Monday, September 9, 2013

Three Revivals in Jonah

The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai:  “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh.  Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”      
This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh.
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 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.     Jonah 3:1-2, 3a, 5, 10 (NLT)
Calvin Miller described the sense of amazement that surrounded his mother, who was born in 1900:
I sensed in her a continual what will they think of next? Amazement…I once wrote that Christianity was born in a what’s next context. 
Imagine the early church meeting and reporting all the things that were happening in Acts 2-12 – cripples healed, the dead raised, and thousands converted at single rallies.  They knew they were a column of people set on fire for an age that was dry as a tinderbox.  The world was powder-dry and ready for a firestorm.  God moved.  Jesus marched!  It was the beginning of the first Christian millennium.
Now the third begins.  The world is again powder-dry and ready for the fire of another mighty move of god – a new what’s next? context.[1] 
The amazing story of Jonah has often been ridiculed as a fable.  A popular talk show host of the 70’s aired a live show that featured experts on religion and the Bible.  One of the guests was an elderly Baptist preacher.  The host asked, You don’t really believe in a whale swallowing a man, and then he lived…do you?  The preacher replied, I sure do!  The host prodded, Do you believe in a devil, and a place called Hell where sinners go?  I do, answered the preacher.  Well, I certainly don’t believe that, retorted the TV host.  Said the preacher, You will, my friend -- you will! 
The story of Jonah is about real people; it was a genuine historical event.  Jesus validated Jonah’s ministry in the Gospels.  I take His word over any talk-show host!  The story of Jonah is history; however the message of Jonah is as fresh a warning as this morning’s news.  The message is not about a big fish swallowing a man.  The message of the book of Jonah is about revival – about God’s missionary concern for the world. 
Signs of revival, genuine heaven-sent revival, are unmistakable.  I believe there are two signs that have permeated every recorded spiritual awakening, or revival in the history of God’s people:
1.              God sends a wake-up call, or warning.
2.              God’s people believe, and begin to behave as if they believe.
During the Welch revival of 1905 over 80,000 people were converted…Bars and brothels went out of business…the country was so affected by society’s upswing that many police were laid off; crime had become virtually non-existent.  Believing became behaving!
There are actually three distinct evidences of revival in the book of Jonah.  The signs of a wake-up call and behavioral change are present in all three. 
Let’s consider the bystanders, the backslider, and the bad guys….

The By-Standers

The mariners or sailors were the bystanders, simply minding their own business, trying to make a living.  Jonah got on the boat, and God sent a storm to upset things.  It’s like that with revival.  Revival often starts with storms that rock our boat. 
And God knows how to rock the boat!  Although God’s primary target was the disobedient prophet, Jonah, the storm was a wake-up call for the sailors.  The boat was rocking so violently, these seasoned mariners feared for their lives.  They tossed the cargo overboard to lighten the ship (and to appease any god who might be watching).  They began to pray and seek God.  They did all they could, and the storm still threatened.  When their normal seamanship and religion didn’t work, they hunted up the stranger sleeping in the ship’s hold.
Jonah admitted the storm was on his account, and he told the mariners what to do to solve their dilemma.  Eventually they had to pitch the prophet overboard -–and the storm immediately ceased.  What a wake-up call!
The change of behavior followed:
The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.   Jonah 1:16 (NLT)
Before the wake-up call the mariners were depending on their seamanship, and their religion (gods).  Now they were awestruck over the Lord, Jonah’s God and his power.  And they gave an offering and made vows.  In the language of the Bible, that word is akin to prayer, which comes from the root verb, to bind.  These men were binding themselves to the will of the God with no name, the One whom Jonah served.  These rough, uneducated sailors recognized the sovereignty of God, and repented of their idolatry and unbelief.  That’s good advice for anybody!
They were like so many secular folks today.  There are bystanders today; folks not really involved in, or thinking much about God.  They aren’t really against the idea of God; they’re just not really interested.  They’re nice people, good neighbors.  They go about with much respectability – even doing good and philanthropic works.  They have the live and let live philosophy.  Their song is let me alone to enjoy what I want.  They aren’t overtly hostile to religious things – they just haven’t time to include worship in their Day-Timer.  Life, for them, is wrapped up in family, house, job, vacations, hobbies and friends.  Until something happens!  Something like turning forty; a friend is killed in an interstate pile-up; the doctor says Cancer.  A storm happens – a wake-up call.
The sailors got it right.  When the storm came, God’s wake-up call – they were ready to give up everything.  They turned to the true and living God.  That’s belief becoming behavior! 
We don’t know what happened to these bystanders; who knows if they continued their newfound faith?  But that’s between God and them.  What we should be concerned about is us – will there be a revival after the storm you’re going through?  Are you willing to pitch some things overboard and trust Him?  Are you willing to bind yourself to the Lord?

