Scripture Reference: Psalms 51, Psalms 103:8-14, Jonah 1:1-2, Jonah 3, Matthew 12:40, Luke 15, 2 Corinthians 5:21
The God Of Second ChancesRev. Philip Miller | November 13, 2022
Scripture Reference: Psalms 51, Psalms 103:8-14, Jonah 1:1-2, Jonah 3, Matthew 12:40, Luke 15, 2 Corinthians 5:21
Selected highlights from this sermon
Sometimes people get the impression that in the Old Testament, God is full of wrath, whereas in the New Testament He is full of love, compassion, and mercy. But what we tend to forget is that while the cross does mean mercy and grace and forgiveness for us, it meant judgment, wrath, and condemnation for Jesus.
But the Old Testament has far more mercy and grace and compassion than we often realize. Jonah 3 is full of the love, forgiveness, and kindness of our God. And the God of compassion who sent Jonah to a city filled with undeserving people that they might be saved by His unrelenting grace, is the same God of compassion who, seven centuries later, sent Jesus to a world filled with undeserving people, that we too might be saved by His unrelenting grace.
Sometimes people get the impression that in the Old Testament, God is full of wrath, that He is strict and austere, whereas in the New Testament He’s full of love, compassionate and merciful. And I can get why people can form that impression. After all, the Old Testament is full of major moments of judgment, like the flood and the plagues, and the exodus, the exile; and the New Testament does contained epicenter of grace as Jesus lays down His life for our forgiveness. But what we tend to forget is that while the cross does mean mercy, grace, and forgiveness for us, for Jesus it meant a whole lot of wrath, judgment, and condemnation. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The reason the New Testament feels like it has less judgment is because Jesus took the judgment we deserve. Amen? The reason it feels like there’s less wrath in the New Testament is because Jesus bore the wrath of God for us. The reason it feels like there’s no condemnation is because Jesus was condemned in our place. Oh, the New Testament has its fair share of judgment, wrath, and condemnation. It’s just that Jesus paid it all. And I think sometimes we forget just how much the Old Testament is full of the mercy, grace, and compassion of God.
Today’s passage is a great example of this. Jonah, chapter 3, is simply dripping with the love, forgiveness, and kindness of our God. And the God of compassion who sent Jonah to a city full of undeserving people in order that they might be saved by His unrelenting grace is the same God of compassion who seven centuries later sends Jesus into a world filled with undeserving people in order that we too might be saved by His unrelenting grace. In both the Old and the New Testaments, we find the same heartbeat, the same enduring character of a God who forever and always is unrelenting in His grace for undeserving people. And that’s true of Jonah, it’s true of Nineveh, it’s true of us this morning. Amen? Amen.
So, let’s grab our Bibles. We’re going to be in Jonah, chapter 3. We’re going to look at the whole chapter, verses 1 to 10, this morning. If you want to use the pew Bible that’s there by your knees, you’ll find this on page 775, seven hundred seventy-five, Jonah, chapter 3. I’m going to read the whole text, and then give us our outline for this morning. Alright?
Jonah 3:1, “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!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the very 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 throughout 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.”
Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His Word.
In these verses this morning I hope we will see afresh
- God’s empowering grace,
- His sovereign rule, and
- His proactive mercy.
That’s our outline for this morning. Okay? God’s empowering grace, His sovereign rule, and His proactive mercy.
Let’s bow our heads. Let’s pray together. Wherever you are, could you just do something for me? I know it’s cold and you’re all wearing coats. Just take your hands. Put them out like this. Let’s ask the Lord to come this morning.
Father, we are here, your children, and we need to hear from you. Our souls are made for you, and we are hungry for your presence. Feed us this morning as we open your Word. Come, Holy Spirit. Teach us, change us, make us new. Help us see the glory of who you are, God, this morning. For Jesus’ sake we pray, Amen. Amen.
So, first of all, empowering grace. Empowering grace! You’ll recall when we left Jonah last time, he had just gotten his life back. He had been vomited up by a great fish on the shore somewhere. So, there he is. He’s blinded by light. Right? He’s been in the belly of a fish for several days. His eyes have not adjusted. The light is blowing up his eyes here. He’s got fresh air in his lungs for the first time in days. He’s laying exhausted, filthy on the beach. And I don’t know what three days in a G.I. tract of a fish would be to you, but I’m imagining his skin is pale and he’s full of sores from acid damage from the stomach of the fish. I’m guessing he stinks to high heavens. I’m guessing he’s absolutely covered in filth. Right? He wasn’t the only thing that was vomited up in that moment.
