Red Village Church

The People of Nineveh Believed God – Jonah 3: 1-10

3 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3 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. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

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. 7 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, 8 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. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

10 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.

This morning, let me start off by reading you a song that we would sing from time to time in chapel back when I was in seminary.

A song that I honestly love; the simple repeated chorus that is sung all throughout. Hear the heart of heaven beating, “Jesus Saves, Jesus saves.” And the hush of mercy breathing, “Jesus Saves, Jesus saves.” Hear the host of angels sing, “Glory to the Newborn King.” And the sounding joy repeating, “Jesus saves.”

See the humblest hearts adore Him. “Jesus saves, Jesus saves.” And the wisest bow before Him. “Jesus saves, Jesus saves.” See the sky alive with praise, melting darkness in its place. There is life forevermore, “Jesus saves, Jesus saves.”

He will live our sorrow sharing, “Jesus saves, Jesus saves.” He will die our burden bearing, “Jesus saves, Jesus saves.” “It is done!” will shout the cross, Christ has paid redemption’s cost! While the empty tomb’s declaring, “Jesus saves.”

Freedom’s calling, chains are falling, Hope is dawning bright and true. Day is breaking, night is quaking, God is making all things new. “Jesus saves.”

Oh, to grace, how great a debtor! “Jesus saves, Jesus saves.” All the saints who shout together. “I know that Jesus saves.” Rising us so vast and strong, lifting up salvation’s song. The redeemed will sing forever, the redeemed will sing forever, the redeemed will sing forever, “Jesus saves, Jesus saves.”

Now, I read you those lyrics this morning for a few reasons. First, it is so true that Jesus saves.

Through His death and resurrection, the wooden empty tomb, Jesus saves. He saves His people from their sin, and He saves His people to Himself and the eternal life that is to come. This is the good news, the gospel message. Even though we are dead in our trespasses and sins, by grace through faith in Jesus, we can be saved from our sin and saved to eternal life with God. Friends, this is good news.

Second, Jesus saves. This is the message of Christmas. Now, obviously, there are a lot of great truths in Christmas, but “Jesus saves” is at the core of the message of Christmas. In Matthew 1, when the angel appeared to the virgin Mary, the angel told Mary that she was to name her Son Jesus, which means “the Lord is Salvation” because Jesus would come to save His people from their sins.

In Luke 2, on the first Christmas, as the shepherds were out watching the flocks by night, the Angel of the Lord appeared to them to announce the coming of the Lord, which caused the shepherds to have their hearts gripped by fear. Only for the angel to tell the shepherds, “Fear not, for I bring you good news, the gospel. Good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

John 3:16 reminds us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal 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.”

Friends, that is the message of Christmas; that is what Christmas is all about. Jesus saves, Jesus saves.

Third, I read the lyrics of that song this morning to set us up for our text of study in Jonah. Here, we see the salvation of God go forth in an incredible and powerful way, proving that indeed God is mighty to save. God is at work to bring sinners, even the worst of sinners, to repentance and faith.

Fourth, I read the lyrics this morning because as a church, we can’t forget, doubt, or be silent about the message that we have been entrusted with: That Jesus saves, Jesus saves. Which, by the way, is one of the hopes I have for our time in the passage this morning. That our hearts would be filled with encouragement and excitement. That indeed God uses His people who call people to repentance and faith, leading to the truth that Jesus saves. I hope this is what we want for those around us. For those around us to know the message deep in their hearts: That Jesus saves.

Now, before we dig into our text for today, let me remind you of where we have been in our study of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet of God who was given a mission, a preaching assignment, to go to the great city of Nineveh so that God might save them. As a reminder, Nineveh was located in modern-day Iraq, about 500 or so miles to the east of Israel. But as Jonah was given this assignment, as you remember, this was an assignment that he decided he was not going to do.

He did not want to go to Nineveh because he didn’t want God to save this great city. It was a great city, not just in terms of size, population, and influence, but it was great in evil deeds. For Jonah, he didn’t want salvation to come to this city that was great in evil deeds. Instead, Jonah wanted judgment to fall on them, which I hope is not our attitude toward the world around us.

In this little book, as Jonah rejected God’s clear command to go to Nineveh to preach, he decided he needed to head in the opposite direction, as far away as he could from this command of God. So he traveled down to the port city of Joppa, where he chartered a boat and set sail to a city called Tarshish, whose exact location is not fully clear today. That information has been lost to history. However, there are some significant clues in the Scripture that make it seem likely that Tarshish was located 1500 or so miles to the west of Israel, in modern-day Spain, about 2000 miles from where he was supposed to be. In the opposite direction he was commanded to go.

