God Reappointed a Prophet (Jonah 3:1-10)

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(Due to technical issues the quality of this week’s sermon audio is very poor.)

Introduction

Good morning, I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Jonah chapter 3. We will be covering all 10 verses in chapter 3 this morning. Jonah 3:1–10.

Last week’s passage ended with the dramatic words: “And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.” The great narrative that began with God’s initial call to Jonah and Jonah’s rebellion against God which included his running away from the presence of the LORD by going down to Joppa, and down to the ship, and down into the inner part of the ship, only to be cast into the sea and sinking further, and further down into his sin, and his being rescued by a great fish… that great narrative has reached a climactic point as Jonah has now experienced God hitting the reset button and saying: “Okay, let’s try this again.” It is almost as if God hits rewind and says, “Jonah, let’s pretend like none of that ever happened. Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” And you can imagine Jonah crawling across the shore, shakily rising to his feet, a bit disoriented, weak from thirst and hunger, thankful to be alive, and clear that the LORD was not going to release him from his calling.

But with all this talk about Jonah and the sailors in the past two sermons, we have neglected a very important part of this story. We still do not know what will happen to the people of Nineveh. The last we heard of them was in the first sermon while in our passages for the past two weeks, there has been no mention of Nineveh or the people there. Well today we are heading back to Nineveh where we pick up with their story again.

Follow along with me in your Bible or on page 801 of a pew Bible as I read from Jonah Chapter 3. Jonah 3:1–10.

1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jonah 3:1–10 ESV)

If this passage is about anything it is about repentance. There is a sense in which we see Jonah repenting here. Or at least we see the outward manifestation of the repentance that took place during his prayer inside the great fish. Before he was disobedient. Before he was rebellious. Before he was fleeing away from the presence of the LORD. He had turned his back to the place God was calling him to, but now he has turned himself toward it. Jonah has repented.

But this passage also, and more directly, describes the repentance of the people of Nineveh. That is what I want to focus on this morning. And I want us to look at three different aspects of repentance that are highlighted by this passage. First, the Call to Repentance. Second, the Act of Repentance. And third, the Result of Repentance. Let’s look first at The Call to Repentance as described by verses 1–4.

The Call to Repentance (vv. 1–4)

I have said it in the past two sermons, the story of Jonah is not a story about Jonah’s resistance, it is a story about God’s persistence. And the fact that he calls Jonah again, using basically the same words as before, is evidence of God’s determination to get his word of warning to Nineveh and bring about their repentance. In chapter 3, God reappoints his prophet Jonah. God commands Jonah once again to Arise and Go to Nineveh to preach. And this time, Jonah obeys. In verse 2 God says, “Arise and go,” and in verse 3 Jonah arises and goes. And to make sure we understand that Jonah is obeying God, the author of Jonah says in verse three that Jonah did this “according to the word of the LORD.”

If you are getting to know me, you know I am going to have to stop here with this notion of Jonah doing this “according to the word of the LORD.” Now, I am not sure how Jonah heard God tell him to arise and go to Nineveh. I am not sure if he heard him with his ears or if he heard him in his head or if he heard him in his heart. Maybe it was all three, I do not know. But how Jonah heard from God is not as important as the fact that God spoke to him and he obeyed. And while I don’t know how God spoke to Jonah, I do know how God speaks to us today. He speaks to us through the Bible. That is why we call it the word of God. And when we read the Bible we are hearing the word of God spoken to us.

Jonah obeyed the word of God and when we read the Bible and do what it says, we are obeying the word of God as well. The fact that we do not hear it audibly, the fact that we do not see it written in the clouds, makes it no less authoritative. The little book you are holding in your hand this morning is the word of God. And while Jonah had this wonderful experience of hearing from God on this special occasion, we have the privilege of hearing from God everyday. All we have to do is open our Bibles and read. How foolish do we have to be to choose not to hear from God everyday? Many of us actively make a decision everyday that we would rather watch some garbage on TV than hear from God. Really? Brothers and sisters think about that for a minute. What does our apathy for God’s word say about us?

My favorite professor at Beeson Divinity School (let me change that to one of my favorite professors so I don’t make anyone mad), was Dr. Robert Smith. He was my preaching professor. He was everyone’s favorite professor really. I remember him pointing out one time that though the Bible often compares bread or food that nourishes our physical being with the word of God that nourishes our spiritual being, that there is one key difference. The difference is this. When you are starving to death from lack of food, you get hungrier and hungrier. But when you soul is starving to death from the lack of God’s word, you don’t get hungrier and hungrier for it, instead you slowly lose your appetite for it all together.

