5th Sunday of Epiphany February 6, 2022
496, 495, 501, 507
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, in Your kindness You cause the light of the Gospel to shine among us. By the working of Your Holy Spirit, help us to share the good news of Your salvation that all who hear it may rejoice in the gift of Your unending love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son. Amen.
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? That 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. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (NIV-84)
Dear fellow ambassadors of Christ, dear fellow redeemed:
Take a moment, please, to think of someone you know personally who doesn’t know Christ by faith as their Savior from sin. The person you’re thinking of might be a good friend or a relative. He or she might be a next-door neighbor, a co-worker, or someone with whom you go to school. He or she might be the person who works at “7-11” or “Speedway” gas station, whom you see whenever you fill up for gas and grab a cup of coffee. Whoever this person is, to the best of your knowledge, he or she doesn’t know Christ as the one and only way to eternal life. He or she is, in fact, lost and on their way to hell.
Now think of yourself. At some point in time, perhaps when you were baptized as a child, or maybe later on in life, someone cared enough to see to it that you were personally introduced to Jesus. Through that person the Holy Spirit gently placed you into the crucified hands of your Savior, where you experienced by faith the forgiveness of all your sins, peace with God, and the certain hope of heaven. At that point in time all the wonderful promises of God became your very own.
Now for a tough question: How much do you really care about this person I’ve asked you to think about? Do you care enough to gently lead them to Jesus so that they too can rest in His nail-scarred hands for the rest of their lives and for all eternity?
All of us, by virtue of the fact that we are disciples of Christ, are missionaries. Our God-given purpose and privilege is to tell others of our Savior, who lived, died, rose, and ascended for all people, including that friend, relative, co-worker, classmate, or acquaintance. The sins of all people have been forgiven. May God give us caring hearts to share with friends and neighbors the wonderful good news that what Jesus did for all, He did for them as well. After all, isn’t sharing Jesus the most loving things we could ever do for anyone?
In our study today from the book of Jonah we want to examine (perhaps with some shame) the depth of our love and concern for the souls of others. We also will be looking to the LORD for help to truly care for them in the same way He cares for us. On the basis of our text we consider the theme: WANTED: MISSIONARIES WITH CARING HEARTS!
What do you know about missionary Jonah? Perhaps you know that he tried to run away from the assignment God had given him of preaching the Word to the heathen people of Nineveh. Maybe you know about the terrible storm that eventually caused Jonah to be thrown overboard from the ship on which he was foolishly trying to make his escape. I’m sure you know about the huge fish that God provided to swallow Jonah, and how he was kept alive in the fish for three days and three nights. You may also be aware of the fact that Jonah eventually did go to Nineveh where he delivered God’s message, which led to a stunning mass conversion. Bible Scholars estimate that perhaps as many as 500,000 people inhabited the city at that time. Nowhere in recorded history do we find a time when the Spirit of God brought so many people to repentance through the preaching of one man.
You would think Jonah would have been ecstatic over the miracle God worked through his preaching. But no, not Jonah. Instead, he was angry with the LORD. “He prayed to the LORD, ‘O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That 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. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’” (vv. 2-3).
Why in the world would Jonah be so upset that the LORD was so gracious and compassionate with the people of Nineveh? The simple answer is that Jonah was a racist. He self-righteously shared the false assumption of his countrymen that the saving promises of the LORD belonged exclusively to the Israelites. Anyone that wasn’t an Israelite was regarded as scum. If we go into it a little deeper, we find that Nineveh was a chief city in the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were a feared enemy of God’s people. Jonah and most of the Israelites would prefer that Assyria be destroyed so that they no longer were a threat to their national security. The last thing Jonah wanted to do was to go back home and face the embarrassment of telling his people that he was instrumental in saving their arch-foe from destruction.
But the bottom line was that Jonah simply did not care. His heart was empty of any love for these formerly unbelieving Ninevites. It did not bother him at all that they might die in their sins and be lost forever.
Even though Jonah did not care about the people of Nineveh, the LORD cared about Jonah. So the LORD, loving Father that He is, begins to work on his heart by use of an object lesson. First he asks Jonah if he had the right to be angry? “Stop and think, Jonah. You’re angry with Me for showing compassion to the Ninevites, But don’t you remember, Jonah, the mercy I showed you when I saved you from drowning in the depths of the sea? Do you really have the right to be mad at me for showing the same mercy to these people?”
Well, Jonah didn’t have an answer to that, but he wasn’t ready to admit, either, that the LORD was right. Instead, he built himself a makeshift shelter outside the city to see if the LORD might destroy Nineveh after all.
The next phase of God’s lesson was to cause a leafy vine to grow up overnight over the shelter—a vine which provided shade from the sun, and which made Jonah very happy. The LORD was giving his missionary time to cool off and think things through. But Jonah still wouldn’t budge. The lesson still wasn’t being absorbed. So then the LORD resorted to sterner measures by providing a worm which chewed the vine so that it withered and Jonah lost his shade. Next the LORD sent a hot east wind which made Jonah even more miserable, and then the LORD followed it all up with a question: “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” (v.10)
With that the LORD now drives home his remarkable object lesson. “So Jonah you cared that much about the vine, did you? You didn’t make it grow or do anything to care for it, but yet you did care about it. A plant, Jonah! You cared that much about a plant! If you cared that much about a plant, don’t you think I should care about the people of Nineveh, who, unlike your precious vine, have everlasting souls? Shouldn’t I have had compassion on them, and shouldn’t you, too?”
Is there anything in this lesson for us to take to heart? I pray you see there is. I pray you felt the LORD working on your heart as we reviewed the lesson God taught Jonah. Dear missionaries of God, what do you and I care about? What gets you upset because you care about it so much? If you lost some precious item, like you cell phone, you’d naturally be upset. But are you just as concerned about the fact that the person I asked you to think about earlier might lose their everlasting soul? Do we live our lives caring about our things more than the salvation of those around us? Or maybe your boss treats you like dirt and it makes you mad. But does it ever occur to you that he or she is a person who doesn’t know Christ by faith, and therefore living without any hope beyond the grave? Do you consciously remember that Christ gave His life for all the irritating people in your life just as He did for you? Or maybe the immoral lifestyle of a friend or family member has you wringing your hands, but do you care enough about them to take them by the hand, show them their sin, and introduce them to the Only One Who can forgive their sin and change their lives?
These are certainly difficult questions for us to think about. But if each of us is to get at the business of being a missionary for Christ, we, first of all, need hearts that truly care about others. How will we ever reach out to others with the Gospel unless we truly care about them? Outreach programs and congregational evangelism efforts are important, but they are no substitute for each one of us having real love and concern for precious, blood-bought souls.
Only God can work within us a deep love for people. Just as God cared deeply for His child, Jonah, so He cares about you. Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, but Christ died for you and spent three days in the belly of the earth. There, inside His grave, He buried forever every one of your sins, including those sins in which we have failed to show compassion for the lost souls in our circle of life. His perfect righteousness covers completely our unloving and unmerciful hearts. And just as Jonah lived to talk about his experience within the fish, so Christ came forth from His grave alive, never to die again. Because He now lives forever, we live forever!
It is this awesome love that He has shown to you and me, love which we deserved no more than anyone else, which ignites us to love others as we have been loved. As we are filled with His saving grace through hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament, that love will spill out into the lives of others. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)
May God’s love move you to really care about that someone I asked you to think about. May His love move you to tell them that what Jesus did for you, He also did for them! Tell them, and then let God’s Holy Spirit do the rest! AMEN!
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Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked “NIV-84” are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.