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Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Series B

Text:  Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Title: “Repent and Believe”

Date: January 21, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

         Sodom and Gomorrah. When you hear the words…Sodom and Gomorrah…what kind of picture forms in your mind? Is it one pertaining to decadence, immorality, or wickedness? Does the word arrogance come to mind? Whatever description you come up with, it probably is not strong enough to depict the abhorrent, despicable condition of these two places. Things got so bad in Sodom and Gomorrah that God destroyed these cities and all who were present in them. Genesis 19 tells us that the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from out of the heavens. Nothing short of total destruction!

         In our Old Testament reading for today, we are introduced to another city…a pagan, Gentile city. It is the great city of Nineveh…the important, capital city of the Assyrian Empire. With a population of over 1/2 million people, this city was considered huge for that time period. Nineveh was a wealthy city…but it was also a city like Sodom and Gomorrah…full of wickedness, ungodliness, idolatry, and immorality. God’s prophet Nahum states that Nineveh’s sin and evil ways included plotting evil against God, (1:11) cruelty and plundering in war, (2:12-13; 3:1, 19) prostitution and witchcraft, (3:4) and business exploitation. (3:16)

         And wouldn't it be just like God to send a prophet to this pagan place and proclaim His warning of impending judgment and message of repentance. It’s just like God to do this…and His choice is Jonah. God calls on Jonah in Chapter 1 to go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness. And Jonah obediently and cheerfully goes to Nineveh. Right? No way!  He disobeys God’s command and runs away on a ship to Tarshish, which is in a totally opposite direction…way over on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. Jonah gets as far away from God and Nineveh as is humanly possible. He wants Nineveh to fall. There was no way he is going to play a part in Nineveh’s repentance and aid them in escaping God’s judgement. He hates and resents these ungodly people because they are bitter enemies of the Israelites.

Like Jonah, we too are prideful and arrogant. There’s an old fable about 2 ducks and a frog living in a farmer’s pond. The ducks and the frog are the best of friends. They play together all day long. But when the hot summer days come, the pond begins to dry up. The ducks realize that they will have to move. They could easily fly away to another place, but what about their friend, the frog?

Finally, the ducks decide to put a stick between them. Each holds one end in its bill while the frog hangs on to the stick by its mouth. So the three friends set out for another pond. As they are flying, the farmer sees them and says: “How clever! I wonder who thought of it.” The frog says: “I did”…and that was the end of the frog.

Pride and arrogance! These get in our way and we hurt ourselves because of them. Sometimes, you and I knowingly disobey God so we serve our own wants and desires. You and I rebel against His authority! At times, don’t you become so self-centered that you become unwilling to share God’s great mercy with irreligious people? Aren’t there times when you run away from your discipleship duty…your mission work…of sharing the Savior’s powerful and positive message of compassion and love, and life in Him with contemporary Ninevites? A mixture of fear, apathy, and envy has turned many of us into not-so-bold witnesses for the Lord. We find a million and one excuses, don’t we? “It’s so hard to witness to those people.” Or how about this one: “How can a person like me evangelize others?” At other times, you and I ignore doing the good works God has given you and me to do in our sanctified life. We give reasons like: “There are just too many other things that I have to get done.” Or “I don’t have the time right now…maybe later.” Or “I rather be doing something else that is more interesting and more fun.”

         The truth is…God’s wrath and judgement is real…just like His compassion for repentant hearts. God is concerned and He wants you to be concerned for others too since “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15)

And it’s just plain futile to try to run away or hide from God. Part of Psalm 139 (7, 9-10) says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

As for Jonah, a violent storm hits while in route to Tarshish. The sailors toss Jonah overboard into the sea to appease Jonah’s God to stop the storm and the sea calms down. Then God miraculously provides a great fish to swallow Jonah for three days and three nights, and then miraculously spits him out onto dry land. Through this mighty act of deliverance, God moves Jonah to recognize that “salvation comes from the LORD.” (Jonah 2:9) With this, God also moves Jonah to accept His renewed call to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim to the Ninevites the God given message: “40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” (Jonah 3:4)

Martin Luther had an opportunity to comment about Jonah. Luther indicated that the will of God will be done either by us or on us. He says: “How well Jonah avoids obeying God on the sea! He may have wished instead to die on land 3 times. He does not want to go Nineveh; so he must go into the midst of the sea, into the mouth of the great fish. All this was written for our warning. Therefore, we learn first that whoever does not want to be obedient to God with a good will must finally be obedient to Him, after all, with a bad will. God’s will is done. And here we see that whoever refuses to suffer a little for God’s sake will have to suffer much more instead. Accordingly, nothing is better for us than to obey promptly and say: Thy will be done in heaven and on earth.”

Happily for you and me, “One greater than Jonah” has come. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32) Jesus’ death on the cross and His glorious resurrection were accomplished for the salvation of all people…all people…you and me and those other guys! Christ is the truth and the payment made on behalf of all sinners…past, present, and future. Those who repent and faithfully believe that Christ’s death atoned for their sins will have their sins forgiven and receive eternal life. In 1 Peter 3, Peter says that God “is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (v. 9) Paul writes to Timothy in 1Timothy 2 that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (v. 4)

         When you recognize the LORD’s authority and the power of His Word in your life, you are greatly comforted, strengthened, and assured. God would have us live in repentance now, which is brought about by the Word of God, that leads to living a holy and godly life now before Christ’s second coming. During this New Testament age in which we live, our lives have a particular urgency. We don’t have “all the time in the world.” Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson that “the appointed time has grown very short.” (1 Cor. 7:29) Therefore, we must make the best use of the limited time that we have in our life.

And turning to our beloved Ninevites, it seems that they understood this very notion. “[For] the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah,” Jesus says in Matthew 12.  Jonah’s proclamation statement…”40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned”…is short and to the point. And apparently it had quite an impact on the Ninevites…they believed God and His Word! They repented of their sins by fasting and putting on sackcloth then sitting in ashes. (cf. Jonah 3:5) They turned from their evil ways and their repentance turns out to be pleasing to God. So, the LORD doesn’t carry out the promised punishment and destruction.

         Yes, in the book of Jonah, we have one of the clearest indications of God’s kingly majesty, power, and dominion along with His grace and mercy…grace and mercy meant for all people who repent of their sins against God and believe His Word. That’s why Jesus says that the time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent by turning from your evil ways, and believe in the good newsmessage of forgiveness and salvation! Amen.

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