Epiphany 3, 2015
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
"God's desire to forgive"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jonah was a prophet of God. He lived approximately 700-800 years before the birth of Christ. God called Jonah to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2) But as most of us know...if not all of us... Jonah refused to go. I'm sure Jonah had his reasons for disobeying God. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria...a hated enemy of Israel. Nineveh was a city full of wickedness...much like Sodom and Gomorrah. For Jonah, Nineveh didn't deserve to hear God's warning. So risking God's wrath and anger he fled.
Jonah didn't get very far. Asleep on a ship a horrific storm arose. The sailors did all they could...but knew they were in great peril. They cried out to their own gods to no avail. They threw cargo off the ship but that didn't help. They woke Jonah up and asked him to pray to his God for help. They cast lots to find the culprit and the lot fell on Jonah. Jonah confessed to them what he had done. When all attempts failed to reach shore...they threw Jonah into the sea where He was swallowed by a great fish.
After three days within this fish Jonah cried out to God. He confessed his sins and prayed for forgiveness and mercy. God heard his prayers and caused the great fish to vomit Jonah up onto dry ground. Jonah had disobeyed God and nearly cost others their lives because of his decision. Jonah deserved to be punished...he deserved death and condemnation for his sins. Yet God had mercy on Jonah and forgave His sins.
"Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them." (Jonah 3:1-5)
Jonah finally went to Nineveh. He didn't want to be there...but had learned his lesson. He most likely gave it a half-hearted effort. Regardless, Jonah called the people to repentance. The King of Assyria heard the message. He and his people fasted, wore sackcloth and ashes, and prayed for forgiveness. "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it." (Jonah 3:10)
This made Jonah angry. Jonah confesses that he disobeyed and fled because He knew God would forgive them. Jonah didn't want these people to be forgiven. Jonah wanted God to punish his enemies for their sin. They didn't deserve to be forgiven. They didn't deserve for God's wrath to be turned away!
Do you ever act like Jonah? How do you feel when someone is tail-gating you while you are going the speed limit or even a few miles over the speed limit? There are times when people tail me and finally pass by and zoom away that I wish that a cop would come out of nowhere and pull them over or that they would have a flat tire a mile or so down the road. There have actually been a few times when this has happened and as I pass by I think to myself “it serves them right.” If this has happened to you…I ask you…would you ever pull over to help them if they were in need?
For one reason or another there are often times when people whom we really don’t like very much need our help. Unfortunately, we usually avoid them and go the other way so that we don’t feel the need to help. Often we spitefully ignore those in need. It is on a rare occasion that we help people we don’t like…maybe begrudgingly. Yet to all people, maybe even especially those we don’t like, God calls us to love them, share the good news about Jesus with them, and help them with every need.
How often are we just like Jonah? We disobey what we know God would have us do or not do. We complain when things don't go the way we think they should. We call God unfair. We often think others are worse than us...others don't deserve God's love. And there are also times we want God to give someone what they deserve.
The truth is that none of us deserve God's love, mercy, or forgiveness. Yet God does love us. All of us. He makes that plain to see for us through the prophet Jonah. God taught Jonah a lesson about His love. "Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons?..” (Jonah 4:5-11)
God loves His creation. No matter how good or bad a person is...no matter how wicked someone has acted...God loves them. Every single one of you is important to God. Even as we judge some sins to be worse than others...God judges them equally and forgives them equally. The truth is that Christ died for sinners. Christ died for sinners! SINNERS! Christ died for the worst of us. Christ died for the worst that we do. Christ died out of love for sinners. There is no sin and there is no person that God will not forgive. That is wonderful news. It is the news that Jonah was called to share. It is the news we are called to share as well.
The tail-gaiter on the highway, the neighbor you like and the neighbor you feud with, the teacher that you think is out to get you, the classmate that annoys you, the child that made fun of you when you were younger, your friends whom you don’t want to lose and the friends that stabbed you in the back, your family that you love and your sibling you haven’t talked with in years. These are your Ninevah. Whether it is fear of losing, fear of being rejected, dislike, or indifference…you are called to share the wonderful message of Christ with all of them. By the faith given to you in God’s Word and the Spirit living in you; you have the gifts, talents, knowledge, desire, and love to do all that God calls you to do. We help, serve, share, and love because Christ first loved us; loved us enough to die on the cross for us and all people. What a wonderful message to share...with one another...with fellow believers...and with those that despise and reject God...and with those that think God couldn't possibly love or forgive them. It is the message of love for all. It is the message of forgiveness. It is the message of Christ crucified and risen. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.