Sermon for Third Sunday after Epiphany

Sermon for Third Sunday after Epiphany

(Transcribed by machine 04/08/2024)

In the name of Jesus, amen.
Dear saints, we have today in the Old Testament lesson Jonah chapter 3, the middle of the
book of Jonah, and in fact what I think is the – it’s important, it’s an important
part, but maybe the most normal part of the book of Jonah.
What I’d like to do is think about the entirety of Jonah this morning and to rejoice in what
the Lord wants for us there.
In fact, I’ve got a list of five things, it’s really seven things, but I put two of them
together because seven is too many to say in a sermon, so five things that we want to
talk about from the book of Jonah.
Now I thought about reading you the whole thing, in fact I timed how long it took to
read the book of Jonah this morning, and it takes about, I already forgot, six minutes
and twenty seconds to read through the whole thing.
I’m not going to do it because you all can do it this week, that’s your homework.
I want you to do it and think through the book of Jonah, but I want to think through
the whole thing today and see what the Lord has for us.
Remember how it starts.
This is, oh, the year 680 or so, no, sorry, the other way, 780, it’s before the Assyrians
come and destroy the northern kingdom.
Jonah is a prophet in Israel, and the Lord comes to Jonah the first time, remember how
our verse started, the Lord came to Jonah again, but the first time the Lord comes to
Jonah and says, hey, Jonah, go and preach to the Ninevites.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria.
It was the world power at the time.
And Nineveh was a huge place.
It would take three days just to walk from one end to another.
It was a huge, big city.
And the king lived there.
And it was the head, the crowning jewel
of this wicked empire.
And Jonah is called to preach to them.
And he says, no.
Remember, he heads the other direction.
It’s like if I told you to go to Florida and you instead went to China.
He goes to…
He wants to go to Tarshish.
That would be like in the…
He’s in the Middle East.
You know, he’s there by Jerusalem.
He goes down to Joppa and he’s sailing towards Spain instead of going towards the Euphrates
River.
And the Lord says, well, look, I’ve got other plans.
So, there’s a storm and the sailors, the mariners who were used to this sort of thing knew that
something was going on.
In fact, they’re trying to figure out who made God mad because this is not a normal
storm.
And so they’re praying and they’re offering sacrifices, they’re trying to figure out who’s
in trouble.
They come and they find Jonah sleeping in the bottom of the boat.
It’s really great.
The captain of the boat says, hey, sleeper, he calls him, hey, sleeper, what are you doing
here?
Wake up.
What’s going on?
And why do you think the storm is?
And so Jonah tells him, well, I’m a prophet.
God said, go this way, I went this way.
Who’s your God?
The God who made the sea and the land.
Now they’re really in trouble.
What, you got us in all this trouble?
How can we solve the problem?
Jonah says, well, the only way to do it
is to throw me overboard.
And they don’t want to.
They pray, they’re bailing water,
they’re rowing to get to the shore.
They don’t wanna throw him over,
but the storm is against them.
It’s keeping them from getting to safety.
And so finally they say, Lord, don’t hold it against us, this is your doing here, it’s
not us, hold us innocent of this, man, and they throw him overboard.
And the text says that Fish, who the Lord had prepared for this, swallowed Jonah.
And we take us to chapter 2.
And in chapter 2, we have the prayer of Jonah from the belly of the whale.
It’s probably the best part of the whole book, oh Lord, I’m down, my head is wrapped in seaweed,
I’m at the roots of the mountains, I’m gone down to Sheol, but then he says, but those
who trust in idols, they forsake their mercy and the God of steadfast love and salvation
is my God.
And after three days and three nights, the Lord, who’s redirected Jonah now, spits him
out onto the sea, from the sea onto the coast, and then we pick up in our text, the Lord
came to Jonah again and says, get up.
It puts a little bit of, hopefully a little bit of color to why the Lord has to tell him
to get up, because he’s laying there covered in whatever you would be covered in after
being in a fish for three days, probably not feeling that great.
