Jonah 3

I would love to go back in my life and have a second chance to do things right. When I was ten years old, there was a boy named Teddy in my school. Teddy had epilepsy and once I saw him in the hallway having a grand mal seizure. The teachers were putting a rubber eraser between his teeth, his lips were purple and his body was in convulsions.

We didn’t know anything about epilepsy and Teddy was an outcast. The scene that is imprinted in me is a group of us standing in a semicircle around Teddy before school started. His back was against the brick wall of the school while we taunted him. “Teddy has cooties. Teddy has cooties.” (This term is a fictional childhood disease and in North America and Australia is used to ridicule someone.)

I would love to go back and stand next to Teddy and tell him not to let the others bother him. I would love to go back and be a friend to him. I tried a few years ago to try to find him. I wanted to visit him and apologize for the pain we caused him. I wish I had a second chance to do it right.

When I was in high school my mother was working as a teacher in the public school and taking care of a household with five children (my oldest sister was in university). She came home after a long day of work and had to cook supper. She cleaned the house and did the laundry. We all had chores and helped, but she bore the brunt of it all. I remember watching her taking short naps on the couch, exhausted.

She was a difficult mother to live with and I have talked about that before. But I wish I could have a second chance and do more to help her. Annie discovered a way of cooking a month’s meals in one day. You take all the recipes and collate them. Then on Friday night you do all the sous-chef work. Chopping onions and peppers and anything else, browning the hamburger and other meats. Then on Saturday you assemble recipes and reuse the same pots and pans as you go. The meals are then put in the freezer and a month’s meals are ready to be pulled out of the freezer and heated.  I wish I could go back and do that to help her.

But most often life does not give us second chances.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah, God’s prophet, and he rebelled. He ran as fast as he could to go in the opposite direction of where God wanted him to go. God pursued him on the sea and under the sea. The text last week ended with Jonah being vomited out of the belly of the great fish and this morning we begin with Jonah receiving a second chance. This is a precious gift.

In times of stress, lots of promises are made. “God, if you get me out of this, I will …” and then the specific promise. Jonah was in a stressful situation. He was thrown overboard into a raging sea. He sank down beneath the waters of the sea and at the last instant before he drowned, he was rescued by being swallowed by a great fish. In this tomb in the water, he could breathe and reflect. He prayed and promised God that if he got back on land, he would do what God asked him to do.

He was vomited out onto the shore of Palestine and once again was able to walk as a free man. He had been rescued and delivered.

There is no indication of how long he was on shore before God spoke to him once again, but then his second chance arrived.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

It is interesting to compare what God told Jonah the first time and second time. In Jonah 1:1–2
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

Both times God told Jonah to “go to the great city of Nineveh,” but this time instead of telling Jonah to “preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me,” God tells Jonah, “proclaim to it the message I give you.”

This second time, God is putting Jonah on a short leash. God knows Jonah’s heart and this is the first indication in the story that Jonah’s repentance in the belly of the great fish was not from the heart. Jonah would do what God told him to do but he would not do it willingly. Jonah may no longer be the rebellious prophet, but he is still the reluctant prophet.

In this state of mind, God told Jonah to say just what he has been told to say. No ad-libbing. No editorial comments.

3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.

Jonah may have been rebellious and reluctant, but he was not stupid. He had had enough of the sea and the creatures of the sea.

The first time Jonah received the word of the Lord to go to Nineveh, he went as fast as he could to get away from what God wanted him to do, but I imagine now that Jonah was not in such a hurry to get to Nineveh. The nationalist prophet Jonah was heading to preach God’s message to Israel’s enemy. This did not incline him to eagerly race to do what he had been told.

If you tell your son or daughter to clean up the mess they have made, they may do so because they do not want to be disciplined, but they will not cheerfully and eagerly race to do it. This is how I picture Jonah, reluctantly heading toward Nineveh.

Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days.

