Preaching - Jonah 3

This is a sermon by Chris Hobbs from the evening service on 19th September 1999.

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The name of William Carey should be better known than it is. Those who do know it rightly know him as the father of modern missions. He gave the last forty years of his life to the people of India at the beginning of the nineteenth century, never once returning on furlough. It is said that when he originally offered himself to go to India, he was told that: if God wanted to reach the heathen he would do it without Carey's help. He was dismissed, but not deterred, and went anyway.
But we shouldn't think that these other men weren't Bible-believing Christians. They believed in the God of sovereign grace, who freely and of his own will shows mercy to sinners whom he chooses, out of his own kindness and love. They believed in the God of Jonah. The God whom we met last week, pondering that phrase at the end of Jonah 2: Salvation is of the Lord.

But it does raise a question: If salvation is God's business, won't he do it all, without our help, as William Carey was told. It's a question for us too, not just one of historical interest. Do I need to try and speak to people about Christ or will God somehow do it if he wants to? It is a question which His answered for us in Jonah 3. I can find nothing whatsoever to fault Jonah for in this chapter. He did run from the Lord, and then ran to him in desperation. Now he runs with the Lord, flat out in his service, in step with his God. Here he's the model prophet - and Jesus was even to model himself on him.
Here he shows us how God goes about his business of saving people. He has a method which we do well to ponder. As we do, we'll discover that it's how we've been saved [if we are]. It's also how our friends will be saved if they're going to be - and our famiily, our colleagues, our neighbours. Jonah knew what God's method was. Jesus knew it. The apostles knew it. William Carey knew it. Let's make sure that we know it too.

I'm going to put it before you as a statement, which I can then unpack step be step. Here's the statement: God saves people by sending a preacher to warn them of judgment and bring them to repentance. So, there are three parts to God's method. He sends a preacher. He warns of judgment through that preacher. And he brings people to repentance.

1. Sending a preacher (v1-2)
With verse 1 the story begins again. Apart from one small change, it's identical to the opening verse of the book. Instead of son of Amittai we have a second time. Verse 1... This is a fresh start, a new beginning. That is, a fresh start for Jonah. It's not a fresh start for God. His plan is constant, his method unchanged. So, he doesn't tell Jonah he has a new idea for reaching Nineveh. [Here's plan B. Let's see how this goes]. It's exactly the same plan as before, just filled out with a little more detail for our benefit: verse 2...
Jonah's job is to speak on God's behalf, literally to sp3eak the speech God gives him. There's no doubt whose message it is. He's not to make it up. He's to pass on what he's told. And this isn't a change from the start of the story either. It's not as if Jonah, having run away once, is now on probation - as if God isn't sure he can trust him. So he gives him a word-for-word message to repeat, to test him out. No, the prophet's job has always been to pass on the message God gives him. It's the same for the preacher. That it was God's message is brought home to us in verse 5: The Ninevites believed God. 'Jonah was the spokesman on the day they heard it, but the message they heard was God's message. That is what preaching is - passing on the word of God.

We need to get out of our heads that preaching is something that only happens from a pulpit. If I now moved over to the lectern and carried on speaking, would that no longer be preaching? Or suppose we moved over to the Haworth Arms for the conclusion, would that no longer be preaching? What about if we met at my house for a cup of tea and I gave my talk there - would that be preaching? See how we've been conned? The key thing about preaching is not the conditions in which the message is given, but the content of the message. Just to be ridiculous for a moment.... If I put down my sermon notes down and began reading to you from Winnie the Pooh or my favourite recipe in Delia Smith, would that still be preaching - just because it comes form the pulpit?

Preaching comes in many guises. It could be a conversation over the garden fence, or outside the school gate, or in the pub, even after the church service when we're drinking coffee together. It can even come through a book, or a tape or a video. The important thing is the content. Is it from God? Is it from the Bible? Then it's preaching.
If we understand preaching in those terms, isn't that how we were saved, how we became Christians? God sent us a preacher. We may not have thought about it in those terms before, but isn't that what happened? That's certainly how it happened to me. I'm what you could call a second generation Christian. Not that I was born a Christian, like I was born with blue eyes. Second generation in the sense that my parents are Christian, but their parents (as far as we can know) were not. One of the reasons I love Billy Graham so much is that he's the preacherJ God sent to my father - in Harringey Stadium in the 1950's. [My father wasn't the only person Bily came to speak to, but he was one of them]. He sent another preacher, whose name I don't know, to my mother in Denmark. He then sent them both as preachers to me as a little boy. [Maybe he reasoned one wouldn't be enough to get me converted - joke!].
Are we as committed to sending preachers as God is? That's his way of saving people. He went to great lengths to send Jonah to Nineveh. I'd have given up with Jonah long before. He never gave up sending preachers to his people I.srael, even though they would not listen to them. He paid the greatest price of all in sending his Son to this world as a preacher. Not only did they not listen to him, but they put him on a cross to show how much they resented it. And don't think our generation would have done any better if we'd been there. God is committed to saving people - and to doing it by sending preachers. I don't believe we'll see real spiritual revival until we see a revival of preaching - of preachers sent by God.

