Jonah had a message of judgment to deliver to the Ninevites, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown (Jon. 3:4)!” This sounds like really bad news, and to be sure, it is really bad news! But, don’t miss the grace that is here. Think about it. God is about to destroy the Ninevites because they are wickedly sinful people. God is under no obligation to give any advance notification of the coming judgment. God can justifiably destroy the entire city without even the slightest warning, but he doesn’t. Rather, God is gracious, and he gives the Ninevites forty days notice! The Bible then says that they “believed God,” and they turned from their sin.
The biblical word that is used for this “turning” is a word that is very unpopular in the church growth books. It’s a word that many preachers avoid, as though it were the plague. It’s a word that is often avoided because it is offensive. In fact, it is very offensive. To use the word implies that the recipient of the word is sinful, is wrong, and needs correction in their lives. It implies that they are headed in the wrong direction, and that there needs to be a turning around. It is the word, repent.
It is easily understandable why many preachers do not use the word. Who wants to come to church to hear that they are wrong and that they need to change? Many people come to be encouraged, and to leave feeling good about themselves. The Bible does not provide that sort of message though. Rather, the Bible teaches that a day is coming when God will judge the wicked for their sin. The Bible consistently teaches that a Day of Judgment is coming. The good news is that God is graciously giving advanced notification of the judgment that is to come. The good news is that God is graciously giving opportunity for repentance, opportunity to turn from sin. This is the simple gospel message that Jesus preached when he began his public ministry: repent and believe.