9th Sunday after Pentecost (B)
July 26, 2015
“See Jonah Preach”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us this morning for our sermon series on the book of Jonah is today’s First Lesson read from Jonah chapter 3. The title for the sermon this morning is “See Jonah Preach.”
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
If this has happened once, it has happened a billion times. A husband and wife are in a car lost in an unfamiliar city, and the wife tells her husband “Dear, at the next intersection you need to turn right.” To which the husband replies, “Thank you love of my life.” However, distracted by his unending love for his bride, the husband accidently turns left. His wife says, “Oh dearest heart, you have turned the wrong way. I asked you to turn right, and – silly yet wonderful man – you turned left instead.” The husband answers, “my everything, you are so right. I’m so wrong. Please, I implore you, forgive me for what I have done.” Yeah…that’s how it happens. But if that’s all the husband does – apologizes – it doesn’t fix the situation. To get where they want to be, he needs to stop the car, turn it around and go back on to the correct road that his wife told him to take in the first place. Sound familiar? 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. 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 fine 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 kelp hanging off his left 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, or he cleaned himself up a little before arriving, the people still hear his message and believe it. They recognize that they have been doing great evil, and they repent (3:5).
Jonah is filled with literary devices: parallelism, foreshadowing, and symmetry. But also consider the irony. Jonah was an Israelite – God’s chosen people. When God called him to do something, Jonah ran and whined and hid. Now we see the Assyrians…pagans through and through. Yet the Ninevites demonstrate the greatest example of corporate repentance that we find in the Bible! They hear Jonah preach and by the Holy Spirit they spontaneously respond in faith. They declare a fast, they all remove their clothes, put sackcloth on their bodies and ashes on their heads and go about mourning.
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). In all humility and contrition, he trades his robes for rags and his throne for the dirt.
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 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 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 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!
Nineveh’s change evoked the LORD’S change…and that’s one thing that God does really well. Our God changes from condemnation to grace for the sake of Christ. 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, but you are hesitant to speak them? Repent. Turn. Find a better outcome.
When we repent, God forgives. And when God forgives the past, it is gone. There is no nervousness. There is no worry: ‘What if I mess up again?’ You ARE going to mess up again, yet God lovingly forgives because of Jesus. There is only the peace and joy of knowing that the past is forgiven and the future is full of the hope and promise of our crucified and resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ, who creates all things new, including you!
My wife Joanne always teases me my sermons are too long and maybe she’s right (she isn’t!). But then again, Jonah’s sermon was only 8 words long (3:4). 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 forgiveness. It worked a miracle in the lives of the Ninevites. Are you ready for that miracle in your life? If so, then repent. Today. Before it is too late.