Today we are continuing the book of Jonah. Up to this point, we’ve seen Jonah disobey God by refusing to go to Nineveh, then we saw that that didn’t work out so well! God sent storms to make his boat go crazy and so the sailors threw Jonah into the sea to stop the storms, and then Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of a whale, where he at least seemed to repent.
He says in chapter 2, which is what we looked at last week, that what he has vowed to God he will repay, and so he seems to recommit himself to the Lord in the belly of the whale. And the only reason I have some doubts about that is because he never admits any wrongdoing, and, as readers, we can know what is coming in chapter 4, when Jonah has a terrible attitude about what God is doing. So, I’m not sure how genuine his repentance in chapter 2 is, but, either way, God speaks to the large fish, and it vomits Jonah back up onto the shore. That’s where we’re at. Jonah is slimy and likely stinky as we jump into chapter 3, which is what we’re looking at today. Follow along with me as I read Jonah chapter 3, all 10 verses:
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3 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. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, 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. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 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. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
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.
So, there’s several different ways we could focus in on chapter 3 today, several different angles of what we can learn from it. But I want us to focus in on what God is actually commanding Jonah to do. He commanded Jonah at the very beginning of chapter 1 to go to Nineveh and speak out against it, and now, for a second time, God is commanding Jonah to go to Nineveh to give God’s message. God is calling Jonah to speak His Word to a people that is far from God, in the exact same way that He has commanded every single one of us in this room to speak God’s Word, his gospel, proclaiming it to people that are far from Him.
So, what I’d like us to see, from Jonah (not just chapter 3, but really from the whole book as well), is how we can be effective evangelists. I’m going to assume, if you’re a Christian, that you know we are called by God, every one of us in this room, to be sharing the gospel of Jesus with lost people, making disciples, helping people find and follow Jesus. And if you didn’t know that, you do now, I just told you. We see this throughout the New Testament, in particular.
So we’re first going to focus in on the how of becoming an effective evangelist, and then at the end we’ll focus on the why. Usually I like to start with the why, because it reveals to us why this matters, what we’re talking about. But I want the why to really stick with us as we leave today, so I’m putting it at the end, and we’re starting with the how. How to become an effective evangelist:
- Recognize God’s relentless pursuit of sinners.
This is an awesome and prevalent theme in the book of Jonah. Over and over we see God going after sinners. From the very beginning, it’s Jonah himself! When God told him to go to Nineveh, Jonah ran as far as he could possibly imagine from the presence of God. He boards a ship and apparently tries to go all the way across to the other side of the Mediterranean, to Tarshish.
Now God could have responded to that like, “Ugh, well fine. I have other servants.” Because he did, right? He could have sent someone else! But he didn’t! He went after Jonah, didn’t he!? See, here’s the thing, this attribute of God’s character—his relentless pursuit of sinners—it’s not only for sinners who have no connection with God, like the Ninevites, even though we see that very clearly here. It’s also for sinners who are connected with God, like Jonah, like us, believers in Jesus Christ! He will relentlessly pursue you and me to rest and to live within our status as children of God, pursuing and becoming more and more like Christ. He will pursue you to become holy! You already are holy in Christ, your sin has been placed upon Him, and you have his righteousness, and yet now God pursues you to become who you already are.
I’m convinced that the most miserable people on the planet are not atheists, but born again Christians, children of God who are running from Him. I think those are the most miserable people on earth. Why is that? Because God is pursuing you. God Himself lives in you. It is literally the most paradoxical place for a human being to be: to be pretending like you’re outside of God’s grace when in fact you are the object of his grace, his love. It makes sense that it’s such a miserable place to be, and I’ve been there.
There’s been multiple times I’ve been there, but there’s one particular time that sticks out. Very few people know the specifics of that part of my life, and one day I’ll be willing to share it with more people, but the reason it’s difficult to share and even think about is because it’s such a dark place to be. To be the object of God’s love, and yet to have convinced yourself that you are not the object of his love, that somehow you’ve ruined it. To counteract that thinking, let me bring up two verses I’ve brought up a lot in the last six months, maybe these are our theme verses for 2018.
