Monday, September 26, 2011

Jonah - Unlikely Saint

Sermon for the Commemoration of Jonah, preached Thursday, September 22, 2011.

Matthew 16:1-4 (ESV)
    And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.  He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.'  And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.  An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah."

Except the sign of Jonah.  Today we remember the most incredible of fish stories and it would all be nothing more than a fish story except the Lord describes this as His own sign, the sign of death and resurrection that prove His Word is true and His salvation has come.

Jonah was called to go and speak the Word of the Lord to bring repentance to a rebellious and sinful people.  He feared not only the people but the message that God had given him to speak.  So he ran.  We can well understand.  How many of us have said we were going to say something to this person or to that and then when the opportunity came, we, too, chickened out. We are not unlike Jonah.

Now this might end up being just another Aesop fable about the danger of running when you should have stood your ground, except for one thing.  God’s grace intervened.  You cannot hide from God.
Surely Jonah would have learned this from the story of Adam and Eve in the garden.  When they ducked and ran, the Lord came walking in the Garden to find them as well.  In the end, they too faced the unpleasant task of confronting their sin.  But instead of the death they deserved, the Lord tempered the curse of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil with the promise of redemption and life.  They were banished from the garden but not without hope.

The word that Jonah was bringing to the Ninevites was not simply a word of condemnation for their sin.  It was a word of hope.  They were bing called by God to repentance and God had promised them forgiveness for confessing their sin.

But confession is a messy business.  Who among us would rather not run and hide instead of openly admitting your sin?  Who among us would rather not skip out on the nasty business of telling someone they were wrong?

Except Jesus.  Jesus did not run from His mission of mercy but welcomed the gracious will of the Father He was to fulfill.  He knew it would mean suffering and death.  He would spend His three days in the belly of the beast but the consequence of His obedience was not His own justification but our redemption.

Jonah might have been just another wannabe runaway except that Jesus holds up Jonah as a sign, no, THE sign that gives credence and authority to His own promise of forgiveness and salvation for a sin sick and dying world.  Nothing will testify of Jesus greater than the sign of Jonah.

We might think that some other way could have been possible to redeem a lost and sinful world but God insists that nothing else would do.  Jesus was born to suffer and born to die and born to be buried in the belly of the earth for three days and rise again that forgiveness and salvation might be preached in His name to the very ends of the earth.

And we are here because of it... Now will we run from His call to be His witnesses?  Will we shrink from speaking the Gospel because it might offend or people might not respond kindly to what we say?  Will we run from the rather small job of telling what the big job of Jesus has accomplished for us and our salvation?
Let us lay down our fears and rejoice in Him who has kept His Word, delivered us from sin and its death, and now calls to others through our words and deeds – that they too might know with us the joy of Him who died that we might live.

Jonah is not the lesson.  Jonah is the sign.  Jesus is the message.  Let us not forget it.  Let us not be fearful of it.  Let us not shrink from making it known.  This is not about what will happen to us if we run.  It is about the God whose mercy refused to let the Ninevites die without the Law and Gospel being proclaimed to them... about the Savior who fulfilled the sign of Jonah that we might believe with confidence... and about those whom the Lord does not let get away...

I am not much of a fisherman.  But I know that most fishermen have more stories about the ones they lose than the ones they catch.  Not God.  Not Jesus.  His story is about the Word that seeks and forgives and saves.  About the promise of grace that lets none escape from His grasp of mercy and love.  Not Jonah.  Not the Ninevites.  Not you.  Not me.

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