So, here he is. This is his moment. He’s lying on the beach, laying there I imagine. And verse 1, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time saying, ‘Arise. Go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’”
Now, I want you to notice that the verses here in chapter 3, the first two verses are parallel with the first two verses of chapter 1. If you flip back there you’ll notice chapter 1, verses 1 and 2: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amattai, saying, ‘Arise. Go to Nineveh, that great city and call out against it for their evil has come up before me.”
So, the first call in chapter one, Jonah, of course disobeyed. He hightailed it out of there. He ran as far as he possibly could in the opposite direction of his assignment. He went to Tarshish. And after the storm, the sea and the fish had now brought him back, now God gives Jonah a second message, a second chance at life, and as it turns out, a second chance in ministry. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.”
So, with this second call now, God is saying to Jonah basically, “Jonah, I’m not done with you. Jonah, I’m not giving up on you. Jonah, I’m not going to hold this failure over you. I’m giving you a second chance.” Do you see what’s happening? God’s giving him a do-over, isn’t he? A second chance! A chance to get it right! A path of redemption. This is beautiful. And friends, God gives second chances, doesn’t He? Aren’t you so glad? Please, somebody be glad of that. Aren’t you glad give gives second chances? (applause)
I’m reminded of Peter in the New Testament who denied Jesus three times, you remember, but then the resurrected Jesus met him one morning on the shore (interesting), with fish (interesting), and three times asked Peter, “Do you love me?” One for each denial, and then Jesus recommissions Peter: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. You follow me.” So not only did Jesus give Peter his life back. Jesus gave him his trust back as well. Isn’t that beautiful?
“I’m entrusting you, Peter, with my lambs. I’m putting them in your care. All these people that I love, Peter, they’re in your hands, and I trust you to get it right this time now that my grace has set you free.”
And that’s exactly what God is doing with Jonah here. Don’t you see that? “All these people in Nineveh, the people that I love, Jonah, they’re in your hands now. I’m trusting you to get it right this time now that My grace has set you free.”
Friends, this is God’s empowering grace. It’s an empowering grace because God gives second chances, and not just to Jonah, but also to Nineveh. That’s what this passage is all about. When Nineveh finally turns, when the people repent, these brutal inhumane terrorists of the ancient world, when they turn to God in repentance, God gives even them a second chance, doesn’t He?
Verse 10: “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He said He would do to them, and He did not do it.” Why? Well, as Jonah puts it in chapter 4, verse 2, “God is a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster.” In other words, God is a God of second chances, which means, bottom line, we are never too far gone for grace. We are never too far gone for grace.
Look friends, if there’s hope for a prophet who flatly denies God, and says, “I’m going to just do whatever I want to do.” Right? If there’s hope for a disciple who looks Jesus in the eye and denies Him three times as He goes to the cross to pay for his sins, then there’s hope for you and me. There’s hope for you and me. Whatever we’ve done, whoever we’ve become, we are never too far gone for God’s grace. Amen?
Friends, it makes me just wonder what God must be like that He would give second chances like this. What must God be like that He would give second chances like this? This is an empowering grace.
Secondly, we see His sovereign rule, His sovereign rule. Unlike chapter one, where Jonah disobeys, this time Jonah obeys. Verse 3: “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord.” Look at that! He did it according to the word of the Lord. Shocking turn-around behavior! Right?
“Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. 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!’”
Now, just pause for a moment. This is not a very good Gospel presentation, is it? This is not...It is a terrible presentation. “You’re all toast. You are doomed. Finished!” There’s nothing here about turning to the Lord, nothing here about repentance, or grace or mercy or hope. He just says, “Hey, I want you to know you’re all goners! Period! End of story.” (Laughs)
Jonah can’t even begin to bring himself to offer even the smallest window of hope to his enemies. He just can’t do it, and yet (verse 5) “The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast. They put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.”
Now, here’s my question. Why did the Ninevites respond so quickly, so comprehensively, so wholeheartedly to Jonah’s lousy message? It’s not as if his words were particularly compelling. What are they responding to? What made it incredible to them that they would just snap to attention like this? That’s a good question, I think. This is where historical backgrounds actually are so helpful to us.
Did you know that the Assyrians (Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, right?)… And the Assyrians worshipped a god called Dagon, who was, they believed, a great fish god from the sea. We have numerous reliefs, stone carvings of the Assyrian depiction of Dagon as this fish/human hybrid being. He’s like a fish with the face of a man. He’s got legs like a man but he’s a fish. Okay? And this is Dagon. This is the god they worshipped and believed in.
