Tonight I want to talk to you about the importance of making right turns.
In 1938, a pilot by the name of Douglas Corrigan left Floyd Bennet Field in New York City to fly to Los Angeles, CA. A dense fog had settled in at the runway, but he decided to take off anyway. As he lifted off, he ended up taking a left turn instead of a right, veering east instead of west. He flew for 28 hours before he landed not in California, but in Dublin, Ireland. Forever afterward he was known in aeronautical history as Wrong Way Corrigan.
I can sympathize with Mr. Corrigan, can’t you? I’ve made a few wrong turns in my time. I made one just the other day, missing the turn-off to my own home. One of these days when the price comes down, I’ll probably get me one of those GPS devices to keep on the right road.
But sometimes a wrong turn can be a little more serious, especially if it’s not on a highway, but at a crossroads in your life. Many a person comes to a fork of decision, and makes a wrong turn instead of a right turn. They take the wrong road out of ignorance, or they turn the wrong way deliberately. But either way, one thing is for certain: the consequences of one wrong turn can change your life forever.
The Bible is God’s roadmap for how to make right turns. In His Word, God gives us directions so we can travel the straight and narrow road leading to life, instead of the broad way leading to death. He promises us not only a map, but a Guide.
Is 30:21 Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.
Jn 16:13 …when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…
At all of life’s intersections, we have God’s Word and God’s spirit to help us make the right turns. I want us to travel down to an intersection tonight found in Jonah 3, where the Bible explains 3 right turns you and I can’t afford to miss. Let’s begin with the first turn in vs. 1-4.
Let’s call this the right turn of obedience (v. 1-3a)
In the first 2 chapters of this book, Jonah takes some wrong turns and ends up in some serious trouble. When God calls him to preach revival in Nineveh, he runs in the opposite direction. When God sends a storm to chase him, he makes another wrong turn of stubbornness. Finally, in the belly of the great fish, Jonah has a change of heart and decides to go God’s way. But a change of heart is no good unless there is a change of behavior that goes with it.
As Jonah picks himself up off the sandy shore he reaches another fork in the road. …the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and preach to it the message that I tell you…
God gives Jonah a 2nd chance to make a right turn. Can Jonah say no to God again? I’ve known people—you probably have to-- who promise God all kinds of things when they’re in a pinch, but when the storm passes, they go their own merry way.
God brings Jonah right back to the crossroad where he made his first wrong turn. Now Jonah must decide to either obey or disobey. Going to Nineveh isn’t going to be any easier this time than it was the first time. Jonah still feels the same fear, worries over the same danger. He still doesn’t want to go, but in spite of all his misgivings, he makes the right turn and obeys.
What about us?
No matter how long you’ve walked with the Lord, you still come to the same crossroad Jonah faced: obey or disobey. Sometimes it’s not easy to make the right turn. Like Jonah, obedience will cost us, maybe put us in some hard, dangerous spots. God doesn’t always ask us to do what is easy, or pleasant, or even safe. What He does call us to do is to make a right turn and choose the path of obedience. In the end, that’s the only really safe choice.
Ron Hutchcraft writes about a parenting technique he calls the squeeze.
It’s also known as the “lousy choice” approach. See, you give your child two choices, but one is so bad…he or she will choose the other one. In our family it might have sounded something like this: “OK, look, you can do the yard work with my help before noon or [else you do it all] by yourself sometime before Friday.”…Or, “Either you set your own study hours, or I’ll set them. You choose.” It’s amazing how the “squeeze” [can lead] a child to…where he really ought to be.
God uses this method with His kids. When we come to a fork in the road between obedience and disobedience, He encourages us to make the right turn of obedience. Moses expresses God’s heart for all of His people when he said
Dt 30:19 …I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;
You can always choose which way you want to go---you can take the right road of obedience, or the wrong road of disobedience. However, you cannot choose where the road takes you. Obedience leads to life; disobedience leads to death. Like Jonah, God will get your attention, warn you of the danger, urge you to take the right road. But in the end, you must choose to make a right turn of obedience. Which road do you take?
