For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
Some of you may remember the Paul Harvey radio broadcast piece called “The Rest of the Story”. If you don’t, Paul Harvey would tell stories about people and leave their identity unrevealed in its entirety until the end – telling the trivial information that made celebrities or historical figures seem much more human and less extraordinary. For example, the young man Al who was so terrible at household finance that his wife managed their budget with much chagrin and hand wringing, was the first treasury secretary of the United States, Alexander Hamilton.
Or the vicar of Epworth whose son was saved from a burning house just in the nick of time was Sam Wesley – the father of John Wesley, who was saved from the fire.
These rest of the stories give us a glimpse into the persons and in many ways for some of us, the story of Jonah is the kind of story that we need to know the rest of in order to make sense of it. Most of us have heard the story of the guy who was told to go to Ninevah and instead got on a boat. We know that the boat was hit by a big storm and we know that the sailors asked everyone what was happening or who was the cause of the storm, except Jonah, who was sound asleep! Eventually they woke him and he admitted that he was responsible for the storm because of his disobedience. He advised them to throw him overboard to stop the storm. They reluctantly did so, and the seas calmed, and all was well – except Jonah was swallowed by a big fish (you may have heard whale, but scripture never really says and we just tend to make generic terms specific over time)
Jonah was inside the big fish for 3 days.
He prayed a prayer of repentance and remorse and the fist vomited him out.
Then Jonah does what he was told and goes to Ninevah.
There, usually, ends the children’s version of the story of Jonah – because we focus on the disobedience and repentance. Those are the easy parts of the story to focus on, because they are obvious. And definitely, we should remember that, as one commentary I read this week said, “Everyone is either headed to Tarshish (the disobedient way) or Ninevah (the obedient way) because God has called everyone to follow and proclaim the gospel”
But the rest of the story of Jonah is pretty interesting too, and one of the key things that we can take away from it is that God’s love is for everyone and God’s mercy is always available. The verses we read from chapter 3 make it apparent that God sent Jonah at just the right time, with just the right words to the people of Ninevah.
Jonah turns out to be the most effective and efficient preacher ever.
He walks one day into a city that takes three days to walk through and preaches the shortest message ever “Forty more days and Ninevah will be overturned” and everyone responds with repentance – from the king to the peasant. And God relented.
Jonah should have been thrilled. God used him, God redeemed those around him, and God worked in the lives of an entire city.
But Jonah was not excited. Jonah was not happy. Jonah was TICKED!
Jonah had some reasons for not going to Ninevah in the first place. He came from a country that feared the Assyrians as a constant threat to them (Ninevah was the capital of Assyria) so having God wipe them out would have worked out just fine in Jonah’s opinion. So when he refused to go, he was trying to save his home. And when he went and the city repented, he was annoyed, because he expected God to exact retribution on them, not grant them mercy.
To Jonah’s mind, allowing Ninevah the chance to repent was probably something like allowing Sadaam Hussein to repent or Osama Bin Laden to receive mercy. Ninevah was pretty good at being horrific to those they defeated – they would wear body parts of the leaders of countries they had overthrown and spike heads of conquered kings to their city gates. They were cruel and mean and God spared them because they repented in the face of Jonah’s prophesy.
And Jonah was angry.
God still looked on these cruel and harsh people and loved them.
And Jonah could not understand that kind of love. Jonah could not understand why God would want to give them even the chance at repentance, let alone actually stay the execution.
So Jonah storms off and pouts. And we learn once again that God has a great love for even the most heinous among us. Even the most hateful are given opportunity to gain mercy. Jonah’s book and Jonah’s proclamation about who God is are one and the same – we read it in Jonah 4:2:
He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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.
The entire book of Jonah is about a God who loves and is gracious and compassionate. This God cares deeply about those who are not even in covenant relationship with him, those who have so many marks leveled against them. The people of Ninevah have no expectations of mercy, they have certainly never given it. But God offers it and they accept it.
And Jonah is angry because he doesn’t like that God is willing to love even these.
But we are fortunate that God is a God of slow anger and long compassion. Because we too, even as Jonah did, have received the benefit of God’s grace. We too, have sinned and turned and been granted a reprieve from the devastation of a sinful heart. We have heard Jesus cry “repent” and have turned away from what we once were to become what God has called us to. We have received mercy we didn’t deserve in times when we have been reluctant to give it. We have scoffed at God’s mercy to others – and wished for a different outcome.
And still, God calls us to love. God calls us to live in right relationship with God and with each other. God asks us to let go of the things that have held us back from loving one another and others around us.
We can find ourselves in this story as Jonah – unwilling to recognize the depth of God’s mercy and its extension to those who seem most unworthy.
Or we can find ourselves in this story as the Ninevahites – recognizing the very depths of our own mistakes and sins and longing for the better news, the good news, of redemption.
Either way – here’s the rest of the story – God is slow to anger, gracious and compassionate, abounding in love. And in every instance, you can find that God waiting with open arms for you.
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.