So here comes Jonah walking into the city with skin pale and sore from the G.I. tract and acid burns of a great fish, and he’s smelling of fishy vomit, and he’s filthy. And I’m sure, if you would have asked him, “What on earth happened to you?” And he would have told them, “The Lord God, the maker of heaven and earth commanded the great fish of the sea to swallow me and bring me to shore and vomit me up so that I could come to you with this message: ‘Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’”
Isn’t this amazing, friends? God used the great fish of the sea, the thing that the Ninevites connected with their god and worshipped, to transport His own prophet with a message from Yahweh, the one true God. And the Ninevites, when they hear the message, they realize Dagon can’t help them out of this one because Jonah’s God is the Lord and over all the gods, including Dagon. And if He commanded this great fish, and the great fish of the sea obeys this God, then we’d better obey that God as well.
And here’s the bottom line, friends. God is sovereign over all. He’s sovereign over all. He’s sovereign over the storm. He’s sovereign over the sailors. He’s sovereign over the lots that were cast. He’s sovereign over the sea. He’s sovereign over the great fish. He’s sovereign over all the gods of the ancient world, and He is sovereign over all. And even Jonah’s half-hearted message, friends, cannot thwart the sovereign will of God. Isn’t this amazing?
God so desired to see the Ninevites turn from their evil ways to cry out for mercy so that He might show them the riches of His kindness and grace, that nothing was going to stop Him from seeing that happen, so He runs down His runaway prophet. He hurls a hurricane to whip him into shape. He commands, commandeers this great fish as a submarine transport for His prophet. And He brings Jonah to Nineveh with theological categories that they would be sure to understand, so that even Jonah’s lousy Gospel message can’t stop them from hearing the voice of the Lord God.
This is amazing. Look at all that God did to make sure the Ninevites had a chance to come to repentance. This is amazing. Look at all He did to reach them. And friends, the bottom line for us is that God moves heaven and Earth to reach us. God moves heaven and Earth to reach us.
If you think God went overboard to reach the Ninevites here, just think of what He did to reach you and me. “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only son.” He sent us more than a reluctant prophet. He sent us the willing Son of God Himself who entered not just into the city but entered into our very existence, took on human flesh, the Incarnate One, Immanuel, God with us, humble and lowly and vulnerable, who was more than just pale and sore from stomach acid, but was crucified upon a cross. And He was swallowed up not by a great fish but by death itself. And as Jesus said in Matthew 12:40, “Just 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.”
And then rising again, our Jesus proclaims the good news that in categories we will be sure to understand. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Amen? Amen. (applause)
Friends, what must God be like that He would move all of heaven and Earth to reach us? It’s amazing. What must he be like?
Empowering grace, sovereign rule, and now proactive mercy! Proactive mercy!
The repentance that began on the outskirts of the city now kind of trickles its way...It’s gone viral. It reaches the center.
Verse 6, “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? Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’”
Sackcloth and ashes were ubiquitous signs of mourning, sorrow, penance in the Ancient Near East. This fast from food and drink is a demonstration of their sincerity and resolve, and together as a city with one voice they cry out in repentance for mercy. And here’s what’s amazing. They have no reason for hope, do they? Jonah gave them no hope. They have no reason to hope. Their condemnation has been pronounced. There’s no fine print. They are simply hoping against hope that there’s more mercy in the universe than they deserve.
It’s like the captain in the storm in chapter 1. Do you remember him? He wakes up Jonah in the bottom of the boat. “Arise. Call to your God. Perhaps our god will give thought to us that we will not perish. It’s a gamble for hope against hope.”
Chapter 3, the king blindly offers. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from His fierce anger that we might not perish.
They are parallel. Do you see that? And then verse 10: “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He said He would do to them, and He did not do it.”
Here’s what’s amazing to me. We know from history that Nineveh’s repentance is short-lived. Short-lived! Just a few years later they are back to all their brutality, their terrorist activity, vicious aggression to their neighbors. In fact, 150 years later God will announce the final destruction of Nineveh through His prophet, Nahum. And Nineveh falls in 612 B.C.
So, God knows this is coming. He knows that this is a temporary injunction. He’s pausing the judgment that’s coming, but their repentance is fickle. He knows this and yet He still extends mercy. Isn’t that fascinating?
