Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17, NKJV)
A great fish swallowed Jonah. Jesus agreed, saying that Jonah being “three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish” typifies the Son of Man being “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). But, something more than a fish was eating up Jonah. When God first commanded him to go to Nineveh, he tried to flee his God-given work (Jonah 1:2). After three days and nights in the dark belly of the fish he went to sinful Nineveh with the burning light of truth, preaching “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). But, instead of punishing the evil city, God showed it mercy and spared the city when the people repented (Jonah 3:5-10). This “displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). You see, Jonah was eaten up with an unmerciful heart of vengeance. He even seemed to complain to God about the Almighty’s gracious mercy to explain (justify) his ill-conceived flight to Tarshish (Jonah 4:2). Now, he had rather die than see Nineveh live (Jonah 4:3). God showed Jonah mercy time and again (first the fish, then the plant, Jonah 4:5-10). The prophet needed to learn to be merciful as God had shown him (and Nineveh) mercy (Jonah 4:9-11). While we are quick to receive God’s grace and mercy, we must empty our hearts of vengeance toward others who also need mercy. Truly, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:13–14, NKJV)
The depth of our sins magnifies the depth of God’s mercy. The Pharisee in this parable depicts “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9). The Pharisee justified himself in comparison to others. He considered himself to be superior spiritually – “not like other men” (Luke 18:11-12). When we cannot see our own sins we are unable to show compassion to others, much less receive God’s merciful forgiveness for our sins. God is ready, willing and able to show us mercy when we, in anguish over our sins, turn to Him for relief (Psalm 51:17). The tax collector was crushed over his sin. Even so today, a sinner who is “cut to the heart” over his sins receives God’s mercy when he repents and is baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:37-38). The contrite heart turns to God for compassionate forgiveness and receives it. It is precisely when we understand our own need for mercy that we are able to show mercy to others. The merciful do not elevate themselves above others, for they know their own need for mercy. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). The self-righteous do not give or receive mercy.
1 The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart; Merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. 2 He shall enter into peace; They shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness. (Isaiah 57:1–2, NKJV)
Because Israel’s watchmen were blind and silent, the righteous among them perished. There was no mercy in the land; sin and suffering had taken control of the land. The death of the righteous was a blessing in disguise. By death, the righteous were extracted from the impending calamity of judgment brought on by the nation’s sins. We can get so wrapped up in thinking about life here and now, that we forget the blessing death will bring. For sure, death brings sorrow of loss and separation. But Christians see it as much more. For the righteous, death gives passage away from merciless evil, to a place of rest and comfort (Luke 16:19-25). Let us view death as an exit and an entrance. Death is our exit from a sin-filled world, and our entrance into joyful peace. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). May we walk in uprightness, and see the blessedness of death’s deliverance from pain, into an abiding rest for the soul.
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:12–14, NKJV)
The amazing grace of God in Christ Jesus is on full display in the conversion of Saul and in his appointment as an apostle. As we reflect on the sins of Saul and the wonderful mercy he obtained in Christ, we are confident the Lord will forgive every sinner who calls on His name (1 Tim. 1:15-16; Acts 2:21, 37-41). We are also compelled to ponder how (or whether) we forgive those who sin against us. How tragically unrealistic it is to expect God’s wonderful mercy and grace to forgive our sins when we are unwilling to forgive others (Matt. 6:14-15). Today, remember this faith-challenging promise, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Be merciful to others and live in the mercy of God.
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Bitterness is like acid eating through one’s heart. Gone is empathy, kindness and merciful forgiveness toward one who sins against the bitter of heart. The companions of bitterness are angry, resentful responses, evil words and ill will. Christians must put away all these things from their hearts. This is done by recalling the kindness of God toward us in Christ. God could have been bitter toward us because of our sins against Him. But His kind love forgives us in Jesus. There is no room in our hearts for bitter resentment. Be kind. Be merciful. Forgive. That’s how God has treated you in His Son.