In the Hebrew, this sentence is only 5 words long. It doesn’t even mention God, nor did it call the people of Nineveh to repentance. So why did the Ninevites believe what Jonah warned them of? Jesus tells us in Luke 11:29-32 that the Ninevites had heard of Jonah’s miraculous deliverance from the belly of that fish and that they will, “stand up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” The people of Nineveh heard and believed God…may this present generation do the same.
John the Baptist came preaching repentance. His baptism was a ritual symbolizing spiritual cleansing through the forgiveness of sins to those who repented and believed the gospel, and also prepared the Jews for the coming Messiah. But many in the crowd took offense, wanting rather to put their trust in their lineage or “pedigree” for their righteousness. But it tells us in Galatians 3:6-7, “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.” We will never get to heaven on the shirt-tails of our Godly father, or on the apron-strings of our prayer warrior grandmother. No, the only way is by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ…and it’s only through repentance and forgiveness of our sins that we have the promise of eternal life.
The verse written here was the fulfillment of prophecy first spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) Jesus was the embodiment of light and truth, and His message still rings true today…”Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
This verse comes from the Parable of the prodigal son…a young man, who after squandering his portion of his inheritance, found himself starving to death in the middle of a pigsty. It was in those deplorable conditions, that he finally came to himself…recovering his right mind, and realizing just how far he had wandered away. Repentance is a change of mind…leading to a change of heart…which leads to a change of our actions. Unfortunately for many of us, Godly sorrow is only attained when we find ourselves in the middle of the pigsties of life.
When we compare the actions of Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 we can see quite a contrast. Where Zacchaeus spontaneously offered to donate his great wealth to the needy…the rich young ruler, when challenged by Jesus to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor, left unwilling. True repentance changes us from the inside out. It transforms our heart, causing us to alter our actions and way of thinking to that of Christ’s.