Let’s call the 2nd turn the right turn of repentance (v. 3b-9)
The people God calls Jonah to preach revival to are some rough customers.
One scholar describes Assyria as an “…the symbol of terror and tyranny in the Near East for more than three centuries. “ Assyria is known for its depravity and violence, both toward their enemies and even toward each other. They are fierce, merciless warriors who wipe out whole towns and villages of innocent people—including many Israelite cities. They are pagan idolaters whose worship is full of superstition, blood, and immorality.
It is into this cesspool of sin Jonah comes preaching God’s message: Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown! Jonah walks through the market places and squares, through the alleys and thoroughfares, preaching and proclaiming God’s judgment. What kind of response do you suppose he expects from such people? Probably not the response he actually gets.
A revival breaks out. Vs. 5 tells us it begins with the common folks, who believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the least to the greatest of them…Wearing sackcloth and going without food were signs of grief, in this case sorrow that produces repentance. V. 6 says the revival spreads to the king, who calls his entire nation to fasting and humility. For 40 days everybody from the king on the throne to the animals in the stall goes hungry, as they hold to the hope expressed in vs. 9.
Where does this king and these people get the idea that God might spare them? Jonah certainly doesn’t offer them much hope. The key to understanding God’s message to Nineveh is in the Hebrew word hapak translated into English as overthrown in vs. 4.
This is one of those words that can be used in more than one way. (In English you can use the word hide to talk about putting something out of sight, or you can use hide to talk about an animal skin.) Hapak can mean turn over=destroy or it can mean turn around= bring to repentance. God’s message to them can be understood 2 ways:
In forty days, this city will be overthrown= this city will be destroyed.
In forty days this city will overthrow itself= this city will repent.
That clears up a lot, doesn’t it? When the Ninevites hear Jonah’s message, they don’t just hear bad news (in 40 days you’re toast) but the good news (you have 40 days to get right with God). God’s Word prompts these folks to make a right turn and truly repent.
What about us?
Repentance is one of the most important aspects of your relationship with God. He will never change His mind, but He will often call you to change your mind.
You begin your life in Christ with repentance from sin---turning from sin and self to Christ as Savior and Lord. Repentance is absolutely essential before a person can be born again.
But as you grow in your faith, repentance becomes a lifestyle for you. We don’t stop sinning when we get saved, but we do have a different response to our sins.
Before you are saved, your conscience bothers you when you do wrong; after you are saved the Holy Spirit convicts you when you do wrong. He will “pester” you until you confess your sin and repent of it. Many times you will need to repent of sins in your life—whether it’s wrong behavior or wrong attitudes. As long as you live in this world, you will need to always be willing to make a right turn and repent when the Holy Spirit speaks.
A Christian is not one who never goes wrong, but one who is enabled to repent and begin over again after each stumble — because of the inner working of Christ.- C. S. Lewis
Are you and I willing to make the right turn of repentance? Or will we take the wrong turn of pride and stubbornness? It makes a big difference in your relationship with God.
Which brings me to the most surprising right turn found in this story in vs. 10: the right turn of mercy.
This verse is one of the most incredible statements in the Bible. Do you see why? See the connection between the “turning” of the Ninevites from evil ways and God’s “turning” from the disaster He told them He would send. God makes a right turn—a right turn of mercy.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. God is perfect, holy, righteous, and good. There is no sin in Him, and no need for Him to repent.
Nu 23:19 God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
Yet even though God never repents, He responds to our repentance. Within God’s unchanging character and nature, He always has a contingency plan for dealing with us. The book of Ezekiel offers some insight into how this works when God tells the prophet in
God didn’t change either His plans or His mind when the people of Nineveh repented. His plan always included both possibilities: if they refused to repent, He would destroy them. If they repented, He would spare them. God always reserves the right to make a right turn of mercy.
