Summary: Epiphany 3: For a world whose time is short - the only answer is to share the Good News - Jesus has ’done the Ds!’
Kicking and scratching and clawing – that’s how Jonah went to the big city of Nineveh. God had commanded him to go. “Tell the people that judgment is coming,” said God. The only thing between the Ninevites and judgment was this reluctant prophet.
Now Nineveh was a powerful city, but it was also a very wicked city. It was the Assyrian capital – and these guys were mortal enemies of the Israelites. Partly because of this, Jonah didn’t really want to go to help the Ninevites escape God’s judgment. You see, there was no love lost between Jonah and his Assyrian neighbors.
And so what does Jonah do? He ran in the opposite direction that God told him to go. He literally caught a ship going the other way - west - after God had told him to go east. Jonah quickly found out that there’s no percentage in running from God. God caused a huge storm to come upon the ship. The sailors figured out that it was Jonah who had gotten them into the big mess. And so they threw him overboard – and the seas calmed.
Now listen – if you thought that all this was just a bit far out – hang on, because the story really gets weird now. The Scripture says that God sent a big fish to swallow Jonah. It ate him whole. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. And you thought that coming to church for one hour was rugged – huh?
While Jonah was in the fish – he had a time to think things over. He had a change of heart - to reorder his priorities. After a few days of living in fish bile, he was ready to listen to God. And so, with new attitude, God prepares to send him on his mission. Let me read you what the Scriptures say about how God sent him to Nineveh: “The LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (Jonah 2:10) Not quite first class passage, but for sure an incredible sight to behold!
All of this had happened prior to our Old Testament Lesson. Let’s read the text together now: [Read Old Testament Lesson here – Jonah 3:1-5, 10]
Now the problem posed to us by this lesson is very contemporary. You see it begs the question: “To what extent would you go to help somebody that you love?” If someone that we really cared about were in mortal danger – to what extent would we go to save him or her?
The easy and glib answer is, “Well – I’d do anything to help somebody that I cared about. I’d do the Ds to help them. I’d give up my ‘D’ollars - my wealth, position and possessions. I’d be willing to look ‘D’umb - even make a fool of myself to help somebody that I really cared about. Why - I’d even ‘D’ie - for somebody that I really cared about - I’d do the ultimate – I’d give my life for them.”
Would we – really? Perhaps – if we were all self-sacrificing, self-abasing, altruistic people. But let me change the question up just a bit: “Would you do all of these same things for an enemy – for Sadaam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden? Would you do Ds for an evil person – would you give up your ‘D’ollars?; Would you look ‘D’umb? Would you ‘D’ie? I’m really pushing it now – aren’t I? You see, the obvious answer to these questions is, "No: I’m not about to make the ultimate sacrifice for an enemy – that’s absolutely crazy."
You see, it’s easy to think of Jonah as just a heartless snob. He ran the other way instead of going to help the Ninevites. But did you notice that God had asked him to do the Ds. To go to Nineveh, Jonah would have to leave behind all that he owned and valued – his dollars. He would have to worry about looking dumb – because you see – if the people repented and God didn’t destroy them, Jonah – the prophet – would look like a fool. And can you imagine what they would say about that in-the-belly-of-the-fish-thing? And finally, Jonah would be risking his life – you see, he might die. And all this for sworn enemies of his people – the Assyrians.
When we consider all of this – you know - maybe its not all that weird that it took a storm; and three days in the belly of a huge fish; and being regurgitated on a beach – to finally convince Jonah to obey God and do the Ds - to go to Nineveh.
But go he did. And when Jonah told people what was coming - the people of Nineveh listened. And they repented and fasted and asked God for forgiveness. Even the king of Nineveh got into the act. He reasoned: “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 2:9) Indeed! The last verse of our lesson says, “God saw what they [the Ninevites] did. He saw that they turned from their wicked ways. So God reconsidered his threat to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.” (Jonah 2:10)