Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown . . . When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (Jonah 3:4, 10)
Business as usual in the church will not work. Preaching as usual in the church will not work either. Surely you will agree that we have never had more Bible teaching in America. Never have we had the immediate access to so much good and orthodox teaching through the internet, DVDs, and books. Yet we seem to be powerless to slow down or stop our slide into Sodom. We are running headlong into perdition. We have well-known and popular preachers espousing various forms of theistic evolution, calling themselves progressive creationists, whatever that means. We have sound, faithful, and orthodox men in our pulpits who see little happen in their preaching ó few conversions, little gospel transformation of their people, little conviction of sin, little gospel interest by unbelievers in the community, little to no societal impact by their churches in their communities. Most preachers I know are terribly perplexed and discouraged by these things.
What must we do? Consider Nineveh in Jonahís day. It was on the banks of the Tigris River, across from modern day Mosul, Iraq. The walls around the city were as high as eighteen feet. The temple there was at least one hundred and fifty feet wide and over three hundred feet long, made with millions of bricks, a spectacular accomplishment for the time. The people were proud, tempestuous warriors, boasting that they showed no mercy to those whom they conquered. They were mortal enemies of Israel and would, within fifty years or so, conquer them. Jonah, as any good Jew of his day, hated them; and they hated the Jews. So you can understand his reticence at taking Godís message of repentance and mercy to them. You probably know the story. Instead of going in a northeasterly direction to Nineveh, he went the opposite way, northwesterly to Tarshish, fleeing from the presence of the Lord. God got his attention through the storm, having him thrown overboard, being swallowed by the big fish, and then miraculously delivering him. So he went preaching to his hated enemies and God showed mercy by moving the people of Nineveh, including the king, to repent. God relented concerning the calamity he was planning to send upon them.
What kind of preaching did Jonah do? What was it that brought repentance from these wicked, idolatrous people? Admittedly, we have little to go on in the text, only one verse, but we can still glean important principles from it. First, you will note that Jonah went to Nineveh. He went throughout the city. He took the message to the people. He did not wait for them to come to him. Second, he cried out to them. Can we agree that he showed passion? There was nothing casual in his approach. Third, he overcame his natural bigotry and hatred of these people. Fourth, he was specific. He did not hide the clear cut word ó judgment was coming. Fifth, he was earnest. They only had forty days to repent. Failure would mean perdition. Sixth, he preached with certainty. This was a word from the Lord, 'Nineveh will be overthrown.' Seventh, we know he preached the necessity of repentance from sin and faith in the true and living God. Thatís because of the strong response of the Ninevites (Jon. 3:5-9). They knew exactly what they must do. Eighth, he preached a clear and vivid view of the true and living God. They were idolaters, but verse five tells us they believed in God. The king told the people in verse 8 to call on this God (his name in the text is Elohim, the creator God, a direct challenge to their false gods of nature and superstition). The king believed that Elohim was merciful, filled with loving kindness and compassion. Why else would he have hoped that he would turn from his just and burning anger and save them (verse 9)? So Jonah proclaimed Elohim as creator, sustainer, holy, just, and merciful. And ninth, Jonah had the anointing of the Spirit upon his preaching. How else can you explain the amazing conversion of an entire city?
What does this mean for us in our day? Four things may happen when a man stands in a pulpit to preach. First, he may truly preach. He will herald the truth of Godís Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the best that can happen. This is what we need. Such a preacher reaches the heart by challenging the mind, affecting the will. True, biblical, Spirit-anointed preaching brings conviction of sin, conversion, and action by the Spiritís power (1 Thess. 1:5). He expects and works for a verdict. God has already given his verdict concerning his Son. He says, 'This is My Son, My chosen One. Listen to Him' (Luke 9:35). A true preacher demands such a verdict from his auditors, 'What will you do with this Jesus and his demands upon your life?' Second, he may teach Godís Word. This is okay, much better than the two possibilities that follow. But teaching is not preaching. The teacher reaches the mind, perhaps inspiring the heart, but affecting not the will. He informs his congregation. Perhaps he says intriguing things, putting biblical truth in provocative and encouraging ways. His content is good. His delivery is polished, but it does not transform. Third, he may engage in Bible talking. He speaks of the Bible, from the Bible. He informs the mind, affecting not the heart or will. A Bible talker lacks passion, unction, zeal. He comes across as though he were lecturing on the latest innovations of office technology. His talking does not inspire change. It deadens, can harden people to pride, promoting lukewarmness. And fourth, he may be a Bible wanderer. He stands to speak Godís Word but seems not to know where he is going with the text. He wanders from the text, rarely getting to the point, failing to drive it home to the consciences of his auditors. He confuses the mind and kills the heart and will. He is unwilling to tackle prophetic and cultural issues. He is reluctant to take up the hard sayings of the prophets, apostles, or the Lord Jesus.
Teaching, talking, and wandering will not work in our day if we are to see mighty conversions, mighty assemblies, mighty holiness, and mighty societal impact. We must have preaching. It must be nothing but the Word of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, calling people to decide for Christ right on the spot. It must preach Christ crucified. Will you, preacher, purpose to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-4)? Will you, congregant, purpose to pray for your preacher, that the anointing of the Spirit will rest upon his pulpit ministry. Business as usual in the church is not working. We must have more. We must have preaching.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, 'Forget None of His Benefits', can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.