The Heart of a Missionary, part 3

April 3, 2022

Book: Jonah

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Scripture: Jonah 3

Having the heart of a missionary means going to people who are far from Christ so they can repent and turn to the Lord.

I think it’s rare in life when you mess up to truly get a second chance. I am not a golfer, but in golf, there’s this thing called the Mulligan. I see some golfers out there now nodding their heads. Yes, you’ve participated in the mulligan. Mulligan is a do over from the same spot. So you get another shot from the same spot where you were before. So if you hit it into the woods, you’ve hit it into the sand trap. You hit it into the water. If you swing and you miss and the ball is just sitting there mocking you like it does for me. Right? You get a chance to take another swing at that. And according to the rules of golf, you should have to record a penalty stroke at that before you take that shot. But with the mulligan, it’s just an agreement with the people that you’re with that, yeah, go ahead, you can take another try. No penalty. I would argue that most of the second chances that we have in life are a lot more like the rules of golf than they are like the mulligan, because usually there is some lingering effect to the error that you make that carries over into the second chance. The trend in our society right now is no second chances. Have you noticed that? No second chances whatsoever. That’s the direction our culture is going. You slap someone at the Oscars, your career is over, right? Everybody will remember that just forever.

In the church, we’re different. In the church, we seek to give other people second chances. We work hard to be gracious and loving and forgiving because that’s the nature of the God that we serve. The nature of God and His grace is to be loving and forgiving. God has lavished on us His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But even in the church, when someone has sinned against us, when someone has done something wrong to us or to others that we know, that second chance, that grace that we give often comes with a little bit of a penalty. We’ve lost some respect and some trust that makes it a little hard for us, and we’re skeptical the next time that we try to give someone another second chance to do what they’ve done. There’s a character quality in God that is part of his goodness. The theologian Wayne Grudem talks about God’s goodness and he writes that there are three parts to God’s goodness.

There’s God’s mercy, which is his goodness to those who are in distress. There’s God’s grace, which is goodness to people who deserve punishment. And then there’s God’s patience, which is the time that God gives to those who need His grace to turn and to repent of their sin. Older translations, when talking about God’s patience, will often refer to God as long suffering. It’s not a phrase we use very much, but the idea is that God suffers our foolishness. He puts up with our foolishness for a long period of time. Scripture also uses the phrase slow to anger, and this has the same kind of idea that God who is slow to anger toward us. When you think about the length of time between our sin and God’s judgment, there’s a there’s a long period of time in there that God chooses to be patient. And that’s a gift to us: that God doesn’t immediately bring judgment when we’ve sinned against Him. He could, He’d be right in doing it. But He chooses to suffer our foolishness, to give us an opportunity to turn and to repent. We come to the part of Jonah today where Jonah gets a mulligan. He gets a true mulligan. He gets to try again and start again right from the very place that he started, because a patient God has not given up on him. There are no lingering consequences for his sin. He doesn’t start in a relationship hole with God like you and I. If someone sinned against us, we might start in a kind of a relationship hole with that other person, but not God and Jonah. Jonah gets to start back off on dry land right where he was before; he gets to take another shot from the same spot without penalty.

And we’re going to see repentance today. We’re going to see tremendous repentance today. We’re going to see what God’s word does when it’s effective in the hearts of people. We’ve been talking about how we want to have the heart of a missionary, that we want to have this heart in us that says, God, I want to think about the world the way you do. I want to go and do what you’ve called me to do. How do I develop a heart like that? Having the heart of a missionary means going to people who are far from Christ so that they can repent and turn to the Lord. That’s the passion that you and I have to have in our hearts, to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ, go to the hardest places to reach the most difficult people, to bring about repentance and reconciliation with the Lord. If you would, turn with me to Jonah, Chapter 3. If you have your Bibles, go ahead and open Jonah, Chapter 3. We’re going to be treated today to one of the greatest spiritual awakenings ever recorded. We’re not only going to get a detailed description of what repentance should look like. We’re going to be inspired and challenged to be part of the mission, to go and share a gospel that is as powerful as what we’re going to see in our passage today.

