Sermon on Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Text: 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.”
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. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
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.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning (Mark 1:14-20), we have the content of Jesus’ first public preaching. You might expect that he would begin with, “I am the promised Messiah, the one that your ancestors were waiting for.” He might have said, “I am the one who came to rescue you from your sins.” However, that is not what he said, at all. He said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) Jesus began his ministry by talking about repentance. This morning, we are going to study another preacher of repentance. That man is Jonah. As we meditate on this account, we will see that THE LORD WORKS TRUE REPENTANCE. 1. It Is Repentance Brought About By His Word. 2. It Is Repentance Demonstrated By Our Actions. 3. It Is Repentance Pleasing To God.
We are familiar with the account of Jonah. You recall that the Lord came to Jonah with a message that he was to deliver to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. It was a message of warning that if they did not repent, the Lord was going to destroy them. Jonah did not want to do it. After all, Assyria was a brutal world power that threatened Israel’s existence. It would be better, Jonah thought, if they were destroyed. So, he tried to go as far away from Nineveh as possible, boarding a ship headed for Tarshish. There was a horrific storm. The heathen sailors didn’t know what to do. Jonah told them to throw him overboard, which they reluctantly did. The Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. During this time, Jonah realized that he had sinned and asked the Lord for forgiveness. The Lord heard Jonah’s prayers. Jonah was in the belly of that fish for three days, until it spit him out onto the shore.
It is here that we pick up the account before us. “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’” (Verses 1&2) Unlike last time, “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.” (Verse 3) We have the content of Jonah’s message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Verse 4)
Before we go any further, we want to take note of something. The people to whom Jonah spoke were heathen. They did not believe in God or his promised Messiah. They needed the harsh preaching of the Law so that they would stop following their false gods and worship the true God. We are Christians. We believe that Jesus is our Savior. We know that he came to the earth to take away our sins by his perfect life, death, and resurrection. We have been saved. However, we also recognize that we still have a sinful nature that delights in doing whatever God says we are not to do. It wants to sin. As a result of having both this sinful nature and new man in us, we are in a constant struggle. We know that, much to our shame, the sinful nature wins from time to time. As a result, we still need to hear a message of repentance, as well. We want to live in such a way to thank God for all that he has done for us.
First of all, listen to the Lord’s instructions to Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” (Verse 2) What Jonah was to proclaim to the Ninevites were not his own thoughts. He wasn’t just there to tell them what he thought about them and the way that they were acting. The message that Jonah proclaimed came from God himself.
This is a necessary reminder for us, as well. There are times when we hear what the Law says and think that, somehow or another, we can ignore it. ‘What it says in the Law was written for other people. It doesn’t apply to me.’ ‘That was written for another time and culture. Times have changed.’ Yes, it is true that times have changed, but God’s Word has not. What God demands in his holy Law applies to us, as well. These aren’t some out of date thoughts. This is God’s will for my life.
We also note that Jonah was to tell them, “Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Verse 4) God was serious when he sent Jonah to the people of Nineveh. There were going to be harsh consequences for the people. They would be destroyed because of their sins.
It is good for us to hear those words, too. At times, our sinful nature tries to fool us into thinking that God isn’t really serious about what he said. We think of God as a grandfather, sitting in his rocking chair, watching his grandchildren. He loves them so much that he would not reprimand them. He just smiles and pats them on the head. If he has said that they would be in trouble, he really doesn’t mean it. We get lulled into thinking that there are no consequences for our actions. We might even catch ourselves thinking that, since Jesus paid for our sins, we can go ahead and sin. However, we know that God is serious about his commands. For example, we read in Exodus 20:5, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”
However, even in the midst of this stern preaching, we still find God’s grace. Jonah said to the people, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Verse 4) God didn’t immediately destroy the people of Nineveh. He, in his undeserved love, gave the people of Nineveh time to repent of their sins.
God continues to show his love and mercy to us, as well. He doesn’t immediately send us to hell the moment that we sin. Rather, he is gracious to us. He gives us time to turn from our sins and to come to him, trusting that in Jesus we have free and full forgiveness. We pray that God would help each of us to see the seriousness of our sins, so that we will not continue in them. We want our lives to be ones that thank God for all that he has done for us. God continues to reach out to us in his Word. Through the Law, he shows us our sins. Through the Gospel, he tells us that we are forgiven and gives us the motivation for living for him.
The message that Jonah proclaimed had a great effect on the people of Nineveh. It says in verse 5, “The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” The people didn’t just say that they believed what Jonah said to them. They demonstrated their repentance by fasting and by putting on sackcloth. We might think of putting on clothes made of burlap. The Ninevites didn’t just say they were sorry for what they had done. They demonstrated it by what they did.
May God help us to also have this sort of reaction to the call to repentance. No, I am not suggesting that we all go out and make clothes made out of burlap. Rather, may we put our repentance into action. It can be so easy for us to say that we are sorry, but not really mean it. For example, if one child hurts another, you can make them say, “I’m sorry.” However, they may not mean it. They may only say that they are sorry to get out of trouble. May God help us to put our repentance into action. For example, if I have hurt someone, I do what I can to make it up to them. I not only say that I am sorry, but my actions also show that I am sorry for what I have done. If I have taken something that doesn’t belong to me, I don’t just say that I am sorry. I do what I can to make restitution. If I have been unloving to my spouse or children, I do all I can to let them know how much I love them. If I know that there is a particular place or activity that presents a temptation to sin and I have fallen into that sin time and again, I avoid that place or activity. The list goes on and on of how we can put our repentance into action. We do so because we want to do all that we can to please God out of thanksgiving for all that he has done for me.
What was the result of the Ninevites’ repentance? “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.” God reacted to the what and the how of the Ninevites’ response to his message of repentance. He identified that they had turned away from their sins. He saw their open display of sorrow over their sins. This indicated that they had repented of their sins. As a result, God did not destroy them, as he had threatened. He allowed their empire to remain. Their repentance was pleasing to God.
So, also, God is pleased when we come to him in repentance. Again, please remember that we are not forgiven, if we are sorry enough and we put that sorrow into action. We are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us. Jesus took our place when he came to this earth to be our Savior. He never needed to repent of anything, because he never sinned. He went to the cross where he took all of our sins and was punished for each and every one of them. There is no payment that we can make to God for our sins because Jesus has paid for them all. We know that the Father accepted his Son’s payment for our sins because Jesus rose from the dead. We are forgiven.
Yet, we continue to come to God, confessing the sins that we have committed. We do so because we are sorry for what we have done. That is the first part of repentance. The second part of repentance is God telling us that that sin was also paid for when Jesus died and rose again. There are no more beautiful words that we will ever hear than that. Repentance is also, with God’s help, a turning away from that sin and living for God. We don’t do this to try and earn something for God. Jesus has already earned everything for us and has given it to us freely. Rather, we turn from sin and live for God to thank him for all that he has done for us. We live in repentance because it is pleasing to our God.
So, you see that repentance is not a one time occurrence. Repentance is a way of life for the Christian. It is something that we do, because we still have that sinful nature that wants to disobey God. We know that we have fallen time and time again. However, because God has shown his great love for us in sending his Son to be our Savior, we do not want to remain in that sin. So, we come to God in repentance. We confess the sin that we have committed. We hear God’s gracious words of forgiveness. We, with his help, go forward and live for him. In repentance, we echo the words of King David in Psalm 51:10-12, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Amen.
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