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Jonah was a believer in God who needed a second chance. He was the Lord’s prophet. It seems like he would have been more obedient to God, but he was not, which makes Jonah similar to the rest of us. No matter how hard we try to spread the fame of God’s name, we will need God to be merciful to us. Repeatedly. We need second chances until Heaven is our home and glorification is our condition. God gave Jonah an opportunity to trust Him. Jonah failed. God hurled a storm and, later, appointed a whale to get his attention. Finally, it worked. God was reorienting Jonah’s thinking. Jonah’s trouble was God’s way of giving him multiple opportunities to respond the right way. Initially, Jonah rejected God’s call on his life. Instead of going to Nineveh, he fled toward Tarshish. It is as different as heading west when you are supposed to go east.
Jonah was running from what he knew to be the right thing to do. God brought a big storm and a big fish into his life. I am unsure how long Jonah took to get a clue about what was happening, though his entire ordeal lasted three days. He eventually repented, and God had him spit out in the right direction (Jonah 2:9-3:3). The mindset motivating Jonah is probably no different from how the rest of us run from God. As you read Jonah’s sequence of repentance, think about yourself and how God mercifully deals with you when you are stubborn. Does this pattern look familiar? It does for me. It would be better if I got a clue and listened to the Lord the first time so I would not have to go through all the repeated rigmarole.
I need second chances because I am a failure (Romans 3:12). The gospel declares me a human failure, and even after salvation, my imperfections are part of my life. I am not discouraged by my post-salvation condition because of the gospel. Unregenerate people are without hope, as well as Christians who do not understand the practical implications of the gospel. These folks do not understand or confront their problems appropriately. However, gospel people see their failures as opportunities for change; they understand the Christian’s victory in Jesus. Gospel people can quickly recalibrate their hearts when they fail because they know God is a God of second chances. We have a second-chance gospel.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time (Jonah 3:1).
Jonah did not seem to get hung up on the fact he was a failure. A proper understanding of the gospel can do that for you. Think about it. If the Lord would become a man and die on the cross to give you your first, second chance, do you think He would not complete what He had begun in you (1 John 1:7-10)? It would be better to go ahead and get over the fact we are failures so that we can move on to God’s redemptive purposes. You are a failure, and so am I. Chill out. I’m not speaking of a morbid introspection that throws you into despair but the reality of victors. It is morbid for people who do not understand the rules of gospel engagement, but for discerning Christians, the gospel keeps us from morbidly plunging into the depths of despair, or what some would call worm theology. We are optimistic because God is a finisher.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
You will find patterns of hopelessness in the thoughts of people who cannot progress past the mistakes they make. They get stuck looking inward rather than choosing to look upward. If an inward look continues, patterns will etch into their thinking, which can become strongholds. These strongholds will twist a person’s thinking until they cannot ascertain and process the knowledge of God, as perceived through the gospel, which can give them the victory they crave. A person who refuses to embrace God’s second chance will spiral into anti-gospel thought patterns. Here are a few of those anti-gospel dysfunctions.
I am unsure what happened in Jonah’s mind other than realizing what he did, what it cost him, and his need to repent. It appears he did experience some of the things above, based on what he said (Jonah 2:1-9). His mind was mostly reoriented (he repented) to God, and when that happened, God had him spit out of the whale—sending him to Ninevah. Jonah received the mercy of a second chance, one of the underrated blessings of being a Christian. Maybe it is underrated because we do not fully live in the reality of what the gospel can do for us after we are born a second time. The freedom and power of the gospel can be obscure to us. This favor only comes to the humble heart (James 4:6), leading to a few relevant questions. How free are you to admit your failures? Can you talk to people about them?
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
There is an obstacle that will keep us from enjoying the second chance God will mercifully give to anyone who calls upon Him (Romans 10:13). We must admit we have a problem after being born again. Christ did not come for the righteous but for the unrighteous. There has to be an admittance of sickness to receive redemptive care. For the Christian to receive redemptive care, he must do the same thing as the unbeliever: admit his weaknesses, faults, and sins. The reason a person is unwilling to do this, whether a believer or not, is the same. It is self-righteousness—a high view of oneself—the ultimate grace killer. Christ helps broken people. The gospel is for those who are not striving for high self-esteem.
There is irony here. Though we do not want to make a mistake, it is through our mistakes that God can help us. This realization is not a license to sin so that we can enjoy more of the gospel. God forbid (Romans 6:1-2)! It is merely stating the obvious. We fail. God restores, and through His restorative work, we are matured, and He is glorified. Grace comes to the lowly, not the exalted, which is why accepting the reality of our blunders is ultimately healthy for our psyches while rejecting or refusing to admit the existence of our errors leads to mental instability. The honest and humble person will receive God’s favor, as experienced through His redemptive grace. Nobody is as psychologically sound and stable as someone who admits sin and experiences restoration by the Sovereign Lord.
There is still more irony regarding God’s mercy to us: He gives us a second chance so He can use us. God is not finished with us just because we failed. Our second chances are often God’s way of allowing us to have more significant usefulness in His redemptive purposes in His world. Think about this: you mess up and run the wrong way. God hurls a storm at you and appoints a big fish to swallow you. You repent, and God spits you out, spins you around, and now you are heading in the right direction. Do you believe this? It is an act of faith, you know. God called Jonah a second time to respond in faith, and he did. God did more than Jonah could have ever imagined and more than what Jonah could have done without Him.
What can God do for you and through you if you choose to experience the mercy of God through humble repentance? Do not become bogged down in the guilt of your failures; see them as opportunities to turn to the Lord in faith. Then expect Him to do fantastic things for you and through you. Someone could ask, “Why didn’t God get another prophet?” That is an excellent question. Jonah failed to be used by God to rescue Nineveh. Jonah chose to run the other way. But God persevered. He would not let go of Jonah. Maybe God was rescuing more than Nineveh. Could it be God was saving Jonah too? Have you ever wondered why God perseveres so long with you?
Sometimes, we can become so task-oriented that we forget the higher purposes of the Lord’s work. The story of Jonah was not just about the divine rescue of Nineveh. God is full of mercy—to His children and His enemies (Matthew 5:45). Part of God’s mercy is to fix the wrongs we messed up the last time we were supposed to do right. The implication of this passage is as impressive as it is intrusive. God is digging into Jonah’s heart while seeking to rescue Nineveh. What areas of your life is God calling you back to respond differently? Do you fully understand the redemptive care of God in your life? Can you think about the mission (Nineveh), what God is doing in you, and how His work might be more comprehensive than that mission?
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD (Jonah 2:9)!
Your sin does not disqualify you from the Christian life, a worldview that mocks the gospel: Christ died for all our past, present, and future sins. But you can sit in the belly of a fish for a long time if you want to ignore the God of second chances. It is up to you to follow through on those opportunities. You can have God spit you out of a whale and send you in a better direction, but you must own any sin that may be in your life, turn to God, and receive His free pardon. The implication of sin and the gospel is that we need second chances from a grace-giving provider.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).