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Obedience Conforms the Outside to God's Wishes
Scripture: Jonah 3:1-10
Track 3 of 4 in the Inside~Out: Developing the Heart of God series
Running time: 35 minutes, 09 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Obedience Conforms the Outside to God's Wishes" September 16, 2007

I admit to just a little twinge of guilt every time it happens. You sit down in an airplane and you are waiting to take off. You finally get to the place that it's near time to go, and the flight attendant comes and says, "Please take that card out from the seat in front of you and open it up and we are going to walk through all of these instructions." And I always feel just a little bit guilty about not doing that.

I mean, the first time or two I was on a plane I was pretty compliant, and I went ahead and did that. And the more I thought about this is, what difference is it going to make anyway? At 35,000 feet if it comes down, it comes down, you know. Having read the card probably isn't going to help. So I either sleep through it or read through it, and I have learned to not be guilty. It's amazing how little attention I, in fact, pay at all on an airplane.

Until coming back from Baltimore one night flying into St. Louis I heard the noise under the plane a couple or three times, tried to figure out what it was, couldn't. I'm no mechanic. Pretty soon when the flight attendant came down the aisle with a flashlight looking at the floor I thought, that's not a good sign. Pretty soon the lights came up and the announcement came on. The flight attendant is going to be giving you instructions about how to prepare for an emergency landing. I listened. Carefully.

I can teach you how to get into the correct position, and the correct position, if you ask me, is nothing more than a recipe to break your neck immediately so that you don't have to feel the crash when it actually happens, because the way they have got you bent over your head is right against the back of the seat. I'm thinking it's a done deal. It was amazing to me how the thought --

Oh, by the way, the problem was a simple little problem, shouldn't have been a major issue. We just couldn't tell whether or not our landing gear was down. I suppose if you are going to land a plane, that's a bit of a problem.

I was amazed at how much attention people paid during that announcement. It was almost like the recipe for destruction was enough to get your attention. It reminds me just a little of Jonah Chapter 3. Have you read this chapter? I trust that you have been reading through the book of Jonah as we have been looking at it, and quite honestly it's such a simple message. It just is so brief and to the point. Jonah Chapter 3, the verse is Verse Number 4. Excuse me. Verse Number 3. Well, I'll find the right chapter, and then I'll know. Verse Number 4, right in the middle. "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."

Now, that's my kind of sermon. Eight words. Well, I mean, it's my kind of sermon if I'm listening. It wouldn't be my kind of sermon if I'm preaching one. Essentially five words in Hebrew. Eight words. Forty days and Nineveh is going to be overturned. You know that Jonah didn't want to say that, because he really wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. But for some reason that brief message spoken as often -- and it may have been spoken in the three days. Well, frankly we don't even know how long Jonah preached because it only identifies the first day. It says that Nineveh was a big city, enough that it would take three days to get all through it, but we only know about the first day. In fact, we only have one speech.

But somehow those people responded. Now, it's striking, isn't it, in its contrast to Jonah. Jonah, arise and go to Nineveh. No thanks. I think I'll go to Tarshish. But one message, Forty days and this place will be destroyed, and people began to respond. It's really a simple message. It's a simple message all the way through scripture. You read it in Ezekiel Chapter 1. "Repent, therefore, and live." That's it. Few words. Repent and live. It shows up in the sermon in Acts Chapter 17. "God commands all men everywhere to repent." That's it. It's the bulk of the message. It's a simple request. The word literally means to turn around, to go the other direction.

The response in Nineveh is frankly quite unbelievable if you ask me. I look at Verse Number 5, for example, in Jonah Chapter 3. "The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth." I mean, it kind of reminds me of the guy at the Quad at the University of Illinois standing out there on the Quad shouting about God and repentance, and if your experience is anything like my experience on college campuses, students just walk right on by, and the best that happens is they don't throw anything at him. But nobody stops and says, oh, God, I'm sorry. They just keep right on going about their business.

