Summary: The people of repented of their sin. This sermon looks at what true repentance really is.
A Mission’s Moment
Text: Jonah 3:1-10
Introduction: One of the old cartoons that we use to watch as kids has now come back onto the TV. Surprisingly, my children enjoy it and watch it all the time. I’m referring to Popeye. You remember "Popeye the Sailor Man", don’t you? Every episode was based on the same scenario. Popeye would get into a confrontation with Alice the Goon, Sea Hag, Brutus or another enemy, a fight would ensue and it would look as if Popeye was going to get the worst of it by far. Then eventually, when he had been pushed to the brink he would say, "I’ve had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more!" Then he would pull out a can of spinach from his back pocket or sock and down it in one swallow. The strength he received from the spinach would enable Popeye to easily conquer his foe and win the admiration of his beautiful girlfriend, Olive Oyle.
Did you know that there are moments in history when God seems to say to various elements of humanity, "I’ve had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more?" Almost exclusively these times have to do with the sinful rebellion of people created in His image and for whom He possesses a great, longsuffering love. He said this to the whole earth during the time of Noah and to the Israelites repeatedly throughout their history. Such is the case in the text that we’re studying this morning.
The people of Nineveh and the Assyrians in general had lived in a cesspool of sin for most of their existence. Not that they had an excuse for their wickedness. The law of God written on their hearts brought a cloud of condemnation that constantly overshadowed them (See Romans 2:14-15). It took many years, but finally, they filled up the measure of their sin and God said "I’ve had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more. Prepare yourself for judgment." "Forty more days and you will be overturned," was the message Jonah spoke to them on behalf of the God of Israel. (Note that the once rebellious prophet was now as compliant as the wind, the sea and the fish had been to God in the first two chapters.) The word "overturned" can mean "overthrow" as in the case of Sodom in Genesis 19:25 or "change" as in 1 Samuel 10:6. It is likely that the Lord intended a double meaning in this warning. The only way the Ninevites could avoid being overthrown was to change the way they were living...and that’s precisely what He was going to do by bringing them to true repentance! Let’s take a few minutes and try to understand what constitutes true repentance as we witness the hand of God at work in the people of Nineveh.
I. Repentance means acknowledging our sin (See Jonah 3:1-5). When Jonah entered Nineveh it was inhabited by about 120,000 people and had a circumference of about 7 1/2 miles. It took him three days to preach the message so that everyone could hear. Whatever we might have expected their response to have been to a Jewish prophet that had just spent the last 72 hours in the belly of a great fish, we discover that the people believed the word of Jonah! They’d not questioned whether or not Jonah was speaking the truth or if God’s actions were justified. They needed no one to tell them that they were a sinful and rebellious people that had earned everything they were about to receive. Their sin was ever before them.
What had they done? One historian comments on their exploits by saying, "It is as gory and bloodcurdling a history as we know." Records indicate that they were extremely cruel to captured peoples following the siege of a town. They bragged of live dismemberment, often leaving one hand attached to a victim so they could shake it before the person died. They made parades of heads, requiring the friends of the deceased to carry them elevated on poles. They stretched prisoners with ropes so they could be skinned while fully conscious. They pulled out the tongues of other prisoners and burned children alive...and on and on. The Assyrians were a wicked people (See Jonah 1:2) who could not deny the inhumanity of their actions. Application: Many of us have a hard time relating to these kinds of atrocities. Our sins are rarely, if ever, on this scale. Most Christians struggle with subtle, more private offenses that even our closest friends and family may be unaware of. Sins like addictions to alcohol, drugs or pornography; unwholesome talk, self-centered priorities, lying, laziness, poor stewardship and treating others with a lack of authentic love. Yet, just like the people of Nineveh, we are not able to experience the grace and mercy of God until we come to the point where we can acknowledge our sin. This is the first step in true repentance.