December 31, 2017
I want you to think back over the past year. Think about the good things that happened to you. Think back about the bad things that happened. For a quick second, picture this past year in your mind. How many of you would say, “Man! This year has been the greatest year of my life!”?
Well, for a lot of us, maybe this past year wasn’t the best year of our lives. For some, it was just a year. But frankly, there are probably a few of you who have said, “I can’t wait for the year to get over with. I cannot wait to get this year behind me. It’s been a struggle, like I’m running as hard as I can, and no matter what I do, I trip up, and not only do I fall, I take people down around me. It was the kind of year in which you tried to do good, but you made a mess of the stuff that was happening around you. It was the kind of year where you felt like, Hey, I’m taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back. This isn’t a “2 steps forward, 1 step back” -year; it’s a “1 step forward, 2 steps back” -kind of year.
If it’s been a miserable year, and you really need this next year to be a better one than last year, I’ve got good news for you: Every year is a second chance. Every day is a second chance when it comes to God. The reason why we get excited about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, is because for many of us, we just want to get the mistakes and the failures of the past year behind us.
Today, we’re wrapping up a sermon series called “OMG!” These are “Oh, my God!” moments from the Bible where God does something that just seems scandalous, and we’ve saved the best for last. We’re going to talk about an event that happened in the Old Testament, and in order to set this up, I’d like for you to hear the whole sermon in 1 sentence. Write this down:
Every day that you have breath in your lungs, every morning when God wakes you up again, it is a second chance with God.
It’s a second chance at life. It’s an opportunity to go undo the things that you did in the past, and the story we’re going to look at today from the Old Testament centers around the town by the name of Nineveh.
Now, Nineveh was the capital city of ancient Assyria (not Syria). Today, this would be northern Iraq. It’s Assyria. At the time this story happens in the book of Jonah, Nineveh is the most powerful city on Earth, and perhaps the most populous city on Earth. It’s the capital of the Assyrian government, and this nation of Assyria is a terrifying, outstanding military force. In fact, nobody can stand up against these people. In Assyria back in the day, every young man was expected to serve in the military, but Assyria took military service to a new level. In fact, they discovered things. They explored ways to destroy other countries that nobody else had ever perfected in human history.
Assyria figured out things like the first ever siege equipment. They figured out how to destroy walled cities. Assyria created the battering ram, so that they could bust through doors and break down gates in walled-off cities. Assyria mastered the art of iron weapons, so that when they went to war against other nations, those nations’ weapons couldn’t hold up. Assyria was the first to use cavalry in battle. Assyria figured out how to float iron chariots across rivers. They filled dried sheep skins with air and figured out a way to float iron chariots across rivers so that there was no natural boundary that could stop the Assyrian military.
Assyria mastered the art of war, and they terrified people. They even had something equivalent to the Pony Express, so that when the king made a decision, it went throughout the entire empire almost overnight. But the most powerful weapon that the Assyrians used, was the weapon of fear. They terrified other countries, and when they terrified those countries, often those nations would be defeated. Those nations would become vassal kingdoms in the Assyrian Empire, and those kingdoms were ruled with an iron fist. They were ruled with absolute tyranny.
In 722BC, God sent the Assyrian army to go to battle against the 10 northern tribes of Israel, and in 722BC, Assyria annihilated those 10 northern tribes. They conquered the land. They destroyed the cities. They took all of their possessions, and they carted the people off as prisoners and brought them to Nineveh. In Jeremiah chapter 50, verse 17, it says that not only did Assyria defeat the northern tribes, the word that Jeremiah uses is that they destroyed it. It’s literally translated that Assyria devoured the northern tribes of Israel.
I. A new opportunity to learn from your mistakes
That’s what’s happened in history when these events unfold in the book of Jonah. We’re going to be in Jonah chapter 3 today, and while you’re following along, write this down: Every day that you get up, every new day is a new opportunity to learn from your mistakes.
Now let me just make sure you understand what I’m saying. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, it’s not really a second chance. If you repeat the same mistake over and over and over again, you’re not really asking for a second chance at life; you’re not asking for a second chance to fix your failures. You’re asking for a second opportunity to make the first mistake again and again and again. The idea here is you learn from your mistake, and a new day is an opportunity not to repeat the same mistakes.
In Jonah chapter 3, God gives Jonah a second chance. -a new day to fix what he messed up in the past. Here’s how the Bible describes this:
Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.” This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all.
God gives Jonah in verse 2, three specific commands. He says, “Jonah, get up. Jonah, go. And Jonah, you deliver my message. You go tell these people the message that I’ve given you to tell them.” Now, all 3 of these commands are non-negotiables for Jonah, but if you know the story (we’re not going to cover the whole thing today), this is exactly what God said to Jonah back in chapter 1. In fact, Jonah chapter 1, verse 2 is almost identical to Jonah chapter 3, verse 2.
