Epiphany 3 – “Man’s No and God’s Yes” (Jonah 3:1-5, 10)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament, which was read earlier.

One of the first words a child learns is one that will stick with them throughout all of their life, a word more important than “mama” or “dada.” That word is “no.” And once they learn that word, they love to use it at every opportunity they can. As we get older, that word becomes ingrained in our everyday vocabulary, because we too like to use that word as much as we can. For the prophet Jonah, saying no was no different.

We all know the account of Jonah. To refresh your memory, God calls upon Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and deliver a message of repentance to them. Jonah felt that they were not worthy of God’s graciousness and so he refused. In order to get away from God, Jonah jumped into a boat that was heading the opposite direction, as if Jonah could really escape God. God sends a storm that threatens to destroy the boat he is on and so Jonah requests that the crew throw him overboard. The crew refuses to throw him overboard, knowing full well that he will drown. As the storm grew worse, the crew relented and threw Jonah overboard, but instead of drowning, he is swallowed by a big fish and kept alive in the fish’s belly for three days until he is spat out onto the shore. And that brings us to our Old Testament reading for today.

“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.” This time, Jonah was not about to take any chances. Even if he doesn’t feel that the people of Nineveh are worthy of God’s graciousness, he is going to go to Nineveh regardless of his personal feelings. He still doesn’t like the idea of going, he still doesn’t like the people, but he goes anyways because this is what God has commanded of him.

After everything that had happened to Jonah, it would be hard for him to say no a second time, and yet he still doesn’t have anything good to say about the Ninevites. He goes to Nineveh and declares God’s message: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” This time, Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh, to be God’s mouth in that city. This same word was used when God promised to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God followed through with His threat of punishment for the unrepentant. That’s the same thing that Jonah wanted for Nineveh, for God to wipe them out as He had done earlier.

The Lord was calling Nineveh to repent. God is a serious God, with serious love and mercy for the repentant. But what do you think? Do you God is being too gracious, or are the billions of unbelievers out there today, or those of us gathered here, really worth His effort?

For as stern as God’s warning is to Nineveh, there’s reason for hope. For if God had decided to destroy the city, just for the fun of it, just because He’s a mean, angry, hateful God just looking for people and cities to destroy, if that’s who God really is, then there would be no real purpose for Him to ever send a preacher with His message. There would be no need for Jonah, no need for me. God detests sin because it kills those whom He loves, His creation. His earnest desire, what He wants most and has moved the ends of the world for, is salvation, salvation for Nineveh, salvation for you.

We are quick to say “no” to God, to think that we don’t need what He has to offer, to think that someone is beyond God’s salvation because of how bad they are. How great it must be, to be so good, to be someone who is so righteous of their own accord that they don’t need what God offers through Jesus Christ! How sad for everyone else who isn’t such a righteous person as this.

Fortunately for us, when we say “no,” God says “yes.” God says yes to us from the very beginning of man’s fall into sin. God says yes to us sinful human beings who don’t deserve His forgiveness. God says yes to us when our self-righteousness says that we don’t need God. Man’s “no” is God’s “yes,” and I am glad that’s the way it is.

Nineveh was spared because the Ninevites repented of their sins. God saw no reason to destroy them any more. When we repent, God sees no need to destroy us any more. We shout from the rooftops, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them.” And God joyfully shouts back to us, “I forgive you all of your sins.” What a wonderful thing to hear! We have God’s promise that all of our sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to guess and wonder if our sins have really been forgiven or not. We don’t have to guess and wonder if God will follow through with His threat of destroying us or if He will forgive us, for we already know the answer to that question.

God desired to save the wicked people of Nineveh, so He sent His preacher there and He saved. He had compassion and did not bring down the destruction that they deserved. God desires to save you, as well, sending forth preachers still today, preaching a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. With that forgiveness, God spares you from eternal destruction, from hell and it’s torment, it’s absence from God.

As certainly as Jonah was swallowed up into the belly of the fish three days and was delivered, so Jesus was swallowed up by death and in the tomb for three days. His being raised on the third day has brought the kingdom of God now to you. Christ’s great death and resurrection have become the door to life for you through Christ and this He has given to you by His Word, Holy Baptism, and His Supper. Through these gifts, He has had compassion on you, drawing you near unto Him. Here, in His Means of Grace, does He pour out on you comfort and forgiveness in His blood instead of the Father’s wrath and anger. All is made well again, all has been forgiven you because your hearts have been turned and have repented. Death passes over you as you receive everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.