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Speaking the Truth in Love

June 17th 2012

Story #8 in our Top Ten countdown is the story of Jonah. The story of Jonah highlights the need and difficulty we experience when speaking the Law of God to people. Read or listen to find out more....

Summer Sermon Series - Jonah - Speaking God’s law in Love - Jonah 1-4 - June 17, 2012 Our Old Testament Bible story this week comes from the book of Jonah. I say from the book of Jonah, but as you probably noticed the reading this week was pretty much the entire book. Since it made the top ten list, many of you must like this story. It is also one of my favorites, but it hasn’t always been. When I was a young man in Sunday School I would listen to the story and sing songs “what should we do with the man named Jonah” about the big fish and I would always feel sorry for Jonah. These people who live in Nineveh are not exactly nice people. In fact, God tells Jonah that their evil has come up before Him (Jonah 1:2). They have been sinning so much that God has placed them on The List. They are shortly about to receive the full brunt of God’s immediate judgment. This usually involves fire and smoking holes in the ground. And so God tells Jonah to go and tell them what is in store for them if they don’t repent. And Jonah says something like “uhhhh….no.” And he gets on the first boat going the other way. I can sympathize with Jonah. It would be like if God told you that you had to go to a faraway land, like… California, walk into a Gay pride parade, and individually tell everyone there that homosexuality is a sin. How would you be received? I don’t know that I would sign up for that mission trip. So when Jonah starts heading the other way, I can’t blame him too much. And so it was really hard for me to understand what happened next. Jonah, running scared, gets chucked out of the boat and left for dead in the middle of the sea. And it is clear to all involved that it is God causing the storm that gets him dunked. Now, imagine that you are sinking into the water, when a slightly darker shadow begins to grow in the gloom of an already storm darkened sea. Would you be thinking “oh good, I’m saved.” I shudder to think of the specifics of what happens next, and so I leave that to your imagination. By all accounts, it looks like God drowned this poor guy because he was playing hooky from work, then gives him a time out in a fish belly to think about what he has done. So as a kid I just felt like Jonah was getting the short end of the stick. I probably felt that way because this was often where the Sunday school story ended. Jonah repented, and God made the fish spit him out onto dry land. It is a very nice ending to the story, but if you look at the reading for today, you’ll see that we are only about half way through the book. There are some really important things going on in the second half of this book, and they really change the way we interpret what happens to Jonah. In chapter 3 Jonah finally makes it to the sinful city of Nineveh, explains that God is going to destroy them for the evil they have done. They are told God’s Law. And in the face of God’s impending judgment the people repent. The king of Nineveh commands the people saying “let everyone turn away from his evil way” (Jonah 3:8) And God, because He is merciful, forgives them. Then, in chapter 4, we find out the real reason why Jonah didn’t want to go to work that day. It doesn’t say he was scared that the people wouldn’t listen, or that he was worried about his own safety. Chapter 4 says Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knew that if they heard the God’s Law, they would repent and God would forgive them. Jonah hated the people of Nineveh so much that he didn’t want to give them the opportunity to repent. They were on the brink of destruction, about to get exactly what they deserved for their sinful life, and God wanted to save them. He told Jonah to go and give them a chance to repent and be forgiven, and Jonah basically replies “No, let em burn.” Well I don’t feel so bad for Jonah any more. This is now one of my favorite stories because of what God does next. Knowing that Jonah still isn’t getting the point, He does a children’s sermon for Jonah. Using a plant and a worm object lesson, God explains that He loves the whole world, and everything He made in it. That it isn’t Jonah’s job to decide who will die and who will be saved. God is the only one who can judge what is in people’s hearts: God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Romans 2:16b).
God judges the world. And He is a righteous judge. That means He pronounces His judgment on all who sin. But it says in 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. And Paul tells Timothy that God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). This is the message that we get from the story of Jonah. God gives us His Law, not in order to judge us, but to save us. When He calls us to repent, it is because He desires to forgive us. Now you can see why Jonah got to sit in the belly of a fish and think about where he would be if God were not merciful and forgiving. God uses His Law to bring us to repentance, and through repentance we have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life; gifts of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. What I would like you to consider now is this: Do you know for a fact that when you repent of your sins you are forgiven? Do you know that if you speak God’s Law, the Holy Spirit will work in the hearts and minds of those who hear, and bring them to repentance, forgiveness, and eternal life? I assume you do know these things, because we confess them together every week. We know that when God’s Word is spoken, God saves. We are as certain of God’s desire to forgive as Jonah was. And knowing the power of God’s Law and Gospel to save lives, we still look for any excuse we possibly can not to share it. We, like Jonah, look for the first ship headed the other direction. Now I doubt that any of us are withholding the message out of spite, like Jonah. I think that we have trouble sharing God’s Word, especially His Law, because we are afraid of how people will see us when we do.
