5th Sunday after Pentecost
July 14, 2019
“See Jonah Preach”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us for our sermon series on the book of Jonah is today’s First Lesson read from Jonah chapter 3.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude and laced with profanity; the bird talked like a wounded pirate. John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude and anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary. John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot swore using words John had never heard before. John, in desperation, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms and said “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.” John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot about his change of heart when the bird said, “May I ask what the turkey and the chicken said?” That my friends, in a nut-shell, is how repentance, a major theme of Jonah chapter 3, works; turning from one chosen course to another course with a better outcome.
Let’s set the scene in case you weren’t here or forgot. Jonah got his call from God from which he ran away (“see Jonah pass”). In his efforts to run to Tarshish, he was thrown overboard from his ship in the middle of the storm and Jonah ended up inside the great fish. After a prayer taken from the Psalms (“see Jonah pray”), Jonah is then heaved onto dry land to, once again, go to Nineveh – the capital city of Assyria where God had called him to go in the first place.
The people of Nineveh were a powerful, arrogant, violent, wicked people. Jonah is a little guy from a weak nation at the edge of their soon to be empire. They might have strung him up from condemning their city, but they don’t. They listen to him. Mind you, it might be easier to listen to a prophet who has recently spent the last three days in the belly of a fish. His skin and hair are bleached white from the digestive juices, his clothes are half digested, there is a dried up piece of seaweed hanging off his ear. I might listen to a guy like that, a guy who says: “Repent, or God will do to you what he just did to me!” Whether Jonah showed up like that (appearance), or he cleaned himself up a little before arriving, the people still hear his message (power of the Word) and believe it. They recognize that they have been doing great evil, and they repent; they turn (3:5).
The pagan Ninevites demonstrate the greatest example of corporate repentance that we find in the Bible! They hear Jonah preach (maybe the shortest sermon EVER) and by the Holy Spirit they spontaneously respond in faith. They declare a fast, they all remove their clothes, put on sackcloth with ashes on their heads and go about mourning, which are all classic signs of repentance in the OT.
Even the king, when he hears the news of their impending doom, gets off his throne, removes his royal robes, puts on sackcloth, and sits down in the dust (3:6).
He extends the fast not just to people, but to the animals as well. Nineveh goes from this powerful, arrogant, wicked city to become a city of massive mourning. You couldn’t hear yourself think in Nineveh in those days! Have you ever heard a hungry cow? All of Nineveh’s cows and sheep and camels and horses would have been complaining loudly, the people would have been sitting in the streets calling out to God to forgive them, babies would have been crying for their mothers to feed them! What a racket! What a change of heart!
That’s because God empowers this kind of change of heart, and a change in behavior. Sin makes us do crazy things, say awful things, and causes inaction when we should take action and God can still work in us despite our rebellion. The king doesn’t just call the people to fast and mourn, he calls for a change in behavior. He says in verse 8: “Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.” The Ninevites repent and believe…all from an 8 word sermon!
The repentance that we see in Nineveh is nothing short of a miracle. It is almost impossible even to imagine that Nineveh would repent at the short sound of this reluctant prophet’s voice. In the same way, when we repent of our sin, it is a miracle in our hearts that we have heard the Gospel and responded positively. Every day with wrestle with the fact that we are Simul Justus et Peccator or “simultaneously saint and sinner.” We live in this dichotomy every day: we sin but we also believe, and so we repent and repentance changes our course from its current path to a different one – a better one with a better outcome!
Talk about a change for a better outcome. Like the king of Nineveh, Jesus exchanges his royal robes for rags. He gives up the right hand of God for a wooden manger. He exchanges His heavenly throne for a rough hewn cross. He surrenders His flesh and blood that you might not have to. He turns wrath to love; suffering to joy; loss to gain.
What do you need to repent of today? What secret sin do you need to turn from? What anger or issue do you need to let go and walk away from? What lie have you left hanging out there that need resolution? What words need to be said or action taken, but you are hesitant to do so? Repent. Turn. Find a better outcome.
My friends, it doesn’t matter whether a sermon is 8 words, 8 minutes, or 8 pages long. What matters is that the Word of God will work mightily in those who hear it to bring repentance which leads to God’s loving daily forgiveness. Why put off action until tomorrow? What if there IS NO tomorrow? Can you live the rest of your in regret? Repentance worked a miracle in the lives of the Ninevites. Are you ready for that miracle in your life? If so, then repent. Turn. Make those changes today before a stinky prophet shows up at your door. Repent. Turn. Before it is too late.