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Epic Stories – The Story of Jonah | Sermon from 10/16/2016

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What would you do if God asked you to go to Mosul, a city in Iraq that has been held by ISIS forced for the last two years, and tell the ISIS leaders and fighters that God was calling them to repent and turn from their wicked ways?

ISIS fighters in Mosul

Would we be willingly go to a place where they would be quick to chop off our head, burn us alive or drown us in a cage?  Can we even imagine God wanting to give ISIS a second chance?  Do we think it is possible for them to repent of their wickedness and turn to God?  Would you go to Mosul or would you run in the other direction as far and as fast as you could?

Believe it or not, this is exactly what God asked Jonah to do.  Jonah 1:2.

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria (which is in the same area as Mosul is today) and Assyria was not only at war with the people of Israel but their violence and wickedness were well known.  We hear this from Nahum 3:1-3.  Long before ISIS recorded their horrific acts for the world to see, the leaders of Nineveh were doing the same.  They would boast of their deeds by writing them on monuments in their city and some of what they did sounds familiar?  They cut off people’s heads, skinned people and burned people alive.

The evils of Nineveh are comparable to the evils of ISIS and the location is the same so when God asked Jonah to go and preach to the people it would be like God asking us to go to Mosul to tell ISIS that God wanted them to repent.  Now it makes sense to us why Jonah would run in the opposite direction and head to Tarshish, which was on the coast of Spain and for Jonah would have been the other end of the earth.

It was as far away from Nineveh as he could get.  Jonah boarded a ship and even there he tried to hide from God by going below and falling into a deep sleep.

But God knew exactly where Jonah was so He sent a storm to try and stop the boat and Jonah.  The sailors threw everything they could overboard in an effort to save themselves and then they finally started asking who had made their god so angry that the storm was attacking them.  They determined that the guilty one was Jonah so Jonah told them to throw him into the sea.  The men resisted at first but finally they picked him up and threw him into the sea.

What happens next is why we know this story so well, it says that a great fish swallowed Jonah and that for three days and three nights Jonah was inside the fish.  Now let’s be clear, it doesn’t say whale, but that is often what we picture because a whale is the largest sea creature we can think of.  Whatever it was that swallowed Jonah that day saved his life and from the belly of this creature, Jonah prayed to God.  Jonah 2:1-9.

Jonah knew that God was giving him a second chance.  God saved him and lifted him up from his own failure and God was giving him a second chance.  God gives us all a second chance.  God lifts each and every one of us up from our failures and gives us the chance to experience the grace and power of a new life.  Read through the Bible, everyone got a second chance.

In a throwaway society where we often feel like one failure will disqualify us from everything, God is always there with a second chance and the second chance isn’t to enter into some kind of compromised and damaged life.  The second chance God gives is to be all that God wants us and created us to be.  God didn’t save Jonah and then spit him out on shore to live as a second class citizen; God saved Jonah and once again called him to be a mighty prophet.  Jonah 3:1-2.

Jonah took his second chance and did what God asked him to do.  He traveled to Nineveh and preached to the people and the people took the second chance they were offered and turned toward God.  The king of Nineveh even heard the message and he turned to God. When all the people repented of their evil, God turned away from his anger and gave them a second chance.  Once again we see that God is the God of the second chance.  God is the one who is willing to extend grace and offer mercy, even to those that are the most evil.

Seeing the people of Nineveh cry out to God and turn from evil would have been a truly remarkable thing for Jonah to see.  This kind of thing didn’t happen.  God didn’t offer this kind of mercy to such evil people and evil people don’t really change their ways.  But that is what happened and that’s what makes this story so epic.  This is not an epic story because of a big fish or because of a second chance given to Jonah, this is an epic story because God gave a second chance to the people of Nineveh and they took it!  The most vile, evil and violent people of the day were still loved by God and God reached out to them and God’s love changed them.

It is hard for us to imagine this kind of love and grace at work today.  We have a hard time thinking God can actually love ISIS.  How can God possibly give a second chance to terrorists bent on destroying innocent lives?  How could God even want to do that?  But God does and God really does love people, all people, that much.

God does not love the evil that people do, whether that is ISIS or the people of Nineveh; God does not love the evil which is why God calls them to repent, but God does love the people and if we shift our focus from ISIS to ourselves we see that this is really good news because God doesn’t always love what we do and how we talk and what we think but God still loves us and gives us a second chance.

Taking the second chances God offers starts when we are willing to confess the evil that we do.  Jonah cried out to God, he confessed that running away from God and follow his own way was wrong and had separated him from God.  Jonah 2:4a, I have been banished from your sight.  Jonah acknowledge that he was wrong and moved in a new direction.