And yet Jonah walks into town and says, Forty more days and this place is going to be destroyed, and the people all repent. They put on sackcloth. They start covering themselves with dust. The word makes it all the way up to the king, and the king takes off his royal robes and he puts on sackcloth and he is just like everybody else. In fact, when you listen to his words, the response is utterly incredible. Verse Number 5 starts with them breaking into a fast. Verse Number 6 it reaches the king.

He takes off his royal robes, he covers himself with sackcloth, he sits down in the dust, and he issues a proclamation to the whole nation or the whole city. "Don't let any man or beast, herd or flock taste anything. Don't let them eat or drink. Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."

That response is so profound and so utterly unbelievable. It would be like me stopping right now and saying, okay, we are going to do the altar call. Everybody that needs to repent, get up here, and there wouldn't anybody in the room left because you would all be here. But you know what would happen if we stopped right now and offered and altar call. You would all sit there. No offense, but you would. They came.

In fact, this is such a profound story that this coming week on the 21st of September this story in its entirety, all four chapters, will be read to in every Jewish community in Yom Kippur, which is the 21st of September this year, for the evening prayers. Jonah Chapters 1 through 4 will be read in its entirety to remind people that on the day of atonement that God erases the sins.

People, here is the correct response. Hear the message and turn around. It's remarkable. It's totally unbelievable, but remarkable. Absolutely remarkable.

But I'm ahead of myself. Come back to the beginning of the chapter. We don't want you to miss the whole story. Verse 1, "The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time." Isn't God good? It came to Jonah a second time. God is a God of second chances fortunately for all of us. "Go to the great City of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." Now, that command, by the way, is virtually identical to Chapter 1. Other than just a slight change, it is the same command. Get up, go to Nineveh, and preach. Now, Chapter 1 says to preach against the city. Chapter 3 says, preach the message that I give you. That's the only difference.

The major difference comes in the next verse, because you know what happens in Chapter 1. Jonah heads to Tarshish, but in this chapter, "Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and he went to Nineveh. Now, Nineveh was a very important city -- a visit required three days. On the first day Jonah started into the city he proclaimed, 'Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.' The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. The news reached the king, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat down in the dust. He issued a proclamation in Nineveh."

"By decree of the king and his nobles: 'Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock taste anything. Do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on god. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we shall not perish.' When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and he did not bring upon them the destruction that he had threatened."

Go and preach. It's an interesting word. In fact, in the Greek translation of the old testament it's the word that we use all through the new testament for what I'm doing right now. Proclaim. Preach. And the content is not inherent in the word itself. It's inherent only in the message that God gives you. So, Jonah, you go tell them what I tell you to tell them. That's my job, by the way. Go tell you what God tells me to tell you. And he has told me a whole book full of things, and one of them is this: You need to repent.

So Jonah goes and he preaches, and the content of that preaching is such a fascinating thing. Go to the place where I tell you and tell them what I tell you because who knows. Would that make a difference if you really believed that? Because, see, I have a sneaking suspicion that when you look around the walls of the building you see the pictures of the businesses and the city government and the schools and the houses and you see the pictures up here in the background of the slides. Every week you look at that and you think, well, people there wouldn't repent. Those folks wouldn't listen. I mean, that part of town would never hear the gospel. My neighbor would never be interested in knowing about Jesus. My cousin, man, you ought to see my cousin. His life is such a mess. He wouldn't want to hear about that. Have you ever had that thought, there is no sense talking because they don't want to know?

So what do we do? (Puts piece of burlap in his mouth). You did wash this first, right? We shut up. But listen to Jonah. Who knows? Who knows what? They might listen. You know the answer to that question. I won't do that second service. Do you know the answer to the question? Who knows? God. God knows. He doesn't ask you to know. He says, you go preach because I know who will listen. And our response is to go and to preach, not to prejudge, not to decide who's worthy of hearing the gospel or who ought to hear the gospel or who we want to hear the gospel or who will hear the gospel. If we say it, our job is simply to go and to say it. Leave the rest, he says, to me. I'll be responsible for that. Who knows but what they might want to know. And in this utterly unbelievable response there is evidence of their repentance. Sackcloth, ashes, fasting. There is always, always, always evidence of repentance. His name is Father Boyle. He is a Jesuit priest in southern California. He started a ministry called Home Boys. Of the many things that they do, one of them is called Jas Tuve. Do I have any Spanish folks around here who knows what that means? Jas Tuve. That's enough. That's enough. Do you know what Jas Tuve specializes in? Tattoo removal. Painful tattoo removal.

