In this session of Secret Church 23 on Jonah 3, Pastor David Platt calls Christians to repent and receive God’s mercy as Jonah did. Despite Jonah’s sin, God showed mercy when he repented. God promises to show mercy toward all those who repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ.
- Repent and receive the gospel
- Call others to repent and receive God’s mercy
- Trust the power of God’s Word
- Proclaim God’s Word all over the world
All right, welcome back. The third session is always tough. People start to get tired. So feel free to stand up, move around, stretch at any point. Drink lots of sugar or caffeine, but not to the point that you vomit, like the fish did at the end of chapter two.
This leads us into chapter three: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time…” Let’s pause here. Does that language sound familiar? It’s the exact same words the book started with. Jonah 1:1 says, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai…” The first five words of chapter three are the exact same first five words of chapter one: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah…”
Remember that in the first chapter we don’t have any set up. We don’t know when this was, or even where. The same is true here in chapter three. We don’t know if this happened when Jonah was lying there on the shore, covered in fish waste, or if this happened days ,weeks or months later at some other place. All we know is the word of the Lord came. This is where the focus is, on God’s word which came again suddenly to Jonah. This leads to the only part of this verse that’s different, “the second time.” Jonah has a second chance.
This is obviously the story we see over and over again in the Bible—the God who gives second chances. There is not one person in Scripture, apart from Jesus, who doesn’t need a second chance at some point. Abraham, Moses, David. We could look at so many stories. But I want you to think specifically about Peter with me for a few minutes.
Peter is famous for denying Jesus before Jesus went to the cross, then Jesus restored him afterwards—gave him a second chance. But do you remember the moment in Matthew 16 when Peter initially confessed Jesus as Messiah and Jesus told Peter he would be a leader in the church? Look at this with me in Matthew 16:13-18:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Did you notice in verse 17, “Simon Bar-Jonah!” Peter’s dad’s name was John, not Jonah. Some scholars differ on how to take this, but there’s a strong case to be made that Jesus was referring, not just to how Peter was the son of his father John, but how Peter was in the line of Jonah, the prophet who denied God with his disobedience, only to be given a second chance. Just like Jonah had a second chance, Peter would have a second chance.
Then, to take this parallel a step further, remember in Acts 10 when Peter was on a roof and had a vision about going to the Gentiles. Peter, just like Jonah, was resistant to go the Gentiles, to the nations, when God said, “I’m sending you to them.” Guess where Peter was when God gave him that vision. Acts 10:5 says, “Now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter…” Peter just so happened to be in Joppa, the same place Jonah was when God called him to go to the Gentiles.
The God of Second Chances
When you read the rest of Acts 10, you’ll see the Gentiles being reached with the gospel through Peter, who had initially denied Jesus. So don’t miss the beauty here. Whether with Jonah or Peter or you or me, God is the God of second chances. He graciously and lovingly pursues his people, even when we are disobedient to him. He gives us another chance. I shudder to think where I would be in my life if it were not for second, third, fourth, fifth and thousandth chances in my life.
Before we move on, I want to point out that no one is guaranteed another chance. I think of Moses in Numbers 20, who sinned and God said, “You’re not entering the Promised Land.” And that was it for him. I think of the prophet in 1 Kings 13:26 who disobeyed God and was immediately killed by a lion. So we should not presume upon God’s grace. We praise God for his grace and take the opportunity he’s giving to us today.
What will Jonah do with his second chance? Well, verse two tells us what the Lord said to him: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” Again, the same words we saw in Jonah 1:2, we now see in the second verse of chapter three. “Arise”—get up with urgency. “Go”—where? “To Nineveh, that great city”—that large, important city.
We’ll come back to that in the next verse, but notice the last part of this verse, which is different from the original commission Jonah received in chapter one. Jonah 1:2 says, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Now, here in Jonah 3:2, instead of a focus on the evil in Nineveh, the focus is on the message God is giving to Jonah.
The original language actually repeats itself, so it sounds like, “Proclaim to the city the proclamation that I proclaim to you.” In other words, “Jonah, you don’t have the option of saying whatever you want.” God is being very specific. “Jonah, you say to this city exactly what I tell you to say to it.”
