Sunday, June 22, 2014
"Proclaim the Gospel" Sermon: Jonah 3:1-10
“Proclaim the Gospel”
June 22, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Did Jonah do the Will of God?
God told Jonah to go preach the Gospel to the Ninevites – the hated, Gentile Ninevites – who were part of another nation – not even living in Israel. And Jonah told God, “no.” He tried to run away, but God hurled a hurricane after the ship Jonah was on, and then Jonah was hurled into the stormy sea, and then God sent a fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah humbled himself and repented, and God told the fish to vomit Jonah out on the dry land.
Jesus said, “’what do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” And he answered, “I will not,” but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, “I go, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him’” (Matthew 21:28-32, ESV).
God told Jonah to proclaim the Gospel to the Ninevites, and Jonah said, “No.” Then, in love and mercy, God – like a loving Father – disciplined Jonah until he humbled himself and repented. Then God told Jonah to proclaim the Gospel to the Ninevites, and Jonah went.
Jonah is a good example for us, is he not? We sin against God – we tell God, “no,” when we tell God He is unfair or that we have a better way. Yet, if we repent of our sin, if we turn back to God and do what God told us to do in the first place, we will then be obedient to God’s Will.
Now, that’s not to say that it is good to sin and repent because then we follow God’s Will. No, we ought to follow God’s Will from the beginning; sin is never excusable.
Jonah didn’t – Jonah disobeyed and God used extreme measures to get him to acknowledge his sin and humble himself and repent. And then God said to him to “Arise” – stand up, shake off the fish vomit, and go to Nineveh with the Gospel.
As we look at our text – which is the third chapter of Jonah, we see:
First, the Gospel we proclaim must be God’s Gospel.
Second, there is only one saving response to the Gospel.
And third, God will forgive those who believe and repent.
“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey.”
God told Jonah to get up and do what He told him to do in the first place – go to that great city – go to the capital of that foreign nation who has done evil against God and Israel – go to them with the message that God tells him to preach.
Now, let’s think about this for a moment: Jonah has been in the belly of the great fish for three days, and now he had to walk from Joppa in Western Israel to Nineveh, which is in what we now call, Iraq. That is not a short walk. Going as the crow flies, it’s about six hundred miles, but, if he were to take the normally travelled routes, it could have been as long as two thousand miles. Jonah didn’t have a plane or a car or a bike – he walked.
Nineveh was a great city – if we take the figure in the fourth chapter to refer to the total number of people in the city, then we would say there were over 120,000. But, if we understand it, as some have, that the 120,000 refer to children, the number could have been more like 400,000 people.
We’re told that the city itself was a three-day walk. And again, it is unsure if that means that it took three days to walk across or three days to walk throughout – but in either case, Nineveh was a big city.
John Calvin explains what Jonah was walking into: “The Lord, therefore, expressly foretold Jonah how difficult would be his employment; as though he said, ‘I send thee, a man unknown, and of no rank, and a stranger, to denounce ruin on men, not a few in number, but on a vast multitude, and to carry on a contest with the noblest city, and so populous, that it may seem to be a region of itself’” (John Calvin, Commentary on Jonah).
“And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’”
First, the Gospel we proclaim must be God’s Gospel.
And our first reaction might be: “That’s not the Gospel – you keep telling us that the Gospel is a set of historical facts – that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne – that’s the Gospel.”
And you would be right. So, what is going on here?
There are two ways we can look at this – either what we have is not the whole of the preaching of the Gospel that they heard from Jonah, or they already knew very well that they were sinning against God and were in trouble and we waiting to have a call to repentance.
We think of Noah, who God used to save Noah and his family and representative pairs of the animals to repopulate the earth after the flood. Noah and his sons spent one hundred years building the ark. We are not told anything about what Noah preached to his contemporaries during those hundred years, but certainly he said something – certainly they asked what was going on.
“So, Noah, you’re building an ark. Why?”
The author of Hebrews tells us: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7, ESV). Noah had received the Gospel and built the ark for the salvation of his family and the condemnation of those who did not repent of their sins. And we hear that righteousness is by faith alone in the witness of Noah.