Another thing that amazes me is that Jonah’s repentance is short-lived. We’ll see this next week, but in chapter 4 Jonah ends up sideways with God again. (laughs) His repentance in chapter 2 doesn’t make it to chapter 4. Okay? But he gets days and then he’s sideways again. God knows how fickle Jonah’s repentance is, and yet he still extends mercy. Isn’t that amazing? Even in the face of fickle repentance, friends, God is eager to forgive. God is eager to forgive.
I love how Jesus depicts the heart of our Heavenly Father in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. As the prodigal son comes home he’s not fully repentant yet, but this is what we read: “While he was a long way off the father saw him, and felt compassion and ran and embraced him, and he kissed him. (And he wouldn’t even let him finish his own ‘sorry’ speech.) ‘Quick,’ he says, ‘Bring me the robe. Put it on him. Bring the ring and put it on his hand and put shoes on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate for this son of mind was dead, and he’s alive. He was lost and he is found.’”
And friends, our God is so eager to forgive. He is so quickly moved toward compassion. He is so lavishly prone to mercy. He is so abounding in grace.
As David writes in Psalm 103:8-14: “The Lord is merciful and gracious. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities, for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him, for he knows our frame and He remembers that we are but dust.”
He is so merciful, so eager to forgive. We see this in Jesus, too, don’t we? When Jesus looked out from the cross on those who were crucifying Him, mocking Him, conspiring against Him, what did He pray? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
“Father, forgive them!” How generous! How undeserved! How lavish! Friends, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Friends, what must God be like if He is so very eager to forgive? What must He be like?
I’ve always been moved by a story I read a few years ago. I’ve shared this before, but it was about a daughter from Nebraska who had had a falling out with her family. She ran away, and in order to pay the bills she turned to prostitution, and one day—this was her wake-up moment—she turned around and came home. She was in a bar, and you know how they have pictures hanging up on the walls sometimes with celebrities, and they’re signed and have messages on them? There was her picture from earlier in her life when she was a lot younger and handwritten across it was a message in her father’s handwriting. And she went and took her picture down and she read these words, “Whatever you’ve done, whoever you’ve become, all is forgiven. Please come home.” And that was the moment she realized, “I can come back home.”
And friends, as I read that, I realized that’s my Father’s heart. That’s our Heavenly Father’s heart, that whatever we’ve done, whatever we’ve become, all is forgiven. “Please come home.”
And you say, “I don’t know if He’d take me the way that I am.” Look, friends, Jonah, the Ninevites, Peter, David, the prodigal son are all telling us the same thing, that we are never too far gone for grace, that God will move heaven and Earth to reach us, and that God is eager to forgive us, that whatever we’ve done, and whoever we’ve become, all is forgiven. Just please come home. Please come home.
And the promise of God is if we will just come to ourselves and head back home, He will run to us, and He will meet us and cut off our “sorry speech” and give us a robe and a ring and filet mignon, because that’s our God. That’s our God! (applause) That’s our God!
You say, “How do I even do this?” You do it just like the Ninevites. You do it like the prodigal son. You do it like Jonah in the fish. You do it like Peter on the beach. You do it like David in Psalm 51.
It’s as simple as A, B, C.
A – You admit that you’re a sinner, far from God.
B – You believe that in Jesus Christ everything has been done to make you right with God, and
C – You commit your life to Him, and say, “If you will have me I am yours.”
That’s how we come home – A, B, C! Admit, Believe, Commit!
And in a room this size I’m not ignorant of the fact that there are people that come to Moody Church but you’re not home yet. You haven’t tipped. And I just want to invite you. I’m going to pray in a moment and I’m just going to pray these three things – admit, believe, and commit. And if you want to come home this morning, just pray where you are. Just pray with me. Make this prayer yours.
Would you bow your heads?
Heavenly Father, we admit that we are sinners far from you. We have made a mess of our lives.
And Father, we believe that Jesus has done everything to make us right with you when He died in our place and for our sake and rose again to give us life.
And Father, we commit ourselves to you. We ask that you would be our Savior and our Lord, that what is true throughout all of Scripture, Old Testament and New, that you are quick to forgive, that you are reaching out in compassion to those who will turn to you in repentance and faith, that that would be true of us even this morning, that we can truly come home in the grace and mercy of our God. And so, Father, we trust in the promises of Jesus, that if we call on His name we will be saved. We cry out to you for mercy and grace. We have so much more confidence than the Ninevites had. They just had a hope in the dark, but you have given us hope in the life of Jesus Christ. We know that you will do all that it takes to bring us home to yourself, and so we cry out for your mercy and grace.
For Jesus’ sake, we pray this, Amen. Amen.