Grades 3-6 Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 3: In the City of Nineveh, Preaching
[If you can find a “Where’s Waldo” picture, bring it with you to show the class. If time permits, allow them some time to find Waldo. You may wish to do this at the beginning of each lesson in this series.]
Has anyone here ever played golf before? Have you ever heard of a “mulligan?” Sometimes when golfers are playing a round of golf, and it’s not a serious competition, they allow each person playing to have a mulligan. It’s simply a do-over. If they have a bad shot, they are allowed to take another one from the same spot. But each player only has one mulligan in a round of golf.
There are several theories as to how the mulligan got its name. One of the oldest is that there was a man by the name of Thomas Mulligan, who was an aristocrat living in Europe, in the 1800’s. He is said to have been a “passionate golfer;” and is credited with idea that a golfer’s tee shot (or first shot) should not count until they hit one that’s playable. He thought that all shots before the first playable one should simply be considered practice-shots. So when that idea caught on, Mulligan’s name was attached to the do-over shots.*
We’re going to see, in today’s lesson, that Jonah gets a “mulligan.” God’s going to give him a second chance to do what he was supposed to have done the first time…go to Nineveh. What do you think Jonah will do with his “mulligan?” Do you think he’ll run away, again? Or do you think he learned his lesson after spending three days and nights slopping around in the fish’s belly? We’ll find out after we learn this week’s memory verse.
It’s a verse from today’s passage. And it’s simply meant to remind us that just because we mess up the first time doesn’t mean that God cannot use us. Our God often gives second chances!
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah a second time…So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.” Jonah 3:1, 3a
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for Your Word, The Bible, where we can learn new truths about You, and Your plans for us. Help each one of us here, today, to be attentive to what You would have us learn. Give us open ears and hearts, ready to listen to Your words. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: Jonah gets a second chance, and God gets a victory (Jonah 3)
(Jonah is offered a second chance)
Last week, we learned that Jonah spent some time in the belly of the fish, praying to the Lord. He had three days and nights to think about His decision to run from God. And in the end, he was ready to “pay that that I have vowed.” (Jonah 2:9) Perhaps Jonah had promised God that if He got him out of the fish, he would go to Nineveh, as God had asked.
We don’t know for sure if that is the vow he made. But at the beginning of chapter 3, Jonah realized he was getting a second chance to do what God had asked. And this time, he wasn’t going to mess things up.
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.
The first two verses of Jonah chapter 3 may sound very familiar to you. If they do, it’s probably because they sound almost like the first two verses of chapter 1. Listen to what chapter 1 said: “Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it…” (Jonah 1:1-2) The pronouncement of the word of the Lord is the same. He came to the same prophet; and the instructions were nearly the same.
But one thing, one very important thing changed from chapter 1 to chapter 3. Jonah was getting a do-over. And this time, he was going to obey! What had been Jonah’s response the first time? “Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish…” (Jonah 1:3) But now, in chapter 3, after the fish had spit him out on dry land, we read that “Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.” (Jonah 3:3)
We should note, here, that the Bible doesn’t say that Jonah changed his mind, and decided that going to Nineveh was a good idea. We’ll see next week that that wasn’t the case at all. Jonah still did not want the Ninevites to have the opportunity to repent. But his experience in the fish’s belly seemed to have convinced him that whether or not he agreed with it, God’s plan was still the one he should obey.
There have probably been times in your life when you’ve had to do the same thing, maybe with your parents or a teacher. They have asked you to do something you really didn’t want to do. But simply because they’re the ones in charge, you did it anyway. Sometimes that’s just the way it has to be. We may not always understand why we’re told to do some things. And even if our teachers or parents tried to explain, we still might not want to do it. But because we should, we obey. And that pleases the Lord!
Jonah knew, now, that there was no sense in trying to run from the Lord. He needed to obey whether he agreed with God, or not. So off he went, to Nineveh.
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.
Nineveh was a huge city, for its time. It took three days just to walk through the whole thing. And a big city generally means lots of people; in this case, lots of wicked people. (Remember, that’s the reason God was going to destroy the city…because of their wickedness.) So Jonah had a big job to do.
What was the message Jonah delivered to the city of Nineveh? He told them that in forty days their city was going to be overthrown. What do you think people in your town would do if someone came in and said your city was going to be taken over by an enemy in forty days? There are several things that they might do;
they might ignore the message, thinking the whole thing was ridiculous
they might become angry with the messenger, and try to stop him from spreading the message any farther
they might start gathering weapons to defend themselves
families might begin stocking up food and water to prepare for trouble
Let’s find out how the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message.
(the Ninevites respond)
Does anyone remember why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh in the first place? He was concerned that because God is so loving and gracious, He would change His mind about punishing the people of Nineveh. So Jonah probably was not surprised when Ninevites began responding to his message. But even he was likely shocked by how fast and how many of the people of Nineveh turned to God in repentance.
