A God of Second Chances
I hope that you all are as excited as I am about continuing our study through the book of Jonah. In my humble opinion, you would have a hard time finding a more action-packed book of the Bible then this little book. You know, the entire book of Jonah is only forty-eight verses long, and yet think about all of the action that takes place. We started out in chapter one by studying what happened when Jonah thought he could run away from God’s command to go to the Ninevites. We saw how God prepared a big fish to swallow Jonah, to put Jonah back on the right track. And as we saw in Jonah chapter two, Jonah learned some valuable lessons from inside the belly of the whale. And as you probably noticed, there is this theme that runs throughout the book of Jonah; and truthfully, it runs throughout the entire Bible. It is the theme of mercy. When we deserve something bad, God responds by giving us something good. And while this theme runs throughout this whole book, it runs especially throughout Jonah chapter three, which is where we will be studying this morning. So if you are not already there, I ask you to turn to Jonah chapter three, and we will be reading all ten verses. Jonah 3:1-10.
“And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.’ So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’ So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, ‘Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water: but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?’ And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and He did it not.”
Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
The title of this morning’s sermon is “A God of Second Chances.” We are going to first look at how God gave Jonah a second chance in his life. Second, we are going to look at how God gave the Ninevites a second chance. And finally, we are going to fast forward a couple thousand years, and look at how God has given us a second chance in life. Sound like a plan? All right, let’s begin.
Point #1: A second chance for Jonah
Really, we see this first point very beautifully in verse one of this chapter. Look at what verse one says. “And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying. “ It’s easy to miss, but do you see God’s grace in this verse? Why don’t you flip back a page in your Bibles and look at the first verse in the book of Jonah. Do you see what it says? “Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying.” And now in verse one of chapter three, the Bible says that the word of the Lord came unto Jonah a second time. Reading this verse forces us to remember everything that has happened to Jonah so far in this book. It forces us to recall the painful story of Jonah trying to flee the God that created him, flee the God that loved him. And then we think of Jonah’s darkest moment. When in chapter two Jonah is praying as he is sinking towards the bottom of the ocean. When it seems like all hope is lost, when it seems as if Jonah has gotten the punishment he deserved; we don’t see God’s wrath, do we? No, we see God’s mercy. We see how God prepared a big fish to swallow Jonah, and how God, in His time, allowed for Jonah to be thrown up back on dry land.
So when you read this verse, and you see that little phrase, a second time, I hope that it reminds you of the amazing grace of our great God. Jonah did not deserve this verse in the Bible, did he? No, if Jonah got what he deserved, then the entire book of Jonah would just be one chapter. It would end with Jonah 1:15, which said that the sailors threw Jonah into the sea to calm the storm. And yet, that’s only the first part of the story, because Jonah has received grace and mercy. And, you know, “grace” and “mercy” are two words that we throw around quite a bit in church, but do you really know what they mean? I’m sure that you have a good idea in your heart what they’re all about, but I’m going to give you some real easy definitions for these powerful words. You see, really, grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. “Mercy” is when God does not give you the bad things that you deserve. And “grace” is when God gives you good things that you don’t deserve. Do you see the difference there? Take our situation, for instance. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. So as Christians, we deserve death in hell because we have sinned against God. But after we accept Christ, there is no longer the promise of hell in our future. So, I ask you, is that mercy or grace? Yes, it’s mercy. Mercy is when God does not give us a punishment that we deserve, and we deserve hell, and yet He doesn’t give it to us. The second half of Romans 6:23 says that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. So the Bible promises Christians that we will have eternal life. Now, is that grace or mercy? Yes, that’s grace. Grace is when God gives us good things that we don’t deserve. We deserve hell, and yet God saves us. That’s mercy. We don’t deserve Heaven, and yet we’re going there. That’s grace. The word of the Lord came unto Jonah a second time. Praise God for His amazing grace and mercy!
