Main Point: God’s people continue in repentance and faith
Aren’t you thankful God is a merciful God who gives second chances? We’re back in the book of Jonah today, Jonah 3:1-9. Remember what we have seen. God commanded Jonah, Jonah ran from God, God pursued him with a storm, Jonah was hurled into the sea, he cried out to be saved, the great fish swallowed him, Jonah gave thanks to God, and at the Lord’s command the fish puked him out onto the beach.
We pick up there, Jonah is on dry land. We don’t know how much time passed between Jonah 2:10 and Jonah 3:1. Maybe Jonah had time for a bath. Maybe he had time to go to the temple, make a sacrifice, and pay his vow (Jonah 2:9). We don’t know, but I picture him looking like Will Smith from the first Men in Black movie after being swallowed by the alien. I see Jonah laying face down in the sand, covered in fish vomit, and the word of the Lord comes to him a second time. Go to Nineveh and preach my word.
Jonah gets a fresh start. Jonah gets a second chance. Because God is merciful, we are a people who get fresh starts. If you feel the weight of your sins and your failures and your mistakes, you have joined in with the right group of people. We are a people of second chances.
There on the beach, Jonah realized the futility of further disobedience (Kennedy, 50). He rose, went to Nineveh, and preached God’s Word. With a fresh start, Jonah did what God told him to do. Let’s read it: Jonah 3:1-9.
We are going to tackle these verses by looking at the central themes of listening, believing, and repenting. We’ll start with Nineveh then move to the Israelites who first received the book of Jonah, and then we’ll seek to apply what we learn to our lives today.
I. The Ninevites listened, believed, and repented
Write “Jeremiah 18:7-11” in the margin of Jonah 3. The true God wants all nations to know he is God. God will not clear the guilty, but he will show mercy to those who repent. In Jeremiah 18:7-11, God says, “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 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. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I have intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, everyone from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’”
God wants us to repent, so he warns us about coming judgment. God warned his people and he warned Nineveh in order to turn them from their sin. This is how it went, Jonah 3:2, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and call out against it the message God will give. Verse 3, finally willing, Jonah went and proclaimed God’s Word to the people. Verse 4, Jonah called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Look what happened, verse 5, “And the people of Nineveh believed God.” Let’s dig into that
- The Ninevites paid attention to God’s word
The Ninevites listened to God’s word and it was a word of judgment for sin. This is obvious so we won’t spend a lot of time here, but it’s so obvious it can be missed. Why did the people of Nineveh repent? They repented because God sent his word and the people listened to God’s word (see Matthew 10:14-15; 11:20-24). This doesn’t discount the necessary teaching work of the Holy Spirit in repentance. It is God who grants repentance (2 Tim 2:25; Acts 5:31), it is the Holy Spirit that enables repentance (1 Cor 2:12), and repentance always happens in connection with the faithful telling of God’s word.
We can’t control God, we can’t force repentance, but we can put ourselves in the place where God works. God works through the right preaching and correct understanding of his word. Like Jonah, we need to stick to the Word. Like the Ninevites, we need to pay attention to God’s word. Here’s the product of understanding God’s word
- The Ninevites believed in God
Look with me at verse 5, “And the people of Nineveh believed God.” The NASB translates it literally, “And the people of Nineveh believed in God.” What happened? The Ninevites believed God and acted upon the truth of the true God (Kennedy, 50). The Ninevites heard and believed God’s word. They believed God’s word is true; it’s going to happen.
The message proclaimed to the Ninevites was simply this, “You’re going to die.” Look back at verse 4, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Jonah warns that what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah is about to happen to Nineveh. Genesis 19:14, “Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, ‘Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.’” Genesis 19:24, “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah Sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities.” This is the Lord’s fierce anger toward sin.
The king of Nineveh understood. In verse 9, he called the people to repentance saying, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” The people were locked into living an evil way. The people were given to violence. Their hands were stained with evil. They understood that their evil was about to be punished by God’s fierce anger.
This generation in Nineveh understood their sin and God’s just wrath. Fast forward a century and the Ninevites have forgotten. Look at Nahum 1:2-6 with me and see the fierce anger of God. (Read Nahum 1:2-6).