Chapter 1 told us a couple of times that Jonah took this trip to Tarshish as an attempt to flee the presence of the Lord. However, as you remember, even though Jonah tried to flee God’s presence by heading to Tarshish, God’s desire to save was not going to be thwarted, and God was not going to allow His prophet to leave His presence. So, as Jonah was at sea, the Lord came for Jonah.

As the great Hound of Heaven, which He did by hurling a great storm on the sea. As the storm raged, Jonah and the sailors on the ship shortly began to recognize it was the Hound of Heaven chasing Jonah, which caused the storm. This led to Jonah himself being hurled into the sea.

As Jonah’s body hit the water, not only did the Sovereign God quiet the sea, but He appointed a large fish, possibly a whale, to come and swallow up Jonah. For the next three days, Jonah’s body laid in the belly of the great fish, which was a picture of the Old Testament place of judgment, a place called Sheol. However, what we read last week, as Jonah was being swallowed by the fish, God did a work in Jonah’s heart. Jonah called out to God, repented of his sin, and put his faith in the Lord.

As Jonah stopped trying to run from the presence of the Lord and turned back to the presence of the Lord to receive help, healing, and forgiveness in his sin and distress. That was our text last week, most of which was an incredible prayer of repentance and faith. Jonah turned back to the Lord; he stopped running from the Hound of Heaven, only to run to Him.

By the way, I hope this is what we do time and time again as a church family. It is the normal Christian life, running back time and time again to the Lord for healing and forgiveness, so that He can be our present help in our times of need.

And our text of study ended last week not only with the Lord giving forgiveness and healing to Jonah, but the Lord also commanded the great fish to spit Jonah out on dry land to give him his life back. So that is where we left off.

Now in our text this week, in keeping with his repentance, we see Jonah fulfill God’s desire, God’s command for him to go to Nineveh to preach, where we see in our text God save.

So with that as our intro, please look back with me at verse 1, where we see that the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. This is presented almost like a redo. The first time, Jonah rejected the Word of the Lord, as mentioned in the intro. Jonah rejected God’s clear command; he rejected the very thing God would have him do.

But now, in verse 1, in an act of grace and kindness, the Lord is coming back to Jonah a second time, where, for a second time in verse 2, the Lord instructed Jonah to arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, and give to that great city the message that I tell you. This is virtually the same thing that was said by the Lord to Jonah in the opening verse of this book. God’s desire did not change; His commands did not change; the Word that Jonah gave did not change. God was consistent, sure, and steady in His desire. God was not being tossed to and fro like the seas that He just calmed at the end of chapter 1. God was also not like Jonah, whom He chased, who was fickle up and down all throughout this little book.

And God is not like us who are ever-changing, who say one thing one moment and something different the next, who make grand claims in one setting but different claims in a different setting. God is consistent in His person, in His character, in His desires, and in His Word. God does not change. But in the text, what we see change was Jonah’s response to God’s command.

In verse 3, as we read that the Lord came to Jonah a second time, Jonah heard the message and he arose, which he did in verse 3 of chapter 1 as he arose to head to Joppa, the seaport to get him to Tarshish. But this time, as Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, Jonah did what he was called to do according to the Word of the Lord. He obeyed.

This action here was in line with the repentance and faith that we talked about last time in chapter 2. Friends, this is what repentance looks like. It is turning from sin and turning to the Lord in joyful obedience. We talked about this in the past, but Scripture talks about there being a difference between godly grief and worldly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is just feeling bad about something, perhaps feeling some shame and guilt, but not really doing anything different to forsake sin or move towards joyful obedience in following after God. In contrast, godly grief, where there is genuine repentance, is not just forsaking sin, but it comes with steps and actions that are in line with God’s Word.

That is Jonah here: repentance and faith in chapter 2 leading to obedience in verse 3 of chapter 3. So as Jonah arose, he headed to the great city of Nineveh, as mentioned earlier, 500 or so miles to the east of Israel, which would have been at least a three-month journey. During that 3-plus month journey, I’m sure Jonah faced many temptations to turn back, to find reasons and excuses to once again reject this clear command of God, to not share the message that God saves.

He might have thought, “I’m too scared, it will be too hard, I won’t know how to best say it, where do I even start? I have already failed at this once, so I am not the one for the job. Surely there would be a different prophet who is more gifted than I am who could do it. I don’t have time for this commitment with my already full schedule. What if they ridicule and persecute me?”

