David Fagan - Sermon of the Month

Evangelism 15-Jonah's Crusade

Extended revival meetings used to be the standard practice for beginning a new congregation. I was recently doing some reading in an old History of Fayette County Indiana and was reminded of this fact. My Mother gave me a copy of an article about a relative who had bought a farm northeast of Harrisburg in 1839. While reading the section about Harrison township I came across this item: The Christian (Cambellite) church, situated just east of the hamlet of Harrisburg, is the outgrowth of religious meetings held at private houses and in the schoolhouse at Harrisburg some years before the late war, though perhaps not formally organized until in 1864. The neat and substantial church edifice in which the services of the society are held was erected in 1871, and dedicated that fall by elder…, page 183. Usually a meeting lasting 4-6 weeks was held with preaching every night and sometimes morning teaching sessions. Such meetings are unheard of today. I remember in the 60's still having some 2-week revival meetings but if meetings take place today they are generally weekend meetings.

There is some Bible precedent for a weekend meeting and today we will study a three day revival, Jonah's crusade in Nineveh.

The Prophet

The man who was sent to hold the meeting was Jonah, son of Amittai. Jonah was apparently a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam the 2nd. The Holman Bible Dictionary dates the reign of Jeroboam at 785-745 B.C. Jonah is first mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25. His home town, Gath-hepher is located in Galilee in the area occupied by the tribe of Zebulon.

The Commission

Jonah's assignment was to go and preach against Nineveh. Nineveh, capitol of the Assyrian Empire, was destroyed in 612 B.C. Nineveh proper covered 1800 acres but Nineveh was actually a complex of 4 cities that formed a quadrangle. The distance around the complex was 60 miles, making Nineveh even bigger than the mighty city of Babylon.

Jonah had a message to announce or proclaim to Nineveh. The Septuagint twice uses the Greek word khruvssw to relay God's instructions to Jonah. This word describes preaching of the basics and stands in contrast to in-depth doctrinal instruction or teaching. Another word that is not used is the word evangelize-to announce good tidings, or good news. Jonah did not have a positive message for Nineveh.

The evil in Nineveh had come up to God. The evil men may do in secret does not go unnoticed by the all-knowing God! This expression reminds us of the Babylon of Revelation, a symbolic city representing those who disobey God. In Nahum 3:1, Nineveh is called the bloody city!

Revelation 18:4, 5
Contrast Hebrews 10:17

The evil of Nineveh had come up to the attention of the Righteous Judge.

Nineveh was a Gentile city. Located on the Tigris River, Nineveh was built by Chaldean natives and as early as 1,800 B.C. contained a temple for the goddess Ishtar! It became the capitol of the Assyrian Empire in 1,300 B.C. This was the site of the famed library of Ashurbanipal.

A Whale of a Detour

Jonah ran, in the opposite direction of Nineveh, to the end of the known world, i.e. as far away from Nineveh as he could go. Jonah did not run out of fear, he ran because as a Jewish prophet, he hated Gentiles. Our fascination with the whale has obscured the real lessons of the book of Jonah. See my study of the Minor Prophets.

Jonah 2:2-9 is the text of Jonah's prayer from the belly of the fish. Note the repentance of verse 9 and the renewed dedication to obedience.

Details of the Crusade

Jonah's second chance was Nineveh's last chance! Apparently Jonah did not make any special preparations or take any great pains with the crusade in Nineveh. It required 3 days to walk through the city and evidently that is just what Jonah did. He walked through town and as soon as he hit the edge of town he proclaimed the warning God had commissioned him to announce.

The message was short-Jonah 3:4-In 40 days God would destroy the city. In plain terms the announcement to Nineveh was, Repent or perish!

Jonah had nothing to offer the lost in Nineveh like we have under the New Covenant! No message of forgotten sins, of the potential of a new creation, of an indwelling Holy Spirit, of a church of Christ in which to serve God. Jonah had nothing positive to say, only a dire warning, Repent or perish!


The result of Jonah's crusade was astounding. Just 1 day in to the 3 day trip a dramatic change swept across the city.

Jonah 3:3-10

From the political leadership to the common person on the street, Nineveh repented! Sackcloth and ashes was a sign of mourning or distress. When people face the consequences of their actions there are generally two ways they can choose to go.

1) An arrogant denial or rationalization that they have done nothing wrong. The motivating force behind this reaction is pride. That arrogance produces hypocrisy and a double standard that stands as a barrier to salvation.

2) Contrition. Genuine sorrow over past conduct produces a humility that acknowledges (instead of denies) guilt, accepts responsibility for wrongs committed, and mourns the wrongs done to others and against God, and fervently seeks a way to atone.

The citizens of Nineveh chose the course of humility and escaped judgment and destruction! Both man and beast fasted as the people repented of the evil they had committed against God. And, God relented. Instead of the destruction they deserved, Nineveh received God's mercy, and the entire city repented.

Post Script

The episode tagged on to the end of the book of Jonah is the clincher in helping us understand the real meaning of the book of Jonah. Jonah was angry that God did not wipe out Nineveh, 4:1.

The real message is that God has always wanted all men to come to repentance and to do what is right. And that must be the attitude of the Lord's people today! How many are lost because you withheld the Gospel from them? Because of race, because of looks, because of economic status, because of where they live-how many times in the past have you pulled a Jonah, running away from what may well have been a great evangelistic crusade?

The denial of food and water to a terminally ill woman this past year seemed to dramatize the heights of inhumanity to which some are willing to go. The lost world is terminally ill-without repentance and obedience to God they will never recover spiritual health-their problems are eternally terminal. Like Jonah, you can run away from the task and challenges of evangelism. You can hide out in the safety of church fellowship, so busy with the 99 that there simply is no time for 1 who is lost. You can fill your life so full of work, family, or civic responsibilities that there is no time to go to our modern day Nineveh's.

But remember, your second chance to get busy doing the Lord's work may be the last chance, the final hope for those outside of Christ. They are lost until you win them!

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