I have always loved the Book of Jonah. Every time I read or think about it, I realize something new. Other times, I have been able to deeply identify with the screaming emotions exhibited by this ancient man of God. To give an example of one of the things I have learned from Jonah, I have always thought his story resembled that of Saul/Paul in Acts 9:1-19. Both were on their way to do their own thing, believing they were servants of God, when the Lord intersected their path and dramatically changed their mission to proclaim His message to people whom each prophet loathed. Both were schooled in obedience. Both were granted special insight into the wondrous grace of God.
Today as I was sitting in church listening to the Easter message, I again thought of Jonah, and this time in a new way. The Assyrians, the people to whom Jonah was sent, were the epitome of barbarism in the Old Testament. They were utterly cruel and oppressive and powerful. All others would agree, the Assyrians were just plain bad. They deserved any ill fate that might come to them, and then some! Jonah felt the same way. But after he spent three days of agony in the belly of the whale, he repented and took the message of God's mercy to the people whom he (rightfully) hated...the people whom God loved.
The day Jesus was crucified, He was humiliated, beaten, hated, and killed by a great, riotous mob. I imagine He looked out several times into faces filled with hate and malice, bared teeth and snarls...hearing the raging screams, "Crucify Him!!!!" and feeling the spit of these onlookers ooze down His torn body. We would probably all agree today, these people were just plain bad. They deserved any ill fate that might come to them, and then some! Jesus' disciples no doubt felt the same way, on top of their aching grief at having lost Him. But after He spent three days in the grave, somehow reconciling humanity to God, He rose again and sent His followers with a powerful message of God's mercy to these very same people, whom He rightfully might have hated...the people whom God loved.
And so it is today. God so loves a world that hates Him so much...He still extends His mercy, His promise of eternal life, to all who will accept. No matter how "bad" a person might perceive him- or herself to be...no matter how "bad" a person might be perceived by others to be...he or she is welcomed by a merciful, loving God who promises restoration and new life!