2. Warning of Judgment (v3-4)
Verse 3: Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city [that is, important to God. Nineveh mattered to him and he cared about it, even if Jonah didn't] - a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the citya. [He didn't hang round. He got stuck straight in. Maybe it would have taken three days to get round the whole city. It would take at least that in Hull. And what was his message?] He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." I think that must be a summary of his preaching, don't you - the gist of what he had to say. [I timed how long it would take to deliver that line - it took me five seconds, speaking at my very slowest]. But there is no doubt what his message was. It was a warning of judgment. Absolute, final and catastrophic. But it was a warning. They're given time to do something about it: forty more days of time. They have a period of grace - Like when you get a red letter bill for the phone or the gas. [perhaps you've never had one of those?] Why does God give them a warning and not just bring the judgment sqtraight away? They deserve it. Ask any parent here tonight. Or dredge up the memory of your own childhood. Dad says to Jack: "If you don't release your sister's head from that drawer before I count to 5, I'm going to hit you so hard, you won't remember therewas anything before it - or some other gentle words of exhortation... 1... 2... 3... 4... 1/2... 3/4...." Why's he take so long to get to 5? Because he wants to bring about a change. He wants to bring Jack to his senses and to restore him to his sister and to himself. He wants to save him, and so he warns of judgment. Just like God.

Have we taken this on board? Jonah had. So too had a man called Jonathan Edwards. He was visiting another church in Connecticut in 1741 when he preached a sermon with the title, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It's probably one of the most famous sermons in history. Here's a taste: "God is holding you over the pit of hell, as someone who holds a spider or some repulsive insect over a fire, and He abhors you and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire, and he sees you as worthy of nothing else but to be thrown into that fire. His eyes are too pure even to look at you; you are ten thousand times more detestable in His sight that the most hated poisonous snake is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than even a stubborn rebel did his prince. Yet, it is nothing but God's hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment." [Fanella edition, p18]. Now why did he preach like that? Had he had a bad night? Did he have a psychological disorder? Was he angry with his hearers? It was simply that he wanted to offer them God's salvation. Later on, he says, "God stands ready to have pity on you; this is a day of mercy." He was committed to seeing people saved by God, and so he warned them of God's judgment.

Are we as committed to warning of judgment as God is? Jonah knew it was God's way of saving people - which was why he didn't want to do it in Nineveh. Jesus warned of a judgment far worse than the overthrow of a city. He warns of the overthrow this whole proud world that has set itself up against his Father - in order to establish for ever his own kingdom of righteousness. He spoke more of hell than any other preacher in the Bible. But not only did he speak of the judgment to come. He actually bore God's judgment in his own body on the cross, that we might never have to face it for ourselves. He threw himself into the fire of God's wrath that we might be spared from it. He is truly greater t...han Jonah.

I fail to see how we'll have true spiritual revival until there's a revival not just of preaching, but of true preaching, and that means preaching which warns of judgment. I'm sometimes troubled by the way we present Jesus to children, as if we are saying to them: "Would you like to have Jesus as a friend?" Of course they would. They want everyone to be their friend. Why not have Jesus too - along with Mummy, teddy, the class teacher, Postman Pat, Tinky Winky and Thomas the Tank Engine? Of course Jesus is a friend, the best friend of all. But if he's no more than that, they'll grow out of Jesus when they grow out of Teddy and Tinky Winky. He's not just a friend, he's our Saviour. But what troubles me even more than that is when we present Jesus and God to people as if they're little more than the adult version of a harmless friend - a benevolent uncle, or an indulgent grandfather. God saves us by warning us of the judgment we face if we reject him.

3. Bringing repentance (v5-9)
Jonah doesn't actually call for repentance himself, but it's patently obvious what the Ninevites have to do. Just as it was for Peter's hearers on the day of Pentecost. He told them that they'd put to death the one whom God had apppointed ruler of his world. You didn't need to be a genius to know they were in big trouble. They cried out, "Brothers, what shall we do?" The people of Nineveh didn't need to be told they were in big trouble. They knew it - and so they took action. If you want a model of repentance, you can't do better than look at these people. That's why Jesus drew attention to them as the ones who would condemn his own generation for their lack of repentacnce. verses 5-9...
Hull is a great place for repentance. People here are repenting all the time. If only they knew it. If only they did it spiritually as well, that would be a great thing. What are these gaps in the dual caorriageways here called? I never know. So I just call them 'turn-throughs'. Where you can turn through and come back down the other side of the road. That's repentance. We stop going one way (our way), we turn ourselves around, and we start going the other way (God's way). So, next time you do that in your car, say to yourself: "I'm now going to repent. I am repenting. I have repented."
That's what the Ninevites did. They stopped pleasing themselves and they started seekingGod. They actually stopped. They didn't just have good intentions or make new resolutions; they didn't try and strike a bargain with God or promise to think about it; they didn't just feel sorry for themselves, or show remorse for what they'd done. The king called on his people to give up their evil ways and their violence - and they did. Verse 10...
They stopped pleasing themselves and they started seeking God. The king called on his people, let everyone call urgently on God. There is a disarming humility about the way he approaches God. He doesn't presume on anything. There's no hint of pride. He just comes looking for mercy. Verse 9...
That's repentance: to stop pleasing ourselves and to start seeking God. And it's still repentance when we do it for the umpteenth time: when we stop pleasing ourselves again and start seeking God again.

Are we as committted as God is to bringing people to repentance? That starts with bringing ourselves to repentance. Isn't that where the problem is all too often? We have all kinds of strategies for not quite repenting. One of the best is to make a resolution that 'one day' we will mend our ways - as long as we never specifyc when that 'one day' will be. You can only imagine what the Ninevites would have to say to that!

Maybe the first thing to repent of is any strange notions of how God will do his work of saving people. Do we believe what Jesus believed in this? Remember his words? The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. If Jesus's words are not going to be equally true of our generation, we will need preachers sent by God to give a clear warning of judgment and bring people to repentance.

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