Nineveh

Season of Epiphany 2021  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Jonah 1:1–2 ESV
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

Introduction

Today, we see Epiphany as Jesus is revealed to us through the Prophet Jonah.
Nineveh was a very evil city. Formed by Nimrod in Genesis 10, it was the capital of the Assyrians- the most evil, powerful people dwelling on earth. Within this capital city debauchery was the order of the day. Flagrant sexual sins, the murder of babies, injustice of every kind were the hallmark of its existence. The Assyrian army was particularly brutal. They were known for conquering cities, burning them, beheading the people, and placing their heads on fence posts as a warning to anyone who may think about standing up to them.
God often allowed the Assyrians to plunder Israel when they would not repent for their sins. There was a special hatred in their hearts for the Children of Israel, and they were not slow to display this to the world. Interesting though, while they plundered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and chastised the southern portion of Israel, God did not permit them to touch Judah from whence Messiah would arise.
There are two prophets who deal with this evil city. Nahum and Jonah.
Jonah is the first prophet to call Nineveh to repentance. As we hear in our text today we see that the people repented and the Lord saved the city, causing Jonah to become very angry. He wanted fire and brimstone to take them out! More on Jonah in a moment.
If you want to see what Nineveh was truly like you have to go to the prophet Nahum. In this short, three chapter book of this minor prophet, no hope is given to the people of Nineveh. As a matter of fact, there is not one positive word in the Book of Nahum. It’s pure judgment against Nineveh. Absolutely no hope is offered. It’s not a call to repent; Nahum simply announces that they have met their wretched end. And meet their end they did— God wiped Nineveh off the map in 612 BC. Ironically, the prophet’s name, Nahum, means “comfort.”
This is the city to which God commands Jonah to go in our text, to confront them and call them to repentance. You can understand Jonah’s reluctance.

Evil

The Hebrew word for evil, ra’ah, appears eight times in this short, four chapter book. This is the reason for Jonah being sent there by God. It is also the reason that the people ultimately repent and relent.
Jonah is sent by God to confront this evil. But he is scared. Scared that these powerful Assyrians will not listen to him , and most likely scared that his head would be the newest fence decoration placed in that city.
The first part of Jonah does not really go into any detail about “what” the sin of these people is. However, knowing mankind, sin never changes— it just gets more evil, so Nahum provides us with what we need to know, albeit 150 years later.
Once Jonah gets the call from God he immediately rebels. Immediately upon receiving the call from God we see what the fear does to Jonah:
Jonah 1:3 ESV
But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
Fleeing from the Lord ‘s call is always a bad thing. Whether that be the call to serve Him in a special way, to become stronger in your faith, to serve Him in some form of ministry, OR the call to faith, there will always be consequences, some of which can be eternal. Flee from the faith and you run into hell. But flee, Jonah did!
The part of the account that the reading leaves out today (inexcusable) is that Jonah boards a ship. A great storm arises, and Jonah recognizes that he is the cause of the storm. The superstitious crew on the ship realize that they somehow have brought this storm on themselves. Jonah is in the hull sleeping— like Jesus did during that storm where the disciples’ boat almost was destroyed before He calmed the sea- and the captain wakes him and asks him to pray to his god that somehow the ship wouldn’t crash in this terrible storm. These superstitious men cast lots to see who was to blame, and it pointed to Jonah. Remember, lots were cast for Jesus’ clothing also. He reveals that he is a Hebrew. Immediately they understand that Jonah was fleeing from God.
Jonah offers himself up and tells them to cast him off the side of the boat into the sea. They pray that God would not hold them guilty for sacrificing innocent blood, and they throw him overboard. Miracle of miracles, the sea ceases from its raging.

Things get fishy

The text tells us that “God appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” Jonah remains in its belly for three days. And then God causes the fish to vomit Jonah back up onto the shore.
Jonah then goes to the Ninevites and pronounces God’s oracle of Judgment against them. What he was not expecting was their response. They repented. They put on sackcloth and ash, The King of Nineveh, likewise repented, proclaiming an edict throughout the land that the people repent from their evil and turn to God.
This is one of the few “success” stories in the Scripture about people actually heeding God’s voice through His prophet and truly repenting. God relents, and Nineveh is allowed to stand for another 150 years.
Then, those who compile our readings leave out another very important part of this story. Jonah becomes very angry. He went all through this because he wanted to see God’s wrath spill out on these people. Repentance on their part was not a possibility in Jonah’s mind. He thought the Lord would wipe them off the map. He becomes very angry with God.
God’s final words to Jonah are “Sand should not I 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?”
One of the theological points that surfaced in the nineteenth century was that this was just a story. That Jonah was not a real event, that archeology found evidence of other cultures talking about a man being swallowed by a fish allegorically, and that what is important is the point that was made by this. They accuse Biblical Christians of somehow linking “Jesus’ credibility with Jonah’s edibility.”
The Scriptures state this literally. Therefore we take this literally, beloved. Jonah was actually swallowed by a great fish.

So, what can we gain from this account?

We are surrounded by the same evil that was in Nineveh. Perhaps ours is worse— for evil can spread a lot faster today through the use of technology, social media, and the like. We have lost the ability to discern evil, and because of it we just may participate in it without realizing it. Our world today does the same things as the Assyrians. Over 1 billion babies have been killed since 1973 in Roe V Wade in our country alone. Baby killing still exists. Beheadings have made a comeback among Islamic nations. And people are brutalized for their faith throughout the world with nary a peep from the Church. It is easy to lose hope.
If you want to feel a bit like Jonah, remember that the Lord has called His Church to go into this world and first proclaim His judgment. Imagine today going into the public square and speaking against abortion, or the exclusivity of Jesus’ words that say “no one comes to the Father except through me”.
Today is Life Sunday in the LCMS. Largely it goes by unmentioned. It marks the 48th anniversary of legalized murder in our Country. Mention this and you will experience the wrath of the modern day Assyrians. Your head may wind up on a fencepost, at least figuratively.
God created us to recognize:
Life is a gift from God,
Who ordered all my days
And wrote them in His Book of Life
So I could give Him praise!
He guards and still preserves
That life He gave to me,
And loves me with a Father’s love
and will eternally!
Life is a Holy Gift
Which God alone can give.
He sets before us death and life.
Choose life that you might live!
For God has sent His Son
Who could have come a king,
but chose a mother’s womb instead
Eternal Life to bring.
Life is the Gift of God
So Jesus did partake,
And took upon our human form
His heirs He did us make!
When we were being knit
He knew who we would be
And marked us as His very own
His Death has set us free!
We may not be thrown into the sea, but way too often this same fear that Jonah had keeps our lips sealed when we have the Truth. We deserve to be thrown overboard.
Jesus was thrown overboard. Into the sea of death and hell from the Cross. The belly of the tomb devoured His dead body. But in three days He was “vomited out” of the grave, very much alive. Jesus, our Lord had no problem understanding Jonah in a literal way!
Matthew 12:40 ESV
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
We have entered some choppy waters in our Country now. God calls us to be Jonahs.
Will you run? Will you be angry?
You have one that was thrown off of the boat for you. Who was swallowed by the grave in the sea of hell. And three days later rose again.
For this is the very purpose that God has called you in Baptism, endued you with His Holy Spirit, protects you with His angels, and filled your heart with the light of the joy and peace of Christ that you bear into this Nineveh of darkness around you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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