God gives Jonah the same 3 commands, but in chapter 1, Jonah says, “I’m not doing that, God, and you can’t make me.” And in chapter 2 of the book of Jonah, God says, “Oh, really? Watch this.” I’m not going to go through that whole story, but needless to say, if you’ve been raised in church, you know the story of Jonah. God gets Jonah’s attention. God decides, “Alright Jonah. You want to play hardball? I can play hardball with you, but you’re not going to like it.”
And then God does something in verse 1 that frankly, God doesn’t have to do. God says, “Jonah, I’m going to give you a second chance. You get up, you go, and you tell these people exactly what I told you. You deliver my message to them.” And needless to say, if you went through what Jonah went through in chapter 2, you would get up, go, and do exactly what God asked you to do in this passage.
But God says in verse 3, “Here’s why I want you to do this, Jonah. This city that I’m sending you to, the capital city of Assyria, Nineveh, is perhaps the New York City. It’s the Tokyo, Japan of the world at the time. It’s not a great city because it’s a really powerful city; this is a great city because it’s a really populated city. It was, at the time that this was written, the most populous city on Earth. And God says, “Jonah, I’m going to send you to these people, and I’m sending you with a very specific message.”
The Bible tells us if you were to walk across the city, if you were to check everything out, it would take you 3 days of constant walking just to be able to see everything in this city. Jonah made a mess of his life in chapter 1 and chapter 2, and God gives this prophet a second opportunity. God gives him a second chance, an opportunity to learn from his mistake and to fix his mistake.
Did you see a headline on the internet about a lady from Erie, Pennsylvania who had a minor problem with her electric bill? The Pennsylvania Electric Company, called Penelec, when they were spinning out the bills for December, a lady who lived in a rural house outside of Erie, received her electric bill in the mail for $248 billion. That was her electric bill for the month of December, and of course, she was freaking about, how do I pay for a $248 billion electric bill before they turn my electricity off? If you’re not sure how much $248 billion is, it is the equivalent of the entire national debts of Hungary and South Africa collectively. That’s the bill that she received in the mail.
So, this lady called her son and said, “I’m in trouble. I need your help. I don’t know what I left on, but somehow, I’ve got a bill for $248 billion. Will you help me figure this out?” Her son called the electric company, and he said, “I’m not sure if this is correct or not, but my mother just got a bill in the mail for $248 billion. Would you check this out and see if this is right?” And the spokesman for the Penelec company, a guy by the name of Mark Durban, said, “Umm, we made an accounting error. There was a decimal point problem, and the bill is not really $248 billion.”
“You’ve got a decimal point wrong?! Yeah, you’ve got it more than just a little bit wrong.” And this lady, after it was resolved and they figured everything out, she told her son, “Hey next year, let me tell you what you can get me for Christmas. I’m going to need a pacemaker, because I just about had a heart attack when I read this bill that came from the Pennsylvania Electric Company.”
Here’s the truth: Jonah made a massive mistake, and God doesn’t owe Jonah a second shot. Jonah doesn’t deserve for God to give him a second opportunity to fix his last mistakes, and maybe some of you made a mistake this year. Maybe you made the kind of mistake that would ruin your Christian testimony. Like, when people find out about this (and they’re going to find out), I can no longer be really open about my faith, because I’ve destroyed my witness. I’ve ruined my reputation. And you’re asking yourself, How do I ever undo this $248 billion-mistake of character that I’ve made? -this colossal failure that I made this year?
Here’s the truth, and the book of Jonah bears this out in more than one way: God isn’t done with you until you’re dead, and if you’ve got a new day tomorrow, you’ve got another opportunity, a second opportunity, to fix today’s mistakes. Every day that you get up is another chance to undo, or to fix, the mistakes of yesterday.
II. A chance to move past your failures
The second thing I want you to know from the book of Jonah, is that a second chance is an opportunity to move past your failures, to put those things behind you and not have to live under those failures anymore.
Do you know the name, Pete Rose? He’s perhaps the greatest baseball player of all time, but not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, because of a mistake that he made outside of the baseball diamond. Pete Rose once famously said, “If someone is gracious enough to give me a second chance, I won’t need a third. If you’re willing to give me something that I don’t deserve and you offer me a second chance to undo the mistake, to get past the failures that I made, you won’t have to give me a third chance. I won’t make that mistake again.”
Here’s what the Bible says next for us in Jonah chapter 3, starting in verse 4:
On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” 5 The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow. When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. 7 Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. 8 People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. 9 Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
Now, in the original language, what Jonah is doing here, he’s angry at this message. He’s actually angry at God. Jonah is a mean preacher right now, and in the original language, Jonah shouts 5 words. We don’t even know that he gets the rest of the sermon out of his mouth, but God sent this preacher to go preach a message. Jonah gives them only part of the message, 5 words in the original language. “God hates you. He’s going to destroy you. The clock is ticking. You’ve got 40 days left.”
