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JONAH 3:1-10
Series:  Jonah:  Lessons in the Sovereignty of God - Part Three

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 17, 2001

Please turn with me to our text this morning - Jonah 3:1-10. We’re continuing in our series of messages from the Book of Jonah in which we have been learning about the sovereignty of God.

If you’ve been with us these last few Sundays you’ll recall that we’ve seen that the Book of Jonah is more than a story about a man getting swallowed by a whale. The Book of Jonah is a four chapters long look into the struggle of Jonah - a prophet of God - the struggle of Jonah to allow God to be sovereign over his life. What Jonah struggles with touches the heart of what we struggle with in our relationship with God - who is sovereign - God or us?

In chapter one we saw God call Jonah to go to Nineveh and call the people to repentance. Jonah disobeyed and tried to run as far away from Nineveh and God’s will as he could. But, the sovereign God stops him and Jonah is thrown into the Mediterranean Sea to die. In chapter two, Jonah is again confronted with God’s sovereignty. God sends a fish to swallow Jonah and bring him to the shore. At God’s command - the fish vomits Jonah up on the beach. All of which is part of the process of Jonah learning to give God sovereignty over his life.

Which brings us to chapter three. Jonah 3:1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord.

Let’s pause here. There are two truths we need to understand before we go on. First: Our God is the God of the second chance.

Imagine that you own one of our local dot.com companies. One of your employees, as a way to pad his stock options, decides to steal some technology and sell it to your competitor. Let’s say he cashes out and takes the money and heads for Cancun - living exorbitantly for a couple of years. When the money runs out - this employee comes back to you and asks for forgiveness and his old job back - for a second chance. Would you give it to him? Its hard to imagine any employer doing anything less than having that guy arrested.

Jonah failed miserably the first time. But, in verse one we read that, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time…” Our God is the God of the second chance. Which is a truth that is shown to us in life story after life story from one end of the Bible to the other.

Jacob failed again and again. But God never let him go. God worked with him - and Jacob became Israel. David - the adulterer and murderer - God never let him go. God gave David a second chance. Simon Peter - the Apostle who denied Jesus - God held onto him and straightened him out. John Mark - who ran away on his first missions trip. God hung on to him and later he became a great spokesman for God. Story after story - from one end of the Bible to the other. - our God is the God of the second chance.

Jim Cymbala is the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. Maybe some of you heard of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir - same church. In his book, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” Pastor Cymbala writes that his oldest daughter Chrissy - who had been a model child growing up - at around the age of 16 rebelled against him and his wife Carol. Chrissy rebelled against God. She left home and often they had no idea where she went and what she was involved with. What they did know broke their hearts.

As any Christian parents would - they tried everything to reach their daughter. They cried out to God and finally in tears had to release Chrissy to God.

One Tuesday night during a church prayer meeting the entire church was moved by God to pray for Chrissy. Thirty-two hours later - on Thursday morning Chrissy returned home. Grabbing her father she poured out her anguish, “Daddy, I’ve sinned against God. I’ve sinned against myself. I’ve sinned against you and Mommy. Please forgive me.”

Then suddenly she drew back and said, “On Tuesday night, Daddy - who was praying for me. In the middle of the night, God woke me and showed me I was heading toward this abyss. There was no bottom. It scared me to death. I realized how hard I’ve been, how wrong, how rebellious.”

Today, Chrissy - now a Bible college graduate - is the wife of a pastor and the mother of 3 children.

Hear this - no matter what you may be involved in - no matter how far you may think you have rebelled against God - no matter how many times you may have turned to Him already and gone out to fail again - our God is the God of the second chance and the third chance and the fourth chance. If you turn to Him He is there and He will give you that chance.

The second truth we need to understand, before we go on, is that: Submission is not surrender.

Verse 2 says that God told Jonah a second time to “Arise and go to Nineveh.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh. Now notice this: “According to the word of the Lord.” God commanded him to do it. So, he did it. But, just because Jonah goes to Nineveh it doesn’t mean that his heart is surrendered to God.

Sitting on the beach, covered in fish vomit, Jonah has learned that he has no choice but to submit - to capitulate - to the will of the sovereign God. God is giving him a second chance and he now knows the consequences of disobedience.

Its like the familiar story of the man who fell off a cliff. As he’s falling - his arms flailing around - he happens to grab onto a root protruding out of the cliff. As he’s dangling there - hanging over the abyss - he starts to plead with God. “God, if you get me out of this I’ll give you my whole life. I’ll even become a missionary to some unknown tribe in Africa.”

And a voice comes from above him, “This is God. I’ll save you.”

“Great what do you want me to do?”

“Let go of the root.”

After a long pause the man cries out, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Its so easy for us to submit to God’s sovereignty - to acknowledge Him - when its to our advantage - according to our understanding of things - because of the consequences of disobedience. Surrender of our lives goes far beyond that. Surrender to the sovereignty of God means totally trusting God with the entirety our lives and daily living within that trust.

We could be the most outstanding submitted Christian - obedient in everything - upright - moral - an integral part of the church - a willing worker and servant - outwardly a Godly man and father - but that still does not mean that we have surrendered our hearts to the sovereignty of God. Submission is not surrender.

