Friday, April 06, 2012

Sermon on Jonah 4:1-4, for Maundy Thursday (Lent 7), Jonah: The Survivor Series, Part 7: "On the Same Page"

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. 

Have you ever not been “on the same page” as someone? A new resident was walking down a street and noticed a man struggling with a washing machine at the doorway of his house. When the newcomer volunteered to help, the homeowner was overjoyed, and the two men together began to work and struggle with the bulky appliance. After several minutes of fruitless effort the two stopped and just stared at each other in frustration. Finally, when they had caught their breath, the first man said to the homeowner: “We’ll never get this washing machine in there!” To which the homeowner replied: “In? I’m trying to move it out of here!”
That was a definite communication breakdown. The truth is we only get things done when we are in agreement. We need to be either going in or going out. We have to be on the same page. Jonah had found that he was on a different page than his God. Chapter 3 had ended with the amazing success of God’s mission for the prophet Jonah—the feared and hated Assyrians had repented and believed in God, and so God spared them His wrath and destruction! Mission accomplished! But Jonah hated the Assyrians and they were easy to hate. So in chapter 4, rather than rejoicing over the repentance of over 120,000 lost sinners, Jonah is furious! In stronger words than our English translations express, it says that what had happened was “a great evil” to Jonah, and that he burned with anger! And he pours out His anger against God!
Now Jonah levels with God the real reason he ran away: “because I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” Jonah was angry with God because He forgave the Ninevites! Forgiveness? Nothing would have pleased Jonah more than to see the whole bunch of the Assyrians wiped off the earth. Those Assyrians may have mattered to God, but they didn’t matter to Jonah. Their cruelty was known throughout the world. And frankly, Jonah hated them! He did not want them blessed. They could be condemned forever as far as he was concerned. He had no desire to see these people turn from their sin. He wanted them to receive the judgment that they so richly deserved.
Jonah’s “ great evil” was an unforgiving heart (pp. 350-51; 357-62). Jonah’s shockingly ironic prayer of misery and self-pity shows him, “a servant of the true God and a member of the holiest land and nation, [to be] the worst and most grievous sinner, worse than the idolatrous heathen!” (Luther). Jonah and the LORD were on a completely different page. One was condemning; the other was forgiving. The LORD moved them to repentance and followed it with the gospel (pp. 353-56; 367-70). Jonah doesn’t want God to be like this. Well, not exactly. Jonah wants God to be gracious and merciful and loving, only to him and the people he cares about! He doesn’t want God to love his enemies, the Ninevites! He wants those terrible, pagan enemies of Israel, to get it in the neck!
By the end of the story, Jonah becomes a difficult character to love. His bitterness and self-pity and jealousy of God’s grace makes him a tough person to like. But we must painfully admit that we’ve got the same sin-nature as old Jonah. So often we’re quite happy that God is merciful and gracious to us. We’re eternally blessed that the Lord has undying love for our friends and family. But there are some people…we can't figure out what God could love about them. There are some people we find it awfully hard to love. We start to sound a lot like Jonah—gladly accepting God’s grace for us, but begrudging the same grace to our enemies! We’re reminded of a central principle of our faith. “God so loved the world …” God’s love to the loveless shown…that they might lovely be. God gets His love into us by loving us in the way Jonah correctly described Him: “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” He loves us in this way, that our loveless hearts of stone might melt and become compassionate like His. Jesus taught us not just to love those who were easy to love—our friends and family—but our enemies as well!
The movie, Forrest Gump, is well-known for its quotes. But an often overlooked line comes from a scene where one of the central characters, Jenny, returns to her old home after her father had died; the old farm house is dilapidated and abandoned. As she reflects on the sexual abuse that she endured as a child, she is overcome by rage and begins throwing rocks at the house. Jenny finally falls to the ground in exhaustion, and the scene closes with Forrest Gump saying, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.” There will never be enough rocks because revenge doesn’t work!
Who was at the first Passover? There were James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” who had asked Jesus if they could call fire down on an unrepentant village. There was Peter, who would have turned Jesus away from His cross, were it not for the sharp rebuke “get behind me Satan!” There was Matthew, the former tax collector, a profession tainted by its dishonest practices. There were disciples who had turned the little children away from Jesus, thinking they were a nuisance. There was Thomas who would doubt the resurrection. And then there was Judas Iscariot. The very disciple who would sell Jesus into the hands of sinful men for the ‘lordly price’ of thirty pieces of silver. Judas the betrayer, the one who had secretly stolen from the money purse entrusted to him for Jesus’ and the disciples’ charity work.
Judas and Jesus were not on the same page, for sure! But just as God continued to love Jonah with his vindictive and unlovable heart, so in Christ he continued to love not only Judas, but all of his disciples, none of whom was yet on the same page as the Savior. Even with their sinful hearts, at times proud and arrogant, set on glory, at times timid and fearful and doubting—He loved them earnestly, and He loved them to the end. His heart yearned for them, even as He knew the hour was shortly coming when they would all fall away from Him and run in fear from His betrayal and arrest. That Peter would betray Him. That He would suffer in prison alone.
Yet here He put in their sinful hands, His body and His blood, giving them to eat and drink as He laid down His life for their forgiveness. He instituted a new meal, a new testament or contract in His blood—to be done in remembrance of Him. Soon they would see His love, even for His enemies, on full display at His cross. For some it is too painful even to watch. To see that love could be so great as to even overcome pure hatred. To see that love of Jesus that could penetrate our cold and unfeeling hearts, and turn them to love others just as He first loved us!
We’ve said that its necessary to be on the same page. In fact, all people are on the same page, the page of the Bible in Romans 3 that says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) All stand guilty. All need a Savior. And so we put away our grudges and thoughts of revenge, and come to the table that the LORD has prepared for us. And here, in the real presence of Jesus, we not only survive our grudges, we overcome them in the power of his broken body and shed blood for our forgiveness!

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