Look at what verse two of our chapter says. “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” You know, this is the exact same command that God gave to Jonah back in chapter one. God tells Jonah to go preach to those stinking Ninevites again. But after all that Jonah has been through, what do you think he’s going to do this time? Look at what verse three says. “So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.” Jonah got up and went to Nineveh! This is an excellent example of what we should do when we receive God’s grace in our lives. We do what He tells us! Jonah didn’t need to be thrown in the belly of the whale again. He gets the picture!
And maybe I’m alone in this, but I grew up imagining that the whale threw up Jonah just outside the city gates of Nineveh. I always imagined Jonah landing on the beach, and knowing that Nineveh was just over that next hill. But you know what, there’s a little problem with that theory. Nineveh is more than 400 miles from the nearest part of the Mediterranean Sea! If we assume that the whale took Jonah as close as he possibly could, then Jonah would still have a 400 mile journey to obey God’s command. Now is it possible that Jonah found a horse or a camel? Yes, but the Bible doesn’t mention that important detail. Jonah didn’t go to the Joppa Regional Airport and catch a red-eye to Nineveh. There was no Greyhound station. No, as far as we know, Jonah had to walk that entire distance. And we’re not talking about 400 miles of nature trails, either. We are talking about rough terrain. I’m sure that Stoney could tell you that this isn’t the kind of country you want to walk 400 miles in. And yet, that’s exactly what Jonah did. So I think that we have to give Jonah a little bit of credit here. But really, the ultimate credit goes to God. Because church, Jonah did an outstanding thing when he travelled all the way to Nineveh. But Jonah’s achievement was only made possible by God’s grace. So I hope that you can apply that to your life. If you do something great for our Lord, then please know that I am proud of you. But more importantly, please know that God deserves the true praise for what you’ve done. He did the hard work when He forgave you of your sins and turned you in to a vessel for His service. So point number one of this sermon is that Jonah was given a second chance by God. And as you saw with your own two eyes, Jonah’s response to God’s second chance was that he wasn’t going to run anymore. He was going to do what God told him, even if it meant he had to walk for a solid three weeks to get there. Let’s move on.
Point #2: A second chance for Nineveh
The first thing I want to point out about Nineveh is that this was an absolutely massive city. And ironically, most skeptics didn’t even believe that Nineveh was anything more than a village until the middle of the 19th century. But what archaeologists learned is that what they thought was Nineveh was actually a suburb of the true city of Nineveh. What the Bible calls Nineveh was actually a sprawling metropolis with a main city, and several suburbs surrounding it. Some estimates say that as many as 3,000,000 people lived in the greater Nineveh area. And I think that living on the edge of the metroplex, we can really relate to this concept. If you were on a vacation to Paris, and a Frenchmen asked you where you were from, you could honestly say that you were from the Dallas area. Now, we all know that it would probably take you an hour and a half to get to Dallas from here. But to someone in Paris, who has never heard of Weatherford, or even Fort Worth, you would just say you’re from Dallas. Nineveh was the same way. What Jonah called Ninevah was actually a huge area of cities and farmland. But from his point of view, it was all one evil place: Nineveh. That’s why the second half of verse three says that Nineveh was a city of three days’ journey. The Hebrew language implies that it would take you three days to walk from one side of the city to the other. Wow!
And if you’ve ever wondered what a good sermon sounds like, look at what verse four says. “And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’” Short, sweet, and to the point. In our English Bibles, Jonah’s sermon consisted of eight words. In the Hebrew, it is six words. Perhaps it was so short because the Ninevites spoke a different language from Jonah, and he might not have known very many words in the Assyrian language. Or maybe it was because he had so much ground to cover, and not very much time to do so. Or something else to keep in mind is that Jonah really didn’t like the Ninevites that much, and he really didn’t want them to turn to God, so he didn’t really try to convince them, he simply told them the facts.