There is some discussion about what this means. Was Nineveh so large that it would take three days to visit all the meeting places and preach the word God gave to Jonah? It could also be that Nineveh was a major diplomatic center of the ancient world and there was a protocol that had to be followed. The first day was a day to present credentials and perhaps to offer gifts. The second day Jonah could present his message and the third day would involve more meetings and discussion.

The point of the story is that in either case, Jonah stepped into the city and began to speak and revival broke out. The words were barely out of his mouth and people began to repent.

4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When my oldest sister came home for Christmas after her first semester at university, she told us about how she had discovered that God wanted us to have a personal relationship with him through his son Jesus. She came home with the hope that we would repent and turn our lives to Jesus. This is the hope and dream for most of us as followers of Jesus, that people will believe and turn to Jesus. But my sister’s hope was not realized – at least not that Christmas. We rejected her. We ridiculed her. As the only boy with five sisters, I knew how to tease and said things that hurt her.

We hope for revival but it is not often in history that followers of Jesus have the experience of Jonah. Christians have gone out into the world with the hope that the gospel of Jesus would be received with joy and repentance, but in many cases people have labored for years with little fruit. Adoniram Judson left the US and arrived in Burma in 1813. After twelve years of work, he had only eight converts. The good news is that Adoniram Judson persevered and by the time he died, 28 years later, there was a Burmese Bible, 100 churches and 8,000 converts.

My sister persevered and eventually three and perhaps four of us in the family surrendered our lives to Jesus. God will build his church but the point is that Jonah did not have to wait. Jonah spoke and revival broke out.

6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
“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. 8 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. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

This was not simply a turning to God among one group in the city; this revival went from bottom to top. The king, as well as the people, repented. Prophets preached to the kings of Judah and Israel and often were insulted and rejected. Here, the king of Nineveh, Israel’s enemy, did what many of Israel and Judah’s kings did not do, he repented.

This was a massively successful visit to Nineveh. God spoke to Jonah who spoke to the Ninevites and they repented. As a consequence,
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

It would seem that the story could now end with the conclusion, “And they all lived happily ever after,” but next week we will see yet another twist in the story.

For this morning, I will talk about second chances and then make a couple comments about revival.

God is the God of second chances. Jonah rebelled and God gave him a second chance. If God did not give us second chances, there would be no church. Because like Jonah, we are rebellious and reluctant. And yet God is patient with us, using us to accomplish his purposes for others and for ourselves. After Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus told him, (Matthew 16:18)
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Jesus will build his church and nothing will stop him from doing this, not even our disobedience, our apathy, our laziness, our fear, or anything else. Jesus will build his church and he will work in us so we can cooperate with him in his work.

The Bible is full of second chances. In John 8 a woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Jesus. (You cannot commit adultery by yourself, but in the age-old sexual hypocrisy, the man who was with her was not being accused.) The Law said she should be stoned to death, as well as the absent man, but Jesus gave her a second chance. He dismissed the men who came with stones to kill her and said to her (John 8:10–11)
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable insulted his father by asking for his inheritance. He wasted it and found himself in a desperate situation. He came back to his father to beg to be one of the hired hands and was given a second chance. His father restored him to his position of honor in the household and community.

Peter denied knowing Jesus three times but was given a second chance when Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me?” When Peter said, “Yes, I love you,” Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep.” Peter’s denials shamed him but Jesus gave him a second chance and restored his honor.

Paul used his great mind and great heart to pursue the truth of God, but he missed the mark and persecuted the followers of Jesus. But God gave him a second chance and called him to take the gospel of Jesus to the Gentile world.

God is a God of second chances. He gives us another chance not just once, but over and over again. No matter how many times we fail, God is always ready to give us another second chance. This is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus. God does not hold grudges. God does not hold our disobedience against us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:19 (The Message)
God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.

God does not hold our sin against us, he took the sin on himself so we could be set free and given another chance. This is the greatest of all second chances we receive.

Rejoice in this, but be very careful not to try to take advantage of God by doing whatever you want and then coming back to God to receive a second chance. God cannot and will not be manipulated. In our relationship with God we need to be open and honest. We are not nearly clever enough to outwit God. But when: (1 John 1:9)
we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We all benefit from second chances.