Three-plus months is a long time for Jonah to have to think about this call. Can you imagine how many different excuses he could have come up with to avoid following through with this clear command coming to him for the second time? However, what we see in the text is that somehow Jonah fought against those temptations. He kept going; he persevered; he endured. And he arrived in the great city of Nineveh, which in the book of Jonah is primarily presented as being great in evil deeds.

But also, as mentioned, Nineveh was great in terms of its size, which verse 3 tells us. Nineveh was exceedingly great in size because it would take a 3-day journey to walk the breadth of it.

This was a massive city, as mentioned in previous sermons, potentially the largest city in the Middle East in this time period, maybe even the largest city in the world. A great city. In verse 4, as Jonah was walking this massive great city, we see that he wasn’t simply walking through the city as a tourist to do a little sightseeing, visit some of their well-known shops, or take in some of the local cuisine. Rather, we read that as Jonah was walking, he was also talking. Talking through the tone of preaching.

As he walked through the great city, he was on a mission to preach the sermon God told him to preach, where he called out to the city in their sin. We see that Jonah even gave Nineveh a strong rebuke, a strong warning. That if the city did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to the Lord (which, as mentioned, is what Jonah himself just had to do in chapter 2), if the city did not walk in repentance and faith, in 40 days, the city would be overthrown. Meaning, without repentance and faith, the judgment of God would fall on them, and they would receive the just consequences of their sin.

And the city would be overthrown. That is a strong message, not an easy one to share. Friends, if you have ever testified to the things of God to someone who has yet to believe, you know that it is not easy to call out sin, to talk about judgment. But that is exactly what Jonah did in the text, and not just to a person, but to the entire city. This was an act of real courage.

This wasn’t some kind of fake courage where we might talk boldly into the mirror or in the safety of like-minded community. Jonah was preaching a hard truth to a city that was known for their disdain for God. This took real courage, real guts. And by the way, this type of message, this type of preaching of calling out sin and warning of judgment that was to come, was a fairly common sermon from the Old Testament prophets.

The Old Testament prophets did not simply foretell future events but primarily had forth-telling sermons where a consistent sermon point in their messages was a warning of judgment to come without repentance and faith. That is what Jonah was doing here in the text in his sermon that he gave all throughout the great city.

And as Jonah preached God’s Word by the power of the Spirit of God, we see that God did an incredible work, a work that I hope we are longing for Him to do in our midst as well. In our text, just a day into his preaching, we see that the people believed. They believed in what Jonah was saying. The once-hardened sinners of Nineveh, who were known throughout the region for their evil deeds, now, through the preached word, believed.

And friends, let’s not underestimate how incredible an act of God this is in the text today. I am sure if we were somehow able to travel back in time to poll the people of God during Jonah’s day on who were least likely to put their faith in God, the people who were almost too far gone, that they were beyond saving.

Nineveh would have been right there at the top of that poll. Maybe to help us think, whatever the most radical and explicit anti-Christian group that comes to mind today, a people who stand in opposition to basically everything Scripture teaches, a people who perhaps would love nothing more than to see Christianity stomped out. Whatever that group is that comes to your mind in virtually an instant, they turned to Jesus in repentance and faith. Where that group that came into your mind is now singing the chorus with hands lifted high, “Jesus saves, Jesus saves.” That is what is happening here in chapter 3. God was bringing a great, evil city into saving belief in the message preached by the prophet.

Keep going to verse 5. As the people of Nineveh believed in God, in keeping with their repentance and faith, we see that they called for a fast, where they put on sackcloth. In the Old Testament, fasting and sackcloth were visible pictures of brokenness over sin, a desire to repent. That had to be an amazing sight to see. All over the city, people displaying visible pictures of repentance and faith before God.

In our text, God was at work through His preached Word by the power of His Spirit. We read that He was touching the lives from the greatest to the least of Nineveh. Meaning this was not just a small revival, a small work of God where He touched perhaps a small part of town or a small niche group of people. Rather, this was a city-wide revival.

All throughout the great city, where the word of the Lord was affecting hearts of all kinds of people, even the heart of the king of Nineveh, God reached him. We read about that in verse 6. The word of the Lord that Jonah preached had gone forth in ways that it reached the ears of the king. And as the preached word reached the king’s ears, we see it also reached the king’s heart.

So in similar language, now the king arose from his throne, where he removed his robe. Likewise, the king humbled himself by donning sackcloth, where he sat in ashes. Ashes were also an element that was present in the Old Testament to symbolize brokenness over sin and repentance. Incredibly, the proud king was now doing this. And for us, maybe think of a proud, arrogant political leader now humbling himself in a very public manner, where he very publicly professes allegiance to God.

