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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Jonah 3:1–5,10; Mark 1:14–20

James T. Batchelor

Epiphany 3, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Jan 25, 2015 

We heard several accounts of God calling men into the Holy Ministry in todays readings.  The Old Testament Reading is the account of God calling Jonah to serve the people of Nineveh.  The Gospel is the account of Jesus calling four of His disciples to become fishers of men.

The reading from Jonah is part of a much longer account of God working with a very reluctant prophet.  When God originally called Jonah to go to Nineveh, he ran away.  You see, Israel and Assyria were bitter enemies, and Nineveh was the capital of Assyria.  Jonah hated the Assyrians and he did not want them to hear the Word of God and come to faith.  If the Holy Spirit worked faith in them, then God would forgive them.  That was the last thing Jonah wanted because he hated the Assyrians.  So Jonah literally booked passage on a ship that would take him as far from Nineveh as was possible in the world that he knew.  He literally attempted to do the exact opposite of Gods call to him so that the people of Nineveh would die in their sins and go to hell.  That is how much Jonah hated the Assyrians.

Of course God intervened.  He allowed a major storm to threaten the well-being of the ship.  Jonah was so intent on avoiding the people of Nineveh that he convinced the sailors to throw him overboard into the stormy seas.  He knew that God was angry with him and he thought that if he drowned in the sea, God would no longer need to punish the ship.  Sure enough, when the sailors threw Jonah into the sea, the storm calmed and the sailors were able to continue their journey in safety only without Jonah.

However, instead of drowning in the sea, God sent a great fish to carry Jonah back to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.  Many people know this account as the story of Jonah and the whale, but the Bible actually states that it was a giant fish that swallowed Jonah and carried Jonah back to the east.  When the fish got to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, it vomited Jonah onto the shore.

So there is Jonah on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean covered in fish vomit and God called him again.  Well what is an angry prophet supposed to do?  How can you fight a God who can send a giant fish after you?  As we heard this morning, Jonah went to Nineveh in Assyria and preached Gods judgment on them.  The Holy Spirit worked through the message that God gave to Jonah, the people in Nineveh repented, and God forgave them.

We can learn several things from Jonah.  First of all, Gods called prophets, apostles, pastors, and teachers are sinners just like everyone else.  Second of all, the most hateful thing a servant of God can do is keep Gods Word to himself.  Jonah hated the Assyrians and so he determined not to share Gods message with them.  Finally, we learn that that Gods message is a blessing to us even if the messenger is not.  The message of God was a blessing of forgiveness even in the hateful mouth of Jonah.

Just as He had called Jonah to proclaim His message to Nineveh, Jesus also called men to witness the saving work of His perfect life, His sacrificial death, and His resurrection from the dead.  Not only were these men called to witness this work, but they were also called to proclaim this work to the world.

As Jesus preached, He also called disciples to follow him. [Mark 1:1620] Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men. 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

These four men and the others that Jesus chose were not full of hatred like Jonah, but they all had their weaknesses.  As we follow Jesus in His ministry, we will see these men fail again and again.  Jesus will teach them, but they will often fail to understand what Jesus said.  While Jesus will proclaim the kingdom of God, they will often argue among themselves about who of them is the greatest.  They will walk with, eat with, and hear God in the flesh, but they will focus on their own concerns instead.  Never the less, they will be the ones who proclaim Gods Kingdom after Jesus ascended back to the Father.

Once again, we learn that Gods called prophets, apostles, pastors, and teachers are sinners just like everyone else.  In fact, it sometimes seems as though God goes out of His way to choose the most unlikely candidates to proclaim His message.  As the Lord said to Paul, [2 Corinthians 12:9] My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. It is the message, not the messenger who is important.  It is as Martin Luther said after the Reformation got under way, I did nothing; the Word did everything.

Nothing has really changed over the centuries.  God still calls the most unlikely men to proclaim His kingdom.  We are weak and frail with enormous faults as Matthew Harrison said when he learned that he was about to become the president of the LC-MS, You have kept your perfect record of electing sinners as president of the Missouri Synod.

How can God take sinful, wounded men and make them the bearers of eternal life?  Well, if he created a special kind of person for the ministry, could you relate to your pastor or he relate to you?  You see, we share a life of ups and downs, of questions, of doubts, of fears indeed, a life of sin.  But we share something greater than those things we share the message of eternal life.

Remember what Jesus proclaimed?  The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. The fulfillment of all things was right there present in Him.  In this one Man came the Kingdom of God, not distant and unapproachable but crashing in on them and on us.  Here was God Himself who had become a Man.  Here was God who bore all of our human woes and fears and pain.

Have you been crushed with guilt, with pain, with sorrow?  Look to Jesus He knows you and bears it with you and for you.  This is why He gives His people pastors.  When God seems distant, here is a man who shares your humanity and speaks for the One who has redeemed the world, including you!  He stands in the place of Christ, bringing the ear of Christ in confession and the heart of Christ in absolution.

Do you fear death?  Look to Jesus He has already been there and has some great news for you!  He is the One who has entered death, even death on the Cross.  He has borne all the guilt of sin for you and every other sinner, shedding holy and innocent Blood in your place.  Yet death could not hold Him.  On Easter morning He rose destroying the power of sin, death and hell.  And this He proclaimed to you when a pastor, a fisher of men, poured water upon you in His Name and you became one with Jesus in death and Resurrection.

Come to Christs altar where the pastor will place the very body and blood of Jesus into your hand the very body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you.  Here you receive a meal of forgiveness, life, and hope.  This is a foretaste of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.  Here is the Kingdom of God, not distant, but breaking into your moment in time.  Come broken and leave whole.  Come burdened and leave free.  Come and see and taste the Kingdom of God.

God called Jonah to minister to a congregation that Jonah hated.  In spite of the hatred that Jonah had for Nineveh, God still worked repentance in that city and the people of Nineveh received the forgiveness of sins.  In spite of the failures of the apostles, Christ still sent them to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name and the Word of the Lord grew.  He made them into fishers of men.  God still calls sinful men into the ministry today.  In spite of all their shortcomings, the Christ they proclaim still forgives sins and proclaims eternal life through their mouths.  Their hands still give out the body and blood of Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.  It is not them, but the message of Jesus that they proclaim that is important.  The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. Amen

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