We worry that people will think we don’t love them if we share the Law. Consider how you would respond if your son or daughter came home to visit with their boyfriend or girlfriend, and they assume they will be spending the night in the same room. The temptation to ignore the sin of premarital sex is pretty strong. It is an awkward topic, and our culture tells us it is antiquated. But the story of Jonah is a perfect example of when what a society finds acceptable runs up against what God tells us is acceptable. If you know that your children are having premarital sex, don’t wait for Pastor Schultz to deal with the issue for you in pre-marital counseling. Your child may not even know that what they are doing is wrong. Sure they know it is a “sin”, but everyone seems to think that if we close our eyes and pretend it’s not really hard it won’t bother God. Tell your children what God expects from them. Show them you do care about them, by sharing the Law out of love. There are all sorts of things that we would rather ignore than confront, because our culture, like Nineveh, suffers from a lack of hearing God’s Law. In school there is an unwritten rule, “you never tell on someone.” So when we see people cheating on a test or at a sporting event, we keep our mouths shut. Not only do we not tell on them, we don’t confront them either. Cheating breaks the 4th and 7th and 1st commandments and we act like it is ok as long as no one gets caught. Does ignoring the sins of your friends make you a good friend? When someone in your family is struggling with alcoholism, do you make excuses for them? If a friend is clearly not being the dad you know he should be do you simply say “it’s his business, I should stay out of it?” Is that loving? I also think we don’t want to be viewed as hypocrites. We ask, “How can I tell my children to keep their marriage beds pure when I didn’t do such a good job of that myself? How can I tell people to stop gossiping when I can’t even stop gossiping about how much other people gossip?” That one little word “hypocrite” can shut our lips up tight. How do we share God’s Law when we break it ourselves? Well, yes, we do daily fail to keep God’s Law. But we are also confronted with that Law, and we know that because we are led to confess our sins. And through the forgiveness we then receive, we are actually empowered to confront others with the Law, being examples ourselves of God’s overwhelming capacity to forgive. We speak the Law, not so that we can pretend we are better than others, but because we know that we are just as sinful, and want to share the love and forgiveness that we know. If you know what will happen to your loved ones if they don’t repent, if they don’t know the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ, how can you NOT tell them? You, like Jonah, know that the wages of sin are death. If they are never confronted with their sin, how can they repent? If they never know they need saving, how can you tell them about their Savior? Sharing God’s Law is love. Saying nothing, keeping the truth to yourself; that is what got Jonah stuck in a fish for three days. There is nothing loving about keeping God’s Word of Law and Gospel to yourself. And yes, it can be difficult to point out the sins of others, while we struggle daily with our own sins. But Luke chapter 11 gives us the answer to this question: For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. We may not be sinless, but Jesus Christ lived a perfect life for us. And while we deserve nothing but death for our sins, Jesus Christ died in our place. While our sins are despised by our righteous God, when He looks down at us, He sees only His Son’s righteousness. Because Jesus was able to live a perfect life, we do not get what we truly deserve. When the Word of God’s Law shows us our sin, we look to Jesus Christ and repent, saying “God forgive me” and He promises that we are forgiven. Our sinful nature, the very reason we cannot stand alone before our God or even before each-other, died and was buried with Jesus. And when He was raised from the grave we too received new life, eternal life. We are redeemed. And although we are daily reminded of our inability to keep the law, we are daily reminded of the love of our merciful Father. That is the message that He has called us to be witness to. God’s Word of Law and Gospel is given out of love. We do not need to be afraid to share the Law of God, because it is out of love that He provided it, and out of love that He calls us to share it. It is not a burden to share the Word of God, the Law is a gift that calls sinners to repent, and the Gospel is the message that repentant sinners are forgiven in Jesus Christ. If you truly love someone, share God’s Word with them, Law and Gospel. Amen.

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