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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
Title:Jonah Part 4: Jonah Meet Nineveh
Text:Jonah 3:1-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Matthew 12: 38-42

Text: Jonah 3:1-10



  1. The Great City

  2. The Great Sermon

  3. The Great Repentance

  4. God’s Infuriating Grace


  1. Psalm 149: 1, 2, 3

  2. Psalm 119:1-4

  3. Psalm 11:1-2

  4. Hymn 10:1-2

  5. Psalm 41: 1, 4

  6. Hymn 80: 5, 6


Words to Listen For: shine, rank, metro, chickens, chest


Questions for Understanding:

  1. What are some big moments in church history?

  2. How was Nineveh a great city?

  3. How is Jonah’s sermon a great sermon?

  4. What were the 5 steps of Nineveh’s repentance?

  5. Does grace ultimately win?  Why or why not?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Fellow sinners, now saints in Jesus Christ,

If you would look back at church history, what are the BIG MOMENTS?  What are the moments that really stand out as God’s Kingdom advancing forwards?

  • We might think of Abraham being called out of Ur of the Chaldees.  God creating a nation.
  • Or Israel being called out of Egypt.  God freeing His nation.
  • More recently, we might turn to the Reformation under John Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.  Purifying the church from corruption.
  • Or the Great Awakening with men like Jonathan Edwards and all of those revivals, shocking North America back to holiness and seeing the value of a relationship with God.

Or, during our lifetimes, we might think of the Billy Graham crusades.  Where the gospel was told in such a simple and powerful way.  Everyone on earth knew the name Billy Graham, and because of him, everyone also knew the name of Jesus.  In one of his most quote unquote successful revivals, in South Korea, 1 million people came forward to give their life to Christ.

Now, of course, we don’t know how many of these 1 million people came to TRUE FAITH.

It’s possible that 10%, or 50%, or 90% of them came up to the stage due purely to emotion.  We can’t see the heart.  But it was, with our limited vision, a SUCCESS.

But how many of us, when we are making a timeline like this, maybe for an elementary classroom wall…under the title: THE CHURCH GROWS IN LEAPS AND BOUNDS…or something like that…how many of us would take a look and say: Excuse me!  Excuse me!  Something’s missing!  What about Jonah?

What about Jonah?  You mean the half-hearted, hard-hearted prophet who was rebellious and did everything so that he wouldn’t have to see God’s grace to the people he hated?

How does Jonah fit here?  He wasn’t a success story!

Ah, but he was.  When we meet

JONAH, especially in chapter 3, we must also MEET NINEVEH.  We see

  1. The Great City

  2. The Great Sermon

  3. The Great Repentance, and, as always,

  4. God’s Infuriating Grace


Jonah, Meet Nineveh.  The Great City

When we last saw Jonah, he had just been vomited up onto the shore.  Not something pleasant at all…but better than still being IN the fish!

And we saw that Jonah had been vomited out, NOT as a DIRECT RESULT of his prayer - because his prayer was missing the main point - REPENTANCE - but because God wasn’t done with Jonah yet.  Jonah had been set free of the fish because of God’s grace.

The basic message of Jonah’s prayer was - you broke me, God.  You broke me.  I’ll do it your way.  If I get out…I give up.

Not the most inspiring message.  Not: You’re right and I’m wrong, I humble myself.  If you would still have me serve, I will be the most willing messenger of your grace!

But more along the lines of… Fine.  If I HAVE TO, I WILL.  I’ll rise, but I won’t shine.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”

Again, nearly word for word, the same message from the LORD.

The implication is clear.

Here is your second chance Jonah.  I rebuked you with what I DID - the storm, the fish…I don’t need to go any further.

Do what I told you to do.  Do not argue.  Do not change the message…just give it.  I will tell you what to say.  Just obey.

And this time, Jonah went.

God said “Arise” and, verse 3 - so Jonah arose

We will see this word coming back time after time.

This was God’s first message to Jonah

1:2 - Arise, go to Nineveh, call out

Jonah arose, but in the opposite direction - 1:3 - But Jonah rose to flee

This is what the captain said to Jonah - 1:6 - Arise, call out!