And if you've been a member of a gang and you have finally said to yourself, that's enough, I'm done, and you want to get out, one of the ways you have to go to get out is you have got to get the markings off. Otherwise, you are still marked as a gang member no matter what. 1500 former gang members have gone through a year of tattoo removal, and there are 1600 as of today on the list to have tattoos removed, as evidence of the change that they want to make in their life because there is always evidence when you are ready to change. You understand that? You can't just sit and arbitrarily say, okay, I repent and have nothing happen. Repentance demands evidence. It demands response. It demands sackcloth, it demands ashes, it demands fasting as a statement, I want my life to be different.

So what's the evidence? Second Corinthians Chapter 7 has a powerful passage that describes the evidence of repentance. When it comes to a person's life and they made up their mind of what they have done is not what God desires in their life and they want to turn this thing around, there are some things that show up. For example, Paul says in Second Corinthians Chapter 7 starting in Verse 10 right in the middle of this passage about sorrow and repentance, he says, Verse 10, "Godly sorrow brings repentance, repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. Worldly sorrow brings death. See what this Godly sorrow has produced in you: What earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourself, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proven yourselves to be innocent in this matter." There is always evidence that shows up that I want life change.

One of the dictionaries I looked at this week divides it into these statements, and it's a very simple thing. When we really genuinely repent, we recognize the wrong. We own up to the fact that we are sinners. It's just that easy. It's the first thing that has to happen is you have to own up to it. I am a sinner. I own it. It's mine. It is the story of Nineveh. The recognition that I'm a sinner.

It is the story of Nathan and David, and David has had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba and has managed to have her husband Urriah murdered at the battlefront. Nathan comes to David, tells him a little story about a man with a lot of sheep; and when David finally recognizes the fact that this fellow stole one little ewe lamb, Nathan turns around and says, you, sir, are the man. And David writes the 51st Psalm in utter repentance as he owns, I am born in my sin. I am utterly sinful. God, don't turn your back on me.

You see it in the prodigal son's story. The young kid essentially puts his father to death in order to get his inheritance, and he goes off and he wastes it and he finds himself feeding pigs, and the text says, "And one day he came to his senses and he turned and he went home, and he said, 'I am not worthy.'" Do you hear it? It's ownership.

It's Job finally in the book of Job after having accused God and everybody else of all the unfairness in the world Job finally says, I was wrong. It was me. I am guilty. That has to be the place where life change starts.

And so when the gospel was preached in the second chapter of Acts, do you know what happened when they got done with the sermon? The first thing that came out of the people's mouth was this, "Men and brethren, what shall we do? It's called recognition. I'm a sinner. It doesn't stop there.

Now, there can be no repentance without the recognition that you are a sinner, just know that. And if you are denying it, let me be the first to tell you you are lying to yourself. Don't let me be overly blunt, okay. I don't normally call people a liar, it's just not my habit; but if you are telling yourself, I'm not guilty of sin, I'm the one person in the world who has never sinned or done anything wrong, you're wrong. The text of scripture is abundantly clear. There is none righteous, no, not one. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It doesn't matter who you are or how good you are. Your goodness at 99 percent ain't good enough.

But after the recognition there is more. Because what happens is that we seek cleansing. Did you hear this in the text? What seeking, what earnestness. Who knows? Maybe God will relent. There is this drive to be clean. Psalm 51 is so abundantly clear when David begs God to cleanse his life. One of the things that repentance produces is that I want to be rid of this stuff.

I used to work occasionally on a chicken farm. Nobody should ever have to do that for a living. I remember one night in particular loading 10,000 chickens, reaching into the pens and grabbing them five feet and five feet holding them up, ten chickens. It's a great workout. But do you know what chickens do when they get excited? Okay. You got a pretty good picture of what I looked like by the end of the night? Yeah, I thought so. I never wanted a bath so bad. I just wanted cleaned up.

