Update on my office-I finally have all the books out of boxes and onto the shelves-so that’s good progress-but I don’t have any pictures hanging up on the walls yet. Literally the only picture I have up is the one of Jonah from a few weeks ago-Jonah Nineveh. I have a print-out of that hanging above my computer as we’ve been studying Jonah’s life-but it’s given me a good focus. Stay zeroed in on Nineveh-not the other direction to Not Nineveh! I may leave it up for a long time in remembrance of my first sermon series at Dix Hills. But I have a variety of framed pictures from my previous church office that I look forward to getting up on the walls of my new office. One of them is by 19th century American painter Winslow Homer and it’s his work entitled-The Fog Warning. Maybe you’ve seen this before. Several years ago my sister gave this to me-and she and her husband and girls are visiting us this week! But I’ve always enjoyed this painting-yet the reason I put it up on the screen this morning is because I can’t tell you how many times people would come into my office, see this picture hanging up, and say-Jonah, nice! And I’d look at them quite puzzled and say-No, not Jonah. He was in the fish, the fish wasn’t in the boat! Plus Jonah was tossed overboard in the storm, not rowing the boat. But this week Jonah is out of the boat and out of the fish. There’s no more seafaring parts to the story. Open your Bible to Jonah 3 you’ll see that he’s reached dry land. He’s back on the shore-and ultimately back to where he started from. Chapter 3 is a reset from the first chapter. Jonah’s back in the exact same position he was at the start of the story. So what we’re talking about this morning is second chances. Think about that-when was the last time you were given a second chance?
One of the things Monica and I have been learning about is driving-and it seems to us in NY that people either drive really fast-or really slow. Someone just flies by going twice your speed-or someone is just poking along going so slowly. But what I’m not sure about is whether you get speeding tickets-maybe it’s just everyone for himself! But a few years ago we were driving to see my family and I wasn’t paying attention and ended up driving too fast-so from the rearview mirror I saw the lights from the police car wanting to pull me over. So I did and when the officer came up to the window, took my information and then had me come back with him to his police car. I guess this was the new method. So I’m sitting in the passenger seat nervous that I’m going to get a ticket with a hefty fine and the officer is the nicest, most chattiest guy ever! He’s talking my ear off while he’s entering my information in his dashboard computer, asking me all sorts of things, carrying on a conversation like we’re at the donut shop. Meanwhile the kids were in the van look out the back window thinking that dad’s going to jail! But when he printed off the receipt it was just a warning, it wasn’t a ticket, there wasn’t a fine, he just said to slow down, drive safely and have a good day. So off I went given a second chance to obey the speed limit-and I certainly did.
And here we are with Jonah. Because of his disobedience and reluctance to follow God’s call, he’s gone through a terrible ordeal being thrown into the ocean and swallowed by the fish. After hanging out in the guts for 3 days thinking he was a goner, the fish vomited him out onto dry land. This has been anything but a pleasant experience, it’s actually really gross as we talked about it last week, being stuck inside this dark, stinky prison of digestion-yet through it all God give him a second chance. God didn’t let Jonah die inside the guts of the fish but spared him. So why the second chance? That’s the main question we want to examine this morning. Look at-3:1-2. Jonah’s back at the same place he was at the beginning of the book. Notice how the language is nearly identical. Look at 1:1-2. As we said 2 weeks ago-he went in the exact opposite direction of where God commanded him. God said head east-and Jonah went west. This would be like telling your child to pick up their room-and instead they made it more messy. Or you told them to rake up the leaves in the backyard and instead they spread more leaves across the yard. It wasn’t like Jonah mostly obeyed God’s call, or got close to Nineveh; he completely rebelled in the opposite direction! So God has every right and reason to tell Jonah game over-and find some other prophet willing to go to Nineveh. But instead God is graciously giving Jonah a second chance, another opportunity to respond to Him.