Where would Jonah be if God didn’t take a right turn of mercy? His body would have been just another meal for the big fish. He would have been just another runaway rebel who got what was coming to him, and you and I probably would never have heard of him. But God made a right turn of mercy, and Jonah got a second chance.
Where would Nineveh be if God did not take a right turn of mercy? The same place other wicked cities ended up. He might rain down fire and brimstone on them, or use another army to execute His judgment. They would have been destroyed. But God made a right turn of mercy, and they were spared.
Where would you and I be if God did not take a right turn of mercy? Think about all the times you’ve called out to God for mercy, and how He answered with mercy.
Without His mercy, He would never have sent Jesus to die for our sins. Without His mercy, you would never have heard the Gospel and believed. Without His mercy, when you sin there would be no forgiveness, no cleansing—only condemnation and judgment. Without His mercy, we could never hope to see heaven. Because God made a right turn of mercy, because He continues to make right turns of mercy, you and I enjoy salvation, forgiveness, and a life worth living, both now and in eternity.
If you can’t find anything else to be thankful to God for, be thankful to God for His mercy.
But don’t just be thankful for mercy---practice making the right turn of mercy. God expects us to follow His example.
Ps 18:25 With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful…
Mt 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
Lk 6:36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
God expects those who have been shown mercy to show mercy to others. He expects you and I to continually make the right turn of mercy.
What does it mean to be merciful to others as God is merciful to you? It means to forgive, to let go of grudges, to refuse to take vengeance, either with your hands or your heart. Mercy means to show kindness and compassion, especially to those who don’t deserve it. To be merciful is part of what it means to obey Jesus’ new commandment
Jn 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
It is love—God’s love for us, and in us—that moves us to make a right turn of mercy.
Robert Robinson was a poor orphan who wandered from place to place, never calling anywhere home until one night the Holy Spirit led him into a tent meeting where the great evangelist George Whitefield, preached on the subject of Jesus’ love for sinners. Robert came to Christ and was baptized. Soon after he enrolled in college, and graduated as a Methodist minister. In 1758, at the age of 23, Robert wrote the words to the hymn: “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” It was first published as a poem and later put to the tune we sing today.
But some time later, Robert began to have problems. He began to drift away from his love for Christ. He left the ministry and headed for France, where he descended into the depths of depravity. After many years of living in sin, he made his way back to London. Staggering down the street early one Sunday morning, he called for a coach to get home. As he entered, he noticed a young lady sitting opposite him, holding a book. He tried to avoid speaking, but the young lady asked him his name. “My name is Robert Robinson.”
The young lady sat up and said, “What a remarkable coincidence!” She opened her book to a ribbon-bookmark. “I was just reading a poem by Robert Robinson. Here it is:
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing/Tune my heart to sing Thy grace’
Streams of mercy, never ceasing/Call for songs of loudest praise.
She made it as far as the last verse
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it—Prone to leave the God I love;
Robert broke down and confessed “Madam, I know the words to the poem quite well. I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago. I have lived out those words Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
There was silence for a few moments, and then the young lady said softly, “But Mr. Robinson, you also wrote the lines Streams of mercy never ceasing…God’s mercy can still reach you, if you will turn back to Him.”
And the story goes that Robert did call on God for mercy. He came back to Christ, and lived out the rest of his days serving the Lord Who showed Him such mercy.
It’s not too late for you and I call on God to make a right turn of mercy for us. It’s not too late for you and I to make a right turn of mercy for someone else.
Do you need to make a right turn tonight?
The runners in an NCAA cross-country track championship held in Riverside, California, came to a turn that was not well-marked…
Mike Delcavo knew the way and waved frantically for the other runners to follow him. Only four did. One hundred twenty-three out of the 128 runners took the wrong turn and lost their opportunity to win the race. Delcavo later said his competitors were laughing as he chose to take what he knew was the right turn.
God has shown us the right turns to make tonight. Will we make them?
Will you make the right turn of obedience tonight?
Will you make the right turn of repentance?
Will you make the right turn of mercy?
One thing you can know for sure: when you make the right turn, and you always end up on the right road.