Up to this point, Jonah has submitted. But, Jonah has not surrendered.

This is one of the most amazing things about our loving God of the second chance. Even though we have not yet come to a point of complete surrender - and let’s be honest - none of us is there totally - one of the most wonderful things about our sovereign God is that He does keep giving us a second chance and graciously - lovingly - teaching us to surrender to Him. God is not through with Jonah. And, even when we fail, God is not through with us.

Going on in verse 3: Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days walk.

Geographically - Nineveh was like San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose - all of which we call the San Francisco Bay Area. Greater Nineveh was actually a large metropolitan area made up of 3 major cities and their suburbs - commonly called just Nineveh. Jonah - referring to Nineveh says that it took at least 3 days to walk around the outskirts of Greater Nineveh.

Verse 4: Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk - Jonah has covered about a third of Nineveh - just walking through the city - block by block - neighborhood by neighborhood - crying out on street corners - proclaiming God’s word - and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Verse 5: Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”

These people sincerely repented - from the king on down to the lowest peasant on the street. They covered themselves in sackcloth. They fasted. They went out and sat on ashes - in the dirt and dust of the ground. All acts of humbling themselves before God. They even covered their livestock with sackcloth. Finally, they cried out to God for mercy.

Verse 10: When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

Its important to put into perspective what we’ve just read. This is perhaps the greatest revival of all time. Perhaps the most wicked city of the day - over 120,000 people turning to God within a matter of hours. It is important to understand how this happened.

Imagine - Jonah - the rebellious foreign prophet going through the city - half-heartedly proclaiming God’s word. Why would anyone in this wicked cosmopolitan city ever pay any attention to Jonah?

Several commentators have suggested a number of reasons that they listened to Jonah. After 3 days and three nights being digested in the stomach of a fish Jonah’s appearance may have changed. When he stopped at a street corner people may have asked him, “What happened to you?” Jonah would have had an opening to share his testimony and God’s word.

Some have suggested that the people of Nineveh listened because of the message. Jonah said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” In the ancient Near Eastern cultures there was a significance to the number 40 - 40 days. The number 40 always suggests a time of waiting and preparation - a period of divine activity. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. The Israelites wandered for 40 years. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days - and so on. During the time of Jonah, Assyrian history records two major plagues and a solar eclipse - all thought of as signs of coming divine wrath.

So, when the people of Nineveh hear “40 days” their ears prick up and they realize, “Dangers coming! Pay attention! Shape up! In 40 days we’re going to be destroyed.”

God may have used all or some of these to prepare the hearts of the Ninevites. But, the bottom line behind this revival is in verse 5: “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God.”

Most of us - maybe all of us - have watched Billy Graham preach - either in person or on television. These great revival meetings with thousands coming forward to receive Jesus as their Savior. Billy Graham himself has shared the reason why all these people come forward. The bottom line reason people come forward is because God calls them.

It is within the will of the sovereign loving God that the people of Nineveh should repent and turn to Him. That’s why He sent Jonah. That’s why He moved them to the point of repentance. Just as the justice of the sovereign God demanded their judgment and destruction - their repentance opens these people up to the forgiveness and blessing of the merciful and loving sovereign God - blessings which He desires to lavish upon them.

Three brief thoughts of application. First: Who do you know who needs a second chance?

How many of you have been up on Mount Davidson to the cross? Its beautiful up there. From one vantage point we can see a vast portion of the Bay Area sprawling in every direction - 6.5 million people. Most of whom have no idea that God loves them. Do we see those people as God sees them? As God looked out on the people of Greater Nineveh? With His love and compassion? Gay - straight - homeless - rich - other ethnic groups - “odars” - Turks? People who desperately need a second chance.

From that monument - commemorating the genocide of 1.5 million Christian Armenians - as we celebrate 1,700 years since the Christianization of our nation - today in North America its been estimated that there are only about 25 to 30,000 Armenians - out of around 1,000,000 in church on Sunday. That should weigh heavy on our hearts - especially here in the Bay Area where only around 700 out of perhaps 10,000 Armenians are in church on Sunday.

Who do you know who needs to know the God who gives all of us a second chance? Will you tell them about Him? Perhaps you know someone that you need to give a second chance to?

Second thought. It is not an accident that you are here today. God is sovereign. Perhaps this morning you need to know this God who looks at you with such great love and compassion. Maybe you’ve submitted to Him. But, you’re holding back on surrender. He’s calling you to trust Him. How will you respond?

Third thought: Speaking, as a father, to our fathers this morning.

The actions of the King of Nineveh should impress us. When confronted with the word of God concerning his sinful life - this King got down off of his thrown - laid aside his regal robe - all of the trappings and authority of his office - covered himself with sackcloth - and went out and sat in the dust and dirt of the street - like the poorest peasant of the city. All to humble himself before God. A tremendous example to his people.

Would that our children would see that kind of surrender - coming from our hearts - that kind of surrender before God. Would that we could model that for our children in such a way that they would learn to themselves surrender their hearts to God.