On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played University of California in the Rose Bowl. In that game a man named Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. Somehow, he became confused and started running 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, outdistanced him and downed him just before he scored for the opposing team. When California attempted to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety which was the ultimate margin of victory.
That strange play came in the first half, and everyone who was watching the game was asking the same question: “What will Coach Nibbs Price do with Roy Riegels in the second half?”
The men filed off the field and went into the dressing room. They sat down on the benches and on the floor, all but Riegels. He put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.
If you have played football, you know that a coach usually has a great deal to say to his team during half time. That day Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and simply said, “Men the same team that played the first half will start the second.” The players got up and started out, all but Riegels. He did not budge. the coach looked back and called to him again; still he didn’t move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second.”
Then Roy Riegels looked up and his cheeks were wet with a strong man’s tears. “Coach,” he said, “I can’t do it to save my life. I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined the University of California, I’ve ruined myself. I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.”
Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegel’s shoulder and said to him: “Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over.” And Roy Riegels went back, and those Tech men will tell you that they have never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.
What I want us to do this morning is walk through Jonah 3, and I want us to think about what our passage says about Jonah, what it says about Nineveh, and most of all, what it says about God.
Before we get too deep into the passage, let’s do some review.
- In chapter 1, we started this walk through Jonah and we saw how God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah didn’t want to go because Nineveh was a major Assyrian territory. We said that this would be like God calling one of us to go and preach the good news of God’s love in Christ to ISIS.
- Jonah instead jumps on a boat to Tarshish and heads in the complete opposite direction. Meanwhile, a storm comes up, and a fish swallows Jonah. That takes us to chapter 2.
- In chapter 2, Jonah is actually praying inside the belly of this fish, and we saw three specific things that Jonah remembered in his prayer. He remembered God’s Word, he remembered God’s temple, and he remembered God’s mercy. The big verse that we looked at last week was Jonah 2:8 where Jonah said that those who worship idols forsake the mercy that could be there’s.
JONAH REPENTS (v. 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!” – Jonah 3:1-4, NKJV
We saw the beginnings of Jonah’s repentance in chapter 2. You can’t read Jonah’s prayer like we read last and not see that he has a repentant heart.
- The theme of chapter 2 last week was a prayer of repentance, but the theme this week is the evidence of repentance. We see this week that Jonah’s repentance is made evident by the fact that he’s obedient to what God has said. And, by the way, that’s always the evidence of repentance in our own lives.
Repentance isn’t praying the sinner’s prayer. Repentance isn’t a one-time act that you do to get saved. Repentance is the foremost characteristic of someone who is a born-again believer. If you’re a Christian, then your life should be characterized by the fact that you are always looking to Christ for the fullness of your salvation, and the way that your repentance is made evident is the fact that you are seeking to obey God in what He has said.
- We need to understand God hasn’t saved us so we can sit around and wait for Him to come back. He has actually given us work to do in the world. I feel like a lot Christians have this idea that pastors are the ones who are supposed to be doing all the work while the rest of the Christian people just have to sit on the sidelines and cheer them on, but that’s not the picture that the Bible paints for us. The Bible tells us that we all have gifts and callings. We all have work to do. We all have things that we need to be obedient in doing for the Lord.
In Ephesians 2:8, Paul tells us that we’re saved by grace and not by works lest any man should boast, and we like that, and we should. It speaks truth about the nature of our salvation, but what we don’t like so much is two verses later where the text tells us we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
- Why don’t we like that? Because it means we have to do something.
According to Romans 1:5, we have received grace (that’s our salvation) for obedience to the faith.
- If what Paul is saying is true, and it is because it’s the Word of God, then we have been saved so that we can live in the world and show the rest of the world how to live as witnesses to the Gospel before the face of God.
When you get over into Revelation, Jesus is talking to the Church at Ephesus, and He says, “You know what your problem is? You’ve left your first love.”
“Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remeber therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:4-5, NKJV
Jesus doesn’t say, “Alright, I forgive you, let’s move on.” He says, “I forgive you now remember where you were before, repent, and do your first works again.”
- I think some people believe that just because we’re not under the law anymore that means that there’s no place for obedience in the Christian life, and that’s just not the case.
“Understand this matter aright: By His ascension and by the preaching of faith, Christ does not purpose to rear lazy and sluggish Christians, who say: ‘We shall now live according to our pleasure, not doing good works, remaining sinners, and following sin like captive slaves.’ Those who talk thus have never had a right understanding of the preaching of faith. Christ and His mercy are not preached to the end that men should remain in their sins. On the contrary, this is what the Christian doctrine proclaims: The captivity is to leave you free, not that you may do whatever you desire, but that you sin no more.” – C.F.W. Walther, quoting Martin Luther
In the first four verses of Jonah 3, we see that Jonah has repented, and his repentance is made clear by the fact that going back and doing what he should have done in the first place. Jonah doesn’t just blow it off by saying, “I’m sorry, God” and then doing whatever He wants to do. Jonah wants to make restitution because that’s what God’s people want to do.
- God’s people want to do what’s right. According to Ezekiel 36:26, one of the blessings of the New Covenant is that God gives us a new heart. He takes out the heart of stone, and replaces it with a heart of flesh, and then in Ezekiel 36:27, God says, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My ways.”
- How we live and how we walk before God is evidence of whether or not God has actually given us a new heart.
One of the most challenging parts of the Christian life is actually putting into practice what you know is good and right. I don’t think there’s a single person in here right now who would say cognitively that they didn’t want to obey God, but I also think every single one of us, including myself, have a hard time putting into practice what we preach.
- That doesn’t get us off the hook of obedience, instead it should drive us to look to Jesus and say, “If I’m going to obey it’s because gives me grace to obey. If I’m going to live the way He wants me to it’s because His Spirit empowers me to live the way He wants me to.”
A lot of Christians tend to think that living the way God wants you to is like walking on a tightrope and as long as you can keep your balance, you’re good, but if you fall it’s still okay because you’ve got a net below that tightrope called grace, but that’s not how it works. Grace is what gives you the power to keep your balance, and by God’s grace, you won’t need a net because by grace you’ll never fall!
- At the end of Jude, Jude is ending his letter with a blessing to God, and He says, “To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with joy…” (Jude 1:24)
That fact that Jonah gets another opportunity to be obedient is an act of grace.
- Don’t think that just because Jonah lived under the old covenant that God didn’t show grace to His people.
Jonah states his repentance in chapter 2, and now in chapter 3, his repentance is shown by his obedience. And because Jonah repents, Nineveh repents.
- That’s practical in, and of itself because our repentance, our turning from sin and looking to Christ should cause others to turn from their sin and look to Christ.
- That’s why God saves people. He saves people so that He can use those people to be key players in the salvation of other people.
So, look what happens to Nineveh as a result of Jonah’s repentance.
NINEVEH REPENTS (v. 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.” – Jonah 3:5-6, NKJV
- Notice the progression so far: Jonah Repents, the people of Nineveh repent, and then the king of Nineveh repents when he sees what’s happening among the people.
- I hear people all the time who say that they want to see America turn back to God. They want to see our politicians repent. If you want to see those changes, then you turn back to God.
- My favorite psychologist Jordan Peterson said he used to hear his college students talk about how much they wanted to change the world, but they didn’t want to change themselves. He finally said one day during one of his lectures, “Do you want to confront chaos in the world? Then start with the chaos in your own life. Start by cleaning your room.” Set your house in order before your start getting on Facebook and talking about how the whole nation needs to be set in order.
- Before you start telling people that they need Jesus you need to understand that you have a need for Jesus.
“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?” – Jonah 3:7-9, NKJV
One of the questions that might arise in our minds is this: Knowing the history between the Jews and the Assyrians, why would they listen to Jonah? What was it that really caused them to listen to him?
