Jonah Goes to Nineveh

[Note: Read part 1, delivered by Joleen: Jonah Goes the Wrong Way]

Click here to read Jonah 3–4

The story of Jonah is such as incredible story!

And, this is one of my favorite lines in the story: “Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time …”
you thankful for the second chances? Jonah messed up royally the first
time around; now God is giving him another chance! Have you ever needed
a second chance?

God says: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver
the message of judgment I have given you.” This is followed by another
one of my favorite lines in the story is this one: “This time Jonah
obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh.” Well, you would too, if
you had just spent 3 days in the belly of a big fish! And Jonah finally
gets it right, sort of.

Jonah goes to Nineveh, “a city so large that it took three days to
see it all.” On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the
crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

Message of Judgment
You don’t notice this in English, but
in the original Hebrew, there’s a slight variation. The first time,
God’s message was a threat of impending judgment. But the second time,
along with the message of impending judgment, was a positive element, a
call to repentance! For example, “There are still 40 more days for
repentance …”

Nineveh repents
And amazingly enough, the people of
Nineveh believed God’s message; they fasted and put on sackcloth to
demonstrate their repentance.

The King’s Decree
When the king of Nineveh heard what
Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his
royal robes. He dressed himself in sackcloth and sat on a heap of
ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the
city: “No one, not even the animals, may eat or drink anything at
all. Everyone is required to wear sackcloth and pray earnestly to
God. Everyone must turn from their evil ways and stop all their

The people made U-Turn …
The king went on to say: “Who can
tell? Perhaps even yet God will have pity on us and hold back his
fierce anger from destroying us.”

This is amazing! These spiritually confused people believed the
message of this angry, reluctant prophet, and hoped that God would be
gracious and compassionate toward them. And God did. When God saw that
they had put a stop to their evil ways, God had mercy on them and
didn’t carry out the destruction God had threatened.

But there’s a problem. God didn’t get Jonah’s approval: “This change
of plans upset Jonah, and he became very angry.” So he complained to
the LORD about it. And here, toward the end of the story, we finally
discover just why Jonah ran from God: “Didn’t I say before I left home
that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I
knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry
and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your
plans for destroying these people.”

Jonah is mad because God loves the Ninevites!
Nineveh was the capital of Israel’s archenemy Assyria. They were wicked
and brutal; they hated the Israelites and their God. But they, like all
people, mattered to God. Interestingly, The name, Nineveh was a symbol:
a fish inside a circle.

Jonah said: “Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive
because nothing I predicted is going to happen.” IOW, “I’d rather die
than live with a compassionate God like you!”

But look at what God asked to Jonah: “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

Well, Jonah ignores the question and goes out “to the east side of
the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see if
anything would happen to the city.”

The Plant
God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there,
and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from
the sun. This eased some of his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful
for the plant.

The Worm
But God also prepared a worm! The next morning at
dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant, so that it soon died
and withered away.

Again, Jonah wants to die! As the sun grew hot, God sent a scorching
east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew
faint and wished to die …
Jonah: “Death is certainly better than this!”
God: “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
Jonah: “Yes, even angry enough to die!”

What’s wrong with Jonah?
Now, you’re probably thinking,
“Jonah is stupid! Jonah’s angry enough to die because of a little
plant, but he doesn’t care about people? What’s wrong with Jonah?”

And, you’re right. Jonah is stupid. But haven’t you been angry about
dumb stuff before? I have. Sometimes we get so bent out of shape about
so many meaningless, trivial things: things like what we will eat or
what we will wear; churches get caught up in trivial stuff too:
furnishings, ways of worshiping or ministry, etc.

While we get angry about these things, God is concerned about people!

That’s what John Wesley taught us: “You have nothing to do but to save souls!” (John Wesley)

We’ve got to get our priorities right. Maybe you’re angry because
you don’t understand God’s ways; maybe God keeps changing the
direction, and you don’t like it. Maybe some of you are angry because
people don’t come to church like they used to.

