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Jonah 3

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Jonah 3.

A second chance [v.1, 2] Jonah, the wayward prophet .... I don't suppose any of you have ever been wayward, but I have – in fact many a time. I went away from the LORD for many years. Have you ever known, as Jonah did, the LORD's dealings in your life – His severity, chastening, overwhelming kindness, His grace – undeserved goodness and mercy? God doesn't give up on His servants, those He has called – the word of  hwhy came a second time. Do you feel like you've blown it? Let the LORD down? He is the God of the second chance, the word of hwhy came a second time [Noel – met a man at a funeral a few years ago – gifted, greatly used of God – been through two broken marriages, he said it had to be two because the first time he could blame his wife, second time he knew he was the problem – a broken man. But the work of the LORD came a second time and called him back to serve Him]. But note what hwhy said the second time (cf. 1:2) – exactly the same thing as the first time. We can debate, disobey, run away, avoid the issue but God's word to us doesn't change – it is we who must. We can resist God and go all around the mountain but when we come back to God His requirement is still the same. We don't move on until we OBEY. [1 Samuel 15:22 “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.] - we can have all sorts of religious devotion and ardour but God waits until we do what He has told us to. We may not like it, and can delay it, but eventually we will have to do it, it cannot be avoided. We will not progress until we have obeyed God’s command. We come back to the very same place and have another go - are we going to do it this time? He told me to be baptised – 10 years wasted until I finally gave in and obeyed. The requirement hadn't changed. God just waited – what a waste of years! But when I obeyed, Oh the blessing – after being spiritually stagnant things suddenly and dramatically happened. As one who has been there, I appeal to you don't delay obeying. Jonah had messed up, deliberately and willfully disregarded hwhy’s command, ran away from God - now he had been saved and brought back to God - but surely he was not to be entrusted with hwhy’s message - he was unreliable, a failure. Not so in hwhy’s eyes. The word of hwhy came to Jonah a second time! Hallelujah! God is the God of the second chance! We let Him down, sin, disobey, rebel, but still He lovingly restores and gives us a second chance. Jonah was still a prophet - still the word ofhwhy came to him. Jonah was given strict orders to preach only the message that hwhy told him - no ad-libbing. A prophet’s task is to faithfully pass on what he has heard hwhy speak to him. It is not his message but the words of hwhy. We may go our own way but God’s requirement for us remains unchanged.

An ultimatum [v.3, 4] not only did Jonah turn back to the LORD but he was called to share his experience and call the Ninevites to turn to God. What did Jonah do? He OBEYED who would want to go through what he just had, a second time?! – that is what hwhy is looking for. hwhy said "Arise!" - he arose. hwhy said "Go to Nineveh!" - Jonah went to Nineveh. "According to the word of hwhy" - that is the key! May we do so - just as hwhy has said Live according to the word of hwhy. What strife we save ourselves if we do this. Jonah went to Nineveh and preached. - he didn't have the message, further revelation would be given when he obeyed and went. Verse 3 should read, "Now Nineveh was an extremely large city requiring three days' travel." That is, to go around the complex of suburbs that made up the great metropolis required three days. Nineveh was indeed an exceedingly great city, circumference of 8 miles - the capital of the world (at that time) - infants alone numbered 120,000 (cf. 4:11) The long buried and forgotten city has amazed the archaeologist in its resurrection from dust since 1843. It was a complex of cities like modern New York, including Calah to the south, Resen between Calah and Nineveh proper, and Rehoboth-Ir (Rebit-Ninua) west of the capital.   Jonah had only covered 1/3 of the city. One day's preaching but what an effect! What did he preach? - exactly what hwhy told him to, the message that he was given. Jonah went and preached, not dispassionately but as one who had experienced the message:  hwhy's judgement first hand, and His mercy, loving-kindness and salvation. The message that Jonah was given was an ultimatum "Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed!" - where is mercy? Where is the "come to Jesus and He will fix up all your problems? There is no mention of mercy or God will save you, God loves you. It was a message of imminent judgement! The judgement looming over them is nothing compared to the final judgement that is yet to come! But do we hear anyone preach a message like this? We lament the lack of response to the Gospel today. There were times when many turned to the LORD, revival times: the great awakening, the Welsh and Hebridean revivals; preachers like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, John Wesley, Whitefield - do you know what they preached? - sin and judgement. What does the Holy Spirit do? - convict of sin, righteousness and judgement. Do we warn of the coming destruction? We are like Jonah, we run in the other direction. What would you do if you knew that you only had 40 more days .... then the end?! How differently would you live? What would your response to God be? What a sorting out and straightening out of my life there would be! In fact the city wasn’t overthrown - does this mean that God’s word was false - no, rather it demonstrates the conditional nature of His promises (cf. Jeremiah 18:7-10 At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.). But the word was fulfilled, for the word (Jph) not only means "to be destroyed" but "to be overturned" - and the city was overturned from its sinful ways; and also "to change one’s self" - and change themselves is what the city of Nineveh did. Their response to Jonah’s preaching was REPENTANCE (v.5-10). It is ironic that Jonah received such a response to his preaching from these heathen Gentiles that his message never received in hard-hearted Israel - this is prophetic of the Gentiles responding to the Gospel, the message of Him who had spent three days in the belly of the earth, when the Jews (in general) rejected the Good News.

