Jonah and the Great Commission Part 3
Jonah and The Great Commission Part Three: The God of Second Chances Many (but not endless) Chances
Rebooting the Program The Error Message Uninstalling….Reinstalling
I thank God that He loves us enough to give us many chances to correct our ways and turn to Him. As we look at the stories of the Bible, we see that over and over again, men and women of God failed, repented, and went forward, and the same is true today. Many of the Bible stories also show that these same men and women who we look to as heroes of the faith often needed more than a second chance, they needed a third, fourth, or more chances.
In the entire Bible, the story is there that God does not desire that any perish, that He gives us many chances. Over and over again, when we mess up, he tells us He is waiting to forgive us, if we only repent and and return to Him. This is the Good News I preach, that God loves us enough to accept us back when we repent. He will forgive, He will restore, and He will bring revival to our souls. And last week, what I said at the close of the message I truly believe: God wants to bring revival to us.
God loves us so much that He doesn’t want any to perish. He will go all out with every person to give them chances to come to Him. He is always waiting for us to return to Him, His arms open, ready to receive us again. He is the God of second chances. He is the lover of our soul. He is the one who provides us with every good thing. As we saw last week, He is even generous enough to discipline us so that we do the right thing and come back to Him. He does all the work. Our only job is to repent, ask forgiveness, and commit to following His ways.
So many stories from scripture tell us this is the case. God gives many chances to those who are trying to get it right. However, there are not infinite chances. At some point, people who ignore the pleadings of the Holy Spirit, who convicts people of sin and convinces them of truth according to scripture, will find themselves with hardened hearts that no longer respond to the work of the Holy Spirit.
There is good news, though. God’s grace is far beyond ours. I have learned the hard way again and again that God has a way of softening the hearts of those that we have already given up on. I am ashamed to say that I have been guilty of giving up on people. My brother is a good example. From his teenage years, he was rebellious, and became an alcoholic. He got into trouble with the law, getting in fights, getting DUIs, and I’m not sure I even know all he was into. Over time, after more than one holiday was ruined, and the family embarrassed by the police report in the local paper, I got so frustrated with my brother that I had given up on him ever getting it right.
Thankfully, my parents did not give up so easily. They prayed and prayed, and many others did, that Rich would seek God and break the bondage of alcohol in his life. But again and again, the demon of alcoholism brought him back into that terrible lifestyle. Again and again, I would hear reports of his troubles, and again and again, I would be angry with him for not getting things right. I was angry because of how hard this was for my parents, and I was angry because I just didn't quite understand at that point the power of addiction.
My brother went to treatment, once as ordered by a judge. It didn't work. Another time, he went to the faith-based Teen Challenge program in Brookings. It is a 12 month program, and he walked out in month 9, thinking he had beaten the alcohol. Soon, he went back to his old friends, and finally, after a high-speed chase, had his fifth DUI, which landed him in prison in Jamestown, ND. There, he was brutally beaten by another inmate. It was devastating for our family.
I felt vindicated that I had been right all along, that he would never get it right. But he got out of prison and went back to Teen Challenge, this time in Mandan, ND. I was still skeptical. I visited, my parents visited, and we would hear good reports, but I was still skeptical. But Rich stayed in the program, radically changed by the power of faith in Jesus Christ, and broke free of the alcohol. He finally had stopped his excuses and took responsibility, and when that happened, God did a mighty work in him.
Fifteen years ago, Jenelle and I got a call in the middle of the night. It was my dad, telling me that Rich had died after falling about 85 feet from a radio tower he was working on. Rich and I had been trying to work on our relationship, and it was hard. For years, we had barely talked. We had little in common other than our childhood, and I truly believe that we both desired a better relationship. We will have a great relationship someday. When we do, it will be when life really begins, when we are together with Jesus, and I look forward to that.
My point is this: We all know someone who has had many chances, and cannot seem to get it right. We may get frustrated and give up, but God keeps pursuing. We must not give up on anyone, but my message this morning is not only to tell you not to give up hope for someone you know, it is to not give up hope for yourself.
Let’s look at Jonah and see what happened when he took his second chance, and brought God’s warning to Nineveh: There are three points this morning: Rebooting the Program, The Error Message, Uninstalling…Reinstalling.
Rebooting the Program: Jonah 3:1–4 (ESV)
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!”
Computers have improved much over the years. But still, we sometimes experience a glitch. A screen will freeze up, there will be some kind of spinning globe or moving line that tells us something is happening, and we wait. We take a break and come back, and the thing is still stuck. Finally, we reboot the program. For some machines, this means just forcing the problem program closed and reopening. For other machines, it means shutting the entire machine down and restarting. But when something goes wrong, we need to reboot.
Well, Jonah had a big problem with his prophetic program. It got stuck. He was not getting anywhere, and he needed a reboot. God in His graciousness gave Jonah a reboot. It was drastic measures, to be sure. But eventually, Jonah realized that he was wrong, and as we saw last week, he repented. As long as Jonah was willing to try again, God was willing to give him a second chance, and as long as we are willing to try again, God will give us a second chance as well.
