Levi Lusko - I Really Screwed Up
Hey, grab your seats. Grab your Bibles. Grab your notes, your worship guides, or if you have your 35 Days of Hope Journey journal, we are, thank you, worship team, continuing on as we have just put on the calendar. And we put on the calendar months ago that these were going to be days of hope. And you could really throw a dart at any day on the calendar and say, we're going to talk about hope. And it would be appropriate. But I just can't help but see in God's providence that we, like never before, are living in a day where that is what is needed more than anything, an anchor for the soul, is what the Bible says hope is. When you're in a storm, when you're in suffering, when you're grieving, when you're rocked by tragedy and hardship, that's what you need. You need hope like an anchor so that you don't capsize, so that you don't lose heart, so you don't lose faith. And we can go through the worst imaginable. And if you have hope, you can come out of it better than you went in.
And so, that's what these days are all about. We're glad that you've linked in, it you're just now joining us, watching online, seeing this on YouTube or Facebook. And we've been talking about people in the Bible who looked up when life was hard, people who went through stuff. They went through pits. And we've said through the series that, when you follow God, pit happens. Pit happens. We're telling you that in advance. If you are new to faith and you're walking with Jesus and you're not expecting it, a pit that you fall into can cause you to question God's goodness, to question God's love, and the enemy wants suffering to make you doubt God's goodness. He wants you, in response to persecution, affliction, tribulation, to walk away from your faith and go, who needs that? I thought God was good. But I'm telling you, following God is hard. But even in the hard things, He is good and has a plan. I'm telling you, right now, pit happens. You are going to, in your life, find yourself in a pit.
And next week, we're going to talk specifically about assignments inside the pit, why, at times, God will not even allow it, but send us into pits because of assignments of other people we need to reach in that pit. I hope you come next week. It's going to be fabulous, unless you're watching this message years from now on YouTube and you don't have to wait. You can binge watch it next. So just click Next in the YouTube. It's a really good sermon. It's not completely done yet at this moment. But I believe, in faith, it's going to be awesome. We've got some work to do before it's ready to go, but it's pretty good already. Pit happens. All right.
This week, we're going to look at the life of a very familiar character in Scripture, especially if you grew up going to Sunday school, or vacation Bible school, or even if your parents read you some stories from the Bible. This is a story you're going to probably be familiar with. I'm talking about the prophet Jonah. So join me in Matthew 12, where we're going to be as we are going to look back on an Old Testament character, Jonah, written from the perspective of 700 years later, when Jesus Christ, God's Son, was on the Earth. And I love interpreting the Old Testament from the vantage point of the New Testament. Because, first of all, it kind of cuts some stuff off in the pass. Because when you read redonculous stuff like Jonah's story, if you don't know, if you're new to church, Jonah gets eaten by some sort of a great sea creature. It's like sushi eating in reverse. The fish eats the raw human. And when this takes place, he lives, incredibly, like Pinocchio's dad, and then comes out to tell the tale, bleached a little bit, probably, from the stomach acid, but no worse for the wear, and goes on to preach an incredible sermon. A bunch of people give their lives to God. And it's happily ever after.
And when you read it from the Old Testament, the temptation is to see it as this big myth or a fish story, which, of course, gets blown out of proportion. So maybe it started out with, Jonah saw a really great whale. The next thing you know, telephone. One person tells another. Jonah was in the whale. You know what I'm saying? And got stuck at SeaWorld for a while, and whatever. But when we read about it from the life of Jesus, and we're going to see, Jesus is going to refer back to Jonah's time in the whale as a literal fact that took place over a period of time, 3 days and 3 nights. And He's going to put it on the same shelf of truth as His Resurrection. So makes it tough to go, it probably didn't happen, sort of a fable, sort of a myth. Because once we pull that Jenga block out, now we have to deal with the uncomfortable truth that Jesus said, it's not only true, but the same truth as His Resurrection.
Now we've got a huge problem because all of Christianity, all of this thing that we're believing in to save our souls and give our lives meaning, is predicated on Jesus' Resurrection. And Paul, who wrote 13 out of 27 books in the New Testament, said, if Jesus isn't risen, your faith is a big fat joke. And what do you doing on Sunday morning? Because you could be doing anything else. But it's a waste of time to give your life and eternity to someone who said He was going to rise from the dead but then, in fact, didn't. And Jesus said, just like Jonah in the whale, so I rose from the dead. And I want to give you a powerful tool. Because to follow Jesus in this world means you're going to be ridiculed at times. And the critics are not going to choose to ridicule the Resurrection because no one has ever been able to disprove the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
And, in fact, there is a preponderance of evidence that points to the fact that Jesus Christ, historically, as a figure who's in the dictionary, by the way, and whose birth separates time on our calendar, by the way, that He did, in fact, die by crucifixion under the hands of a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate, and that up to 500 of His followers, who had no reason to think He was going to rise from the dead, saw Him after He rose from the dead. And then, many of them went on to die for what they believed was the truth. So when someone says, well, how do you know Noah really lived in a boat during a flood, or how do you know Jonah survived in the belly of a whale? Here's the amazing thing to say in your science class, or wherever you might be, your college philosophy class. Man, I don't know. That's some wild stuff, but Jesus believed in Jonah. And He rose from the dead. So I'm with Him.
