For those of you who are up on upcoming movies, you may be anticipating the December release of Star Wars, or perhaps your favourite super hero flick. This is the time of year when big movies are scheduled to be released. That said, I’m sure there’s a movie that slipped through the cracks this fall for many of you – RAMBO 5. Or…you all rushed to the theatres to see this. Rrrrright!
My childhood friend, Danny, is a HUGE fan of Sylvester Stalone. Stalone has two stories to tell…Rambo & Rocky…in various forms and settings. I remember the first time I realized he actually wrote these movies…I was a teenager…it was the credits at the end of Rambo 2…I tried to recap his lines and all I could think of was UH…ERR…OH…ARGH.
Of course, his stories are more than his words…but there are some great lines…the best one coming in Rocky 4. If you can change, and I can change, then we can all change. (CLIP)
That was an important message in 1985. So much tension between the US & Russia at the time. I guess you can say it seems like an important message today too. Oh Rocky, if you’d only come out with another movie to inspire us to live civilly 😉
This gets us to a very important verse in the Jonah story…3:10…where we read that God relented…God changed his mind. (This may bring some of you to say, WHAT? Hmmm?)
With that mind blowing bit of info, lets jump back into our series: OVERBOARD, learning from Jonah’s blunders & God’s grace.
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(Where we’ve been so far)
Jonah gets a word from God.
Go to the great city of Nineveh
Jonah says…nope…goes the other way
Boards a ship
A storm brews and erupts on the see
The sailors start to pray (to various gods)
Jonah ducks down to the lower deck…not to pray, but to to sleep
The captain wakes him up, and asks him to pray
The sailors draw straws to see who’s fault this all is
Jonah draws the short one, then admits this is his fault, and suggests they throw in into the raging sea
They reluctantly throw Jonah overboard
Enter into the story – the big fish
The fish swallows Jonah, Jonah Prays, Fish spits him out
And here we are…
So we left things off with a Fish vomiting out Jonah from its belly…gross, but for Jonah, it’s better than not getting out at all.
– – – – – – – –
HERE WE GO AGAIN (3:1-2)
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
The word from God comes a second time…
– It’s not too often where the same word comes to the same prophet for the same people
– this is interesting, because the beginning of ch1 is the same as the beginning of ch3.
When God wants to get a message across, he’ll keep poking and prodding and nudging. He obviously wanted Nineveh to get this message: first and foremost for them, but also for Israel to learn from this moment, and from this story.
JONAH OBEYED. WHAT? (3:1-3a)
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.
The first two verses are a repeat from chapter 1, but here is where things get different – JONAH actually says yes.
- He doesn’t run
- He doesn’t board a ship
- He doesn’t say no
- This time he obeys God’s invitation
What’s the invite again? Go into Nineveh and share God’s message.
WHY NINEVEH? (3:3b)
Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.
- It’s Large
- it takes 3 days to walk through
- there’s 120,000 people in it (chapter 4)
- it’s the functioning capital of Assyria
- let’s face it, God cares about people, not buildings, economic success or other claims to fame.
- when God identifies a great need, it’s always connected to people…his creation…if they’re living right or not, by living right, we mean are they treating other humans with love and respect.
- It’s a mess
- Words to describe Nineveh are…
- evil ways = darko = sexual deviance
- injustice = hamas = stealing
- we see these words used in Genesis 6 when God talks to Noah about the evil ways and injustice going on then.
- Nineveh was the perfect example for Israel to learn from.
- God wants to use this moment to teach Israel about repentance, about grace, about ‘others’…and we get to learn about it too.
THE MESSAGE (3:4)
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Not sure if you can figure this out, but it doesn’t sound like good news!!!
– it’s a warning, a judgement
– God is pointing out their blindspots
– Sometimes that’s what we need. If no one ever points out where we’ve gone wrong, how can we get to a place of confession, repentance and new living?
It is definitely what Nineveh needed.
Only 8 words (5 in Hebrew), but it spread so fast. In today’s language we’d say the message went viral.