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.
What did the people of Nineveh do in response to Jonah’s message?
they believed God
they called for a fast
they put on sackcloth, which was a sign of mourning
All of the things the Ninevites did in response to Jonah’s message are signs that they were sincerely seeking God’s forgiveness for their sins. And this amazing reaction came from everyone throughout the city, from the poorest to the greatest. Even the king of Nineveh humbled himself, and called for repentance in his city.
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?
Some have called this the greatest revival in history. Nineveh was one of the biggest and most influential cities of its time. And when they heard the message of coming judgment, the entire city acknowledged their sin, and their need of God’s forgiveness. And it was all due to the obedience of one reluctant man, Jonah.
This is a great lesson for each of us. God can take our smallest acts of obedience, and use them to bring about great results for His kingdom. He would always prefer that we obey with enthusiasm in our hearts. But even when we don’t, even when we obey just because we are supposed to, God can take that obedience, too, and use it for His honor and glory.
And let’s not miss that last comment made by the king of Nineveh. Notice that even as a pagan king, who probably worshipped and served other gods, he recognized that the one true God was a God of love and mercy. He didn’t resign himself to the fate that was prophesied by Jonah, but instead decided to call upon God, and hope that the cries of repentance from the Ninevites would change His heart.
Does that happen? Does God ever change what He says He was going to do? Let’s find out.
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.
This is just what Jonah had feared would happen, isn’t it? He knew that God was gracious and merciful. And that if the people of Nineveh repented, God’s heart toward them might soften. That’s called mercy! Mercy is when we are spared from a punishment or judgment that we have earned. Romans 6:23 reminds us that “the wages of sin is death...”
Because of their wickedness, the people of Nineveh deserved to be judged by God. He was planning to give them the wages they had earned - death. But God is so loving and kind, that when someone’s heart is truly repentant, when they turn away from their sin, and turn to Him for forgiveness, He opens His arms to them. He forgives their sins. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So when God saw that the Ninevites had turned away from their wicked ways, when He saw them humble themselves through fasting and wearing sackcloth, He did, indeed, soften His heart toward Nineveh. Verse 10 says, “God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”
And God is still that way with us, today. We are no different than the people of Nineveh. Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And that “all” includes you and me! Do you remember what Romans 6:23 says we have earned because of our sin? Just like the Ninevites, we have earned death and eternal separation from God. By our sin, we’ve earned a place in Hell.
But God loves us so much, “that He gave His only begotten Son,” (John 3:16) And that Son, Jesus, died on a cross to pay those wages of death and Hell that we have earned. So when we come to God to repent of our sins, to ask for forgiveness and turn away from those sins, God can take the blood that Jesus shed on the cross, and pay the ransom for our sin. The same mercy that He showed to the Ninevites is still available to us, too!
And then, because God is also gracious, He not only makes a way for us to escape punishment in Hell, but He also gives us the gift of eternal life in Heaven. Once we accept Jesus as our Savior, God sends His Holy Spirit to live in us, to help us live godly lives here on earth, until it’s time for us to one day join Him in Heaven. What a wonderful God we serve!
So I ask you today, have you ever done what the people of Nineveh did? Have you looked at your life, and agreed that you have sinned, and come short of God’s holiness? Have you turned away from your sin, and asked God to forgive you, and pay for your sin by the blood that Jesus shed, for you, on the cross?
If you have, then God promises you a home with Him in Heaven, some day. And His Spirit is dwelling in you, right now. But if you have not, then you still owe that great debt for your sin. A debt you can’t possibly pay on your own. Won’t you consider asking God to forgive you, and save you? Just as He did with Jonah, God’s offering you another chance to respond to Him. Won’t you do that, today?
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for being a God who invites us to come to You in prayer. And thank You for inviting us to confess our sins to You, and be saved. We are so grateful for Jesus paying the wages for our sins. And ask that if anyone here has not come to You for salvation, that today would be the day that they open their hearts to You. For we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Activity: (Review Questions)
Fill in the Blanks
God gave Jonah a second chance to obey, and go to Nineveh.
Jonah’s message was that Nineveh would be overthrown in 40 days.
The Ninevites responded by fasting and putting on sackcloth.
The king of Nineveh urged all the people to turn from their evil ways.
The king believed that God might change His mind if they repented.
True or False
1. Jonah obeyed and went to Nineveh when God gave him a second chance. (true)
2. Nineveh was just a small, insignificant town. (false – it was an “exceedingly great city”)
3. The people of Nineveh believed God. (true)
4. The king of Nineveh became angry, and threw Jonah in prison. (false – he humbly repented, too)
5. After 40 days, God punished the city, as He said He would. (false – He “repented of the evil that he had said that He would do”)