And when your teacher says, well, how do you know Jesus rose from the dead? You go, well, I don't know. But if you don't believe in Jesus, I'm not going to believe in you. Because you never rose from the dead, say it nicely, but I'm with the guy who did. So please prove to me Jesus didn't rise from the dead. And I will calmly stop believing Jonah survived in the great sea creature. But until that time, I shall believe it. Because Jesus did. It's an amazing thing to see an Old Testament truth from the mouth of our Savior. So to learn about Jonah, let's go to Jesus in Matthew 12. "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees", whenever you read that phrase, you should almost hear the Darth Vader theme song kicking in, because that is, for sure the vibe of the scribes and the Pharisees. They answered Jesus, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from you". "I saw the sign, and it opened up my mind".
Ace of Base. That's what they want to see, verse 39. 1982 is on my driver's license. Ain't none of those kids on TikTok ever heard of Ace of Base? "But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here".
I really screwed up. That's the title my message, "I Really Screwed Up". Here's the truth, pit does happen. We following Jesus will, at times, find ourselves in pits. And when we do, sometimes it will be because of other people who are jealous against us. It will be, at times, because it's just a fallen world and hard times come to us all. So sometimes, we will be doing right and find ourselves in a pit. That's where we spent the last few weeks. Joseph didn't do anything wrong. Arguably, he was a little bit too free with the details of his dreams, he could have probably held that back from his brothers when he was 17 and he was telling them, casually, one day God told him, you're probably going to bow down and worship me. That's not the wisest move ever. But he's just young. He's just a little foolish, a little too eager. Hadn't been seasoned enough to have the kind of discernment that would have caused him to think, maybe they won't love, and aren't ready for, that dream yet. But he didn't do anything that deserved being thrown into a pit, being sold into slavery, being thrown into prison, when he only tried to honor his master and honor God.
So pit happened for Joseph when he was just trying to do his best and to be a blessing to people. David, it was the same way. The prophet came to his house, anointed him with oil, you're going to be king one day. He just said, here am I. I'm willing to do what you want me to do. If that means deliver cheese to my bros, fine. If that means protect the sheep, fine. And yes, God, if You want me to be king and lead, then I'm here for that also. The reaction of Saul was jealousy. The reaction of Saul was antagonism. And he ended up, for years and years, having to run, having to hide, having to deal with lies that were being spoken about him. He was just trying to serve God. Guess what? Pit happened following God. But Jonah's different, because the pit that Jonah found himself in, and he uses that exact word. Jonah 2:6, he says, look, "You have brought up my life from the," say it with me, "pit, Oh Lord, my God".
This was a pit that no one pushed him into. This was a pit that no one else tried to shove him into. This was a pit that Jonah himself decided to jump into. This was a pit of his own making. And today, my assignment is to tell you that, even there, there's hope. Even in the pit you never should have gone in, and even in the pit that God didn't want you to end up in, even in a pit of your own making. Come on. Is anyone feeling courage before I've even gotten to my sermon? There is hope. And you can look up in the midst of a pit that you never should have been in. God is so good. He will bless you, even in places where you don't belong, even in places where you should have avoided.
By the end of this message, I hope that, by the Holy Spirit, you and I are able to rethink the F word, failure. Rethink the F word. We're going to see something new in something that none of us want to experience, personal failure. Jonah's story, I let me preach about it a little bit to you today. But I hope, this week, you'll read through the chapters of his short little book. It's 4 chapters. If you read it in one sitting, it'll take you five, 10 minutes. But if you take a little bit of it at a time over the next days as we all, together, are trying to find hope in our own pits that we find ourselves in, you'll see five different movements. That's how I've divided it up, five different movements. The first movement is that Jonah was disobedient. They all start with these. It's kind of like my high school report card. Jonah was disobedient because God told him to do something. And Jonah disobeyed.
The assignment, to be clear, was not a desirable one for anybody. Basically, Jonah was told, I want you, he was in Israel, I want you to go. And I want you to preach to the Ninevites. To sort of bring the analogy to our culture, imagine September 12, 2001, that period. Imagine God saying, I really want you to go minister to al-Qaeda because, gosh, somebody needs to show those people I love them. You're like, too soon, God. 20 years is still a little bit raw. But that was how Jonah would have felt. Because the Ninevites, the Assyrian Empire at large, were responsible for so much pain and devastation, and, to be clear, terrorism, evil, horrific things that Jonah would have, no doubt, been connected to people who had lost loved ones to the Assyrians, who were merciless on the battlefield.
They would not just fight in a war. That's one thing. But if they captured you in the war, or they captured a city, and they saw women and children, they would spare nobody. They collected lips and ears as badges the way that we give out medals in our Army today. And they would have this badge that they would torture and mutilate the corpses of those that they had been powerful over. They would collect skulls. If you walked by a house, you would see a stack of skulls. And that was everyone you defeated. That was your big flex, to stack up their heads outside of the home. I mean, you look at some of the documents of antiquity, of how barbaric the Ninevites were. You're like, dude, if God's going to judge them, maybe they deserve it.
