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Sunday School is a vital part of any ministry. In it, one is able to experience a deeper knowledge of God’s Word. We here at “Word For Life Says” want to help you help others. Below you will find resources to help you prepare for your upcoming lessons. May God bless you!
“God’s Love Forgives!”
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Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2013 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original to wordforlifesays.com unless properly quoted/cited. As always you are encouraged to do your own studies as well. Blessings!)
Lesson Text: Jonah 3:1-10
1) “And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying,
2) Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
3) So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.
4) And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
5) So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
6) For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7) And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
8) But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
9) Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
10) And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”
The story of forgiveness that is weaved throughout the Bible is a beautiful story. Man’s failure to love God perfectly and his habit of straying from His will have wreaked havoc on the human soul. But, God has a remedy for that. It’s called forgiveness and it’s available to any and all who will turn to Him.
“And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time.” God never diverted His mission from Jonah’s path. Although Jonah’s previous attempt to run from Him showed his definite desire to walk in the way that was not conducive to the Lord’s leading, God still had a plan for Jonah’s life; He still had a purpose for him to fulfill.
I love the words “second time” noted here in this verse. Sometimes, we don’t get it right the first time, do we? Sometimes, we fumble and drop the ball and walk opposite of the will of God. But, God, as we found out in last week’s lesson (Jonah 2), did not give up on Jonah or write him off as a total loss. He still saw something in him to reiterate to him his original mission. He gave Jonah a second chance to do it, and to do it right.
Please Note: How often do we count people out or disqualify them because of mistakes they have done? Now, we are never given a license to abuse the grace of God, but God is not as quick as we are in crossing people’s names off the list. As far as God goes, we all deserved the worst, but God reaches out to us in our hot mess state and offers to us another chance to get back on that right road of righteousness, which is found in His will. The Bible tells us, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities,” (Psalm 103:8-10). He offers us a do over (for more information see God’s Love Gives Another Chance/wordforlifesays.com).
“Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it.” These words that were spoken on this occasion read almost exactly as the original version found in Jonah 1:1-2. The word “preach” here means to “cry out.” Only this time, as opposed to his original calling, Jonah was to only speak what the Lord gives him to say. God told Jonah, “Preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” God had a precise message that He wanted to get across to the people of Nineveh. It is His words that possess all authority and power. It is His words that change lives. It is His words that matter. Jonah was to only relay to the people the “right now” word of God that He wants to be delivered in their hearing. Jonah’s message was not his own. There’s a holy proclamation from heaven that needed to be revealed to those lost souls.
“So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.” When Samuel had to confront Saul about choosing his own ways over the commands of the Lord, Samuel said to him, “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” (1 Samuel 15:22). What we think we are doing, even if it seems like a good idea, never takes precedence over what God already commanded of us. “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15). With that “word of the Lord” given (the command), Jonah moved his feet and got in line with the purpose God wanted to fulfill in his life.
Please Note: A choice in disobedience, as Jonah found out in the beginning of this series, always matter. Too many today don’t want to hear what God has to say. Sometimes God will push us out of our comfort zone or come at an inconvenient time for us. Regardless of how we feel about it, God knows the ins and outs of everything. He knows best how to get things done. And, He has never failed at any of His doings. We have to trust Him, as hard as it may be sometimes, and just rise and go (or do) wherever and whatever He is leading us to.
“Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.” As far as ancient cities go, this one was not only huge in circumference (estimated to be about 55-60 miles), but it was great in the design and build of it and the amount of people who inhabited it. Next week’s lesson will clue us in with the understanding that at least 120,000 people lived there (see Jonah 4:11). For a city during the Bible era, even a bustling one known for being a great empire that brought fear to the heart of others, this was huge compared to most.