Let’s begin in Jonah 3:1. Then the Word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you. 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. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey, and he called out “Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown”. This probably sounds very familiar to you. Does this sound very familiar to you? It is nearly word for word, the same language that we had at the beginning of chapter 1. In fact, the whole book of Jonah is written in a parallel form. Chapters 1 and 3 have the Word of the Lord coming to Jonah. We have Jonah’s reaction in response to that word. And then we see the results of Jonah’s actions on the people in the story. And so in this case, instead of running to Tarshish, he now goes to Nineveh. Instead of sailors, we have Ninevites. And in just a moment, you’ll see that the sailors and the Nineveh, it’s actually have a lot in common. Chapters 2 and 4 both contain both animals and inanimate objects, doing what God tells them to do. And we have in those chapters Jonah’s reaction, his verbal response to the situation. We get a look into his heart. We get a look into seeing what’s going on inside of Jonah in those two chapters. In chapter 2, we had a prophet who was very glad that the Lord saved him, not a word of repentance, but very glad that the Lord saved him. We have yet to see what his response will be in Chapter 4, although 2 minutes of reading this afternoon will tell you exactly how this book ends if you want to go there. The Word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time. That is grace. That is incredible grace to Jonah. God did not have to do that. This whole book could have ended in chapter 2, and it would have been fine. There are plenty of ways God could get the work done that He wants to do in Nineveh. God would have been perfectly just and allowing Jonah to sink to his death and giving the task to some other prophet in Israel. He could have done that, but he chooses to use Jonah. He chooses to go back to Jonah for no other reason than I can tell, then to demonstrate his patience with disobedient people. I can’t think of any other reason why he would use Jonah here. That patience characteristic of the Lord is what gives hope to those of us who love the Lord, but often times find ourselves failing. Isn’t that good to know? Isn’t it good to know that you can love the Lord and you can have grave error in your life. You can sin tremendously. You can move away from the Lord and the Lord says, I got you. I’m going to continue to use you. The Lord is not going to abandon his servant. If you lack the heart of a missionary, if you have been absent from your role in Christ mission to make disciples, this is good news for you. This is great news. We serve a God who is patient, who delights to turn people around, to get them back on the right track.

I love how verse 2 is phrased. Call out against it he message that I will tell you. Now that’s different from Chapter 1. In Chapter 1, the focus was on the Ninevites: cry out against them for their evil has come up before me. That was the explanation there. But here the focus shifts over to Jonah, call out against it the message that I’m going to tell you. It’s as if the Lord is saying, let me spell out for you what obedience is going to look like, because clearly you didn’t quite get it the first time here. So let me explain this. I’m going to speak and then you’re going to tell them the thing I told you to tell them. Okay. Well, clear on this, Jonah. And almost surprisingly, he actually does what he’s supposed to do. This is the one part of the whole book where I feel kind of good about how Jonah responded here. He actually goes and does what he’s supposed to do. He rose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.

Now Nineveh is one of the capitals of the Assyrian nation. It was so thoroughly destroyed by the Babylonians, the Medes and the Scythians that no one actually quite knows where it’s located today. We can’t quite find it. Think northern Iraq. That’s where we are in the world. But it was totally destroyed. At the time this nation was powerful, the Assyrians were constantly attacking, harassing and taxing the northern kingdom of Israel. Eventually they conquered Israel and they scattered the Northern Kingdoms. In fact, they scattered them so thoroughly, we don’t know where the Northern Kingdoms of Israel even went to in history. They’re sort of the lost tribes.

When the Lord says in chapter 1 that their evil has come up before me. Remember that? You need to understand, Jonah was a recipient of that evil. This is not some evil that happens somewhere else in the world that Jonah heard about. This is evil that came down on him and his people in Israel. These were his enemies. So it’s no small thing that Jonah is obeying the word of the Lord this time. As much as I don’t like what Jonah does in this book (have I made that clear?); as much as I don’t like 99.5% of what Jonah does in this book, I have to say, I do understand why he doesn’t want to go. I get it. When you have an enemy this vile, this oppressive toward your own nation, it would be difficult to be one the one who is sent by the Lord to go speak to that nation for the Lord.