Forty Days is really interesting & significant
- 146 times in scripture
- a symbol of trial, testing, transformation
- Flood = 40days, Israel in wilderness = 40 years, Moses on Mt Sinai = 40days, Jesus = 40days in wilderness, etc.
- God’s message for a pagan nation included a method that his people have used or seen in their own story.
- Note that in scripture, a time of reflection, of testing, of trial, often leads to repentance.
The word ‘overthrown’, can also be read as ‘overturned’ and can be viewed in two ways. Nineveh will be overturned if they don’t repent…or…Nineveh will overturn, will ‘turn-over’, change, repent, if they listen to this warning and respond.
THEY BELIEVED GOD (3:5-9)
The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
They did two things: FAST, and put on SACKCLOTH. Both practices that represent confession of sin, and repentance towards a new way to live.
- Prophets wore SACKCLOTH to one, associate with the poor, and two, grieve for sin.
- Nineveh is responding with humility, acknowledging their evil ways, their injustice, and they CRY OUT TO GOD!
The point is that REPENTANCE is the striking message of this chapter. Nineveh is ‘overturned’, they in fact did ‘turn over’.
GOD’s MERCY COMES THROUGH (3:10)
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Here we are…back to where we started. God sees their response and accepts their confession.
This is one of the few places we see God changing his mind. Not sure how you feel about that, but I think you should feel ok with it.
God’s character never changes, but he can change his mind. And you’re glad he does…
- If not, then he can’t hurt when you hurt or feel deeply what you are feeling, or be sad when you’re struggling.
- When we are in pain or have gotten ourselves in trouble, it moves him
- When we confess and recognize our failures and brokenness, he embraces us
- Why pray, why ask, if God never changes his mind?
Jonah finally delivers God’s message. We’ll learn next week that he didn’t deliver it with much love or compassion or confidence, but that doesn’t matter, because God’s words, heard by Nineveh, turned their hearts towards him, and that’s what matters here.
Back to Rocky Balboa’s famous line in Rocky 4. If you can change, and I can change, then we can all change.
This chapter in Jonah, is about changing: repentance, turning away from sin, and turning to God.
It’s about how we can change in response to God’s words, and how God changes in response to our confession and repentance.
It’s about God using a big city, a great city, an evil city, to teach Israel, and us, a lesson about grace. If they can change, then anyone can change. If Nineveh can be humbled towards repentance, then anyone can.
NO ONE is too far from God
NO ONE is too broken
NO ONE is too messed up
NO ONE is has made too many ignorant mistakes
It might only take a few words from God, and that lost friend, than terrible boss, that vicious neighbour, they just might ‘turn to grace’ & ‘turn to God’
Even if it takes us a few times to figure it out, will we obey God, go to where he’s calling, say what he’s instructing, be who he’s calling to be?
– – – – – – – – –
small(er) group discussion:
What are some of the things from Jonah 3 that speak to you, peak your interest or make you ask a few questions?
Jonah chapter 3:1-2 shows a repeat of chapter 1:1-2. God speaks a second time, and asks the same thing of Jonah. Can you recall God coming to you a second time with the same message? What do you think about God prodding, poking and nudging us to get our attention or get his purposes across?
Jonah didn’t say too many words in his big announcement to Nineveh. Eight words (five in Hebrew) What does that say about God’s ability to use the few things we have to offer, in order to make a big difference?
In that message, we read the words “40 days”, which signifies in scripture, a time of reflection, thought, confession, humility, learning, etc. How has time away, forced or planned, helped you in your spiritual journey, and/or other discerning seasons of your life?
God uses Nineveh’s response to teach Jonah, Israel, and us, a lesson on repentance. Chapter 3 is about repentance – change – a turn around. No one is too far, too broken, too messed up, too scarred, or too tainted, to receive God’s grace.
– What is beautiful about the word repentance, and it’s idea?
– What brought you, personally, to repentance?
– Why do some of us have a hard time with grace when it involves someone we don’t like?
God changed his mind in this story. Anybody wanna talk about this? Why it’s key in this story, in our lives, and maybe why some people have difficulty with a God who changes his mind? Is there a difference between a God who doesn’t change and a God who changes his mind?