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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Lord Uses a Reluctant Jonah to Bring the Ninevites to Repentance
Text:Jonah 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Repentance
 
Preached:2010-10-24
Added:2011-02-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 24: 1

Sing: Psalm 24: 2, 3, 5

Sing: Psalm 7: 1, 2, 4

Sing: Psalm 43: 3, 4

Sing: Psalm  67: 1, 2

 

Read: Jonah 3

Text: Jonah 3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
 
I do not have to tell you that we live in a wicked world. You can see that all around you. This world does not just constantly fall into sin, but it lives and wallows in sin. It actively promotes and condones sin.
 
This can be seen from the way all kinds of immorality such as homosexuality and promiscuity is promoted by the government, by educators in secular institutions of learning, and by the media in the papers, radio and TV. They promote the murder of unborn babies through abortion and the murder of old and sick people who are put to death through euthanasia. Those who protest against such horrible practices are ostracized, ridiculed, and sometimes even prosecuted for their actions.
 
Society instead protects those with leftist causes, even if they try to accomplish their agenda through violent means and the breaking of the law. The sins of the nations constantly rise up to our holy and almighty God. God is terribly displeased with the sins of the nations. As it says in Psalm 7:11, “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day. 
 
That was also the case at the time of Jonah. The Lord was extremely angry with the sins of the people. The horrible things happening in that society were abhorrent to him. That is why the Lord commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh and to preach against it. He was to preach against the people of Nineveh so that they would repent from their sins.
 
But that message was not only for the Ninevites, but also and especially for the people of Israel. For God is most angry with his own people. They live in luxury. Their borders are secure; they have never been as prosperous as they are now. Yet, while they pretend to serve him by outwardly doing all the right things, in reality they are farther from the true worship of the Lord their God than they have ever been in their history. 
 
But, how do you bring people and whole nations to repentance? How do you bring them on their knees before their Creator? That is what the text of this morning deals with. It deals with repentance, not only of the nations, but especially of God’s covenant people. In order to bring about that repentance, he uses a weak prophet such as Jonah, who himself has to learn what true repentance is all about. Let us listen to the preaching of God’s Word as summarized under the following theme:
The Lord Uses a Reluctant Jonah to Bring the Ninevites to Repentance
1. Jonah’s second chance
2. Jonah’s message
3. Nineveh’s repentance
 
1. We have been looking at the prophet Jonah for some time now. Jonah was told to go to Nineveh and to call the people of the wicked city to repentance. But Jonah flatly refused. Instead of going to Nineveh he went in completely the opposite direction. He was deliberately disobedient.
 
But the Lord would not allow his plan to be thwarted by the likes of Jonah. And so what does he do? He sends a strong wind, and has Jonah thrown overboard. The Lord appoints a big fish to swallow him up. And inside the fish Jonah is miraculously kept alive, and is vomited forth on dry land within the vicinity of the great city of Nineveh. 
 
And now in chapter 3 we read that “the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.” Brothers and sisters, think about it, isn’t that amazing? The Lord comes to Jonah a second time. How is it possible? If it had been up to you and to me, we would have said, “Forget Jonah. Jonah is a lost cause. He does not want to do what he is told to do. The man doesn’t even know how to pray properly, because he himself didn’t completely repent. Even inside the fish he does not confess his guilt to the Lord God for his disobedience. Let’s get somebody else.”
 
But that is not what the Lord God does. No, God spends a lot of time and investment in Jonah. He does not let go of him.
 
That, brothers and sisters, is a great comfort to you and to me. For that is how he treats all of us. He does not just turn his back on us, even when we deliberately sin against him.
 
Do you know what that tells us about our heavenly Father? It tells us that he is patient with us, and that he is slow to anger. It tells us that God so deeply cares for his children that he gives us not just one chance to repent, but that he gives us second chances. God remains faithful even though man is not.
 
Now, that ought not to surprise us. For that is what we see throughout the history of redemption. Think about Abraham. Although Abraham was obedient to God when God tells him to pack his bags and to go elsewhere, he nevertheless was disobedient when he passed off his own wife as his sister. He was also disobedient after he had been given the promise of a son, for he wanted to help the Lord along a little by producing a son through Hagar, through whom he expected the promise to be filled. Nevertheless the Lord did not reject him. He gave Abraham a second chance.
 
And what about Abraham’s grandson, Jacob? Jacob was a very ambitious man. He did everything in order to receive the rights of a first-born son. He even went so far as to deceive his father by pretending that he was Esau. But the Lord does not reject him either. He also gets a second chance. And out of Jacob the whole nation of Israel is born.
 
And what about the apostle Peter in the New Testament? Peter denies Christ three times but the Lord Jesus Christ restores him. And on him and the rest of the apostles the Lord builds his church.
 