This third chapter of Jonah is a picture of revival and the first thing we learn is that revival is the work of God, not of men and women.

Jonah obeyed God this second time. He went to Nineveh. He preached the word that God gave him. But his heart was not in it.

The American writer, Mark Twain, wrote that he once heard his wife swear and commented, “She had the words, but not the tune.” This is how Jonah preached. He had the words, but not the tune. He did not try to be eloquent. He did not try to be persuasive. He gave the blunt message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned,” and looked forward to watching it happen. The revival that broke out deeply distressed him and we will examine his reaction next week when we move to chapter four.

In a book by Iain Murray, Revival and Revivalism, he discusses the First and Second Great Awakenings. The First Great Awakening was a revival that transformed Protestant Europe and the American colonies in 1730s and 1740s. The Second Great Awakening came fifty years later, from 1790-1830s.

It was during the Second Great Awakening that revivalism developed. Revivalist sent out pamphlets saying that if communities did the things listed in the pamphlet, they guaranteed revival. Techniques were developed to put maximum psychological pressure on people to make decisions to follow Jesus. One of the techniques used was to pull out a watch and tell the listeners they had fifteen minutes to convert or they would be lost in hell forever. The revivalist counted down the minutes. Ten minutes left. Five minutes left. Three minutes left. The pressure mounted and people came forward to escape the terrors of hell.

Some of the aftereffects of the Second Great Awakening remain as part of our church culture. Churches post signs advertising that revival is coming this Friday. These signs indicate that we are in control and can make God do what we want him to do. Altar calls are a common part of our church services, but they were developed by revivalists as a way of manipulating people into making a conversion. The question is: What is happening when someone responds to an altar call? Is this a genuine repentance and a turning to Jesus, or just the pressure of the moment causing people to make a decision that is not truly from the heart and therefore not spiritually significant.

These techniques were developed and are still used because we want so desperately to see our communities revived. We want to be part of a revival and see our communities transformed. We use these techniques because we want to make revival happen.

Why does God bring revival to one generation and not the next? Why does God bring revival to one part of the world and not another? Church historians talk about the years 1960s-1970s as the Fourth Great Awakening. Both Annie and I became followers of Jesus in 1971. It is estimated that 14,000,000 Americans became followers of Jesus in the late 60s and early 70s. I am grateful for the work of God in that generation but my questions about “why then and not now”, “why there but not here”, are questions I cannot answer. I do not know God’s mind and I do not know God’s plan.

What I know is that when God wants to bring revival, it will come, even through reluctant prophets. Stories from revivals make it clear that God is the one bringing revival. Charles Spurgeon, whose prayer for revival we read this morning, was testing the acoustics in a hall where he was going to be speaking. He called out, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and a worker on a scaffold was converted.

During the Businessman Revival in New York City in 1857, a tugboat captain brought a ship into the docks and before the ship reached the dock, all aboard had been converted.

It seems that during revival you could read the label on a package of spaghetti and people would be converted.

Only God can bring revival and he will do it in his time and where he chooses. Our challenge is to be ready. God can use reluctant prophets, but how much better is it when he uses those who are ready and prepared to serve God in his work.

The repentance of the people of Nineveh is the greatest miracle in the book of Jonah. God created a storm. He guided the casting of lots to point the guilt to Jonah. He caused a great fish to swallow Jonah and then had the fish deliver Jonah on the shores of Palestine. These are great miracles, but to change the hearts of people, that is truly the greatest miracle.

The years when I first became a follower of Jesus were exciting. Every week in our fellowship there were people present who had just that week given their life to Jesus. We were an alive, growing fellowship. It was an exciting time. If God brings revival again in my life, I do not want to miss it.

I prayed for years that I would be present for the coming revival. The picture I had was of being at a parade. I wanted to be right on the main street, watching the parade, not sipping ice tea in the comfort of my porch swing, hearing the distant sounds of the music of the parade.

