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Let’s Get Busy Living For God

Sharing God's Word, Living His Love

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

January 21, 2024

What would you do if you knew you had only 40 days to live? This question is not totally out of the realm of possibility for us, because many of us have gone to the doctor’s office and received news that turned out to be life-changing. Some of you may have been told that you have cancer, others that tumors have been found, and some that surgery is required or dialysis is necessary. All of these diagnoses, as well as many others, truly make us stop and think not only about the quality of life, but also about the quantity of days. How many days do I have before the pain goes away? How many days do I have before the pain becomes unbearable? How many days do I have before I find myself having to depend on others and unable to take care of myself?

When this kind of news grabs our attention, we often find ourselves thinking back to our past. Back to the days when we didn’t have any limitations or pain, back to the days when we didn’t have any difficulties working those extra hours, or back to the days when life may have seemed to be overwhelming, but was actually much easier. We can look at our children or grandchildren, or even the children here in our church and remember back to the days when we used to have what seemed like endless amounts of energy.

At the same time, while we often look back to our past when we receive bad news concerning the quality of our lives, we also have a tendency to think about the future. We wonder how we will handle the pain or cope with the changes in our daily lives. We might even find ourselves getting angry over the news that our quality of life is being threatened or maybe we might just become numb to the bad news as though we really can’t believe it. “How can I have cancer when I feel fine?”

But if we were given 40 days to live, would we try to make the most of our 40 days or would we just wait for the end to come? Sometimes when people are given a rather bleak outlook from a doctor, they view it as a real wake up call. Within a short amount of time broken relationships with family members are restored or people do things with their families that they have always wanted to do, but put off because they were just too busy.

I think for all of us here today if we knew that we had only 40 days to live we would probably make every effort to get busy living. And yet, when God gives us the horrible news in His Word that our sin destroys our relationship with Him and leads to death, what do we do? Do we get busy living for God or do we get busy dying in our sins?

The message Jonah shared with the people of Nineveh was certainly not a popular message from God in which he said, “You’ve got 40 days, people of Nineveh, to change your sinful ways or else God will destroy you.” The people of Nineveh for years had lived their lives in ways that were truly contrary to the Word of God. They had built temples to other gods and had no interest in the God who created the universe and promised to send them a Savior from their sin. Jonah did not want to share this message with the people of Nineveh, because not only did it sound bad, but the people were not listening to God anyway. So Jonah tried to run away from God, but ended up being swallowed by a great fish for 3 days. But God did not give up on Jonah and He wasn’t giving up on the people of Nineveh. He spared Jonah’s life and came to him a second time and told him to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim the message I gave you.

And when Jonah went to Nineveh and shared that message, he learned just how powerful it was, because it wasn’t his message, it was God’s message and the people knew it. Notice in verse 5 the reaction of the people after Jonah told them they had 40 days to turn their lives around or God would destroy them. It says, “And the people of Nineveh believed God.” They knew this message came from God. Now I would guess there was probably more to Jonah’s message than just those 8 words at the end of verse 4. In fact, I wonder if Jonah looked different having been inside a fish for 3 days to the point that when he arrived in Nineveh did people look at him and immediately ask, “What happened to you?” If that happened, it would have given Jonah a wonderful opportunity to explain how he tried to run away from God, but found it impossible. So if the Ninevites thought they could continue in their sinful ways, they were greatly mistaken. God was aware of their wickedness and He was about to punish them. But our God is a God of mercy, who doesn’t want anyone to die.

Jonah knew this firsthand. He should have been destroyed for running away from God, but instead was saved and given a second chance when he was swallowed by that fish and spit out onto dry land. And now God was giving the Ninevites a second chance. They had 40 days to repent. The Ninevites wasted no time in repenting. They recognized the source, the truth, and the power of Jonah’s message as being from God as verse 5 goes on to say, “They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” as signs of sorrow and repentance for their sins. In other words, thinking they had only 40 days to live, the king and the people chose right away to live for God without letting another day pass. Their actions showed that they finally understood the seriousness of their sin, the consequences of their sin, and just how much God hates sin. But do we understand that when we look at our sin?

Someone once told me that some Christians look at sin like a trashcan that you can fill up for a long time before it ever needs to be emptied. But God looks at sin like a trashcan that does not have to be full in order for it to smell bad. For example, if you have a trashcan at home with only a few things in it, you’re probably not going to empty it until it is full. However, many of us know that if we put our child’s or grandchild’s dirty diaper in a trashcan that doesn’t have hardly anything in it and leave it there, it won’t take long before the smell of that diaper fills the house and we will then be anxious to empty the trashcan, even if that is the only item in it.

That is how God sees our sins. Just one sin, one piece of trash in our lives is enough to keep us from a relationship with God. Just one sin is enough to keep us out of heaven forever.

Therefore, God not only wants us to see how much He hates sin, but what He was willing to do to destroy it so we could live. God valued life so much that He created a commandment – “You shall not murder,” to protect it. So the unborn child in a mother, a child on a playground, a student with cancer, a young energetic business woman in a wheelchair, a strong man with an incurable disease, a grandfather on the golf course, a grandmother in a nursing home, the wicked people of Nineveh, and all of us are people who were created and are valued by God, and are people who have a purpose for whom Jesus died.

In verse 10, we see the power of our God revealed, but not through threats of destruction, but through compassion. Verse 10 says, “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.” The power of God is seen here in what He did not do. He did not punish the Ninevites. He did not give them what they deserved. God’s great love for them prevented Him from carrying out His great judgment.

We’ve probably all had moments in our lives when we were reluctant to tell someone something. There’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us. But we should never be reluctant to share such a powerful and positive message of life concerning a God who loves us and promises never to leave us. Whether it is a crisis pregnancy or a terminal illness, there are no circumstances that we ever face alone or that are beyond God’s power to help.

Many people are amazed at how God allowed a fish to swallow Jonah and then spit him out alive 3 days later. That miracle, however, is nothing compared to the one God worked in the hearts of the Ninevites. Can you imagine every single person in Clayton repenting of their sins and putting their faith in the God we worship? That is what happened in Nineveh, a city we are told in Jonah 4 that had a population of 120,000 people, much larger than Clayton. It just goes to show that we should never assume that the people we meet won’t listen to us or will be offended when we speak God’s Word to them.

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