The Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 21, 2018
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Proclaim the Message I Gave You!
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What do Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Nikki Haley, Stephane Dujarric and Antonio Guterres all have in common? They are all spokespersons! Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the spokesperson for the White House. Nikki Haley is the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Stephane Dujarric is the spokesman for the Secretary General of the United Nations and Antonio Guterres is the UN Secretary General, who according to the UN home page is “spokesman for the interests of the world’s people, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them.”
Now, can you imagine what might happen if any one of these spokespersons went “off script” and instead of conveying the official message they were given they decided to simply use their position to espouse their own views and voice their own opinions? It probably would not take long for someone to call them into their office and say something along the lines of, “What are you doing? Proclaim the message I gave you!”
Our sermon text for today reminds both you and me that as Christians we have been placed into a position that is parallel to an official spokesperson being sent out with a message to proclaim. This morning, my friends, let’s use this relatively familiar portion of Scripture to see that when the God of heaven sends His representatives out into this world He says to them: Proclaim the Message I Gave You! We’ll focus on two things this morning. First, we’ll focus on the message God wants proclaimed. Second, we’ll focus on the messengers whom God sends out to proclaim His message.
Look at the opening verse of our text. We’re told, “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’” This was the second time God had come to Jonah and said, Proclaim the message I gave you! What happened the first time the word of the LORD came to Jonah? Almost everyone knows how Jonah refused to go to Nineveh and proclaim the message God had given to him. In fact, Jonah tried to run away from proclaiming that message, didn’t he! Jonah got on a ship and tried to run to Tarshish— which was about as far away from Nineveh as Jonah could get! But, of course, God got Jonah’s attention, didn’t He. God sent a storm which resulted in the sailors tossing Jonah into the raging sea. Then God sent a big fish which resulted in Jonah spending three days and three nights in its belly. Then God commanded the fish to spit Jonah onto dry land which resulted in Jonah’s willingness to listen to the Lord when the Lord came to him a second time and said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Before we move on to the message God gave to Jonah to proclaim, I’d like to take a moment to address the question— Why? Why didn’t Jonah want to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s message to them? First let’s consider Jonah’s circumstances. Jonah lived and worked in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He had been called by God to proclaim God’s Word to God’s wayward people to try and bring them back into the fold. Nineveh, on the other hand, was the capital of the Assyrian Empire— the sworn enemies of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In Isaiah chapter 10 and Nahum chapter 3 the Assyrian Empire is described as an incredibly arrogant empire which inflicted the worst kinds of cruelty imaginable upon the peoples they conquered. Was Jonah perhaps afraid to go to Nineveh and proclaim the message God had given to him? Not at all! The reason Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh is found in the opening verses of Jonah chapter four. After God had spared Nineveh we’re told, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, ‘O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? This is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’” Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh and proclaim the message God had given to him because Jonah did not want the people of Nineveh to be saved! As far as Jonah was concerned they didn’t deserve to even hear about God’s grace much less experience God’s grace! In other words, Jonah was harboring hatred and prejudice in his heart! That hatred and that prejudice prevented Jonah from gladly and willingly going to Nineveh and proclaiming the message God had given to him.
Now let’s turn to the message itself. What exactly was the message that God had given to Jonah to proclaim? Look at verse four of our text, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” This was a very powerful message of Law, wasn’t it? Jonah was sent to the capital of the Assyrian Empire to proclaim to them that their wickedness had become such a stench in God’s nostrils, that their evil had become so pervasive, that their cruelty had gotten so out of control that God Himself was going to step in and put an end to it all— literally! While the God of heaven is indeed long-suffering, while the God of heaven is indeed patient, the God of heaven will only put up with sin for so long and then He unleashes His justice. Think of the Flood (Genesis 6). Think of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19). “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The power of those words spoken by a prophet of the Almighty God resonates with the severity of God’s Law.
At the same time, however, the message which God gave to Jonah to proclaim was also infused with the glorious message of the Gospel, wasn’t it? God could have simply rained fire and brimstone down on the city of Nineveh and destroyed them without warning— like He did with Sodom and Gomorrah. But He didn’t! God graciously gave the people of Nineveh forty days to repent of their sin and to change their evil ways— which is exactly what happened. Look at verse ten, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” That’s the Gospel, my friends! That’s the amazing grace of God in action!
