Jonah – God’s Infuriating Grace

By January 23, 2017Church

I once heard Pastor Tony Evans tell of seeing a crack in his bedroom wall. The next day the crack had become larger. Over the next few days, it spread and began to look like a family tree.

Evans called a contractor to plaster and paint the wall. The contractor looked around and said, “That will be $25,000.” To which Evans replied, “You’re kidding me! $25,000 to plaster and paint the wall!”

“It’s not $25,000 to paint your wall; it’s $25,000 to fix your entire foundation. You have a major crack in your foundation and unless you fix that, the cracks will keep returning. Do you want me to paint your wall or fix your foundation?”

Truth be told, many people are just plastering over the cracks of their lives without making any changes to their foundation.

We experience a lack of peace or a lack of meaning and what do we do with these cracks? We plaster them over.

We believe working harder or longer will fill the void. Or, we try to be the best husband or father we can be. Maybe we volunteer to coach soccer or help in a classroom. Honestly, many people choose to binge on Netflix or alcohol. In the end, we’ll try almost anything to give our lives meaning.

But the cracks keep returning. Why is that?

Doesn’t it say in the Bible, “God helps those who help themselves?” In fact, it doesn’t. It also doesn’t say “A penny saved is a penny earned.” But what the Bible does say is this: “God helps those who cannot help themselves.”

That is the story of Jonah. God rescued Jonah when Jonah had been thrown overboard. Then God used Jonah to rescue an entire city.

1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. – Jonah 3:1

It’s important to remember that not everyone in the Bible got a second chance — just think about Adam and Eve. We shouldn’t think our second chances are automatic either.

Instead of giving Jonah a dishonorable discharge, God chooses to re-commission him instead. But why would God do this? After all, didn’t the story of Jonah begin with Jonah’s disobedience?

Don’t miss this: God gave Jonah a second chance so that Jonah would know not only what he had been saved from, but what he had been saved for. The same is true for you and me.

When God gives you a second chance, it marks the beginning of new hope and a fresh start … not just for your life, but for the lives of others.

2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. — Jonah 3:2-3

It’s not enough for the writer to say, “Nineveh was a great city.” He has to repeat himself and say, “Nineveh was a very large city.” We know from the fourth chapter of Jonah that Nineveh had at least 120,000 people.

Compare that to where I live. Highlands Ranch has 100,000 people. Englewood has 30,000. Littleton has just under 50,000.

We’re told that to walk across Nineveh would take three days. Let’s assume that the average person can walk seventeen miles in a day. That means it would take 51 miles to get across Nineveh.

What we see in the story of Jonah is God’s heart … for cities and for people. Even wicked, pagan people like the Ninevites.

Ironically, we have no reason to assume that Jonah had changed his opinion about the Ninevites when his second call came. He was still prejudiced (see chapter four!). What we know had changed was Jonah’s obedience.

4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” — Jonah 3:4

If you go to Jonah looking for preaching tips, you won’t find much help. As far as we know, his entire sermon was eight words: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” No illustrations or nice poems.

Which raises a good question: Why can’t more preachers be like Jonah! No, the real question is this:

How does God change a city?

From what I can in Jonah, it took two important factors:

  1. A person faithful to God. Not a perfect person but an obedient one.
  2. An authentic word from God. It is the truth that sets people free.

What is possible when those two come together is nothing short of a miracle.

5 The Ninevites believed God. — Jonah 3:5a

Jonah was the servant but God was the Savior. The result is astounding.

A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6 When Jonahʼs warning 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 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals 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.” 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. — Jonah 3:5b-10

The greatest miracle in Jonah is not that he was swallowed by a big fish. The greatest miracle in Jonah is that God saved Nineveh.

Nineveh was ripe for awakening. Jonah didn’t know it. Nineveh didn’t know it. But God knew it.

All around us are people who don’t need to be convinced or persuaded. They don’t need an argument. All around us are dead people who need to be raised to life.

That’s something that only God can do, which is the heart of the gospel itself: God does for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. That’s the message God has entrusted to the church.

How did the revival in Nineveh happen? It happened the same way that revival happens today. In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul will tell us that faith comes by hearing.

As powerful as the Word of God is, it cannot do its work where people haven’t heard it. For faith to develop, the word must be heard.

Perhaps you are a Ninevite. You’ve been living apart from the power and presence of God.

Aren’t you grateful that God gives us a second chance? You might be wondering, “Will God take me back?” The answer is always YES! when we turn to him in true repentance.

What God wants for you as individual is what he wants for the city of Denver. When you start thinking of Denver, Englewood, Highlands Ranch, Littleton, Aurora … it can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many people who are far from God.

We’re tempted to think, “The task is too big.”

Remember, it was going to take Jonah three days to walk across Nineveh – and so he started walking.

That’s all God is asking us to do – to start walking.