But this is precisely where we learn about the condition of our own hearts. You don’t learn about the condition of your heart, whether you have the heart of a missionary, when it’s easy. That’s not when you learn about yourself. It’s in conditions like this that you find out what’s really going inside. What does my heart truly treasure. Let me make an analogy here that I think will make this a little more clear for us. We’ve got a letter from Charlie and Cheryl Warner, our missionaries in Ukraine, in the city of Irpin, which is a suburb of Kyiv. Irpin is taking heavy bombing. The Bible Church there is working to get refugees evacuated. The building where the the Warners are, the church is, is still standing right now, as of right now. But many of the people in that community have died in the bombings, including people who are in the church. The Warners tell of one friend, a man named Anatoli, who died along with the family that he was trying to evacuate. That’s what the church is trying to work toward, evacuating people now. And Anatoli died along with the people he was trying to get out. They take them to the border and at the border right now, what’s happening is that families are arriving, but men aged 18 to 60 are having to say goodbye to their families so that they can go to safety. But the men turn around and they go to war. They can’t leave the country. They have to be involved in what’s happening. The Warners have asked for prayer to stay in contact with their friends who’ve been displaced. They’re asking for prayer, for wisdom in dispersing depleting funds. They’ve only got so many resources. Our church has thankfully been involved in helping with that effort, but there’s only so much to go around and they’re trying to figure out where that needs to go. So they’re asking for prayer, for wisdom there. They’re asking for prayer for themselves, too, because even as they’re trying to do this work, they’re grieving. Grieving. Can you imagine having your country destroyed before your eyes while you try to serve the Lord? And they’re asking for prayer that God would renew their trust in him. And give them hope. Imagine being there right now in the midst of all that chaos.

Now imagine right in the thick of all of that as your friends are dying, as you’re evacuating, as families are being split up; imagine right in the middle of all of that, the word of the Lord came to someone at the Irpin Bible Church. Go to Moscow and call out against it. For their evil has come up before me. What if it was you? What if you received that? How would you feel about that job? About that appointment from the Lord? I’ve got to tell you, Church, I would wrestle with this. I would have a very hard time in my heart wanting to do this. Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone in Irpin or anywhere in Ukraine has this call from the Lord, but if they did, they’d have to overcome their feelings of anger and frustration and fear and doubt to go do what the Lord has called them to do. We don’t know what’s happening in Jonas’ heart yet, but here’s what we do know. He goes. He actually goes. And here’s what happens.

And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sack cloth from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the King of Nineveh and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles, let neither man nor beast hurd nor flock taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water. 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. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from His fierce anger so that we may not perish.

Now, that is how you repent, that if you want a picture of what repentance looks like, this is how you do it. Can you imagine this kind of public repentance in our world today? A citywide repentance of people turning to the Lord, it’s almost difficult to even conceive of it. We don’t know if Jonah’s message had anything more to it than this one sentence that we have recorded here. It’s probably a summary of what he said, but summaries usually contain a little bit of the whole message. So there’s no reason to think that the message included anything more than telling the whole city that they were about to be destroyed. And based on what the king says in verse 9, I don’t think they were even told to repent, because he doesn’t seem to understand what that will even do. See, he says, who knows? Who knows? Let’s just do it. Let’s do what we can. Let’s just repent of everything we can think of. Who knows? Maybe God will stop being angry and He won’t destroy us.

I’ll tell you who knows. Jonah knows. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here that he gave the full message. And apparently, threatening destruction was all that was necessary. Because this repentance in this town kicked into high gear. They called for a citywide fast and everybody changed out of their nice clothes and they put on sackcloth. So think like burlap, some ratty old cloth that you just wrap around yourself. And they went and they sat in the ashes. And this included the king. When the king heard, it says he got up off of his throne. Now, that is unprecedented. To get up out of your throne is like to leave your place of authority and to step forward. And he took off his fine clothing. He put on sackcloth, and he sat in the ashes. Kings don’t do that. Kings are proud and powerful. This king wasn’t under any threat other than what Jonah said. There was no army surrounding the city. There was there was no siege works being thrown up against Nineveh. And yet he leaves his place of authority to sit in the dirt, and he calls for the entire city to do two things. First, they need to fast. Even the animals need to fast. I don’t know how you stop them from eating, exactly. I’m not sure the mechanics. Just stop eating.