Let me point out the obvious. This is clearly not a situation where Jonah disobeyed the first time, then because of his disobedience, God changed his mind about what he was going to do. It’s kind of like a child who thinks, “Maybe if I disobey my parents and object to them, or even throw a tantrum about what they’re telling me to do, then they’ll change their minds.”
God has not changed his mind at all. The command is still exactly the same; it’s even clearer now. “Jonah, like I said the first time, arise, go to Nineveh; when you get there, say exactly what I tell you to say.” So what does Jonah do?
Jonah 3:3, “So Jonah arose and…” That’s the same language we saw last time Jonah responded: he arose. But this time, instead of rising and fleeing from the presence of the Lord to Tarshish, “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.”
It’s interesting that in chapter one, Jonah said nothing; he just disobeyed. Now in chapter three, Jonah again says nothing; he just obeys. Again, we don’t know where Jonah was when God gave him this word, so we don’t know how long of a journey it would have been to Nineveh. Scholars estimate it was around 500 miles from Israel, so at least a month’s journey, if not much longer. Which means there’s silence for an unknown period of time as the prophet now quietly goes to the place and the people that he, along with all of Israel, hates
Then the scene shifts to Nineveh, where the rest of verse three says, “Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.” These two phrases are really interesting. First, we’ve already heard Nineveh described as a great city, but the author tells us here it was an “exceedingly great city.” The language here is literally “a great city to God” or “a very important city belonging to God.” Think about how this affects the way we view cities in the world.
I live in Metro Washington, DC—what most people in the world would call a great or important city. What makes it great or important is that it ultimately belongs to God. God is Lord over Washington, DC. Now, many people in Washington, DC, don’t acknowledge, fear or worship God as Lord, but that doesn’t mean he’s not Lord.
He is sovereign—he owns, he possesses—all authority over Washington, DC. the same is true for New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, Dubai, Shanghai, Mumbai, Dar es Salam and Tehran—all of these cities ultimately belong to God. He is Lord over all of them. He’s Lord over whatever city you’re sitting in right now. Every city in the world is under the sovereign rule of God. He owns them all. They all belong to him.
Jonah 3 Illustrates the Lord’s City
Jonah is going to an important city that belongs to God. In the same way, God calls you and me to go and live in important cities that belong to him. Nineveh is not the Assyrians’ city; it’s the Lord’s city. So is the city where you live.
Then we have this phrase: “three days’ journey in breadth.” A lot of biblical scholars are confused as to exactly what this means. Many believe it means that a visit to the city would require about three days to walk across it, or around it, or to completely visit it. Other scholars point out a parallel here with the other time we see three days in Jonah’s life, which is where? Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days, right? We talked about how this picture of three days illustrated going from death to life, which sets the stage for what’s about to happen in Nineveh.
What’s interesting, though, is once Jonah gets to Nineveh, listen to what happens and how quickly it happens. Verse four: “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey.” So he doesn’t even make it through the whole city. He’s just at the start of his journey into the city—one day’s journey.
You can imagine the tension. Jonah, the Israelite, surrounded by Ninevites, those brutal Assyrians. How would people have looked at him? How would he have looked at them? What kind of emotions was Jonah feeling? Was he anxious? Nervous? Scared? Was he mad? Was he angry? Was he compassionate and kind? The author doesn’t tell us. We kind of wish he would.
The author is focused on one thing: the word God had given Jonah to proclaim. Within one short day of walking into Nineveh, as Jonah had just begun to traverse the city, verse four tells us, “He called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’” This is fascinating. An eight-word sermon is all we have. It’s actually only five words in the Hebrew, the original language.
Now, many biblical scholars assume Jonah said more than this and that this was just the summary of his message. We certainly see that throughout Scripture. The sermons we see from Peter or Paul in the book of Acts, for example, are likely not the entire sermon but the main thrust of it, which may be the case here.
I point this out personally, because some people might say, “David, why can’t you or other pastors preach eight-word sermons? Sundays would go a whole lot quicker.” There’s a lot I could say to that, as in, “Why are you in such a hurry to get out of worshiping God on Sunday?”