And finally, here, in chapter 3 

Arise, go to Nineveh

    So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh

Jonah has obeyed.  Delayed obedience is, in some senses, disobedience, but Jonah DID GO.

Jonah got there.  He obeyed in action, though his heart still lagged behind.

And so Jonah went off to Nineveh.

Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city.

Here we must pause, an examine this further.  Because, literally what is said in the original, and you can maybe see this in a footnote, how this reads in the original is Nineveh was an exceedingly great city TO GOD.

An exceedingly great God.

Immediately after, we see a description of the size of the city - 3 days journey in breadth - but we know that God does not value a city based on its size.

God did not value Israel based on their size - It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you.

Our God does not measure greatness in the way that WE measure greatness.

As we heard this last time with Jonah…Jonah was essentially DEAD.  He was in SHEOL.  The GRAVE.  The UNDERWORLD

WE were DEAD in our sins.  Not sick, not weak, but DEAD.

And it seems that our God has a special place in His heart for those who are weak.  For those who struggle.

But on the outside, Nineveh did not fit that description.

For Nineveh was a GREAT CITY!  Nineveh was a city with a long and illustrious history - we read that it was Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah, founded Nineveh.  Genesis 11.

History tells us, that about this time in history, Nineveh would have had a population of about 600 000, which was unheard of for that time.  Cities didn’t exist.  Only small villages.  But Nineveh was LARGE.

And Nineveh was POWERFUL.  The walls of Nineveh rose 100 feet into the air.  There were 15 gates around the city, and the watchtowers…oh the watchtowers.  They rose an additional 100 feet above the height of the wall.

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, who was the world power of the day.

Nineveh was great in all the ways that the world measures greatness.  But also in the way that God measures greatness.

Sometimes, how God measures greatness is in men like David - a man after His own heart.  Sometimes the greatness is in the moral character of the one He sets His affection on.

But we know that this measure of greatness isn’t true for Nineveh either.  God’s call to Jonah proves this wasn’t true - Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.

So how is Nineveh great?

  • Nineveh is great because of their great NEED.

  • Nineveh is great because they are a great opportunity for God to show His grace.

  • Nineveh is great because…just like Israel - the Lord loves them.

And so Jonah is told to go to Nineveh, this exceedingly great city to God.

He is told to go and to preach.  And he preaches a great sermon.  Our second point.

When we look at Jonah’s sermon, what he actually says, assuming that verse 4 is an actual quotation, and presents the entire sermon and not simply a summary…I think we would be hard-pressed to call it a GREAT SERMON.

If I ascended this pulpit, and simply spoke 8 words and sat down, I don’t think it would rank among my top sermons.

But there are a few things to consider here in terms of Jonah’s sermon.

First of all, we just learned in our first point not to define GREAT the way that the world defines GREAT.

Is this a GREAT SERMON, having an introduction with a hook, is it a GREAT SERMON that uses an example or a story, is it a GREAT SERMON that invites the children to be part of it with illustrations that they will understand?

No to all of these!

But we should not despise the day of small beginnings.

After all, what Jonah did here in 8 words isn’t much different from what John the Baptist did in 9!  Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

It’s not markedly different from a high point in Billy Graham’s South Korea crusade.  He was there, on that stage, and, whether he was preaching from John 13, or simply referenced it, he stood there, on that stage, with his big black bible open, and, he said, and it was repeated in Korean by the interpreter:


And then repeated in Korean - ?? ?? (so-ROW sah-RAHNG)


    so-ROW sah-RAHNG


    so-ROW sah-RAHNG


    so-ROW sah-RAHNG

8 times this was repeated.  4 times in English, 4 times in Korean.

And this is what stuck with people.  This is what sticks with people 50 odd years after it was preached.


It’s a simple message, and yet it is a great one.

Not great in the eyes of the world, but great in the eyes of God.

But what about us?  Would WE call it a great message?  Jonah doesn’t mention Yahweh by name, he doesn’t use the call of the gospel - REPENT AND BELIEVE - he doesn’t give any indication of God’s loving and merciful character.

We see this later in the king’s response in verse 9 - Who knows?  God may turn and relent and turn from His fierce anger so that we may not perish!


Jonah!  That’s who!  Jonah knows…and he’s not telling.

