Summary: We are concerned about our reputations; God is not caught up in that egotistical way of thinking. God is concerned about us, even at the expense of his reputation.
Wideness of God’s Mercy
1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying,
2 "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you."
When I was a young man just out of military service, I got a job and I wanted to buy a new car. I had never bought anything on credit and I had no credit rating, so the bank would not lend me the money. But I had a rich uncle, and I asked him to cosign the loan. He did that, and I got the money and the car and, in the course of time, I paid the loan off. I moved out of town for a few years. When I came back and saw my uncle again, I thanked him for helping me get that loan.
He said with some emotion, “I am glad that you got that loan when you did, because I would never cosign another loan.”
It turned out that after he cosigned my loan, another person came to him, another relative, and asked him to cosign a much larger loan—which he did. The relative then defaulted on the loan, and my uncle had to pay back every penny. As he said, it only takes one mistake to convince you not to cosign loans.
Some things we have only one chance to get right. What if, after I finish preaching this morning, I say, "Folks, I think I can do better. Why don’t we all stay an extra twenty minutes and let me preach this message again? How many of you would stay? I am not asking for a show of hands. Since we came in two vehicles this morning, my wife might even leave.
You expect me to get it right the first time. If I don’t, you shake my hand at the door and say, “It was just good to be in the Lord’s house today”—which is always a good thing to say when you did not particularly like the sermon. But the point is: There are many situations in life where we have only one chance, then we say, “You had your shot, you blew it, and that’s all there is to it.”
God Gives Another Chance
The good news, and this is really good news, the good news is that God does not work that way. There is a wideness to the mercy of God that will give us another chance.
God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. Instead, Jonah got on a boat headed for Tarshish, which is in the other direction. But out at sea, a storm came up. The boat began to break up. The sailors discovered that they had a backslidden preacher onboard and to appease God, they tossed him overboard. You know what happens next. Everyone has heard this part of the story. A big fish came along and swallowed Jonah, and three days later, that same fish puked up Jonah onto dry ground. That is a gross way to put it, but that is basically what the Bible says.
Then we come to one of the most encouraging verses in scripture. Chapter 3, verse 1, “The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.” Jonah got a second chance from God—even though he did not deserve it. There is an old saying: “Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve; Mercy is when God does not give us what we do deserve.” Perhaps the old saying simplifies things too much. You can’t really separate grace and mercy, but the basic point rings true. “Mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we do deserve.”
Fortunately, Mercy is one of the major characteristics of God. Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), author of Don Quixote, says “Among the attributes of God, though they are all equal, mercy shines with even more brilliancy than justice.”
“There’s a wideness in God’s Mercy.” I love that the sound of that. These are the opening words to Frederick W. Faber’s Hymn. “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea.” Faber stresses the astonishing, incredible extent of the mercy of God. God’s mercy is his defining characteristic. William Blake wrote: “Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell, There God is dwelling too” (Songs of Innocence). Blake ties Mercy, love, and Pity together, and they are tied together, a God of love is certainly a God of mercy and pity.
Jonah received God’s mercy. He received a second chance. Initially God said, "Go to Nineveh;" Jonah said, "No." Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and the archenemy of Israel. Jonah hated the people of Nineveh. The Assyrians had been beating up on the Israelites for a long time. Thus, rather than carry God’s word to them, Jonah ran away. God could have given up on Jonah then. You might say that God should have given up on Jonah. After all, he had his chance, but God gave him another chance.