Whatever Jonah’s reason for preaching such a short message, look at how the people responded in verse five. “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” You know the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words?” Just try to imagine what this must have looked like. This huge city of people that were known for their brutal atrocities believed what Jonah said was true, and they proclaimed a fast, and they put on sackcloth. Sackcloth is a material that is basically like a burlap sack. In ancient times, it was a sign of mourning. Often, people would wear burlap sacks if a close friend or family member died. In this scenario, everyone is wearing burlap because they just found out that everyone is about to die. But the Bible also says that they fasted. Throughout history, fasting has had a two-fold purpose. First, it shows God that you are dedicated to Him because you are denying yourself. Second, whenever you don’t take time to eat, you have more time to pray. So these evil Ninevites were in mourning, and they were praying to God for mercy. This verse says that everyone was participating, from the least of them to the greatest of them.
And verse six illustrates this point perfectly. Verse six says, “For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” During his reign, the king of Nineveh had no doubt signed the death warrants of 10,000s of people. This was a wicked man who ruled a wicked kingdom. And not only was he wicked, but he was used to having absolute power. No one told this man what to do. And yet, when he caught wind of God’s judgment, he put on his burlap sack, and he covered himself in ashes. Just in case you’re wondering, ashes were another way that ancient people showed their grief.
And this pagan king, who no doubt had committed atrocities that you and I can’t even imagine, turned his heart to the Lord God. Look at what he tells the people in verses seven and eight. “And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, ‘Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water: but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.” Do you see what the king of Nineveh does here? The city has already begun fasting and mourning, but the king makes it official! He decrees that every person should wear sackcloth and fast. But did you notice who else the king told to wear sackcloth? The animals! Now why on earth would this king tell people to put sackcloth on their livestock? Well, you have to remember that this king did not get his doctorate in theology. In the king’s mind, he probably wanted God to look down from Heaven and see everyone wearing sackcloth, including the animals. Now, you and I know how silly that is, but I think you can agree that his heart was in the right place. Shortly after I had accepted Christ, my family went on a vacation to Disney World. While in Florida, I bought this license plate cover that looked like a Florida license plate, but instead of having a series of letters and numbers, it read “Jesus.” So for several miles on our trip home, I sat back in my seat and held that license plate up against the window, just hoping that someone would see that license plate and get saved. After a while, my dad noticed what I was doing, and he gently told me that my heart was in the right place, but I was more likely to cause someone to wreck than I was to cause someone to trust in Christ. And I imagine that many of you have funny stories of the things you thought and the things you did when you first got saved. But just like the king of Nineveh, my heart was in the right place. Did the king understand that God didn’t really care what the cows were wearing? No. But he was exactly right that they needed to mourn over their sin.
But the king does more than to tell the people and their cattle to wear sackcloth. In verse eight, he tells the people to turn from their evil ways, and to quit doing their acts of violence. You see, while this king was no master theologian, he truly did understand the basics of salvation. He knew that it wasn’t enough just to feel bad about the bad things they had done. He knew that they had to repent of their sins. You know, “repent” is a word that has really fallen out of favor in the modern church. It’s not a word that many Christians like to hear. The word “repent” means to change your heart. It means to change the direction that your life is going. You see, the king realized that just wearing sackcloth wasn’t going to change their impending doom. They had to change their lives!
The king finishes things up nicely in verse nine. Look at what verse nine says. “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?” Once again, the king doesn’t have all of the right biblical passages memorized, so he doesn’t really know what’s going to happen. The king of Nineveh doesn’t even know if all that they’re doing is going to change God’s mind. But in his eyes, trusting in God is their only hope. Maybe this pagan king has a thing or two to teach us? And so that leaves the Ninevites at a crossroads. They heard that God is going to destroy them, so they turned from their wicked ways.
So the question is, “How do you think God is going to respond?” You know, if we were reading a similar story in the Qur’an, then Allah would probably destroy the city because he is a god of wrath. If we were reading a similar story in the Buddhist writings, then Nineveh would probably still be destroyed, because their karma still wasn’t balanced due to their years of wickedness. If this story was in an atheist’s novel, then none of this God stuff would matter anyways, because God isn’t even real. All of the Ninevites would just die and decompose like everyone else. But church, aren’t you glad that we don’t serve the God of the Qur’an? We don’t serve the God of the Buddhists. We don’t serve the God of the agnostics. We serve the God of the Bible, and the God of the Bible practices a little thing called mercy!