The world is constantly changing, and it’s passing us by. A few
decades ago, all you had to do was open the doors, and people would
come. But now, it doesn’t work that way. Now we have to go to them; we
have to build relationships with people and reach out to reach people
wherever they are, and we have to them God’s Story. BTW, that’s the way
Jesus and the early Christ-followers did it!

From …

  • Less than 1% of those who come to Christ do so as a result of an evangelistic crusade.
  • No more than 4% say they are influenced by local church programs or worship services.
  • Fully 80% come to faith “because a friend or family member cared for me until I accepted Christ.”

God said to Jonah …
“You feel sorry about the plant, though you
did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived.
But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,
not to mention all the animals.”

This great story ends with a question …
It’s the only book in
the Bible that ends with a question. It ends with the most challenging,
heart-penetrating question. It had to have penetrated Jonah’s heart; it
penetrates my heart, and I hope it penetrate your heart too.

“Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

Jonah’s Courage
There’s one thing I love about Jonah – his
courage. To go right into the heart of your archenemy and tell them
they have forty days till their city is going to be overthrown – that
takes courage!

I want that kind of courage – to proclaim God’s Word, to follow God,
and lead people wherever God leads. That kind of life requires courage!

But Jonah was missing something – compassion!
is a requirement, along with courage. You can’t just have one or the
other; you’ve got to have both! If we are to ever understand God, we
need to understand this about God: God is irrationally, passionately in
love with all people.

So, God leaves us with this question …

“Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
It’s a
question that’s supposed to make us think. It’s supposed to challenge
us. It’s supposed to disturb us! How does it disturb you? Shouldn’t we
be compassionate toward the spiritually confused people who live among
us — in our neighborhoods, communities, valley, and our world.

Shouldn’t we be compassionate for all people — our friends,
strangers, people at the margins of society, and people we don’t get
along with.

Shouldn’t we allow God to reach spiritually confused people through us?

U-Turns …
The story of Jonah is a great story. It’s full
of so many u-turns. In this story, everybody and everything – sailors,
the captain, the weather, the fish, the Ninevites, the plant, and the
worm – everything and everyone obeys God, except Jonah! Now, we don’t
know the end of the story. What don’t know what happened after that
penetrating question that God asked Jonah. I hope Jonah made another

But I’m more concerned about the u-turns that need to be made here today! To repent means to make a u-turn, to return to God.

Jonah Goes the Wrong Way

The Story
A group of sailors are changed forever because of their encounter with Jonah, a person who was going the wrong way, a person who was running from God.

This story finds a group of who are preparing to take their merchant ship to Spain, probably on an expedition of international trade. A Hebrew named Jonah, who is fleeing from God, comes down from Jerusalem to join them. Jonah travels down to Joppa, a Palestinian seaport town, and probably already feels like he has escaped God, for in this town he is very unlikely to run into any other God-worshipers or Israelites. He buys a ticket and down into the ship he goes, again confident he will be the only Israelite. Jonah proceeds down into the hold below the deck and down he lays falling into a sound sleep.

As the sailors take off to sea, such a great storm arises that it threatens to tear the ship apart. The sailors are afraid! They cry aloud, each praying to their own god, as they throw their cargo overboard attempting to lighten the ship… doing everything they can to increase their chances of survival.

The captain goes below deck and frantically arouses Jonah from his deep sleep, “How can you sleep at a time like this! What’s a matter with you! Get up and start praying to your god! Shout loudly to your god and maybe he’ll hear and save us from death.”

As the storm worsens the sailors cast lots, probably each choosing a small stone. Jonah gets the colored stone, the only one of its kind, and the sailors begin throwing questions at him in rapid succession, wanting to quickly find out the cause of the storm.

Jonah responds, as if with pride, “I am a Hebrew! And I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

Well, this frightens the sailors all the more, because they are on the sea and they really want to be on dry land right now!

The sailors then basically ask Jonah, “What have you done to make the Lord this angry and to put all of our lives in danger!”

They continue asking, “What should we do to you so that the sea might calm down for us?” Jonah, taking responsibility says to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea to make the sea quiet down, because I know it’s my fault you are in this severe storm.”

