Summary: A look at real repentance versus the emotion that we often mistake for repentance.
THE NEXT STEPS (LITERALLY): Even after surviving the whale ordeal and getting a second chance, Jonah’s repentance begins with a lot of walking.
- Jonah 3:3.
- This is a fact that at one level seems rather obvious but that hit me hard a while back. As I considered the story of Jonah, I had just gone straight from being thrown up on a beach to standing at the city gates of Nineveh getting ready to preach.
- But in those three words in v. 3 – that Jonah “went to Nineveh” – is a lot of traveling. We don’t know exactly where Jonah got thrown up on the shore of the Mediterranean, but the distance from Joppa (where he started his boat trip) to Nineveh is in the ballpark of 500 miles. 500 miles!
- [Show map.]
- You’ll notice on the map that it includes a lot of desolate area as well as two major rivers to cross.
- That’s in the ballpark of walking from Charleston WV to Chicago IL.
- [Show map.]
- That’s a long way to go. That takes a lot of determination to persevere through (even if Jonah is unhappy about having to go). That’s a lot of chances to think about turning back. That’s many days (months!) of traveling.
- I’ve been saying within this that Jonah is walking. I say that just because it’s pretty safe to presume that Jonah didn’t escape from the fish with much more than his life and the vomit-soaked clothes on his back. That is, no money or resources.
- Now, it could be that he was returned to land near Joppa and he was able to return to his home and get money for a camel. It is also possible that God miraculously provided for Jonah all that he needed – clothes, camel, etc. – for the journey. He don’t know for sure.
- We do know, though, that he likely came out of the Mediterranean without much in the way of resources.
- That visual – walking from Joppa to Nineveh – creates a good picture for us to use in talking about what real repentance looks like. I want to draw four things from Jonah’s journey.
WHAT REAL REPENTANCE LOOKS LIKE:
1. Real repentance is an action, not a feeling.
- We associate repentance with someone coming forward at the close of worship and praying to God with tear-stained cheeks. They feel bad for their sin and repent of it.
- That feeling is not a bad thing – it’s a positive step that we feel sorrow for our sin. But we sometimes think that the feeling is the repentance. Real repentance is not just a feeling – it’s an action.
- In our verse, it’s not just that Jonah felt bad for disobeying God (in fact, we don’t even know if he did feel bad or just finally and begrudgingly conceded that he was disobeying God), it’s that he put boots (or sandals) on his repentance. He started the journey.
- What if he’d said to God, “I’m sorry that I did that. I feel bad for disobeying you. I’m sorry. But I’m not going to Nineveh.” That wouldn’t be real repentance. Real repentance demands action.
- We have done people a disservice by making them believe that they can be right with God without their actions being right. It’s not that we earn our salvation – it’s a gift. But the receiving of that gift is going to change our actions. That’s a point that the New Testament makes dozens of times. Faith that is faith in name only isn’t real faith. Real faith displays itself in action.
- In a similar way, real repentance isn’t just words, but it displays itself in action.
2. Real repentance demands a change of direction.
- This point is closely tied to the first point, but is important enough to deserve a separate discussion.
- Not only is real repentance an action, but it’s a movement in the opposite direction.
- The first point said that repentance was an action and not just a feeling. Let’s be more specific now: that action needs to be away from our sin and toward obeying God.
- As you look at the map, there is literally just about a 180 degree change of direction. (Well, maybe 150.) Heading from Joppa to Tarshish took Jonah due west. Presuming he got spit up on the beach back at Joppa, he would have headed northeast to get to Nineveh. (If he was spit up further north in the Mediterranean, he would have been heading due east.)
- When I say a change of direction, I mean that real repentance includes the idea that we are going to pursue obeying God. If we’re repenting, then we obviously haven’t been doing that.