The men of Nineveh believed in God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth—from the greatest of them to the least. When word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes.Jonah 3:5-6 (HCSB)
Something here may seem unbelievable. Jonah preaches His five word sermon (likely over and over again until everyone heard or the message got to them), and then, as a whole, the people of Nineveh believe in the one true God! Just like that! They are told that God is going to destroy them and–poof–they turn to God and repent. They even repent in style—ashes, dirty sackcloth, tears and weeping. From the greatest king in his throne room to the poorest of the poor, they sat in ashes and repented of their sin.
How is this possible? As Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Jesus said this after telling His disciples that it is easier for a camel to fit through the tiny eye of a sewing needle than for a rich person to go to heaven (there was no ‘eye of a needle’ gate in the walls of Jerusalem; that is myth). Elsewhere, Jesus said that to get to heaven our holiness and righteousness must exceed and be greater than that of the Pharisees who were the most legalistic and paranoid Bible-bashing holy-rollers around. The truth is that salvation is an impossible thing without God stepping in and making our dead bones, our dead souls, come alive.
As Paul reminds us “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All alike have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12). By our very nature, our sinful and fallen DNA, we would not naturally and truly turn to God—ever. Just like it seems impossible for all the people of Nineveh to have turned and repented, so it is impossible that any of us really would. It truly is a miracle. Our God is in heaven, He does whatever He wants—and thank goodness He does!
Paul also tells us something important, something to look forward to. It seems impossible today to believe that, as a whole, the people of the world who follow Judaism would turn to Jesus and believe what Christians believe—but this is exactly what will happen before the end times come (Romans 11:11-36). It seems impossible, but the book of Jonah assures that it is true, after all, it has happened before!