Do you know of anyone who would say they have lived a perfect life – that they have never done anything wrong? Even if they claim not to believe in God, everyone, with very slight prodding, will admit that they have done things wrong – that they are sinners. Believing that we are sinners is not hard to do.
However, it is likely that most people would say they are better than average as far as being good people. In 1999, a study showed that 89% of Americans believe they are morally better than average (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_superiority). That can’t be – right?
People know something is wrong – they are not the best they could be – they are not the people they would want to be in every area. And that is actually where evangelism must begin – we must know the bad news for the Good News to be of any value. After all, if just about all of us are better than average – we’re all pretty good. Or not.
Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). It is the Christian who understands that there is something desperately wrong with the world – we are sinners and our sin has affected all of Creation. In fact, our sin has angered God.
Matthew records, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17, ESV).
Neither Noah, nor Jesus, nor Jonah preached that “you’re ok and I’m ok,” or “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” or “this is your best life now.” Those are all lies of the devil. If this is the best it will be, there is no reason to have hope.
But, if we understand that we are sinners, if we understand that there is a God, and that God has made the Way to be right with Him, and we in honesty ask, “What ought we to do?” The answer must be, “Repent!” How that is possible is then explained through the historical moments of the Gospel that we know from Jesus’ life.
Jonah preached the bad news of God’s anger for the sin of the Ninevites, and God used that message to confront and conform the Ninevites into a repentant people, who believed in the Gospel. The Gospel is the response to the fact that we are at odds with God due to our sin – until we understand that – until anyone understands that – there is no possibility that they will hear the Good News of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.
We must not be afraid to ask people how they will be right with the Holy God – with the God Who requires holiness from us to avoid His Wrath. We ought not to tell people that God loves them and wants to give them a tremendous gift; if they do not understand that they are in need – in sin – in rebellion against God.
I talked with my neurologist about how he went from being an Orthodox Jew to a Reformed Jew – and he talked about going through the ceremonies that Judaism requires, even though they are not as meaningful to him anymore. And I asked him if the real question was not, “How does a person become right with God?” And he said, “Yes.”
The Gospel has two parts – the bad news of our sin – and the Good News of Jesus Christ, our only salvation. That is the Gospel that must be preached.
“And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
“The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’”
Second, there is only one saving response to the Gospel.
The proclamation of the Gospel warning and the hope of salvation spread through Nineveh. It is not clear whether or not Jonah had an audience with the king of Nineveh, but he also heard the proclamation of the Gospel warning and the hope of salvation.
The right response to the proclamation of the Gospel is threefold: there must be repentance for sin, there must be a renouncing of sin, and there must be a trust in the promises of God.
There must be a repentance of sin. If someone truly receives the Gospel message, he will repent of his sin. He will despise his sin and ask for forgiveness for it. A person who truly believes and understands the wretchedness of his life and all that he has done against God and man will renounce it and desire forgiveness for all that he has done sinfully.
The people of Nineveh and the king – and some of the people just following the king, perhaps – did repent of their sin. They called for a fast – denying their physical pleasures and necessities in repentance. They put on sackcloth and ashes, symbolizing the destructive Wrath that would have come against them if they did not repent, and the humility by which they were now coming to God and asking for forgiveness. They recognized that they were deserving of nothing of the blessings of God and that they would return to the ashes of which God created them. They acknowledged that they were creatures made by the Living God, Who caused them to live and breathe and move upon the earth. And they came to Him in sorrow for their sin and asked to be forgiven.
And we might wonder about putting the animals in sackcloth and ashes and not feeding or watering them. Certainly they had no sin. But they served as a mirror to the Ninevites – as they cried out, wanting to be fed and watered, bearing the image of sackcloth and ashes – the Ninevites would look at them and have a reaffirmation of their sin portrayed on the back of the animals and in their cries.
After renouncing sin, they committed not to sin again – as they progressed in mortification and vivification – as they worked towards holiness – as do all true Christians. The king commanded that everyone call out mightily to God and turn from the evil and violence that they were doing.