So when God tells Jonah, hey, they're wicked, and the wickedness is causing me to need to act. And in my justice, I need to unleash my wrath upon them. But in God's love, he says, I want you to go preach to them so they can turn away, which shows you something beautiful. God never operates in one of his attributes to the exclusion of another. He's just, so He will act. But He's loving. So He does anything He can to the sinner so they turn around and don't receive that judgment. Nowhere is that clearer than at the cross, where God unleashes wrath. All of the price of humanity's sin is put on Jesus. But He does so out of love, love for you, and love for me. He's willing to pay the bill Himself so that none of us need to suffer. But He still, in His justice, unleashes His wrath. He just chooses to do it on His Son so that He doesn't have to do it on us, if we are willing to accept that payment on behalf of our sins and see it credited to our bill.
Now, it's all a lovely sentiment. But Jonah wants nothing to do with it. He's like, that's amazing! You want to forgive them. I'm out of here, OK? So here's the assignment, go 500 miles to the east from where you sit in the city of Joppa, which is a coastal city you can go to to this day. You can look out at the ocean and see, in your mind's eye, Jonah getting into a boat. He gets on a boat. He's like, hey, I need to go on a trip. Where are you going? What's the furthest I can get away from Nineveh, which is 500 miles to the east? He's told, well, if you go 1,500 miles that way, there's a ship leaving for the south of Spain. And Jonah says, ah, I've always heard wonderful things about Ibiza. I will go there. It will be wonderful. I will bask in the sun. God, here is my prophet card. I'm out. peace out. Hey, town. This prophet ain't preaching nothing. I'm not going to Nineveh. He goes the opposite direction and boards a ship, the text tells us, Jonah 1, so he can get away from the presence of the Lord.
He not only is saying no to the assignment. He's like, I want nothing to do with your Spirit. I want nothing to do with you. I cannot handle a God who would allow people I hate this much, who have hurt those close to me, to be forgiven. It tells you something about God right there that's really annoying. He loves people you hate. How dare He? But the problem is, we are also loved ones hated by other people. That's the real bugger of a situation. But that's just God. He refuses to be fit into our preconceived notions of how He should behave. So Jonah is disobedient and on a boat. Second phase, you ready for it? Jonah gets disciplined. Jonah is disciplined. Why does God discipline His sons? Why does God discipline His daughters? Because He loves us. God is willing to act in correction. He, in this instance, sends a storm. Because Jonah's already in a pit even though he's not physically in one yet. He's spiritually in a dark, hard place, fleeing from the presence of the Lord.
The discipline comes in the form of a storm. And the storm comes because God loves Jonah. God is so good that He is willing to send a storm your way when you're heading somewhere you shouldn't be. And we know that Jonah knew better. We know that Jonah knew he was doing wrong. But he just chose to enter into a season of backsliding, of ignoring God, of hardening his heart. And I think what's easy to do is pile on Jonah. How dare he? How could he? What a terrible preacher he is. But I think what would be more helpful would be for us to admit and acknowledge we've all done things, and said things, and gone places, and been with people where, after the fact, if we were honest, we would say the same thing, "I really screwed up".
I think it's the "really" that gets me. "I screwed up" is one thing. But man, "I really screwed up", that's relatable. That's sometimes writing in my journal, that's sometimes praying, that sometimes avoiding God, avoiding church, avoiding the text messages and phone calls of people reaching out, seeking my good. Because I feel like I'm not in a good spot. And I don't even deserve God's love. I don't deserve the friendship of God's people. How could they ever want me? How could any how could God forgive me? He allowed me to become a Christian in the first place. And then I had that "get out of jail free" card. And I squandered it. I ruined it. And even worse, in the process, there's always collateral damage.
Jonah's woken up by the sailors. And the sailors say, a storm! And it's not normal, bro! Every one of them was calling on their gods. They each brought different idols with them. You worship the sun. I worship the moon. You worship money. They're praying to them and, shocking, the idols don't fix the problem. Because their idols, talking to a volleyball, right? This is Wilson material. They're praying to an idol they made that can't help them. They had to carry it onto the boat. Listen, you need a God you don't carry. You need a God who can carry you. You don't need a God you can drive. You don't need a God you can spend. You don't need a God you can snort. You don't need a God you can drink. You don't need a God that's an object of your lust. You need a God who made the heavens and the Earth.
There's this great story in the story of David and Saul, we ended that phase last week, but we'll come back for just a minute, where the Philistines have this god named Dagon. And it keeps tipping over as an act of God showing that He's real and Dagon is not. It keeps tipping over and they keep picking it back up in the morning. And then, one time, it falls over and breaks. His name was Dagon. So I always think it's funny that, when it fell over, they were probably like, Dagon-it! And they had to keep propping it up. And it's just so laughable because the Ark of the Covenant represents God's presence. And it's just an amazing thing to see the contrast of a god who falls over, a god who you need to pick up, a god who you need to prop up, but thinking that you can give your life to something that can't help you in the day of trouble.
