Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2019
Psalm 33:12-22 (CEV)
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 (NRSV)
Jonah 1:1-3 (NRSV)
Have you ever experienced that you know what’s the right thing to do in a certain set of circumstances? You know full-well to do something helpful to a person or a group of people, but you decide nevertheless to go against the grain and you refuse to do the best thing that needs to be done. Would this be what was happening to Jonah?
Would this be what was happening to me the other day? My wife knew to share a bedroom in our home to a woman in dire need, a friend of hers. I got so ticked off that I was fuming for the rest of the evening, thinking “why do we have to make part of our home available?” My goodness this is such an inconvenience to give up some privacy! Little did I know that something from the message to Jonah was playing itself out in my own life. While I was falling asleep, I felt strongly convicted by my upsetness earlier on that evening.
On three separate occasions, the Pharisees, Scribes and the crowds asked Jesus to give them a sign to convince them of who He is and what He’s up to. On all three occasions, Jesus answers the same way. “No sign will be given to you except the sign of Jonah.” In other words, knowing the story of Jonah is important to knowing the story of Jesus Christ. So our mission these number of weeks is to get to know the story of Jonah. The story unfolds in six different scenes and we’re going to look at each scene in succession over the following six weeks. We will therefore see more of this Sign of Jonah unfolding as the weeks go by.
Jonah’s task is to go out and speak to the wickedness of the people of Nineveh. You see, Jonah is a prophet of the Lord. The job of a prophet was to deliver a message from God to people. And there were two types of messages that prophets were to deliver. One was the message of divine judgment, and that began with, “Woe to you…” The other was a message of divine blessing, and it would begin with, “Blessed are you…”
From Israel, Nineveh was quite a distance, about 800 km to the northeast. Today, Nineveh is the city of Mosul in the country of Iraq, about 400 km northwest of Baghdad.
The thing about Nineveh that’s important for us to know is that it was the capital city of the nation of Assyria, and the Assyrians were known for being the most ruthless, barbaric people in their time. Brutal to the core. I’m not going to get any more graphic.
God wants Jonah to “call out against it.” Against Nineveh. God is sending Jonah to deliver a message of divine curse and divine judgment against them. Terrible, but in this scenario very necessary! Jonah is to make known to them what God wants them to hear. But preaching this judgment always has as its purpose to prepare the way for the preaching of the gospel. Hopefully, if they hear that God sees their evil and that God does not tolerate it at all, they will turn from their evil and cry out for mercy. And this is just what God wants to see happen and what God loves to do, right now as well.
It might surprise you and me that God would be interested in foreign, pagan nations even in the era of the Old Testament. Maybe you thought that in those times of the Old Testament God was only interested in the nation of Israel and that God’s concern for the gentiles didn’t happen until the New Testament. Actually, all throughout the Old Testament, God sends God’s messengers to go into all nations with the message of God’s judgment, but also of God’s love so that they might repent and be saved.
Therefore, when Jesus sends his disciples to go “to all nations” with the message of his judgment and mercy, and when the apostle Paul is commissioned to go be God’s messenger to the gentiles, this is just God carrying out the same love and compassion for all people as God always has. God truly desires “all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” Always has and always will.
Some people have a problem with this you know. They have this idea that God loves God’s people – the Israelites of the Old Testament and the Christian Church of the New Testament. And if you’re not one of these, then God doesn’t care. Or at least, God shouldn’t! God’s got no business warning evildoers to turn from their evil ways so that they’ll live. They think that some evil is just too evil for even God to have mercy on. I think that is the way Jonah reacted to the Lord’s call to go to Nineveh.
Where do you and I fit into this picture? Do we have a message of judgment to convey to wicked people? Probably not right now.
But there might well be people that need to know about God, and about God’s love for each human being. Our mainline churches have become so well looked after, that we might tend to forget that there is a world out there that needs to be touched by a life-changing message, and be told about God’s all-encompassing love for them.
Can we keep ourselves comfortable and in doing so, stay away from reaching out beyond our church walls and the walls of our homes, for that matter? Jonah did not want to go and reach out to outsiders, especially “wicked” people such as the people of Nineveh. You and I might not be all that different to Jonah, except that we live in a different time. What is God’s call to us as Presbyterians here at Dayspring?
Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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