So it should come as no surprise to us this morning how God reacts. Look at verse ten. “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not.” Mercy! God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. There’s something I need to explain about this verse. This verse says that God “repented.” Now, we know that God can’t sin. God does not do evil. So in this context, the verse literally means that God changed His mind. But hold on, wait a minute, God can’t change. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen? So what does it mean that God changed His mind? Well, something we have to understand is that Jonah is trying to describe God in human terms, even though God is so far and above us mere humans. We do the same thing all the time. We describe God as if He has a body like us, even though John 4:24 says that God is a spirit. When we say things about God’s hands, or God’s ears, or God’s feet, we are not lying. No, we are simply trying to describe God in the only way we know how. Jonah is doing the same thing here. Did God really change His mind? No. But God said He was going to destroy the city if they did not repent. In Jonah’s mind, that meant that God was going to destroy them. Period. But then God didn’t destroy them. So in Jonah’s mind, the best way to describe this phenomenon is that God changed His mind. So just remember, it’s not a horrible lie to say that God changed His mind, so long as you remember that in all honesty, God does not and cannot change.
And the conclusion of this morning’s sermon makes up our final point, and that is…
Point #3: A second chance for you and for me
I hope that every one of you can see the importance of Jonah chapter three in your lives. This chapter has shown us without a doubt that our God is a God of second chances. When Jonah deserved to sink to the bottom of the ocean, God gave him a second chance, and he reacted by walking 400 miles to deliver God’s message to a group that had never heard it. When the Ninevites deserved nothing but the wrath of God for their generations of wickedness, God gave them a second chance, and they reacted by humbling themselves, and turning from their wicked ways. An entire city turned to God in a way that has never been repeated in recorded history.
And for the Christians in the audience today, the question that falls into your lap is, “How are you going to respond to God’s grace in your life?” Yes, it is true that you have been saved from your sins. You have been moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. You have been snatched from the claws of Satan and placed firmly in the hand of Christ. But what are you going to do now? Because church, the only proper response to God’s grace is one of absolute obedience and absolute loyalty. God has given us a new life, and we should respond by giving Him the rest of our lives. He deserves it, doesn’t He? So I challenge you to go out on a limb for God. Jonah walked 400 miles. The Ninevites wore burlap sacks and ashes. What are you going to do for God? My goal in life is to live every day knowing that I served God to the fullest. Will I fail? Yes, unfortunately I will. But it’s not going to stop me from trying. Church, what is your response going to be to God’s amazing grace?
And as the pianist and song leader come forward, I want to issue a challenge to anyone here today who has never accepted Jesus Christ as his or her Savior. The Bible is abundantly clear that we are dead in our sins. Dead is actually the word that the Bible uses. And yet, praise the Lord, we’re not physically dead yet. This morning, God is giving you another chance to turn from your sins and turn to Him. And because God has given you a free will, you have it within your power to deny His grace. You can tell Him “no” again. And who knows, maybe you will have another chance to choose Him. But what if you don’t get another chance? What if this invitation is the last time someone presents to you the gospel of Jesus Christ? I don’t want anyone to make a decision that they don’t truly understand. But I especially don’t want anyone to put off a decision for Christ because they just want to wait another day.
And I know that there are some reasons to not accept Christ. The word will despise you. In some ways, your life will become more difficult. But I can tell you with the utmost conviction that the sweetness of knowing God’s grace far surpasses any price I have had to pay. Today, God is giving you a second chance, and I pray that you will take it. Don’t tell Him “no” again.
So if you would like to seek the Lord’s guidance for what your response to His grace should be, or if you would like to trust in Jesus Christ for the very first time, we are going to open the altars for you. But before we do that, let’s pray.
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