Have you lost your appetite for God’s word? I pray that you will get it back.

Brothers and sisters, God’s word is powerful. We have an example in our passage today that shows us just how powerful it is. In verse 4 Jonah goes into the city of Nineveh, the verse says he went a day’s journey into the city, and at some point, maybe along the way, or maybe when he reached a certain spot, but at some point he began to preach. Now we don’t know everything he said, some people have called it the most effective sermon ever because with five simple Hebrew words, the entire city of Nineveh believes in God and repents of their sin. But in reality, it is most likely that these words are simply a summary of what Jonah said. But whatever he said, he was speaking the word of God. Remember, God told Jonah in verse 2 to arise and go to Nineveh and “and call out against it the message that I tell you.” This was not Jonah’s message, this was God’s message. Jonah was preaching the word of God. And the word of God is powerful.

The story of Jonah is a good reminder for us as a church in the middle of planning for the future that the salvation of the lost has little to do with our programs and strategies and everything to do with God. We need to do everything we can to make sure people are hearing the word of God. That is our program. That is our strategy.

True repentance never comes about apart from the preaching of the word of God. True repentance is brought about by hearing the word of God and being convicted by the Holy Spirit. The words Jonah spoke to the people of Nineveh were not his words, they were God’s words and they pierced the hearts of the people who heard them. Jonah issued The Call to Repentance by preaching God’s word. And the preaching of God’s word brought about the actual repentance. Look with me now in verses 5–9 where we see the Ninevites in The Act of Repentance.

The Act of Repentance (vv. 5–9)

Jonah simply cries out in verse 4, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” and in verse 5 we see that the people of Nineveh believed in God. All of them! At least 120,000 of them! Some say as many as 600,000! They all believed in God and they repented and mourned and fasted and put on sackcloth, everyone of them from the greatest to the least of them—including the king. Look with me in verse 6.

6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. (Jonah 3:6–8 ESV)

Brothers and sisters this is true repentance. Sackcloth and ashes were acts that indicated real mourning and sorrow. These people, from the least of them to the greatest of them, believed in God and repented of their wickedness. And all of this was brought about through the preaching of God’s word by a reluctant prophet who so far has been nothing but a villain in this story.

And this is no mere sorrow for past behavior. This is a commitment to change future behavior. At the end of verse 8, the king says, “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” The king is not just asking the people to be sorry for what they have done, he is asking them to change their behavior. And that is true repentance. True repentance goes beyond regret. True repentance involves a commitment to leave a sinful way of life behind for a new godly way of life.

True repentance involves not just going through the motions of saying I am sorry and of promising to turn away from evil only to continue on in a life of sin afterwards. Repentance involves a change in the way you behave. That is why the king not only instructed the people to fast and put on sackcloth and cry out to God in prayer, but he also instructed them to turn from their evil ways and from their violent behavior. True repentance affects the way you live. It is more than just going through religious motions.

There are lots of ways to manipulate emotions and make people feel bad about the way they have behaved and maybe even elicit some external action to demonstrate their sorrow over the way they have behaved. But that is not repentance. True repentance is always accompanied by a faith-induced turning toward Jesus Christ. The theologian, Wayne Grudem, says it like this: “The turning from sin is called repentance, and the turning to Christ is called faith” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 709). In other words, true repentance and true faith go together. And a true conversion includes both faith in Christ and repentance from sin. Grudem goes on to say that “repentance and faith are simply two different sides of the same coin” (Grudem, 714). They are inseparable.

And the Ninevites demonstrate both faith and repentance. The Ninevites “believed in God” (v. 5) AND “turned from [their] evil way” (vv. 8, 10). They believed (faith) and they turned (repentance). And thus, Jesus was able to say that the people of Nineveh would “rise up at the judgment” because they believed God and repented. Jonah ignored the word of the Lord and would not rise, but the king of Nineveh arose immediately after hearing the word of the Lord from Jonah. And unlike Jonah, when the people of Nineveh were told to call out with their voices, they did.

This is a great encouragement to me as a preacher. Jonah is a scoundrel. He is a villain. And yet God uses him to preach a message that converts every person in a very large city. And in doing so, he makes it very clear that events like this have nothing to do with the messenger and everything to do with the message. Jonah proclaimed the word of God and the whole city fell to their knees in repentance. God loves to use the most unlikely of people in his grand story of redemption because when he does it makes very clear that he is the one at work. As we learned last week, “Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

The king of Nineveh was wise enough to know that true repentance was their only hope. We see his glimmer of hope in verse 9. He concludes his royal edict by saying:

“Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 3:9 ESV)

The king’s hope is that when God sees the people of Nineveh on their knees crying out to God, wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes that he will know the intentions of their heart are pure. And when he sees that these people who are known for their wickedness and violence have turned away from those things and now believe in God, that God might relent from destroying the city and its people. And we are told in verse 10 that this exactly how it plays out. Look with me in verse 10 at The Result of Repentance.

