The God of the Second Chance
Topic: Biblical Verse: Jonah 3:1–3:4
The Fourth Week of Lent
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“The Sign of Jonah: The God of the Second Chance”
In the timeless words of the band .38 Special: A heart needs a second chance.
Didn’t Jonah know it! Who would have picked this guy for this mission to save over 120,000 lives from disaster, especially if they knew that Jonah thought of those people as enemies of his nation? But Jonah is just the choice that God makes. As we’ve heard over the past several weeks in our Lenten reflection on Jonah’s mission to Nineveh, this prophet just didn’t seem to get it. He heard God’s call and fled in the opposite direction. He chose to defy the God we heard about in Psalm 2, the One who stands above all the rulers of the earth. Jonah was reluctant – hard-heartedly opposed, even – to deliver God’s message to Nineveh, because he wanted the city destroyed. He didn’t seem to care about the lives of the sailors he’d endangered as he traveled to Tarshish. Based on his actions, it’d seem like he deserved to be left at the bottom of the ocean, seaweed wrapped around his head. But down in the wet darkness, in the belly of the great big fish, Jonah repented, turning to God in prayer, thanking Him for sending that fish, for delivering one who rightly should have been drown. And God gave Jonah a second chance.
The people of Nineveh weren’t much better. If you recall back to Ash Wednesday, we heard that the Assyrians, including the people of Nineveh, were bad dudes. Though their power in Jonah’s day had waned somewhat, they certainly were no friends of Israel. All was not well within the Assyrian Empire, either: even within its boundaries, numerous revolts rose up when regional rulers made grabs for power. Only God knows the extent of the great sin that prompted His calling of Jonah as His messenger to Nineveh, but just by looking at the lengths that God went to in order to get Jonah to deliver His message, we can start to understand that things in Nineveh were pretty bad. And then there’s the message itself: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Again, God was giving a second chance.
Whew! I’m glad that we don’t have to think about things like that. Aren’t you? We never focus on what we don’t have, or chase after money, or try to make people like us. We don’t lie, and we always stand up for the truth and protect other people’s reputations. We certainly wouldn’t take things that aren’t ours, or cheat, or trick someone else so that we can get what we want. And really, who doesn’t live a sexually pure life? Who would ever have a lust-filled thought when looking at a model in a magazine or on the Internet, or seeing a pretty person pass by? Speaking of thoughts, we’ve never wished anyone ill – let alone caused them harm – even if they were to do something that hurt us. Don’t we always help anyone if they were ever to be in danger or need? We’ve always respected and obeyed our parents and authorities like the government or teachers, because we know that God cares for us through them. And it’s just crazy to think that people wouldn’t want to keep a day set apart for worship and rest in God’s presence! After all, who would ever lack respect for God or use His name inappropriately, swearing or cursing? It all comes down to our fearing, loving, and respecting God so much that we would never put ourselves or anything else before His gracious will for our lives and the lives of all the other people in the world. We get things right the first time. Who needs a second chance?
How very good for Jonah, the people of Nineveh, and us, then, that our God is the God of the second chance.
We see it at the very beginning of today’s text: 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.” God drowned Jonah in the water, and then brought him out of the water alive, with a mission. God calls Jonah a second time, turning the heart of this rebellious prophet around and setting him on the right course. Bringing him out of the water, God commissions Jonah for service.
God does much the same for us. In the waters of baptism, pretty much the same thing happens: the sinful, selfish, old self is drowned, and God brings a new life out, a life which He has made His child. Bringing us up out of the water, God gives us a second chance.
You may have noticed that our congregation’s baptismal font is not in its regular place. For most of the church year, the font is right up front, where it, along with the pulpit (where God comes to us in His Word) serves to frame the altar (where God comes to us in Holy Communion). But during Lent, you’ll see that the font can now be found at the entrance to the sanctuary. It’s there because it stands as a reminder that it is through baptism that we come into the Church; there, we know the waters in which God gives you and me a second chance. We’re not perfect people. But God bought us a second chance, on a cross. Because of that cross, each and every day is a new day for God’s baptized people.
Given this second chance, Jonah went to Nineveh. He delivered the message that God had sent him to deliver, the message of a second chance from God.
But in the last chapter of this book, we see that Jonah has gone back to his old ways, sulking that God turned from the disaster that He might have brought to the city. You and I do that, too, seemingly unable to completely turn our backs on our old ways. But as He continues to do with Jonah, God calls us back. Every morning we wake, God invites us to be refreshed in the promise He has given in our baptism: through the cross, He has made us His children, and He will not leave us.
Each and every day, we can take confidence that we have been washed in the waters, that our sinful, selfish, old self has been drowned, that each day is a new day of life that God has given to us to live out our calling.
Indeed, every heart needs a second chance. Thanks be to our God, who washes the hearts of His people in the waters of the second chance!