The Bible says, "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath". All of us are tempted at times to get meaning from, and to receive value and validation from, things that cannot save us, things that cannot help us. They demand our allegiance. They demand our life. But they have nothing to offer us but enslavement. So these mariners, these merchant sailors, are calling their idols. And they wake Jonah up because he's sleeping. Why is he sleeping? Because it's exhausting to run from God. It is exhausting when, spiritually speaking, you're trying to ignore that voice of His Holy Spirit pinging you. So Jonah's asleep. They wake him up. They're like, bro, the storm's bad! We're gonna die! We're all calling on our gods. Did you bring a god on board you could worship? He goes, no, man, I don't worship no idol. I ain't afraid of no ghost. He says, I worship God who made the heavens and the Earth. They're like, that's fantastic!
So maybe you could talk to him for us. Because this is a really bad situation we're in. We're all dying. And Jonah goes, nah, He wouldn't want to listen to me because Him and I are not on a good page right now. And he actually explains to them, He told me to go preach to these people. I really hate them. I'm not doing it. So we're probably dead meat. The reaction of the sailors is hysterical. They say, why would you do that, bro? If you worship the real God and we're worshipping a volleyball, you should have listened to Him. It's tough when people far from God know better than the people of God how we ought to follow God. And even people who don't know God know that those who follow Him should be compassionate, should be kind, should care for the poor, all of these things that are clearly exemplified in Scripture. And so, Jonah says, look, there's a simple solution. Just throw me overboard. Because I would rather be dead than see Nineveh saved. And they do. And he's thinking, I am out of this thing. Fine. Peace out, again.
And you know what God does? God continues to not let him go. He loves him too much to let him go. He sends this creature, this animal of some sort, to swallow him. You have to imagine what this would have been like. Go on YouTube. 60 Minutes Australia just did a special a couple of months ago on a man in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, who was fishing for lobster with a scuba tank on the bottom of the ocean. And he had a rope to tell his friend, OK, yep, the trap's full of lobster. And as he was coming up, a humpback whale swallowed him in his mouth, thinking he was some sort of tasty treat. And this man was in the humpback whale. This was just a couple of months ago. 60 Minutes ran this special. He was in the whale's mouth. And then the whale got really agitated because he didn't like that there was a scuba tank rattling around inside of his canine teeth. And so, it started getting all agitated and trying to get him out. And he's like, I am dead meat.
What is happening? If this thing dies, I'm toast. And so, the whale came up. And his friend was in the boat, watching this all. And he's thinking at any moment his friend's going to surface. But instead, a really pissed off humpback whale's up there, all like, ugh. That's just what he did. And so, eventually, the whale spits the scuba diver out. And he comes up to the boat. He's like, what did you eat? I can't even imagine Jonah 3 days and 3 nights. God's seeking to discipline him, seeking to correct him, and all of this for love? You're like, God, You've got a weird way of showing Your love. Yes, He's a father. Proverbs 3 says, "My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves," say it with me, "He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights". When a parent, in love, corrects their child, it's because he loves them. She loves them. It is unloving to not discipline your children. It is unloving to not correct.
Now, listen. Qualify that, because Jennie and I have learned the hard way, moments of regret come when you discipline your child in the heat of the moment, still reacting but not having calmed down, taken a breath, sometimes a lap, sometimes a minute so that in a calm way. You don't do it in anger. You don't do it in wrath. But when you calm down enough to explain, here's what happened. I love you so much. That's why I need to teach you. I need to show you. It's unloving to not do that. Because it helps them, eventually, give in to the rage inside of them that no one loved me enough to give me boundaries. No one loved me enough to tell me what is wrong, the way I should take, the way I should not take. It is an act of love to discipline. So the Father, what he's doing to Jonah here, seems cruel. It seems harsh. But he's going in a way that will steer him away from God's best. So God loves him enough to discipline him.
Then the third movement kicks in, when Jonah finally prays and is delivered. He's delivered from the situation. And this is actually 2 phases for the price of one. Because, in the next phase, he delivers a sermon, the sermon he should have given in the first place. So he's delivered so that he can then deliver this message. But I want you, when you read Jonah this week, to pay attention to when in the chronology of the 3 days and 3 nights he finally taps out, says "uncle," and prays. It is after 3 days and 3 nights. The text says, "Then Jonah prayed". You got to give it to him. Homie is stubborn. He held onto his "I'm not going to do it". He is that kid who's like, if you don't eat this, you're going to bed hungry. Amazing. Where's my bed? Really? Now you're like, the kid that calls your bluff. It's really annoying. And they're starving. How long do I let this go? So Jonah's like, fine, cool. I don't mind this so bad. I could get used to a place like this, peace and quiet, no Ninevites here.
Awesome. I always loved whales, favorite creature of the sea. God's like, wow. Gabriel's like, I don't know if it's going to work. And 3 days and 3 nights, then, Jonah finally said, "God, I give in. God, please get me out of this pit". And when he does finally pray, I love the verbage that's used. Chapter 2, verse 4, "I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple". I've been hiding from the presence of the Lord. And as a result, I'm out of Your sight. I feel out of Your sight. I feel like I'm unworthy of Your sight. I'm unworthy to be called Your son. What kind of a prophet doesn't preach? What kind of a person who's received grace doesn't extend it? And here, in this moment, what does he do? He looks up. How does he tap into hope when he's in a pit of his own making? He looks again towards God's holy temple. And I say to you who feel like you've blown your witness. I say to you who feel like you've hurt people relationally. You've caused damage. You've done things. You've gone places. You knew better. You shouldn't have been with them. You knew that.