The Backslider

Jonah’s career in the prophet business was a downward spiral.  When God told him to go preach in Nineveh, Jonah turned a deaf ear, and went down to the sea, down into the ship, down into the water, and down into the belly of the fish. 
If the bystanders in this story are like the secular, un-churched people of our day, the backslidden prophet Jonah has his modern day counterpart on the inside of today’s churches.  In countless churches around the globe, people supposedly following Christ hear the word of the Lord, saying, worship, give, witness, love, serve.  And we develop all sorts of excuses for why we cannot do what the Word requires.  In the language of another day, we call that backsliding.  If you are not maturing in faith towards Christ, you’re sliding back from Him. Backsliding!
Jonah had excuses. Another prophet, Hosea, had prophesied that Nineveh would conquer Israel.  Maybe Jonah figured if he delivered a stern rebuke it would help Nineveh grow favorably in God’s eyes, and therefore aid them in the destruction of Jerusalem.  He would have no part in that! 
Also, considering the hostility between Israel and Nineveh (now Iraq), Jonah just knew he had heard wrongly about going there.  Jonah probably argued, God, Those folks in Nineveh are mean -- I’m sure you can use a live prophet in Tarshish better than a dead one in Nineveh.  Modern day excuses are just as lame. 
·        I don’t make enough money to give 10%. 
·        Sunday is my only day to relax and sleep in.  
·        Witnessing isn’t my style. 
·        I’ll forgive him when he apologizes.
An excuse, dear friends, is a kind label for unbelief.  Paul said,
…whatsoever is not of faith is sin   Romans 14.23b
There is an easy answer for correcting the sin of excuse-ism:  repentance!
It means to change from being disobedient in your belief and behavior, and turn 180o around, and become obedient – believe and behave!  Instead of backsliding, grow forward!  That’s what Jonah did.
When the sailors pitched Jonah overboard, he realized his backslidden condition and held a prayer meeting in the belly of a fish.  (I don’t suggest you wait until something quite so drastic happens before YOU pray!)  In today’s jargon, the result of Jonah’s prayer was upward mobility!  The fish vomited Jonah out (not because you can’t keep a good man down), but because God heard the heartfelt prayer of a man willing to repent.  That’s belief turning into behavior – That’s revival!
That’s what God is awaiting in so many of our churches – obedience.  A mother of five was returning home from shopping.  She had left her four younger children in the care of her twelve-year-old son.  As she turned the corner onto her street, she spied the five children standing in a circle in her driveway.  They were all staring into the middle of the circle.  Coming closer, Mom saw, to her horror, they were corralling five baby skunks. 
Knowing how long skunk smell can cling to school clothes, the mother opted not to scare the little scent factories.  Turning into the driveway, Mom came to a gentle stop, rolled down her window, and, holding her anxiety in check, whispered, Run, children, run!  Each child snatched-up a baby skunk and ran like the wind in five different directions! 
Immediate obedience!  That’s revival!
God’s wake-up call caused an obedient return to prior vows in Jonah.  It can be the same for you today.  In your storm, in the belly of whatever fish has swallowed your life, you can pray.  You may not be able to dig-out financially; your marriage may have been swallowed up by the whale of disobedience, selfishness or lust; your family may have turned their collective back on you when the fish swallowed – but you can pray.  You can turn now.  God heard Jonah – He will listen to you too!  You can have revival!

The Bad Guys

     To call the people of Nineveh bad guys is putting it mildly.  Ancient Iraq had a reputation of being evil and violent.  The modern day war crimes of Saddam Hussein pale in comparison to some of the gruesome tales of antiquity.  It is hard to imagine such a wicked place repenting at the simple message of Jonah.  However, the conditions at the time say that Nineveh was ripe for revival.
According to historians, in the 7 years prior to the time of Jonah’s arrival, there had been eclipses, plagues and natural disasters throughout the region.  Occurrences such as these were signs to ancient peoples that the gods were about to do them great harm.  From the perspective of God’s Word – true history – this simply set the stage for a holy wake-up call from God.
Jonah entered the city with a message of gloom and doom,
On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”  Jonah 3:4 (NLT)
There was no loving invitation to life in Jonah’s message.  There was no concern for the welfare of the children of that nation.  Jonah’s harsh message was one of destruction, not hope.  Yet the people responded by turning to God,
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. Jonah 3:5 (NLT)
Even the king put on rags and sat in ashes…an ancient sign of repentance.  They wouldn’t even let the animals eat or drink.
The bad guys became believers and God heard,
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.   Jonah 3:10 (NLT)

What to Do?

There are common threads running through each of the three revivals. 
a.  There was a wake-up call, a personal tragedy God used to get the attention of the Mariners, Jonah, and the people of Nineveh.
b.  When each turned to God, there was a change in behavior that was consistent with their professed belief.
c.   Each one turning exhibited faith that God is good, and would forgive.
I cannot begin to imagine what your need is today.  Is there a storm, a whale’s stomach, an overthrowing crisis?  Do you have faith that God will hear? 
Chelsea is our granddaughter.  When she was about 6, Chelsea loved we had a pool and she loved jumping-in.  Everything would be fine as long as someone was waiting to catch her, so her head won’t go under.  No matter how often she entered the water that head and nose must never go below the surface! 
Once when she arrived at the pool, determined that this would be the day she did her cannonball by herself, nose, ears, hair and all under the water.  Everyone had to watch.  Many attempts ended just shy of leaping into the briny deep.  Finally, after much coaxing, Chelsea pinched her nasal passages shut, clenched her teeth, ran toward the pool, jumped out into thin air and closed her eyes.  With her legs tucked under she splashed down – ingloriously, awkwardly, loudly – and rather totally…plunging beneath the surface for the first time in recorded history.  Bobbing to the surface, and very welcome oxygen, she shook the water from her face, brushed the soaked hair back from her eyes, and announced for all the family,
Well, THAT was an adventure!
And that’s what a leap of faith is….always!  It comes down to trusting that God is good….and that He loves you….and that revival for you is simply a matter of believing….and behaving…and then He gives everything you need!
And….it will be an adventure; the best of your life!

[1] Calvin Miller in SBC Life, Jan 2000, Nashville, p.14

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