Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sermon on Jonah 3:1-5, Lent 5, Jonah, The Survivor Series: Part 5: "The God of the Second Chance"

The following Lenten series I will be preaching on is adapted from Dr. Reed Lessing's series on Jonah the prophet. Dr. Lessing is professor of Old Testament at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. 

            After a somewhat less than graceful exit from the belly of the whale, Jonah was back on terra firma. And it was no time to rest or to hatch another escape plan—that have proven to be fruitless (267). God had work for Jonah to do, and he was to get right to it. God was persistent in His call, and wasn’t going to let up. Perhaps we can recall times when we’ve had a less than graceful course-correction in our lives, and were humbled, somewhat unsteady on our feet, and back to facing the call that God has for us. Because of God’s grace, we are given a second chance—we are renewed for His service yet again. Jonah obeyed at last the command to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
            In verse three, almost all translations describe Nineveh as an “exceedingly great city.” But you have to look in the footnote to realize that literally it reads “a great city belonging to God”. Nineveh?!? Belonging to God? Most You mean the capital of the despotic empire? The city God was going to overturn? This city of pagans, who didn’t know or acknowledge God belonged to God? Yes! God was concerned for these inhabitants too! However wicked their crimes were, they still belonged to Him, and their welfare was His concern. And Jonah enters that great city with a single-sentence sermon that is neither eloquent nor passionate; is not addressed to anyone in particular, and mentions no crimes or precise form of punishment—simply these words: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overturned!”
            Was the brevity of the sermon because he was afraid of getting stoned? Was this just a summary of a longer message? Was he hoping that they wouldn’t repent? Whatever the case, any possible fears that the people would ignore or reject the message were remarkably unfounded! Far a backlash, the Ninevites, of all things….did what?? They believed in God!!! They called for a fast, repented from their sin, and wore the clothing of mourning and sadness. They humbled themselves before God! All of them! From the least to the greatest—the poorest citizen to the king. Was Jonah prepared for that? No! “Wait, you mean…they get a second chance too? But they deserve to get hammered!” Jonah, Jonah, Jonah!
            Have you ever been a Jonah, wishing some other person or group of “deserving sinners” would “get hammered?” That they would suffer what they deserve? James and John, disciples of Jesus once asked if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy a village that rejected Jesus—and He rebuked them. Don’t we—didn’t they—didn’t Jonah get that the judgment that would fall down on the heads of other sinners would fall down on us too? But God’s judgment fell down on the head of Jesus instead of us. Jesus willingly stood under the judgment of God, so that we could be spared. So that even wicked sinners like the Ninevites could hear the Word and turn back to God and be saved. Didn’t Jonah—don’t we get that his humbling experience was to open his heart to the lost people of Nineveh, not to harden it in judgment against them? That our heart too, like God’s, would ache for the lost, and do everything to bring them back? Do we doubt the same Word of God that is like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer. 23:29) can break our stony hearts can do the same for unbelievers? That the same Spirit of life who gives a heart of flesh to us (Ezek. 11:19), can do the same for those who haven’t yet heard the Word?
            God was able to work…His Word was powerful and effective, even through Jonah’s sentence-long sermon. God made a nation change its hearts when it couldn’t have been expected. God can certainly do the same today. But His Word and Spirit is the only power that can accomplish it. The Word is God the Spirit’s effective tool, His powerful means of grace to change hearts and make them new. It’s only through His Gospel that we survive and get a second chance, and it’s through that same Gospel that all others who will be saved will likewise get their second chance. And far more than just one extra chance, He’s daily forgiving our sins and the sins of all who return to the Lord, and trust in His Son Jesus—the prophet greater than Jonah who is here and is for us! Amen.

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