The Holy Spirit was lighting up every gauge on the dashboard. But you still did it anyway. We've all been, at times, in that place where we feel like, I really screwed up. And I knew better. And here's the most annoying thing about that, it's that none of us can blame it on the devil. It would be so awesome if, of that backsliding season, if, of that time when we gave ourselves back over to that addiction, and we fell off the wagon, and we did that one thing again that was always the thing that we knew we couldn't, because it would just cascade into all these other things, we knew full well what we were doing. Because Scripture says, "No temptation has overtaken you that you cannot have the power to overcome, because God always provides a way of escape when we are tempted". It is the most annoying verse in the Bible. Because it tells us that we had a way out, that there was that moment that, if we had hit that button, we could have ejected from that.
It might be very slight. It might be very quiet. But that's a powerful thing. Because the devil does not want you to know that. He makes it feel, in the moment, like that's the only choice you have. But I want you to tuck that in your heart. There's always a way of escape when you are tempted. And listen. He has a name. His name is Jesus. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. Say His name. And when you call on that name, there's power in that moment. There's power in that difficulty. When you feel like it's so dark, when you feel like it's so black, when you feel like the walls are caving in on you, say His name. But Jonah didn't. He didn't choose God's plan. He didn't choose God's best. And as a result, he was in this pit. And he felt like, I can't look at God because I feel like God's mad at me. But I love that he finally says, "I will look again toward your temple". And what did he find when he looked up? I believe he saw the smile of his Father.
That's what I'm always saying to Lennox and Clover, my kids, when I'm disciplining them, I always, at some point, when I feel like they're just hanging their head in shame, and just wallowing in it, I always say, look at me. Look at me. Look at my face. Am I mad at you? No. I love you. That's what your Father is saying. He's saying, look at Me. Look at Me. Don't look at what you think you see on Me. Don't look at what has been presented about what people say I'm like. I am looking at you with love. I'm your Father. I only disciplined you because I wanted to train you. I wanted to correct you. Look at Me. I love you. When you look up, you see the cross. The Bible says, "For all eternity, Jesus will bear the scars of the cross". I believe it's so that we can remember when we look at Him. He's saying, look at Me. I love you this much. Don't despair. Look again towards My holy temple. I know you've been living like there is no God. You've been living like hell even though you're headed to heaven. But look at Me. There's still time. It's not over yet. Just because you failed doesn't mean you're a failure. And the mistake that you made doesn't mean you are one. There is another new beginning in store for you.
This story tells us He's the God of the second chance, doesn't it? Because once he gets spit out of the fish, which is how he gets out of this whale, amazing, pit happens, but spit happens, too. He gets out of the pit. That was my favorite thing that God gave me this week. Spit happens. Chapter 2, verse 10, "The Lord spoke to the fish and it spit him out onto dry land", which, there was YouTube evidence of this. Because he missed the damp beach. He was sailing. This prophet, he was sailing. So now he pulls the seaweed off of him. And I love what happens next. The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time. Chapter 3, verse 1, it's just like it never even happened. "The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying", what? "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I will tell you".
I love that, because God doesn't rub his nose in the failure, "Bad dog, bad profit"! There's nothing passive aggressive about this. God treats him like this is the first time He ever spoke to him. Jonah's sitting there on the land. And God's like, all right, hey, Jonah. How are you doing? I got an assignment for you. Go preach to Nineveh. Just the sweetness of another opportunity, a second chance, there's always hope. And Jonah got up, spoiler alert, and delivered the message that God told him to preach. And when he did, guess what? It went really well. Tons of people broke out in salvation and revival. So many people in Nineveh got saved that, from the king to the lowest servant, there was national revival, the likes of which the world has never seen. In fact, it was so powerful that they even decided to wear sackcloth and ashes, which is kind of what you would wear if you were mourning in that day, like wearing a burlap gunny sack, like an old vintage coffee bag. They were wearing those with their arms popped out of them like they were doing a potato sack relay race or something like that. And they put ashes on their head, saying, we repent. We don't want to be nasty anymore and cut noses off. We want to honor God.
And then the King said, you know what? That's not enough. Make all the animals wear sackcloth and ashes, too, which might be the biggest miracle in the book. How do you get your animals to wear sackcloth? Can you imagine the donkeys running around like, why do we got to wear these? This is so bizarre. That's how powerful this nationwide revival was. And Jesus makes a point to say, the people of Nineveh responded like that to such a simple message preached. Jonah's message was very simple, yet 40 days in Nineveh is going to be overturned, which he preached with a salty heart, because he just got out of the ocean. And he didn't even want them to repent, which I love, by the way, that one of the greatest revivals that has ever happened in history took place in a response to a message that he did not even want to preach, which shows you that you don't need to want to obey God to obey God. You don't need to want to or even understand why God would call you to do something for it to be effective and powerful.
