Call out against the city of man
Series: Oh City of Man!
Big idea: Call out against the city of man. Call out against the city of man. Jonah 3 provides us with two reasons why: 1. The Lord is still sending you. 2. The city might repent.
Today we are taking a break from our series in Acts because, from time to time, events happen in our world, country, and city that are so significant that we believe that it’s wise to pause and shine the light of God’s word directly on those events. On May 25, in Minneapolis, an African American man named George Floyd died in police custody. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, forced his knee on Floyd’s neck, already a breach of police protocol, and kept it there for eight minutes and 46 seconds. George Floyd became unresponsive after about six minutes, but Chauvin’s knee remained, and Floyd died. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder. The disturbing video of Floyd’s killing touched off both peaceful protests that have brought critical attention to racial injustice in America and devastating riots and looting first in Minneapolis and then around the country, including Philadelphia. What does the Lord call us to do? The Bible provides many answers and one of them is in Jonah 3 the passage that we just heard read. Central to Jonah 3 is a great city; Nineveh. St. Augustine said that from the very first book of the Bible to the last, the Bible is a tale of two cities; the city of man and the city of God. The city of man is the city built by man that operates on sinful values, which every city is, including our own here in Philadelphia, despite the many evidences of grace in it as well. What does God command Jonah to do in the passage, and through him, also command us to do? Jonah 3:2: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” Big idea: Call out against the city of man. Call out against the city of man. Jonah 3 provides us with two reasons why: 1. The Lord is still sending you. 2. The city might repent.
THE LORD IS STILL SENDING YOU (3:1-4)
Jonah 3:1-3: 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.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. The first time the Lord sent Jonah to call out against Nineveh, he ran. But the Lord is still sending Jonah and is still sending you to call out against the city of man because the Lord hasn’t changed.
The Lord still hates the evil and violence in the city of man. Jonah 1:2 makes that clear: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Jonah 3:8b tells us that the city’s specific evil was violence: “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Jonah 3:8 tells us that Nineveh didn’t just have a few violent people. They had a culture that normalized violence and the Lord sent his prophet to call out against it because the Bible says that the Lord hates the shedding of innocent blood. Today the specific violence that we call out against is the killing of George Floyd. You might say that’s an isolated incident in another city, but Derek Chauvin had 18 prior misconduct charges before killing George Floyd and the three officers that were with him have been arrested for aiding and abetting murder because they did nothing to stop him. That’s indicative not of an isolated incident, but a culture in the city of man. I am by no means saying that every police officer is unjustly violent just like I am not saying that every single Ninevite was violent. But what happened to George Floyd is symptomatic of a culture of violence that our black neighbors and black brothers and sisters in Christ here in Philadelphia have clearly communicated that they have endured as a burden for years. We want to bear these burdens, as Galatians says, and so fulfill the law of Christ by calling out against them as the Lord commands. I know that when we ask you to call out against this specific evil and violence, that some of you may be upset with me. You might be thinking to yourself, “Yeah, but what about gang violence, looting violence, the current violence against good police officers, and the constant violence against the unborn? Why aren’t you calling out against that?” I genuinely appreciate that question and I think that it’s important. First, your pastors do call out against those things, and have asked you to do the same. By asking you to call out against one form of violence, we are not downplaying another. When the NFL does breast cancer awareness month, it never enters my mother’s mind that the NFL is downplaying the significance of her kidney cancer. Second, the vast majority of you in this church don’t need your pastors to encourage you to call out against looting, violence against the police, or abortion. You know that the Bible condemns them and know how to call out against them. Finally, Citylight is still a majority white church and the majority white church has historically done an excellent job speaking against mob violence and violence against the unborn, but we’ve generally not done a good job calling out against violent abuse of power against the black community. The Lord is still sending you to call out against the city of man that we live in because the Lord still hates all violent evil.
The Lord is still sending you to call out against the city of man because the Lord is the God of second chances. Notice the key phrase in Jonah 3:1: Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time. Jonah ran the first time, but the Lord is gracious and merciful to Jonah and gives Jonah a second chance. Friends, you cannot obey the Lord’s call to call out against the city of man yesterday, but you can obey today. Even if you’ve ignored the violence in the city of man a hundred times because it doesn’t affect you, the Lord is still sending you to call out against the city of man because he’s the God of second chances
The Lord is still sending you to call out against the city of man because the Lord still has a message that the city of man needs to hear. Jonah 3:4: Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” The Lord’s message to Nineveh is one of judgment and mercy. The gospel message includes the warning of coming judgment for sins and since sin is never purely individual, we call out against the sins of the city of man. One way that Christians have historically called out God’s judgment against the city of man is through non-violent protest of her sins and I urge you to consider standing in that tradition. This is totally appropriate and it’s what Jonah is doing. Friends, align yourself so closely with the City of God that you can protest the sins of the city of man wherever the word of God does. But the Lord’s message is more than a message of judgment, it’s also a message of mercy; of salvation from judgment. Every warning from Almighty God to the city of man is a gracious invitation to receive his mercy. The Lord is still sending you to call out against the city of man because you have a message that no one else has. You have the message that violence and racism are actually worse than we ever dared believe because they are violations of the very image of God in humanity. The gospel gives you the resources to truly protest injustice for what it is; an afront to Almighty God. And you have a message far deeper then, “so educate yourself and stop it.” You have the message that the God who should judge the city of man came into the city of man and died so that all who turn from their wickedness aren’t just given a new list of morals, but a new heart that beats with love for neighbor. Since you have a message no one else has, the message of salvation from God’s judgment, speak it. Protest, write letters, make calls, urge policy changes, but do it as a Christian who speaks of violence as sin and change as only coming through turning to God’s mercy. Call out against the city of man because the Lord is still sending you. But call out against the city of man with a heart that beats with hope rather than cynicism because, secondly…
THE CITY MIGHT REPENT
Jonah 3:5-9: 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. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 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. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” My friends who have lost all hope and are ready to give up, I see your pain and I urge you to press on because the city of man that the Lord is still sending us to call out against might repent!
