Friday, April 08, 2022

Ruth and Jonah (Midweek Lenten Worship, Part 5)

[Below are the live stream of this Wednesday's midweek Lenten worship from Living Water Lutheran Church and the text of the message presented at that time.]

Jonah 3:10-4:11

When we began our midweek Lenten journey with the Old Testament books of Ruth and Jonah, we said that they present us with at least five important questions for our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ today. The fifth and most important of those questions is this: “How do we see Jesus in these two books?”

Explicitly, we’ve mentioned that when Boaz redeemed the inheritance of Ruth’s husband, he foreshadowed Jesus redeeming us from our slavery to sin and death. 

And Jesus Himself compared Himself to Jonah: Like Jonah bearing condemnation for his own sins in the belly of a great fish for three days, Jesus was in the heart of the earth from Good Friday to Easter Sunday bearing the full weight of our sin. 

The God we meet in both the books of Ruth and Jonah–Yahweh, I AM–is the same God we see in Jesus, unwilling to see any die condemned by their sin without giving them the opportunity to receive the saving Word of God. More on that in a moment.

The last verse of Jonah, chapter 3, tells us: “When God saw…how [the Ninevites] turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” 

This is a moment of triumph for God’s powerful Word, both the Law that condemns we sinners for our sin and the Promise or the Gospel that frees sinners from condemnation as it enables us to repent and believe in God

Nearly nine centuries after the events in tonight’s lesson, Jesus said that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7) As Nineveh turned from its evil and turned in faith to God, there must have been a party in heaven. Nineveh had been dead in its sin and was alive again. Nineveh had been lost to God and now was found. (Luke 15:32; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13)

But Jonah wasn’t interested in joining heaven’s party. Jonah 4:1: “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.” (Jonah 4:1) 

In the original Hebrew in which this verse was written, you see that Jonah accuses God of doing evil. He prays to God: “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.” (Jonah 4:2) 

Jonah had hopped on a boat for Tarshish when God called him to prophesy in Nineveh at the beginning of this book because he was afraid that if he preached God’s Word to the Ninevites, God would accept the city’s repentant faith!

We were at a party one night years ago and I ended up talking with a woman whose husband had left her for another woman several years before. It had been a sinful violation of the ex-husband’s marriage vows. During this party, the woman wanted my assurance that God would never forgive her ex-husband. I told her I couldn’t do that, that I was counting on the God revealed to us all in Jesus, Who died for our sins on the cross, to forgive my sins and to restore me to fellowship with God as I daily turned to Him. If her ex-husband repented and turned to Christ, he would be forgiven by God, I told her. The woman simply could not accept that.

How gracious and forgiving are we willing for God to be? 

In Jonah 2, the prophet, who had turned away from God, was saved from death when God sent a fish to swallow him up. There, Jonah had declared, “you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit…”  (Jonah 2:6) Jonah was more than willing for God to be gracious to him, but not to the Ninevites

Jonah tells God that if God is going to forgive the Ninevites, Jonah would prefer that God take his life. God ignores Jonah’s impudence and asks him: “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:5) 

Jonah doesn’t seem to answer this question and instead, goes east of the city, builds a shelter, and waits to see what will happen to Nineveh.

God tries to teach Jonah a lesson. He sends a plant that provides shade for Jonah. Jonah loves it. But then God sends a worm to eat and destroy the plant, the way Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh. When the plant dies, Jonah is distraught. He’s even more upset when a fierce scirocco and a blazing sun come his way and Jonah once more says he’d rather be dead. God asks, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” Jonah insists that he has every right to be angry and that he’s so angry he still wants to be dead. (Jonah 4:9)

Three times, Jonah tells God that he wants God to take his life. It’s a measure of God’s patient grace for rebellious believers that He doesn’t comply with Jonah’s demand

Instead, He comes back at Jonah with His Word. God tells Jonah: “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

And that, friends, is how the book of Jonah ends. We don’t know whether Jonah repents and turns back to God or not. But God’s words to Jonah confront us with a question: Will we gladly share the good news of life with God through faith in Jesus with the Ninevites of our time?

Ruth and Jonah have given us clear indications as to how we should answer this question, as well as the five questions with which we began this Lenten season. We’ve seen that, 

1. God’s reign is to extend over every part of our lives. 

2. God cares about all people. 

3. God patiently woos and tracks down believers like Jonah who rebel against Him sending His Word to convict them of their sin and convince Him of the grace He offers to all sinners. 

4. He welcomes former unbelievers like Ruth, the sailors headed for Tarshish, and the people of Nineveh when they repent and believe in Him.

And, as to question #5, about how we see Jesus in Ruth and Jonah, it turns out, as we mentioned earlier, that the God we meet in the Old Testament is the same God we meet in the New Testament in Jesus Christ. 

He is, as Jonah himself describes Him, “gracious and compassionate…slow to anger and abounding in love.” (Jonah 4:2) 

Although God forces Himself on no one, there’s never been anything that God has wanted more than to see all people come to a saving, repentant faith in Him

The God of the Old Testament told His own rebellious people through the prophet Ezekiel, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11) 

And God the Son, Jesus, tells all the world that, “...God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

This is why God sends you and me into the world today, as He sent Jonah to Nineveh long ago. People may and do spurn Him and His forgiving love, but God wants to save all people!