Repentance starts with turning to God’s word in order to understand his ways. Seeing God’s truth exposes our sin, our failure. Seeing God’s truth warns us about the coming wrath of God. The Ninevites believed God had the right to punish them severely for their evil ways and violent hands. Did they shrug that off? No, look what they did. Read Jonah 3:5-8
As the word of God spread through the city, repentance followed quickly after. It started with the people, with the every-day-Joe. The people believed in God and called for a fast and put on sackcloth. Everybody joined in from the greatest to the least. Repentance went city wide- nobles and common folks. Verse 6, the word reached the king of Nineveh and he followed suit proclaiming a fast, putting on sackcloth, urging mighty prayer, and calling on the people to stop doing evil. What would it take for this to happen in Granbury, Glen Rose, Bluff Dale, and Tolar?
Let’s work through these marks of repentance here in Jonah 3. One, they took God’s word seriously. They listened, understood, and believed God. They trusted God would do what he said he would do. God is going to destroy us. And they rightly hoped that the 40 day warning was a sign that God might relent if they turned from their evil. They took God’s word seriously and they hoped God would forgive.
Two, they called out mightily to God. The people devoted themselves to prayer. They cried out with force to God. No lame confession here. No one was saying, “Dear God, I’m sorry you got angry.” Or, “Dear God, I’m sorry you got your feelings hurt.” Their prayers were an expression of their hatred of their evil. The violence of their hands was out-matched by the violence of their prayers. “God, we have done evil. God, our hands are given to violence. You are rightly coming in judgment, but please forgive us.” Like a prisoner headed to the executioner’s block, the Ninevites were begging for forgiveness.
But these were no empty words. Along with mighty prayer there is the third mark of repentance: the commitment to turn from your evil way. It is pure hypocrisy to ask for forgiveness for something you plan to continue to do. True repentance turns from evil. Additionally, the Ninevites committed to turn from the violence in their hands. They were awful people who committed sinister and intimidating evil in order to force their enemies into submission. Worse than murder is torture. Worse than torture is the celebration of torture. The Ninevites were guilty of all this violence and more. Then they repented. Repentance is the commitment to turn away from the evil being committed.
To be clear, repentance is an inward change of heart that shows up in your actions. Another common mark of repentance is fasting. What do the people call for in verse 5? They call for a fast. What do the nobles call for in verse 7? They call for a fast from food and water for man and beast. In the context of sin and judgment, fasting is an outward way of expressing one’s faith. Namely, I believe I have sin and I believe God is right in punishing that sin, yet my hope is that God will relent. So, I will fast and devote myself to pleading for mercy. Fasting can reflect the serious nature of our sin.
The Ninevites’ fast was like Moses’ fast. Listen to what Moses did when he learned about the people’s sin and God’s coming judgment. Deuteronomy 9:18-19, “Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, for forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you.”
Fasting is an outward expression of the inward desire for forgiveness. Fasting provides time away from regular responsibilities in order to pray. In this situation, the sinner devotes himself to praying for God’s mercy. Repentance is demonstrated in devotion to prayer, often accompanied by fasting.
Here’s our final mark of repentance in Jonah 3, repentance demonstrates itself in humility. The repentant are humble. In verse 5, the people put on sackcloth. In verse 6, the king gets down off his throne, takes off his royal robes, covers himself with sackcloth, and sits in ashes. The repentant go low. The repentant do not make excuses. The repentant do not blame others. The repentant do not bristle at their punishment. The repentant go down low. Again, the inward attitude of humility expresses itself in outward deeds. No one claims power. No one claims an exemption. Their outward show of poverty, which was sackcloth, and their outward sign of mourning, which was sitting in ashes, demonstrated their inward regret over their sin.
Ok, grab onto this concerning repentance, in order to repent a person must identify and turn from her evil ways. Repentance is an inward attitude toward God and sin that shows up in outward actions. The Ninevites repented.
Now remember, who was the book of Jonah written to? Jonah was not written to the Ninevites. The book of Jonah was written for the Israelites.
II. Jonah called the Israelites to listen, believe, and repent
- The book of Jonah was written first to the Israelites
In the days of Jonah, Israel was just as godless and evil as the Ninevites. The question is, will they repent like the Ninevites? Will God’s people turn from their evil ways? Will God’s people turn from the violence in their hands? This is the point of Jonah 3. The nations are repenting and turning to God. Will Israel turn? Will you?
Earlier I read from Jeremiah 18, how God warns the nations and will relent from punishment if they will turn from their evil. Through Jonah and Jeremiah, God is calling his people to repent because God is merciful. What will the people do? Jeremiah 18:12, “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.”
