TCC 09: David Miller – National Repentance, The Repentance of Nineveh

The purpose of the book of Jonah is not to provide fodder for theological debate. Nor subject matter for scientific wrangling over the various sizes of whale bellies. The purpose is to show us the heart of God; for He had set his affections on the Ninevites and this book is an historical narrative to show us what God did to express His affection.

The Book of Jonah is made up of four sections:

  1. In chapter 1 we see that Jonahs concept of God is limited.
  2. In chapter 2 we learn that God’s condemnation of Jonah is lethal.
  3. In chapter 3 we see that Jonah’s compliance to God is legendary.
  4. Then in chapter 4 we find Jonah’s consternation toward God is loathsome.

Our text for this afternoon is

Jonah 3:1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it (ESV).

In chapter1:1-2 we have Jehovah’s tremendous declaration of His mercy. What Mercy you might ask? There had been 3200 years of human civilization and yet Jonah is the first missionary that God had ever sent beyond the borders of Palestine. The warning was neither necessary nor deserved. It was a tremendous declaration of the mercy of God.

But Jonah was theologically deficient. He failed to discern the omnipresence of God; else he would not have gone to Joppa, found a ship to tarsus, paid the fare and gone down then from the presence of the Lord. You see, what you believe affects the way you behave. Theology matters.

He also manifested a deficiency regarding the providence of God. Providence hurled the storm across the Mediterranean. Providence prepared the great fish and had the fish in the right place at the right time, with the right frame of mind.

Chapter 2 Jonah experienced what we have been discussing in this conference, he repented of his sin. But the main point is not the fact that Jonah was swallowed by the whale. In fact, if this book had said that Jonah swallowed the whale that still wouldn’t be the main point; the main point is that God is going to grant repentance to the Ninevites.

The main focus of this book is that the God of the Bible is a missionary God. You see grace always takes the initiative. And we are about to explore the greatest one day, one man, evangelistic crusade ever recorded in human history. From 600,000 – 1 million people repent at the preaching of Jonah and yet in our day you don’t have this crusade used to help us as a model for evangelism at church growth seminars.

I want to do three things.

1. A Review of the Preaching at Nineveh

Jonah was from Gath-hepher near Nazareth in Galilee. The scribes in Jesus day were wrong when they said that a prophet had not come from Galilee.

Jonah preached during the days of Jeroboam II. He was said to have been the son of the widow of Zarepaeth, whom Elijah raised from the dead. But I’ll have to wait till heaven to be sure because that is traditional.

Jonah 3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”

Here we see the mandate

This is tantamount to God sending a Jewish evangelist to preach to Hitler during the Nazi Germany.

Nineveh was the nemesis of the Israelites. Their city was wealthy but wicked. The décor was attractive but their deeds were atrocious. They were known for their cruelty, especially to prisoners. Small villages would commit mass suicide rather than to fall into the hands of the Assyrians.

And God said to Jonah, go to Nineveh and preach the message I will give you.

Jonah 3:4 Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Here we see the subject of this preaching

This is short and bitter. It is a great mercy from God when he sends a warning. Could it be that here today God has given some of you a warning, it is mercy and grace. God would have been just and righteous to wipe the Assyrians off the map and to cast them to hell without a warning, but he sent his servant Jonah to warn them.

2. The Response of the People at Nineveh

Jonah 3:5-9 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

When I read this I must ask, do you yearn in your heart for a revival like that in our own day. Does this not give us hope? Isn’t it encouraging that a sovereign God can turn the heart of depraved sinners.

3. The Repentance of the Potentate

Jonah 3:10 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

God does not repent in the same sense that you and I do, to say so would be to suggest that God was guilty of sin. But he is pure and holy. But God does change his mind, in this sense, when there is a change, repentance and faith, God changes his outward dealings with his subjects.

But God was immutable in his resolve to overthrow the Ninevites unless they repented. He was also immutable in his resolve to show mercy when they repented. God himself initiated the repentance and the mercy began before the repentance commenced.

And was that not the case with you? Long before you believed you were justly condemned by an immutable God, you were condemned and yet when God wrought repentance in your heart, “He delivered you from the power of darkness and translated you into the kingdom of His dear Son (Col1:13).”

I was shown this mercy. I grew up amidst a number of Southern Baptist Churches. We were poor and the people from the church would come by all the time to take me to church and to share with me the good things of God. Though I was depraved, and God was immutable in his resolve to send me to hell unless I repented, he was just as immutable to show me grace, clear me of guilt and declare me innocent when he wrought faith and repentance in my heart.

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About Justin Wheeler

Justin Wheeler is the preaching pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Wylie, TX. He is married to Leigh and has three children.
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