And the Lord says, all right, get up, let’s try this again, to Nineveh.
And so Jonah goes to Nineveh.
I heard one preacher say that he would have looked like a leper, bleached white from the
acid in the stomach of the fish.
I don’t know anything about it, but he gets there, and you can see the whole time he has
this reluctance.
I imagine him preaching as he walks through the cities of Nineveh saying, repent, repent,
you’ve got forty days, you guys better repent, and astonishingly, that’s exactly what happens.
The whole city repents, top to bottom, poor people, rich people, all the way.
In fact, we had the first five verses of chapter 3, verse 6 talks about how the king hears
this message of Jonah, that the Lord’s going to destroy the city in 40 days.
And the king repents, and he calls, he says, we need a fast for the whole city, no one
can eat anything, no one can drink anything, everybody’s got to repent and believe this
prophet Jonah and the Lord sees the repentance of the people and He relents, in fact in Hebrew,
He also repents.
He relents of the disaster that He was going to visit upon the city of Nineveh and He gives
them not just 40 days of life, He probably gives them 40 years, maybe 45 years until
the city turns again and then ends up becoming the enemies of God’s people and marches on
him and destroys the ten northern kingdoms, more on that in a little bit.
But the Lord relents of this disaster He had planned for Nineveh and now here’s Jonah who’s
upset about it.
He’s moping.
Now there’s a temptation I think when we think about Jonah to just maybe laugh at him or
say, oh, kind of silly Jonah.
I want – that’s dangerous because the danger is that if we think of Jonah as this sort
caricature, then we’ll miss the whole point of what the Lord wants to teach us
in the book of Jonah. So I want you to try, when you’re reading the book of
Jonah this week and when you’re thinking about Jonah, to think of him as the best
kind of man that you know. He’s wise, he’s thoughtful, he’s courageous, he knows the
Word of God, he knows the difference between right and wrong, between justice
and injustice, he’s a prophet, so he knows how to pray and how to preach, and that
he then in this kind of man is the one who is tempted to be mad when the Lord instead
of being… instead of executing justice is instead full of mercy.
Jonah goes and he makes himself a little… a little hut.
He’s outside of the city of Nineveh, but I think he’s probably there to just make
sure that the Lord is not going to wipe the people out, so he wants to see what’s going
to happen, day 39, here’s day 40, and he wants to watch what’s happening there.
And what happens?
On day 39, the Lord causes a vine to grow over this little hut that Jonah had made,
and it has all these big leaves that are, it’s very nice, and he thoughts, oh wow, this
is really nice.
I got the best view to see, maybe the Lord will come and destroy the place.
But on day 40, instead of destroying Nineveh, the Lord destroys the vine.
He sends worms to eat this vine that is shading Jonah and now Jonah and the wind
it’s hot the wind is blowing Jonah’s all worn out and he says I wish I could die
here look at this poor vine I love this vine now the vine is dead and the Lord
comes to him and he says he says is this how it is Jonah that you get mad when I
destroy a vine, but you wanted me to destroy all these people?
You get upset over this vine that grew up yesterday and you’re mad that I’m not destroying
this people that have been here for so long in this town that’s full of all these people
and all the cows?”
And the book is over.
It actually ends talking about how the city is full of cattle.
Now it leaves a question for us and we’ll come back and visit it, but I want us to see
Let’s see if we can pull five things from the story of Jonah.
The first is this.
God uses suffering.
The best part of Jonah is the prayer in the belly of the whale.
The best preaching of Jonah is when he’s in the depth of his own suffering.
And the Lord didn’t have to do that.
The Lord didn’t have to cause this storm to go there.
There he could have prevented him from getting on the boat, or he could have… he could
have prevented him even from getting to Joppa.
He could have gotten… he could have gotten Jonah to Nineveh in a lot of other different
ways.
I mean, remember Philip who just zaps down to the Ethiopian eunuch?
The Lord could have just moved Jonah into Nineveh if He wanted to.