Philippians 1:6- “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” He will carry it on. There’s that relentless pursuit again! And, 2 Timothy 2:13. I’ve mentioned it probably every week in the last month, and I still don’t know why it’s not one of the most popular verses in the Bible: “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” Who is he? He’s a God who relentlessly pursues sinners. He’s resolved to have Jonah obey Him as his chosen prophet, and he’s resolved to have Nineveh hear His message! And even along the way, he’s going to use his prophet who’s running away to reach other sinners! Think of the pagan sailors.
Yet another vs. that reveals the heart of God, and we’ll focus on this one more in depth next week. Jonah 4: end of verse 2- “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Ironically, that’s Jonah complaining about God’s character, forgetting yet again that he himself is the object of that same relentless mercy and love.
So what does that have to do with evangelism? Maybe you’re thinking, “Ryan, this isn’t very practical, you’re talking about God’s character, how is that supposed to help me become an effective evangelist?” Here’s how: The more intimately you know this great God who relentlessly pursues you despite your failures and mistakes and indifference, the more you know this gracious God personally, the more you will be compelled to share this great God. The more you know this great God, the more your heart will become like His. His desire for none to perish, but for all to come to repentance (that’s 2 Peter 3:9), His desire will become our desire. We must recognize and even imitate God’s relentless pursuit of sinners. This goes right along with step 2 of how to become an effective evangelist. #2:
- Savor the unmatched mercyof God.
Now, if you’re following along in your notes, this is actually #3. I changed the order this morning and I had already printed off the sermon notes, so I apologize about that. Savor the unmatched mercy of God.
Now, I know that I’m not giving 10 specific ways to share the gospel here, like 10 methods or something. I know it may seem like I’m not getting practical yet. But, the reason for that is because I’m convinced that if the weight, the magnitude of what has happened in the gospel, in this reconciliation that has happened between us and God, because of what Christ has done, if this miracle is both stunning and wondrous to you, then you will be compelledto share it. If you are overcome with the mercy God has shown to you, you will be overcome with a desire to see other people know that mercy.
This is what should have happened with Jonah. But instead, he’s not overwhelmed by God’s mercy and desire to save the people of Nineveh. Instead, he’s annoyed by God’s mercy. That’s why he runs away, because he doesn’t want to give God’s message to the people of Nineveh. And then, even this second time we just read of, when he’s told to go and he obeys—whether he does it reluctantly or not, whether he’s wholehearted in his obedience or not—we know from his response to God’s mercy in chapter 4, that he still does not savor God’s mercy like he should. Not only does he not savor this mercy, but he’s so frustrated with it that he wants to die! So, let’s see this mercy that makes Jonah upset. Look with me again at verses 4 through 10:
4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, 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. [which is just a way of symbolizing his mourning and brokenness for sin].7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 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. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” [And here’s where we really see God’s mercy. 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.
What happened? This God who is unmatched and relentless in his mercy is not unwilling to relent from his wrath, is he? He had mercy on the Ninevites. Here’s my question for us this morning: do we, today, savor God’s mercy? Has it clicked for you what it is not only that God will relent from his wrath against you, but also that he will shower you with abounding grace? What God has done to reconcile us to him is not just more than we deserve—it’s the opposite of what we deserve.
We see this throughout the Bible again and again again: if you give God the tiniest chance, he will absolutely overwhelm you with his grace. And if you are overwhelmed with his grace, and you’re savoring and just delighting in his mercy, then you will want to share it with others. Spurgeon writes this: “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!” That’s not so much an indictment, as it is an indicative. If you truly understand and savor what God has done for us, you will at least wantto share it. The 3rdstep to becoming an effective evangelist, and again, this one’s #2 in your notes (a bit out of order):
- Trust that salvation belongs to the Lord (5-9).
