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Last week we learned that God gave Jonah a second chance. When the word of God came to Jonah the first time, he responded in disobedience. God is not obligated to exercise grace upon us, but many times He does just that. Salvation came to Jonah in the form of a fish and God spoke to him again telling Jonah the same thing – go. God would tell him what to say when he got there. What did Jonah do with this second chance? Let’s find out.
Grab your Bible and read Jonah 3:3-9.
First things first. The word comes to Jonah and instead of fleeing, he goes to Nineveh. As we mentioned last week, it was probably a 20 day walk, less if he rode a donkey. The important thing is that given a second chance, Jonah went. There are people that God gives chance after chance, choice after choice, blessing after blessing and all is squandered in the pursuit of self satisfaction. You know them. Maybe they’re lost, maybe they’re saved – sometimes it’s hard to tell. Circumstances dictate their lives. You wonder when they’ll turn to God and get real; get authentic, live for God and quit playing around. How many people thought that about you? It’s really easy to look at everyone else and ignore yourself. Probably each of us has been given a second chance at one time or another.
“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord.” I wonder what Jonah must have felt during his trip to get there. I wonder what he was thinking about. He must have had an idea of what God was going to tell him to say. All he had to do was preach the truth. That was the problem for Jonah and that remains the problem for us, but the rationale is different. Jonah didn’t want to tell the Assyrians the truth because he knew how they would respond. Sometimes we don’t want to tell the truth because we don’t want to get involved, we might offend someone; we might be labeled fundamental or fanatical, maybe judgmental or old-fashioned. We don’t want anyone to unfriend us on Facebook or quit following us on Twitter. Sometimes we’re very short sighted. “Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three day’s walk.” This refers to their size and importance, not their godliness or morality as a city. Remember their wickedness had come before God, that’s why he commissioned Jonah to go there. “A three day’s walk” indicates the distance to get across the city. Nineveh’s circumference was 55-60 miles. The average day’s walk was 20 miles – 3 day’s walk to get around it.
Jonah delivers God’s message. On the first day of the mission in v. 4, “Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk.” Jonah got right to it – such a complete transformation from the first call of God. It’s unlikely that no one noticed his arrival. Jonah looked different than the people of Nineveh, dressed differently, talked differently, and I am certain he smelled differently. Have you ever travelled outside of the country? It’s easy to spot an American. What was God’s message that Jonah cried out? It was simple. To the point. Profound. “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Overthrown means to overturn or forcibly remove from power. Back in 1:3, Jonah was to cry out against their wickedness – their sin. Now the message is Nineveh has 40 days. The city does not know God. Not a single man, woman, boy, or girl. Without God’s message and messenger, how would they hear? Today, without you, how will people hear? Do we really believe the message we have is the only one that matters? If we really believe this to be true, wouldn’t we do whatever was necessary to reach someone who does not know Jesus Christ?
Our parallel to Jonah’s mission is our mission to the Muslim community. The message we must cry out is that God loves you, He cares for you, He gave His only Son for you. That message is hard for us to deliver to Muslims because we think only in terms of terror. We’re afraid of what might happen.
- We remember the TWA flight and the cruise ship Achille Lauro that were hijacked in 1985.
- In 1986, it was a bomb that exploded on another TWA flight and the bombing of a West Berlin disco frequented by American servicemen.
- In 1988, it was Pan-Am 747 exploding over Lockerbie, Scotland.
- In 1993, it was a bomb in a basement garage of the World Trade Center.
- In 1995, it was a car bomb exploding outside military headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
- In 1996, it was a truck bomb exploding outside Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.
- In 1998, it was simultaneous truck bombs outside our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
- In 2000, it was the small boat attack of the USS Cole in Yemen.
- In 2001, it was the systematic attacks against the WTC, the Pentagon, and likely the White House.
- In 2002, it was a bomb at the American Embassy in Pakistan.
- In 2003, it was suicide bombers in a housing complex in Riyadh.
- In 2004, it was the three attacks against Americans and westerners in Saudi Arabia.
- In 2005, it was the suicide bombers at three American hotels in Jordan.
- In 2006, it was an attempted attack by four gunmen against our Embassy in Syria.
- In 2007, it was an anti-tank missile is fired at our Embassy in Greece.