But I don’t have the pleasure of doing what Jonah did here, nor what other pastors today don’t do by delivering a word straight from God. My job, and the job of other pastors, is to teach the word that God has already given to us and that takes some time. So I’ll just say: point taken. Sermons can sometimes be short and effective. That certainly seems to be the case here.
But there may be something else going on here with Jonah as well. You’ll notice, we don’t even have the usual preface from a prophet, like, “Thus says the Lord…” or “This is the word of the Lord…” So here in Jonah 3:4, it seems like the author is deliberately emphasizing the brevity, even terseness, of this message.
We don’t hear anything about why Nineveh is going to be overthrown, how Nineveh cannot be overthrown, nor what Nineveh can do to change that. Did you notice that? It seems like there’s no good news in this message. It’s just bad news, with biblical precedent.
Jonah 3 Uncovers the Wickedness of Man
Think about the other times we see “forty” in the Bible up to this point.
Remember the flood in Genesis 6-8 regarding God’s judgment on the evil and wickedness of the world? Genesis 6:5-7:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
So God calls Noah to build an ark. He brings people and animals of all kinds ono the ark. Then in Genesis 7:17-23 it says:
The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.
The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth.
Forty in the book of Genesis is definitely a picture of judgment and death. Then in the book of Exodus, God is about to destroy his people for their idolatry of a golden calf. Moses intercedes for them, which leads to this summary for Moses in Deuteronomy 9:25: “So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you.” In this story, forty days symbolizes salvation from destruction as a result of Moses’ intercession.
Then in Numbers, the people of God finally make it to the brink of the Promised Land. They send in spies to scout out the land and they’re in the land for how long? Numbers 13:25: “At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land.” If you know the story of what happens next, the people rebelled against God, who then says, “Okay, you’re going to wander in the wilderness,” for how long? Numbers 14:32-35:
But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure. I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.
Needless to say, the number forty would have had significant meaning. As soon as readers heard this proclamation in Nineveh, they would have known God’s judgment is coming.
At the same time, think about the story of Moses’ intercession in Exodus that we looked at. Yes, God’s judgment was coming, but salvation was possible. God didn’t destroy his people in Exodus; he saved them after Moses prayed for forty days and forty nights. So is that what God is going to do here in Nineveh?
Jonah 3 Delivers God’s Word to Jonah
That question leads us to the end of Jonah 3:4: “And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’” This is really good news because the meaning of this word could go one of two ways. It could mean overthrown as in completely destroyed.
That’s the same word we read in Genesis 19:24-25 to describe how God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah: “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” The Lord overthrew them. It’s the same word we see in Jonah 3:4 of what might happen to Nineveh.
At the same time, there are other places in the Bible when this word “overthrow” —or “turn upside down” —means to do that in a good way. In Esther 9, the Bible is talking about how the Jewish people were slated to be destroyed, according to the king’s decree. But then the king changed his edict and the people were saved. Look at Esther 9:22: “…as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday.”
This picture of “turned” is the same word that’s used in Jonah 3:4. It means turned upside down for good. So don’t miss it. This is so good. In forty days, Nineveh is either going to be turned upside down for bad or turned upside down for good. It’s either going to be terminated or it’s going to be transformed. One or the other. That’s the word God gives Jonah to deliver.
This again is quite a word to proclaim. Can you imagine going into your school, on to your campus, into your office or downtown in your city, standing up and saying, “In forty days this place and all the people in it are going to be overthrown”? Now imagine doing that in a foreign country inhabited by your enemies, who likely hate you, and whom—truth be told—you likely hate as well. Jonah does it. He does what God tells him to do. He says what God tells him to say.
What happens? We wait with bated breath to read verse five in chapter three: “And the people of Nineveh believed God…” What? The people of Nineveh? The cruel, barbaric, evil, wicked Assyrians? They believed God? That’s the same language the Bible uses to describe Abraham, the father of Israel, in one of the most famous verses in the Bible, Genesis 15:6:, “And he believed the Lord, and [God] counted it to him as righteousness.” The same language the Bible uses to describe God’s covenant with his people and Abraham’s faith in God is now being used to describe how the Assyrians—the Ninevites—put their faith in God?