The same thing can be said about the apostle Paul. Paul persecutes the early church. But the Lord comes to him on the road to Damascus. He also uses this sinful man in the work of his kingdom. The Lord our God is a faithful God. He uses sinful man in his service. 
 
God uses these ordinary, sinful men. For don’t think that Abraham and Jacob and the apostle Peter are any different from you and from me. Don’t think that they are any more special than you and me. They were sinful men like the rest of us. They too had nothing whatsoever to offer God. Nevertheless it was God’s will to use them in his kingdom. 
 
God also wants to use you and me. That is why he comes to each and every one of us and gives us a second chance.
 
Can you remember any time in your life when you really messed up? It could be that at the time you were not even aware that you were doing something wrong. But then something happened which made you realize the seriousness of your actions.
 
In a case like that, one of two things can happen. You can either do damage control and try to cover your tracks as best as possible and minimize your sin thereby confirming yourself in your sin, or you can throw yourself at the mercy of God. You then openly admit your mistake and ask for forgiveness.
 
You see, those were the kinds of men Abraham and Jacob and David and Peter and Paul were. God came to them a second time and they listened. They repented from their sins.
 
There may be some among us this morning who have steadfastly refused to listen to what the Lord has to say to them. They have may have been under the preaching all their lives, and yet harden their hearts against the message of the Gospel.
 
Well, also to you the Lord comes a second time. The Lord will come to you again and again. He is not going to leave you alone, for he also wants to make an obedient servant out of you. And so brothers and sisters, do not resist the Holy Spirit! The Lord gives you a second chance. But don’t squander your chances. There may come a time when he no longer comes to you. Listen to what God has to tell you. You know what his word says. You know what he wants from you, don’t you?
 
That is also what Jonah has to do. In verse 2 we read that the Lord says to Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” This is similar to the charge the Lord gave him the first time. Except now the wickedness of the Ninevites is no longer mentioned. But something else is added. He must proclaim to Nineveh the message that God will give to him. In other words, Jonah is to be a mouthpiece of the Lord. He may only speak what the Lord tells him to say. He cannot come with his own opinion or thoughts on things. He does not speak for himself, but for the Lord.
 
That is the way it is for every prophet of the Lord. Also from this pulpit you may only hear what God says to his people. For a true prophet is nothing more than a messenger. He brings the message of the Lord to the people who want to listen. He is the representative of the Lord. And when he speaks, he does not take it personally when that word of God is rejected, for he knows that if they reject his message, they in fact reject God’s message, indeed God himself. Nor does he take it personally when the people do listen. He does not then take the credit for himself. But he gives the honour and glory to God alone. For his message, and also his calling, is from above. 
 
And that is why a prophet has to be a true believer. He must believe in the message he has to deliver. If you have a minister who is not a true believer, then the message he brings will not come with conviction. And then the preacher condemns himself with the very message he brings.
 
Now, that is something we can say in favour of Jonah. He believes the message he is going to deliver. That was never the problem. Jonah believed God right away as to the message he was to deliver. He knew that God could do what he said he could do. He could indeed destroy the city and all the people in it. And the Lord can also bring about repentance.
 
But, that is where the shoe pinched in the first place. Jonah did not want the Ninevites to believe. He did not want God to spare the city. O yes, Jonah believed all right. And he believed all the more after he had seen the miracles God performed concerning his own rescue from the belly of the fish. He knew about the power of God. But he thought that God’s power should apply only to the Israelites.
 
However a true messenger of the Lord preaches the Word indiscriminately. He preaches the word to whoever will listen. God’s word is for all kinds of people, no matter what the colour of their skin is, or what nation or people they come from.
 
That is something Jonah had to learn. He says to him, “You may not care about the people of Nineveh. But I do. I care about every single soul there on earth.”

 
2. We come to the second point, namely the message. Finally Jonah does what he should have done in the first place. He goes throughout the whole city. He goes from one end to the other. And he speaks with great conviction. No one doubts that he believes the words he is speaking.
 
And what is that message? Well, he delivers a very short sermon. He says, ’Forty more days, and Nineveh will be overturned.” It is simple. It is direct. Everyone can understand it. That is the way every sermon ought to be. A sermon is never a learned discourse. For the Lord Himself comes to us with language we can understand. And no preacher ought to try to be wiser than the Lord, and bring a message which only a few can follow. No, the preaching is for everybody.  It has to be direct; it has to be succinct; it has to be understandable.
 
But there is a problem with the message Jonah brings. Can you tell what that is? Let me tell you. The problem is that there is no comfort, no hope in this message in the way that Jonah delivers it. You get the feeling that Jonah is really enjoying himself here. He enjoys coming with this message of doom. If you look ahead a little, and read from chapter 4, you will note that Jonah is not pleased at all. As a matter of fact, he is outright angry when he sees that God does not destroy the city. For that is exactly what Jonah wants. He wants the Ninevites wiped off the face of the earth.
 