Repent and believe [v.5] The Ninevites took the message seriously - they responded. They believed, took the message as being true, as being from God - that is what faith is. They turned around their behaviour - that is what repentance is. This is the pattern seen in the Gospels and Acts  there are two steps to salvation: repent and believe. They stopped what they were doing, stopped carrying on the way they were and sought God seriously and earnestly. The people of Nineveh were cut to the core - this was no mere lip service! They were utterly genuine, distressed by their evil and the calamity that they were sure was impending. This was not going to a meeting and reading the Bible - this was desperation! They didn’t eat, they went around in mourning. They weren’t expecting a reprieve; they were just genuinely grieved by their own sinfulness and disregard of God. The response was universal - put on sack-cloth - a sign of mourning, of deep distress - they were genuinely grieved by their sin. Am I? (cf.  Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.). They made a serious and desperate plea to God to acknowledge that they were utterly wrong. Nineveh responded to the word of hwhy - they believed - this is the precondition for salvation. They believed in God - not in hwhy - in covenant, personal, relationship, but in the One God, the Almighty, over all, Sovereign, Creator. hwhy noted their response and was pleased with it - faith pleases God (cf. Heb 11:6). Their repentance delighted God, He remembered it many centuries later and cited it as an example (cf. Matthew 12:41The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.). It will be remembered in the Day of Judgement. They stand for all time as a beautiful example of genuine repentance. It is a fact that heathen sinners are often more responsive to hwhy and His word than the people of God. God announces judgement in order to give people a chance to turn from their wicked ways for He takes no delight in bringing disaster upon them. His intention is that the people respond with repentance. How many times hwhy warned of coming judgement but how seldom did His people respond as they did in Nineveh with repentance. hwhy’s desire is not to destroy men but to bring all to repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. Romans 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 1 Timothy 2:4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.).

Deserve wrath, appeal for mercy [v.6, 7] News quickly spread - such was the response among the people, everyone in sackcloth, that the king himself became aware. He asked what it was all about and when he heard the message he responded in the same way – took off his royal robes – humbled himself; put on sackcloth – mourned over his sin and sat in the dust – no pride here! The proud Assyrian ruler humbled himself - laid aside his glory, his magnificent signs of office - dethroned himself, took off his royal robes. Instead of robes, he wore sackcloth; instead of sitting on a throne, he sat on the ash heap. Can you imagine the queen, George Bush or Helen Clark doing this?! The king of Nineveh was indistinguishable from Nineveh’s citizens - they were all in the same boat, facing the same judgement - together they all humbled themselves, desperately, earnestly and sincerely seeking God’s mercy. They didn’t defend themselves but readily acknowledged their sin, the rightness of the judgement - yes, they deserved it, they didn’t argue about that. What they sought was mercy, a reprieve from what they deserved. The message cut to the heart. Have you ever heard a message like that?  The king issued a law – you can't force genuine repentance but the intention was sincere. But this king didn’t just issue a decree telling everybody else what to do in order to put the situation right - no, first he took the action himself, he led by example. First he personally repented before calling for collective repentance. Collective, united repentance is required in our nation and in the church in order to be spared hwhy’s coming judgement. But before collective repentance can take place first repentance must take place on a personal and an individual level. It was a desperate situation calls for desperate measures, a desperate response – I mean stop eating – takes quite a bit to make me give up food. The destruction they faced was only in this life, the destruction the world faces is eternal and spiritual – how much more desperate is the situation, how much more sincere should be the response in our day! Even animals were to be involved – what did he command? - a turning from evil and from violence. What the king sought was compassion, for God to turn from His anger – if He didn't they were a gonna! This king had, in his time, destroyed many a city and nation – he had subjugated enough people to know the folly of clinging to your pride when faced with overwhelming forces - that just incensed the aggressor and caused greater destruction. You don't go provoking your enemy if he is superior to you, the wise thing to do is to capitulate, not resist but to humble yourself, grovel on the floor, don't stand on your pride, be obsequious, do whatever the other said – it is imperative that you calm his anger. If the threatened people submitted, humbled and subjugated themselves they were spared much misery. He had seen this in cities that he had taken, now his own city was threatened by an overwhelming force - he knew the wise way to respond. But how few men do! - we cling to our pride, rights, and righteousness. Nineveh needed grace and mercy - but God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. But how many resist God and provoke Him, shake their fist at Him. They are fools! They don't know who they are dealing with! The king didn't protest his innocence or try to defend Himself – He acknowledged that God's anger was justified – but sought from Him to turn from that, sought compassion. If he didn't find it then they would certainly perish. Jesus Himself said (Luke 13:3 & 5 I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.). Mercy wasn't guaranteed, it was a possibility – the king didn't presume upon it coming but sought it as his only hope. So ought we. Jonathan Edwards preached a famous sermon "Sinners in the hands of an angry God". So what do we do when faced with an angry God? What is the way back to God? How do you find His mercy and compassion?