So instead of the next verse starting off with-But Jonah-like in 1:3a. This time in chapter 3 it says-v. 3a. Notice the stark difference in wording. Instead of fleeing from the Lord, now in chapter 3 Jonah went according to the Lord. This time Jonah obeys. So Why Does God give Second Chances? Pt1:Restoration. This is what Jonah is experiencing-and I love that word restoration. It literally means to bring back to a former position or condition. Jonah is restored by God because he’s brought back to his former position as a prophet. Instead of being a runaway rebel, God’s reminded him that he’s a prophet. And what does a prophet do? Speaks God’s Word to people. And that’s what God is commanding Jonah to do-Go and preach to Nineveh. God hasn’t said anything new. He hasn’t altered the command or made it simpler. It’s what He’s told Jonah all along. But God has graciously spared Jonah’s life. He’s protected Him, rescued Him and restored Him. Why? So Jonah can be back at this same place of decision, to be back at the same crossroads, and this time obey God. The story has come back full circle. Unlike chapter 1 where Jonah flees, this time he goes. Because of his second chance Jonah is now able to do what he should have done the first time. He’s exercising obedience instead of disobedience. Next to Restoration write: Becoming who we’re supposed to be. That’s why God restored Him; that’s what it’s all about. It’s so simple but so true and challenging. God restores His people so that we will actually be who He’s called us to be. God doesn’t restore us so that we would just disobey again or make all the same mistakes over again. He restores us so that we would go do the very thing we failed to do before. Often we’re more concerned with the restoration itself. Wow God, thanks for helping me out. I was worried. That was a tough situation, glad you bailed me out on that one-and off we go on our merry way. But God doesn’t restore us just so we can feel relief from whatever we were struggling with-like Jonah was now out of the fish’s belly. He restores us for the primary purpose of following Him. He says-Okay, I’ve delivered you. You’re back on your feet. The problem(s) is in the past. You’ve returned to the place you started from-now trust Me and obey-and let’s go on this journey I have for you.
And that’s where Jonah is now at-ready to actually undertake this journey to Nineveh that God’s called him on. Think about it-this is where the story began-this is what Jonah should have been doing all along by heading to Nineveh. Chapters 1 and 2 were an unnecessary part. Now God in His sovereign grace used those chapter to teach Jonah-and us-some valuable lessons-but once Jonah decides to follow God the real plot unfolds-v. 3-4. Did you notice the number that keeps popping up in this book? It’s the number 3. Back then Nineveh was the largest city in the world, about 60 miles in circumference according to historians. Obviously the subway and public transport systems weren’t the most efficient back then so it took 3 days to walk the length of the city, especially if you were stopping to preach like Jonah was doing. So the text tells us that after Day 1 he stopped and spoke to the people. But taking 3 days to preach to Nineveh is oddly similar to the amount of time Jonah spent inside the fish-and that’s no accident. God is precise. He would use Jonah for 3 days to bring the gospel to Nineveh, but Jonah spent 3 days being disobedient instead. And you can just see the wasted opportunity. Praise God that He gave Jonah a second chance, another opportunity to use the 3 days as he should have in the first place; that was able to restore Jonah to the ministry he should have done in the first place.
What about us? How many opportunities are wasted when we run from God? All the time we spend worrying and complaining and disobeying God is time that we could actually spend serving Him and doing the stuff He’s called us to do. Here’s the part that amazes me-Jonah hasn’t gained a single hour or minute by his unwillingness to follow God. Again, if you really consider it-chapters 1 and 2 are unnecessary chapters if Jonah would have just obeyed God and followed Him the first time. His disobedience just doubled the length of time. The book is earnestly trying to tell us-look at the foolishness of disobedience! All this could have been avoided.-the storm at sea, being thrown overboard, getting swallowed by the fish, being vomited up by the fish. Think about it-the story of Jonah could have gone from 1:2 to 3:3. Everything in-between is like the parenthesis of disobedience that really should have been absent. Jonah didn’t need to endure any of it if he had obeyed right away. But because of his rebellion against God, because of his stubbornness, his bitterness, his unwillingness God had to spend some much needed time correcting Jonah. And it makes me think of myself. Hopefully it makes you think about yourself. What problems and consequences could you have avoided in life if only you would have listened to God from the start? What if you would have obeyed right away? What if you would have done what God said to do instead of running away or making excuses or holding back in fear? How might your life have been different? How much frustration or heartache could you have avoided? Now the reality is that you can’t change the past. What’s happened has happened-and God’s relentless grace is there to pick up the pieces in your life just like He did with Jonah. But you do have to learn from your mistakes-and that means making changes in the present. That means letting Jonah’s response to God in chapter 3 become your response to God. So ask yourself-are you responding to God or are you running from Him and refusing to follow His plans? Are you making excuses and staying put out of fear-or are you going where He says go? If you’ve had a parenthesis of disobedience like Jonah then stop immediately and let God restore you. Don’t persist in your own way but humbly turn to Him and obey.
Because of all people, guess who beautifully displays this? Guess who shows us what first-time, straight out of the gate obedience looks like? The wicked, rotten Ninevites! It’s the biggest surprise of the book. It’s like finding out that the biggest bully in your school ended up becoming a missionary. What? It’s not at all what you were expecting. So here in this book we assumed that God was going to punish the Ninevites because that’s what they deserved-but the biggest miracle of the book is that God saves undeserving people. Remember our main description of the Ninevites-1:2. These were bad people who needed to be wiped out for their actions. And God in His justice was saying that would happen if they didn’t repent. Back to Jonah’s sermon-3:4. That doesn’t sound too good-but God’s given them 40 days before judgment. He didn’t nuke them right away-even though they were awful and deserved it. He gave them a time of grace and what do they do? Immediately repent-v. 5. Sure sounds like some horrible people doesn’t it? Hardly-this is the response of a softened and contrite people. This is a city seriously bent on following God and soaking up His words. They have an instant fear and respect for God and immediately humble themselves. The wearing of sackcloth wasn’t a new fashion idea, but a symbol of humiliation and mourning. It was a declaration of unworthiness. They realized they deserved nothing but judgment from God. We don’t read about the Ninevites complaining to God-Hey, why are you so mean to us? Why all the judgement? We don’t know any better. Cut us a break and let us live how we want. None of that-God’s message cut right through their hearts, bringing conviction and causing spontaneous, immediate and unanimous repentance.