He didn’t have to go through all the storm and the fish, and He didn’t have to keep
him in the belly of the fish for three days, but He had prepared that belly for him, for
Jonah, for… for you.
It’s part of what it means to be a Christian, is we’re called to this, and again, I hope
this is not a surprise to you.
I hope I’m not telling you something that you didn’t know.
If you are a Christian, you are called to suffering.
It’s part of your office.
Take up the cross and follow me, that’s what Jesus says.
So that the cross, that is the suffering of the Christian, is in fact one of the marks
of the church or one of the marks of the Christian life.
I remember when I was studying the liturgy, when I was learning the liturgy of the church,
I was comparing the newer liturgies with some of the older liturgies, I noticed this difference.
In the old prayers, in the old prayer of the church, when it got to praying for the sick,
It said, Lord, help them to receive this, Your visitation, from the hand of Your fatherly
goodness.
In other words, if we’re sick and we’re suffering, we pray that we could receive that sickness
and receive that suffering and receive that affliction from the Lord’s hands.
Now the new prayers are almost always for the sick and suffering, Lord, end the sickness.
Lord, deliver us from the suffering.
Lord, take away this affliction.
Now, it’s okay to pray for an end to affliction, but the old prayers are better.
The old prayers are better for us to pray, that we would receive the afflictions that
the Lord gives to us from the hand of His fatherly goodness, because they are for us
and for your neighbor.
So we’re called to suffer, and the Lord uses that suffering for a lot of different things.
I mean, it’s too much to even talk about, but He uses it to strengthen our faith.
He uses it to strengthen our hope.
He uses it to strengthen our love, and also to give occasion for other people to love
us.
He uses it to focus our attention, to take us away from this world and draw our hearts
to the world to come.
There’s so many things that the Lord uses suffering to teach us how to pray.
He used suffering to teach Jonah how to preach.
So the Lord uses suffering, point one.
Point two, Christ is in the Old Testament.
The best part I mentioned of the preaching of Jonah is in chapter two where he preaches
about Jesus.
And he calls Jesus in this prayer from the belly of the fish, my mercy, the Hebrew there
is hesed, my hesed, he says, those who forsake idols have forsaken their mercy, but our salvation
Salvation is from the Lord, and the word salvation is the word Joshua, or the word Jesus.
Our Yeshua is from Yahweh.
It’s a beautiful promise, it’s a beautiful sermon.
And Jonah, and we can’t miss this, is preaching about Jesus.
When he goes to Nineveh and he’s preaching repentance, he’s preaching the blood that
was to be shed by the Messiah who’s on the way.
There’s a danger that when we read the Old Testament, we read it like a non-Trinitarian
book, like God the Father is in the Old Testament and God the Son is in the New Testament, that
the Trinity doesn’t come along to the New Testament, the Incarnation doesn’t come along
to the New Testament, the atoning sacrifice doesn’t get there to the…
No, it’s all there in the Old Testament, all the way along.
Jonah was preaching Christ and the forgiveness of sins that came through Christ.
So Christ is there in the preaching of Jonah.
Christ is there calling Jonah to do this preaching.
That’s the second point. Now here’s the third point. God uses means. There’s a
there’s a whole trend I think in Christianity today that just wants God
to work directly on our heart. Like God is some sort of spiritual laser beam and
he doesn’t and he can just go straight through the chest cavity and
straight to the heart and that’s where he works. That’s how it is. But that’s not
Not what the Scriptures teach us.
The Scriptures teach us that God uses means, even when those means are a hassle.
Even when those means are sent to Nineveh and they go to Tarshish.
It’s an amazing thing.
God could have probably raised up a prophet from the Assyrians if He wanted to, or could
have done something else to work with the Ninevites if He wanted to, but no, the Lord
uses means, and in this way, in this place, the Lord used Jonah, his prophet, to preach
the word.
The Lord gets his spirit, his wisdom, and his word through, into your heart, through
your ears.
He doesn’t do it magically or directly.
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
The Lord uses means to save you.
