Here is my sermon from this past Sunday. You can listen here.
The book of Jonah certainly has to do with God’s love for the world - His love for those outside of the people of God, His concern for even the enemies of the people of God. But the book is about so much more than that. How do we know? The Lord gives Jonah a second chance. He doesn’t give up on His prophet. He uses Jonah to pursue the people of Nineveh once again.
In battle, if someone gets taken out, if someone takes off and runs, the next man steps up. In football, if someone gets hurt, you move them up and move them out. But that’s not what happens here. If God were just concerned about reaching the Ninevites, He surely would have recruited someone else. He would have called someone who would have heard His word, who would have pursued His mission. He would have simply moved on. But that’s not what we see here.
Listen to these fantastic words from Alec Motyer. He points out that people get so distracted arguing about the idea of a whale gobbling up a human that they miss the point. This is perhaps the best summary of the book of Jonah I’ve ever heard. He writes:
“Within the book of Jonah, the Fish is not a problem but a mercy, a remarkable evidence of divine determination to perfect Jonah in obedience, to rescue Him from the frustrations of second best - and through him to demonstrate a universal mercy, foreshadowing another Galilean who came to call sinners to repentance.” (Alec Motyer)
Here’s the main thing I want you to hear from this message this morning: God is as committed to our growth and our good as He is His mission. He didn’t just move on from Jonah. He doesn’t just move on from us. He isn’t just concerned with getting His mission done. He’s all about getting His people done, as well. As Moyter puts it, God is determined to “rescue [us] from the frustrations of second best.”
But I’m jumping ahead here just a bit. Maybe you’re not that familiar with this story. Perhaps you’ve stumbled in here today and you don’t know much about Jonah. Let’s go back to the beginning. Because it sounds an awful lot like where we are today. Read with me verses 1-2 of chapter one again:
Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Jonah 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”
There God speaks to Jonah and tells him to head to this wicked Assyrian city, this metropolis made up of people far from God, people known for their brutality. Those words - “arise, go” - have a sense of urgency to them. They’re meant to evoke an immediate response. God says, “Go to that city. Preach to them. Tell them they’re in for it if they don’t repent.” But Jonah does the unthinkable for a prophet of God. He jumps up alright. But He disobeys God’s word. He shirks God’s mission. As verse 3 puts it, he “rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
But God won’t let His prophet have what’s second best. He disciplines Jonah. The Lord brings a big storm onto the sea. He tosses that boat until the sailors have no choice but to toss the prophet overboard. The sea becomes calm. Jonah sinks toward the ocean floor. He goes down. And, again, that could have been the end of this story.
But the Lord doesn’t just let Him die. That would have been just, mind you. Jonah had ignored God’s word. He had refused God’s mission. But the Lord of the universe isn’t done with him yet. So He summons that fish to go gobble him up. But the whale, unlike the prophet, obeys. There Jonah meets His Maker and Father again. And after three days and nights of soul-searching and prayer, the Lord tells that fish to vomit His prophet up. It is time for a re-do, a re-boot, a repeat. That brings us again to the verses we see here today.
Look at those verses again:
Jonah 3:1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying,
Jonah 3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Jonah 3:3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.
This time, what happens? God speaks to Jonah. He again tells him to immediately to go Nineveh. He says, “Preach the message I will give to you.” That’s a reminder for us to take His words, and not ours, on mission. This time, Jonah hops up and leaves. A lot has changed since that time spent inside the fish.
But here’s the question I want us to ponder together today. Why? It says, in verse 3, “Jonah arose and went.” Why does the prophet now hear God’s word? Why this time does he go? It also says, in verse 1, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.” Why does God come to him again? Why does He give Jonah a second chance? Well, I think the same answer fits with both questions. Why does Jonah now listen? Why does God give him another opportunity? God is at work. He’s up to something.
Let’s think for a minute first about Jonah’s response. What do we see here? Jonah repents. Now that may sound like church jargon to you, maybe like some sort of Christianese. What does it mean to repent? Repentance refers to going one way - toward idolatry and sin - and stopping and going the other way - toward Jesus, toward what He asks. It’s commonly referred to as a change of mind. In fact, that’s literally what the Greek word means. But it really goes deeper than that. It’s a change of heart, a change of our desires, of our worship. It’s a change of heart that leads to a change of action. That’s repentance.