This is incredible! Unbelievable! The Assyrians believed God! After only a five-word Hebrew sermon at that. Not after days of preaching, but on the first day. They not only believed in their heads; keep going. Jonah 3:5 says, “They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” This was a common practice in the ancient world for expressing humility, grief and sorrow over sin, which are all involved in true repentance.
The sackcloth then was really coarse cloth that would normally be worn by the poor, or even the enslaved. It would basically only cover that which was necessary for decency. Think about a similar example of this with King Ahab in 1 Kings 21:27: “When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly.” Or Daniel 9:3-4: “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession.”
This is not the noble prophet Daniel, nor the king of Israel. Everyone is doing this in Nineveh, the pagan Assyrians, all of them, from the greatest to the least. They’re all fasting. All across the city. All the way to their pagan king. Look at verse six: “The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” The word reaches the king of Nineveh, otherwise known as the king of Assyria. Notice the subject of this sentence—it’s the word of the Lord that’s doing the action here.
Biblical scholars and commentators have wondered, “Maybe something else is going on here. What would cause the king to take extreme action like this? Invasion of the land by an enemy? A famine. Some sort of natural disaster like a flood?” It’s possible any of these things could have happened to prepare the king of Nineveh and the Ninevites for this message from Jonah. But it’s clear that one factor caused this reaction. The word of God reached the king, and watch what he does: “He arose.”
The Proclamation for Nineveh
This is the same word we saw in the second verse in the book, when God’s word came to Jonah, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh…” Jonah heard that, he arose and he ran, asserting his authority. But the king of Nineveh, the king of the Assyrians, heard the word of the Lord, arose and relinquished his authority. He got off his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and he sat in ashes—like everybody else. Then verse seven says:
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.”
This is interesting. The verb here for issuing a proclamation and publishing it is the same verb that’s used in Jonah 1:5 to describe how the mariners, when they were desperate and in fear, each cried out to his god. So the picture is now, like the pagan mariners, this pagan king is crying out in desperation and fear of God, saying to the people of Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles…” This is from the top down. “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…”
This is extreme fasting, to say the least. No food, no water? For man and beast? Obviously, animals can’t pray and repent, but there’s biblical precedent for this. The prophet Joel called for the people of God to pray, fast and repent like this. As God spoke through the prophet Joel, he pointed out how the animals suffer as the result of sin in people. Look at Joel 1:18: “How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is not pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer.”
Then Joel prayed this two verses later: “Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.” Then, when God heard his people’s cries through fasting and repentance, God addressed the animals in Joel 2:22, and said, “Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield.”
The point is that the king of Nineveh is calling all creation within his dominion to look to God. This is an all-out, all-encompassing, national revival. The king says, “All people, man and beast, are to be covered with sackcloth. Let them all call out mightily to God.” And not just call out to him. Look at the rest of this verse. Keep going in Jonah 3:8: “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” Let everyone turn and repent. The Hebrew word for repentance occurs four times in Jonah; all four times are in these three verses—eight, nine and ten.
The picture is clear. The king of Nineveh is calling all Assyrians to repent and turn from evil ways. What’s the word for evil? Ra. The first time we saw this word in Jonah was when God said, “Nineveh’s evil has come up before me.” Well, now the Assyrians are turning from their evil and the violence that’s in their hands. This word ‘violence’ appears in the story of the flood in Genesis to describe mankind’s wickedness. This is more than just offer some sacrifices or perform some rituals, which we’ve already seen in Jonah. This is repentance from sin. This is turning from their evil and violent ways.
The king says in verse nine, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Wow, think about what the king just said. “Who knows?” The king knows it’s up to God what happens next. There’s no guarantee that because they do this, they’ll be saved from destruction. They don’t know. Only God knows. This king knows that only God is sovereign and that what God determines, God will do.
This phrase appears ten times in the Old Testament. One of those times is almost directly the same as this, from the mouth of the prophet Joel. In Joel 2:14, when Joel is calling the people of Israel to fast and repent, we read, “Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?” That’s a prophet saying that. But here it’s the Assyrian king saying this. This is baffling.