The way back [v.8] The king only called the people to do what he himself had done. He covered himself with sackcloth, so must they. He outlined the steps to be taken in seeking God’s mercy (we would do well to note them): if you know you are not near to God here is the way back: (1) Fasting - call for an absolute fast - abstaining from the flesh, stop living for yourself. (2) Wear sackcloth - self-humbling, mourning for our sinful ways – trouble with sin is that I like it! Not just regret getting caught but a grieving over what you are. (3) Call on God earnestly - desperate, fervent, earnest, sincere prayer – God will not despise a broken and contrite heart. (4) Repentance - turning each from his wicked ways. Four ingredients: self-denying, deep sorrow, earnest prayer, repentance. This course of action holds out the hope that God may possibly respond with mercy and relent from His burning anger and His judgement upon us which will destroy us. With broken hearts and contrite spirits, in humility and repentance, the Ninevites responded to the message of impending judgement.  Nineveh’s wholesale repentance at the message of a Hebrew prophet was remarkable, and Jesus took special note of it (Luke 11:32 The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgement and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.). The rabbis thought it was brought about so quickly because the people of Nineveh had already heard of Jonah’s deliverance - heard of the fearful consequences of hwhy’s judgement, yet also of the possibility of mercy with Him to the repentant. So, Jonah’s encounter with the fish may have had a positive effect after all. Jesus said (Luke 11:30 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.). The Ninevites interpreted the sign of Jonah, took note of it.  (Matthew 12:39 “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.) Jesus’ sign was His three days in the grave - here was a man back from the dead! He should have died by God’s wrath but mercy was extended to him - so too was there the possibility of life for them even though they deserved death if they repented and sought this God’s mercy. So too, there is the possibility of mercy and compassion if we repent.

Finding compassion [v.9, 10] God saw! God sees! Hallelujah! He sees deeds – the fruit of repentance – not just saying so, the intention, but the actual turning. He relented (µjn), had compassion. God turned from His intention. Their repentance caused God to change from His intended purpose! – their turning caused God to turn. Caused Him to go back on what He had declared that He would do! This is awesome! God changed His mind! Repentance and faith are the only things that will do it. Turning (bWv) brings compassion (µjn) These two words are emphasized. The key is "turning" (4x in v.8-10) - if we turn from our evil (repent) there is the hope that God will turn to us, turn from the judgement He intended and turn from His consuming wrath (cf. Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.; Joel 2:12-14 “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 loving-kindness and relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?). God is a God of wrath - a burning wrath that consumes (cf. Heb 10:30,31; 12:29) - unless He turns from this anger, we will be destroyed, will perish! Repentance is the only way appointed by which God may be prompted to turn from His anger. If we return to Him and turn from our evil, He may turn from His wrath and turn to us (cf. James 4:6-10“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.). The turning of God is not guaranteed, but to seek it is our only hope! There is the possibility that He will relent - therefore repentance is imperative. The king sought God’s compassion and pity, not his rights and justice as we proudly do today. Seek mercy not your dues. Nineveh, en mass, from the king and his nobles to the lowliest servant and animal, repented and earnestly sought God’s mercy. And God saw! God sees repentance. Hallelujah! They sought God’s mercy/compassion and God indeed "relented". Their repentance was seen in their deeds and God’s deeds were affected (He did not do it). Because they turned from their wicked ways God relented, had compassion and pity. They turned from their evil ways and God repented of the evil He had spoken. He did not do as He intended. God’s mind was changed!! What power there is in repentance. They had sought compassion, pity, a reprieve (µjn) from God (v.9) and this is what they found. Compassion may still be found today if we seek the LORD with repentance.

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