The Ninevites repented but the Jews refused! The Ninevites listened to Jonah but the Jews refused! One of the most stunning refusals comes in Jeremiah 36:23. Here Jeremiah’s words of warnings and promises of mercy are read to the king of Judah and as they are read, the king cuts the verses off and throws them into the fire! The king rejected God’s word and went his own way.
Jonah’s message of repentance fell on deaf ears. The people didn’t care. It is sobering to realize Jonah’s words are going out again to the people of God. This time it is for us to decide. What will we do with the prophet’s words? Jonah is calling out against us.
III. God’s Word is calling us to listen, repent, and believe
J. D. Greear is spot on when he says, “Christians are known by a posture of repentance and faith” (Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart). The evidence of salvation is continuing in repentance and faith. Now it’s time to apply the message of Jonah to ourselves.
- Do you have ears to hear?
Are you paying attention to God’s word? Do you see your evil ways? Do you see the violence in your hands? Maybe your evil and violence is clear because of the angry defiling words that you speak. Maybe your violence is hidden because you keep your resentment or lust looping quietly in your own mind. Either way, are you aware of your sin? Do you have ears to hear God’s word that points to your evil and do you have ears to hear the gospel that points to God’s Son? This is evil. Jesus is the way out.
The stone that builders rejected has become the cornerstone. God’s people are brought near, cleansed, and built up by faith in Jesus Christ. Seeing your sin, where are you drawn? Are you drawn to keeping the law? Are you drawn to doing good deeds? Are you drawn to making excuses? Or, is the Father drawing you to trust in Christ’s perfect payment on the cross for your sins? When you think of your sin do you try to cover it with your good deeds, or do you trust Christ to cover it by his death and resurrection?
You are headed toward judgment and destruction. On your own you will perish, but God sent his Son to obey in your place, die in your place, and live in your place. Do you have ears to hear? Next
Do you see the way of God as better than your way? Do you desire to be with God? Have you seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ so that you want to know him and become like him? Repentance is turning away from sin in order to turn to Christ.
Psalm 34:18 gives us strange encouragement to repent, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” The Lord is near the repentant. The Lord opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
We are in a season when we can imitate the pattern of Moses fasting for 40 days. I will say, there is a danger to Lent. The danger is that you consider your fasting a work by which you earn favor with God. This is a denial of grace. But Lent can also be to our benefit when we consider what it looks like to change. What distracts you? What pulls you away from a sincere devotion to the Lord? Do you know where you are tempted? Do you know what slows you down in your obedience? Fasting does not earn you anything. Fasting can provide time to think about where you need to change.
In light of the grace given by Christ to forgive you and empower you for righteousness, fasting can be beneficial for focusing on your growth in godliness. Listen to God’s word, repent, and believe. Here’s our next question
Our disobedience, our evil ways, and our violence are storing up wrath on the day of judgment (Romans 2:3-5). A tidal wave of judgment is headed toward you. Like Sodom and Gomorrah you will be overthrown. Or, you can believe in Jesus. You can believe he drank the cup of God’s wrath. You can believe the Father laid on him the iniquity of us all. Something greater than Jonah is here. Jesus did not come simply to tell you God is merciful. Jesus came, died, and rose again to take God’s wrath for your sins upon himself. Jonah couldn’t do that for Nineveh. Jesus did that for you. This is our message, repentance to God and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). You can be forgiven. You can be restored. There are fresh starts for you because of Christ’s payment for your sin. Believe Jesus took your sin. Believe Jesus rose again. Believe Jesus gives you his righteousness. Restored to God, we answer his call to rise and preach.
- Go to your Nineveh and make disciples
Throughout church history Jonah has been painted in art and portrayed in stained glass. An interesting feature of this artwork is the cities in the background are generally not Nineveh. The church has understood their own cities to be the places where they are to preach repentance and faith. We are a people who preach the truth of the true God (Kennedy, 50). God saves those who believe in Jesus! There is forgiveness and fresh starts with Christ. Go and tell the good news. As you are going…make disciples.
What is your Nineveh? Where do you see people walking in evil ways with violence in their hands? Like God, do you care about your city? Like Jesus do you long for the forgiveness and restoration of the people? The task before us is monumental and the numbers are overwhelming but let’s start with the simple. Let’s start with our own repentance and let’s start with intentionally praying for the salvation of one person. I want you to consider this question today: What will it look like for you to repent to God and put your faith in Jesus Christ? Forgiven in Christ, go and win your one to Christ.