Jonah's Voice and God's Compassion (Jonah 3:1-10)
Topic: Jonah Passage: Jonah 3:1–3:10
Jonah: Fleeing or Following the Heart of God
Jonah's Voice and God's Compassion
(One Mission: I am Not Ashamed)
January 24th, 2015
I. “Opponents” & “Repentance”
This morning let me begin with three verses from II Timothy 2. Listen to how Paul instructs Timothy:
And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
“Opponents” and “repentance”; two key words from those verses that I believe connect us back to the book of Jonah. If you have not done so already, turn over to Jonah 3.
As we return once again to the book of Jonah, let me set the stage for what is about to happen in this chapter. Nineveh, one of the great cities of the Assyrians, has fallen under the judgment of God because of their wickedness. We don't know the specific charges, but we know from other parts of the Bible and from other historical sources that the Assyrians were a brutal people. They were a threat to all their enemies, including Israel.
Speaking of Israel, this book describes how God appointed a prophet named Jonah to go to the Assyrians and deliver his message. Look at what God told Jonah in 1:2...
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”
Well, we know how Jonah responded to God's commission: he ran. But after a very weird, wild, and wet situation, God brought Jonah back to the starting point. And that's exactly where we pick things up in chapter 3.
II. The Passage: "And He Called Out" (3:1-10)
Look with me at Jonah chapter 3, starting in verse 1. We read...
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,  “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”  So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth.  Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,  but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”  When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
Okay. There is so much we could talk about in this chapter. But I really want us to think about this chapter in light of the very specific ways God has been challenging us through this amazing little book. As was his desire with the first readers of Jonah, God wants us to walk away from this book with a very clear sense of just how big his heart really is. God's heart is wide-open! Two verses come to my mind when I think about our God and the predicament of the wicked Ninevites/Assyrians.
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23)
[Praying for all people] is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (I Timothy 2:3-4)
But Jonah definitely did not feel the same way. He was not interested in doing anything that might possibly help a nation he despised. And so he ran. But as we learned, like Jonah, all of us struggle with the wide-open heart of God. It sounds amazing on paper, and we love to be in the loving cross-hairs of His heart. But when God calls us to be ambassadors of His wide-open heart for all people, we struggle.
Truth be told, there are people we love to hate, whether it be a difficult boss nearby or an evil terrorist far away. Truth be told, there are people all of us want to keep at arm's length; people we would rather avoid than engage; people we would rather replace than embrace; people we would rather judge than forgive.
But as we talked about last week, the episode with Jonah and the fish reminds us that God has a way of helping us with these very struggles. Jonah didn't get thrown in the ocean and nearly drown because God was punishing him. It happened because God had a hard but wonderful lesson for him to learn, and the classroom was a fish's gut.
Do you remember what I said last week? “When I run from the heart of God for all people, it means that in some way, I have forgotten the heart of God for one person: for me.” When Jonah failed to take God's compassion to others, God had to remind him of what that compassion tasted like. Instead of running from it, he received it, at the bottom of the sea. But this is exactly what we need to remember as we look at the lessons God has for us in this chapter. Remembering God's deliverance in chapter 2 gives us lenses to see what He has for us in chapter 3.
Three things I want us to see in these verses. Three things I need to see here. First of all...
1. Coming back to God's compassion should always bring me back to God's commission.
Isn't it interesting how chapter 3, verses 1 and 2 take us right back to chapter 1, verses 1 and 2. Of course, we see the word “second” there in verse 1. But it's almost as if God is lovingly saying, “Okay, Jonah. Let's go back to the starting line and try this all over again.” God knows what is best for us. When we struggle with having His heart for all people, his heart helps us find our way back.
But as we see here, having just experienced the salvation of God, he is ready for the mission of God. Isn't the same true for us? When you go back and meditate on, and delight in, and savor the salvation of God; when you look with fresh eyes at just how good God has been to you in Jesus Christ, your response, my response should be the response of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6: “Here I am! Send me!”
Cherishing the cross should fan the flame inside you; that fire of grateful submission. We should pray, “You died for me, Lord. Let me live for you. You did the work I desperately needed. Let me do the work you eagerly desire! You have loosed me. Use me!” Coming back to God's compassion for us should always bring us back to God's commission of us. As you think about God's work of deliverance, does it stir you up to do His work? It should!
And what does that work look like? That's our second point. We also see here that...
2. Being rescued by His word should always lead me to bearing His word of rescue.
How is God's heart on display in Jonah here? I'm sure there were many poor and needy people in Nineveh. But Jonah doesn't go with food or clothing, does he. I'm sure there were many lonely people in Nineveh. But Jonah doesn't go to provide companionship, does he. I'm sure there were many people in Nineveh that were in need of a pep talk. But that's not what Jonah does, is it.
Those kinds of ministries would be wonderful, and God's heart would be evident in all of them! But that's not why Jonah is there. I believe what God tells us here is what God tells throughout the Bible. The heart of God for all people is first and foremost expressed in the word of life being sent to all people. What does every person need most? The word of God. The gospel, the Good News of Jesus.
Jonah's message was what? It was, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” But did you see what verse 2 told us about that message? It was the message God gave to Jonah. Jonah was not allowed to improvise. Jonah was not allowed to declare his own opinions. He didn't have to guess what God wanted to say. God told him what to say.
