Context Is Crucial

Jonah Goes to Nineveh
Jonah 3:1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

Our text this evening is a good example of not taking things out of context—because if all we knew about Jonah from this text, we would not have a real idea of who he was. I am sure you all know the story of Jonah. The story before our text isn’t all peaches and cream. Jonah had rebelled against God and went off in a different direction, caused trouble on his ship, was thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish. There he languished for 3 days and then was spit out on the dry land. Now he was given his second chance. And that is what we want to emphasize this evening.

First of all, God was willing to give him a second chance. And mark this: God had spoken to Jonah directly. It wasn’t as though Jonah’s directions were second hand. I would say that if God Himself spoke with a loud voice and said something to you, to me, we would believe it and act accordingly.

However, we believe that God spoke directly to the prophets and evangelists and that their word is God’s Word and is inspired and faithful. So, what is the difference when we read the 10 commandments, or any of what my professor called the “gospel imperatives”? (That is for example, Jesus says, “Judge not” and that is really a commandment. Or “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”) And we do not always act accordingly!

Nevertheless, God forgave Jonah and God forgives us and keeps on giving us “second chances.”

The New Testament offers us a few examples. In the favorite parable, “The Prodigal Son,” the son sinned against the father, lost all his inheritance through wasteful living, fell to the point where even pig slop looked tasty, and then in a very ragged condition came back home hoping for some crumbs that would fall from his father’s table. Instead, the father (a picture of God) comes running to him and completely forgives him.

Then there is Peter who denied even knowing Jesus, nevertheless was forgiven and commissioned to spread the Gospel. Worse than that was Saul of Tarsus. He persecuted the Church, saw to the death of St. Stephen and in the midst of his hatred toward Jesus, Jesus stopped him on his way to Damascus and brought him into the fold. We of course know him as St. Paul.

And it is St. Paul who in Roman tells us about himself, and indirectly, about us too: “O the good I want to do, I do not and the evil I do not want to do, that I do.” And again, “Not that I am perfect or have obtained it, but I press on…” And that goes along with what Jesus said to the impotent man, when He had healed him, “Now go and sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”

And that is what He says to us also. “Go and sin no more…” Think about it. I hurt you by what I said or did. And you become angry and tell me that I hurt you. I realize this and feel sorry and so I apologize. Now is it alright to continue to hurt you in the same way??? I don’t think so. Perhaps that is because we take ourselves more seriously… more seriously that we do God???

Yet we confess our sins, say we are sorry—and in all likelihood continue to sin. Before we despair, we need to go back to St. Paul and hear him again, confess to us and for us, “O the good I want to do, I do not and the evil I do not want to do, that I do.” But we also need to understand, “but I press on…”

Think of this hymn: I want to walk as a child of the Light, I want to follow Jesus…”  Or this one: Let us ever walk with Jesus,
Follow His example pure, Flee the world, which would deceive us
And to sin our souls allure. Ever in His footsteps treading,
Body here, yet soul above, Full of faith and hope and love,
Let us do the Father’s bidding. Faithful Lord, abide with me;
Savior, lead, I follow Thee.” It isn’t so much that we are walking with Him but that He is abiding with us, full of love, compassion and forgiveness.

And then there is this from the story of Jonah.  When the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a sign from heaven, He answered, “No sign shall be given, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.” Certainly, God gives “second chances” but there are many parts of the Bible which demonstrate this. I believe this Book especially shows us the Resurrection!

Critics say there was no fish that could swallow a whole man. They also say that the fish’s stomach acids would have consumed him or that there would not have been 3 days’ worth of air. And they are right! It was all impossible! But that is the essence of miracles!

St. Luke—in his Good Friday account, being a physician, shows us that Jesus was actually dead. The water and blood coming out of Jesus’ side could only happen if His heart had stopped and for a while. And people who have died do not come back to life after 3 days. That is why it was a miracle! And with God—nothing is impossible.

With God nothing is impossible! So, God created the heavens and the earth. He turned water into wine, made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lamb to walk. He raised the dead.
And we who were dead in our sins and trespasses in which we once walked, He forgave and keeps forgiving and has written our names in His Book of Life.
 On that last day He will raise our dust and bring us into the New Jerusalem where… “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold! God’s dwelling is with His people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who sat upon the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” To which we say, “Even so Lord Jesus come!”
In the meantime, we like the people of Nineveh we repent and “keep on pressing…

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