Surprised by Grace (2)

This is the second installment of my review of Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels by Tullian Tchividjian. 

One of the repeated descriptors in the tale of Jonah is great. Nineveh is a great city; God sends a great wind and storm; the sailors suffer great fright and come to great fear of the LORD; God appoints a great fish; Jonah suffers from great displeasure and great delight in a plant; Nineveh mourns and repents from wickedness – “from the greatest to the least of them” (3:5).

Tchividjian spends some time exploring this last contrast of great and least.  The change in the people of Nineveh is huge and all encompassing.  This point is emphasized with a picture of the king, stepping off of his throne and into the ashes, putting off his robe and covering himself with ashes.  The fast is proclaimed on man and beast.  Then there is that last strange verse in Jonah where God asks, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

This section of the book has the following subheadings and quotes:

  • God uses the defeated to do great things

The story of Jonah “shows us that in God’s eyes, and in Christianity, weakness precedes usefulness.” (pg. 102)

  • Good news for losers

“The gospel frees us from the pressure to generate our own significance and meaning. In Christ, our identity and significance are secure, which frees us up to give everything we have, because in Christ we have everything we need.” (pg. 104)

These thoughts shine a bright light on the difference between what we often value and give honor to and what God deems valuable.  The Facebook guy gets public recognition for giving a large amount of his even larger fortune; the working family down the pew from you may be giving up dinners out to support your church or a family member in need.  We sign up to hear that famous, successful person give their testimony; the woman sitting next to you in Bible study quietly serves her family, church, or community because that is where God has put her.  We like to be strong in the Lord; perfect in weakness – not so much.

This brings us back to the last verse of Jonah.  That odd reference to those who do not know the difference between their right and left hands and the animals is thought to refer to children and others who are dependent on those who do know better.  Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

Nineveh was saved when their king left his throne and took off his robe and led the way to repentance.  This story is not about Jonah but about our great, gracious, forgiving God who blesses humility and dependence on him.  This story points to Christ who humbled himself and left his throne to become a baby, child, and then a man.  He who knew no sin bore ours on the cross.  His grace is free but to honor it costs everything.


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