In this scene, for the king to take off his robe to put on sackcloth, maybe think of a current political leader taking off some kind of expensive tailored-made outfit to put on clothing associated with the poor and homeless, and then sitting in this lowly place for all to see. And not doing so as some kind of political publicity stunt, but doing this because of being completely broken over sin. That is what is taking place in verse 6 with the king of Nineveh.

Keep going to verse 7. As the word of God reached the heart of the king.

In further keeping with his repentance and faith, we see that the king then issued a proclamation that was published all throughout Nineveh. It was a proclamation, a decree coming from all the authority of the king and his nobles, that for the people of Nineveh, they were to let neither man nor beast nor flock taste anything. They were not to feed or drink, meaning the fast was to be observed throughout the entire great city. The king was fully endorsing what was taking place, and in this text, not just people were to fast, but even their livestock were to join in. Furthermore, in verse 8, “But let man and beast also be covered with sackcloth.”

Friends, this is all-out. This is Nineveh hearing the warning of Jonah’s sermon in ways that they were fully cut to the heart. Their eyes were opened to the reality of God’s judgment that was set against them for their wicked ways. And as they understood the judgment of God that was about to come upon them if they continued in their ways, they put their entire hope back on God to find forgiveness for their transgressions.

Which is really what the king did as he finished out his decree by telling the great city to call out mightily to God.

To say it again, in this great work of God that He was doing through the preached Word, the city, the king, had their eyes opened in ways that they could understand that their only hope to be saved from judgment was to turn to the Lord, calling upon His name, that He might give them mercy.

At the end of verse 8, as the king put forth his decree, we see that the intention behind that decree was for everyone to turn from his evil ways, to turn from the violence that is in his hands. In short, this wasn’t just some kind of cold, dead, formal religious work of fasting and sackcloth. Rather, for the king, he was driving for a heartfelt repentance and faith for the people, with the hope in verse 9 that, “Who knows if we repent of our sin to turn to God, perhaps the Lord will turn from the warning Jonah just gave us of our city being overthrown. And who knows, perhaps the Lord will relent and turn from His fierce anger that has burned over our sin, so that we would be saved and not perish.”

To say it again, the city was seeing that their only hope was that God would be merciful and spare them from judgment. There was nothing the king or the great city could do to defend themselves against the hand of God’s judgment; there was nothing they could do in terms of trying to escape by fleeing. Their only hope was to turn to God with the hope that He would relent and save them.

Which the good news of this text, this is exactly what happened at the end of our passage for study. God did see what they did.

He did see how they turned from their evil ways. God did hear as they mightily called upon the name of the Lord. And as Nineveh turned to the Lord, the Lord relented of the disaster that He said would come their way if they did not forsake and turn from their sin. The Lord saved. Nineveh was saved by God, saved to God, saved because of the grace and mercy of God, which was a grace and mercy that God worked in their hearts. Through His preached Word and the power of the Spirit, God birthed in the hearts of this great and wicked city repentance and faith. God gloriously put His saving work on display, something not even Jonah would have ever expected.

Now as we close this time today, I want to do so by addressing two types of people who might be with us today. First are those who are with us but are not Christians. You might know things about Jesus, but you have yet to put your faith in Him. We are very grateful to have you with us today, and I would like to speak directly to you from the text and the entire weight of Scripture concerning the salvation of God.

Second, I want to address those of us who are Christians, who, like Jonah, have been given a clear command from God to proclaim His message to the world around us. I want to encourage us with the message that Jesus saves, in ways that we are sharing the good news with great passion, urgency, and zeal to those around us, starting with those whom God has already placed in your life.

But before we get there, as mentioned, for a few moments, I do want to talk directly to those who are with us, who have not yet put their faith in Jesus Christ. And how I want to start this here is actually in the very beginning, where we see in Scripture, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” which He did by speaking them into existence. As God created everything, He established that everything is through Him, by Him, and for Him, including mankind, whom God created unique from the rest of creation in that mankind was created in the image of God. We have been created by God for God, where mankind was uniquely created to know God and be known by God. This is our chief purpose in life: to know God, be known by God, and know Him in ways that we joyfully obey Him.

However, even though this was our design, our purpose, our first parents rejected God’s command and rule over their life. They didn’t want to joyfully obey God. So they went rogue, they sinned. They failed to do what God commanded of them, and as they sinned, they broke the relationship they enjoyed with God, where they were separated from Him and placed under the judgment of God because of their sin. And from that first sin of our first parents, mankind has continued to sin by birth and by choice. We have continued to break rank, continued to go rogue, and like Nineveh, in our hearts, there is great evil.