As I was studying for this message, one of the commentaries I was looking at said that the people in Assyria primarily worshipped a god named Dagon.
- If know the Bible well enough, then you know that Dagon was the same god that was worshipped by the Philistines. In 1 Samuel 5, the Philistines stole the ark of the covenant and they took it into the house of Dagon, and the Bible tells us that when the priests of Dagon come into the temple the next day, they find the statue of their false god face down on the ground. So, they prop it up, leave and don’t think anything of it. The next day they come in, and they find that not only is the statue of Dagon on the ground, but it’s broken in pieces so that the head and hands are broken off.
- What’s really interesting is that Dagon is a fish god. If you look up pictures of it, it looks like a reverse mermaid. It’s got a man’s body, but a fish’s head.
Jonah is swallowed by a big fish, and then he gets thrown up onto the shore of Nineveh.
When Jonah preaches and tells the people the city is going to be overthrown they believe him because, IN THEIR MINDS, this individual went into the belly of their god and he overcame. And the only way that Jonah can overcome is if he serves a God greater than their god.
- We see God proving Himself like this all throughout Scripture.
- 1 Kings 18 – Elijah has a standoff with the prophets of Baal. And he says, “Let the God who answers by fire be God.” Elijah pours water all the altar that he built so that when God answers they know it’s God, and lo and behold, God shows up and answers by fire.
God through delivering Jonah from the fish shows himself to the people of Nineveh to be greater than any of their false gods and idols.
And then when they repent and see the greatness of God, God relents.
GOD RELENTS (v. 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.” – Jonah 3:10, NKJV
We’re going to see how Jonah responds to that next week when we look at chapter 4, but look at the mercy that God shows to Nineveh.
- God is not obligated in any way to save Nineveh. God was not obligated to send Jonah to Nineveh. God was not obligated to even save Jonah, but He does. Why? Because mercy is a part of God’s character.
My question this morning is do we recognize that we have received God’s mercy?
We’re always out to get our fairshare. We always want to get what we think we deserve, but according to Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. If we really want to get what we’re owed, then what we’re owed is death. But, if Jesus Christ grants us eternal life, then He does so not because we’re good enough or because we deserve it, but out of the abundance of His mercy.
This is an excerpt from a Ray Pritchard sermon where he talks about when he read about a prayer for mercy called the ‘Jesus Prayer’ from one of Elisabeth Elliot’s books.
“Several years ago I read Elisabeth Elliott’s fine book Keep a Quiet Heart. In one of the chapters she discusses the “Jesus Prayer.” It is a prayer that arose in the Orthodox tradition over 1,000 years ago. Though the prayer appears in various wordings, its most basic form goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Ten short words, all of them simple and easy to understand. Sometimes the phrase “a sinner” is added to emphasize the petitioner’s deep personal need. When praying together, the word “us” is substituted for “me.” Orthodox Christians have used this little prayer as a central part of their devotional life for centuries.
It is easy to see why this prayer has endured. In a sense, it covers everything that we might pray for. It is a prayer addressed to the right Person-“Lord Jesus Christ,” in the right Position-“Son of God.” And its one request summarizes all that we might ask from the Lord-“Have mercy on me.” Since we are truly sinners before the Lord, anything he does for us must be an act of mercy. We have no claim on anything the Lord has, and if we approach God thinking that he owes us something, our prayers will bounce off the ceiling and hit us on the head. Do we need health or wisdom or guidance or strength or hope or do we petition the Lord on behalf of our children, our friends, or our neighbors? Whatever it is we need, no matter what words we use, it is mercy, the pure, shining mercy of God that we seek.”
My prayer for us this morning is that we would see that every day is an opportunity to be a recipient of God’s mercy. It’s not owed to us. God doesn’t owe us a chance. But, the truth of the matter is that God has freely opened our eyes to know the truth, and it’s only the truth that can set us free.
- Haddon W. Robinson, Christian Medical Society Journal
- “Sinners in the Hands of a Merciful God.” Keep Believing Ministries