How long does a sermon need to be? In the original language of the Scriptures, the message of Jonah the prophet that brought Nineveh to its repentant knees consisted of five words. The New King James Version contains eight:
“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4, NKJV)
So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he rose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes….
‘But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?’ (Jonah 3:5-6, 8-9, NKJV)
And God relented. (v. 10)
Now, we can’t know whether Jonah actually said more than that at the time, but the message that the Holy Spirit appointed to preservation for our instruction is five words long in Hebrew. Five words brought about revival in Nineveh, sort of a Las Vegas for terrorists in its day.
“As Robert Murray McCheyne (who could speak from personal experience of being such an instrument) put it, ‘It is not much speaking, but much faith, that is needed.'” (Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone, p. 99)
Speaking for myself, longer sermons can be very edifying, convicting, and uplifting. Certainly Jesus spent a fair amount of time with the Samaritan woman whose testimony in turn sparked a revival in Sychar. But I’m fascinated with this example of five words igniting the revival of Nineveh.