This is the third week of our Jonah teaching series. If you have missed any of the other weeks then I encourage you to listen to the podcast and get caught up. They include both Kemper’s part and my part. In fact, there have been about a thousand downloads of the NewChurch messages so far. You can catch up on any of the weeks that you might have missed. It’s a great way to put your smartphone to work redeeming the time you’re stuck in traffic.
Here’s a quick recap: Jonah was an Old Testament prophet, God told him to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent. He didn’t want to, so he got on a ship and headed in the other direction. God sent a storm. Jonah was swallowed by a sea monster, which gave him a change of perspective. He is vomited onto the beach and that’s where we find him this week. He’s going to have a second chance to do what God told him to do in the first place.
Jonah Chapter 3 verse one:
Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you. This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh.”
Jonah repented. What does repentance look like?
To “repent” means to “turn around.” It’s like when you are using a GPS and take a wrong turn. Recalculating route. For a while it usually just tells you to turn around, make a U-Turn. If you don’t turn around, eventually you will get so far off track that it will take a different route altogether. I think that’s kinda how it is with God, too. We start following Jesus and we’re like a little kid, “Where’re we going? When are we going to get there? Are we there yet?”
I always told my kids the same thing when they asked that. I said, “We’ll never be there. We’ll always be here.” Of course that didn’t help at all. They just figured out different ways to ask the same question.
We always want God to tell us exactly what the plan is but He is stubbornly vague. I think God leads us more like a GPS than a Rand McNally folded map. He only tells us the next turn and He won’t even do that unless we keep moving.
So Jonah got his solar powered Garmen Tom Tom hooked up to his camel and set a course for Nineveh, 500 miles in the exact direction he did not want to go. His internal monologue was probably something like, “Oh goody. Let’s bake in the sun for a month or so, just so we can stand in the public square of the Nazi terrorist capital city and tell them all about how God is going to destroy them if they don’t stop being mean to everybody. Sounds like fun, I’m sure it will go over really well. I wonder if they will impale me on a spike right away or just knock me in the head and let their dogs lick up my blood? It doesn’t say he whined and moaned the whole way there but there’s a pretty good chance he did. They were probably out of air conditioned camels by the time he got to Budget Rentals in Joppa. It was a suckfest no matter how you look at it. The trip probably didn’t put him in a better mood.
Grumpy or not, the mission hadn’t changed. He still didn’t want to go but he was going to surrender to what God wanted. He had been shown grace, and obedience looked different now. He was a little less selfish. Going to Nineveh wasn’t on Jonah’s bucket list but life isn’t about a bucket list, it’s not about our big self indulgent plans.
Look at it this way, before we were following Jesus, when we were dead in our sin, selfish as hell, wandering around wherever our hunger drove us—like extras on the Walking Dead—we thought it was all about us. Our plans, our dreams, our desires, whatever we thought we wanted, whatever we thought was good for us. The things we want are seldom good for us. The irony is that being self focused is actually self destructive.
In the second chapter of Ephesians it says,
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sin—it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by our works. For we are God’s handiwork (His masterpiece), created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
God gives us faith, He opens our eyes, opens our ears, makes us alive, and invites us to walk with Him. As we go, we find there are things He has prepared for us to do. This is where we will actually find freedom. It’s when we focus on God’s plans, and the work He’s called us to do that we will find a purpose that will resonate with us. When we repent of our selfish ambitions and embrace His plans, His dreams and His desires, surrendering whatever we thought we wanted for the much more satisfying and meaningful bucket list He has in mind for us. That’s where the abundant life begins.
We think we want to do things our way but our way destroys our relationships, squanders our money, wrecks our family, and wastes our career. We either surrender all these things to God or He will work through circumstances to discipline us toward HIS way—getting us back on track. Recalculating route. The mission is always the same, we’re supposed to worship God, and love people. Life makes more sense when we don’t make it all about ourselves.
So after a month in the desert, Jonah pulled into town, got off his camel and gave the most effective evangelistic message the world has ever known. At the end of his sermon somewhere around 200 thousand Ninevites repented and believed. If you look at numbers alone, it was more effective than any tent revival, more than the apostles in the Book of Acts, even more than Jesus Himself preaching the Good News.
But no one studies Jonah for preaching tips. Here was his epic message, all eight words, ““Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” That was it. No funny stories, no sermon illustrations, no three points of alliteration to make it memorable. Just, ““Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” He was kind of like a cartoon homeless guy holding a sign saying “The End is Near!”
And it worked. In spite of the most “phoned in” message the world has ever known. In spite of him not wanting it to work. In the face of every possible reason why it shouldn’t have worked, “The people of Nineveh believed God’s message.”
They didn’t impale him. They didn’t threaten him. They just believed him. They “turned from their evil ways and stopped all their violence.” They even made their animals fast from eating and drinking and put sackcloth on them. They didn’t want to take any chances, they were hoping God would show them mercy if they repented. God heard them and gave them grace, just like He gave grace to Jonah. Next week we’ll find out how Jonah feels about how effective his preaching ministry had been. Spoiler alert: He is not pleased with the results.
Here’s a couple things I want us to think about:
First, our motives don’t have to be pure to do God’s mission. Obedience is enough. You might not feel like having that awkward conversation about Jesus, or inviting someone to join our NewChurch launch team, or calling out a close friend to repentance when they are in sin. You might not think they’ll listen to you, or that it will do any good at all but the results are not our job, our part is just to surrender and do it anyway. It’s not our responsibility to make it effective.
If God gives you a mission He will also provide the power to make the mission work. We dig up the ground, plant the seeds, and pull the weeds, but we can’t do anything about making it rain or bringing the seeds to life and causing them to grow. That’s God’s part. Our job is to go and to say the words, it’s His job to make faith in the heart of the hearer. He is the One who gives life.
Jonah’s message was lame but God used it to call hundreds of thousands of people to faith and repentance. When we speak God’s Word to people, even when we are reluctant and poorly paraphrase what it really says, even if we’re not feeling it in the moment—He will also use us to call people to faith and repentance.
The next time you are afraid to speak up and tell someone something—maybe you feel the Holy Spirit gently nudging you, or maybe not so gently—remember Jonah. He didn’t want to, he did a poor job, and God made it work anyway. He became the world’s greatest evangelist.
This is good news because it means it’s not up to us. Whether NewChurch grows into something beautiful and amazing or not is up to God. Our job is to show up and be faithful, speak to people and invite them to join us following Jesus. It’s not our job to convince anyone, we can trust God to bring the mission alive in their hearts just like He has done in ours.
May God give us boldness. May He use us to call people to faith and repentance. May we be faithful in what He has called us to do, and may we take it to heart with great comfort that none of this is about us or up to us. AMEN