When Pharaoh refused to allow the Israelites to go and offer sacrifice to the Lord, Moses promised that the angel of death would descend on the firstborn of the Egyptians. But among the Israelites, not a dog would bark. “Thus you will see how God distinguishes between Egypt and Israel.”
Meanwhile we read: At the judgment, the people of Nineveh will rise and condemn this generation of Israelites.
So: God distinguishes, yes; He has a preference. But based on what? He can, after all, raise up children to Abraham from the very stones.
The “sign of Jonah” gives us the answer.
The Egyptians had some serious pagan pride. “You Jews want to go into the wilderness and practice another religion, other than ours? What do you mean? We have it all going on! Look at how good-looking we are, especially Pharaoh. We are practically divine ourselves!”
On the other hand, Jonah preached to the Ninevites: “Remember, man, that you are dust. You will return to dust. You will return to dust as sure as snow will melt when the temperature rises above 32 degrees.” Hearing this reasonableness, the Ninevites repented. They said, “Lord, you are the Almighty God! We are dust and ashes. Have mercy on us and spare us!”
God prefers people who repent. It’s that simple.
If I might, let’s meditate on it like this: If Christ came solely to save me, He would have to suffer every bit as much as He actually did suffer. He suffered then for everyone, including Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and Osama bin Laden, all of whom could have been saved if they repented at the last minute.
Christ would have to suffer every bit as much, even if I myself were the only sinner ever. I might, in some dark corner of my soul, coddle myself with this kind of half-thought: “You know, if Jesus Christ were suffering only to atone for my sins, it wouldn’t be as bad. He probably would just have to endure a headcold. Just a headcold, with constant sneezing for like two weeks. Or maybe just being put on hold by Appalachian Power Company for 25 minutes or so. Then all my sins would be atoned for, if the Son of God endured those things for me…”
Negative, sir. Not true. Because the need for Christ’s sacrifice has not arisen primarily from the proliferation of human sins, or from their relative gravity. Certainly, human sins have proliferated alarmingly, with plenty of grave ones.
But that, actually, pales in significance compared to another factor: The dignity of the One we have offended by each and every one of our sins. Every time I have acted in a thoughtless manner–every time I have harbored an unworthy thought!–I have offended the infinitely kind and good God. I have offended Someone Who makes Mother Theresa look like Imelda Marcos by comparison.
But: This is who the Lord prefers! The people who say to Christ crucified: “Yes, Lord. I myself have nailed You to Your Holy Cross by my own negligence and nonsense. I myself brought Your bitter Passion on You! Have mercy on me. Forgive me. By Your cross and resurrection, give me a fresh start, Lord. I am nothing; You are everything!”