The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:31-32 NIV)
Since we've just finished a long detour through Jonah, we will look at verse 32 first and come back to the Queen of the South tomorrow.
When Jonah arrived in Nineveh, looking considerably disheveled, he walked through the streets proclaiming an eight word sermon. ("Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.") Of the 120,000 people in Nineveh, 100% of them repented in sackcloth and with fasting. The king issued a decree that "everyone call urgently on God... give up their evil ways and their violence."
As I read the words of the king's decree, I am speechless. The king of Nineveh demanded that the citizens fast and repent. It was not optional. He meant business and he led the way by his own example. When the king repented in sackcloth and with fasting, the citizens did, too.
It seems impossible for this to happen in any city, any country. It is especially incredible because the people of Nineveh were fierce Assyrians who had considerable evil ways and violence from which they needed to repent. They had as much sin as... well, as us. They were as sinful and far from God as our country. They were as disinterested in righteousness as we in America seem to be.
One day, the people were living in their sin and embracing the evil to which they were accustomed. The next day, Jonah, the rebellious prodigal, walked through the city with his tiny little sermon. The Spirit of God descended on hearts throughout the city. Repentance fell. Hearts changed. Evil fled.
It happened in Nineveh, and it could happen here. Pray that it will.
Jesus said that the men of Nineveh would rise up and condemn us at the judgment because of our failure to repent. They repented when Jonah (one of the least likely of God's prophets) spoke a few words from God. It wasn't eloquent preaching, and it wasn't flashy or fancy. The Spirit moved and Nineveh repented. The people of Jesus' day had God Himself, much greater than Jonah, yet they refused to repent. We, the people of modern times, have the Holy Spirit present with us, yet we, too, refuse to repent.
When judgment comes, the men of Nineveh will condemn us before the throne of God for our failure to heed the word of God despite such amazing opportunities to come to Him. There will be a Judgment Day and everyone will answer for how we responded to the Word of God. Having spent our lives "playing church" will not be acceptable. Jesus called us to radical obedience, the kind that causes us to give up the pleasures of the flesh, deny ourselves, and serve Him.
Discipleship is not optional for a believer. Discipleship is not optional for Christians.
You might notice that I separated those two terms. The term "Christian" was originally used to describe believers who were such faithful disciples of Christ that those around them considered them "little Christs". In this country, the term has come to mean "someone who attends church regularly". It's a tragedy, because the loss of meaning indicates our loss of understanding. Being a Christian is supposed to mean we are disciples of Christ. If we expect to live in eternity with Christ, who has gone to prepare a place for us, we need to understand that He expects us to follow Him until He returns.
Discipleship is not following from the back of the pack. Discipleship involves careful Bible study, diligent application of truth to our lives, willing hearts and hands that serve. Will we fail sometimes? Of course. We don't live our lives in failure, though. We are to rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us and correct us. Our goal is to be like Christ.
One day, we will be held accountable for our response to Christ. If the men of Nineveh looked at my life, what would they see? How would they view my response to God? How would they view your response to Christ? Are you a disciple or just one in the crowd?
Eight words from God changed a city and the lives of 120,000 people. Pray that the decree of the king, "call urgently on God and turn from evil", will be the cry of our hearts today. May the Spirit move in us like He did in Nineveh so long ago.