Sermon series: Returning to God
One of the great lessons of Jonah's failure and forgiveness is that God can continue to use those who return to Him. Thankfully, we serve the God of a second chance. Just like Jonah, many spiritual leaders received a second chance to do what God called him to do. Adam sinned in the garden and God covered him. Moses murdered a man and God called him. Elijah quit and complained then God re-commissioned him. Peter denied the Lord and then God used him at Pentecost. John Mark deserted the mission team at Pamphylia yet God moved upon him to write the second Gospel.
And that has been the story of the church through the ages. We have all received a multitude of opportunities to return and serve God. And once God corrected His reluctant prophet, He continued the work He intended. Jonah's third chapter reminds us that authentic revival impacts both the individual and the culture.
What are the characteristics of genuine spiritual renewal?
I. A sovereign work of God to forgive and change – 3:1
Jonah went to preach with unquestioned obedience. But we must ask, "Why them? Why then?" The People of Nineveh were not praying for revival, nor were they interested. To a degree, Jonah has a point. The Assyrians qualified better as candidates for God's sovereign judgment than as candidates for God's sovereign grace.
But Jonah's successful preaching campaign had nothing to do with Jonah's ability or the Assyrian's worthiness. All we say for sure is that God had a purpose beyond human understanding. If we take John 3:16 seriously, then we must conclude that before God showered Nineveh with grace He reached to them with love.
Perhaps we can look at God's choice to save the Assyrians differently. Maybe this represented God's plan to produce more good in the world by saving the worse people in the world. No doubt their pillaging stopped for at least a short time. In the end, the revival at Nineveh is nothing short of a sovereign work of forgiveness that produced change.
II. A scriptural work of God to correct error - 3:1-2
God told Jonah go and "preach the message that I tell you." While spiritual renewal may occur without a preacher or prophet, it never occurs with divine truth. And here Jonah declared the Word of God. Interestingly, the prophet didn't sugar-coat the truth out of fear of offending the audience. He neither clamored for their favor, nor trembled from their threats. This scenario reminds the preacher of his duty as a messenger of God.
A. We must speak the truth in love [see Ephesians 4:15]
While we might question Jonah's motives based on the last chapter of his book, declaring the message of God's pending judgment against lost humanity qualifies as an act of love.
B. We offer the truth to all people
He declared the truth to the commoners in the street and leaders in the palace. God's offer of grace extends to all races in all places. This, of course, reminds of our commission to go into the entire world with the gospel.
C. We obey the truth whole-heartedly
Jonah's message was not a dissertation on the possibility and probability that God could destroy the city of Nineveh. When we declare the truth, we do more than simply inform. Instead, we call for radical obedience to the truth of God. The Assyrians responded to the message with genuine repentance. To say it differently, they believed the Word of God and then behaved in a consistent manner with the truth. In fact, verse 3:10 indicates that when "God saw their actions" He forgave them and withheld His judgment.
III. A sudden work of God on an unexpected people – 3:6
This revival was totally unexpected. And, initially, it was undesirable. Consider the probability that this brutal king would suddenly repent and turn to God. For that matter, why did they even listen to Jonah? Some commentators have suggested that the gastric juices of the fish bleached Jonah's skin. But we cannot qualify anything about his appearance.
Paul, the Apostle, had a similar experience with God. While traveling to Damascus to imprison Christians, the hostile enemy of Christ suddenly and unexpectedly encountered God. And that confrontation resulted in a radical change in his life.
This truth brings hope to all those parents that plead with their wayward children to return to God and to all those pastors that plead with their indifferent congregations to return to God. God has and can move suddenly on those that don't even expect to hear from Him.
IV. A saving work of God on an undeserving people – 3:10
When God's people experience revival [i.e. Jonah], lost people that completely ignore God came to Him in repentance. To say it differently, God must do something to us before He does anything through us.
Notice two key terms here: "saving" and "undeserving." "God relented" or spared the Assyrians from destruction. Of course, this pictures God's grace because the people did not deserve His mercy. We should be careful to remember that no one deserves mercy. But, from a human perspective, if anyone lacked moral decency and deserved wrath, they did.
V. A sanctifying work of God in the culture – 3:7-9
Notice the transformation of the prevailing culture. Only God could produce such a radical change in an entire city. Remember that when God regenerates the soul, outward manifestations of holiness should follow. The convert that feels comfortable in his former rebellion probably never truly repented in the first place.
It is easy for those in the church to cast stones from behind our mortar and brick walls at the sinners. But will that type of preaching or evangelism make a difference in our world? Probably not. The message of repentance, however, can change hearts. If we in the church hope to impact our world for good, we must declare the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.
Nehemiah records one of the great revivals of history. In the eighth chapter, Ezra, the prophet, read the Word of God for six hours [8:3]. And unexpectedly the people began to "weep." What did Ezra and Nehemiah instruct them to do in response to God's moving? They told the people to do two things:  Honor God in His holiness and  share God's blessings with your neighbor [8:9-11].
But we must not forget that revival didn't come to the Israelites until renewal and commitment came to Nehemiah. It must start with us.