The Bible wastes very little energy on how we feel, whether we feel like worshipping Him, feel like giving to Him, feel like forgiving. The Bible instead tells us what to do. And I believe the feelings oftentimes will follow on the back end. Jonah very much did not want to do this, didn't even really do it with his whole heart, it would seem. And yet, massive response, revival, just amazing. You don't have to feel like obeying God. That's for somebody today to do what He's called you to do. The fourth movement is, Jonah falls into a massive depression. Everyone's revived, getting saved, cats, dogs, donkeys are wearing sackcloth and ashes. And Jonah's depressed. This is classic on two levels. Number one, oftentimes we will never be more vulnerable than after a great victory. After God does something huge through us, there's often a trough of... I found a lot of times doing something great for God, there's, on the back end, 2 things. There's this feeling of, how will I ever top that. How will I ever do that again? I don't know if I can ever go through that again. Plus, there's this onslaught of the enemy coming in those high times.
After Jesus' baptism, where a dove came down from heaven, immediately, the devil showed up in the wilderness. And that's oftentimes how it goes. But the second thing that I think is interesting about this depression as it comes in is that it reveals he was never afraid of failure. He was always afraid of victory. He was always afraid. If I do preach, they might repent. In fact, he puts it this way in Jonah 4:1. Everyone's getting saved, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly". Worst pastor ever. It's like he's, oh, God, I want you to go to hell so bad. Can we get a New Believer Bible? We just texted 97,000. He's like, oh, if you want to. You'd probably stink up heaven with all your nasty Ninevite smell. He's so bad. "And he became angry," verse 1. Verse 2, "So he prayed to the Lord, and said, 'Ah, Lord'", pause right there. You and I need to get better at praying prayers that start with "Ah, Lord".
I'm convinced. Because a lot of times, we bring God stained glass thee, thy, thou stuff we think he wants to hear. Meanwhile, the real junk that's in the trunk of our hearts and lives goes unspoken to. But if you just told God how you really thought it should be for a minute, if you just told God what frustrates you about life, and about people, and about situations, if you, this week, started a prayer with "Ah, Lord" and unloaded, I'm just guaranteeing you God's going to say, finally! You're leveling with Me. Finally you're being real. Finally! I've, all this time, known that was the problem. But now you're acknowledging it, too. So let's actually talk about that. Let's actually deal with that. "Ah, Lord," he says, "Was not this what I said when I was still in my country? That's why I tried to go to Spain, Tarshish, for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, One who relents from doing harm".
Now, Jonah never had a problem with His attributes when he was on the receiving end of it. We are tempted to want justice for others and grace for ourselves. And Jonah, even as he's saying it, is probably kind of realizing it, begrudgingly, "one who relents from doing harm. Therefore now", verse 3. This is unbelievable. "Please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live"! I would rather be dead than see those stupid Ninevites in church on Sunday and have to shake their hand or give them a COVID elbow bump. I just don't want to do it, God. I just can't handle it, God. So he's being honest about his feelings. And I will point out that here is a prophet, a pastor, who is being honest about having feelings of wanting to die. So even preachers, at times, will have suicidal thoughts. Maybe it would be better if I wasn't alive.
The point is, everybody feels that sometimes. All of us, at times, hit low moments and hard times and feelings like there's not going to be a brighter tomorrow, there's no hope for it. What do we do in those moments, when we have those feelings? My friend, Lysa TerKeurst, likes to say that we should use our emotions as indicators, not dictators. Indicators are something you pay attention to that tells you of a deeper problem. Dictators are, when they say something, you just do whatever they feel. You don't have to do what you feel. So it's going to be normal to have feelings of fear, and depression, and feelings like there's no hope out of this. And I should just end it all and just make all this pain stop. That's a feeling. When it lights up on the dashboard, that's an indicator. There's something going wrong deep down. I might need pastoral help. I might need counseling. I might need professional help. I definitely need to call a friend. But I'm not going to deal with this all on my own.
Jonah takes those thoughts that he's feeling. And instead of letting them be dictators to dictate his next course of action, he instead uses them as an indicator that it's time to pray. And he tells God exactly what he's feeling. You can tell God you wish you were dead. You can tell God you wish you were never born. Let that be an indicator to tell you, you need God instead of a dictator that tells you what to do next. Because it will always cause you to believe a lie, a lie like, the world will be better without me. That's a lie. It flashes. The enemy's speaking to me. The truth is, you were put on this planet for a reason and a purpose. You were knit together in your mother's womb. And your heavenly Father has a plan for your life, including this pit. Oh, but I went online and gambled again. And my spouse doesn't know I spent so much of our money. Listen. There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. Well, I cheated on my spouse. There's no possible hope. My kids will never trust me. My family will never respect me. I did this over here.