These sailors are basically good people. They don’t want to kill anybody. And they don’t want to die. And at this point they are afraid they’re going to die whether they throw Jonah over or not. So, first they try digging their oars hard and deep into the stormy waters, trying to head to dry land. But they just cannot. The storm gets even fiercer. So they relent, and throw Jonah overboard.

At this moment the sea becomes calm.

Our wrong turns effect others
How many of you have been tossed around by the storms of life? You’ve
made a wrong turn. OR someone else has made a wrong turn and they’re
riding on the same boat as you are.

It only takes one addict in a household to effect the whole household. One alcoholic, one drug addict, one workaholic: when one consistently chooses work over time with their family, if effects the family, it effects his/her marriage, it effects our kids.

In the math’s and sciences this is called the Butterfly Effect where it is calculated that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a disturbance that continues to amplified and the outcome is unpredictable… perhaps a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.

When we as Christians don’t act like Christians and do things that are opposite of what Christians are to do, it hurts the witness of the Church. When we don’t do what God call us to do, it hurts the witness of the Church.

One person’s actions, the wrong turn of Jonah, effected the lives of many others.

It may be because we or someone else has made a wrong turn, but sometimes God, in his love and compassion, causes the storms of life.

I wouldn’t want to make a wrong turn and there be no turbulence… there would be no signal that anything was wrong! That’s like having a heart attack and there being no pain. The pain is the warning sign. For a pregnant woman, contractions are different kind of warning sign. They mean, you’d better get to the hospital, because the baby is a coming! Most women complain that they are in labor too long. Well, I had a girlfriend who’s labor was so brief she almost didn’t make it to the hospital in time. Pain, serves a purpose. We could be dying… we could be lost at sea… and never know it. But the storm, just like physical pain, is our warning sign. So sometimes there is a very good reason for the storms in life.

What do you do in the storm?
Now if we know there are going to be storms in life, the question becomes, "How do you respond?"

Basically this story gives us two choices: Denial or Action

You can respond like Jonah and just disappear below deck, out of sight, lay low for a while and hope that the storm passes over. Denying that you’ve done anything to cause the storm.

Or you can respond like the sailors who take action…
They pray; they do what they can to make the situation better. They work together… lightening the load [as we are instructed in the NT to “carry one another burdens.] They try to find the cause of the storm, by asking, “What can we do to make the situation right?” When the sailors cast lots, they are NOT looking for someone to blame… they don’t know Jonah is the one to blame when he comes up with the colored stone. They believe he is the one with the answers; that he can tell them what they need to do to make this storm go away. When the begin questioning him, they don’t ask him what he did; they ask him who he is. They certainly never expect the cure to be Jonah saying, “throw me overboard.” And they even reject that answer at first. Again they don’t want someone to blame, they just want to know how to make the situation right.

One doesn’t ask the question, “What can I do to make the situation right?” without being teachable. Unlike Jonah, the sailors are ready to learn. Jonah already knows more than he’s applying. He’s the one who says “I am a Hebrew! I belong to the high God of heaven, the One enthroned over all creation, the One who made this very sea that is threatening our lives.” But Jonah says “NO” to what he knows. He says, “I don’t want to make it better. I don’t like what God has asked me to do. I’m mad at God right now… and I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to change.”

So Jonah, would rather just go to sleep… and sometimes in our unteachable moments we need someone like the captain of the ship, to come and give us a good shaking… and tell us to wake up and start talking to God.

Now remember, Jonah is the “Christian” here. He’s the one who knows God. He’s the one who is to be setting the example. And he is missing the mark. The sailors who don’t know God can see more clearly and are far more teachable than Jonah.

And it is the sailors who are the winners in this story. They are the ones who obey and throw Jonah overboard. They are the ones whose lives are changed. They are the ones who learn to call on the one true God in their time of trouble… and God answers and preserves their lives.

We noted earlier that when we go the wrong way it can negatively effect those around us; but God can also use our wrong turns to positively effect others… Jonah went the wrong way, and God used it for good, revealing himself to the sailors.

And as is the case with Jonah, sometimes when we go the wrong way, God can change our wrong turns into u-turns…

See Randy’s sermon Jonah Goes to Nineveh to read part 2 of this sermon.