“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” Jonah 3:1-2
In his sermon, “A Mind-Expanding Faith,” John Ortberg tells the story of Winston Churchill being asked, “What most prepared you to lead Great Britain through World War II?” For a period of time, Great Britain stood virtually alone against Nazi Germany as it dominated the Western World.
This was Churchill’s response: “It was the time I repeated a class in grade school.”
The questioner said, “You mean you flunked a grade?”
Churchill said, “I never flunked in my life. I was given a second opportunity to get it right.”
Today’s passage brings us into the middle of the action in the story of Jonah. We all know what happened the first time the word of the Lord came to Jonah. God said, “Go at once to Ninevah…But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (vv. 2-3). Unlike the calling of the first disciples, Jonah doesn’t immediately leave what he is doing to answer the call. As a matter of fact, he jumps on a boat going in the opposite direction. But God relentlessly and graciously pursues Jonah and chapter two ends with Jonah rescued from the tempestuous sea and spewed onto dry land by a large fish which God had prepared.
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” (3:1). This time, Jonah obeys and preaches the shortest sermon ever recorded – “Forty days more, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!” (3:4). (I’ve read that it is only five words in the original Hebrew). And the Bible says, “The people of Ninevah believed God…(3:5). Never in his wildest dreams did Jonah imagine such a response, or did he? After the people responded, Jonah reveals the reason he fled to Tarshish in the first place. “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (4:2).
In other words, “God, I knew you would give them a second chance.” But God’s mercy is not something to be resented. It is something to be celebrated. The same God who gave Jonah a second chance gives the people of Ninevah – and us – a second chance. And I, for one, am grateful for that kind of mercy.
Prayer: Lord, help me to remember that you are a God of second chances and that no one is beyond the reach of your grace.