The people of Nineveh acknowledged they were wrong.  The king tore his robes and covered himself in sackcloth and ashes and ordered all the people to repent and then they were able to move in a new direction and live a new way.  Taking the second chance God gives us means confessing our sin and then moving in a new direction and starting to live a new life.  It means we turn from evil, prejudice, self righteousness and fix ourselves once again on God.  It means we center our lives on Jesus and follow the life Jesus laid out for us.  A second chance always involves living differently and embracing God’s life and love and future not our own.

So the people of Nineveh got the same second chance that Jonah did and they took it but the story doesn’t end there because this is not just a story about God giving us a second chance it is also a story about God asking us to give others a second chance.  When the people of Nineveh turned from their evil and cried out to God, Jonah got angry.  Jonah didn’t want God to forgive them.  Jonah didn’t want them to have a second chance so he sat down to pout.

Jonah was sitting in the hot sun so God had a plant grow which gave him shade and Jonah is happy.  Then God sent a worm to eat the plant and Jonah got angry that God destroyed the plant and God said to Jonah, You are angry that a plant died?  You have compassion on a plant but you don’t have compassion on more than 120,000 people?  Jonah 4:10

Jonah was more concerned about a plant and himself than he was about other people.  While Jonah was happy to get his own second chance, he didn’t want to offer that same chance to others.  This is an epic story of second changes because it calls us to have the heart of God and be willing to give others a second chance.  No matter whom they are and what they have done, God is calling us to give people a second chance.  Will we?

Here is what giving a second chance looks like.

While stories like this are amazing, let’s remember that most of the time the grace God wants us to give is nowhere near this dramatic.  God may not be asking us to forgive those who have killed our loved ones, but will we forgive those who have hurt us with their words or actions?  Will we give a second chance to a friend who seeks forgiveness, a coworker who is trying to do better or a teammate who is learning what a team is all about?  It starts small and then God helps us love and forgive in larger ways.  Will we forgive and give others a second chance?

I love how the book of Jonah ends.  We don’t know if Jonah changed his heart and mind about the people of Nineveh.  That question hanging in the air makes us ask ourselves if we will give people a second chance?  Will we invite people to take the second chance God gives them?  Will we work with them to find new life?   This is not easy and how we do it today is messy and challenging.

For example, Jonah was asked to give the people of Nineveh a second chance, what does it look like for us to give the people in this part of the world a second chance?

I’m not talking about ISIS now, I’m talking about the millions of refugees who have fled from the wicked and violent ways of ISIS; many of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Refugees from Mosul

While the refugee situation in our world is a hot political topic right now and the logistics of it are overwhelming and there are no clear answers, I have been thinking this week about how and where and when God might be asking us to give a second chance to people who have had to flee their homes.

It’s important to reflect on this because Jonah got into trouble when he wasn’t willing to see people as worthy of a second chance; we cannot allow that to happen to us.  This is a story of second chances that God gives to all people and a story of us being willing to give a second chance to people so we need to make sure that we make the effort to offer God’s grace and love to all because through Jesus the offer of grace and love and the gift of a second chance was given to us.

In many ways the story of Jonah is a foreshadowing of Jesus.  Jonah called people to repent and Jesus called people to repent.  Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of a fish and Jesus spent three days and three nights in the belly of the grave.  After those 3 days each one of them rose to give the world God’s gift of a second chance.

The story of Jonah is an epic story of second changes because it reminds us that through Jesus we have been given a second chance and that through Jesus we are called to give others a second chance.  May this story of God’s grace once again be the story of our lives. May we take the second chance God gives us and may we share this story and God’s grace with others.

Next Steps
The Story of Jonah

1.  Read the story of Jonah.  Identify all the times God gave Jonah a second chance and how Jonah was able to give others a second chance.

2.  When did God give you a second chance in life and faith?  How did that make you feel?  Did this change your view of yourself and your view of others?

3. What second chance stories have given you hope or courage?  Who do you know that has made the most of the second chance in their life?  Share these stories with others.

4.  How can God use you to offer a second chance to others?  To whom can you share this message of grace and love?

5.  Are there groups of people you don’t think God wants to forgive?    Who?  Why?  What would it take for you to change your heart and mind?  How does this message of second chances impact your political views today?

6. This second chance story needs to be our story.  To whom can you give a second chance?  How can you begin to forgive them this week?  How can you be part of offering a second chance to people in the larger church and community?

 

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