We often need a reboot in our spiritual journey. We get off the path, stop doing what’s right and start doing what’s wrong, even as Paul talks about in Romans 7. If we tell God we are sorry, and ask for His help, He is delighted to help. If we ask Him to forgive, He is delighted to forgive. If we ask for His peace, He is delighted to bring it. If we ask for His strength, He will provide it. If we ask for wisdom, He will give it. Our God is the God of second chances.
The next point here is the error message. When we are working on a computer, we dread getting an error message. Error message must be dealt with. Error messages interrupt whatever we are doing and force us to take note. Error messages can be a pain in the neck, but they are given for good reason: We must take action to prevent a disaster.
One error message I get sometimes is if I am closing the program I take notes on and have not saved the work, I get an error message. Before I can close the program, I must take and action. I must either save the note or delete it. What if I never got that message, though? What if I was never alerted to the fact that I was about to destroy many hours of hard work and study with the click of a mouse? Well, I can tell you I would be very frustrated without that message. As frustrating as an error message may be, dealing with the error message can prevent us from going through some very difficult and painful lessons.
What if I choose to ignore the error message? Well, then I may as well have never had the error message in the first place. Error messages are there to help us so that we don’t ignore something, or foolishly continue doing something that will be a costly mistake in the long run.
Cars have error messages as well. These error messages keep us from ruining our car sometimes. A temperature warning ignored means we will overheat and possibly destroy the engine. An oil pressure warning ignored could mean the engine is out of oil, and continuing to drive it will result in disaster. A brake warning ignored could lead to a serious accident, a tire pressure warning ignored could lead to a blow out and a rollover or worse.
Error messages warn us of potential problems ahead. The same is true of God’s warning messages, such as He gave through the prophets. Let’s see what Jonah’s error message was, and the good that came because it was heeded. We will pick up at verse 3 again:
Jonah 3:3–10 (ESV)
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.
The error message was pretty strong, wasn’t it? Nineveh will be overthrown. Now, it is pretty clear that Hebrew word used for overthrown was what is intended, but when we do a word study, something really interesting comes up. This word in Hebrew, which I won’t even attempt to pronounce, it a word that can be translated differently. Here it is translated overthrown, other places overturned, or simply turned. Was Nineveh turned?
There are more possibilities. The word also can mean converted, or become, or change. Just as in our language words have multiple meanings, the same is true here. The translation in the Bible is probably accurate for what was meant, that Nineveh would be overthrown, perhaps by invading forces, perhaps by natural disaster. But the response of Nineveh changes the outcome, and what really happens, is that they are turned, or converted. Perhaps not converted fully to worship of Yahweh, but at least repentant and willing to listen to prevent a disaster.
The people believed God, the king and the nobles decree that everyone, man and beast, should be covered with sackcloth, a sign of remorse or repentance. They were to fast, even from water. This is a sign that they took Jonah’s proclamation quite seriously and the result of this is that God relented. This is not a change of mind as many have said. People have argued from this and other passages of scripture where God had promised punishment and relented because of the repentance of people that this means God changes His mind. That is not a correct way to look at this.
God’s very nature is unchanging, but part of that unchanging nature is the love and grace he shows to those who seek Him. Here and in other places, God gives a second chance. Think of it this way: if a parent tells their child that they are not going to the park because they have been misbehaving, and the child shows signs of true sorrow for their behavior, and apologizes, and starts behaving the right way, is the parent a liar if they now decide to take them to the park? No, the parent is showing grace, and that is how it is with God. He shows us grace.
The final point is uninstalling and reinstalling. Sometimes, a computer program is just not working right. No matter what we do, it has a glitch. SO we uninstall the program and then reinstall it. I’m not sure if anyone knows why this works, but it does. It’s the same program, same computer, but we need to uninstall and reinstall it.
So what does that have to do with anything? Well, sometimes we need to go back to the start of things. On a personal level, we need to uninstall and reinstall by going back and remembering when we first put our faith in Jesus Christ. We sometimes need to put away all the doctrine and theology for a moment and just remember the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. After refreshing ourselves and having the joy of our salvation restored, as David asked God to do, we also need to study God’s Word so that we do have right doctrine and right theology.
That first step we took of faith was because of a simple understanding of God’s salvation. We accepted it and had great joy in that moment of feeling the burden of sin we each had carried lifted off. But over the years, we can get caught up in so many things that we forget to have the simple joy we should have every day. The joy of the Lord. When we take a moment to reflect on all He has done, this should give us great joy, yet so many times Christians seem to lack joy. They seem to have completely forgotten how lost they were and how much they needed Christ.
If we don’t live in daily reflection of our need for a savior, even though we may have put our faith in Him years ago, then we lose focus on the very thing we should sense the most urgency about: reaching the lost. It’s a little like getting a brand new car. When someone has a brand new car, they are excited. They spend time just sitting in there, trying to set the clock, figuring out what all the buttons are for, and seeing where all the compartments are. They spend time cleaning and waxing and vacuuming. Some years later, when the car is familiar, it doesn’t get the same amount of love from the owner.