Look at what comes next. The greatest man in the kingdom became the greatest mourner in the kingdom, and it spread to everybody in this capital city of Nineveh. Everybody heard this sermon, and everybody was impacted at the deepest level by what Jonah was saying.
The next section is probably the greatest description of what Biblical repentance looks like. If you haven’t been raised in a church, let me tell you about the word repent. It’s not checking a box on a piece of paper. It’s not praying a prayer with your pastor. It’s not even walking down an aisle and saying a prayer at the front of the church. Repentance, true repentance, is to say you’re sorry to God and to show that you’re sorry to God. And God, who can see the deepest recesses of your heart, who knows whether or not you’re sincere, when that happens, that is the criteria for Jesus to radically, totally change somebody at the soul-level.
Nineveh is showing they are sorry. Nineveh is saying that they’re sorry, and in verse 9, Nineveh doesn’t know God the way Jonah knows God, so Nineveh’s not sure if this is going to work or not. Jonah knows this is going to work. In fact, if you read the next chapter, Jonah is angry with God, because he knows who God is, and he knows what’s going to happen if these people really do repent.
Jonah preached a 5-word sermon, and I don’t think he even preached the whole message. Jonah just preached, “God is mad at you. He hates you. He’s going to kill you.” And that message went to the heart of the entire city of Nineveh, and they all fell down in terror and begged God for forgiveness. They said it, but they also showed it. These folks meant that they were sorry, and they were ready to repent. They believed the word of the Lord, and they believed Jonah. This great city, the Bible tells us, went through this incredible transformation here.
If you haven’t heard this from me before, I have this burden from the Lord for 4 great cities in the world. The first is the city of Moscow, and it is perhaps the most atheistic city in the world. A couple of years ago, Dawn and I went to Moscow, and basically, everywhere that we looked, we saw people living a Godless life. We had the chance to meet and to have a several-hour dinner conversation with a man by the name of Daniel who was just raised in a Communist society, who’s never known anything but atheism, and it took hours at this dinner conversation. Actually, it took years with a missionary following up with Daniel over and over again, and just recently, Daniel realized that the belief system of atheism is not a lack of belief; it’s actually a belief in nothing. That belief system really doesn’t work, and just months (or maybe a couple of years) ago, Daniel found Christ when he basically looked for something that atheism can’t give you.
Moscow is perhaps the most atheistic city in the world. Beijing has the biggest population of any city in the world. Estimates are that somewhere between 30 and 40 million people live in the city of Beijing alone. Almost all of them are unbelievers, and almost all of them, if there was a catastrophic event tonight that wiped Beijing off the map, almost all of the 30-40 million of them would spend eternity in a Christ-less Hell, if somebody doesn’t go to that city and reach that city for King Jesus.
And then there’s the city of New Delhi, the capital city of India, which is perhaps the most spiritual city in the world. But they are far from Christian. You see, in India, there’s an incredible amount of belief. -belief in many gods, belief in millions of gods, hoping that one of those gods can save them. But most of them don’t understand the God of Heaven and Earth, the one that created them in His image, the God who has revealed himself in the form of Jesus Christ.
These 3 cities, God has placed an incredible burden on my heart for, but the 4th city is Columbus. It’s actually the Chattahoochee Valley, so I’m talking about Smiths Station, Fort Mitchell, Phenix City -all of the ones on the other side of the river, and us here too, because I’m convinced this is the greatest city in America, and I’m also convinced that Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley is 70-80% lost and headed towards a Christ-less Hell as well, if someone from our church, someone from your neighborhood, doesn’t reach our city.
III. A shot after a second life
In the Bible, what you see in Jonah chapter 3 is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes. It’s actually more than that. It’s a chance to fix your failures. But if that’s all it was, frankly, it doesn’t matter 10,000 years from now. Here’s what you’re reading in the book of Jonah. Here’s what the Bible describes for us today. It’s a second shot. It’s a chance for a shot at a second life. This isn’t just, “Do better next time. Fix your mistakes. Get better in the future.” This is an, “I’ve messed up, and I need a new life.” That’s the kind of opportunity that God is describing for us in Jonah chapter 3. Here’s how the chapter ends when God gives the people who don’t deserve it a second life, a new life opportunity. Jonah chapter 3, verse 10 says it this way:
When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
Now this verse, to be frank, is a problem for us theologians, because what the Bible is saying today is, the people changed their actions; the people showed genuine repentance, and then God changed his mind and did not do what he said he was going to do to them. -which, if you think about it, it’s a challenge in itself, but here’s what’s even more incredible. Many Bible scholars believe what you’re reading in this verse is the single greatest revival, the single greatest spiritual awakening, in all of the Old Testament. It might be the greatest moment of scandalous grace in the entire history of the world. I’m not kidding.
