Epiphany 3 B 2021
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
“Now the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying, ’Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”’ Jonah 1:1-2
Of all the prophets of the Old Testament, Jonah is the “bad boy” in the group. Yes, Jeremiah did complain that he was not the right person for the job, but he did not skip town and head in the exact opposite direction the Lord had directed him to go.
But Jonah did skip town. And Jonah tried to put as much distance between himself and the people God had assigned for him to visit. But Jonah learned it is hard to hide from God and that God has a unique way to convince us to turn around and go in the direction that God wants us to go.
The Book of Jonah informs us “The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea and there was a mighty tempest on the sea so that the ship threatened to break up.” Jonah 1:4
In other words, “The weather started getting rough, and the tiny ship was tossed.” And no matter how experienced the crew was, the ship was sure to be lost.
And we soon learn that the old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes applies to sailors too. But instead of foxholes, today we are told it is sinking ships.
In fear the sailors cried out to their gods for an explanation as to the source of their troubles and THEN concluded that God must be angry with someone on board. So, they cast lots to determine who the problem passenger might be. And sure enough, the lot fell to Jonah, who was asleep in his cabin.
Now, I must give credit where credit is due because Jonah admitted his guilt and informed the crew that their only hope of survival was to throw him into the sea. For some strange reason, Jonah had great concern for the wellbeing of the sailors and offered his life so that they might live. Apparently, it is only the Ninevites that he hates.
So, overboard went Jonah and suddenly the sea became calm. Just listen to what happens next. “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly…” The men were at first terrified that they were going to drown, and then they became even more terrified because the sea grew calm.
This, by the way, is the same reaction of the disciples who were in the boat on the stormy Sea of Galilee. While the storm threatened to sink them, Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat. The disciples woke Him up and Jesus commanded the waves and the wind to stand down, and immediately the sea was calm. And Mark writes, “they were exceedingly afraid.”
In our text today, we are told, that when Jonah hit the water a big fish arrived and swallowed him up and took him on a three-day cruise on the Mediterranean Sea. Needless to say; Jonah did not have a balcony, a porthole, or even an obstructed view of the sea.
No, Jonah spent three days inside a big fish with none of the cruise ship comforts. And at the end of the third day at sea inside a big fish, “The Lord spoke to the fish, and the big fish vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”
And with that debarkation, we come to our assigned reading today from the third chapter of the Book of Jonah which begins “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”’ Jonah 3:1-2
“So, Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.” Jonah had to learn the hard way, but at least he learned his lesson. And as soon as he arrived in Nineveh, Jonah started preaching, crying out in a loud voice for everyone to hear “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
And with these words Jonah preached one short sermon. But the sermon included “law” and “gospel.” He preached the law with the proclamation “Nineveh shall be overthrown.” And he preached the gospel when he said: “Forty days more.”
Due to their sinfulness Nineveh will need to be destroyed, but there is still time to repent and turn away from there wickedness. God does not want to wipe out Nineveh, God wants the people of Nineveh to repent, believe His Word, and be saved.
And how did the people of Nineveh respond. The text tells us “The people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” In other words, the people of Nineveh did not reject Jonah’s message. Instead, the people of Nineveh listened to Jonah and took him seriously. And they repented of their sins.
And when God saw that the people had turned from their evil ways and repented, God relented of the disaster that God had intended to do to them, and God did not destroy the city.
Now, one might think that this would be a good place to end the Book of Jonah. The Book of Jonah could have ended this way… “Now everyone joined hands and sang the doxology and they all lived happily ever after.” But the Book of Jonah does not end this way.
Instead, the Book of Jonah continues with these words “But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” And Jonah shouted out to God “I knew all along that you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and would not destroy the city. That is why I went in the other direction in the first place, so I would not have to humiliate myself in front of these people.”
Jonah wanted to see the Ninevites get what he thought they had coming to them. Jonah did not want to preach the Word of God to them because he knew the Word of God has the power to change lives. And Jonah knew that God was/is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Jonah was happy and thankful that he had been saved in the second chapter, but now Jonah is very displeased and angry that the Ninevites were saved in chapter three.
And then, low and behold the Book of Jonah ends with God asking a very important question “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
And with this ending we are left hanging because the people of the great city of Nineveh repented, but now we are left to wonder will Jonah repent? And we are also left hanging with the question “Will we repent as well?”
My friends… God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love because of the atoning and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ our Lord for the sins of the world. Jesus died for the Ninevites, Jesus died for Jonah, and Jesus died for you and for me. Jesus died for all people, “from the greatest of them to the least of them.” And because Jesus took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, we now can enjoy God’s mercy, and God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness in our lives.
And now, having heard and believed in the Good News, may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray: Loving God, through your Son you have called us to repent of our sins, to believe the Good News, and to celebrate the coming of your Kingdom. Like the people of Nineveh, may we also hear and pray for forgiveness and, forsaking old ways, proclaim the gospel of New Life to a broken world. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.