The Jonah Files, Divined
Text: Jonah 3
Proposition: AsGod moves in people to bring about life and revival, He does so in a divine plan that is greater than it appears to be.
Introduction: At the end of Jonah chapter two we see a broken man, a man willing to yield to the will of God, a man whom God has spoken to in words and circumstance and death. The last line of chapter 2 says, “So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto the dry…”. But here’s the kick, if Jonah was ‘spat out’ as it were around the area of Joppa he’d have a long journey ahead of him. Joppa is about 30 miles northwest of Jerusalem, right on the coast. As the crow flies Nineveh would be about 600 miles to the north east. If a person could walk about 20 miles a day, it’s at least a 30 day trip to Nineveh. That’s where Jonah chapter three begins, a Jonah that has been bleached for three days by mucus, pepsin and bile in the stomach of the large fish. His appearance would be startling, his flesh an eerie pale color, acid washed and blotchy, all hair and eyebrows gone. This was the condition of Jonah laying on the shore line near Joppa as he hears the LORD speak yet again to him, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”
In the chapter we’ll look at today are a number of miraculous events not the least of which is the way an entire city of at least 500,000 people, notorious for its hedonism and cruelty turns on a dime in an almost instant change of attitude and belief. The preaching of a strange if not very disturbing prophet named Jonah goes against the odds and an amazing work that can only be attributed to God occurs. Nineveh is divined! ‘Divined’ is a word that simply describes the way God does things, apart from our expectations and against all probability but all to His glory. Nineveh experiences an unexplainable repentance by human standards. It’s this miracle along with many others than cause people to write this book off as metaphor or a story that contains certain principles but is factually impossible. The probability factor is so low that the book falls into the category of myth for many people. But what if there is more here than meets the eye, what if history backs up this account, what if the action of God on an entire city is possible, what if His purposes go way beyond this event. Have a look at Jonah 3.
I. Improbability Is What God Uses To Reveal Grace.
In verse 4 it says, “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.” Historians tell us that there were about 60 miles of wall surrounding the city. It had over 1500 towers on walls that were 50 feet high and more than 20 feet wide. It was a fortress of power and of depravity and into this fortress God sends Jonah. The first time God spoke to Jonah in chapter 1 the message was simple, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” The second time God spoke to him it was even more simple, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” Now the message God has given him is clear, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” So the process was, ‘be willing to go’, ‘trust Me to show you the way’,and ‘deliver the truth’. The message that Jonah preached had a time line attached to it, 40 days. It had a judgment attached to it, Nineveh shall be overthrown. Godly preaching, your preaching, needs these same elements despite the improbabilities you’ll face. That’s because it’s not about you, your persuasiveness nor your popularity. It’s about them, their peril and God’s plan.
There were no miraculous signs that Jonah could offer to validate this preaching, in fact when Jesus spoke about this event He put it like this, it’s in Matthew 12:39-41, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.”
Jesus recognizes this as a factual event, He says that the people of Nineveh actually did repent, turning from their sinful ways and embracing the truth about God. Then there is this peculiar phrase, ‘no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’ The sign is explained in the very next verses, it’s the account of Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. What’s inferred is that after those three days and nights Jonah came back. The sign of Jonah was essentially the sign of resurrection. You might even say it was the sign of a Second Coming to the dry land. That will be the only sign given to an unbelieving generation, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The physical presence of Jesus both at the Resurrection and at the Second Coming calling people, calling Israel and the Gentile world to an improbable repentance and rescue from sin. All the improbabilities of the whole story of Jonah whisper to us about the much greater improbability of Jesus Christ. The Incarnation, God birthed into humanity yet remaining deity; the Crucifixion, the deflecting of God’s wrath from sinful man onto the perfect innocence of Christ; Resurrection, the sign of the sure hope in Christ that He is able to bear the penalty of God’s wrath, not only able but deeply willing… these are the great improbabilities that reveal to us the wondrous grace of God. They are improbabilities pictured, forecasted, in the actions of a rogue prophet named Jonah that point to the greatest improbability of all, God with us, Emmanuel.
II. God’s Desire Is Always Greater Than the Improbable Heart of Man.
It was one thing for the people of Nineveh to repent but when the king hears of what is happening the improbability is escalated. The king not only repents but orders the entire city to do. “Let neither man nor beast herd nor flock taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” For an entire day the bleating sheep, the moans of the cattle would mix with the cries of the people. This was God’s desire, it was the very response God sought. The king put it best, “Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” Notice that they did not seek so much the averting of their being overthrown as the averting of God’s fierce anger. The core of repentance is to see past the consequences of our sin to seeing sin and then to recognize the certain wrath of God against sin. That is exactly what God desires they see, not just a reformation of behavior but a recognition of the holiness of God and His righteous wrath against sin. Then in a slim hope framed with repentance they appeal to God. It was an appeal against the wrath of God, a wrath against the sin which they knew full well they had committed.
I’d like you to consider for moment what the Grace, Mercy and even Wrath of God against sin have achieved in these chapters.
1. It commissioned a prophet that was not only reluctant but disobedient so that in the permissive will of God Jonah was allowed to flee in order to rearrange Jonah’s heart and soul. There’s no way Jonah, especially the sign of Jonah, could have had an effect on the people of Nineveh apart from the rebellion and then repentance of a Jonah brought back to life.
2. It turned a people considered by their world to the most vicious and undeserving of grace to become repentant and to receive mercy upon the slimmest of hopes. The Assyrians were spared, Nineveh remained their city for another 150 years.
3. The sending of Jonah to the Assyrians was meant ultimately to turn the hearts of Israel back to God. If He would show forgiveness to the most vile and violent of the Gentiles how much more would He show mercy to His Israel if they would but repent even as the people of Nineveh repented. Yet if they would not, and God created a 150 year window for them to repent, then they would experience the very overthrow threatened to Nineveh. In 612 BC Assyria took the northern kingdom of Israel as captives and displaced them into Assyria.
All these facts of history are to reveal a Jonah divined, a Nineveh both people and king, divined, moved by the desire of God to overrule the improbable hearts of men so that they would see Him and know Him. These very details God used to foreshadow Jesus Christ, the obedient Servant sent into the deeps to die and by death set the ‘sailors’ of this world free. Three days later, deaths Passover complete, He is alive again, Jesus is coming to the ‘dry’ again! Salvation Divined!