhabited by prominent and powerful people. As I walked and prayed, I confessed to God, “I fear these people Lord. I fear their prominence and their power. I fear speaking to them about you and your precious Word.” I confessed, “I struggle to believe that you can work in their hearts.”
As I confessed and mourned my unbelief, God gave me a great gift. The Holy Spirit brought the book of Jonah to my mind. As I meditated on those four short chapters, God reminded me of four amazing realities that turned me away from unbelief and set my hope upon him.
Reality #1 – The world possesses great power
Nineveh, a city in biblical Assyria, was a great and powerful city (Genesis 10:11). God said to Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city…” (1:2). Notice that God calls it “great.” God uses the Hebrew word, “gadol” to describe Nineveh. Gadol is used in the Old Testament to describe magnitude or size (Jonah 1:17) or to show prominence and power (Job 1:3, 2 Kings 18:19). Nineveh was great in all of these ways.
Assyria’s greatness is recorded for us in 2 Kings 18. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, sent a great army (v.17) to Jerusalem and counseled king Hezekiah and the people of Judah to surrender. Sennacherib mocked anyone who trusted in God. He told the people, “‘Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, the LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me’” (vv.31-32).
Then Sennacherib turned their attention to his track record, “Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (v.33). “Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” (v.35).
From our perspective, the powers of the world seem so great, and they are – from our perspective. But from God’s perspective they are as nothing (Psalm 2:1-6). In fact, all of the power that the world possesses comes from God himself (Job 12:23-25, John 19:11).
Reality #2 – God is sovereign over all earthly powers as evidenced by his judgment
Immediately after God says Nineveh is great, God demonstrates his power over Nineveh by judging the entire city. “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (1:2). God had set his heart to judge Nineveh. God was going to cause Nineveh to be “overthrown” (3:4) as a judgment for their evil ways. As large and as prominent and as powerful as Nineveh was, it could not escape the judgment of God.
A day will come when God will execute his judgment (Acts 17:30-31) on the whole world. Yet, God has already declared his judgment to the world (John 3:17-19). Therefore, I need not fear worldly power nor desire worldly gain, for I know my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth (Job 19:25).
Reality #3 – God is sovereign over all earthly powers as evidenced by his irresistible grace
God demonstrates his power over every worldly power by subduing rebellious and unbelieving hearts by his irresistible grace. It is one thing to squash an ant that bites you. It is another thing to cause the ant to love you and worship you so that it never wants to bite you. God loves to show his power over the world by causing people to believe in him and repent.
“And he (Jonah) called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (3:4-5). The king of Nineveh declared, “Let all call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (3:8-9).
Nineveh was not primed to respond like this. The Assyrians were a great power in the world. Israel and Judah were their enemies, so God was the enemy of their gods. They were happy with their gods and their ways of living. On top of that, Jonah preached a halfhearted message to only a third of the entire city (3:3-4)!
Yet God’s call upon their hearts was effective and that great city bowed in fear before God. No one could have imagined anything like this. Only a miracle could do this. God performed a miracle of mercy to turn their hearts. Nineveh was overthrown, not by might, but by mercy. God had set his sovereign grace on Nineveh, and was impossible for Nineveh to resist it.
“So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18).
“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that no one is able to withstand you” (2 Chronicles 20:6).
Reality #4 – God exercises his sovereign power over worldly powers through the preaching of his Word
God told Jonah to go and preach to Nineveh. The message or the proclamation of God (3:2) was his instrument of overcoming judgment or of overcoming grace. It was the message of God preached to the people of Nineveh that was the means by which God overcame their hearts by his irresistible grace.
The way that our church and other churches around the world will subdue worldly powers is by clearly, faithfully, and convictionally proclaiming the full counsel of God’s Word.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Jesus is with us
The Bible affirms what we see with our eyes: the powers of the world are great. But the Bible sets our hope on the greater reality that those powers are as nothing to God. God possesses sovereign power to overthrow all worldly powers by judgment or by grace. Now, while it is still day (John 9:4), God is overthrowing and subduing worldly powers by his grace through the proclamation of his Word.
Therefore, believer in Jesus, rather than fear and doubt (as I did this morning), believe in God and proclaim the full counsel of his Word. Make disciples and teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded us. See the world through the lens of biblical realities – that God is sovereign and his unlimited power is on your side.
Remember the words of our Lord, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).