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” When we look at the message that God Himself gave to Jonah to proclaim it seems pretty clear to me that it was indeed a message of both Law and Gospel. Jonah was told to point out the people’s sin. Jonah was told to tell the people of Nineveh that the way they were living their lives was wrong and that if they continued to live that way there would be serious consequences to pay! At the same time Jonah was told to proclaim to the people of Nineveh that God was giving them a chance to be saved— both physically as well as spiritually. God was graciously giving them forty days— forty days to see the seriousness of their sin, forty days to turn away from their sin, forty days to seek God’s forgiveness for their sins. That’s a message of both Law and Gospel.
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” While the destination may be different, God’s message has not changed one iota down through the centuries. God’s message to the world today is still a message of both Law and Gospel. God’s Law very clearly proclaims that sin is not a weakness. Sin is not a shortcoming. Each and every sin is an act of rebellion against the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth and He will deal with it accordingly. At the same time, the message of God’s Gospel has not changed one iota. Scripture still proclaims, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). When God comes to someone today and says, Proclaim the message I gave you! He does indeed mean, “Proclaim both My message of Law and My message of Gospel!”
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” God spoke those words to Jonah approximately 2,800 years ago. To whom does He speak those words today? The most obvious answer to that question is— me! As the person who has been called to serve as God’s public representative here in our congregation, God Himself expects that I will faithfully proclaim the message He has given to me. (See Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1) I do not have the right or the authority to change the message as God Himself reveals it here in His holy Word. In fact, I have the responsibility to preach God’s Law in all of its severity and then proclaim God’s Gospel in all of its clarity. I strive to fulfill this God-given responsibility by pointing you to the cross as often as I can. If you ever begin to think that your sin is not all that serious, if you ever begin to get “comfortable” with having a particular sin in your heart or in your life— look to the cross. The cross reminds you of just how serious sin is! The cross reminds you that God is serious when He says, “The wages of sin = death” (Romans 6:23a). At the same time, the cross proclaims to you that the God of heaven loves you so very deeply that He was willing to send His own Son into this world to die on the cross in your place so that your entire debt of sin could be paid for— in full! I am absolutely convinced, my friends, that if you want to see both the severity of God’s Law and the clarity of God’s Gospel all you need to do is lift up your eyes to the cross of Calvary’s hill.
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” While God spoke those words directly to Jonah and while God speaks those words indirectly to me, those are words which the God of heaven also speaks to you, my friends. Yes, you are ambassadors, spokespersons, of the Living God. You are God’s public representatives in your own little corner of God’s world. We live at a time when so many churches and so many preachers are so willing to change the message God has recorded here in His holy Word. We live at a time when many people don’t want to hear the message that God has given to you to share with them. We live at a time when people want you to change what you believe and how you live your life so that you agree with them instead of Him! (Pointing to the cross) For example, it’s not “politically correct” to say that the Triune God of Scripture is the only true God, that faith in what Jesus has done for you is the only way to eternal life in heaven and that the only thing waiting for anyone who rejects those truths is an eternity of suffering in hell. In short, it is not “politically correct” to proclaim the message the God Himself has given to you here in His holy Word.
Don’t be like Jonah, my friends. Don’t run away from proclaiming the message God has given to you because you are afraid of how someone might react. Don’t run away from proclaiming the message God has given to you because for one reason or another you don’t think someone “deserves” to hear about what God has done for them (pointing to the cross). You don’t know if God has given someone forty more days or forty more months or forty more years to hear God’s message of both Law and Gospel. What you do know is that when their life here on this earth comes to an end they will instantly be summoned before God’s judgment throne and be required to give an account to Him. (See Matthew 12:36-37; Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10)
It is not difficult to see people today whose job is to serve as a spokesperson. It is also not difficult to understand that the job of a spokesperson is actually quite simple: proclaim the message you are given. Do not change it. Do not adapt it as you see fit. Do not contradict it. Just proclaim it.
Likewise, it is not difficult to understand that the good Lord has sent us, His children, out into this world to serve as His spokespersons. It is also not difficult to understand that God Himself expects us to proclaim the message He has given to us. Do not change it. Do not adapt it as you see fit. Do not contradict it. Just proclaim it.
“Go to (you fill in the blank) and proclaim to them the message I give you.” May God grant that those words will always ring out loud and clear in our ears and in our hearts and in our lives today.
To God be the glory!