I don’t know how you accomplish that. But that was that was the instruction. Nothing can eat. Nothing can drink. It’s like sitting in the ashes. Fasting is a form of mourning. Eating and drinking would be tied to joy and to celebration. So fasting is one way to make your whole body, your whole spirit, mourn for and long for the sufficiency of God. And the second thing he says is that each person needs to turn from his evil way. Specifically from the violence in his hands. Now, that is a very interesting thing to say. That is a very interesting thing, isn’t it? This is Nineveh. This is a completely other culture, completely different culture from Israel. They don’t have God’s law. They aren’t immersed in the ethics of Judaism. Sometimes you’ll hear people describe our country as having Judeo-Christian ethics. You ever heard that before? That we have a Judeo-Christian ethic. And what they mean, of course, is that the ethics of the Bible over time, throughout our history, have worked their way into our culture so that what we think is right and wrong simply comes from our cultural past, from our tradition and our history, having been influenced by Jewish and Christian scriptures. And the argument then is that the ethics are relative to culture and change from culture to culture, so that there really isn’t any absolute moral right and wrong. There’s just opinions and traditions and preferences and history.

But here a Hebrew shows up from a neighboring country, in fact, a country not only neighboring, but that is your enemy, that is hated. You want nothing to do with them except to oppress them and take their money. This prophet shows up. And he declares that the town will be destroyed. And the king himself tells the people to turn from their evil and from the violence in their hands. And everybody knows what he’s talking about. Everybody knows exactly what he’s talking about. Because everyone knows what evil is. No matter what culture, no matter what country you’re from. Everyone knows instinctively, deep in our hearts, that our evil is what angers God. Romans 1 says this truth is written on our hearts. It’s part of the very nature of being a creature made by God. We know whatever salvation from God’s judgment looks like. It’s going to require turning away from that evil that we know to be inside of us. Friends, every one of us stands before a holy God who righteously and justly is angry over our sin. There is no exception to this. Every single one of us knows that we are rebels against God, that we are condemned by our sin before Him. And if your reaction to that is to get defensive and to sort of make an excuse about how you don’t want to think about God that way, or you like to think about him in a different way, or you’re really not that bad a person, I’m really a good person who just sometimes does bad things, or my sin isn’t so bad. I want you to do something. In fact, I want all of us to do something right now. I want you to take just a moment in the silence to think about your sin. No one’s in your head but you. But the fact that you can right now identify the things in your life that are evil, that are sins that would condemn you if they were brought before God. The fact that you can do that is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work bringing conviction in you. You know what that sin is because it’s written on your heart. God’s law tells you that you’ve broken it, right there. Your design includes knowledge of sin, and that sin, your sin stands under the conviction and condemnation of God. I know that is not a popular thing to say today, but truth has never cared about popularity. Our sin is as condemned as the sin of the Assyrians. Jonah’s message of destruction is as sure for us as it was for them. So will their repentance matter? And if so, will then our repentance matter for us? Verse 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. When God saw what they did. What did he see them do?  Did they go out and and try to do enough good things to make up for all the bad things that they’ve done? Is that what he saw them do? Did did he did he hear them make an argument for how they’re basically good people and God really should understand how good they are on the inside and not nearly as bad as those Babylonians over there, you know. And so by comparison, they should be forgiven and not destroyed. Is that what he saw them do?

No. God saw that they turned from their evil ways. God saw a community of people who owned what they did. They owned what they did. They said, we’re getting destroyed in 40 days because of us. We’re the reason that we’re going to be destroyed. They didn’t cry out unfair. In fact, if they had, they never would have done what was necessary. See, repentance requires staring straight into the wrath of God and saying, This is just. I deserve this. I do have evil. I have violence in my hands, in my heart, in my mind. Lord. I see what you see. I need your forgiveness. I need your forgiveness. I need Your Grace to turn me away from your anger. And that’s what they did. That’s what the Lord saw them do. And when the Lord saw the people turn away from their evil, when the people said, we are turning away from this evil. God, said I’m going to turn away from my anger. And I’m going to give you grace. The Word of the Lord broke through the hearts of these murderous people, these difficult people, these incredibly evil people, and change them into men and women who cried out for God’s grace. And God’s reaction to that repentance was to give them that grace.