And that’s what we see Jonah doing here. He’s refusing to hear God’s word. He’s moving away from God’s call. And he stops and turns and goes the other way, back toward what God says, back toward what God asks. And this is what God wants from us, also. It’s what Jesus came and preached. He walked around, calling out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17). It’s what the apostles proclaimed. They cried out, to their hearers, “Repent and be baptized.” (Acts 2:38). The Lord wants us to turn from sin and turn to Jesus - like Jonah here. Yes, those words from the New Testament are meant for unbelievers.
But they also speak to believers, too. And to our entire lives. We’re about to celebrate 500 years since the inception of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther kicked it all off by nailing what were called the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church in Germany. Here was the first one: "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Did you catch that? The entire life. We often think of the Christian life as a life of faith - and it is - but it’s also a life of repentance. The more we grow in Jesus, the more sin we’ll see, the deeper our vision will go. We’ll continually see new parts of our hearts that don’t honor God. We’ll increasingly have to confess it and turn from it. That’s the Christian life. Turning from sin. Turning to Jesus.
We’re heading into a men’s retreat next weekend. I’m pumped. But let’s not just be known for eating bacon and winning fantasy football. Let’s be known for our repentance. Men, let’s be the chief repenters in our ministries, in our workplaces, in our homes, in our dorm rooms. Let’s be so confident in our God and His gospel, that we can be open about our sin with Him and with others and lead in repentance. Let our families see us weep and change. Let’s be real men.
Ladies, so many of you are having your first children. Show your kids this rhythm of repentance and faith. They’re going to drive you crazy. You’re going to sin. Show them the gospel in how you confess your sin and ask them for forgiveness. Do it at home. Do it in the office. At the gym. At the PTA meeting. Wherever He has you. Show the gospel to those around you. Do what we see Jonah doing here.
I’ll never forget a moment back in our Missouri Theatre days. We were just getting our security team started. Tom Seagraves was our leader. He was working hard, gathering a good team. He was establishing good protocols. One Sunday, one of the main leaders at the Theatre came in and wanted to go up to her office. Her office, however, was right next to our kids area. Tom didn’t want to set a precedent of people walking right through Karis Kids, so he told her she couldn’t go - in a very forceful manner. A few days later, I heard about it from the director. I talked about it with Tom. And in a meeting that I sat in, that I’ll never forget, Tom sat down in front of this woman and her boss and confessed his sin and asked for her forgiveness. It was beautiful. I know it was a big moment in Tom’s life. I think it was in hers, too.
I think we stress too much about how to share the gospel at work. Let me give you an idea. The next time you screw up - and you will - take it as an opportunity to confess your sin to a coworker. Ask them to forgive you. Explain how Jesus drives you to do such a counterculture thing. You might be surprised at the impact that can have. When you repent like Jonah here.
But you might ask, “So you really want us to be like Jonah?” Some of you know the rest of the book. We’ll start looking at this next week, but the prophet brings the message, the Ninevites start responding, and Jonah starts sulking. He’s not happy at all. So, does he really repent here? Is he just going through the motions? Is he so defeated from the fish ride, that he just goes with it? Has he just run out of options?
We’re not sure. But you know what? At least for me, this is really encouraging. Why? Because I’m complicated, too. It takes me awhile to get it. So much of the time I feel like I’m making no progress at all. I find myself doing the same things over and over. Sometimes my mouth says things that my heart doesn’t want to do. Sometimes my feet takes me places my head doesn’t want to go. Repentance isn’t easy. It won’t be until Jesus comes again. Growth is so, so slow. Until then, we’re called to jump on this long road of repentance and faith.
I mentioned this the first week, but the book Jonah ends with this question from God to Jonah as he sits and pouts. “And should I not pity Nineveh?” We think that means Jonah wrote this book and likely came to understand his sin and just wants us to ponder the same question ourselves. But man, repentance is slow for Jonah. And He’s likely referring back to this years later. And repentance is sure slow for us, too. But here, in verses 1 through 3 of chapter 3, quite imperfectly and maybe insufficiently, Jonah repents.