The only time in the entire Bible that we see a Gentile—somebody’s who’s not Jewish—among the people of God, saying this: “Who knows? God may do this or that.” This Gentile, pagan, evil, violent king is saying, “God is sovereign. We are at his mercy.” The Assyrian king here is not presuming upon God. He’s not saying, “If we do this, God will definitely do that.” He’s saying, “God is our only hope, so let’s seek him in all these ways, then maybe he will turn.”
Jonah 3 Calls for God to Calm our Storms
Circle that word ‘turn.’ It’s the same word that was used in the previous verse talking about the people turning from their evil and violence. So the king is saying, “Maybe if we turn from evil, God will turn from the destruction we deserve. Maybe God will relent.” This word ‘relent’ is full of emotion. It’s basically to feel sorrow, to have pity on us. “Maybe he will turn and relent. Maybe he will turn from his fierce anger.” The implication is that we deserve God’s anger, so we’re crying out to him. We’re repenting of evil, hoping that in God’s mercy, we may not perish. Do you recognize this language?
In the middle of the storm, the pagan mariners said to Jonah, “Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not peris.” (Jonah 1:6). Then later in that same chapter, “Therefore they called out to the Lord, ‘O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life’” (Jonah 1:14). Just like the sailors did on the boat in the middle of the storm, the Ninevites are throwing themselves on the mercy of God, saying, “You’re our only hope not to perish. We’re repenting of our sin and crying out for you to save us.”
So what happens? Well, Jonah 3:10 says, “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.” Wow! God saw what they did and notice the explanation of that. It’s not that God saw their fasting and sackcloth, although that was obviously an important part of what they did.
But God saw “how they turned.” How they repented. It’s the fourth time we’ve seen this word in three verses. They turned from what? “Their evil way.” There it is again. They turned from the evil they had done; the evil that had risen before God in chapter one.
Now would be a good time to bring in Jeremiah 18, which the king of Assyria would not have known for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Jeremiah was yet to come. But God later says in his Word, “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.”
God says, “If a nation turns from their evil”—there it is again— “then I will relent of the disaster I intended to do to it.” That is almost the exact same language we read in Jonah 3:10: “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them.” God relented.
Remember how God told his people that he was going to destroy them in Exodus 32, another story in the Bible, and Moses interceded for them? Exodus 32:14 says, “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” Again, almost verbatim what we’re seeing in Jonah 3:10.
Are you getting the picture? God is a relenting God. God hates sin and evil. God also hates the consequences of sin and evil, as well as the disaster that flows from sin and evil. You’ll never guess what this word ‘disaster’ is in the original language. It’s the same word that’s translated evil—ra—with the double meaning.
Remember, evil or calamity. In chapter one, ra referred to the evil of the people of Nineveh and the storm that came upon the boat as a picture of God’s judgment. So now fast forward to Jonah 3:10, where we see this word twice in the same verse. Get this picture. When the Ninevites repent of their evil, their sin, their wickedness, God relents of the disaster, the calamity, the trouble, the destruction that he was going to bring upon them.
Now to be clear, this is not God changing his mind, like we do as frail and fallen people. We see this in Numbers 23:19: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” God’s will is just as settled here in the book of Jonah as it is in all of history. Nineveh was going to be destroyed because of their sin.
That’s what God said; that’s absolutely what they deserved. Yet God in his mercy sent a mediator—Jonah—to tell them that, so by his mercy they would repent of their sin and he would relent of the judgment he was going to bring upon them. Isn’t this the gospel?
In our sin, you and I stand under the judgment of God. We deserve the consequences of our sin, ultimately eternal death. That is the penalty due our sin. But praise God, he sent a mediator—not named Jonah, but named Jesus. He not only came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” but he made repentance and forgiveness of our sins possible by his blood.
This means when you and I repent and believe—exactly what we see happening in Nineveh—God relents of the eternal wrath that you and I deserve. In the words of Romans 5:8 that we read earlier, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So in this picture that flows from Jonah 3:10, we come to the takeaways from this chapter. I’m just going to highlight two mammoth ones that boom off the pages of the Bible here. The first is as simple and straightforward as they come.