Repentance is not merely asking for forgiveness for our sins; repentance is turning around – committing to strive against temptation and to sin no longer. We see this in Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery:
“Early in the morning [Jesus] came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more’” (John 8:2-11, ESV).
We understand that the scribes and the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into breaking the Law. They brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and told Jesus part of the Law – that a woman caught in the act of adultery is to be put to death – actually the Law says, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10, ESV).
But Jesus wasn’t playing their game. He said to them, literally, “He who is without this sin, cast the first stone.” And they all left – beginning with the older men.
The point here is this: The woman sinned. Jesus knew her heart, being God, and forgave her, in her repentance, yet, He did not leave it at that. Jesus said, literally, “From now on and for the rest of your life, sin no more.” Jesus called her to a life of holiness.
We are all called to repent of our sin, to confess and ask for forgiveness, and then we are to stop sinning. “But it’s so hard!” Yes it is, but we have God the Holy Spirit living in us and we do not ever have to sin. Our trouble is more that we don’t believe that what God has given us and promised us is better than sin, and we don’t believe that God will provide the way that He promised that, when we are tempted, we can turn away and choose not to sin.
After repenting of sin and committing not to sin – to strive after holiness, a final part is found in trusting the promises of God.
The king said, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Here we see that the king trusted in the promises of God.
Now, someone maybe thinking – “Wait a minute – isn’t the king doubting that God will keep His promise to forgive them if they repent of their sin and follow after holiness?” And the answer is, “no.”
The king’s doubt was not with God, but with himself – and with his people. Having come to the point of recognizing their sin and repenting of their sin and vowing to strive towards holiness, the king was beside himself with awe of this God – “How can God forgive us after all that we have done in sinning against Him? Even though I believe and Nineveh believes that God has promised to forgive us if we repent of our sin and turn from it – how can God allow that to be? How can God forgive us?”
The details of salvation were unknown – Jesus had not yet come. The king trusted in God’s promise, but didn’t understand how God could forgive them. We know that we are forgiven because God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under the Law – and that righteousness was credited to the accounts of all we who believe, took on Himself the Wrath of God for all of the sins of all we who believe, died, and physical rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne. How much easier it is for us to believe who have this history behind us and recorded for us – where they had the promises of a Savior to come, but did not know how God would accomplish all that He had promised!
So, the king believed the promises of God – his repentance and vow to follow after God was sincere – but he wondered how the Holy God could forgive such great sin. Through Jesus: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, ESV).
Do you believe God’s promise of salvation through Jesus Christ? Do you think you should tell someone? Are you amazed that God would forgive us?
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”
Third, God will forgive those who believe and repent.
The prophet is writing in human language, which is the only one we can understand. God intended and knew that the Ninevites would repent of their sin and follow after God, believing His promises. And so, when they did – just as God had planned – God forgave them for their sin and did not destroy them.
John puts it this way:
“This is the message we have heard from [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10, ESV).
And Peter preached, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself’” (Acts 2:36-39, ESV).
Brothers and sisters, Jesus has commanded us to proclaim the Gospel to the whole Creation. Jonah preached the Gospel to the Ninevites, and in the mercy and providence of God, they repented of their sin, began to strive after holiness, and believed the promises of God.
If you are a Christian, this morning, you have be commanded by the Almighty God, our Savior, to proclaim the Gospel – that humans are at odds with God and the only hope and salvation is through the historical work of Jesus that we confess. And if anyone repents of their sin, turns away from it, and seeks to do what is right in the eyes of God, believing the promises that God has made in the Scripture, God will forgive them and adopt them into His family for salvation.
Are you ready to obey the Will of God and His call on your life to tell others the Gospel of Jesus Christ? There is no other hope, and God has entrusted us to proclaim His Message of Salvation.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and repent of our sins and pray that God the Holy Spirit, Who indwells us, would help us to take the way of escape from temptation that You have provided for us and continue to strive after holiness in our own lives. Help us to proclaim Your Gospel to each one who needs to hear. Keep us from fear and overwhelm us with the urge to let those know who are perishing. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.