“And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey.” If Jonah was spewed back onto dry land by the great fish somewhere in the area of Israel, it is estimated that the journey from that region to the city of Nineveh was approximately 500 miles to the northeast. This would amount to some lengthy walking time considering he probably trekked it on foot. Upon entering the city, as Jonah traveled what is told to us “a day’s journey,” he delivers the message God explicitly instructed him to deliver: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
While we live in an age of so many unknowns, God’s hand is sovereignly always in control. As we hold on to our faith daily and walk this Christian journey we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Yet, for the people of Nineveh God literally took the unknowns about time out of the equation and made His timeline for them plain as day. God is not hiding from people. God is not playing games with people. God wants people to be saved. Even the worst of the worst that others may write off, they are still God’s creation, God still desires a right relationship with them and He wants all people to have the chance to make up their minds to do right and to draw near to Him in true repentance. With that, the message God gave Jonah to deliver to this sinful nations was this: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
Please Note: In our day, we still have to walk by faith. Nineveh was privileged to have exact days laid out for them, but we are told, “That the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night,” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Jesus Christ, Himself said, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only,” (Matthew 24:36). In other words, we all have the charge to be ready at any time.
Back to Jonah’s message, as far as preaching goes, this must be the world’s shortest sermon, but it was God’s sermon. There was no exposition. No illustrations. No clever opening and closing with marked points in the middle. Just one line. Just one sentence. Eight words. In that sentence held the power of God. In that one sentence, they were told that judgement was coming.
Our God is so wonderful in that He tries so hard to get people to turn from the path of judgment. The bible tells us, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” (2 Peter 3:9). God, in His grace, is giving people a chance to turn from their sin and to turn to Him. God not only wants people’s lives to change for the better, but He wants their hearts to be transformed into right relationship with Him. God is giving everyone the opportunity at a second chance. Yes, God will remain true to Himself and judge all unrepentant sin but He would much rather save the soul that turns to Him.
The response to that short sermon was “the people of Nineveh believed God.” What was it about those words that touched the people of the land’s hearts? We don’t know, but since I believe God to be completely sovereign He must have known that these souls would turn to Him. This city was completely sinful. This city was lost. This city and every soul in it would perish. The funny thing about Jonah’s message to them is we don’t see any contingencies stating if they do this or that the outcome may be different than what the message pronounced. Nope. All we see is that short sermon with those eight words that basically state they are doomed.
But the hearts of the people were moved by those eight words and they “proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” They put action behind what they felt on the inside. They humbled themselves before the Lord and showed true sorrow and godly fear before the heavenly Father. This was probably the last thing Jonah expected or wanted. These were the enemies of his people. These people terrorized the region and struck fear in the hearts of the general populace and now their own hearts are bowed before God is sweet humility and repentance. Thousands upon thousands of souls were in this city and they responded to the message of God “from the greatest of them even to the least of them.”
Even the “king,” in his exalted position, “arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” Wow! What an awesome statement of the power of God’s word reaching a receptive heart. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation.” Reading this, one can get a sense of their hearts breaking over their sins and even the king’s actions showed something moving on the inside of them. Everyone in the city from the throne to the “least of them” was responding to what they heard and they showed it through these outward symbols of sorrow manifested from what they felt on the inside.
Not only did the king don sackcloth and sit in ashes as a sign of humility and mourning over their wrongs, but he and his nobles published an ordinance that stated, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God.” The king was so struck to heart over the message and the possibility of tragedy happening that even the animals of the land were put under the same ordinance as the people. The fear of God will cause one to do whatever is necessary to seek the Lord in earnest. The king and the people of the land of Nineveh left no stone unturned when trying to show their sorrow, sincerity, and repentant state. All that land was humbled before God. All the land became, at that time, God-fearing (although obviously, the animals didn’t know what they were participating in, but it was a symbol for the people to show this honor and respect unto God). They were minded to show God that they were for real; that they were sorry for the wrongs they had committed and wanted to change their ways.
The king’s command emphasized this when he instructed the people to also “let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.” The people of Assyria were notorious for their sin and cruel deeds toward others. Next week’s lesson found in Jonah 4 describes them as people who can’t “discern between their right hand and their left hand,” (Jonah 4:11). Corruption was all they seemed to know and their evil ways guided them to conquests, but they also put them in the path of an angry God. Thus, outwardly they wore clothes to express their mourning, and inwardly they cried out to God.
The king said, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” They were hoping to change God’s mind about the doom that was pronounced over them, their people, and all their land. Some places in the Bible were so horrendous that God was left with no choice than to totally get rid of them (Remember Sodom? Read Genesis 19:1-29). God destroyed that evil city and wiped it off the face of the earth. Nineveh could be next.