But why? Because God works. Jonah repents. God works. You remember how Jonah’s prayer ends? With these words from Jonah - in verse 9 - “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” This isn’t too hard to see here, but there is one reason, and one reason only, why Jonah is standing there hearing God’s call again. There is only one who can get credit for him finally getting on that road to Nineveh. It’s the Lord. Otherwise, Jonah would still be hanging out in Tarshish.
But God had other plans from him. Yes, salvation is of the Lord, but so is repentance. We see this taught more explicitly a couple of times in Scripture. In Acts 11, Peter is describing to Jewish believers in Jerusalem how Gentiles are coming to faith. He tells them how God gave him this mission. He shares how God is working in the lives of non-Jews. Those listeners respond, in verse 18, with worship: “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he’s instructing his disciple and us on how to deal with opponents. In chapter 2, and verse 25, Paul says, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” Do you hear that? It’s the Lord who grants repentance. He does the work. That, my friends, is our hope. In us. In others. All repentance comes from Him. He does a work in our hearts. That then puts us on our knees. Repentance comes from Him.
But don’t take that too far, friends. This may be hard to comprehend, but we’re also responsible to repent. We can too easily think, “I’ll just sit here and wait for God to change my heart.” Or, “I can keep doing what I’m doing and repent later.” No. We must do it now. We must respond today. Now, we can’t summon up sorrow over our sin and resolve to get out of it any more than we can force feelings of joy. But God still tells us to rejoice in Him. And He still tells us to mourn for our sins. So, jump up and do what He asks. Now. Ask Him to give you a heart to do it. Repent.
That’s what a Christian does. We come into the faith repenting and believing. We grow up in the faith repenting and believing. If we’re one of God’s people, like Jonah here, we’ll be broken, humble, seeking to run from sin into God’s arms. Why does Jonah respond in this way? God’s at work. Is He at work in us?
And that’s where I want to turn our attention now. First, we looked at Jonah’s response. Second, let’s think about God’s heart. He wants to do a work in us. In today’s passage, again, the prophet repents. But before, he runs. He buys the ticket to “not-Nineveh.” He takes off in the exact opposite direction. He tries to get as far away from the Lord as he possibly can be. But his heart is what is really so far away.
He doesn’t want those Ninevites to be spared. He certainly doesn’t want to be the means of their rescue. They were a pagan people. They were a wicked and brutal people. He wants them to pay and pay hard. He flees the scene so the Assyrians will suffer. He tries to guard his heart and not let the Lord in.
Jonah runs. But God pursues. Think about this again. The Lord knows what Jonah is like. He’s not surprised, right? He calls him the first time. He knows he’s not going to be excited about it. God knows that Jonah’s going to try to run. Nevertheless, the Lord shows Him grace. He invites him to be a part of His work.
As Jonah tries to run, the Lord disciplines the prophet. He brings on the storm. He sends out the whale. He punishes Jonah. He rescues him, too. What grace! And then the prophet stands back again on those banks. And God gives him the same exact assignment. How gracious is our Lord? He tells Jonah to take on the same mission to Nineveh. God pursues Him.
Notice the Lord doesn’t just lay down the smack here. No rebuke for his behavior. No reminder of his failure. He just tells him to do it again. We don’t have to think of God as a frustrated dad who says, “Now, this time go out and do what I ask!” No, as Jonah puts it himself in chapter four, He is a “gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” And because of all those truths, because of who He is, God is committed to our growth and our good.
We talk a lot about salvation in the church. But there’s another word we need to understand. It’s sanctification. Salvation is being rescued from sin, but we tend to almost exclusively think about that in terms of the past. I was this wretched sinner, but God saved me, and now I’m better. Now we’ve already talked about how things aren’t quite that simple. It often feels harder after we become a Christian.
But salvation isn’t just about the past. It’s also about the future. One day, in a new heavens and earth, in front of our Lord Jesus Christ, we’ll be made like Him. We’ll be fully and finally saved. That gives us hope here in this battle.
