And He Did Not Do It

January 22, 2017
Jonah 3:1-4:1
Abraham Hong


Part 1: A Tale of Two Turns

The story that we just read is wonderful and amazing. Think about it. The city of Nineveh was about to be destroyed by the Lord for their evil. But the king and all the people turned from their evil way. They cried out to the Lord and repented of their sin. And for good measure, they even dressed up their animals and made them repent too, as if they could! What an amazing change of heart. What a wonderful turn toward God.

But that’s only half of the story. When God saw Nineveh turn away from her evil, God turned away from his judgment against them. When Nineveh turned, the Lord turned as well. When Nineveh repented, the LORD relented. What an amazing change of heart, so to speak, with God. What a wonderful turn by God.

Let us give praise to the Lord for these two turns. And let us be happy for the people of Nineveh. Let’s say that you have a hundred sheep and you lose one of them. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine and go after the one that is lost, until you find it? A good shepherd would find it and lay it on his shoulders while rejoicing. And when he comes home, he would call together his neighbors and friends and say, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost!” Brothers and sisters, there is great joy in heaven when a sinner - even just one sinner - repents of his or her sin. Nineveh was an entire city that went from death to life! Nineveh became a part of the church - and yes, the church existed in the Old Testament! Let us be thrilled and happy for Nineveh. And let us give praise to the Lord for this amazing event.

But here is the million dollar question for today. Why did God do it? Why did God relent? How could the Lord turn his judgment aside when Nineveh deserved it?

Part 2: A Tale of Two Fires

Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived a cabin in the country. Next to it was a quiet little pond and a tall thick forest. One day the boy was skipping rocks on the pond when he noticed gray smoke coming out of the forest. The boy grew afraid and ran back to the cabin to get his father. “Father, there’s a forest fire coming our way! What shall we do?” The father saw the fire and the black smoke filling the sky. The fire was too big to stop. It could not be put out. But the father said to his son, “Follow me, and we’ll be okay.”

The father and the boy quickly built a small fire of their own. They set on fire all the grass around the cabin, making sure with water from the pond that their the small fire that they made did not come close to the cabin. When they finished, all the grass around the cabin was burned up.

Then the father and the boy stood on their burnt ground and watched the fire come out of the forest and crawl toward the cabin. But when the fire came to the ground that they had burned, it stopped and went no further. It was still a scary sight for the boy, but the father put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “Do not be afraid. The ground we stand on has already been burned and spent. The forest fire cannot touch us now.” And the boy saw that his father was right.

Brothers and sisters, the fire of the Lord’s judgment was supposed to swallow Nineveh because of her evil and sin against the Lord. Nineveh deserved to die. But to our amazement, Nineveh did not receive the Lord’s judgment. When they repented and turned and had a change of heart, they believed in Jesus. And when that happened, the judgment of God stopped and went no further. That happened because Nineveh stood on ground that had already been burned and spent. Nineveh found refuge and protection in Jesus Christ, for the fire of the Lord’s judgment was burned and spent on Christ instead of them.

Liam Goligher of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia put it like this: “When the fire of judgment falls, the place to be is the place where the fire has fallen. Where has the fire fallen? Where has the fire of judgment come down already and touched this planet? It has touched the planet in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross! There the wrath of God was satisfied. Exhausted. The wrath of God against the sin of his people. Exhausted in the person of his Son. And there is no more wrath for those who are in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Brothers and sisters, usually, you fight fire with water. But the only way to escape the judgment of the Lord is to believe in Jesus, the one who takes your judgment that you deserve for your sins, for you. That’s how the Lord turned before Nineveh. Nineveh didn’t do anything but repent and believe in another person, a messiah savior, to take the judgment for them.

Praise the Lord!

Part 3: The Wonderful Word of The Lord

At the beginning of today’s story, you’ll notice that the word of the Lord came to Jonah. It was the word of the Lord that made this story happen. Notice that the word of the Lord also came to the king of Nineveh. But it didn’t just come to him. The Hebrew word there means to touch or even to strike. Thus we are told that the word of the Lord struck down the king of Nineveh. This is really interesting. You could say that the main character of this story was the word of the Lord.

God’s word back then was powerful. It was the Lord’s word through the prophet Jonah that changed everyone’s hearts in Nineveh. God brought Nineveh to her knees with just the word of his power. But let’s think even bigger. Remember that was God’s word that brought forth creation. He said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. Remember that it was God’s word that spelled doom for Goliath as David spoke the word of the Lord at him. Remember that it was the Word of God that became flesh and dwelt among us. Remember that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, the only offensive equipment that we have in the armor of God. Brothers and sisters, this is true power. The word of the Lord is truly wonderful.

On the other hand, our word is not very powerful at all. Let us be humbled by the fact that our words have little if any power at all. If you think that you can get sushi by just shouting out loud, “Let there be sushi,” then you’re in for some disappointment - and some puzzled looks from your friends. The word of man is not powerful. But the word of the LORD is.

None of the wands and wizards in Harry Potter can compare with the power of God. The power of the Force in Star Wars is worthless compared to the power of God. The power of money, the power of your smile, the amount of horsepower in your awesome car, all the powerlifting you do at the gym, the power of bullies at school, and all the superpowers of the political world cannot compete with the power of God. In physics, power is work over time. In the Bible, power is word over time. The word of man is not powerful. But the word of the LORD is.

Brothers and sisters, God’s word is powerful and at work today. Highland, do you realize what we are doing when we worship on Sundays? When the pastor reads Scripture to you and explains it, that is when God talks to you, Highland. When we read our Bibles personally or when we share the gospel with others, we engage in the same word and the same God that was there at Nineveh thousands of years ago. And here's a gigantic thought: Jesus rules his church today through his word. The church is a kingdom people that lives under Christ's word. Here’s the basic point of what I’m saying. The church is all about God’s word. Therefore, Highland, let us not take God’s word lightly. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our Old Testament fathers in the faith and to people like Nineveh by the prophets. But in these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son, Jesus Christ. I encourage you to read your Bibles, which is the very word of God.

Epilogue: Someone’s Not Happy

At the end of this wonderful and amazing story of Nineveh’s repentance and the Lord’s relenting, we discover that Jonah was not happy about it. In fact, Jonah was angry! This is really strange. Why was Jonah angry about God’s grace? And who exactly is this Jonah? Well, at the beginning of today’s story, we read that the word of the Lord came to Jonah. But next Sunday we’re going to travel back in time to chapters 1 and 2 and find out that this wasn’t the first time the word of the Lord came to Jonah.