Jonah: Lessons From The Runaway Preacher
104 – God is a God of Second Chances
-> Does everyone deserve a second chance? Have you ever done anything that you wished you could take back? Or maybe, you have done something where you know your only hope was a second chance?
-> I want to tell you the story of a guy named Michael “Bull” Roberts… He is a 6’5, 500lb, tattoo covered, ex-gangster. I am going to share with you excerpts from an interview a few years back.
“For God so loved the world,” that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Those words are especially meaningful to Roberts, who has gone from hardened criminal and gang member to born-again Christian after finding God while he lay broken and bruised on a hotel floor.
Born into a life of abuse, he suffered daily beatings at the hands of his father and molestation by his older brother and friends, and later his babysitter. From an early age, he was taught that drugs held the answers to his problems: At eight, he was diagnosed with ADHD due to behavioural problems, and was prescribed Ritalin. He soon moved onto solvents, marijuana and a myriad of pills. “By the time I left home I was a full-blown drug addict, snorting gas just to deal with the physical and sexual abuse.” He can’t say how many times he’s been to jail or mental institutions. The abuse Roberts endured domestically carried over into his school life. A sickly child, he was bullied by his peers. Abuse had become second nature by this point — it was all he knew.
Roberts never retaliated because he was afraid of his father’s punishment if he got in trouble. By grade 7, he reached his breaking point. After a verbal altercation with his chemistry teacher over a detention slip, Roberts says his teacher shoulder-checked him. In response, he broke his teacher’s jaw. Knowing a severe beating awaited him at home, he decided to hit the streets. Between homelessness, foster homes and shelters, Roberts’ life quickly spiralled out of control. As a teen, he transformed from victim to victimizer. By age 16, he was declared criminally insane. When he wasn’t engaging in petty crime or senseless violence, he was in court or jail. He once had 13 assault charges laid against him in one day.
He joined a white supremacist gang and delved deep into a life of organized crime. He quickly advanced in the ranks with his strength and endurance skills. He became extremely wealthy from drug and gun trafficking, and was soon one of Canada’s most wanted criminals. Roberts had money, power and respect among his peers, but his life would soon crumble around him. Roberts and more than a dozen others from his gang were arrested in an undercover sting. But things would come to a head when Roberts was betrayed by his closest friends.
One day, a large group of Roberts’ fellow gang members came to visit. He thought nothing of it, as they frequently came by to hang out. But this time was different. Roberts was brutally beaten. One of his associates had called a hit on him to assume control of the gang. Roberts’ own crew had left him for dead.
Making it to a hotel room for safety, Roberts found himself at death’s doorstep. While stumbling to the washroom, with no one to help him in his injured and drugged state, Roberts collapsed. His broken bones left him unable to move. There he lay for hours in excruciating pain, sure his life was over. After a lifetime of numbing his emotions with drugs and violence, Roberts started crying. He had had enough. He begged God to help him. “I never felt love in my life, but when I reached out to God and asked for just that much love before I died, he hasn’t stopped pouring it out,” Roberts says. “My heart just opened right up.”
“I could never go back to the way I was. Even if I did, I could never, ever, deny God,” he says. “I wouldn’t have a story to tell if it wasn’t for God.” Today Roberts is a different man. He no longer sleeps with a gun; instead, he reads the bible before bed. He’s not a racist anymore; he goes to a Middle-Eastern church. He doesn’t mute his emotions with alcohol, drugs, or body modification; instead he writes, or prays. He no longer hoards weapons in fear of his enemies; he collects stamps. Following his recovery, Roberts discovered Evangelical Christianity through a friend and now dedicates his life to God and helping street kids. He lives in the Greater Toronto Area and speaks at churches, schools and shelters to youth about the dangers of street life and the power of faith.
This true encounter with God illustrates something – our key idea:
Even in the face of judgement, God is looking to show mercy.
-> You may think that you are beyond help, that you have messed things up one too many times, that God could not love you or ever take you back, that your sin is too great, and your failings too deep. If only we could see how dark you are and hopeless, we would understand why God could not and would not love you. Yet, I believe from the Bible that our key idea is true – and as you and I will see from Jonah today, our God is a God of second chances.
-> Please turn to Jonah 3:1-10, and as you are turning there, I want to recap where we have been. Jonah was prophet in 8th Century BC in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was sent by God to deliver a message of judgement upon the wicked people who lived in the Assyrian capital of Ninevah. Because he knew that God’s message of judgement and destruction could result in heart change in Ninevah, which would then result in God’s mercy instead of judgement, Jonah decided he was not going to go because people he disliked so much because of their evil didn’t deserve a second chance. -> Jonah runs away from his calling from God as a prophet, and tries to hide from God by going on a ship to the farthest city on the opposite end of the known world. God sees him and brings about a storm to get his attention. Rather than finally obey, Jonah opts to be thrown overboard to his death.
-> As he is sinking down to his death, he calls out to God in desperation, is rescued by a sea creature that God prepared for that moment to swallow him. At some point, in his utter helplessness, he realizes his wrong, changes his attitude and actions, and commits to obedience. At that point God arranges for the creature to spit Jonah out on the shore.
Three central ideas to Jonah:
God can do whatever God does.
Jonah is about the grace of God on people who don’t deserve it.