What you see here is God sends a man who preaches a very simple sermon, and the entire city changes instantly when they feel this conviction of the Holy Spirit and this overwhelming desire to get things right. This may be the best-for-the-last, greatest “Oh, my God!” moment in the Bible, because I want you to picture for just a second that you are an Israelite who has been taken into captivity, and you’re living in Nineveh when this happens, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait a second, God. You’re not really going to let these people off the hook, are you?” I mean, it’s not just how many people are living in this city. It’s not just how powerful this city is. It’s how wicked this city is.
What you would be thinking right now is, “God, I watched that man right there rape my next-door neighbor when they attacked my city. I watched that person over there kill my brother and my uncle and my father before I was taken captive into this foreign land. You sent this Pagan nation to destroy your own people, and now you’re going to give them a second chance?!”
This is one of those “Oh, my God!” moments like, “God, this doesn’t seem right. This seems like it’s wrong what you’re doing here.” In fact, Jonah gets upset about this in chapter 4 and cannot accept that God would give these people a second chance. And God says, “Jonah, what’s your problem? This great city has 120,000 people living in it who are going to spend eternity in Hell if they don’t hear the message and if they don’t respond.”
God does something here that is scandalous. God does something here that frankly, seems beneath him. You see, Jonah knows something about God’s character, because Jonah was one of God’s chosen people. Jonah knows God is the kind of God who when his people reach out to him and beg for a second chance, God is ready to give them a second chance. Jonah knows this, because Jonah has read this in the Bible in 2 Chronicles chapter 7. Jonah knows this is the kind of God that I worship, when God says in 2 Chronicles 14:
2 Chronicles 7:14
Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.
Do you know what it took for God to restore the land that was taken away the Assyrians in 722BC? It didn’t happen until 1948 when the nation of Israel was re-established after World War II.
This is how God deals with his people, but what about the foreigners? What about those people who don’t know who God is? What about those people who have not heard the Gospel before? How does God deal with those? Well, Jeremiah tells you the answer to that question in Jeremiah chapter 18. This is God’s word through the prophet, Jeremiah:
If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned.
This is the nature, this is the character of our gracious, merciful God. He is ready to give you something that you don’t deserve. He’s ready to give you a second chance. He’s ready to give you new life. He’s ready to give you an opportunity to fix what’s been done in the past, but God is also quick not to give you what you do deserve. That’s called mercy, when you and I don’t get the consequences for our sin like we deserve. -when we get something like this woman by the name of Tanya Fogle.
Tanya Fogle was raised in Kentucky. She had the world at her fingertips, because she was an incredibly successful basketball player. In fact, she played ball for the University of Kentucky. She was the captain of the women’s basketball team. And then Tanya made some mistakes, and she got addicted to drugs. She became a crack addict, and Tanya ended up serving a 10-year prison sentence for the mistakes and the failures that she made in the past. And while she was serving this prison sentence, Jesus reached down into that prison and snatched this woman up, changed her soul, and gave her a new life.
Tanya puts it this way in a news article for the local newspaper in Lexington, KY. She says, “When my life turned upside-down, then God sought me, and then God gave me a second chance.” She decided when she was still serving this prison sentence, “When I get out, I’m not going to make the same mistakes twice.”
Tanya got out. She started a ministry. She started reaching out to women who are hooked on drugs. She started ministering to children who are being raised on the streets. She started being involved in churches. This past Christmas season, this woman is singing in 3 different Christmas choirs at the same time, because she is doing everything that she can to undo those 10 years that she lost while she was in prison, and she would say, “I’m doing it because of the love of Jesus. I’m doing it because Jesus reached in and Jesus snatched me back out of my sins, and he changed me while I was serving that prison sentence that I deserved.”
Listen, every new day is a new chance at life, and God’s not done with you until you’re dead. God gives people a second chance.
• Today I asked Jesus to forgive my sins and give me new life for the first time.
– I’ve made a mess of my life in 2017. I need the Holy Spirit to help me undo some of the mistakes I made last year.
+ I will be a river of scandalous grace in 2018.
- What OMG story of grace had the biggest impact on you? Why that story?
- What is the one thing you’d like to do better in 2018?
- Did anyone ever give you a second chance after you made a big mistake? Did you do better the second time around?
- How do you learn from your mistakes? What process do you use for not making the same mistake twice?
- Did God give Nineveh a chance to do better in the future or be better in the future? (Explain your answer.)
- What happens to water that becomes stagnant? What happens to Christians that become stagnant with the grace of God?
- Pray for God to give you opportunities to show scandalous grace next year.