The word of the Lord came a second time. Consider how God gives a second chance to Jonah. “the word of the Lord came … a second time”. God did not overlook Jonah when he failed.
If you think about it, this is amazing! I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever had pastoral experience with who hasn’t felt “I’ve blown it” to some degree. So often we think that our past actions and failures have somehow disqualified us from being used by Jesus, or from being useful in the church.
The first truth we can take from this morning is that God is a God of second chances. There are loads of biblical accounts in both the Old and the New Testaments which speak to this: We read about Hosea going to the market place and buying back his unfaithful wife who was selling herself there. We read about a prodigal son who comes home after rejecting his father. We read of Paul who was by his own measure ‘the worst of sinners’.
Peter gets re-commissioned by Jesus. After his denials on Good Friday, he meets with Jesus on the shores of Galilee and we have in John’s account the description of how he is given a new lease of life by Jesus:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)
We also have lots of examples of where Scripture repeats itself, for example:
Deuteronomy describes God telling Moses to re-fashion the tablets which had been destroyed when he came down off the mountain: Deuteronomy 10:1-5: “At that time the LORD said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandments that the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the LORD gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the LORD commanded me.”
Or we even have the books of Chronicles and Samuel and Kings. Chronicles records the same events, the same kings, the same times as Samuel and Kings does. The Bible has it written down twice. I’ll illustrate what I mean:
2 Samuel 6 is the account of the Ark of God being brought into the Jerusalem and David dancing before the Lord with all his might. It describes Saul’s daughter Michal (who is David’s wife) watching him and judging him in her heart. 1 Chronicles 15 describes exactly the same event.
So, for example, 1 Chronicles 15:25-29 says: So David and the elders of Israel and the commanders of units of a thousand went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD from the house of Obed-Edom, with rejoicing. Because God had helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD, seven bulls and seven rams were sacrificed. Now David was clothed in a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and as were the musicians, and Kenaniah, who was in charge of the singing of the choirs. David also wore a linen ephod. So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouts, with the sounding of rams’ horns and trumpets, and of cymbals, and the playing of lyres and harps. As the ark of the covenant of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David dancing and celebrating, she despised him in her heart.
And 2 Samuel 6:12-16 says: Now King David was told, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.
My point here is that God is not averse to repeating himself if it will help us, and he repeats himself lots of times in the Scriptures.
As an aside, I would say that I believe a good rule is that if something is worth saying, it’s worth saying more than once, and if the Scripture records it twice, it makes sense to assume that God thinks we need to take note of it!
Back to “the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time”. I believe that it the thing you can take away from this point is this: You have not blown it. There is every chance God will re-affirm His word to you. I think we could all look back at our lives and think of times where we’ve not fully lived out our faith in the way we think we should. I believe that if we respond to God like Jonah did in the belly of the fish (that’s last week’s message), we have every reason to have hope and confidence in God’s call on us being reaffirmed – EVEN IF we think we’ve blown it.
Consider the things you thought God was calling you to do that you let slip (for whatever reason). Consider this, we have the possibility of being re-commissioned by God. Today.
“When Jonah’s 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”.
The king of Nineveh hears the warning of Jonah and not only personally responds to the message, but also proclaims a fast throughout the city. He leads by example. We have seen recently a lot of news coverage about our own leaders not doing that. It is interesting that even those who don’t have faith know deep inside how important this is.
Jesus says to us we should follow him. He leads by example. He washes the disciples’ feet and as he is explaining to the what he is doing, he says this to them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:12-15). Paul tells the Philippians to: “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” (Philippians 3:17). To the Corinthians, he says: “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). In fact the New Testament speaks a lot about leaders and how important it is for leaders to lead by example.
Thinking about leadership today, not all leadership is kingly, in fact leaders in the 21st century are far more likely to NOT be kings:
- WORLD leaders—those who have power and influence over multiple nations. Think of WHO, NATO, The EU and other organisations which in some cases have political/legal authority over multiple countries, in other cases there is what we might call a ‘soft’ authority. King Charles (the commonwealth), The Pope (the Catholic church), The Archbishop of Canterbury (until recently had power and influence over billions of Anglicans all over the world). There is also faceless power. People who are powerful in multinational corporations, banks and so on—and we’ve seen this power being exercised recently against people who don’t say the right things. Cancel culture exercised by Banks, Internet giants (Google, Facebook, Twitter for example).
