What is the purpose of a warning shot?
You fire a warning shot to show someone that you would rather not shoot, but you will if you have to do so. In a sense that is what we find in the book of Jonah. Here is the message that Jonah proclaimed in Nineveh:
“Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)
God’s Word to Nineveh in chapter three sounds like nothing but judgment, doesn’t it? But there is mercy implied behind that message. After all, if all God really wanted to do was destroy Nineveh because of their sin, why not just do it? If that were the case, why bother sending Jonah at all?
And Jonah himself knew that to be the case as well. That much is clear from his response to God showing mercy upon the Ninevites. In Jonah chapter four he himself says that this was the very reason that he wanted no part of going to Nineveh:
And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3, ESV, emphasis mine)
The reason that Jonah was afraid to go to Nineveh wasn’t because he was afraid of failure – he was afraid of success! In fact, he says that he knew that was why God sent him there, because of the character of God – He knew that God was gracious and merciful.
Richard Phillips writes,
“While we must properly distinguish between the law and the gospel – that is, between God’s just requirements and his promise of salvation – we also should realize that “the message of God’s judgment is itself evangelistic. It is an evidence of God’s mercy and grace, a warning to men and women of what awaits them if they do not repent.” (Reformed Expository Commentary: Jonah & Micah, p.100.)
Think about that for a moment – “the message of God’s judgment is evangelistic.” There is a statement that will upset a few theological apple carts. And it’s backed up by the testimony of Jonah.
So whether you are preaching the gospel to hundreds of people on the Lord’s Day, or simply trying to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a friend, neighbor or complete stranger, don’t shy away from the truth of God’s judgment. You never know but that God’s mercy in Jesus Christ may just shine through it!
That warning shot just might be the magic bullet!