You might remember last week in chapter 2, the last words of Jonah in apparently coming back to the Lord. Verse 9: “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” We get to see that explicitly here in chapter 3. Jonah said so little to the people of Niniveh: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” 8 words, only five words in the actual Hebrew language. Even with this very simple message that Jonah was preaching, maybe even in Jonah’s reluctance to preach it, even with this, how did they respond? With absolute and utter brokenness for their sin! And the king calling all the people and even the cows and the beasts to repent!
I mean, Jonah, as far as we know, didn’t even tell them to repent! He just pronounced judgment. Some think that Jonah’s heart was not in this, that maybe he was only reluctantly obeying God and doing the bare minimum to be able to say that he obeyed. We see in chapter 4 that he did not want the Ninevites to repent, at least after the fact, but maybe even hear in the midst of it! He did not want them to experience God’s mercy.
But it didn’t matter. No matter eloquence of his words of lack thereof, no matter if Jonah’s heart was really in it or not, God had resolved to save the Ninevites. Salvation did not belong to Jonah, thankfully—because the Ninevites probably would not have been saved. Salvation belongs to the Lord. It’s his doing; it’s his work. So what does that mean for us?
It’s the biggest relief you can possibly have in sharing the gospel. Your job is not to save people; we are incapable of doing that! In fact, if anything, we have the easiest job! God does literally everything else in this process, and he choosesto use us for one part: to proclaim the gospel. To be his messengers. I mean, we can even blame him, if people get mad: “Hey, hey, I’m just the messenger.” Right? We have one part.
The job that God has given to you and to me is necessary. It’s crucial. It absolutely is, Romans 10:14- “How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” The implication? They can’t! Salvation belongs to the Lord, he does all the work, and the one part he has chosen for us to be his messengers. God has chosen to use YOU and ME to speak his word to people.
It’s a crucial job, but ultimately, God does the work of saving people. Our job is to be faithful and obedient; God’s job is to save people. I hope that’s a relief for you, especially for those of you who are parents. Lauryn and I talked about this yesterday; we started a podcast called “Gospel Family with the Gilberts.” She was sharing that even just with a 4-year-old, she, especially as mom, feels so much responsibility for his behavior and his heart, even. She shared in this podcast that it’s difficult to have in mind what Paul Tripp in his Parenting book calls an ambassador approach to parenting vs. an owner approach to parenting. That God, in a sense, is the owner of your children, and not you. HE’Sthe boss, the creator, the molder, the transformer of hearts. It’s so easy to think, especially if you have grown children, “if I had just done this or that a little differently, maybe things would have turned out differently.”
Listen, that is an endless cycle that you don’t want to be on. Ultimately, God created your child with their own will, and heart, and ambitions, and personality. You cannot save them, and nothing you could have done differently would have saved them. You know why? Because salvation belongs to the Lord. This is why we should be compelled not to feel guilty, but instead to pray for the lost, including our friends and family.
Simple Ways to Become an Effective Evangelist
Pray, pray, pray for God to draw and for opportunities for you to speak, to proclaim the gospel. This is probably the only thing I want you to put down, for this week, at the bottom there for “simple ways to evangelize.” Pray for opportunities, because God will send them. Pastor Kenny, before I got here, would talk often about praying for opportunities to witness. I’ve listened to a lot of those sermons especially from the year before I got here, and he often talked about this, and he emphasized that when he asked for opportunities, He never said no. Imagine that. Sometimes we may not recognize opportunities, but I guarantee, they are there, especially if you are asking for them!
The catch with all this is that it’s not really on most of our minds. This week I heard from a pastor I sometimes listen to, one of the most convicting questions I’ve heard in a long time. I want to ask you the same question, because I think we need to be woken up a little bit: If God were to answer every prayer you’ve prayed in the last week in the affirmative, in one big swoop saying yes to every prayer you prayed this last week, would anyone new become part of God’s kingdom?