It’s important to keep in mind that the original readers of Jonah, Israelites, would have been shocked to read of these self-idolizing pagans turning to God and changing. As one Old Testament scholar put it, Nineveh is meant to “indict Israel indirectly for her own lack of repentance” from wicked violence and injustice, which is a major theme in the Old Testament prophetic writings. And so, Citylight as we read the description of Nineveh’s repentance, let’s put ourselves in their shoes. We were born into the city of man and though we belong to the city of God, we are still tempted to go back to her ways. May repentance begin with the house of God. Let’s observe their repentance…
Nineveh’s repentance begins with believing that God will overthrow them if they don’t heed his warning. Sackcloth is a sign of sorrow over sins and fasting is a sign of seeking God for mercy. Not only do the people, from least to greatest, believe God, but their voice of repentance reaches the king and he repents. He gets off the throne and repents personally. Then he takes his repentance public. He calls others to an even more extreme fast that has major economic impact because it includes livestock. He commands an actual change in behavior that matches the change in heart demanding an end to the violence. Though I don’t think that every person in Nineveh came to personal faith in Yahweh, Jesus says in Matthew 12:41 and Luke 11:32 that the Ninevites were a model of repentance and should serve as a warning against those who refuse repentance. In summary, the people believe God, they call others to repent, and while all might not believe, the public repentance has a positive impact on the world around them as the violence ceases. When the Lord sees it, he relents because he is a patient God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Jonah 3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. Marvel at the patience of God!
What do we learn from Nineveh for our own repentance?
1. Pray – If you’ve perpetuated or been indifferent to the violence in the City of Man, agree with God about that in prayerful confession and pray for others. Pray for justice, pray for comfort, pray for peace, pray for reconciliation, pray for governing officials, and pray for God’s kingdom to come and will to be done. That’s all part of believing God.
2. Fast – Like the people of Nineveh turn from indifference by fasting as a way of seeking the Lord for yourself, our church, and our city. In the Bible when God-sized problems need to be undertaken, God’s people fast.
3. Lament – Lament is prayer in pain that leads to hope in God, which is symbolized by sackcloth. Lament the sins of the city of man. Use the Psalms as your guide. Lament will help you love what God loves, hate what God’s hate, and seek him with the hope befitting those who believe Jesus is risen.
4. Learn – The Ninevites must have learned from Jonah about God’s hatred for violence and love for mercy. Study what the Old Testament prophets, especially the minor prophets, say about doing justice and loving mercy. Study the parable of the Good Samaritan, which teaches us how to love our neighbor through costly sacrifice. Learn about the burdens of minorities in your community and church so that you can bear their burdens. As part of our collective repentance as a church some years ago, we started Citylight diversity council which exists in part to educate our church in the application of the gospel to race. Go to citylightphilly.com/connect and we’ll connect you pastors and diversity council members that can help you with resources for learning.
5. Call others to repentance – Notice that in Nineveh the people call the king to repentance and the king calls the people. Those who repent always call others to repentance. If you have ideas for making the Lord’s message heard, go for it. Talk to your Citygroup, let the pastors know how we can help you. Take your repentance public as Nineveh did.
6. Don’t despise new repenters – Don’t despise those who are just now turning from indifference and entering into these critical conversations. It’s tempting to assume it’s all virtue signaling. That’s not what the Lord does to Nineveh.
May we be the chief repenters who call others to repent with hope because the city might repent!
Despite what it seems at the end of Jonah 3, the story of Jonah and Nineveh don’t have a happy ending. The book ends with Jonah angry enough to die because God had mercy on Nineveh and we know from the rest of the Bible that Nineveh was eventually destroyed because their repentance didn’t last. The story of Jonah and the story of Nineveh leave us longing for One greater than Jonah. One who runs toward the city of man, not away. One who is not angry enough, but loving enough to die, to be plunged under the waves not for his sins, but for ours so that the eternal storm of God’s judgment coming for us might be stilled. It is this one that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish, the Lord Jesus was three days in the earth after dying for the sins of the city of man. And just as Jonah was spat from the fish and Jesus resurrected from the grave, so all who hope in Jesus are born again into a living hope that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading and is being kept in heaven for you. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ or you’ll be overthrown forever for your sins. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus and you’ll be born again into an eternal hope. Brothers and sisters, set your hope fully on nothing less than the grace to be brought when Jesus returns, rights every wrong, and brings his people from every tribe, tongue and nation together around his throne. We will all worship in our own languages united around the King who rules over all in perfect peace. Set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus returns and you’ll have all of the Lord’s resources to call out against the great city and never lose heart.