And the people of Nineveh believed God. (Jonah 3:4)
Lesson 6 – Sovereignty.
And 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. (Jonah 3:4-10)
Are you troubled by the state of our world? No question, it’s a mess. What used to be a family tradition, watching the evening news, many people now avoid; it’s just too depressing. Wars in every corner of the earth, gangs taking over the streets in many of our towns and cities, religious persecution in our own nation as well as abroad, acts that God calls depravity, declared “protected freedoms” by law. Who’s to blame? If you listen to what people are saying, you’ll likely hear a lot opinions.
The government. Liberal judges. Left wing politicians. Right wing politicians. Bad parenting. The younger generation. The older generation. The church. Television. Movies. Books. Music.
Problems? Yes. But according to what we read in Jonah, all these are symptoms, not causes.
I want you to take special notice the progression of events in Jonah 3.
Jonah Preached. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)
It’s been my experience that the average sermon is about 30 minutes long. I’ve heard some good ones that were longer and some that were shorter but I’ve never heard a sermon 8 words long. Can you imagine your pastor giving an 8 word sermon? (That may be more difficult for some of us to imagine than others.) More specifically, can you imagine a sermon where the only message is “repent or die”? I can almost hear the buzz throughout the churches and somehow, I just don’t think that kind of message would go over too well, it sure didn’t when Jesus gave it.
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. (Matthew 26:3-4)
The message was short, but it was enough.
The people repented. 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. (Jonah 3:5)
The word of the LORD came and the people responded with true repentance – emphasis on repentance. I fear we have watered down what that word means. We talk a lot about confession, sorrow for our sins but let’s ask ourselves – do we repent? The word in the Greek is metanoeō (met-an-o-eh’-o) and it means
to think differently, to change one’s mind. It means to abhor one’s sin. I think of the kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he’s certainly sorry – sorry he got caught, sorry he missed a chance for a cookie – but does he really think differently about, even abhor what he’s done? Doubtful. Next chance he gets, he’s going to be right back at that cookie jar. We have to get serious. When we talk about sin against God, we’re not talking about a cookie, we’re talking about breaking the heart of our loving Father. If we’re serious about the state of our world, we as a people of God must get serious about repentance.
if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
The people of Nineveh got serious.
The king proclaimed. 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.” (Jonah 3:6-9)
[Note: This king of Nineveh was a pagan king ruling over a pagan nation.]
Back to my earlier comments. Who do we hold responsible for the condition our world is in, who do you and I expect to “fix it”? Do you see in these verses that the movement to a righteous nation began with the people? It began with the people’s repentance, not the king’s. There are other times that God used the cry from the heart of his people to change the heart of kings.
For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming to my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” (Esther 8:6) And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them. (Esther 8:17)
I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. (Daniel 6:26)
What God did next is amazing.
The LORD relented. 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)
This is our Sovereign God. God heard the repentant cries of the people and He answered them with great mercy . In spite of Jonah’s reluctance, God worked through him to save a nation. I think you would have to agree, Nineveh wasn’t really so different from our world today. Remember how the story started?
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)
It’s easy to look at all that’s going on around us and wonder why God doesn’t do something. Don’t despair, He is! He is still on the throne, He is still King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is still sovereign. He is still God.
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12-13)
Of all the things that burden my heart, the greatest burden is for those who are without hope because they are without Christ. In spite of Jonah’s rebellion and bad attitude, God used him to save the nation of Nineveh. God is still using less than perfect people to accomplish His perfect will, He even wants to use you and me.
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to
Let me ask you something, what kind of servant would you rather be, a Jonah who answers God’s call kicking and screaming?
Or an Isaiah?
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
Until next time,