- National leaders—Although there are some nations which have Royal Families, it seems to me that nowadays national leaders are political by nature: presidents, prime ministers. There is also hidden power in many nations, in the the hands of faceless people in the background. In the UK we have the civil service for example. We also have other forms of power in the hands of security services, or the armed forces.
- Regional leaders—constituency MPs, Councillors, but also don’t forget things like police commissioners, mayors etc.
- Famous people—with influence, sports people, actors/actresses, TV and radio personalities, people who describe themselves as ‘influencers’ (people on social media with large followings).
- Local leaders—parish councillors, church leaders, bosses, employers, leaders of clubs and organisations
- Familial—matriarchs or patriarchs (which it is depends on the family), parents.
My point here is that leadership in all its forms has influence over people. There is always a ‘conversation’ between the people and their leaders. Democracy is one outworking of that, leaders enacting ‘the will of the people’, and whatever organisation it is, whether it is a country, a club of some sort, a church or even a family, good leaders will listen to the people they lead.
Back to the point about the king repenting and decreeing a period of repentance for his people: Here are two ways leaders really should give an example, and they are interconnected. One influences the other.
This shows us the importance of leadership in society, and in particular the importance of integrity in example. We live in a society now where the mantra is that there is a difference between the public and the private persona of famous people. This flies in the face of what integrity means.
If you want a Biblical definition of integrity, go to Nehemiah 7:2 which describes a man of integrity and also what that looks like, the thing that drives his integrity. This is how I want to be remembered: Nehemiah puts a man called Hananiah in charge of the city and he tells us why, he says that Hananiah “was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do”.
The root of our integrity is to realise that it is God we are living for. We are living our life for an audience of one. Paul writes to servants and says to them “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,” (Ephesians 6:5-7).
One of the most touching things any one has ever said about Wendy and I was by our son-in-law, Adam. At one point when he and Catherine were first married, he’d spent a lot of time with us, in fact he lived with us for a while (about 6 weeks), and at one point he said this to Wendy: “the thing about you two is that you’re the same both sides of the front door”
Your influence might be different to the influence that, say, Rishi Sunak has. But don’t kid yourselves, you influence people around you. You can’t help it. We influence people around us just by being us, and if we have some kind of role in a church, or a club, or a community group or at work, or even in our family, we have even more than we think we have.
My point here is don’t dismiss the importance of your influence on the people around you as you respond to God.
Our integrity impacts our influence. One point/caveat I want to draw out before we go further. We read of the king repenting, and it is significant, BUT … Repentance is NOT something which can be imposed on you from above. This is an important factor in the salvation of a nation: Repentance cannot be only those at the top, those in positions of influence.
There is a refrains which runs through the book of Judges like a thread – it says “in those days, Israel had no king and everyone did as he saw fit in his own eyes” (you’ll find it in Judges 21:25 for example). If you read through the books of 1 and 2 kings, you will also see a progression where there is a sequence of good and bad kings, you will note that quite frequently a bad king followed a good king and the phrase *did not walk in the way of the lord as his father did’ is not an uncommon observation. You will also see that the reforms of the good kings were roundly rejected by the people when the king died. The most marked example is king Josiah. Josiah was 8 when he became king, the book of the law was discovered and Josiah repairs the temple, he cleanses it of all the artefacts used for worship of Baal and Asherah, and he institutes reforms all over Judah. He restores the passover, rededicates himself and the people to God. When he dies, his son, Jehoahaz we read ‘did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord’. The people followed suit and we read of the people of God falling away from God.
What does repentance look like? Sackcloth and ashes? If we read about the repentance of the Ninevites, we will see that sackcloth and ashes are quite prominent in their actions (v5, v6, v8). But v10 clearly describes true repentance:“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way”.
Repentance is not a matter of external actions, whether it is standing up and coming to the front to pray a prayer, or whether it’s putting on sackcloth and ashes, the actions, in and of themselves are worthless UNLESS they are an indication of our change of heart and they are followed by a change in our lives. This is the heart, the essence of being ‘born again’.
Let’s look at Ninevah. A lot of things that the kings and people do in repentance parallel Jonah’s repentance in Ch. 2. If we look at this account, we can tease out a progression that repentance follows:
The repentant person:
- Recognizes God. Parallel David saying in Psalm 51 “against you, you only have I sinned”. Our sin, whatever it is, is primarily against God, not man. Our sins in the ‘natural’ are overwhelmingly committed against other people (though I recognise Paul writes that there are some sexual sins which are also sins against our own body). The bottom line is this: It is God who we have sinned against, not man.
