What would you do if you had been vomited out by a great fish? First find a hose and clean yourself off - you’ve been covered with muck for 3 days. What then? In the modern world, you’d probably start a reality show, do some interviews, and share your story with the world. Call it “The Jonah Show.” If you’ve had a spiritual experience, you might start your own church right there on the beach. Call it “Church of Whales.” If you’re an entrepreneur, you might start a water park. Call it “Jonah’s Water World." A man who’s spent time in the belly of a great fish has lots of opportunities if he wants to take them. He could use his experience to try and catapult himself to fame and fortune. What do you do if you are Jonah? You wait for God to tell you what to do next. Jonah didn’t have to wait very long.
1. God’s Renewed Call v. 1, 2
Crucial words - “a second time.” Jonah got a second chance. Not everyone gets a second chance. We say, “He’s the God of the second chance.” Not always true - ask Ananias and Sapphira, ask Lot’s wife, check with King Saul - removed from his kingship.
The fact that God gave Jonah a second chance doesn’t mean that we will always be given a second chance. We say “It doesn’t matter whether I obey the first time because I’ll always get a second chance.” Not necessarily. Don’t presume on God’s grace.
God always welcomes prodigals. That’s true. The light is always on in the Father’s house. That’s true. But Jonah did not know in the belly of the great fish what would happen if and when he got out. The encouraging truth here is that Jonah’s disobedience hasn’t cancelled the call. God’s message is, “Go to Nineveh and don’t mess it up this time.” There is good news and bad news - good news - God hasn’t given up on Jonah - bad news - he still wants him to go to Nineveh. Several important truths:
A. God doesn’t hold grudges.
He is the God who “abundantly pardons” sinners when they come to him. He shows his grace by renewing his call on Jonah’s life.
B. God doesn’t lighten the load.
This is equally true. It’s not as if God said, “Okay, Jonah, I get it. You don’t want to go to Nineveh so I want you to take my Word to Tarshish where you were going anyway.” God doesn’t negotiate when we rebel against him. God gives Jonah a second chance to do what he should have done the first time.
C. God doesn’t give up.
He cares more for the worker than for the work. If all God cared about was Nineveh, he could have got someone else. But he wanted Jonah to confront the evil in his own heart and to see something of the great love inside God’s heart. God doesn’t need Jonah, but Jonah desperately needs God. God doesn’t need us but we desperately need him. We need to grasp that truth.
Several reasons why Jonah may have continued to disobey the Lord. 1. Fear - Jonah knew all about the bloodthirsty atrocities the Assyrians committed. The Assyrians bragged about their cruelty. Jonah might have said, “I’m not going to Nineveh. I won’t last 10 minutes there. I’ll be a corpse before I can get a word out."
2. Shame - When we have greatly failed, a deep sense of shame grips us and keeps us from moving forward. Jonah might simply have been too embarrassed to obey the Lord. 3. Hatred - for the Ninevites and all they stood for. Nothing about his time in the great fish changed his disgust for the Assyrians. He still preferred to see them go to hell.
v. 3a - only time in the book where Jonah obeys the Lord. Before and after this, Jonah has a bad attitude, but at this point he obeys God’s call. Leads to another important point. You don’t have to always like what you are called to do, but you have to do it anyway. You don’t have to love Nineveh, but you do have to give God’s message. Give Jonah his due. He got off up off the beach, cleaned himself off, and headed for Nineveh. Good for him.
Another important principle. Small obedience always beats great intentions. Sometimes we put aside the small things because we intend to do something great “someday.” We dream about what we will do when we have more time or more money or when we aren’t so busy or when the kids are out of school or when we get a promotion or when we’re called to a different church or when we get a better job. We all have big plans that we dream about, don’t we? Nothing wrong with big plans.
But small obedience beats big plans every time. We can dream so much about tomorrow that we neglect to do the small things we ought to do today. So Jonah sets out for Nineveh, each step setting him on a collision course between his prejudice, Ninevite arrogance and the unlimited love of God. Nineveh was a city given over to greed, immorality and bloodthirsty violence. The people knew nothing about the God of the Bible. God said, “That city is great to me.” “That great city” is still on God’s heart!
God loves the great cities of the world. For the first time in history more people live in cities than live in rural areas. Today more people live in cities than live on farms or in small towns or in rural villages. We live in an increasingly urban world, and that trend will only increase in the future.
God cares about the great cities of the world. He cares about the megacities where teeming millions crowd together. God has a heart for Johannesburg, Mexico City, Tokyo, Manila and Beijing. If we have God’s heart, we will care about the cities too. Nineveh was a place where no reasonable God would go. But being reasonable has nothing to do with it. Our God has a heart bigger than all our “reasonable” calculations. He loves the city and his heart goes out to those who want nothing to do with him.
2. Jonah’s Simple Message v. 3b, 4
Might mean - it took 3 days to walk through every part or - it took 3 days to walk all the way around it. Nineveh was a major city of the ancient world. Nineveh may have been home to 600,000 people, which would have been a megacity in that day. Jonah’s message is very simple -“40 more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 8 words in English; only 4 words in Hebrew.