And friend, that is the clear warning of Scripture: that because we all have sinned, we all have fallen short of the glory of God. When left to our own, we are all guilty, condemned, awaiting an eternal judgment that is to come, which is far more severe than the judgment Nineveh was warned about in our text today. Friend, this is a warning you must hear.

But as you hear that warning, I have good news for you. Good news of great joy that you also must hear. Even though mankind has gone rogue from God’s good design in our life, as mentioned earlier, God still loved the world. And He loved the world in such a way that He sent His eternal Son, the second member of the blessed Trinity, the eternal Word who became flesh to dwell among us: Jesus Christ. He came to mankind by becoming fully man, born on Christmas morn. He lived the life we could never live, one without sin, only for Jesus to willingly lay down His life for His people, which He did on a wooden cross. On that cross, the Lord Jesus took on the entire weight of judgment in the place of His people. Jesus Christ died only to rise again on the third day.

And in this good news message is a promise: if any and all, from the greatest to the least, would confess your sin, forsake your sin, believe in God by calling out mightily to Jesus, asking Him to save you, He will do it.

Friend, God promises that indeed He will remove judgment from you, where indeed you will be forgiven, and indeed you would know God and be known by God, which is what we have been created for. And as you know God, you will know Him as a good heavenly Father, and He will know you as His precious child whom He loves. He promises to love you in ways that nothing will ever separate you from that love. The love of God will be on you for all eternity. Friend, that is the good news of this passage that Jonah preached, the good news of the Scriptures as a whole, good news that Jesus saves. And this good news message is not just good news that is out there in theory, but it is good news that our church wants to plead with you to make your personal reality. Knowing that today is the day of salvation, this morning, friend, mightily call on the name of Jesus and believe in your heart that He died for you, only to rise again, so that the chorus of your heart would sing the song, “Jesus saves, Jesus saves.”

Second, and here I am talking to all here who have tasted and seen that God is good, that you have already believed in Jesus, you have been saved. There are two things from the text I want to tell you, which are things my guess is you already know but things we need to continue to hear.

First, God uses His people to proclaim His message, even people like you and like me, even people who in the past have really struggled to do so. Or like Jonah, have even been disobedient to this command.

Red Village, God uses His people to warn others of judgment to come. And, by the way, how can we who have been saved by this judgment simply because of what Jesus did for us now have such disdain for others that we can’t warn them of this judgment?

Not only does God use us to warn others of judgment, but God also uses His people to declare to others the message of Jesus. Is there any sweeter words that can come out of our mouths than the message that Jesus saves? For the glory of God and the good of others, how can we be silent about Jesus?

Backing up to the context of Jonah, God had a desire to save Nineveh. And really, did the Lord need Jonah to proclaim His message to fulfill this desire, especially after Jonah rejected God’s good command? God could have just spoken a word from heaven to the Ninevites, or the Lord could have sent one of His holy angels to go do the job. But He didn’t do it. Rather, to fulfill this desire that God had, He used Jonah to call out to Nineveh.

Friends, that is how God has chosen to communicate His message to the world—it is through us, His people, people like you and me, proclaiming the gospel. Romans 10 tells us, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Secondly, God extends His salvation in ways that we would never expect. Now, this story in Jonah 3 is a unique story, a story like no other, and we need to recognize that. It’s very unique how God worked in an entire great city. However, that being said, God does work in ways that we often would never expect, where He is actively saving a people to Himself.

Just for a moment, let’s consider the centuries of church history since the death and resurrection of our Lord. After Jesus rose again from the dead, there was just a small mustard seed of people who believed, a very small number, just a handful of Christians. Yet over time, that small seed of believers has continued to grow and grow and grow. The promise in Scripture is that God will work His plan of salvation in such a way that the small mustard seed will grow into a huge tree. In the end, after the final judgment is complete, there will be myriads and myriads and myriads of Christians, a number so large it cannot be counted. People, great and small, from every tribe, tongue, language, and nation, will be part of this heavenly choir singing out to Jesus Christ as the One who saves.

With the joyful chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

So, friends, as we read Jonah 3, yes, we know it is unique. But it is a reminder and an encouragement to us that, yes, God does save people. The saving hand of God is greater than even the hardest of hearts. So, for us, may we not write people off; may we not have such disdain for others who have been created in the image of God that our lips are silent. But may we boldly, joyfully spend our lives proclaiming the incredible and glorious truth that Jesus saves, Jesus saves.

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