This sermon is preached from a very hard heart.  Jonah wanted the Ninevites to SQUIRM.

40 days!

40 days of squirming, dreading God’s punishment, and then receiving it.

But even THIS does not make the sermon a BAD SERMON.  The PERSONALITY, even the HEART of the preacher does not automatically make a sermon POOR or GREAT…it is GOD.

The sermon is so much more than the man preaching it.  A sermon is the VERY WORDS OF GOD, not the weak vessel it comes through.

And finally, if Jonah has indeed changed, if Jonah is ready to obey, then these must have been the exact words that God told him to speak.

Call out against it the message that I tell you.

And this is truly what makes a sermon GREAT - the answer the following question: Is it FAITHFUL?

Are these the words that God wants me to speak?  ‘Or…am I preaching MY OWN OPINION?

Is this the sermon that God wants His people to hear?  Or…am I preaching what is EASY?  Am I preaching WHAT I WANT TO PREACH?

For Jonah, he thought, he hoped against hope that this was a message of JUDGEMENT.  He hoped against hope that God would not be who He is - a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…he hoped that within 40 days, he would see a smoking pit that was once the Greater Nineveh Area.  Metro Nineveh as a smoking wreck.

But instead…instead…this message that promised judgement, this message from a prophet who wanted sin to continue and then be suffered over…instead, his message, a great message…led to great repentance.  Our third point.

As Jonah walked through the streets, he must have been a ball of conflicting emotions:

  1. Surprise - they aren’t stopping me!  I thought, given their violent reputation, SOMEONE would have done SOMETHING!

  2. Glee - it seems they’re ignoring me!  Perfect!  No repentance.  And that means no grace!

  3. Annoyance - they’re ignoring me!  Why would God go to so much trouble to bring me here?

But he preached.  He didn’t dare disobey.  Not again.

And what happened?

Verse 5 - And the people of Nineveh believed God.

The people of Nineveh believed God…this is SO UNEXPECTED!

Why would they believe Jonah?

Why would they believe his sermon?

…because it wasn’t about Jonah.  Because it wasn’t about JONAH’S sermon.

It was all about God.

Notice what verse 5 says - And the people of Nineveh believed…


GOD!  The people of Nineveh believed God!

This is the GREATEST MIRACLE in the book of Jonah, and, we could even say, in the entire Old Testament.

The sun standing still?  Amazing!  Wonderful!  But does it hold a candle to this?

As we go through the details of this belief, I think you will join me in my sense of awe and amazement.

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.  And he issued a proclamation and published throughout Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: let neither man or beast, herd nor flock, taste anything.  Let them not feed or drink water, 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.  Who knows?  God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Nineveh is the MODEL of repentance!

We saw last time. Jonah’s total lack of repentance in his prayer, and what a contrast this is.

The hard heart of Jonah contrasted with the fields, ripe for the harvest in Nineveh.  600 000 souls who believed God.

A more accurate translation here renders it: believed IN God.

The Ninevites believed IN GOD.  They did not simply believe this message of Jonah, though, of course, they believed this too.  For if they simply believed the message, there would be no point to their repentance.

They would have taken up the words of Isaiah 22 - let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

If the Ninevites had simply believed the message of judgement, there would be no hope.

But their belief was deeper.  Their belief was MORE THAN THIS.

For what did they do?

5 things!  Jonah’s repentance had 0 steps, Jonah’s repentance did not truly exist.  But the Ninevites…

They heard, they believed, they acted, they prayed, and they turned from their evil way.

Let’s examine these five steps briefly.


And we could take this a step further…they not only HEARD…but they LISTENED.  They didn’t shut their ears to what was being said by Jonah, they heard his words…but then, after hearing, they did not shut their hearts.  They did more than HEAR WITH THEIR EARS.  They truly LISTENED and there was an understanding.  There was a belief.

The Ninevites heard as the Galatians heard - they received the Spirit by HEARING WITH FAITH.

They HEARD and they BELIEVED

Verse 5 - The people of Nineveh believed God.  Or, believed IN God.

God’s message reached their ears, and cut straight to their heart.  They believed God and they believed IN God.  From the greatest of them to the least, they believed.  It seems there was no protest, there was no debate, the people HEARD and they BELIEVED.