Look how far this goes-v. 6a. Now what do you imagine will come next? The king says-Whoa, wait just a minute here people. Don’t start jumping to conclusions and getting all religious. We’re Nineveh-greatest city in the world. We’ll take care of ourselves, we don’t need to fear the threats from some guy named Jonah. We don’t need to change just stay like we are. The king could have asserted his power and stopped this revival just as it was starting. He could have called in his advisors and other government leaders and squashed this on the spot-but he doesn’t. The king is the one who leads his people in repentance. He becomes the main example-v. 6b-9. The king commands his people to be humble, pray, turn from sin and look to God. Now that’s a good king! He’s expressing faith and hope in God when he says-Who knows, God may turn and relent. This king is beginning to understand grace and mercy by admitting-we are a wicked, guilty-as-charged people, but let us humble ourselves and God may chose to save us. This is repentance 101, it’s the heart of repentance. And that’s the next answer to our question Why Does God give Second Chances? Pt2:Repentance
Now what would you have done as a Ninevite? I hate to say it but with a timetable of 40 days before judgment I think a lot of us would wait until about day 39 before repenting. Well I’ve got some time, it’s over a month away before any fire and brimstone come. Let me live it up, get all my sinning out of my system, have a grand old time-and then I’ll turn to God. But that’s delayed obedience-turning to God when we feel like it-which is a very dangerous road. But that wasn’t the Ninevites at all. Their repentance was immediate and radical. Look at God’s response-v. 10. There’s the abundant, undeserving relentless grace of God. So next to Repentance write: Beginning the journey of walking with God. Because what’s a believer but someone who has turned from sin and trusted in God’s grace. A believer doesn’t just exercise lip service-oh Lord forgive me, I feel really bad about all I’ve done-but then turns back around and sins all over again. A believer is someone who has died to sin and been born again to new life. Look at Rom 6:6-8 NIV. Now certainly the Ninevites don’t have all this theology. They don’t know of Jesus yet or understand His death and resurrection, but by God’s grace they’re certainly living this passage out. Their repentance demonstrates the death of their old nature. They’re saying-We’re turning from our evil ways, that’s not going to be us any longer. And they’re beginning to live out the new life of humility and trust in God’s grace.
Several years ago I listened to a sermon that compared repentance with remorse. Have you ever thought about the difference? Being remorseful over sin is being sad, sorry about what happened, you wished it never would have come to that-but it’s just an emotional response. I’m remorseful after eating too many late night snacks and go to bed with a stomach ache, or I’m remorseful after eating a second cheeseburger when I was already full-and now I’m totally stuffed. But I’m probably not repenting of that behavior and making a permanent change to never eat late night snacks again. And that’s the crucial difference. Being remorseful doesn’t ultimately lead anywhere because there’s no lasting change or transformation. You can be as sad as you want but until there’s repentance nothing changes. So that’s where repentance is a humble heart taking ownership for what it’s done. With repentance you’re acknowledge your wrong-certainly you’re sad and remorseful about it-but you’re taking the next step of surrendering that to the Lord as you’re allowing Him to transform you. Repentance isn’t just the emotions talking, it’s your will-the part of you that says I’ll do what I want-intentionally bowing before the Lord saying-I’ll do what you want. Repentance is your whole self coming before the Lord in humility, seeking to be changed. That’s what the King of Nineveh and his people are doing. Or look to David’s repentance-Ps. 51:1-4a There’s the remorse. Obviously he’s really saddened by his sin-but now here’s the repentance-v. 10-12. That’s the crucial piece-repentance involves transformation. This is the stumbling block of Christianity-being remorseful is easy-you can be sad all you want-but to repent means you’re asking God to change you. And that’s hard. That’s not what our old sin nature wants-in fact it’s contradictory to our sin nature. But that’s what following Christ is all about. That’s what the Ninevites are displaying-immediate, honest repentance-Lord, we are turning from our evil ways and looking to you. And that’s exactly what Jonah is doing-turning from his disobedience and following God. We get this great picture of both restoration and repentance in this chapter. Repentance is when the Christian life begins-as the Ninevites showed and restoration is what God does throughout your Christian life when you stumble and fall-like Jonah showed. But across the whole journey the goal remains the same-and that’s transformation. So the final answer to our question Why Does God give Second Chances? Pt3:Transforrmation: being changed into His likeness.