The enemy always wants you to be blind to the fog of what's right here and forget about the fact that you just keep moving. You just keep going. Eventually, you're going to come to a place where you realize there is hope. There is more. You're not always going to feel like you feel right now. The lie will come in, well, everyone will be better. I'm just so much trouble to them. They'll be happy. That's a lie. The truth is, you harm yourself, and those you love will have to carry that the rest of their life. You will not bring peace to anybody. You will bring harm. You will bring hardship. And I believe even just the act of declaring the lie and embracing the truth can splash some cold water on your face in that moment and cause you to realize, I am about to give in to a dictator that's not a dictator. It's an indicator. And the real truth is something else that we can deal with. And this pit, I'm going to get out of with God's help.
So I will lift my eyes once again to God's holy temple. So pick the phone up and call someone. And get on your knees and pray. And ask Jesus for strength. And He will give you power. Even Christ on the cross asked, why am I going through this? So He will be able to put his nail-scarred hand on your shoulder and say, "why" is not going to help anything. "What" is. And what is, I'm going to go through this with you. I am the way. And so, let's keep taking steps toward a brighter tomorrow. Jonah, in his depression, is still in training. And it's hard. And it's difficult. And it's uncomfortable. But what is God trying to do? As he is honest and open about his depression to God, he is deepened in it. He is deepened in the midst of this pit. That's what God's been up to this whole time. Here's something about your Father. He is just as, and perhaps even more interested in, what's going on inside of you as what He does through you. He's not like those, in the NFL scoreboard, what have you done for Me lately?
If you're not performing, you're cut, no matter how long you've been with Me. God will never get sick of you, never abandon you. Even if you're doing great things, He's willing to move heaven and Earth to still deal with an issue inside of you. He cares, not just about what you're producing, but who you're becoming. And so Jonah has been a part of this great revival. But God knows that, even though the work has been accomplished, the person is unfinished. And so, they have this great, quirky, amazing, weird moment in Jonah 4, where, in his depression, Jonah's just sitting, and watching, and sort of hoping that God will change his mind and judge Nineveh anyway. So he's literally sitting on a hill, kind of hoping that angelic B-2 bombers are going to start raining fire from the sky. Maybe they'll backslide and get killed anyway. This dude's got issues, just like me, and just like you. And God comes to him with a series of questions. In Jonah 4:4, verse 9, and 11, God brings no answers but just peppers Jonah with questions. Because I'm convinced that, to be a wonderful counselor, it's not about as much the answers you give as the questions you ask. And it will never be as powerful a revelation to have someone tell you what you need to know as much as give you the space to work it out in your own time.
And so, God comes in and just asks Jonah questions rather than telling him what he clearly knows. And Jonah is able to arrive at his own conclusions. God's deepening him. God's helping him to have a bigger capacity to believe. Hebrews 12:11 describes this process when it says it this way. "No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening, it's painful"! And all God's people said, "But afterward there will be", someone say "there will be", "a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way". If you can endure the surgeon's scalpel, if you can endure the contractor's sledgehammer, if you can endure the dump truck coming in to clear away the things in your life that are debris and holding you back, you will be a bigger person. You will be a person who's wiser. You'll be a person who's more gracious and a person who's been aged and seasoned. And then, God can do even more things through you because of who you've become along the way.
Jonah, I love throughout this book, is deepened. He's challenged. He's pushed, but for a purpose, because of God in Heaven, who knows what Jonah can become, just like He sees you as a project that He has plans for. You've not been forgotten about. You've not been abandoned. You are in process. And your Father is working and changing. And He's not going to be content until you live up to, and measure up to, the fullness of what He knows is inside of you that's dormant today. By the end, Jonah is used as a demonstration. That's what we have in Luke 12. Jesus is demonstrating what He's about to do on the cross, and in rising from the dead. And Jonah is the demonstration. Jonah gets to be used for Jesus to demonstrate His great plan of saving us on Easter Sunday from the power of the grave.
And I want to close here, because it's so helpful to me. Because I make mistakes a lot, not even big, tragic ones. Just little, stupid ones. My family and I were hiking the other day. And my kids started sliding down this rock over and over again. And then, they would climb up. And it was almost like there were little stairs. And they would slide down this rock. And I was like, this is amazing. This is a playground that God intended. None of this stuff's made in China. It's just amazing. And I turned, and there was two Asian people walking right behind me. And I just meant it as a synonym for artificial or man-made, because so much stuff that we buy on Amazon says "made in China" on the bottom of it. I didn't mean it. I didn't think about it. I would never have said it. And yet, I watched their eyes get so big and look so hurt. And if I could a thousand times chase them down, and hug them, and explain to them, I just think it would have made it worse. I was like, oh my God, I really screwed up. And that's just one tiny example of the little pits and the big pits we fall into.
Wow, I'm so human still. That's unfortunate. I hurt a human being. I didn't mean to do that. And Jonah being picked as a centerpiece of Jesus' sermon on this day is so comforting to me. Because you realize that, when He says, just like Jonah went in that whale and came out, I'm going to go into the grave and come out. The point is, Jesus wasn't embarrassed to use what was the most embarrassing thing in Jonah's life as a picture to present the gospel of grace to people. And He's willing to do the same for you, too. Jonah never should have been in that fish. He never should have gone there. But what made the story a great sermon illustration wasn't that he went in, it was that he came out. It took 3 days. But he prayed. And he was spit out of that pit. And he became, in coming out, a picture of what Jesus wants to do.
