Considering the current state of mankind, it may seem like an odd time to expect revival to fall. After all, it seems the degradation of morality is sliding downwardly at a rapid pace. Alvin Reid, revival historian, clarifies that “. . . great revival often comes in times when the possibility of revival seems so remote. Some of the greatest movements of God came in dark spiritual times.”
Charles Spurgeon said the reason we don’t see more conversions is that we don’t expect them. Do you expect God to move in your life? Do you expect Him to send revival to our church, community, country, and the whole world? Expect it!
One place where few people, including a prophet of God, expected revival to fall, was Ninevah. Jonah did not want to go to this evil place, filled with sin, and replete with corruption. However, revival came on this unexpected place.
The headline and sub-heads of the Denver Post dated, January 20, 1905 read like this:
Entire city pauses for prayer at the high tide of business as the soul rises above sordid thoughts; remarkable outbursts of gospel sentiment provoked by revival. Evangelist Chapman and his associates cause a hush to spread over the populace while the noonday meetings draw congregations unprecedented in numbers.
The paragraphs that follow describe the situation in the city stating that for two hours, the normal activity of the city came to a complete standstill. The markets closed, buying and selling came to an abrupt halt and the city was given over to personal and corporate meditation.
The Spirit of God pervaded in every nook and cranny of the city. Men and women coming and going from prayer meetings radiated with the spirit of God upon their happy faces. An entire city in the middle of a busy week bowed their heads and their hearts before the throne of God asking and receiving the blessings of the King of the Universe. That is a true story that actually happened in 1905 in Denver, Colorado.
When true revival comes, it impacts everyone and everything! Revival is not a series of meetings, an event or an emotional climax but it is a special season of heart-searching where believers experience a deep holy conviction of sin that results in confession and abandonment of sin and renewed dedication to God.
In Jonah 2, Jonah was delivered from the belly of the great fish as he prayed and repented of his disobedience. Now, Jonah landed upon the shore with his clothes ripped to shreds and with seaweed hanging from his head. But, he was finally ready to be obedient to God. God spoke to Jonah again, Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you” (Jonah 3:1–2).
There is both grace and warning in those words. Grace because the word of the Lord comes a second time; warning because God’s will has not been changed by Jonah’s delay. So, he goes to Nineveh and preaches a very simple message: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4b)!
Not a very positive approach. Jonah evidently wasn’t into “Possibility Thinking.” And you wouldn’t expect such a negative message to strike fear into the hearts of the pagan Ninevites. But it does. God had evidently prepared their hearts so that once Jonah starts preaching, the whole city repents. The greatest miracle of the book of Jonah is not what God did with the fish but what He did with the people of Nineveh.
I. Sweeping Revival
As Jonah was confronted with his moment of affliction in the belly of the fish, he prayed, confessed and God delivered him. That was the moment of “preparation” for revival. Revival is always birthed in personal and corporate prayer. Jonah had just finished praying inside the belly of the great fish the entirety of Jonah 2, and then sweeping revival came in Jonah 3.
II. Preaching Revival
Often, when God sends revival, there is a God-anointed messenger . . . a man of God for the moment. In Jonah 3, the prophet Jonah was that man. Despite Jonah’s many faults, including racism, nationalism, and overall selfishness, God used him.
In Old Testament revival, the primary catalyst was the preaching of the Word of God. It is noteworthy that Jesus Christ mentions that “Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Luke 11:32) and calls Jonah “a sign” to the Ninevites just as the Son of Man was to be to his generation (Luke 11:30).
A. Jonah was a Sign from God to Repent Physically
In every documented case of a person being swallowed by a large fish, the gastric juices of the fish have changed the outward color of the person’s skin and removed their hair. Think about this for a moment: When Jonah came to this “exceedingly great city” (Jonah 3:3) with 60 miles of walls that were 100 feet high, a city so large that it took three days to make your way through it, he must have been a sight to behold!
Most of the Jews and Ninevites were dark-skinned people, and baldness was unheard of. Here was Jonah bald, with his skin blotchy, yellow, and white. There is no doubt he drew a crowd of curiosity seekers. He became a sign to the people that God was visiting them, and as he preached, their hearts were convicted and they began to repent.
B. Jonah was a Sign from God to Repent Prophetically
Jonah was either crazy or the God-called prophet of God. As he moved forward in obedience to God’s call, he realized that if God was not with him, he was doomed.
The individual people and overall city of Nineveh desperately needed an anointed prophet of God. The size and significance of the city displayed wealth, political power, and a military fortress. The souls of the city were destined to hell as there were over 600,000 people (counting the children). The sins of the Assyrians displayed they were wicked, tyrannical people who hated Jews, believed in many gods, and had barbaric practices of torture and murder of the innocent, including skinning their captives alive and building pyramid frames made of skulls.
