Epiphany 3B 2015 (Jonah 3:1–5, 10)

January 25, 2015
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bossier City, LA


Psalm 103 says, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” That’s what Jonah believed and knew about the LORD, about YHWH. He knew that was the kind of change YHWH would work in people. Jonah knew without any doubt that He forgives sins. Jonah was a prophet. He knew the Lord’s Word. He was sent to preach it in Israel, and Jonah was sent to preach it in Nineveh.

He didn’t want to go, though. He didn’t want Nineveh to change, to repent. He didn’t want YHWH to have mercy on THEM! They were too bad. They were Assyrians after all! They hated God. They hated God’s people in Israel and Judah. But in spite of what Jonah wanted or thought

2. The Word changed Jonah and Nineveh.

“The Word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time.” Jonah had been through hell and back. He’d been through storm and tempest, through fish belly and darkness, and ended up with life from death. It’s then that the Word of YHWH came to him again. Now, this isn’t just a voice from nowhere or a voice in Jonah’s own head. That’s not how the Lord works in the Old Testament. THE Word comes to Jonah. He appears to Him, the eternal Word, the Son of God Himself comes to Jonah to have a chat. The Lord always has a visible appearance when He calls or talks with His prophets. Remember the burning bush, or Joshua at Jericho, or even last week’s reading from Samuel (“The LORD came and stood, calling as at other times.”)? Those are just a few examples.

Once the Word came to Jonah, he changed. At first he didn’t. He preached unwillingly, but at the end of it all he understood, he was changed. There’s a reason that the whole book of Jonah ends with this rhetorical question from YHWH: “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Oh, yeah…He should and does…

Jonah was changed. He was made a preacher to Nineveh. Nineveh was important to YHWH, as all sinners are, and so YHWH said to Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD… And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be changed!” That’s what the Lord wanted Jonah to preach to Nineveh. They will be changed. That grasps the Hebrew a bit better. Changed for the worse if they persisted in their unbelief and the wickedness that came from it. Changed from a great and glamorous city into a desolate wasteland. “Nineveh shall be changed!” preaches Jonah, just what the Lord wanted him to preach.

But that’s why Jonah was sent. To change Nineveh, and so Nineveh was changed! Changed for the better! “The people of Nineveh believed God.” Jonah’s preaching changed them for the better. It worked repentance and faith in the true God. By the powerful working of the Word’s Word, which brings the Spirit, “They turned from their evil way.” They were changed, converted. God turned them, repented them, and they repented and received the forgiveness of their wickedness, their evil way. And “God relented,” God forgave, and they were forgiven.

The sending and preaching of Jonah to Nineveh isn’t so much a story about Jonah and Nineveh as it is about how the Lord works with sinners to change them. It’s our story. It’s our being changed because the Word didn’t just change Jonah and Nineveh, but

1. The Word changes us.

The story of Jonah and Nineveh is all a picture, an image for Christ. It really happened, historically happened in like 800BC or something close to that. But what’s more important is how this event points us to Jesus. Jesus, the Word made flesh, came and dwelt among us to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But even more than that, Jesus is the greater Jonah: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” For us men and for our salvation, Jesus, the Word, was delivered up for our transgressions, crucified under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried, And the third day he rose again for our justification. The Father sent His Son to do this because He had pity not just on Nineveh, a city of 120,000, or on Israel, or even just on you and me, but because He has pity on the whole world, all people wherever, whenever, and whoever they are.

But Jonah is a type, an image, a shadow, and prefiguring of Jesus in another way. After he had his being swallowed by the fish and vomited up on the shore, death to life, he went and preached repentance and forgiveness to the Ninevites knowing that the Lord’s Word can and would change their hearts. So also Jesus, after He died and rose, wants repentance and forgiveness preached. He does it through His apostles and pastors: Jesus said to the apostles, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations.” In this way, the Word has His Word preached to you and me.

In this way, Jesus changes us, doesn’t He? He brings us from death to life. He has us leave our sins behind. We don’t hang on to them to try and fix them. We confess them and we receive His forgiveness where He’s promised it, don’t we? It’s not just a mental exercise, is it? More than that, we actually love and forgive even THOSE people. He may have done that. She does that. But what do you do? But the Lord has changed you. Said, “You’re mine. I live in you. You love your neighbor. You have faith in me. You no longer treat them as their sins deserve for I haven’t treated you as your sins deserve. In fact, you have no sins, your neighbor has no sins. I’ve taken them all upon myself. They’re all in my tomb. Do you really want to take them back? They’re mine. You can stay in your wickedness and be destroyed. But, no, you’ve been changed, forgiven, converted, loved. You love, forgive, are merciful. You must. You don’t gossip or hold a grudge. You can’t. You won’t. I live in you and you in me, anything else would be from the evil one.” Now, that’s a Jesus, a Word, who changes hearts and minds to love Him, to love and forgive your neighbor.

We could return to our wicked ways. We could pray like Jonah, pray for death rather than see mercy upon your enemy. We could be like the Ninevites who eventually turned back to their evil ways. They were destroyed and swept away. But what does the Lord say today? “Shouldn’t I have pity on Nineveh?” Shouldn’t I have pity on you, on your neighbor? Oh, yeah…He should and does…

Jonah’s all about this:


The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.” It was that way for Nineveh, for Jonah, and it’s that way for you, for me, for whoever it may be. Thanks be to God!


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