04 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet
The God of the Second Chance
Well we left Jonah last week drying out on some beach probably near God’s destination for him: Nineveh. After three days and three nights in the digestive tract of a fish, Jonah would have been something to see. Skin bleached white by the gastric juices, clothes mostly dissolved, and smelling to high heaven, Jonah stumbled out of the water blinded by the bright sunlight. We aren’t told whether or not there were witnesses, but it was a pretty humbling arrival!
We also aren’t told how much time lapsed between Jonah’s arrival and God’s call. The text simply says, “Then the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…” (3:1), as if to say, “Jonah, now do I have your attention?” But I want us to notice that there’s a lot of grace evident in that second calling.
JONAH’S FAILURE AND GOD’S GRACE
Some have drawn a comparison between Jonah’s story and the parable of the prodigal son. In Jesus’ parable in Luke 15, a man has two sons. The younger came to his father, asked to cash out his inheritance, and he left home. He squandered “all of his money” in reckless behavior until all of it was gone, along with his new “friends.”
Starving and alone, on rock bottom, the young man took a job feeding pigs and eating the food they were eating. Dear ones, there aren’t many things that smell more nauseating than a pig pen…unless maybe it’s how you smell after three days inside of a fish!
The younger son and Jonah had both “bottomed out.” They had fallen down as far as someone could fall. Both had nothing left to their name but ragged, smelly clothes. The younger son decided to “come home” and throw himself on the mercy of his father. He confessed his folly and his ignorance and his sin, and the father “placed a robe and a family crest on his finger” and threw a great party for him, saying “this my son who was dead is now alive.” It was resurrection language. Jesus compared Jonah’s coming out of the fish alive as a resurrection!
The prodigal son got a second chance that he didn’t deserve. The prodigal prophet did too. Chapter 1 and 2 of Jonah, Jonah is like the younger son. Running, disobedient, away from the presence of his Father, and then going down, down and down to the lowest point on earth. We remember Jonah’s downward journey: Down to Joppa, down to the belly of the ship, down into the water, and finally down inside a fish. When we run from God, down is the only direction we can go!
It doesn’t matter how far we fall. God is ready to receive back any person who will come truly repentant and truly yielded to Him. We all need grace, we need a second chance. And some of us today know exactly where Jonah was, and exactly where the prodigal son was. Broken, alone, messed up, and maybe reeking like the garbage of the world. You need a second chance…or a third, or fourth…
JONAH’S ASSIGNMENT AND GOD’S MESSAGE
So now we see a second time, Jonah is given an assignment from God. I am certain hearing the voice of God again was reassuring to Jonah. After all, when he left for his trip to Tarshish he effectively quit his job! We are given no indication that God spoke anything to him while he was inside the fish.
But now, as the Word of the Lord came to him a second time, Jonah went to Nineveh instantly. Nothing in God’s plan had been altered. God still wanted a message brought to Nineveh.
It is an act of compassion and grace that, before God ever brings judgment to a people or a nation, He always sent a messenger first. God warns, and then He acts. “The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The “win” for God, if you would, is not that He acts in destructive force against sinful people, though He can and He has, but that people are given every chance to change course if they choose.
Let me say it this way. God could have just blown the Ninevites into oblivion if He wanted. They certainly deserved it. Our nation deserves it. We are guilty of systemic sin. It is everywhere, in every institution, and in every heart. He owed Nineveh no warning, but He gave it just the same because God is compassionate and merciful and gracious.
“So pastor you’re saying then that God wouldn’t send me to Hell without warning me first?” Did you know that one of the most common Google searches during these months as we have gone through the pandemic is, “Am I going to go to hell?” 640 million Google searches on that. SO what I’m saying is this. If your life is not where it needs to be before God, and if you do not repent and trust Jesus as your Savior and Lord, as your only hope, you will die in your sins and you will go to Hell. Forever. No chance of escape. Now, you’ve been warned.
But if you will turn away from your rebellion and sin and return to the Father, you will be forgiven. You will be given a second chance! That is what the Father really desires. “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” God said.
That message of grace is what Jonah went to Nineveh with. He went to warn them of judgment that would fall if they did not turn away and turn to Him: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”
JONAH’S HEART AND GOD’S PATIENCE
Jonah obeyed. But we find later that Jonah’s heart was not in it. In the first chapter his disobedience was clearly open rebellion. In the third chapter, his sin was half-hearted obedience. Jonah had not truly repented. Maybe he went because he made a vow to God that he would while he was inside the fish. (“What I have vowed I will pay…” 2:9)
Jonah was a racist prophet. He was a man who put his nationality as a Jew above every other race on earth. It was entrenched in him. He blamed the Ninevites for what they had done, not to him personally, but to his forefathers and to his country. It’s a tragic thing when a Christian loses his heart for the lost of the world. When we get complacent in our spiritual life the first symptom is we lose our desire to see lost people come to the Lord.
Jonah despised the Assyrian people so much he was more eager for God to wipe them off the map. People he’d likely never met, never sat with for tea; people with whom he’d never shared a meal. But he hated them. How much? Enough to rejoice if God wiped them out and to take it personally and sulk when God didn’t.
None of that changed in Jonah’s attitude, even after his time in the belly of the great fish. He was still racist and prejudiced and filled with hatred. He wanted God to fry these people while he sat on a hillside and watched the show. It is true that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but Jonah certainly was ready to!
The parable of the prodigal son does not end with the son’s return. There was an older brother in the story too, who had stayed behind with his father and continued doing his duty. This is actually the main point of the parable.
And when his younger prodigal brother returned home, this older brother didn’t rejoice. He was resentful. He was angry that everyone was celebrating his prodigal and sinful brother’s return. And he wasn’t about to go to his party! He believed the Father owed HIM a party because of his obedience.
You know folks, there are two ways we can run from God. One is, like the prodigal, by running into the world and into a sinful lifestyle. The other is, like Jonah and the older brother, to run into religious practice and performance that makes us believe God owes us. There’s a lot of “older brothers” in the church today.
Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janeiro. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture—taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did.
God is a God of second chances. Almost everyone greatly used in the Bible was a recipient of that honor! God gives second chances, and maybe you need one today.
If so, His arms are open wide for you to come home too.