Contend Earnestly: "Yet forty days"

Friday, March 09, 2007

"Yet forty days"

It is a good thing that God is faithful even though at times we are not. After months of being “shamed” by Seth’s amazing contributions to the blog, I felt compelled to once again take up the baton and run my part of the race. For the record, my last post was on December 12th (!). But enough about me, because it’s not about me. Let’s get to it.

In our last installment, Jonah received God’s gracious secondary call to service. We were amazed, in part, that the call would come again at all, knowing that none of us are indispensable.

But we were also reminded of the sobering responsibility at Jonah’s feet now that the call did indeed come again. Yes, the Lord is demonstrating His patience with Jonah, but he dare not incite God’s fury again as he may not survive another strike from the powerful hand of YHWH.

“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.”

As he began to fulfill his calling, we are told that the city is “exceedingly great”. In part, of course, due to its geographical size, as is indicated in the measurement of being a “three days walk”. If we were pragmatists or seeker-sensitive, here would be a tempting proof text for us. But we are certainly not, for there is no basis in God’s word for this approach to ministry. Besides the fact that there are none who seek God (hence, no seekers who are not saved; Rom 3:11) it was Jesus Himself who taught that the good shepherd is one who would leave the 99 in order to restore the one (Matt 18:11-14). How large is your flock? No matter the size, we are to be diligent and to care for individuals among the crowd, large or small. We see that even though the city was large, the Lord is concerned with the exceedingly great number of souls in the city. God always sees crowds as a gathering of individual souls (as A.W. Tozer once mentioned). And In this case, they were souls who were going to be condemned because of their wickedness (1:2).

Eze 18:4
“The soul who sins will die.”

As he walked through the city on the first day, he made his declaration. Or more accurately he proclaimed the proclamation that the Lord had given him (3:1b).

“Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown."

Jonah’s declaration is six simple words in Hebrew (we could arm wrestle whether he said more that what was recorded in the account) but the LORD moves the hearts of the people to respond. While I believe we can make a decent argument for the importance of the length of a properly done expositional sermon (for a normal worship service) I am also quick to realize that the power of God’s word is not in it’s length. It is who’s words they are! They are the words of the Living and Almighty God! One word, six words, a thousand words. God will accomplish His purposes in His way in His time! (As a side note, for the most compelling sermon I have heard about preaching, contact Grace Community Church and ask for Steve Lawson’s message entitled “Bring the Book” from Nehemiah 8 for the 2006 Shepherd’s Conference; General Session #6).

Some people have pointed to the quick response of the city in its entirety as proof that this story is not an actual historical narrative. How could all people in a single city repent, after all? But as we will see in the next installment, repentance is a work of the Lord. And when repentance is real, the evidences are clear and unmistakable. Nineveh, as a city, repents. And at the risk of stealing my own thunder, if there is any doubt to the truth of this story, Jesus Himself endorses its validity (Matt 12:41).

More to come…..


Seth McBee said...

Welcome back!

question for you. I was planning at one point trying to defend the length a sermon on the Lord's Day should be, problem is that I was hard pressed to find any kind of biblical basis for this theses so I backed off...

Like you know, I also love Steve Lawson's "Bring the Book" very strong message and I know that Lawson had some thoughts on the issue, but I would like to know, biblically, how can we defend the length of a sermon?

Justin Evans said...


Thanks for not marking me as a "contributor". A simple answer to your question would be that we cannot place a time on the length of a sermon because each pastor is in a different place with their giftedness/experience and each congregation is in different places in their sanctification.

But, here are some thoughts I have had. Jesus tells us that we are to live on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4). While the thrust of this verse would support expositional teaching rather than length of sermon, it gets us going in the right direction. A proper exposition takes a certain length of time to accomplish.

We see sermons of all kinds of length in the Bible. But some included are very long (Neh 8; 6 hours, Acts 20:7; Paul prolonged his message until midnight...etc. Again, we could arm wrestle the context and such, but we know at least that a long sermon is not a bad thing or an illegitimate option.)

It terms of the practical outworkings of the above, we know that to provide the necessary truth associated with a passage (introduction, context, background, transitions, main Scriptural truth, conclusion and application) we will need more than 25 minutes. Again, there are certain times where the length is shorter depending on the need of the people or occasion. But overall, it takes time to do all of the above, topical or not.

And as a subject means of discussion, I love to hear a thorough exposition of God's word! (I know this is not the reason for your question Seth, but) I would question the reason behind why someone would opt for a short sermon as their normal means of worship. I have yet to hear of a reason that is other than being concerned about attendance. I don't believe crowd reaction should ever dictate how we preach. Even if the people are not ready for 50 minute sermons, we need to lead them/stretch them and preach for 30 or 35. As an encouragement, we have children and immature or new believers in our congregation that are able to sit through a steady diet of 50 minute sermons each week. It's not question of whether people can listen. It's a question of why they would not want to.

Anyway, just some thoughts as we refine our thinking about this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Seth, for your correction on Amazing Grace. I have changed it. sarah

Steve said...

I've been trolling your blog for a couple of months now. I really enjoy it.

I would think that a sermon would be done when it's done. No more, no less.

The only times when I wished a sermon was over were when I had some other place to be or when the preaching was just bad (unscriptural). In the former case, I was wrong. In the latter, I probably should have left, but didn't want to be rude.

However, I really enjoy listening to the sermons at the church I attend now. ;-) I think John 17 is some of the most amazing scripture I've read to date!

Seth McBee said...

thanks for the encouragement...your comments are always welcome...and yes the preaching at your church is amazing, because the pastor is faithful to his servitude of Christ.


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