- Realises where He Stands. This is one of the lost points of the parable of the prodigal son, the focus is so often on the return, the father and the brother and the feasting, but the genesis of the party is found in a pig sty. The youngest son realises where he is. He ‘comes to his senses’. The core, the seed of repentance is the realisation of the state of our position before God. Joel Osteen famously says ‘people don’t need to behold they’re sinners—they know they’re sinners’. This is codswallop—what do you think ‘pride’ month is all about? People don’t know they’re sinners, quite the opposite, they’re proud to their lives! In fact they are so convinced of their own righteousness, that they get angry and resentful towards us if we even hint that they have sinned.
- Repents. Repentance is an unfashionable word nowadays. If you speak one of the Latin languages, you will recognise its root. The French verb for think is ‘penser’, and when I was a child, I remember people saying ‘you look pensive’ when someone was lost in their thoughts. Repentance is to do with the mind, the will. To ‘re—pent’ quite literally at its core means to change your mind. When we repent before God, we are changing our minds, our will from our old way of thinking, our old lives to a new way. It is not a coincidence that Paul writes to the Romans that they should not conform to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds. v10 records that God saw that the people turned from their evil ways, and how He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened. It is a real echo of 2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”. The point I want to draw out of this is that being a Christian isn’t something you grow into it is a choice you make. Contrary to what non-believers think about us, we’re not Christian simply because we grew up in a Christian country. Every Christian made a choice, they considered the way their life was going, and chose to follow Christ. Joshua 24 describes a choice being presented to the people of God. Verses 14,15 records Joshua saying to them “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
One last point. I recognise that there is a tension here, there are some texts which suggest we DON’T have a choice. Like John 6:44 which says “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them”, and John 15:16 which says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you”. I am not speaking to that problem this morning, except to offer this thought: Jesus is both divine AND human, we are called to live ‘in’ the Spirit, but the Spirit lives in us doesn’t he? There are a number of aspects to our faith which don’t make sense to the natural mind.
- Returns to God. The concept of returning to God when we’ve gone astray is all over the Bible, Nehemiah reminds God of his promise by referencing Moses. Nehemiah 1:9, Isaiah describes the people going away from God and says that a man cannot save himself (Isaiah 44:20), but he goes on to prophesy “return to me for I have redeemed you”, Jeremiah calls the people to return to God on a number of occasions, one such occasion is found in Jeremiah 24:7 where through Jeremiah, God promises “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”
- Pledges obedience. Note that this pledge is PUBLIC, which is partly why sackcloth and ashes were worn. For the most part, I’m not a fan of the evangelistic campaign where people are invited forward which is the most common way we think about when we talk of coming to Christ publicly. But it’s not the public aspect of the response as much as the soft (and sometimes not so soft) manipulation of people in the process. However, there is a significance to the public aspects of our faith. I believe that if possible, baptism should be a public thing. This is not a biblical rule, but to illustrate what I mean about how important making a public declaration of our faith in repentance and/or baptism, I want to give you a couple of illustrations.
- I haven’t smoked for 20 years or more now, but when we were younger, I did. Wendy got pregnant and gave up smoking. I am not so oblivious as to believe that it wasn’t hard for her, but she didn’t appear to have the struggles I did. I tried to give up. Failed. I tried again, failed. For about 10 years I went through a give up, fail, feel guilty cycle which was little more than a prison of guilt and shame. How did I get out of it? Instead of trying to give up alone, I made a point of telling everyone I met that I was a non-smoker. When you nail your colours to the mast and tell everybody, you put yourself in a position where you have to live up to the claim you are making. If you don’t tell people you are a Christian, you can get away with not acting like one.
- When I was at Bible college, most of the students had a fish or cross sticker on their car. Doing that identifies you as a Christian. One of the students, though, said there was no way he’d do that. His driving was so bad he said, that it wouldn’t be a good witness. I used to wonder why he didn’t put the fish on the car and drive well?
This is the conclusion/application.
The whole of Jonah 3 is about repentance and turning to God. We cannot possibly think about what it means and how it applies without considering our own lives and the way we live them.
For each one of us, the challenge might be different, but the response will be similar. Come to God and respond to him.