You know what Jesus said, this is amazing. You know what Jesus said? Jesus said, There will be people from Nineveh who will rise up because they’re part of the Kingdom of God. Assyrians from Nineveh are going to rise up and will join him in condemning the sinful world. Why? Because they repented when Jonah preached destruction. Jona came and preached a graceless message of destruction. And because of that, there are going to be Assyrians standing next to Israelites in eternity, worshiping and praising God together. Won’t they be surprised? Oh, my goodness. Aren’t you a Syrian? Yeah, but Jonah came and we repented. There’s there’s going to be this incredible, eclectic group of people praising God forever because of this message. And then Jesus said, here’s the good news. Here’s the good news for you. Something greater than Jonah is here. Jonah was that effective, but you know what? Something greater than Jonah is here. A prophet who’s even better than Jonah has arrived.

Admittedly, that’s not hard to do, right? But he’s here. And Jesus is talking about more than just a man, though. He’s talking about a message, the message of God’s anger over sin. That does not change. The call to repentance is exactly the same. But with the coming of Jesus, we now know the basis for God’s grace, and it’s that Jesus took the anger of God for us. That destruction that was coming came and Jesus took the destruction. Those Ninevites were saved by the substitution of Jesus on the cross in their place for their sins. They just didn’t know it yet. But we know it because the one who is greater than Jonah has arrived. The grace of God in Christ is on full display this morning. Its incredible grace is on full display. It’s on display in Jonah. Here’s a guy who could easily have been benched for eternity by God, and no one would have thought twice about it. Nobody. We probably wouldn’t even know his name. But here he is serving again..

Church, the Lord has work for us to do, even if we have been unfaithful in the past. God still has work for us to do. I talked to someone here at the church this week who feels like he used to have this fire, this motivation for the mission, and he just hasn’t been engaged. And by the way, that’s a very common story. I’ve had that conversation with so many in the church in the past. I hear that a lot. I think we all struggle with this at times.

But the way to know whether God still has useful things for you to do in this mission is that you are still breathing. That’s how you know, that’s the telltale sign. Let me tell you. You will know when God is done with using you in his mission because you’ll be in his presence and he’ll tell you himself. God’s grace is on display in the Ninevites this morning. Who would have thought that the place to go to find the best example of heartfelt humility in repentance would be some of the most hardened sinners you could ever find in the Bible? Who would have thought that you’d say, Oh, you want to see repentance? Let’s go to Jonah 3. The Assyrians will show us what what repentance looks like. God delights to transform the people who are farthest from him. That’s why He calls us to go. Light shines the brightest in the darkest places. Have you ever had an opportunity to go and just look at the stars in a place that’s far from the city? Where there’s no light pollution and you can see every star, it’s on full display. And the brightness like you’re out on the savanna of Africa or in a northern forest, you see these incredible stars that are breathtakingly bright.

Church, the the heart of a missionary beats with a willingness to reach people from among every nation, from the most dangerous places, from the darkest corners of the earth. And the grace of God is on display this morning in us. For those of you who know Jesus and you love him, I hope you’ve been reminded once again what he has done to take the anger of God on his own back for you. When your evil came up before the Lord, and by the way it did. When your evil came up before the Lord, He sent His son to die for it. He changed our hearts with His Word so that we would repent and then rejoice in him. We will never hear the countdown to our own destruction. We will never hear 40 days, because Jesus took the destruction for us. He was crushed for our transgressions and our sins. But he didn’t stay crushed, did he? Who’s ready for Easter? I know I am. And I hope also this morning for you who don’t have trust yet in the greater Jonah. That you would see your evil. You know you have it. You know you sin. It’s written right on your heart. That you would see it. You would recognize that that punishment is coming. And that you would repent. Turn from your sins. We have a patient God. We have an incredibly patient God. Slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness. He will graciously forgive your sins if you trust and follow Jesus. Would you pray with me?

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