After visiting Phyllis at Bethany this past Sunday, I swung by Kroger. I went to the deli. I found one of the employees having a tough day. While another employee took care of my order, he wrote a note on the back of a party platter form and handed it to me. It said, “Please! Please! Pray for…my son…” 

There are people in our daily lives hungry for the God we know in Jesus. These are the people to whom Jesus has sent us. He commissions us to “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20) 

At the end of tonight’s lesson from Jonah, we find a sullen prophet, resentful of God’s grace for others. May we, by contrast, be disciples so grateful for what Jesus has done for us at the cross and the empty tomb that we can’t keep from telling all the world this sacred truth: “...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1) There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Amen!

God Asks Himself, "What Shall I Do?"

[Below, you'll find live stream videos of the April 3 traditional and modern worship services at Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, along with the text of the prepared message for those services. God bless you]

Luke 20:9-20
“What shall I do?” (Luke 20:13) This is the question that the owner of the vineyard asks himself in the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 20:9-20. 

“What shall I do?” is also the question that God must have asked Himself when He realized that the human race would be lost to sin, death, and futility forever if He didn’t act to save us.

The parable that Jesus tells us today is an allegorical representation of the story of God’s mission to save us. 

The owner of the vineyard in Jesus’ parable is God. In the Old Testament, Israel itself was often referred to as God’s vineyard. But it can also mean every good and perfect gift God has given to us human beings. 

The tenants are the people of the world.

In Jesus’ parable, a “man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time.” (Luke 20:9) 

When harvest time comes, the owner is entitled to some of the fruit produced by his land and sends a servant to collect. But you know what happens. A first servant is beaten by the tenants and sent away empty-handed. A second servant is subjected to the same treatment. A third was wounded and also sent away.

Long after humanity fell into sin, God established His own people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, meant to be God’s light to all nations. But even after God adopted this people as His own, delivered them from slavery in Egypt, revealed His Law and His gracious love to them, and gave them a promised land, the Hebrews (and the entire human race) kept up their brazen rejection of God and life with God. They kept wanting to be gods themselves, kept on murdering, dishonoring parents and others in authority, cheating on their spouses, robbing God of the gift of sexual intimacy outside of marriage, denigrating and gossiping about others, stealing, and coveting.

God asked Himself, “What shall I do?” and, first, sent the prophets right up to John the Baptist. Their messages all boiled down to this: “Repent, turn away from sin and death and turn to God and life. Repent and be prepared for when the owner of the vineyard returns.”

The human race has never loved being reminded that we’re not the owners of our world or of our lives and that we’re completely dependent on God for all that we have and all that we are. 

And we’ve never been keen on hearing God’s call to repentance. 

That’s why, as with the servants in Jesus’ parable, rather than bearing the fruit of repentance–turning to God for forgiveness and grace when we hear His Word, we want to ignore God or drown Him out or send Him away or kill Him off. 

I know that whenever I read or hear God’s Word condemning some sin of which I’m fond, my first inclination is to close my Bible, rattle off a string of rationalizations, or imply that God doesn’t understand what it’s like to be human, or claim that life in the twenty-first century is different from life in the ancient past. 

It’s all nonsense, of course, and the more we try to ignore God’s Word, the more we wall ourselves off from the grace, forgiveness, life, and wholeness God gives to those who repent and trust in Him. 

Jesus says that “every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:31) We blaspheme against the Holy Spirit whenever we ignore the Spirit-sent Word of God that convicts us of our sin and convinces us of the charitable grace God bears for those who repent and believe in Jesus.

After his servants are treated badly, the owner in Jesus’ parable says, “I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.” (Luke 20:13) 

Our ears should perk up at these words because they echo what God the Son says about Jesus. At Jesus’ baptism, in Luke 3:22, we hear God the Father say, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” And in Luke 9:35, God the Father says at Jesus’ transfiguration, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

And so, the beloved son sent by the owner of the vineyard in Jesus’ parable, represents Jesus Himself. Sending Jesus is the second thing God decided to do when He asked Himself, "What shall I do?"

Jesus told this parable on Tuesday of the first Holy Week. Two days before telling it, He was welcomed to Jerusalem as a King. But opposition to Jesus was rising. Especially opposed to Him were the teachers of the Law and the chief priests. Like the tenant farmers in Jesus’ parable, they would soon seek the death of God’s Son in a bid to drown out His call to repent and believe in Him as their God and Savior.

After telling His parable, Jesus asks, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” (Luke 20:15-16) 

The teachers of the Law and the chief priests were horrified. They understand what Jesus is saying: There is no life with God, no peace with God in this life nor life beyond the grave apart from repentant faith in Him. Not in the impossible pursuit of perfect obedience of God’s Law, not in being descendants of Abraham, not in being a member of a particular church, not in good works. God will give His kingdom to all, whether Jew or Gentile, who repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

God asked Himself, “What shall I do to save my children from sin, death, and darkness?”

He sent His prophets to call us to repent and trust in Him before we meet His Son.

Then He sent His beloved Son so that we might have life with God through repentant faith in Him.

As the apostle John, who was present when Jesus told today’s parable, writes: “​​And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

Friends, each day, turn from sin and turn to Christ. That’s where life in His vineyard–His eternal kingdom–is found. Amen