- 4 July 2022
- Stuart Robinson
South Head Anglican Parish.
St. Peter’s Watsons Bay. July 3, 2022.
There is that Americanism that you are probably familiar with, the ‘do-over’.
It means starting again; a project, a relationship…or in the case of Jonah Chapter 3, life!
In God’s grace and kindness, Jonah and the Ninevites are permitted a ‘do-over’ of their lives; a fresh start; a second chance.
You will recall that we left the prophet Jonah on a beach somewhere (in chapter 2:10), somewhat sobered and tempered by his gracious deliverance by the Lord via the agency of the ‘huge fish’.
And chapter three begins with God taking the initiative yet again:
He calls Jonah. ‘The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time’ (v1).
He commissions (or re-commissions) Jonah – ‘go to the great city of Nineveh’ (v2)
He equips Jonah – ‘Proclaim to that city the message I will give you’ (v 2).
Calls, commissions, equips.
And you may have heard that aphorism, ‘God equips those whom he commissions and calls’.
That is true in Jonah’s case, and it is true for each of us.
St Paul said this to his friends in Philippi, ‘For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ -Philippians 2:13.
And this from the writer to the Hebrews, ‘The God of peace [will] equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him’, Hebrews 13:21.
So, obediently (v3) – the called, commissioned, and equipped Jonah heads off to Nineveh, described in the text as a very large city through which it took three days to walk.
Nineveh was at various times the capital of the Assyrian empire, and was situated on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, opposite of the modern city of Mosul (Iraq).
And it was a populous, prosperous place; more than 120,000 people lived there, according to the last verse in the book of Jonah (Jonah 4:11).
Let me help you picture this; 120,000 people is close to the size of the Wentworth electorate – and it runs from Watsons Bay to Clovelly, thence Oxford St to Paddington, thence Elizabeth Bay and back again; a huge area.
As was Nineveh.
That is why it took three days to traverse.
Well, about halfway-in, Jonah stops and opens his mouth: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown’ (3:4).
An almost inconsequential action – Jonah’s little homily, resulted in city-wide revival.
A spiritual awakening took place.
It reminds me of those huge public building demolitions – the ones where tickets are sold, and some dignitary or other, pushes a tiny wee button and the whole edifice collapses, implodes, into the dust – boom!
That is what happens in Nineveh…. the whole edifice – idolatry, rebellion against God, wickedness, collapses into the dust, as less than a dozen words tumble from Jonah’s lips.
Of course, God is at work.
And the text tells us this: ‘The Ninevites believed God’ (verse 5).
Such grace: Jonah was not the angel of death; he was a messenger of hope.
He brings a warning (verse 6).
And ‘though they had 40 days, the Ninevites responded immediately.
Like that imploding building, the impact was profound and all encompassing: the Ninevites believed God.
From the greatest (the king) – to the least (the beasts in the field), they believed God (verse 5).
We know this because they call out, they give up, and they put on.
They call out to God for mercy.
At the decree of the King, who himself falls to the ground in repentance (verse 6), the people urgently seek the Lord for clemency (verse 8).
They give up their evil ways and their violence verse 8.
Here we see a wholesale laying aside of a culture that was founded upon aggression and perversity.
They put on sackcloth and ashes, and they lie in the dust (verse 5, 6, 8).
That is, the people of Nineveh adorned themselves in mourning attire.
Sackcloth and ashes connoted deep contrition and remorse.
Sackcloth was an outward symbol of the inner grief caused by sin and disobedience (and imminent judgement).
And in so doing, the Ninevites entrusted themselves to the one who declared, ‘As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they should turn from their wicked ways and live’ – Ezekiel 33:11.
And Joel 2:32 – ‘All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved’.
And so, consistent with his character, his compassion (verse 9), the Lord acknowledges the Ninevites repentance.
He stays his hand, and releases them from retribution (Jonah 2:10)
Did you know that Jesus spoke of this generation of Ninevites?
He taught that they repented of their sin, and that they responded to God’s mercy and grace.
And now, they share eternity with Jesus, unlike those with whom Jesus was engaging at the time; they were religious, but their hearts were hard, and their minds were closed. (Matthew 12:34ff).
Now beloved, here is a truth:
Like Jonah, we have been called by God to be agents and conduits of Christ’s reconciling love (II Corinthians 5:17); we have been commissioned as Jesus’ ambassadors through whom God makes his appeal (II Corinthians 5:20); we have been equipped with the transforming power of the gospel, ‘that God made him (our Lord Jesus), who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God’ ( II Corinthians 5:21).
An impossible task, to be sure, save for the fact that it is our compassionate Heavenly Father who opens people’s hearts to repent to God and to believe the good news (Acts 16:14).
That was certainly the experience of Len Brooks, an aboriginal leader, and preacher, and songwriter in Nullagine, WA in 1997.
As we begin NAIDOC week, let me close with the story of the Nullagine miracle.
A spiritual awakening took place in many communities in the Pilbara, WA, in and around 1997.
Musician and preacher, Len Brooks, and others, led gatherings almost every night, and prayer meetings every day.
Some of these meetings went on for eight hours or more, as people shared in song, testimony, prayer, Bible reading and preaching.
Older people, Aboriginal elders, were turning to Christ, and being baptised.
Four hundred people gathered at the Coongan River near Marble Bar for three days of meetings, with many more being baptised.
Police, hospitals, and others noticed a decrease in alcohol-related incidents.
The media began to take notice.
Nullagine, which had the record of being the arrest capital of Australia, became news when the pub went broke, apparently because so many had given up drinking as a result of turning to Christ.
Like the Ninevites, from the greatest to the least, the people of Nullagine repented to God; they called out for mercy, and became vessels of grace and light.
A divine ‘do-over’, wouldn’t you agree?
May we pray?
Lord we long for a divine ‘do-over’ in our community.
May we, like Jonah, share a simple gospel message with those who will listen.
Grant us faith to trust you for awakening and renewal.
Thank you for calling, commissioning, and equipping us in your service.
Give us courage to live into that vocation.