Repent and Receive God’s Mercy
That’s the takeaway from Jonah 3 for you and me. Right now, even in this moment, repent and receive God’s mercy. Do you see the irony for the Israelites who would hear this story? The Ninevites—these hated, evil, wicked, brutal, barbaric Assyrians—were doing what the Israelites were refusing to do. The Ninevites were repenting of their sin. Jonah goes into Assyrian territory, preaches a simple message, and the whole city turns to God. But not Israel.
Listen to 2 Kings 17:13-15 describe the people of Israel:
Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them.
Do you see the irony here, specifically in Jonah’s day? We’ve already seen they were doing evil and presuming upon God’s mercy, assuming that since God loved them, they would be okay. Yet when God lovingly confronted them in their sin, they ignored him. They did this over and over and over again, until it came to the point that God said, “Enough,” then Israel was eventually destroyed.
Do you remember how or who destroyed Israel? Assyria.
Why? Because the people of God would not repent, so God did not relent. This carries all the way through to the New Testament. Remember this passage in Matthew 12 that we looked at earlier that mentions Jonah? Jesus is speaking to the religious leaders of his day. Matthew 12:38-41:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For 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.
Now listen to what Jesus says next. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Do you see that? “The men of Nineveh, the Assyrians, the evil people who destroyed Israel, will rise up and judge you. They will condemn you.” Why? “Because when they heard the preaching of Jonah, they repented of their sin. And something, someone, greater than Jonah is here.” And all the more so for you and me right now. We have all of this in front of us. From the story of Jonah to Jesus, we know that by God’s grace, if we will repent, God will relent. Jesus has paid the price for the sin of all who will repent.
So repent! Turn from your sin today, right now. Stop toying with sin in your life. This is God speaking to you and me. Just let this soak in. Your sin will lead you downward to calamity and destruction. Your sin will not lead to your good. So turn from it, either for the first time or in a fresh way today. In this moment, right now, believe God.
Do what the king of Nineveh did. Believe God. Trust God. Believe and trust that God knows better than you what is best for your life. Repent of your sin and all reliance on yourself. This is the message of Jesus, from God, for you and me—right here, right now—in his Word based on Jonah 3. It’s summarized in Jesus’ own words in Mark 1:15: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Hear God, by his Spirit, saying that to you and me right now.
Call Others to Repent
Then when you do, when I do, repent and receive God’s mercy, then call others to repent and receive God’s mercy! Jonah 3:1 says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying, ‘Arise, to go Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’” “Go, Jonah. Go to the city that belongs to me and proclaim the message that I give to you.” Then fast forward to Jesus, who says this to you and me and all of us as his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Peter and the other disciples did it. Look at Acts 2:37-41:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
The story continues on the pages of the Bible that follow. They proclaimed this message over and over and over again, saying, “Repent! Repent! Repent!” More and more people were saved, from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. This is the message we have been given to proclaim in all the cities where we live, on school campuses, in workplaces and neighborhoods, to the nations at the ends of the earth. Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your classmates, tell your coworkers—tell everyone you see to repent, then God will relent.
Do we realize the people around us who don’t know Jesus are on a road that leads to eternal judgment, eternal destruction? God has entrusted his message of repentance to us. You and I are Jonah in people’s lives today. We are prophets in the sense that we have the Word of God.
Let’s hear the warnings of Ezekiel 33:1-9 to us:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.
He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”
Do you hear this? God, help us not to just sit silently by while our family members, friends, classmates, coworkers, people all around us and peoples around the world are perishing. God, help us to rise and speak your Word, to call others to repent, and as we do, to trust the power of God’s Word.
Do you realize what we just read? When most people think of the miracle in the book of Jonah, they immediately think of Jonah surviving in the belly of a fish in Jonah 2. This is obviously miraculous. But I would argue that even more miraculous is what happened in Jonah 3. This chapter records one of the greatest revivals—if not the greatest revival—in the history of the world.
The entire city of Nineveh, these cruel, evil Assyrians, hear one message from God on one day and the whole city—from the highest king, to the lowest citizen, to all the animals—join in fasting and praying, repenting of sin and believing in God. How did that happen? A man simply did what God told him to do.
