In the first chapter we saw Jonah reject the command of the Lord. This rejection brought about a great storm and Jonah was thrown overboard into the sea. The second chapter records the descent of Jonah through the sea to the sea floor. As his life was fainting away and great fish swallows Jonah and he remains in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. After three days, the Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah out on to the dry land.
The third chapter begins the way the first chapter began. The word of the Lord came to Jonah telling him to go to Ninevah and preach against the city. The first time Jonah heard those words, Jonah decided to quit his prophetic call, board a ship, and go to a place where God’s people were not living. God comes to Jonah a second time and essentially says, “Let’s try this again.” This time Jonah goes. Jonah arose and went to the exceedingly great city of Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. God gives Jonah the same call. The question is will Jonah obey God now. Two points about how God deals with his people become evident.
The first thing we learn about the nature of God’s grace is God gives another chance. God is most certainly the God of second chances. In fact, he is the God of third chances, tenth chances, and hundreds of chances. God’s grace tells us to get up and try again. Just because you have failed the Lord does not mean that your run with God is over. God extends his grace. Get up and let’s try again. God gives another chance.
The second thing we learn about the nature of God’s grace is that we are still accountable to God’s commands. God does not say that since Jonah did not like the command given to him that he could ignore it. Jonah does not receive a loophole or a pass on the command given to him. God gives him the very same command that he rejected in the beginning. God’s commands do not change just because we do not like them. God gives us another chance to obey the command rejected at the first.
The Model of Repentance
After Jonah preaches the message of destruction an amazing thing happens. The people of Ninevah obeyed God (3:5). The appropriate response to God’s word is repentance. There is only one right response. We must change our ways at the hearing of God’s word. Please notice the urgency of their repentant response. All the people begin to fast and put on sackcloth. Even the king gets off the throne, removes his robe, wears sackcloth, and sits in ashes. These acts were public expressions of repentance, mourning, and humility. The people are showing a sorrowful mourning over sin. True repentance convicts the heart. What does your repentance look like? Are we cut to the heart by sin? Do we see the wrath we deserve because we have demonstrated rebellion against God?
Second, they call out urgently to the Lord. With our sorrow we must turn our hearts to God calling out for mercy. Notice in their prayer they are seeking mercy. They do not know if God will turn from the disaster about upon them in 40 days. Notice what the king decrees. “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we may not perish” (3:9). The apostle Paul speaks the same way about our turning to God.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14 ESV)
This is what repentance looks like. Notice again the decree of the king. “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” Repentance is more than being sorrowful. Repentance is more than praying to God, though both of these things are included. Repentance also includes stopping the sinful activity. The apostle Paul says we are being trained to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. We are turning from that life so that we can live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.
This teaches us the third point about the nature of God’s grace. God’s warning of his impending judgment is grace. Telling us of the coming disaster for our souls is a display of God’s lovingkindness. If you are sitting on the railroad tracks and a train is coming, you need to be told that the train is coming or you are going to be killed. It is lovingkindness and gracious to scream at you, “A train is coming! Get off the tracks!” God is screaming at us through his holy apostles and prophets as well as through his Son that destruction and wrath are coming. Repent before it is too late! Yet we take God’s lovingkindness to tell us about the impeding destruction as God being harsh. We don’t want to hear messages that there is a hell. We don’t want to hear about eternal punishment. We don’t want to think about the wrath of God. We don’t want to listen about the coming judgment of our souls. This is like the person sitting on the railroad tracks with a train coming saying that he does not want to hear about the disaster of sitting on the tracks. We claim its a harsh message and want to talk about how pretty the sky is today. God is showing us his love by telling us what will happen. We want to complain about the message. But the message of judgment is the truth. Can you imagine if the people of Ninevah had complained that Jonah was being too harsh with the message? Preach on something we want to hear! We need to hear the message of judgment and keep in mind that judgment is promise on the wicked and disobedient. God lovingly has given us time to hear the message and get out of the way of disaster before it is too late.
Just as God commanded Jonah, we can only proclaim the message God has given us. Many will proclaim a message that everything is fine and you can keep living how you want. Many will proclaim that there is no judgment coming at all. A book came out a few months ago called “Love Wins” that declares that there is not eternal punishment. Some will never proclaim that there is such a thing as God’s wrath. We must proclaim the message that is found in the scriptures. We must teach the very words of God and not alter that message just because we might receive a negative reaction. We are not loving the world if we are not with great urgency proclaim that a train is coming and you are sitting on the track. J.I. Packer rightly stated, “The faithful servant of God must take care to make clear that what he offers is not his own ideas, but God’s message from God’s book… to let the text talk through him.” We have no right to proclaim any other message. We have no right to preach our own ideas. We must open God’s word and learn God’s message for our lives so that we can heed God’s warning before it is everlastingly too late. As we teach, we remember how we experienced God’s grace as we preach God’s grace.
The fourth point about the nature of God’s grace is he forgives when we turn to him. “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.” (Jonah 3:10 ESV) God saw their heart. God saw them decisively turn from their evil acts. Their actions revealed that their compliance was from the heart. In the same way God is looking for a change of heart that leads to a change of actions. Too often people think that coming to a church building is their act of worship or that God is pleased by this. So many pick a holiday to come to church as if now everything is all better. Singing a few songs, offering a prayer, giving some money, and listening to a sermon is not what God is looking for in your life. God wants you to do these things from a heart that desires and loves him.
When we turn to the Lord with our heart, we have the grace of God to forgive us from our sins. Did God have to relent from the disaster that was coming? No, the people were worthy and deserving of wrath. Just as Jonah was given an opportunity to turn back to God, the people were also given the opportunity to turn back to God. We also have the opportunity to turn back to God before the day of judgment.