They HEARD, they BELIEVED, and they ACTED.

Verse 5 - 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.  And he issued a proclamation and published throughout Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: let neither man nor bast, herd nor flock, taste anything.  Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth.

The people of Nineveh fasted and put on sackcloth.  This was the typical show of repentance and mourning and devotion at the time.  Not only did the Ninevites hear with their ears, not only did they believe with their HEART, but they acted with their HANDS.  The Ninevites humbled themselves!

And what is more…take a look once again with me at verse 6 - the word reached the king of Nineveh and he arose from his throne.

This word comes up again.  ARISE.

Jonah!  Arise!  Go to Nineveh!


Jonah!  Arise!  Call out to God!


Jonah!  Arise!  Go to Nineveh!

Finally: alright God, you win!

But the King…the king hears God’s word ONCE, not even directly…and he arises and humbles himself.  For Jonah it took a message, a storm, and a fish.  But not the king.  He arose.  Immediately.

And then the lengths that the Ninevites went to!  It’s almost HUMOROUS!

The citizens fasting, putting on sackcloth, and sitting in ashes…yes!  That’s RIGHT.

Humbling themselves, by depriving themselves of the good things of food and comfortable clothing.  Sitting in ashes shows humility - I am no better than dirt!  Good!  That’s PROPER.

But then it goes further…let neither man NOR BEAST, HERD NOR FLOCK taste anything.  Let them not feed or drink water, but let man AND BEAST be covered with sackcloth.

Nothing was too much for the Ninevites to do.

“Maybe our animals are sinful too!  Maybe God is angry not only with us as human beings, but animals too.  My cow and my donkey and my chickens have to repent as well.  No food, no water, covered with hot, rough, itchy sackcloth.  We’re not going to take any chances.  We are wicked, but we want to live!”

They heard, believed, acted, and they prayed.

Verse 8 - Let them call out mightily to God

If it wasn’t enough to hear, believe, and act…they also prayed.  Now, we don’t know what kind of prayers they prayed, it seems they didn’t know too much about God.  They probably didn’t even know His covenant name, Yahweh.  But that’s one of the many amazing things about our God - it isn’t about HOW MUCH you know.  Legitimate ignorance isn’t a sin.

It is as Paul writes in Romans 2 - when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do what the law requires, they show that the law is written on their hearts.

The Ninevites, Gentile sinners, when they were confronted with their sin, they didn’t kill the bearer of the bad news, they didn’t argue, they didn’t complain, they didn’t try to make a case about how they might be BAD but they weren’t AS BAD as those Babylonians!

No!  They were cut to the heart, and they turned to God in humility and in prayer.

And one more thing, the final step - they turned from their evil way and from the violence that was in their hands.

They TURNED.  This is a word used often in the Old Testament for REPENTANCE.  Turning around.  Making a 180 degree turn.  I USED TO ACT LIKE THIS…NO MORE!  Now, I will do things God’s way!

Were the Ninevites PERFECT in their repentance?  By no means!  Within a generation or two, they attacked Israel.  They treated the Kings of Israel shamefully, took and slaughtered most of God’s covenant people.  The book of Nahum speaks powerfully about the destruction of Nineveh.  It WOULD HAPPEN.  They WOULD BE DESTROYED.  But does that mean that God’s word had failed?  Never!  His Word never fails, and His grace is always amazing…and confusing.  Our final point.

So how can we square these two realities?  The message of Jonah AND the message of Nahum?

In Jonah, it seems clear that the Ninevites repented.  5 steps…5 steps of repentance, which, in anyone else, we would see as an absolute win.  We would see this as irrefutable proof of true repentance.

We like to think that Jonah repented in the fish, even with no evidence of it.  But then we discount the evidence of Nineveh repenting.  We are reluctant to say that Nineveh repented.

And why?

Maybe because of what Assyria did later to Israel.  Maybe because of the book of Nahum.

So…what are we to do with this?  What are we to do with our doubt?  We must confront our doubt with the truth!  I might not LIKE IT…I might not LIKE how the Bible speaks of Jonah and Nineveh.  A righteous prophet and a wicked pagan country are a lot easier than what we have here.  But we can’t twist the Bible to say what we want it to say.  We have to read it, hear it, sit under its authority, and submit to it.

