Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5

In the summer of 1988, I was a rising junior at a Baptist college in Georgia and an excited new Christian. A Christian co-worker had told me about his sister-in-law, a student at a large state university. At his insistence, I called her and set up a blind date. I arrived at her apartment and was shocked to learn my friend had told the truth: She was beautiful!

So I took her to the nicest restaurant in town. About halfway through the meal, while I was musing about the possibilities this relationship could bring, she brought me out of my reverie by abruptly asking, “Just how serious are you and Susie?” (real name withheld to protect the innocent). Susie was a girl I had been dating intermittently for a few months who also attended that large university.

Without admitting anything, I asked, “How do you know Susie?” She said, “She’s my new roommate!” With more than 5,000 girls on that campus, what were the chances of that happening? She went on to tell me she would not date a two-timing rat like me.

I drove home realizing I had blown a golden opportunity. Have you ever done that? It is particularly painful when you blow it in some area of your Christian walk. Perhaps you have wondered if God could ever use you again. Jonah is a great testament to God’s desire to restore us to second chances. It is His grace that allows Him to forgive wayward children and offer second chances. Jonah 3:1-5 offers a four-step plan for receiving a second chance from God.

1. Seek God’s Mercy (v. 1).
Jonah’s repentance (Jonah 2:7) positioned him to receive His mercy. It is an axiom of faith that repentance must be planted before mercy can be harvested. Don’t brood over sin that God is waiting to forgive.

2. Accept God’s Mission (v. 2).
God had called Jonah to preach the good news to Ninevah, capitol of Assyria and the lone super power in the world. Jonah ran from the call in the first chapter. We don’t know if his resistance was fear of rejection, racism of preaching to non-Jews or another reason.

Maybe you disobeyed a direct call from God and later came under conviction of His Spirit for your disobedience. Yes, you are to repent and seek His mercy. Once forgiven, however, it is important to remember the mission need is still there. If He reiterates His call upon you, your only response should be yes. Henry Blackaby has said, “‘No, Lord’ is a contradiction!”

3. Learn God’s Method (v. 3).
This repentant prophet went about God’s mission “according to the word of the Lord.” He was determined to do God’s mission according to God’s method. To know God’s method, you must stay fresh in His Word. You cannot stand on promises you don’t know.

Some have eloquently argued that Jonah’s motivation was distress over being in the belly of the great fish. I disagree. I think he was motivated by the inward overflow of God’s mercy and that God would allow one who had disobeyed so grievously to have a second chance.

4. Tell God’s Message (v. 4).
We are to tell it diligently. After being belched up on the beach by that great fish, he did not take time to reflect on what had happened. With seaweed hanging off and still bleached white from the great fish’s gastric acid, Jonah hit the ground running.

We also are to tell God’s message fearlessly. He was in a pagan city, which happened to be the military might of the world. Yet, he did not sugarcoat his message. He cried out for repentance. Why don’t we hear preaching on repentance anymore? I recently asked my daughter, a senior at a Baptist university in South Carolina, how many messages she has heard on repentance in chapel services. I was shocked to learn she had heard none! Have we become so cultured that we worry messages about repentance will offend people? Well, guess what? They should offend them to the point of seeking forgiveness and restoration!

In the spring of 1989, nine months after that beautiful girl had caught me in my deception and well after I had completely broken it off with Susie, I mustered the courage to call her and ask for a second date. She said yes. I did not blow it that time. This December, we will celebrate 22 years of marriage.

We can make the most of second chances. We are to (S)eek, (A)ccept, (L)earn and (T)ell. If you want a second chance, take a little S-A-L-T and go flavor this world.

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