Do you see what I'm saying? I'm saying that your failure can become a picture of resurrection. And the more awful your failure, the bigger your fall, the more spectacular the rise when you stand up in the midst of it, and you repent, and you look again towards God's holy temple, and you allow your biggest mistake to become your most powerful message. And listen to me, Fresh Life Church. Second chances are just where God begins. Jesus was asked by Peter one time, how much do I have to forgive my brother or my sister if they sin against me? 7 times? And Jesus said, bro, you should forgive them 70 times 7, 490, which was just this exaggerated, huge number meaning endless. Keep forgiving. I usually read that text and think, oh, it's a tough pill to swallow, keep forgiving. But that also, if you look at it from another perspective, shows how God thinks about forgiveness, isn't it?
So when you sin against God, is He just going to forgive you 2 times? A second chance, but don't blow it this time? You got your get out of jail free card, but don't blow it. No, he'll forgive you 7 times. And what about the end of seven? Oh, that's it. God's like, no, I'll forgive you 490 times and then some. Because that's who I am. And that's what I do. So lift your eyes in your failure and look up. There's hope, even in, this is how we're rethinking the F word, even in our failure. And God, in His goodness, will use your biggest regret to be a showcase of the Resurrection. I'm going to bless you, he says, even in places where you shouldn't have ever gone. So today, the challenge when it comes to our own personal experience with the F word, our own failure following God, is to remember that not only is God not mad at us, but He's going to give us the tools to not be mad at us, either. For if God isn't angry with you, then you don't need to be, either.
So, Father, these are hard things to talk about. We don't to trivialize what is really, deeply personal and painful, the infidelities, the betrayals, the sins, the crimes, the lusts, the drunkenness. We've done. We've gone. We've been. But it was all paid for at the cross. And so, even though it's going to be a process working out the consequences, we might not have a driver's license for a while because of that DUI. We might not have a job for a while because of what we did. There may be real consequences. But You're going to be there with us through them.
Pit happens, but so does spit. We can get spit out of that pit if we just say, I'm going call the name of Jesus. We don't have to remain in that state of being backslid. And you say to the backslider, repent from your backsliding and be backslid no more. If we repent and be revived, refreshment will follow. And if, as I'm preaching this message, there's some pit you're in today, and you would say, I need the help of heaven to get out, so I want to lift my eyes and look up, if that's you I'm describing, I picked out some verses I want to proclaim over you. But could I ask that, just in the honesty of this moment, you would be vulnerable enough to raise your hand to say, I need some help getting out of a pit. I need some help from God.
Just raise your hand up, all across the church. Online, if you're watching this after the fact on YouTube, God sees your hand. He sees your heart. He sees you looking up again towards His holy temple. In Psalm 130, David said, "If You, God, kept records on my wrongdoings, how could I ever stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is Your habit, and that is why You're worshipped". So today, God is not keeping a list of rights and wrongs He forgives and forgets. In Lamentations 3, I'm speaking this truth over you, "God's loyal love couldn't have run out, His merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning. How great is your faithfulness! I'm sticking with God. I say it over and over. He's all I've got left".
And so, Father, with this fresh picture of a forgiveness that doesn't run out, and that can't be withheld because of our doing wrong, because it was never, ever based on us. It was placed on us based on what Jesus did. I pray that the power of that reality in every new sunrise, a fresh reminder to trust You, and follow You, and to hope for a brighter tomorrow would mark us as your people, who are pilgrims with our hearts set on Heaven. And if You're not giving up on us, we won't give up on ourselves.
You can put your hands down. And I want to extend an invitation, in this holy moment, for anybody today who's never made the decision to give your heart to Jesus. The Bible says, bad news, that we're all sinners. But good news, God sent Jesus to die and to rise from the dead. And if, today, you turn from your sins and look to Him, He will forgive you and give you the promise of eternal life. The flipside of that, of course, is that if we reject the only means of salvation that exists, we will perish. That's what the Bible describes as hell, that's being cut off and separated from God, not just in life, but forever. And that doesn't need to be your story. God loves you. He's willing to save you.
Even at this moment, He's knocking at the door of your heart through His spirit. And if you invite him in, if you're young, if you're old, no one's too young to be able to receive if you understand what I'm saying. No one's too old. There's no old dogs. This is not a new trick. This is a Savior who will come into your life, even at the very end of your life, and make you brand new. If you're a religious person, and you've gone to church, and you're counting on that to save you, just know that religion can't save you. Good works can't save you. Only the blood of Jesus has the power to save you. If, as we're praying, you would say, this is me, Levi. I want to do this. I want to make this decision. What do I need to do? I'm going to pray a prayer with you. I'm going to say it one phrase at a time. Say it out loud after me to God, meaning in your heart. And as you confess your sins and put your faith in Him, He will save you, and heal you, become your friend, and become your Lord. Church family, pray this with us.
Dear God. I know that I'm a sinner. I can't fix myself. But I believe you can because Jesus died for me. And on the third day, He rose again. So I put my life in Your hands. I pick up my cross to follow You. Be my Savior. Be my friend. Be my God to the end, in Jesus' name.