Sin, Repentance, and Forgiveness
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (ESV)
1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
3 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.
4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5 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.
10 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.
Jonah was a prophet of the One True God, and had a huge problem. The Word of the Lord God Almighty came to Jonah and said, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (1:2). To which Jonah responded as any normal person responds when God tells them to do something – No way! I‘m not going to do it.
I can picture Jonah’s argument going something like this. Go to Nineveh? Are you crazy God? Have you heard of those people? Have you seen what they do? They are the worst of the worst. If it’s bad, evil, immoral, mean, cruel, and awful, they do it, and that’s when they are on their best behavior. A greater hive of scum and villainy can’t be found anywhere in all of creation. What do you want me to go to Nineveh for? If I tell them they are the worst sinners ever in the history of the world they will probably show me personally just how bad they can be. And if by the greatest miracle ever heard of they do listen…Well, they don’t deserve a chance to repent. Because if they do, then you might not give them what they have coming to them, and everyone in the world knows they all deserve to die and rot in hell for eternity. So I AM NOT GOING!
Yet Jonah did travel. Nineveh was a large, landlocked city, far to the east of Israel, so naturally Jonah booked passage on a ship heading to a coastal town far to the west of Israel. That’ll show you God. I am my own man, and I speak Your Word of repentance to those that I feel are worthy of Your love and forgiveness, not to those worthless degenerates in Nineveh.
With that, Jonah showed that, in his mind at least, an entire grouping of people were not people. At least not in the same way that he and his fellow citizens of Israel were people. The citizens of Nineveh were less than others because of who they were and what they did. And being less, they deserved to be destroyed so they would no longer take up resources and cause problems for the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking hasn’t changed a bit since the 8th century BC when the events of Jonah most likely took place. People today still relegate entire groups of people into the category of less than people, so that we can marginalize, ignore, or even get rid of them. Oh it is true that we may not be as overt about it as Jonah, and we have verbiage that covers quite well what’s really going on, but the basic thought is the same. Those humans are not really people, and as such they don’t deserve our time, resources, attention, or care – especially when they interfere with what I want. And so we have come up with phrases like, “death with dignity”, “right to die”, and “a women’s right to choose”, to cover up the fact that we are willing to destroy entire groups of individuals simply because of who they are and what they need to live.
We live in a culture of death that celebrates killing those who inconvenience us in any way. So whether it’s aborting our children, over 60,000,000 since 1973, legalizing euthanasia so that the elderly have the “right to die” – a right that will soon turn into an obligation and requirement to die, or the total disregard for life we see on the streets and glorified in the movies, could Nineveh possibly have been worse than we are as a society today? No! Sin is sin no matter what type of wrapping you place around it and all sin deserves nothing but God’s wrath and condemnation – an eternity separated from our creator and all that is good and loving in the prison called hell.
But pastor, I haven’t killed anyone. I don’t condone abortion or euthanasia. I’m innocent of the sins of society so why are you preaching this to me. It’s making me feel uncomfortable to hear and I can’t repent on behalf of our society, so let’s just move on ok? Ok, we’ll move on – in just a bit. But before we do let me ask you to consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? Of course the honest answer to all these questions is guilty as charged which is what Luther wanted you to see when he penned these questions.
Allow me to be a bit presumptuous and add a few questions to this list. Have you neglected your vocations? Have you stood by in silence while your neighbor is in need? Have you failed to defend the defenseless? Have you turned a blind eye toward what’s going on outside these walls, and within them? Have you thrown up your hands in surrender to the path the culture is taking and thought to yourself, at least I’m not taking the privileges of marriage without the obligations and responsibilities of it, so I don’t have to make a decision to end a life. At least I’m not pressuring mom or dad to take more morphine than is needed for pain control so that way they fall asleep and stop breathing, and stop needing continual care at great expense. If so, then I have the same Word from God that Jonah had to speak – “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Or in the words of Jesus, “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
When Jonah sinned against God, and against the people of Nineveh, and against everyone on board the ship he took, God called him to repentance, and forgave him all his sins. Granted for Jonah it took an object lesson of a storm and great fish to lead to repentance, but he got there. And after changing travel agents, his new mode of transportation vomited him on a beach as close to Nineveh as possible so that he could do as the Lord command.
