“Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming,
‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown’” (Jonah 3:4)
What leads a person to repentance? This is a relevant question in our culture because more and more we see preachers using different methods to reach people. Many water down the truth to make people feel more comfortable, but also to portray the entry to salvation as a very broad road with a large gate. However, Jesus taught clearly and concisely the definitive truth that leads people to eternal life. Jesus told his disciples that the “truth will set you free” (John 8:32b). I want to propose that it still is the truth that leads to salvation. Not the truth watered down for the twenty-first century Christian, but the same truth that was taught since the message of salvation. Furthermore, I want to propose and will contend that people want to hear the truth; they will come to hear the truth.
Taking a glance at one of the largest revivals recorded in Scripture, we will see it to be nothing less than a response to the cold, hard, truth being taught by the prophet Jonah. We know the story of Jonah and how he did not want to go to Nineveh and preach for them. He had reasons that would seem valid to any devout believer. Nonetheless, God left him no choice, and to Nineveh Jonah went. Nineveh was a very large city of about 120,000 people, and it took about three days to walk through it. Jonah reluctantly walks a day’s journey into the city—and there he begins to preach. He did not prepare his lessons with finesse or any concern to appeal to the people; he just preached the hard facts. It is an amazing thing when a preacher preaches with no regard to what the people think. Jonah did not care if they liked or disliked the message. In fact, he rather they hated the message and rejected it; he did not want to see the Ninevites come to repentance. He preached—he preached the truth and held nothing back: “forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Yes, it is likely he said other words, but with these few words, you quickly gather the demeanor of this bitter preacher: “I will give this message to them cold and hard!” he preached boldly, but most importantly, he preached the truth.
Before we go on, I would like to direct our attention to possibly the second largest revival recorded in Scripture—Acts 2:14-36. I often like to think of this to be one of Peter’s greatest sermons, if not his best. But we must remember who Peter was and has become. Just a couple months prior, after Jesus was arrested, Peter fell hard. He did not fall into temptation and a grievous sin as Judas, but he fell. When Peter denied Jesus three times and then hearing the rooster crow, he did not have an opportunity to fix his wrongs; he had no time to go up to Jesus and say he was sorry. He would have to take that denial, and just a few hours later, watch the one he denied be crucified and die on the cross. I can only imagine the emotional tension Peter was suffering. After a failure like that, it is likely Peter did not even want to preach ever again. But even if he wanted to, would he even feel worthy? Furthermore, not understanding that Jesus would be resurrected in three days, Peter probably thought he had to hold on to this burden of guilt for the rest of his life. But three days later, Jesus was raised from the dead. The moment Jesus appeared to them in the room must have been an intense moment for Peter. He would have been so excited to once more see his master, but I think there would have also been a fearful moment of anticipation where he would have an opportunity to ask forgiveness of his friend—such relief. But the moment of truth was when Jesus and Peter were sitting down after they had finished eating in John 21. Three times, Jesus looked at Peter and asks: “Peter, do you love me?” Three times, Peter responded: “you know that I love you.” And each of the times, Jesus then replied to Peter: “feed my lambs.” I believe this is exactly what this broken and guilt-ridden apostle needed to hear; he needed to hear from his master that he was still commissioned to preach! Not long later, after the ascension of Jesus, we find Peter preaching on the Day of Pentecost. From the opening statements of the sermon through to the recorded end, Peter holds nothing back. He was preaching the truth, He was preaching boldly, he was preaching! He would not be found denying his master again! The sermon climaxes with the powerful statement: “therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” He didn’t care who heard it, in fact, he wanted all of Israel to hear. He wanted them to know the message of Christ. He wanted them to know that they were the ones who crucified Christ. furthermore, he wanted them to know that God had made Christ both Lord and Messiah—the Savior. He preached the truth, he preached it boldly, he preached the message of the gospel. It would have been hard for many to hear those words, but it reached their heart for it was what they needed to hear. The people replied: “Brothers, what shall we do?” The people responded to the truth, with a conversion of 3,000 people.
Now coming back to the reluctant yet bold and truthful preaching of Jonah; verse 3:5 continues to say that “the Ninevites believed God.” They did not respond because the message was watered down or because Jonah was careful not to offend them. Jonah did not care about their feelings; all he cared about was to get in and get the job done—preach the message and get out. Why did they respond? Because it was the truth, it was what they needed to hear, it was what they needed to be set free.
People need the truth, and more than they know, they are seeking it. They may call it by different names as we are accustomed to, but they are seeking truth. What it comes down to is the inalienable need for man to have something solid to stand on, something stable rely on, and a secure foundation to build on—truth. When we water the truth down, we actually make it become what they already have and do not need; something of no substance nor stability to stand and secure one’s life. The Word of God does not need to be tampered with and should not be formed around man’s ideologies and cultures, rather preached accurately, truthfully, and in love (Eph 4:15). Restoration and revival come when the truth is taught or sought after. Because of the truth, people come to know of the error of their way and cry out to God in repentance. In turn, God restores, he makes new, he saves—by his truth.