And that's the way it feels when you finally recognize that you're a sinner. I just want cleaned up. I can't stand it this way anymore. I just want to be clean, and I will do whatever you tell me to be clean.

You see, one of the things that happens is that you have this driving desire to know God. I was at the Shoutfest counselor training on Saturday, and I was giving just a brief bit of my testimony, and I really don't think I have ever told you this part of my testimony. Maybe I have. But I had not been going to church very long when the Billy Graham movie came out, "For Pete's Sake," and it was a about a kid riding around on a motorcycle, and I kind of connected with that. I was sitting in the very back row. I mean, if you wanted to get as far from the front row as you could, I'm there in the middle of the back row of this theater in downtown Boise, Idaho. And sometime in the middle of that movie I began to connect with that guy, and the stronger the message got the more I was -- I didn't know what I was feeling, but I was feeling something. I don't know if you have ever been there, but all of a sudden your heart is doing this kind of thing to you (tapping chest with hand), and you are pretty sure everybody in the room can hear it.

And the guy down at the front said at the end of the movie if you want to get rid of that (tapping chest with hand) come down here. You never saw anybody climb over seats so fast in your life. I have no idea why I was doing it. I had no idea what was going to happen to me when I got down there, but the one thing I knew was whatever it was that was going on in here I had to deal with and I had to deal with it right now. That's repentance. When you seek God and you will climb over seats, you will do whatever you have to do to come into a right relationship with God you will. If you are a short man who can't get to the parade, you will climb a tree just like Zacchaeus, so that you have one shot at coming to Jesus.

And we begin to change the way we live. We don't even know all of the answers. We don't even know everything we are supposed to do, but this one thing we do know. My life has to change, and you tell me what I need to change I'll start working on it. I may not have the power to do it, but I will do my best. I will turn myself around and like Zacchaeus says, I will give you back everything I ever took and four times that much. You tell me what I need to do and I will do it. Because that's repentance.

Repentance means you are walking one direction when you suddenly discover that is not the way to go and so you turn around and you come back. You see, the bulletin cover is correct. Obedience conforms us to God's wishes. Repentance turns us around. When we finally come to the place that we recognize that God has spoken to us clearly, we will turn around and come back. We will obey. Chapter 3 is different than Chapter 1. He doesn't run to Tarshish anymore. He comes back and he does exactly what God says, and he preaches. And when Nineveh hears the message, they do exactly what they have to do, they repent, and they turn and they cry out to God because who knows?

My apologies to you. I have been unfair. You should have been forewarned. There should have been a sign on the door saying that after today you are in deeper trouble than you were before. "So the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to Jesus, Teacher, we want to see a miracle. He said, a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miracle. None is going to be given except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish so the son of man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it for they repented at the preaching of Jonah. And now one greater than Jonah is here."

They didn't even know about Jesus. They heard eight words, Forty days from now this city will be destroyed, and they repented. They turned to God. And he says, "One greater than Jonah is here." But at the preaching of Jesus and the opportunity of grace why would you not turn? You heard it. The end of the chapter, and God repented. That's the word. God repented. He changed his mind about condemning Nineveh, and he gave them grace. That's the God that we serve. That's the God that is behind the message that I'm inclined to tell you that if you finally recognize that without him you, too, are in trouble, he'll listen. He'll listen. And he'll forgive.

Do you know how I know that? Do you know how I know that? Because he did. I know. He did. Over 40 years ago now he forgave me. And I have never been the same since. And there has hardly been a Sunday go by since that day that I have not sat at this table to be reminded of that forgiveness. And today we come. We come to the table, a table that was set by God himself at the cost of the son of God himself so that people like you and me could become sons of God, daughters of God, adopted into his family, forgiven because we were willing to wear the burlap, because we were willing to turn around. We come to the table to be reminded of what it cost and to be challenged to turn around.

[Transcribed by GN12]