And that is why he enjoys coming with a message of doom. His preaching is the preaching of judgement and condemnation. He preaches hell and damnation.
 
In Romans 10:15 it says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Well, that cannot be said of Jonah. He does not come with the Gospel of grace and peace. Jonah does not hold out any hope. He treats the people with utter contempt. He delivers the message of God all right. But he does so without understanding the true mercy of God. He does so without giving any inkling of the love of God.
 
Do you know why that is? It is because Jonah does not grasp his own sinfulness. Remember that that was also the problem with his prayer. He did not come with a confession of sin. Jonah concentrated only on the promise of the covenant, and not on the demand. He thought that he had it made. He belonged to God’s people. He is even a prophet among them. But the one thing he never fully grasped is that he obtained his position through grace alone, that he himself had nothing to do with his privileged position. Jonah lacked humility. He believed that he deserved what he got, and the Ninevites deserved nothing.
 
3. Yet, amazingly enough, the Lord uses that prophet and that message to bring about repentance. We come to the third point. In spite of Jonah’s message of doom and gloom, the Ninevites nevertheless repent and the Lord stays his judgement.
 
Why is that so amazing? Well, any preacher who only comes with a message of doom and gloom will only bring the people to a depressed state of mind. They will see their cause as hopeless. And they certainly will not be motivated to live a life of thankfulness. For as far as they are concerned, there is nothing to be thankful for. We are doomed anyway.
 
Calvin puts it this way. He says, “There can be no faith without an acquaintance with the paternal kindness of God; whosoever regards God as angry with him, must necessarily despair.”
 
When the people heard the message of Jonah, they certainly must have despaired. Indeed the text tells us that they did, for they all put on sackcloth and ashes.
 
And yet Jonah was very effective. How come? We would not expect that. Well, the Lord prepared Jonah for this task. He performed a miracle. Jonah had experienced in the flesh that God could do anything he wanted.
 
Jonah was also convinced that God was totally justified in his sentence. Jonah believed the Scriptures that all sin is sin against God, and that God is right in punishing sin. Jonah is a believer. He does not doubt his own cause, and the message he is to bring. Jonah therefore spoke with authority. Don’t think that the people did not notice that. They certainly did.
 
Another reason why Jonah’s message bore fruit was because of the way the Lord made mankind. Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans, in chapter one, that there is implanted in every heart the knowledge of God. Every man knows intuitively that there is a God who deals with us according to our sins.
 
And therefore they repented, not so much because they saw a God who loved them, but because they wanted to save their own skins. And not only that, within that message of doom there was also a glimmer of hope, even though Jonah did not allow that to shine through. For the people knew that if they did repent, the execution of judgement would not take place. And therefore the message which Jonah delivers in accordance with God’s demand also contains a glimmer of hope. The Gospel shines through. For why else would God speak these words, except to give them another chance? Why else would he give it, except that he does not really want to destroy them? Why else does he give it, except that he so exceedingly loves his creation?
 
That is why he also gave his own beloved Son. That is the sign which he gives to each generation. The Lord Jesus Himself stated in Luke 11:32, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” Indeed Christ is much greater than Jonah, for Christ came with the full Gospel. Indeed Christ is the whole content of the Gospel. But nevertheless he places Jonah’s preaching besides his own. For he knows that even an incomplete message can and does bring about repentance.
 
And so the Ninevites repent from their evil. It says in the text that they believed God. That is a marvelous statement. It is most unexpected that they do believe. No doubt the Lord had prepared them already for a long time for the favourable reception of his message. The people were ripe for repentance. They were sick and tired of their own sinful life style. They were sick and tired of the emptiness in their lives. It happens that people do come to such a point in their life and then the true believers had better be there to come to them with the message of God in order to fill that void.
 
The people of Nineveh believed God. To believe God, brothers and sisters, is only possible if you are fully convinced of your own sins. But not only must you confess that with your lips, it must also be evident from the way you conduct yourself. It is not enough either just to speak about the wrath and anger of God; you must realize that God is angry with you personally because of your sins.
 
The people of Nineveh not only confessed their sinfulness, they also showed it. They put on sackcloth and ashes. In other words, they got out their hairy black mantels, got some soot, and liberally applied it to their whole bodies. That was the Old Testament way of showing that you are in mourning. And why were they mourning? They were mourning because of their sins. That is what it means when the text says that they believed God.
 
Let me ask you, do you believe God? O, I know, you confess it with your lips. You have done that many times, over and over again. But what I mean is: does that also show in your life? Are you truly repentant?
 
