Jonah 3:1-3 God’s mercy is new every morning. He gives the prophet another chance. God could have determined that Jonah had repented, but he’s no longer worthy of the ministry I had for him. God could have had the attitude, I’m glad he repented, but now I’ll get someone else to do the mission. No, when God shows mercy, it is great mercy. Not because we deserve it, but because His glory deserves it. When we fail God, it is hard on us, but it is still God’s opportunity to show His mercy. We see over and over in the Bible that God is glorified in showing mercy.
Think about Peter, Luke 22:31-34. Jesus knew that Peter would fail him because he had already warned him before his death that Satan desired to sift Peter like wheat, but Jesus said I have prayed for you. It is salvation when Jesus prays for you, and He ever lives to make intercession for you!!! Jesus is now in heaven before the Father, and He is thinking about you, and He is praying for you. And Jesus told Peter when you are restored strengthen your brothers. John 21:15-17 Peter’s ministry was not done even though he had denied the Lord, it was just beginning!!
I think about Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 15:9, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God”. The story could have ended there. That’s right Paul you are unworthy. How could anyone who had actually persecuted Christians ever be worthy to be an apostle? Paul, just go sit in a pew and make sure that for the rest of your life you prove yourself worthy to even be a Christian, by being the most faithful worshipper in a pew ever. But Paul doesn’t stop with condemnation about his sin, he goes on to declare the grace of God in verse 10, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” What a statement, “I worked harder than any of them”. Not out of condemnation or an attempt to pay my way out of my sin, but because God gave me the grace to serve mightily!!! If Paul had allowed condemnation to make him disqualified to be what God had called him by His grace to be, then we wouldn’t have the last half of the book of Acts or any of the many letters of Paul. We, you and I today, would be poorer for the condemnation. But by the grace of God, we have the writings of Paul. Selah
The story is the same with Jonah, the Lord calls him again and gives him back his ministry and it will be greater than anything Jonah had ever done before. God didn’t say, ‘I’m glad you repented, now go home, no, he said “Go to Nineveh…”. Jesus is still saying to all of us “Go!!”, “Go into all the world and make disciples.” It doesn’t matter how badly we have sinned or failed or rebelled, when we repent, the call is still there. The worst sinner when he or she repents is still chosen to go. No one who repents is ever told to just go sit in the corner and stay quiet until the Lord returns. Isaiah sees the glory of God in Isaiah 6 and he is undone and realizes that he is a sinner, but then God touches his lips with the hot coal from the altar. Not even a seraph (a burning one) could touch that coal, but when it touches Isaiah’s lips and when Isaiah hears the call of God, “Who will go for us?”, Isaiah cries out, “here am I send me”. I don’t think he was a reluctant volunteer who wanted to make up for his sin. I picture Isaiah with his hand raised waving it and crying out with a loud voice, “Oh, Oh, Lord, here, here, pick me, pick me, let me go for You”. How’s your volunteer spirit in the face of the reality of your unworthiness? How about in the reality of His mercy?
We also see in this story, that this time Jonah obeys. Verses 2-3 are interesting because God instructs Jonah to only say what He tells him to, and Jonah obeys according to the Word of the Lord. I want to look at this idea of “according to the Word of the Lord”. When we are sent by God and we go “according to the Word of the Lord”, or because the Lord sends us, then we carry a great deal of authority. God is with us. And when we only say what the Lord says, then we carry even more authority because our words carry His eternal power. His words are transforming, and they are more powerful than any sword or weapon of human ability. I Kings 18:20-39, in this story, we see the prophet Elijah challenging the false prophets of Baal. There are many things that we could point out in the story, but the point that I want to make concerns Elijah’s claim to be doing and saying exactly what the Lord has commanded him. Elijah was not acting on his own zeal or using his own imagination when he chose to challenge the prophets of Baal that fire should fall from heaven. Elijah wasn’t just trying to show his own power when he took the 12 stones and built the altar for the sacrifice. He didn’t just decide on his own to pour 12 barrels of water over the sacrifice. In verse 36 Elijah says that he has done all of these things by the direction of God. And the result is that the fire falls from heaven and the people repent. We cannot just decide on our own what we will do or what we will say. Jeremiah 14:14-15 tells us that we must be careful to recognize those that the Lord has not sent and those who claim to speak for the Lord but are not saying what He says. In Revelation 2:2, Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for testing those who say they are apostles, but aren’t. We have a responsibility to discern the true from the false. In America, those in authority will sometimes tell those who are under them, to only speak when spoken to. In other words, don’t say anything unless I ask for your opinion. I believe that as those under the authority of our Father, we should only speak when spoken to by our Father.