But salvation is also about the present. We’re right now being saved from the power of sin. If Jesus is in our life, we’re being sanctified. We’re being made increasingly holy. That’s what sanctification means. We’re being made like Jesus, right here, right now, little by little, progressively. The Lord is growing us. That’s what He’s doing here in Jonah. Jonah wants to go down. But the Lord wants to take him up. He’s sticking with his boy, his renegade prophet, making him look more and more like him. He’s teaching Jonah to obey His word. He’s teaching Him to follow His call. He’ll do whatever it takes - send hurricanes, summon megafish - whatever it takes - to make Jonah more like Him.
Check out these helpful words again from Motyer:
“If the Lord had only been concerned with bringing his word to Nineveh, Jonah would have been left in disobedience, and another would have been sent in his place. But the Lord loves obedience and persevered with Jonah to bring him back, to redirect his course, to make him the obedient man. Hence, the wonder and comfort of the second chance occupies the heartland of the message of Jonah. As with Jacob (Gen. 28:15), the Lord will not leave us until He has done what He has said to us.” (Alec Motyer)
See, the Lord isn’t just concerned with the outcome. He’s concerned about the process. He’s not just concerned about the mission. He’s concerned about the missionaries. He’s not just worried about efficiency. He cares about His evangelists. The Lord is as committed to our sanctification as He is to the nations. If you think about it, He’s actually committed to the sanctification of the nations. And He’ll travel the long, hard road to accomplish what He wants in the hearts of His people. That’s our Dad’s heart.
He’s also determined to seek our good. He doesn’t just give us what we want. He gives us what we need. We’re little children who don’t know what’s good for us. We think cake for breakfast is perfect. We think all we need are video games. We’re stubborn and stupid and superficial and short-sighted. Our Lord is a perfect Father who will protect us and provide for us and guide us - not just to what’s even good enough - but what’s best. We can truly believe Romans 8:28 - “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
He’s committed to our growth and our good. And, if you think about it, our growth is our good. Right? They go together. And you know what? The Lord is far more committed to our growth and good than we are. And if we’re honest, we don’t really have a clue what we’re doing. But what’s hard is that the Lord may have to take us into his office, maybe out to the woodshed. He’ll take us into the school of suffering, to get us where we need to be. And that tempts us to question whether or not He’s really good. But He is for Jonah. He is for us. And He’ll stick by us. Just like here with Jonah.
Now here’s a caveat before I move on: you can’t presume that God will always give you a second chance. Unbeliever, don’t just think you can put off coming to Christ. Don’t think you’ll get this opportunity again. Repent, believe now. People who won’t hear God’s word, who don’t do what He says will be judged.
Believer, Jonah screwed up but still got to go to Nineveh. Moses messed up and got shut out of the Promised Land. If God tells you to do something, do it. That ministry or opportunity may not come back around. He’s committed to you. Be assured of that, Christian. But don’t think you’re allowed to sit around until you feel like doing what God asks. You may just miss out. But that doesn’t mean that the Lord is finished with you.
We love what’s called The Jesus Storybook Bible here in Karis. It’s a great book for teaching kids and adults alike. Sally Lloyd-Jones describes God’s commitment to His people in this way. He loves us with a “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” You see, the Lord is committed to His people. He is a gracious God. We may run. But He pursues. It’s true: the Lord helps those who hurt themselves. He’s committed to His people. He’s a God of grace.
Don’t miss this: Jonah isn’t just about God’s love for the nations, although it is. It’s not just about His love for Jonah, although that’s certainly the case. First and foremost, it’s a book about God, about His character. Look at God’s heart here, giving Jonah a second chance. Jonah runs. God pursues. Why does the Lord come to Him a second time? God’s still at work. And He still is in us.
Our Heart and God’s
I have a beard. I love bacon. I like football and hiking and other manly things. But I also have a soft place in my heart for Les Mis. You know that story? That musical? Jean Valjean is the main character. He steals a loaf of bread for a hungry relative and ends up as a prisoner. He finally gets out and proceeds to immediately steal again. A bishop takes him into his home, offering him food and shelter, and he steals away in the night with a bag full of silver. Well, he gets caught and is brought by the authorities before that priest. But that kind man shocks the police by telling Jean in front of them, “You got away without taking the best. Here you go. Take this stuff with you, too.”