When I came to Morocco, I had the thought that perhaps God brought me here in answer to my prayers so I could be on main street watching the parade. I am still hoping and praying for that. When revival comes, I want to be ready for it.

A friend this week pointed out to me that when a sailing ship at sea was becalmed, all the canvases were put up so that when wind came, they would be ready to benefit from the wind. God will bring revival when and where he chooses. When revival comes, it will be to our benefit and great joy if we are ready to participate in the work of God in that revival.

A second observation about revival that comes from this chapter of Jonah is that revivals are meant to build the kingdom of God, not kingdoms on earth.

Jonah arrived and revival broke out in Nineveh and yet less than two decades later, the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and began the deportation of Jews from Israel. Their behavior was no less violent than it had been before Jonah arrived in Nineveh.

Revivals do not last long. The French philosopher, Voltaire, who died in 1778, confidently predicted that Christianity would be extinct within one hundred years. Twelve years after his death came the Second Great Awakening and his home became used by the Bible Society. This is great irony, but the point I want to make is that Voltaire could make this confident prediction because the church, just thirty years after the Great Awakening, had become so weak and anemic.

The Welsh Revival of 1904-1905 had a powerful affect on the population of Wales and spread to other parts of the world but then faded away. Jonathan Edwards, the theologian of the First Great Awakening, eventually got into trouble with his church when he began trying to prolong the revival by institutionalizing the effects of the Awakening.

Revivals come and go. They seem designed to rescue a generation but they are not meant to establish a kingdom on earth. Being human and seeing the world through temporal eyes, we put our focus on churches, denominations, and other religious organizations. God uses manmade organizations, denominations, and churches as tools to rescue the people he loves, but the Presbyterian Church will not be saved. The Baptist churches will not be saved. The Catholic and Orthodox churches will not be saved. The African empire-building churches will not be saved. All these will be left behind. It is the people Jesus rescues who will be saved.

Many of us have prayed for revival for a long time. I have been praying for revival for almost all of my Christian life. I have prayed I will not die before I see revival. My prayers have changed over the years. I no longer pray to have a world dominated by Christian churches. Churches institutionalize religious experience and new generations easily forget they have to be rescued just as their parents and grandparents were. One generation comes to faith in Jesus and then the battle recommences to rescue the following generation.

Jesus is building his church. I pray you will develop an increasing passion to work with Jesus as he rescues those who turn to him. I pray you will be ready when Jesus calls you to talk to someone or go somewhere to share the message he gives you. I pray you will repent, from the heart, for any disobedience in your life and turn back to Jesus. I pray you will be like the sailing ship on the sea with all sails unfurled, ready to move with the wind of the Holy Spirit that comes.

God did not call just Paul and Peter and Priscilla to go and share the good news of Jesus. Jesus does not ask just pastors and evangelists to work with him. We are all called to love people in his name and when asked, share the reason why it is we believe.

Let us pray again the prayer of Spurgeon. Let this be your prayer.

A PRAYER FOR REVIVAL – C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

“O God, send us the Holy Spirit! Give us both the breath of spiritual life and the fire of unconquerable zeal. O You are our God, answer us by fire, we pray You! Answer us both by wind and fire, and then we shall see You to be God indeed. The kingdom comes not, and the work is flagging. Oh, that you would send the wind and the fire! You will do this when we are all of one accord, all believing, all expecting, all prepared by prayer.

Lord, bring us to this waiting state! God, send us a season of glorious disorder. Oh, for a sweep of the wind that will set the seas in motion, and make our ironclad brethren, now lying so quietly at anchor, to roll from stem to stern!

Oh, for the fire to fall again – fire which shall affect the most stolid! Oh, that such fire might first set upon the disciples, and then fall on all around! O God, You are ready to work with us today even as You did then. Stay not, we beseech You, but work at once.

Break down every barrier that hinders the incoming of Your might! Give us now both hearts of flame and tongues of fire to preach Your reconciling word, for Jesus’ sake! Amen!”

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