It is noteworthy that the move to repentance comes from the people to the top. The word to repent came from the people to the leaders of the land. The leaders respond to the people of the city. And then an amazing decree is published by the leaders of Nineveh. And this is the decree: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:7–9)
 
Note well that they were not even allowed to drink water! That must have been quite something, especially for the alcoholics among them. Whereas before they couldn’t do without their bottle, now they were not even allowed to drink water. I’m not sure that everyone heeded these words. The text does not tell us. But I’m sure that there were enough of the people who turned away from their sinful life styles and embraced God.
 
For that is what repentance is all about. It is a changing of mind, a changing of one’s heart, and a changing of one’s emotions. No longer did they set their minds on sin, but on God. They made a complete turnabout.
 
What is repentance? Let me give you an illustration from the world of business. For that’s what a company does that wants to avoid bankruptcy. When a company realizes that it is not heading in the right direction then it has to make a commitment to restructure. Restructuring involves reviewing your strategy. It involves a redeployment of resources. It often produces a smaller work force, new priorities for spending, and a sharing of power in the company organizational chart. It requires a clarification of goals and a relentless devotion to attaining the right goals. It expresses a willingness to change any needed activities to reach those goals.
 
Restructuring a company resembles personal repentance. Repentance demands restructuring your life around what the Lord Jesus Christ wants from you. This, however, is not the popular understanding of repentance. For some people, repentance means to feel sad about sin. They think that it means to weep, to express sorrow, and to feel glum about the past.
 
But that is only the beginning. For the real test does not come from measuring our tears but from changing our lives. People who repent do not merely cry over their sins. They change their lives by God’s grace. They do not continue to go over the same failures time and time again. They put these failures behind them and get on with the task of living in obedience to God.
 
True repentance involves three things. It first involves a commitment to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. The biblical word for “repent” demands a change of mind about God, about yourself, and about sin. When you truly repent then you see God for who he is, full of compassion and mercy, but also full of anger if you deliberately go on sinning against him. And you see yourself for the miserable sinner that you are. All pretense is gone, and you are humble. You see sin as a barrier between God and you. You want your sin to be removed totally. People who truly repent will tap into God’s power to do what their own willpower could never accomplish.
 
Second, repentance involves our relationship to other people and to society as a whole. If we repent, we will not merely withdraw into self-centered personal agendas, but we will work for bringing divine mercy and justice into society as a whole. And finally we will also be concerned to see that no believer misses the grace of God.
 
But what about divine repentance? In the NIV it says in verse 10 that God had compassion and did not bring destruction. Other translations state that God repented of the evil which he has said he would do to them. How can we speak about God repenting? Does that mean that he made a mistake about proclaiming his judgement over Nineveh? Of course not. God does not make mistakes. He does not change his mind either. As it says in 1 Samuel 15:29, God is not a man that he should repent or change his mind.
 
But what is the case here? He said, if you reject my message you will be destroyed, but if you listen to me that will not happen. That is his unchanging word. That message is just as true then as it is now.
 
And what do the people do? They repent, and therefore God does not execute his judgement. It looks as if he has changed his mind, but in reality it is man that did. The Lord our God is always true to his Word. 
 
The question is how genuine was the repentance of Nineveh? Some people say that their repentance was not complete, that it was superficial and temporary. And they point out that in the end Nineveh was destroyed anyway. And that is true; Nineveh in the end was destroyed. But that happened 150 years later. Nineveh was allowed to exist for another century and a half.
 
That is quite different from the nation of Israel, the ten northern tribes. Israel was sent into exile 50 years after this prophesy. Israel did not repent. It appears that the Lord was more pleased with Nineveh than with his own nation. And he gives this prophesy as a last call to bring Israel to repentance. He uses Nineveh and the Assyrians as an example.
 
Was the repentance of the Ninevites real? Well, remember what the Lord said in Luke 11:32, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah...” Only the believers will sit in judgement over the wicked. The people of Nineveh who repented belong to them.
 
Therefore let me ask you, do you belong to them? In other words, are you listening to God’s call for repentance? If God’s love does not motivate you, then perhaps his wrath will. Remember, there is no second chance in hell. And he is coming again a second time, on the day of judgement. One greater than Jonah is here. And so what do we do with the Word that is preached to us? Let not the people of Nineveh put us to shame, and condemn us at the day of judgement. Are you listening to the continued call to repentance?
 
This call to repentance is an act of love, brothers and sisters. See it that way. God does not want his covenant children to go astray, and to fall away. He wants you to be with him in heaven. It is for that reason that he warned Israel, and that he warns us. Listen to him and live. Live into eternity.  Amen.
 
I gratefully acknowledge R.T. Kendall’s excellent insights in his book Jonah in the preparation of this and the other sermons in my series of sermons on the prophesy of Jonah.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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