Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany 3 - 2011

30 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 8:23-27 (Jon 1:1-17, Rom 8:18-23)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jonah is a prophet who is more remembered for being “in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” than he is called to mind as a preacher of God’s Word. And while it is a miracle that the Lord preserved his life under such extraordinary conditions, it is an even greater miracle that the people of Nineveh – from the king on down – heard Jonah’s preaching, repented of their sins, and were saved from the Lord’s wrath – all by the power of the Word!

And the people of Nineveh were not the only ones to repent in the account of Jonah. For Jonah himself resisted the call of God to go to Nineveh, and instead he headed to Tarshish “away from the presence of the Lord.” As if there really were such a place on this divinely-created planet.

But the Lord had mercy on Jonah. He didn’t just allow him to flee his presence. God had salvation to distribute to the Ninevites, and He had a prophet to deliver it to them. God did not give up on Jonah, although the prophet himself had to be converted before his hearers could be converted.

And so Jonah’s adventure really began to unfold while fast asleep on the ship. Frightening waves battered the vessel, and the other men on the boat were afraid that they might perish. And in their distress, they sought out Jonah’s God – who heard their prayer and calmed the storm.

Jonah would spend three days and nights tucked away inside the fish, and he would also emerge safe and sound according to God’s will.

Unlike Jonah, our Lord Jesus is often remembered more for His teachings than His three days in the belly of the earth, in the tomb. In fact, many people today treat Jesus as a great philosopher, teacher, or perhaps even a prophet – but certainly not as the Savior who defeated death by dying and who gave us eternal life by rising again!

For unlike Jonah, our Lord Jesus obeyed His Father’s will from the start, being sent as a baby into a world not unlike wicked and hard-hearted Nineveh. For far from fleeing the “presence of the Lord,” the fleshly Lord Jesus is the very presence of the Lord in His flesh.

And through the Lord’s three day passion and resurrection, the Lord has mercy on us! For God had salvation to distribute to the world, and He had His own dear and only-begotten Son to deliver it to us.

And so we find our Lord Jesus, our New and Greater Jonah, fast asleep on a boat. Frightening waves battered the vessel, and the other men on the boat were afraid that they might perish. And in their distress, they sought out Jonah’s God, Jesus, who heard their prayer and calmed the storm. He calls the disciples to repentance for their “little faith” while saving them through their little faith. Matthew says: “He rose (not an accidental turn of phrase, by the way), and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”

This calm is a precursor to the fulfillment of time when all conflict will cease, when Satan and his angels are cast into the lake of fire, and when the Lord’s reign for eternity will no longer be our hope for the future, but rather our ever-present reality.

For Jesus would find Himself tucked away in the tomb, and on the third day, he would emerge safe and sound and victorious according to God’s will.

Dear friends, Jonah preaches the same sermon as our Lord Jesus, as every prophet of former times and every preacher of future times. It is this call to repent, to turn away from our sins, to resist the ugly part of our broken selves that seeks to flee the Lord’s presence. And this call is a gracious invitation to start fresh with a clean slate. It is the call to leave behind the world of sin and death and corruption, and climb aboard a new boat upon the calm waters of the new earth and new sea and new heavens remade by Him “by whom all things were made,” Him whom “the winds and seas obey.”

For the sign of Jonah was given to point us to the Greater Jonah. The prophet who spent three days buried in the fish was ultimately a preacher of Him who emerged from the grave on the third day. Both called their hearers to repentance, and both offered hope, forgiveness, victory, and life.

Nineveh repented. Nineveh turned back to God. And God turned away His wrath from Nineveh. And this was accomplished through a faith that came by hearing, a hearing of the Word of God.

Dear friends, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He preached from a boat, walked on water, calmed the wind and the waves, called fishermen to become fishers of men, called men to repent, and He forgave men their sins. He commanded that all nations be baptized. He took bread, and said, “Take, eat. This is My body.” He took wine, and said, “Take drink, this cup is the New Testament in My blood.” And He instructs His followers to “do this in memory of Me.”

And both Jonah and our blessed Lord suffered; they both suffered for sin. Jonah suffered for his own, and our most blessed Redeemer suffered for Jonah’s, Nineveh’s, Israel’s, and for our sins. “Behold the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world!” We sinners, like Jonah, deserve to suffer. Jesus, as the Greater Jonah suffers in the place of all of us “poor miserable sinners” who indeed deserve to suffer.

But as St. Paul confessed with us again today: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Just as Jonah’s odyssey ultimately had a happy ending, so does the pilgrimage of the Church. For in her suffering, she will be comforted. In her repentance, she has found forgiveness. In the cross and the blood of Christ, she finds her faith and her life. And in the forgiveness of sins, she eternally finds her grace and her rest and her salvation.

For our most holy and merciful God is:

[O]ur help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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