Sometimes our faith becomes so familiar that we need to just take a moment and reflect on how much we need a savior. We also are to grow and mature in our understanding, in our desire to serve Him better, and to live a holy life better. We need to have that balance. Sometimes people think that the more you learn about scripture and study the history of the church and the bible, that you will forget about your first love, your Savior. While this is certainly possible, I find the opposite to be true if one can keep their heart and head right. The more I learn about scripture, the more I want to learn. The more time I spend studying scripture, the more I marvel at God’s love, revealed through history and through His Holy Word. We must be a people who find the balance between having the joy that comes with a simple understanding of God’s salvation while at the same time growing and maturing in the faith.
Chapter 3 of Jonah reveals an awesome example of how an entire people believed and took action when the prophet spoke. No where else in scripture, or any time in church history that I have heard of, has an entire city taken so seriously the message of the prophet. Certainly the gospel continues to change cities and even countries today, but I am not aware of any such response as the response of Nineveh. From the leadership down, everyone showed remorse and God showed everyone HIs grace.
We are reminded then, of the graciousness of repeated forgiveness that God grants to those he loves. And in reflecting on his great graciousness towards us, who again and again sin and sin and must keep coming back to him for forgiveness. When we reflect on ourselves before we ever believed unto salvation in Jesus, how many times we were not killed.
I saw this week a video of such blasphemy, a man dressed up as a Japanese Geisha, and leading the so-called call to worship in a so-called Christian church as they had their pride month celebration. I think to myself when I see something like that, “How can God even allow the second syllable to come out of the mouth of such a blasphemer?” Yet, when we, the church, observe the depravity outside the church, let us remember the depravity that is sometimes inside the church, and how we ourselves must constantly strive towards holiness and purity before God.
You see, where we allow sin in our own lives, we also blaspheme the Name. We also offend God. And before we all came to Christ, we were no better off then those we see as exceedingly sinful today, for we all were headed to the same hell they are headed for, but for the gospel of Jesus Christ being preached to us, and the Holy Spirit of God quickening our spirits to believe.
Paul taught the church that before knowing Christ, we were seperated from Christ, we were alienated. Paul wrote to the church reminding them of what sinfulness looks like:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And the church said “Amen! How sinful is that world out there! I see it, it disgusts me! I cannot even believe how bad things have gotten! I cannot fathom how people could be so depraved!” And Paul says, hold on.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Such were some of you. Eph2.1-3
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
You were dead. You once walked. We all once lived in the passions of our flesh.
for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
You were darkness
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.
You have tendencies towards sin. You once walked in these sins.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
Every person who now identifies as “in Christ”, was once not in Christ. We were in our vile sin, heading towards eternal destruction, eternal damnation, eternal hell. And we were heading there quite happily and willingly. But those in Christ had already been marked by God to be His, and in our sin, in our heading in the opposite direction of God, in our rebellion against Him, in our willful and vile nature, He intervened. How did He intervene? Well, of course, He sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
And yet, God ordained that while the cross indeed saves, it only saves those who believe, and only those who hear can believe. I know I used this passage last week, but it still applies to this week as well. Rom10.11-14
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
So God ordained our salvation in this way. Jesus went to the cross and took upon himself all of our sin. Then God ordained a way of salvation. If you are in Christ, then, you are in Christ, because God, first of all foreordained it. Rom8.28-30
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
If you are in Christ, it is because God determined before the foundations of the earth were laid that you would be one of Christs. And His method for bringing each of us to Christ was for His eternal Word, the Gospel, to be presented to us, and by His Holy Spirit He quickened our spirits to believe. He does it through preaching. He does it through the proclamation of the gospel. Not you smiling at folks and being nice. If you are truly in Christ, it isn’t because some Christian was nice to you, it is because they shared the gospel with you.
If God in his gracious plan has saved you, He did so through the Word. Rom10.17
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
If God gave this gift to you, it was because He loved you before the foundations of the earth, but there is a secondary purpose that He gave you the truth of the gospel, that He gave you the gift of faith to believe, and that is so that you would share it with others. What if the person who shared Christ with you had not done so?
Did you grow up in the faith? What if your parents had not taught you the gospel? What if no one had cared enough to share it with you? And can we selfishly keep this gift to ourselves? Ought we not to share it with others? Do we quake at the thought of sharing? Where can we get the boldness to share?
When the church was just beginning, the people of the church were being hunted down, arrested, and sometimes beaten or killed. We are concerned about cancel culture today, but the cancel culture of the early church was much more extreme. We think the world is hostile to Christ today, in the early church it was just as bad or worse. What did the believers pray for during these times of extreme stress? They did not pray for their own safety. They prayed for boldness.
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
The believers asked for boldness, and God answered their prayer. It takes just a little boldness to ask God for boldness. Some people think the most important thing the Holy Spirit does for the believer is speaking in tongues or some other physical manifestation, I would say that scripture teaches us that we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit not for us to feel a little closer to God or be able to display some merits of being filled, but rather the Holy Spirit, according to Jesus, is to give us power for service to Him, including the power and boldness to share Christ.
May we ask God together to grant us this boldness.