This morning, a few hours ago, the Lord used water with the Word to save Isaiah, our brother
in Christ, born again in the gift of holy baptism.
In a few minutes, the Lord has His body and His blood on the altar to give you the forgiveness
of sins.
Now, couldn’t He just zap you with the forgiveness of sins?
Well, the answer is, I don’t know, and I’m not supposed to care because the Lord has
decided to get us the forgiveness of sins in this way, to get us the Word through the
preaching of the prophets, to establish his church. Now this is an important
thing for us to remember, that the Lord is always using means to bless us, and so
when we want to be blessed by the Lord, what do we do? We run to the means. We
open the Bible, we read it, and we hear it. We come to church to hear the preaching
of the gospel. We come to the body and the blood of Jesus, and we know that the
Lord is in fact present and working through all of these things, through the
means, point three.
And that gets us to point four, that the Lord through those means produces repentance.
It’s what God is after, repentance.
Now here’s where I’m going to smuggle in three points in one.
Point one, four point one is this, that repentance, we want to remember, has two parts.
Now this is an easy thing for us to mix up because it’s an easy thing that’s mixed up
in the church today.
A lot of people will say that repentance means turning around, changing the way you’re living.
That in fact is not repentance.
That’s the fruit of repentance.
That’s what comes after repentance.
Repentance remember has two parts.
The first is contrition and the second is faith.
Contrition is to know that we are sinners and this is worked by the Holy Spirit through
the law of God, that He holds up His Word like a mirror and shows you your own sin and
It shows me my own sin, so that I know that I’m in desperate need of the Lord’s mercy,
and then the Lord shows us His Son Christ, His kindness and love, His undeserved mercy,
the forgiveness of all of our sins.
And that’s the second part of repentance, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s what it means to be a Christian, to know that you are a sinner forgiven by Jesus,
to know that you’re a lawbreaker absolved by God, to know that you’re broken and that
the Lord has come to save you, and He calls us to repentance through the preaching of
the Word, just like He did to Nineveh.
But look at… and this is 4.2, that repentance is not far from any of us.
If I… if you had Jonah make a list of the least likely people to repent, I can pretty
well guarantee you that on that top… on that list, on the top ten people not likely
to repent would be the king of Nineveh.
He was the ringleader of wickedness.
So I want you to think, who do you think is the least likely to repent?
I just think now of the person that you know who’s the least likely person to confess their
sins and to believe in Christ.
How many of you are thinking now of a politician?
I’m just, okay.
How many of you are thinking of someone in your own family?
How many of you are thinking of someone that you love dearly?
Now, okay, here’s the point, Jonah would have thought that the Ninevites were not likely
to repent, but the Holy Spirit worked repentance in them, and they all repented.
They all confessed their sins.
sins.
They all believed in the forgiveness of sins.
Repentance is not far from anyone.
I want this to be a change in our thinking.
I think that our Lutheran mind is not so good at remembering that all of us are right next
door to repentance.
We have this tendency to think that just how someone is today, that’s how they’re going
to be tomorrow.
But the Lord is in the business of changing people, changing people’s hearts.
And those people that we pray for week after week, that the Lord would call them and gather
them and enlighten them and sanctify them, that the Lord is doing that work, that He
works repentance, that repentance is not far from anyone.
But here’s 4.3 on repentance.
Repentance does not stick around.
It’s not like repentance is a one-time deal, like one and done, and then you don’t have
to worry about it anymore.
Repentance is in fact a way of life.
Remember how Luther started the 95 Theses?
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, repent, he willed that the entire life of
a believer would be a life of repentance.
That we are daily drowning the flesh and living in newness of life.
That repentance is not a one-time thing that we remember.
It’s what we do every single day as the Lord brings His law and His gospel to us.
