Intro: What connects us to the book of Jonah? It is an inspired part of God’s revelation, but we don’t anticipate that we will be swallowed whole by a great fish, do we? Is it just an interesting story?
Let me suggest that our connection is that we serve the same God that Jonah served. What Jonah learned about God, is what we learn about God.
- In Malachi 3:6, it reads… “For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. There is an unchangeableness about the character of God. Although He has not always dealt with people in the same way (He struck people dead immediately for disobedience, ordered kings to go to battle and fight other nations, required the sacrifice of animals for sins) He is character has remained the same. Jonah’s God is our God. What can we learn about God from this story? (already seen that God is omniscient)
I. Jonah’s God is Gracious: One of the real lessons of Jonah centers on the grace of God. God is gracious, even in the presence of rebellion and sin. The lesson on grace was for both the city and the prophet.
A. The original commission of Jonah was motivated by God’s grace. Although Nineveh was a wicked city, God sent Jonah to preach grace. Implied in the message was the opportunity for them to avoid God’s judgment to come. Jonah certainly understood this implication. In 4:2 we finally learn from Jonah’s own words why he ran away rather than preach in Nineveh.
- Jonah 4:2 – 2 So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
B. When Jonah rebelled against his orders, God was gracious, and pursued Jonah to offer him a way back. When he was cast into the raging sea, God was gracious and saved him from drowning. The mercy of God became evident to Jonah in the belly of the fish. He gave thanks for his own deliverance. Jonah 2:2 – “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me.”Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. V. 9 – But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” But the nature of God’s grace is viewed in what follows as well.
II. God’s Message of Grace: Jonah 3:1-4 – Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
A. The third chapter begins as the first began. God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against the city. We remember that the first time Jonah heard these words he rebelled and ran the other way. But God pursued Jonah even to the bottom of the ship, and brought him to a renewed mind. God is gracious to Jonah and calls him to go and preach to Nineveh a message of grace.
1. Jonah is given a second chance. “the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time”. These are the words of grace. God was not compelled to give Jonah a second chance. But God specializes in second chances; or tenth chances, or even a hundred chances. This is not because God does not care if we fail and sin. But because He loves us and calls us to turn and come back to Him, that we might be blessed is so doing.
2. Jonah is still accountable. The message is the same as before. This is an important element of God’s grace. We are still accountable to His commands. And His commands do not change to accommodate our rebellion. Jonah does not receive an exemption or an amended proposal from God. He is called to obey the same command as before. The validity or implications of God’s word are not determined by how many people accept it. “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4)
3. Jonah preaches grace in the words of warning. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Notice also that Jonah’s message was a rather negative one. Fear of judgment is a legitimate motivation for repentance and coming judgment is a proper subject of preaching.
a. God’s warning of his impending judgment is grace. If you are sitting on the railroad tracks and a train is coming, and someone yells for you to move because the train is coming – that is gracious. It is lovingkindness and gracious to scream at you, “A train is coming! Get off the tracks!” God is screaming at us through his holy word that judgment is coming. Repent before it is too late! But we reject such preaching as harsh and unloving. We could talk about something else, but that would not be the message of grace. There are many preachers and teachers who refuse to speak about the coming wrath of God against sin, but they are not preaching God’s grace. Listen as the apostles preached God’s grace:
- 2 Peter 3:10-11 – But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
- 2 Cor 5:10-11 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men;
- 2 Thess 1:7-9 – you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
B. The Impact Of God’s Message of Grace: Jonah 3:5-9 – So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 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; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
1. This is a truly remarkable event. Making his way to Nineveh (a journey that would have taken more than a month) Jonah entered the great city with his blunt message (consisting of only five words in the Hebrew text): “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” At the preaching of the reluctant prophet, the entire city, from the top down, repents. Even the king (Ashur-dan III according to Assyrian records) came down off his throne and put on the sackcloth and ashes that depicted a mournful heart. He even commanded a nationwide full-blown fast involving both man and beasts.
a. In this event we clearly see the power of God’s word to convict the sinner. Even though Jonah’s message is brief, it produced the result God desired. Jesus tells us that Jonah was a “sign” to the people of Ninevah (Luke 11:30). This indicates that the story of his deliverance from the sea was a part of the message, and served to convince the people to believe his message of coming judgment. The test says the people believed God, thus indicating that Jonah was telling them where his message was coming from.
b. The Gospel message is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16) We need to rely upon the power of the seed to reach the good and honest hearts and bring forth fruit (L 8:15).
2. These verses help us understand what true repentance looks like. It is a turning from evil. The king called on the people (and the animals) to show the outward evidence of a sorrowful mind, but he also called on everyone to turn from their evil ways, and from the violence of their hands. (3:8). He was clear about what God required. This pagan king understood repentance more clearly than some of us today. Some have the concept that a simple “I ‘m sorry” after one is about to face the consequences of his sin is all that God requires.
III. The Gracious Result of True Repentance: Jonah 3:10 – Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
A. This is as remarkable as the citywide repentance that we just noticed. Would God really forgive all of these wicked Assyrians? This was the question that most haunted Jonah.
1. But before we consider what God did in forgiving them, notice what motivated Him to do it. He “saw their works that they turned from their evil way”. I believe this indicates that God saw their hearts. He recognized they had truly turned. The term “works” indicates that there were actual activities that accompanied this change of heart. Certainly the fasting and the crying out to God were a part of this. But there may have been more. At the preaching of the apostle Paul, the pagans in Ephesus gathered their books of witchcraft and publicly burned them. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that these folks were serious. God can see your heart. He knows if you truly repent. But are there any works he could see that declare your penitence over your sin?
B. When we turn to the Lord with our heart, He forgives us. I am impressed with the words of the king as he commands for the people to repent… vs. 9 – Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? The King’s attitude depicts humility in the face of God’s sure judgment. The things he commands of the people are not of themselves enough to assure deliverance. It is only “perhaps” God will relent. My repentance does not in any way obligate God to be gracious. His grace is conditional, but it is still 100% grace.
- Titus 2:11-14 – 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
- The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is our assurance of our forgiveness. He died to redeem us. He gave Himself for us. If you turn to Him, He will forgive you.
Conclusion: You have an opportunity today that is only afforded to you through the grace of God. Will you turn back to God? If you are not a Christian you must repent of your sins, and be baptized into Christ. “Repent and be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of sin” (Acts 2:38) If you are a Christian who has turned away from God, you must repent. God is gracious.