That experience transforms the man. He rescues a young woman from prostitution. He saves a man being crushed by a cart and helps him get a job. He takes in the woman’s daughter after her death and treats her like his daughter. He has the opportunity to get vengeance upon his enemy, Javert, and he lets him go free. The grace of God changes Jean Valjean. Radically.
And that’s what the Lord wants His pursuing grace to do to us. He wants the gospel to so change us that we interact radically different from those around us with those around us. So here’s a question I want you to ponder as we part this morning: does your heart really look like God’s? When people run, do you pursue? Do you condemn or forgive? Are you patient? Are you kind? Do you give people around you second and third chances? This is one of the main things the Lord is trying to get through to Jonah. Right? He doesn’t want Nineveh to get a second opportunity. But that’s what he so desperately needs. God wants him to see his need for repentance. He wants him - and us - to be humble, broken, aware of our constant need of grace.
We’re a pretty young, energetic church. We have some pretty strong men and women. One thing we’ve been guilty of is setting the bar really high. We’ve had high expectations. And as people miss it, we can get really frustrated. We can too easily write people off - people like Jonah, people really like us. No second chances! And in so doing, we fail to display the heart of our gracious God.
Who are those you want to get the hammer? Who are those you’re the hardest on? To whom does the Lord want you to display His heart of grace? Ask the Lord to give you compassion for them. Ask the Lord to show you the compassion you’ve received from Him. Let’s beg Him to give us a heart like His.
Jonah’s Response and Ours
Here’s a second question for us to pray about this week: how might God be calling you to respond? How might He be bringing you from discipline to obedience? In what way is He calling you to repent? Are there sins in your life that you just don’t want to let go of? Things you’re trying to avoid sharing with your brothers and sisters? Things that are setting you back and keeping you from God’s best? Talk to the Lord. Talk to your family today.
But Jonah is talking primarily about mission. God tells Jonah - and us - to hear His word and go. Who are the people around you that you’re refusing to reach out to? That you’re refusing to share with? Repent. Believe. Obey. Go.
Who are the people around us that we’re refusing to reach out to? One thing I keep going back to is the neighborhood around this building. Not only do we worship right here, but so many of us live right here. Will we die to self and sacrifice our lives and share the gospel here? Or will we be yet another predominantly wealthy, white congregation who lives in a neighborhood quite different from them and does almost nothing to reach them?
Here’s another angle as I think about our church ten years in. In the early years, we were always out in the streets downtown. We served the homeless. We hung out with orphans. We cleaned up graffiti. We helped out the elderly. But gradually, as we’ve grown up and had families, and as we’ve acquired and maintained buildings, we’ve become more concerned about the people in these seats. I want to get back to our roots, Karis. Let us hear the word of the Lord. Let us go into our city as He asks. It’s not just Nineveh, not just Columbia, that needs the gospel. It’s Jonah. It’s Karis. It’s you and me. Let’s ponder God’s heart for us. Let’s respond in humble repentance. Because, as Jared Wilson writes, “Grace hoarded and not shared isn't really grace at all, but just sentimental notions of entitlement.”
Sheep Like Pete
If you read the gospels, and you look at their beginnings, it’s striking how the disciples hear Christ’s call, drop what they’re doing, and go after Him. Isn’t that crazy? That’s what the guy named Peter does, right? But what else do we know about Peter? After Christ is crucified, He denies His Lord. Right? In the biggest moment of his life and ministry, at truly the center of redemptive history, he completely blows it. He denies he knows Jesus three times.
But the Lord Jesus pursues him. He is so gracious with Peter. Have you read their conversation after Christ’s resurrection?
John 21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
John 21:16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
John 21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
John 21:18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”
John 21:19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Karis, we are Jonah. We are Peter. We’ve run from God. But He’s pursued us. God’s been at work in us. Let us repent. Let us go to our Ninevites. Let us feed God’s sheep. Let us see in their eyes a reflection of our needy, desperate selves. Let us follow Him wherever He asks - no matter the cost. God is as committed to our growth and our good as He is His mission. Let’s desire the same for those around us.