The Result of Repentance (v. 10)

When the people of Nineveh believed God’s word and turned away from their evil ways, God turned from the disaster he said he would do to them. It is not that God is finicky. It is not that he waffles around trying to decide what to do. It is simply that God’s promises to bring disaster upon a place or a people always carries with them a condition. That condition is repentance.

Look with me in Jeremiah 18:7–8. This is the most clear passage about this you will find. Jeremiah 18:7–8.

7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. (Jeremiah 18:7–8 ESV)

Notice how those verses begin. “If at any time…” The words “at any time” include Jonah’s message to Nineveh. Whenever God says he is going to bring disaster on a city or punish people through whatever means, the Bible tells us that if those people repent and turn from their evil and believe in God, he will relent from his plans to destroy them. And that is really good news for us as sinners this morning.

Brothers and sisters the fact is that God is a merciful God who does not want any to perish but desires that all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The fact that God relents from his wrath against sinners is at the core of our beliefs as Christians. And God’s relenting from the physical disaster he was going to bring upon the sinful city of Nineveh is also a picture of the spiritual disaster that is averted when individual people repent.

And because of the fact that God relented from his plans, we now have a third account in this book where God shows mercy to people who do not deserve it. First the pagan sailors who worshipped other gods. Second, Jonah, the reluctant prophet of God. And third, to the people of Nineveh, the wicked enemies of the people of God.

Conclusion

And so in our next sermon we expect to see Jonah, the pardoned prophet, the rebellious prophet who received mercy, rejoicing over others who have received mercy as well. You would expect him to be delighted, right? That would only make sense. Surely that is what we will see. Because that is exactly how human nature works isn’t it? We are always happy when God does for others as he has done for us, right? Unfortunately, the truth is that even when we have been blessed by God and shown mercy by God, we are still often so sinful that we are not happy when others are treated in the same way.

Let Jonah be a mirror for us this morning. Look deep into the eyes of Jonah this morning and see the reflection of your own wickedness and selfishness. Look deep into the eyes of Jonah this morning and see that selfish attitude that does not want to share the mercy and grace and blessings of God with others. That sinful sick nature that wants it all for yourself and your own people. Look deep into the eyes of Jonah and see the reflection of someone who is willing to go through the motions, who is willing to obey the commands of God on the outside, all the while being rebellious against him on the inside.

And then turn and look into the eyes of the people of Nineveh and learn what it means to repent. Repentance, brothers and sisters, begins on the inside and changes the outside. The inside affects the outside. The outside does nothing to the inside. You can go through the motions all day long. But the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 14:23 that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Even our religious actions are sin if they do not proceed from a repentant heart that has been shaped by faith.

Being repentant does not mean being religious. Going through religious actions such as coming to church does not mean that you have a heart that is filled with sorrow for your sins against God.

The story of Jonah and the conversion of the wicked Ninevites carries with it a reminder that it is not being associated with some religious group that saves you. The story of Jonah was a reminder to the people of Israel that genuine repentance and genuine faith in God was necessary for them as well. The fact that they were descendants of Abraham meant nothing without faith in the God of Abraham. And the fact that you might be the descendant of generations of Christians means nothing apart from genuine repentance of your sins and genuine faith in Jesus Christ in your own heart.

Where is your security today? Are you trusting in the fact that you are a pretty good person and you go to a Christian church every week? Or are you trusting in the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross? The fact is the blood of Jesus Christ is the only hope any of us have. Though he would not come to earth for hundreds of years, it was the blood of Christ shed on the cross that God was looking toward in the future when he passed over the sins of the Ninevites. And that remains the only means available for forgiveness today. When God sees your sin does he look back to the cross where your sins were nailed or does he look forward toward a time of reckoning where you will pay for your own sins?

Where is your security this morning? If the great city of Nineveh knew they were no match for the judgment of God, do you believe you will be able to withstand him? I pray that you will hear my message of warning to you this morning in the same way the Ninevites heard the words, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” I pray that you will hear them and respond with repentance and faith. You may have more than forty days. You may have less than forty days. But we all have a certain number of days remaining. Be certain this morning of where you stand. Have you turned away from your sin and turned toward Christ in faith? Be certain this morning of where you stand.