I don’t know if you’ve fought off a cold or sinus infection recently. Usually that’s a winter thing or when the seasons change-but it’s no fun because sinus congestion is terrible. I like what it says in this book-Simple Church, 136-139. Isn’t that so true? It’s almost like a no-brainer, but have you really thought of it in those terms before? Stagnant believers are the antithesis of God’s plan, while change is expected. That’s what transformation is all about. That’s why God doesn’t let us die in our sins but gives us the second chance of salvation; that’s why throughout our Christian lives he gives us second chances, and third chances, and fourth and fifth or however many we need-so that we will slowly but surely be transformed into His likeness. From the moment you repent and put your trust in Christ, change is expected.
Unfortunately way too many people miss that. We can spend all sorts of time and energy praising God for our restoration-Thank you God for saving me and helping me through that tough patch in life. I wouldn’t have gotten there without you. But then off we go on our merry way thankful for the help without a hint or desire for transformation; as if God is nothing more than the heavenly EMT doing his job-We saved you-everything checks out-you’re good now. But that’s just the beginning-God saves you so that He can change you. You can’t separate it-Rom. 8:29a That’s some serious transformation-to be made into the likeness of Christ, the Son of God who perfectly obeyed and followed the heavenly Father. And we’re all really far from that. I know I am. My obedience is nowhere near the obedience of Christ-but that’s the road we’re on, that’s the direction we’re heading. Have you realized that’s the goal of Christianity-to be changed into the image of Christ? Would you say that’s your goal? To be conformed to Christ? The apostle John says it is-1 John 3:2. Is that your hope? Lord, help me to be more and more like Christ. Or do you view the goal of Christianity as just getting an entry ticket into heaven?
We would never say it but lots of us think like the drowning man in the ocean-Lord, help. I’m sinking, ready to die any moment. If only you’ll save me then I will be the most dedicated Christian ever, going to church every week, twice a week, I’ll tithe all I get and serve you with all my strength-if only you’ll save me. And God does-but then off that person goes-grateful to be saved but never really desiring to change. God’s not after lip service but transformation. He isn’t interested in simply the words of your mouth but the condition of your heart. God doesn’t want remorse He’s seeking repentance. Jonah was the drowning man. Last week we saw in chapter 2 that he prayed to God as he was dying-Lord save me-and God did. God gave him a second chance. So what was Jonah’s response? He didn’t run this time, he obeyed. The Ninevites were spared punishment and they obeyed by turning from their evil ways. This chapter of the Bible is all about God giving a second chance to people so they could obey Him. God didn’t give Jonah a second chance so he could sail to Tarshish again, nor did He give Nineveh a second chance so they could keep on being wicked. And neither does He give you a second chance so that you can just keep on living the same way you’ve been living. God’s goal is nothing short of transformation, in becoming who we’re supposed to be in Christ. Back to Pt3.
I realize it’s summer, but I’m sure most of us are familiar with Charles Dickens classic story-A Christmas Carol. And the reason it’s so famous is because of the main character-Ebenezer Scrooge. His name sounds like his personality-but he’s the most famous grumpy, mean, unkind, miserly guy in all of literature. And whether you’ve read the book, seen one of the movie versions or gone to a live production on stage-you know that Scrooge ends up visiting with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. He gets to see the spectrum of his life spread out before him-how he got so mean, what it’s doing to the people around him, and where it will lead if he doesn’t stop. And he makes a great statement standing next to his future gravestone, reflecting on the miserly road he’s traveling down-Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with me. Written like only Dickens can write-but Scrooge realizes he’s got to get off the path he’s going down, he’s got to change course and repent of his grumpy ways and become a kinder man, lest he ends up lonely and miserable. And so the story ends with his great transformation-he wakes up the next day overflowing with kindness and joy. He seeks to help out Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim instead of being mean to them. And we love it because we see the change in his life. It wouldn’t be much of a story if Dickens ended it by saying-Scrooge stayed the same; he continued on in his miserly ways. We’d think-terrible story, why would I read that? A grumpy guy stayed grumpy. But it’s a beautiful and heartwarming story because of his transformation-that’s why it’s worth reading. And it’s no different for you and me. The story of our lives is worth reading-not because we stayed the same as we’ve always been-and refused to change, saying this is me-but because we’ve been transformed by the relentless grace of God-and said-it’s no longer me, but Christ in me who’s changing me day by day. Have you let God begin that change to transform you? Have you come to that place of repentance where He can transform you. That’s what Jonah and the Ninevites did-and it’s what you and I must do too.