Now, here comes their number one enemy, a Jew, a prophet who was bleached out and bald while proclaiming a message of the finality of God’s judgment upon them in 40 days if they did not repent. If Jonah was not a sign from God that they needed to listen and repent, they would have probably killed him on the spot!
C. Jonah was a Sign from God to Repent Personally
Jonah still had great animosity toward the Assyrians. He was almost like Ebenezer Scrooge—negative, critical and skeptical—but he responded to the opportunity that God had placed before him. He recognized that even though he had national, historical and personal prejudice against these people, he was obligated to preach the message of God. He preached God’s message and not just what the people wanted to hear.
D. Jonah was a Sign from God to Repent Poignantly
It was a harsh message to the people that God was going to judge their sin. The message was not user friendly or psychology based. There was no “you can do it” message, there was no eloquent delivery, nor was there man-made entertainment to soften the message. It was direct, to the point, powerful, and anointed by God. In fact, the sermon was just five words that equated to the basic lesson from the Lord to repent or be judged!
Whenever there is revival, there is a man of God who proclaims the message of repentance for salvation. There is one who calls the people to God’s plumb-line of righteousness. A true man of God does not have a choice in the message he preaches; it must be from God, and it must be from God’s Word.
2 Timothy 4:2 says, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”
Complacency to the Word of God will hinder and stifle revival. The Word of God must be alive and vibrant in the life of the man of God if he is to be effective! Any so-called revival that does not line up with Scripture is no revival at all. A true movement of God will not contradict His Word. The worst preached message from the Word of God will accomplish more than the most eloquent man-made message!
III. Reaping Revival
An entire city turned to God.
The result of the preaching was that the people of Nineveh believed! The power of God stirred five responses:
A. The Ninevites Heard When They Were Revived
The Word brings HEARING! The New Testament calls man-centered preaching “foolishness” in 1 Corinthians 1:21 because it is foolishness to think that the words of one man could change the heart of one sinner must less an entire city.
Jeremiah 23:29 says, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
The preaching of the Word is not just a man reasoning with other men. Preaching is a declaration of the living truth, so strongly that through the power of the Holy Spirit, the heart is convicted, leading to genuine repentance.
Isaiah 55:11 says, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
The people heard the Word of the Lord.
B. The Ninevites Believed When They Were Revived
There is one expectation when men and women hear the Word—to believe! The Bible does not say that they believed Jonah—they believed God (v. 5). These wicked, unbelieving pagans turned their hearts toward God. Their faith in God was sincere and their repentance was true. Where did their faith come from? It is from the same place as ours—it is a gift of God.
Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” In the mystery of man working out his salvation, even faith is a gift from God.
C. The Ninevites Repented When They Were Revived
When they heard the Word, they repented. Notice what the king does: He gets up from his throne, he takes off his royal robe, and he puts on a gunny sack (a course, rough cloth garment made of goat hair, used to store grain). Then, he goes out into the middle of the street, sits in ashes, and repents of his sin. Can you imagine the impact it had on the people who saw and heard? It spread like wild fire! From least to greatest, Nineveh repented. Even the animals were covered with sackcloth.
D. The Ninevites Prayed When They Were Revived (v. 8)
The king ordered the entire city to cry out to God. Here is the test of true revival: a change of heart! Spiritual matters now consumed their hearts. These people who had prayed to false gods were now worshipping the God of Jonah, the prophet who had come to warn them of impending death. This is totally inexplicable apart from the work of God. Remember, with our bookshelves full of Bibles, how much more accountable should we be?
E. The Ninevites Submitted When They Were Revived
All of them, from the least to the greatest, fasted, prayed, and forsook their wicked and evil ways.
IV. Seeing Revival
Personal revival demands a repentant heart that reflects a change in our habits, actions, and ways. You become totally dissatisfied, you make restitution, you begin to align with the Word of God, and you become serious minded about sin and holiness!
Repentance in Revival is Not . . .
• Repentance is not remorse (feeling sorry, the rich young ruler went away sorry but was unrepentant).
• Repentance is not regret (wishing that their deeds had never happened, Pontius Pilate washed his hands).
• Repentance is not resolve (attempting to do better in their own strength)
• Repentance is not reform (trying to turn over a new leaf, Judas took 30 pieces of silver and then tried to give it back).
True repentance is a change of mind and heart which results in a change of action. When God saw this powerful move in the lives of the Assyrians in Nineveh, He extended forgiveness and delivered them from the destruction He had threatened.
V. Weeping for Revival
As believers, we must humble ourselves before God, seek His face, turn from our wickedness before revival can come. We must weep over our sin, be desperate for God’s mercy, and commit to repent of our evil ways. That is when revival will come!
We are all like Jonah. Stop running, stop hiding, stop rebelling, and come clean before God. Let Him bring cleansing to our hearts, correction to our spirits, and the blessing of a renewed relationship with Him!