Here’s the thing about Nineveh, in Jonah’s preaching we aren’t told if the people were given some sort of ultimatum or reason if they do this then God will do that. Nope. All we see is judgment pronounced. But even at that the people were hoping to move the heart of God that His “fierce anger” would be turned away from them so that they “perish not.”
Previously, I wrote:
“All who oppose that truth live against the plan of God, rejecting His salvation and exposing them to receive the punishment thereof expressed in His “wrath.”
To say that God is against sin and unrighteousness doesn’t really seem to explain it well. God absolutely HATES sin and everything regarding it. He is angry with sin!
The entrance of sin into the world has ripped away at the core of all the good God originally created and has stolen from men (through their own choosing) a genuine relationship with Him. Due to that justice must be answered and sin will feel His wrath.
When discussing the wrath of God one must be careful not to identify the actions of humans with the righteous God. God does not react with a quick temper or a lack of self-control. As a matter of fact the very Word of God tells us, “The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy,” (Psalm 145:8; see also Ps. 103:8; emphasis mine). Yet, even knowing this some still choose to turn away from that proffered mercy and relish in a life filled with “ungodliness” and “unrighteousness” (Ignoring God’s Clear Truth/Word For Life Says).
But, it is God’s mercy that the people of Nineveh are hoping to reach and obtain. They are hoping that God will look upon them favorably and “turn away from his fierce anger.”
“God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them.” Their actions moved God’s heart. Their sincerity in seeking Him and trying to get it right caused God to change His mind about the devastation He had pronounced over the city. In forty days time, the city would still be standing and the people therein can continue to live and experience life.
When God spoke to the fish and caused it to vomit Jonah out in last week’s lesson (Jonah 2), in that God gave Jonah another chance at life and in the beginning of today’s lesson God gave Jonah another chance at the mission. In His love, God forgives. It is His utmost desire for all humanity to be reconciled back to Him. When He saw the people and how much they desired to do right, He gave them another chance as well. He forgave them and called back His plan of destruction for them. God would, in fact, let them experience His grace and mercy. Jeremiah 18:8 tells us, “If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.”
And, that’s what we see in this lesson. God “repented” of His plan against them. Listen, when we are talking about God repenting it’s not the same reference we use in terms of people feeling sorry for and confessing their sins. God is completely perfect and has none of that to deal with. God repenting is simply God changing His mind. He changed the course of action that He previously determined against them.
The thing is God wanted to do the same thing to His covenant people of Israel but they were a hard-hearted stiff-necked people. God had repeatedly, down through the years, sent His prophets to pronounce an undeniable future of facing His judgment if they didn’t turn from their evil ways and repent of their sins. But, they refused. Even in His day, Jesus declared, “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here,” (Matthew 12:41; see also Luke 11:32).
No matter where people are from or what their background is God wants to see people saved. But, they have to make the decision to want to be saved; to want to truly repent and be reconciled back to God. Our God is so compassionate that He offers us the gift of salvation but we have to accept that gift.
God, in His love for us, wants to see mankind redeemed. That’s why He pulled out the ultimate plan of mercy and allowed Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, to die on the cross for you and me. God is serious about sin, but He is also serious about how much He loves us. He has proven that love over and over again and stands ready to forgive the soul that repents. We are the ones that have to be willing to take the step, like the people of Nineveh, and seek Him wholeheartedly.
If you have followed my writings for a while then you have seen me quote this before, and I will do it here again. It is such a timely message, especially in relation to our lesson. One I never tire of hearing. I once wrote:
“Can I tell you something? God has never fallen out of love with you! As a matter of fact, He has done everything possible to try to keep you safely in His arms where He can take care of you and love on you. Yet, and still, the drama unfolds that leads the heart of man away to look after their own pursuits. What then of the love that God felt for you? It’s still there!
His love has never left just because we did. His love has never stopped embracing even when we didn’t return the embrace. His love has always been on fire for you and I, even when we tried to extinguish it. His love never quits seeking reconciliation because He wants us with Him!” (Return to Me/Word For Life Says)
With that being said, God’s love wants to forgive. Turn to Him and receive it today!
Standard Print PDF: God’s Love Forgives Sunday School Lesson Summary Standard Print
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Memory Verse: God’s Love Forgives Memory Verse
Draw the Scene: God’s Love Forgives Draw the Scene
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