What are we doing if we’re not praying for the lost, and not praying for opportunities to do our one part that is crucial, even though God does all the work for salvation? What are we doing? Here in this life? Period! What are we doing? Do we realize that this is the one thing we will never be able to do in heaven? This is our time to be God’s ambassadors.
But so often, like Jonah, we either run from obeying Him, or we do the bare minimum to at least feel like we’re obeying him even though we’re really not. Maybe our version of Jonah’s reluctant preaching, maybe our version of that is inviting people to church. Listen, invite people to church, but don’t mistake my job for yours. God has not called me to share the gospel with your coworker. He’s called you. He’s called me to equip you, and surely if that coworker comes, I hope he will hear the gospel, but know that God has called you. Spurgeon says it like this: “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” Man, Spurgeon’s just not very nice, is he. Is it not true though? If we’re following Jesus, what did Jesus do? He made disciples!
Do we realize that when we gather here, we’re not aiming for spiritual growth just to be able to take it home and enjoy our spiritual growth in the privacy of our homes? In fact, I consider it my primary job as your pastor and one of your elders, to equip the saints for the work of ministry. That’s Ephesians 4:12. We say this often about our goal as a church. We’re not really aiming to be a come-and-see type church. We welcome anyone, and hopefully you felt welcome your first Sunday here, but our main objective, our main goal is aimed at Christians: for you to be built up spiritually, and equipped to then GO and make disciples. Part of spiritual growth, part of becoming more like Jesus, is learning how and wanting to make disciples. Because that’s what our Lord did!
My personal challenge
I have to be honest with you and say that these two things are not my biggest strengths: prayer and evangelism. I would even probably say that prayer is a weakness of mine. That might be concerning coming from your pastor. I struggle with prayer because I’m so often over-confident in myself. Most of the time I don’t even realize that this is happening. Often, my gut-reaction with any situation, good or bad, is not to pray and go before the Lord, but to trust in my own capabilities, without even realizing it. And perhaps that’s why the question about lost people I’ve prayed for in the last week was so convicting.
I struggle with evangelism, mainly just for logistical reasons: I’m a pastor, and so I spend most of my time with Christians. I work with Christians, I socialize with Christians, mostly, and so on and so forth. But what I know is that if I want to be part of shepherding this church toward truly being a life-giving church, a church with people that take seriously praying for and sharing with the lost, then I, as your pastor, and the other elders, must lead the way. The first step cannot merely be teaching about these things, even though certainly that’s part of it, but the first and most important step is asking God to make this part of who I am. That I am someone who runs not away fromobeying God and sharing his message, but someone who runs toobeying God, and even asks for opportunities to share his message.
And so I’m going to do two things for the next 15 weeks. And any of you are welcome to join me in this. I’m not going to have signups, I don’t think. But if you want to join me, just come talk to me. Or just do it. Two things:
First, I’m going to read a chapter of this book each week: It’s The Soul Winner, by Charles Spurgeon. I read this when I was a senior in high school, and God used it to help compel me to want to share the gospel and make disciples. So, I’m going to read a chapter each week, and share, briefly, a quote or something that stuck out to me each Sunday. The other thing I’m going to do is share with you every Sunday, the opportunities I had the week before to share the gospel. Naturally, this is going to challenge me to have this in mind throughout the week, to pray for and seek out opportunities to share the gospel and invest into people that don’t know Jesus.
Again, if you’d like to join me, let me know. I have someone willing to buy these books for anyone who thinks they might actually read it. So, let me know today, and I’ll have those in by Tuesday, because Amazon Prime is legit.
To close, another Spurgeon quote. I pray that this statement from Spurgeon would reflect our hearts in the coming weeks, months, and years. And that we do not evaluate our health as a church merely by numerical growth, but specifically by whether or not we’re being obedient to the Great Commission. From Spurgeon:
“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”