And Nineveh stands as a warning because even though when Jonah preached his sermon of
repentance and they all repented. That repentance didn’t last and in the next
generation all their hearts had turned and they and they went and destroyed the
Lord’s people instead of joining them in faith and in praise to God. So that
those that we think are so far away from the kingdom it turns out are not so
far and those we think are in the kingdom this is the danger that Paul
says that let those who think they stand beware lest they fall. We are safe
in repentance. The Lord does not call us to be perfect so that we can escape the
judgment day by our own good works. He calls us to repentance so that we would
know his mercy and his kindness. It doesn’t stick around, we’re repenting all
the time. Now the last thing, point five. God wants us to rejoice in the repentance
Now, this seems to me like a very small point, but I cannot escape it in the Scriptures.
It shows up over and over again, and here it is in Jonah.
Because you would think, if you were just reading Jonah, well, you might think it when
you’re reading Jonah this afternoon, that you get to the end of chapter 3 and you’re
like, alright, end of story, it’s great.
The prophet preached, the people repented, God relented, let’s go home.
But there’s a whole chapter four with Moby Jonah and the worm eating the vine.
And you wonder, well, what’s the point?
Why is that there?
And it turns out that this might be the whole reason why we have the prophet Jonah, because
Jonah preached repentance and the Lord relented of the disaster and Jonah said, I knew it.
I knew you were going to do that.
I can’t believe you did that. I told him you were gonna destroy him and now
you’re not gonna destroy him and I’m mad because Jonah wanted justice, not mercy.
He wanted vengeance, not grace. And here’s where this comes to us, and
we have to take this very seriously, that we are oftentimes very happy for the
Lord Jesus to forgive our sins, but there are some people that I really just don’t
want forgiven, especially that guy that did that thing, or that person who said that.
When we’re sinned against, we’re very happy to have the Lord look upon us with mercy,
but we’re not sure that He should look upon our enemy with mercy, the person who harmed
us with kindness.
this?
We want – do you see?
We want Jesus for our own conscience, but we want Moses for that guy.
And the call of the gospel – do you see the parallel here between Jonah and the prodigal
son?
Remember?
It’s the same sort of thing happens.
The prodigal son comes back and the father throws a feast for him, and all the people
are rejoicing, but the older son, like Jonah, is out in the field pouting because why should
God be so merciful?
He doesn’t deserve it.
Why should God be so kind and so gentle?
They don’t deserve it.
And the call of the gospel is not just that we rejoice that Jesus is for us, but that
we rejoice that Jesus is also for them, for everyone else,
and especially for that person that’s harmed us.
We are called, and I’m trying to figure out
how to preach this, so you can give me a couple of years,
I’m working on it, but this is the best I,
we are called an expansive joy.
In other words, the Lord wants you to have more joy over just you being saved.
He wants you to have the joy of the person next to you being saved, and the person behind
you, and the person in front of you, and the person across the hall from you, and the person
down the street from you, and all of His people scattered throughout the world.
He wants your joy to explode, it’s exponential.
And that, it turns out, is what the angels rejoice over.
Remember how Jesus says that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents?
They’re not rejoicing over their own repentance.
They’re rejoicing over someone else’s repentance.
Heaven rejoices over one sinner’s repentance, over another’s repentance,
so that we’re called to a joy not only over the repentance that God grants to us,
but over the repentance that God grants to each other.
that Jesus’ love is so broad and deep and almost boundless that our joy in
what he does is also boundless. Will you join, this is the question, will you
join the celebration of God’s mercy? It’s the way Jonah ends, it’s the way the
prodigal son ends, it’s the way that we end today thinking about this, that the
Lord intends for you to have much more joy, me, the Lord intends for me to have
much more joy than I have, because He wants me to rejoice in the goodness that
He has also for each and every one of you, and He wants all of us to share in
that joy. So Jonah, with his sadness over the vine, teaches us this. So five things.
Did you get it? God uses suffering. Point two, the Old Testament is about Christ.
Point three, God uses means to deliver to us His Word.
Point four, God gives us repentance, contrition, and faith that’s never out of reach but that
doesn’t stick around, and that God is calling all of us to rejoice in His saving work.
May God grant us this wisdom for Christ’s sake.
Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus
Christ our Lord.
Amen.