A pretty depressing message if you ask me. None of this “God loves Nineveh” or “Nineveh for Jesus.” Can you imagine how it must have been? “40 more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (He’s not from around here, you know.) "40 more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (He’s got a strange accent.) "40 more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (He smells like fish.)
It’s not the way we would do it. If we put together a “Nineveh for Jesus” campaign, we would hire an advance team, a PR man, an ad campaign, start a Facebook page, get our Twitter team going, make some “Nineveh for Jesus” T-shirts, rent a stadium, etc. We’d have to raise R3 million just to get started.
Jonah skipped all of that. He just went to Nineveh and gave his entirely negative 8-word sermon. You wouldn’t think it would have much chance of success. “So what’s your plan for reaching Nineveh?” "We’re sending Jonah." “And who else?” “No one.” "What’s he going to do?” "Walk around and preach an 8 word sermon.” “What’s the 8 word sermon?” “40 more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” “What’s your Plan B?” “There is no Plan B. This is it.”
Why do you think Jonah focused on the coming judgment? - all he cared about. He hoped Nineveh would be destroyed, and he would be happy if it happened in 40 days. No one could ever accuse Jonah of being a preacher of “cheap grace.” He was a hard-nosed preacher of God’s judgment who would be happy to see it come true 40 days down the line. This doesn’t seem like a very promising evangelistic approach. But underlying it was a truth that Jonah himself didn’t understand. Nineveh was ripe for awakening but no one knew it. Jonah didn’t know it. Nineveh didn’t know it. But God knew it.
From the outside it appeared to be a city wholly given over to paganism. But God had been working behind the scenes, preparing the people for this very moment.
3. Nineveh’s Sudden Repentance v. 5 - 9
What happened when Jonah preached? It doesn’t say they believed Jonah - says they believedGod. The king stood up (a sign of his serious intent), removed his royal robes (a sign of humility), covered himself with sackcloth (a sign of mourning), and sat in the dust (a sign of repentance).
The mighty king of Nineveh gets it. He knows they are guilty. He reckoned on the mercy of Almighty God. He doesn’t know for sure. But he thinks God may yet have mercy on Nineveh. What follows is the greatest revival in history.
The whole city repented. They all believed in God. George Whitefield, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday or Billy Graham never saw anything like this. Think about it. A whole pagan city believed in God. We doubt it because it seems so fantastic. We’ve never seen or heard of anything like that. It’s like saying . . . Everyone in Tokyo believed in God or everyone in Johannesburg became a Christian.
The greatest revival in history happened because of a one-sentence sermon preached by a prophet who didn’t even want to be there, who was hoping for destruction and who hated the people he was preaching to. What are the chances of that happening? Without God, the chances are zero. Why did this happen? Not because of Jonah. He didn’t even want to be there. How could this happen in a pagan city like Nineveh? It happened because of the 2 greatest words in the Bible: “But God!” Nineveh was ripe for revival. They just didn’t know it. But God did.
4. God’s Gracious Response v. 10
God always intended to show mercy once the people turned from their evil ways. He threatened judgment (which they richly deserved) knowing that he would gladly pardon them once they turned to him. No one could have predicted this in advance. 3 days before Jonah showed up, it was business as usual in Nineveh. 2 days before, the same thing. 1 day before, no one had an inkling what was about to happen. On that very day, the king woke up in his palace ready to do whatever was on his schedule, little knowing that by the end of the day he would be in sackcloth and sitting in ashes, calling his people to prayer and repentance.
When I say “no one knew,” I should really add the phrase, “but God." God knew all along. He was busy working in that pagan city long before Jonah showed up.
A. How much did the Ninevites know? Not too much, but give them credit. They believed God and acted on what they believed.
B. How much faith does it take to be saved? Not too much, as long as your faith is in the right object.
C. Did this really happen? This was Nineveh’s moment and the people of that generation responded. I believe there will be thousands of Ninevites in heaven. This was God’s moment for Nineveh and they responded.
We could ask the same question in our own day. What is the future of South Africa? How much more time do we have? Sometimes we look at the moral erosion around us and think that God’s judgment can’t be far away. Perhaps we are under judgment at this moment and don’t even realize it. But -Perhaps we are closer to a great awakening than we have imagined. “It is the responsibility of each generation to reach their generation for Christ.” The only generation we can reach is our own. We will be held accountable for what we have done with the opportunities God has given us.
Have we stopped believing that God can reach the unreachable?
Have we stopped believing that God can do the impossible?
Do we look around us and see how bad things are and say, “It’s Nineveh. It’s hopeless"?
God loves Nineveh! Jesus touches the untouchable. Jesus reaches the unreachable. Jesus can save Nineveh.
But can God save Jonah? What will become of the reluctant prophet who doesn’t love the world God loves? Stay tuned. There is one more chapter in Jonah’s amazing story.
Prayer – “Lord, send out your Word. Use your people. Make this your moment. Banish our unbelief. Increase our faith. Do again what you did in Jonah’s day. Give us your heart for this world, especially for the great cities of the world. May we not fail in the task of reaching our generation for Jesus. We pray in his name, Amen.”