So what does the Bible actually say?  Did Nineveh actually repent?

The simple answer is…YES!  YES NINEVEH REPENTED.  And we should not be disappointed…instead, we should be amazed.

We should not be angry…instead, our hearts should leap in our chest at this miracle!  THIS is the biggest miracle in the book of Jonah!  

Not a reluctant prophet…though Jonah ran away more than most…he rebelled more, he ran further…there were many reluctant prophets.  There are many reluctant Christians today.  A reluctant prophet isn’t a miracle.

Not a fish that swallowed a person.  This has happened a few times in history.  Is it unusual?  Yes!  Is it a miracle?  Also yes!  But not the greatest miracle.

But a 100% success rate of repentance?  I’m not sure that’s ever happened before!  With Billy Graham and his crusades…even his most successful crusade in South Korea had a 5% repentance rate.  But Jonah has a 100% success rate.

Let’s not try to ruin this by pointing out the ignorance of the Ninevites…they don’t even know God’s covenant name!

Okay…but neither did Abraham.  God revealed Himself as GOD ALMIGHTY, but not as YAHWEH until the time of Moses.

Let’s not try to ruin this by pointing out the destruction of Nineveh during Nahum’s day…Israel and Judah were similarly destroyed by God’s fury.

And, what is more, the “issue of Nahum” can be resolved simply by looking at the timing.  

Based on the metaphors and comparisons Nahum uses, and comparing this to the ministry of Jonah during the reign of Jeroboam the second, we know that Jonah’s message of destruction, that turned out to be a message of grace, came between 100 and 150 years before Nahum’s declaration of destruction.  Nineveh DID FALL, Nineveh WAS DESTROYED for their wickedness…but not in Jonah’s day.  Not this generation.

In Jonah’s day, they were shown amazing grace, and they believed.  They repented.

And, the clincher, how we know this beyond a shadow of a doubt, is because of what our Lord said in Matthew 12 - The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

We can be 100% sure that there will be Ninevites in heaven.

The men of Nineveh will rise up on judgement day.  For they believed Jonah…and Israel did not believe Jesus Christ.

There can be no clearer picture of grace than this.  No clearer picture that God will be gracious and merciful in ways that boggle the mind.

Israel had EVERYTHING.  They had the law that proclaimed their need.  They had the prophets who told them of the Messiah.

     Nineveh had NOTHING.  Generations of wickedness, pagan idolatry, cruelty, and violence.

Israel had THE BEST PREACHER.  God Himself came down a preached like nobody else had ever preached or will ever preach.  He came with the authority of God - not an authority given to Him, but an authority that was rightly and naturally His.

     Nineveh had THE WORST PREACHER.  A racist and hateful man who longed for their destruction.  This, we will see more of next time.

But these things don’t matter when it comes to God’s grace.

God’s grace pursued the Ninevites.  God’s grace ran them down, refusing to stop, refusing to give up, refusing to accept defeat.  God’s grace worked through the heart and mouth of a reluctant prophet who didn’t want to go where he went, a rebellious prophet who didn’t want to say what he said, a hateful prophet who wanted his hearers to be destroyed.

But grace wins.  Grace wins EVERY TIME.

  • This is what the cross spells out so clearly.  GRACE WINS.

  • If you are one of God’s children, this is written across your life.  GRACE WINS.

  • You didn’t choose God, He chose you!  GRACE WINS.

  • You don’t naturally want to love your neighbour and your God…but now you do!  GRACE WINS.

Grace is the most amazing thing that God has ever done.

  • Our God who breathed out galaxies, breathes out grace.  And grace wins.

  • Our God who fashioned us in the womb, fashions grace in our hearts.  And grace wins.

  • Our God WORKED for this world to be created, but He DIED for grace to be accomplished.  GRACE WINS.


  • Grace wins in the hearts of the Ninevites.

  • Grace wins in the heart of the Prodigal Son.

  • Grace wins in your heart and in mine.


Unexpected grace.  Infuriating grace.  Amazing grace.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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