Jonah needed saving as much as the Ninevites (as much as he reflects Israel, he reflects Ninevah)
1) God reaches out to people who have failed Him.
a. God reinstates Jonah without condemnation.
-> God, in keeping with His character (Isa 43:25, Ps 103:12), forgives Jonah as Jonah confesses his sin (2:7-10). At the point where Jonah changes course, and agrees to obey, God causes the fish to spit out Jonah, and he is restored to life and reinstated as a prophet without further condemnation.
b. God personally calls to the Ninevites to follow Him.
-> God is sending a message of judgement on Nineveh. It doesn’t initially sound like an invite to follow Him, but it is. God, in sending this message of judgement, was also desiring that the people of Nineveh would hear the message and follow Him instead.
-> Message starts out with “in 40 days.” While this could be a literal 40 day time period that God gives, I think 40 could also be a figurative number also. In the Bible, various number sequences hold significance, and often those sequences can pop up all over the place with special meaning (ie. #3, #7 / 70, etc…) and #40. Scripture identifies 40 with a time of testing. For example, 40 days and 40 nights it rained during the flood, 40 days Jewish spies scope out Canaan, 40 years people wander in the desert, 40 days Goliath taunts the people of Israel. I think here God is telling the people of Nineveh “I am putting you to the test”… and then says “you will be destroyed”.
-> What would have been understood was not “40 days and you will be destroyed”, but, I am putting you to the test, and things in Nineveh will turn and change for destruction or for good. God was giving them a way out if they themselves turned.
2) God shows you your sin so that you can be humble and repent.
-> The word “repent” really just communicates the idea of changing directions from a bad choice, to understanding that choice was bad, to seeking restitution for it, and then prompting the person to change their actions from bad to good.
-> God shows everyone here their sin, so that there can be a new attitude of humility and repentance, that leads to obedience.
a. Jonah obeys.
-> After the whole prayer to God in ch 2 where Jonah realizes his sin and makes vows to God, Jonah is given the command to obey God and go into Nineveh. Jonah heads in the other direction to obey this time.
-> He goes through Ninevah giving the message from God: It was a massive city (the inner wall only had circumference of 8 miles, but outer wall had a potential circumference of 60 miles- so 20 miles across roughly). He walks this city sharing God’s message as commanded.
-> Jonah was shown his sin so that he could be humble and repent, then obey.
b. Nineveh reacts with urgency.
-> We see four things in response by Nineveh that shows urgent repentance:
i. Awareness of sin
ii. Acceptance of responsibility
iii. Internal conviction
-> They, out of a place of conviction, fast, and put on sack cloth (garment of coarse goat or camel hair- scratchy and uncomfortable), and, as normal for custom, they sit in dust and ashes. It was a sign of humility brought on by grief, and in this case, over sin. The king puts on sack cloth, removes all his royal garments, and leaves his throne (as a sign of being completely humbled also – putting self under God’s authority, not his) beforehand. and clothed himself in sackcloth. There was internal conviction.
iv. Behavioural change
-> The king, in urgency, calls for a behaviour change… that everyone, and even animals, give up food and drink. Why? Because things were urgent… there was no time to eat and drink because calling on God was the only thing that mattered. Life was in the balance. Living in obedience to God and flinging themselves at His mercy (rather than live in their sin) was all that mattered. Out of the internal conviction, behaviour changed.
3) God invites you to receive mercy, not judgement.
-> In this passage, we see a glimpse of the heart of God… that even when the people of Nineveh deserved destruction, God made a way for the people to throw themselves on the mercy of God and turn from their sin. He invites them to receive mercy instead of judgement.
-> The people respond. They turn from their evil ways, and as a result, God holds back from (better translation than “changes mind” – He knows all things and does not change) the promised destruction and gives the desired mercy.
-> Nineveh was spared.
1) No one is too far from the reach of God
-> What does Isaiah 59:1 say? Is God able to save whoever He wants?
a. How does God respond to you?
-> This morning, maybe you are a follower of Jesus, but you wonder how God could give you a second chance. You are caught in a cycle of brokenness, failure, and sin that seems impossible to break. The harder you try, the harder you fall. And you hear me saying that God is a God of second chances. And you wonder what hope you have because you used up your second chance years ago. You look at your life, feel powerless, feel hopeless, and wonder how God could forgive someone who can’t stop failing.
-> Maybe this morning you are not following Jesus. You have never actually given Him control of your life and begun a personal relationship with Him. But there is no way that God would love you, no way He would want you. Your life is too much of a mess. What would God want with you? How could He love you? How could He show mercy to you? Why would He give you a second chance?
-> A major lesson in the book of Jonah is that God’s love pursues those who don’t deserve it… And today, God’s love is pursuing you so that you can experience His mercy and His forgiveness. God wants to give you a second chance, a 1000th chance.
-> Remember, Jesus died for you, and He died for your sin, your brokenness and failures. He did so in love so that everyone could experience God’s mercy.
-> Because of this mercy, we become good enough to personally come before God. We can live in freedom over sin. We can have hope no matter how hopeless we think we are.
-> Jesus died to give you an infinity of second chances. God is a God of second chances. Even in the face of judgement, God is looking to show you mercy.
-> So will you come to God, through Jesus, to receive mercy today.