“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. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 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….Then 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. ”
Notice the pattern? Jonah sinned, God spoke His Law in various ways, Jonah repented, God forgave Jonah. Nineveh sinned, God spoke His Law through Jonah, Nineveh repented, God forgave Nineveh. Sin, Repentance, and Forgiveness.
What about today? Well the book of Hebrews says, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The arch leading to our sanctuary says a changeless Christ for a changing world. We sin, God calls us to repentance though His Law, we repent by the power of the Holy Spirit, and God forgives us our sins all for the sake of His only begotten Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.
When this pattern first began, way back in the Garden of Eden, God didn’t look at the sin of Adam and Eve and decide that they were no longer people worthy of His love, mercy, and attention. He didn’t relegate them to a status of less than people who may be marginalized, ignored, or gotten rid of. Instead God did the exact opposite. God did everything that was needed to take care of sins, paying its cost in full, and giving forgiveness to all those who would receive it. Sin, repentance, and forgiveness.
That is why the Son of God became a man: To live under the Law and fulfill it perfectly, keeping every jot and tittle. Having done this Jesus also heard the Word of the Father and went on a trip. Not to Tarshish, nor to Nineveh, but to Mount Calvary where He was lifted up on the cross to pay for sin, yours, mine, Jonah’s, the Ninevites, our societies – truly the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future.
In this there is an interesting irony. Crucifixion was reserved for those who the Roman Empire viewed as being less than people. The one man in all of creation who was, and is, truly all that God made people to be, while also being fully God, allowed Himself to be counted as less than man so that we can be forgiven the sin of relegating others to the status of less than people and every other sin that we have done and left undone. Such is the mind boggling way in which God works when it comes to saving you from your sins. Sin, repentance, and forgiveness through the cross of Christ, given to you by grace, received by faith, all for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
So where does all of this leave us? You’ve heard the Law of God and been convicted of you sins of commission and omission. You’ve heard the Gospel of God, assuring you that all your sins are forgiven – those things that you have done and those that you have left undone – and you rejoice in that forgiveness for there is no greater news of great joy that can be spoken.
But is that enough? For salvation, most definitely yes. We are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works lest anyone should boast. For our neighbor, there is plenty more we can do. Not to earn the love of God in Christ Jesus and His forgiveness, but to show God’s love and forgiveness to our neighbor in need who God has brought into your life.
It is important to understand that the average mother looking into abortion isn’t some monster who enjoys sacrificing her children, but a sacred and lost woman who’s facing the consequences of sin, either hers or as is often the case, the father’s, and is drawn into the lies of today’s culture that says death is the best solution with the fewest long-term problems. And the average person who is looking into to ending their life is not someone who is playing God and wanting to be in control of their own destiny, but is a person who is in great pain and suffering, and is drawn into the lies of today’s culture that says death is your friend and it will end your suffering with no consequences. Understanding this helps us to see that they need to hear of another – the One Who died and rose for them and their forgiveness.
This doesn’t mean that we ignore sin and remain silent about it. God has called us to speak all of His Word. So we speak His Law in love, using the Word of God to show sin and its consequences, calling people to repentance all in preparation for the Gospel. And when the Law has done its work of convicting, we speak the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Assuring that every sin - abortion, euthanasia, sexual activity outside of marriage, considering people to be less than precious children of God, or whatever else is done - every sin is paid for by Christ Jesus on His cross. Forgiveness is yours, it is theirs in Christ Jesus all because of His love and mercy which shows itself fully on the cross and in the empty tomb.
We pray for and with those God places into our lives so that they will have the same comfort and assurance of God’s Love and mercy in Christ Jesus that you and I have. We pray that God would let them see the world’s lies for what they are. We pray that they would receive the gift of forgiveness, life and salvation that God is offering, and that through the power of the Holy Spirit they would daily repent, as we also repent and return to our baptism each and every day.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.