- In 2008, it was suicide and roadside bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and India targeting Americans.
- In 2009, it was three suicide bombings in Iraq, the Ft. Hood shootings, and the underwear bomber.
- In 2010, it was a bomb discovered in Times Square, and bombs were found on two cargo planes coming from Yemen bound for the U.S.
You see it’s easy for us to remember those events and forget our responsibility – our privilege. Brother Andrew says what we do is based on what we believe. It’s true with every criminal act, every act of immorality, every terrorist act. Suicide bombers are deeply committed to their beliefs. To do nothing reveals a lot about us, too. Terrorism is a successful tool because it invokes fear. We have the truth of God, the truth that can change the world and when the truth is not at the forefront of our minds, evil in the world progresses. That’s why terrorist activities always seem to be directed against the U.S. The United States has the resources and the people to affect change in the world. As Christians, we have the resources and people to change eternity. It is names like Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Taliban, and the PLO that evoke hatred in us yet their sin doesn’t separate them from God anymore than our sin separates us from God. When it’s crisis time, crunch time, the church must not entertain. We must warn of impending destruction with the good news of God’s love. Our job is to be obedient, the results are God’s.
So let’s see God’s results. Ultimately in everything we do, the results of following God are left to Him. For people that are results oriented, it’s hard. We want to help God. He provides the plan and we want to revise it, make our own model, tell people this is the way it must be done. Then we write books and create conferences and seminars to share our ultra cool ideas with the “with it” crowd to show everyone how it’s supposed to work. In the end we’re left discouraged and disillusioned because the latest gimmick is just that. For Jonah, the message of hope was concise. “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Does it mean that in 40 days Nineveh would be destroyed no matter what? That hardly seems to be a fitting judgment given God’s love for humanity.
As we look at Jonah’s phrase, we need to recognize what is happening here. When considering the seriousness of sin, we must understand that God will judge it. In our introduction message, we learned of the wickedness Assyria’s leaders. There wasn’t anyone in that country that we would consider good. This didn’t catch God by surprise. God will always condemn what is unholy and unjust. The end result is not God’s condemnation of sin. He cares enough to use people to tell His story of redemption. In the O.T., Israel was to be that light of hope for humanity. Is. 49:6 says, “He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In the N.T., the new covenant, we have been tasked to carry the light of that hope. God cannot let the wickedness of Nineveh go without judgment. That’s why God commissioned Jonah to tell them! Nineveh was given 40 days to hear His message and respond. “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.” (Jer. 18:7-8) God doesn’t dangle a carrot in front of someone then yank it away.
Verse 5 tells us the incredible response to the message. Jonah walked and he talked. Wherever and whenever he had the opportunity, he spoke the truth of God. He had no program, just God’s Word. “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” “Yet thirty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” “Yet twenty days . . . .” The people of Nineveh talked to one another, “Did you hear what that prophet said?” There must have been urgency with Jonah’s message, a sense of impending doom. I also believe God had to have prepared them to hear the truth. I believe that still happens today. Maybe the Ninevites had dreams about a coming prophet. Based on their response, God had to have prepared them in some way. Vs. 6-8 tell us the rest of the story. As a country’s leadership goes, so does the rest of the country. The king understood Jonah’s message and believed it to be true. He directed his nation to fast, to pray, and to repent of their wicked ways. In v. 9 though, the king concludes, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” The king did it because it was the right, godly, and holy thing to do regardless of how God might respond.
Do we really believe God can work that way today? We live in a very troubled world. War. Hunger. Persecution. Racism. Crime. Islamic fundamentalism. Suicide bombers. The root of the problem we have today is the same problem that Nineveh had. It’s a sin problem and God provided the solution. If we turn from our wickedness to God, if we believe God’s message, we could see the miracle of Nineveh repeated today. The Apostle Paul wrote: “God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21b) When people hear the Word of God, the completely hopeless find hope. The spiritually dead find life. The unrighteous become righteous. The imperfect find perfection through a holy, righteous, and perfect Savior. We who believe that Jesus is the Christ are the most effective weapon in fighting terrorism. Authentic followers of God don’t blow each other up.
“Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; surely it is near . . . “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.” (Joel 2:1, 12-13)