Isn't the same true for us? We know that God wants us to share with others and we know what God wants us to share with others, above all else: the gospel. Jonah is an wonderful reminder of that. When God's word to that fish resulted in Jonah's rescue, Jonah was ready to bring God's word of rescue to Nineveh. When we speak little of the gospel, I think it's safe to say live little, and we delight little in that message of grace.
But when we are faithful to both delight in and declare the gospel, we are also reminded here that...
3. God's powerful work in me should remind me to trust that He can powerfully work in others.
Did you notice that most of this chapter does not focus on Jonah? Six out of the ten verses deal specifically with the response of the Ninevites. And the astounding nature of their response is evident in at least three ways.
First of all, verse 4 tells us that Jonah only ministered for about a day before there was an unequivocal response of repentance. Verse 3 seems to be saying that it would take someone about three days to speak to every inhabited area across the whole district of Nineveh. This would include not only the city, but also those outlying villages we might call the 'suburbs'. This is probably what is meant by the phrase in verse 3 that describes Nineveh as “an exceedingly great city” (the last verse of the book, 4:11, tells us this was 120,000 people). But remember the point: Jonah only preached for about a day before his message spread like wildfire among the Assyrian people.
Second, the extent of the response was vast. As verse 5 puts it, repentance was explicitly evident in all the people, “from the greatest of them to the least of them”; from the king on his throne to the cow in her field. Even though the content of Jonah's message was simple, the Ninevites seemed to understand that the mention of “forty days” indicated God was giving them an opportunity to change; that His wide-open heart was providing a wide-open door for repentance.
Finally, the third way we clearly see the astounding nature of the Ninevites' repentance is revealed in what their repentance looked like. Listen again to the decree of the king and his nobles as expressed in verses 8 and 9:
...let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
No, the cow in her field did not feel convicted of her sins. But nevertheless, the Assyrians went as far as covering their animals in sackcloth to demonstrate the sincerity of their repentance. Sackcloth was a coarse, uncomfortable material that a repentant person might wear in order to demonstrate before God that they were no longer comfortable with their sin. As we see in verse 6, a generous covering of ashes was another element of this 'outfit of humility'.
Now we may ask, “How could the simple announcement of a foreign prophet like Jonah make such a clear and comprehensive impact on these wicked people?” Well, historical information from outside the Bible actually provides us with a reasonable answer. During the reign of Ashur-dan III, from 772BC to 755BC, a severe plague, a solar eclipse, and possibly an earthquake had literally and figuratively rocked the Assyrian people. And this is precisely the time period Jonah was active according to II Kings 14.
Could it be that God prepared the hearts of the Assyrians through these terrible calamities? We don't ultimately know. I believe all we can say, in the words of II Timothy 2:25, is that God mercifully granted the Assyrians repentance. And as verse 10 declares, God responded to their repentance. There would be no disastrous judgment. The possibility of mercy became a reality. It appears it didn't take “forty days”, or even “four days”. By grace, the Ninevites repented, and God relented.
Again, how should this encourage us? In the same way I believe God wanted it to encourage Jonah: God's powerful work in me should remind me to trust that He can powerfully work in others. The God who turned me around through both storm and stomach, can turn even the 'worst' sinner from his or her path. Do you believe that about the people to whom God has sent you?
III. Reset For His Rescue
Just about a year ago, I spoke to this church family about our need for a 'hard reset', that is, our need to go back to God's 'default settings' for this church and every church. What would that look like? It meant dealing with our 'mission creep'. It meant getting back to the singular focus of Jesus: to fulfill the Great Commands of God as we carry out the mission of God. This begins with loving Him with every ounce of your being and in every part of your life. And that love is then expressed in loving your neighbor as yourself.
And as Jonah reminds us, that love is first and foremost demonstrated by sharing the gospel, the word of life, with those who desperately need it. This is the mission of God. Jesus came to “seek and save the lost”.
Well, that was February of last year. Way of Grace, I believe through the book of Jonah, God wants us to ask, “How have we done in terms of His mission?” Are we praying for those in our circles? Are you looking for ways to demonstrate the heart of God for all people to all the people in your life? Are we sharing the word of life with those in our circles?
Who is your circle? Your “circle” is that specific group of people that God has placed in your everyday life, before whom you live out your faith on a regular basis. Central to our One Mission as followers of Jesus is the idea of living the kind of life, empowered by God's Spirit, that inspires questions, generates conversations, and open doors for the gospel of Jesus. Your Circle is made up of those who are most likely to be influenced by that kind of lifestyle.
But remember what God has shown us this morning. All of this starts with delighting in the compassion of God that's been poured into our lives. Savor your rescue! Remember how He has powerfully worked! We can only give what we've received. When can only pour the gospel into the lives of others when we are filled up with God's truth. It's from that launch pad that God wants to send us into our circles, even to OUR Ninevites.
Jonah 3 has shown us what love looks like. Through it, God has shown us how His heart should be on display in us. In sin, the feet of Jonah ran. But in grace, the breath of Jonah was preserved. Why? So that the voice of Jonah might be heard. May the same be true of us this week.
More in Jonah: Fleeing or Following the Heart of God
January 31, 2016Jonah's Heart and God's Compassion (Jonah 4)
January 17, 2016Jonah's Breath and God's Compassion (Jonah 1:17-2:10)
January 10, 2016Jonah's Feet and God's Compassion (Jonah 1:1-16)