Now I want to show the biggest mistake I see ministers make in their preaching. God told Jonah to only speak the message that He gave him, nothing extra. Jonah is about to enter the vilest, most violent city on earth. His life is in danger and at any time he might be killed by the people or by the authorities. And this is Jonah’s message, “In eight days Nineveh shall be overthrown”. It’s just a handful of words in English and five words in Hebrew. How many words is it in French? How many words would it be in your local language? Over and over Jonah walks through the city and proclaims, “In eight days Nineveh shall be overthrown”. And without any question, it was the largest evangelistic meeting in history, because the Bible says in verse 5 that they believed God and repented!!! Not only did the people believe, but the Bible says that the king surrendered his throne, took off his royal robes and fell to the ground, and cried out to God. I think it took more than just those few words to move the hearts of the people and of the king. I think that God must have been moving on their hearts as well to get the results that we see here.
The biggest mistake I see preachers make is thinking that their words are what bring revival or growth to the church. In America, some pastors think that their only job is to prepare sermons that will cause the people to think that they are the best speakers on earth. The truth is that only God moving on the hearts of people will bring true revival and God uses words, but not man’s words. Paul says that to the church in Corinth, I Corinthians 2:3-5. God does not want people to serve him because of the words that we preach. The hearts of people must stand in faith, or they will not stand at all. And faith comes by preaching, but the preaching must be the words that God gives. When we speak what He tells us to, we can expect Holy Spirit results, lasting results. As a pastor, I found that I had to trust the Holy Spirit to change people. Sometimes we want the people to rely on us too much and we want to get the credit for changing their situations, but only God can really bring the changes in their hearts. Sometimes it seems like people just can’t believe and they are always worried and complaining and we feel the pressure to help their situation change, but only God can put faith in their hearts. Therefore, prayer is the most important labor that a pastor has. In Colossians 4:12 we see this ministry in Epaphras.
Jeremiah 1:1-10, notice in verse 7 that the Lord tells him, “Whatever I command you, you shall speak”. This instruction carries 2 parts, first, if I tell you to say something, you make sure that you say it. Don’t be afraid to say whatever I tell you. But secondly, it implies that Jeremiah is not free to say anything else except what the Lord tells him. Notice also, in verses 9 and 10, that the authority that Jeremiah carries comes through his words and that God anoints him by touching his mouth. This is the same anointing that the Lord places on Isaiah in Isaiah 6 when he calls Isaiah by placing a lump of hot coal on his lips.
Then the Lord sends Jeremiah on his first mission in verses 11-19 but notice verses 17-19. Notice the first part of verse 17, the first thing that Jeremiah was to do before he went on the mission was to dress for the battle. This reminds me of Ephesians 6:10-20, the whole armor of God and especially prayer, and Paul asking for prayer so that he will speak the right words.
Prepare your hearts for the mission. When I come here to visit (Western Africa), I spend hours and hours over the span of months praying for you and asking the Lord for grace and favor. Every visit with you is too important not to value it enough to pray; and when we pastor people, it is too important not to pray and most of that prayer is focused on putting people in the Lord’s hands and trusting His love and wisdom. Then the Lord again tells Jeremiah to say only what He is saying. Don’t add to the message and don’t take away from the message. But I want to emphasize this next part because it is vital to success in ministry. Do not allow yourself to be confused or to lose faith because of the look on their faces when you speak!!! I can’t over-emphasize how important this is!!! When the Lord first began using me to give people prophetic words, I used to look in the faces of the people, and sometimes I could see that they were either confused by what I was saying, or they were not believing. I would often see the same thing when I was preaching. I would then try harder to explain what I felt the Lord wanted them to hear and many times this made things worse. Then I learned that I had to trust the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts either with faith or understanding, but that it was not my job. The Holy Spirit knows how to deal with hearts and with understanding. Now I most often don’t look at the people when I preach but rather look over their heads and try to listen to the Holy Spirit or sometimes when I prophesy, I look away while I’m speaking. I don’t always do that, and I know that can seem like I’m not being personal, but it’s more important that we say what the Lord says accurately and that we trust Him and not ourselves to change people. I have also learned that I am not usually good at knowing what people are thinking or what is happening inside their hearts.
One final example is when I counsel women, I never counsel them alone. Most often I have my wife join us. Sometimes after I have shared my great wisdom with the woman that we are talking with, I ask my wife if she has anything to add. Or sometimes after I’m done talking and the person says that they don’t understand what I was trying to say, I’ll ask my wife to explain it. One of the most frustrating things in these times is when my wife says just the same thing that I said that the other person didn’t understand when I said it, and now they understand. That happens because women know best how to counsel women. They may have just changed a word or two, but suddenly, the other person understands.
Maybe you’ve preached a message to the congregation that you felt was important and they just didn’t seem to get it, but then an evangelist or another pastor comes to preach and preaches the same message, and the people respond with such excitement, and you think to yourself, “Hey that’s what I’ve been saying to them all along”. It just proves that it’s the Holy Spirit that makes the difference. It may not be that you didn’t pray enough or have enough faith, sometimes it’s just a matter of God’s timing and sometimes it’s just the idea of confirmation.
So, the prophet Jonah preached, the people repent and what does God do? He sees their heart and chooses not to judge them after all, and Israel’s enemy is spared. What does Jonah think about all of this? We’ll see in our last message.