Then notice that once he spoke that five-word sermon on day one, we don’t even see Jonah again in the rest of the chapter. Why not? Because the Word of God takes center stage and spreads like wildfire. The Word of God changes the hearts of the people and the heart of the king. The Word of God changes the actions of the city. The Word of God turns it upside down.
This is not just the story of Jonah; this is the story of the Bible. This is the story of the church. Take a quick tour with me through the book of Acts. I want you to see the supernatural power of the Word of God spreading like wildfire in the first century.
- Acts 2:41: “Those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
- Acts 4:4: “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.”
- Acts 4:29-31: “‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
- Acts 6:4: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
- And as a result of that, Acts 6:7:“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.”
- We get to Acts 8:4 and see this: “Now those who were scattered” —after Stephen was stoned—“went about preaching the word.”
- Acts 8:14: “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John.” So now the gospel is going from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria.
- Acts 8:25: “Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”
- Acts 10:44. This is after Peter goes from Joppa and proclaims the Word to the Gentiles. “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.”
- Acts 11:1: “Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” The Word is spreading.
- Acts 11:19, “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except the Jews.”
- Then it goes to Gentiles after that, which leads to Acts 12:24: “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” What a great verse.
- In Acts 13:5, Paul and Barnabas were sent out with the Word to proclaim it in new places. “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.”
- Acts 13:7: “He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.” This official wanted to hear God’s Word. Then we get to the end of this chapter.
- Acts 13:44-47: “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ’It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you.
Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”’”
- Listen to this in verse 48: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord.” They rejoiced and glorified the Word of the Lord. “And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.”
- Acts 14:25: “When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.” It’s continuing to go.
- Acts 15:35-36: “But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’”
- Acts 16:32: “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”
- Acts 17:11: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” I love this phrase.
- Acts 18:5: “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word…” Ah, that’s so good—“occupied with the Word.” They were “…testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”
- Then Acts 18:11: “He stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
- How about this one? Acts 19:10: “This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” All the residents of Asia heard the Word of the Lord. Oh God, we pray for that to be the case today.
- Then this last one is up. Look at Acts 19:20: “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”
Yes. Nothing can stop the Word of the Lord in the mouths of the people who believe the Word. You and I have this Word in our hands. We have this Word in our mouths. Speak it. That’s the takeaway God is giving us. This is the word God is giving you and me right now. Call the people around you to repent. Text them now. Give them a call now. Live to do this. As you do, trust this Word to do supernatural work.
Just like God was preparing the hearts of the people at Nineveh, God is preparing the hearts of people around us. So speak his Word with love for people and with faith in God to do what only God can do. Speak this Word, then get out of the way.
God, bring revival in our cities. Bring revival on our campuses. Bring revival in our communities, in our families, as we speak your Word. God, bring revival among the nations.
Trust the power of God’s Word and proclaim it all over the world. The Ninevites were ready to hear God’s Word and so are the nations today. Jesus has told us this in Matthew 9:37-48: “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” The nations—like the Ninevites—are waiting to hear the Word of the Lord. The nations are waiting for women and men, called by God, to come to them and call them to repent.
Remember Jonah’s message to Nineveh in Jonah 3:4: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Remember the double meaning of that word ‘overthrown.’ Nineveh was either going to be terminated or transformed, turned upside down for bad or for good. It all hinged on what? Them hearing the Word of God. God is calling us to proclaim a Word that has power to turn nations upside down for their good. So let’s proclaim it.
There are three billion people in the world who haven’t heard this Word. They haven’t heard the gospel. Three billion people, in over 7,000 people groups, ethnic groups, nations. Jesus has told us to go to all of them and tell them how Jesus can turn them upside down for their eternal good. So let’s go.
Let’s go into all the world and preach the gospel. Let’s see nations, peoples, tribes, cities, communities, campuses, families, men, women, boys and girls transformed by the Word of God, the love of God and the power of God. Let’s see the nations repent and God relent in ways that resound to their eternal good and his eternal glory. That’s the clear takeaway from God’s Word to us right now.