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08.30.20 Following God in Body Jonah 3:1-10

by on August 31, 2020

Disobedience and sin are closely related, But obedience and sinlessness are not the same.

Jonah was disobedient. God had called him and he ran. He knew what to do and didn’t do it, which is one definition of “sin” according to James 4:17: “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”

Later Jonah is obedient. But he is not repentant as we’ll see next week from chapter four, and as we’ve already mentioned from chapter two. Jonah is what Stephen Covey calls “maliciously obedient.” He does what he’s told defiantly.

God told Jonah to proclaim repentance to the city of Nineveh. What were the sins of Nineveh? Jonah 3:8 mentions acts of “violence,” and Nahum 3:1 refers to Nineveh as the “city of bloodshed.” What ancient Israel had experienced of the Assyrians and their capital city Nineveh was unrelenting military cruelty.

But there is probably more. The word Jonah uses, “overthrow” is the same word for judgment used in the story of Sodom. Isaiah 1 describes Sodom this way: “Your hands are full of blood. . . Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan plead for the widow. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them.”

Ezekiel 16 says this: Sodom had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty. So Nineveh represented militaristic violence and cruelty, but they also represented social injustice.

When Jonah arrives and preaches through the first day the people repent. Then the king repents, and even forces the animals to penitence. I have an interesting take on this which I’ll share in two weeks.

So Jonah is the first to follow God in body. He went to Nineveh. Then all of Nineveh follows God in body by wearing sackcloth, sitting in ashes, and fasting.

Jonah proclaimed a coming judgment which was followed by repentance. Over the past two weeks our Democratic and Republican presidential conventions also proclaimed doom. They warned of the virus, America’s decreased standing in world, economic collapse, and the erosion of our culture.

How would these prophets have us repent? Shut down the country, reform the systems, and maintain statues and monuments. The better question is: In what ways are we like Nineveh? Like Sodom? Like Samaria, which was destroyed by the Assyrians? Like Jerusalem which was nearly destroyed and eventually was by the Babylonians? In what ways is America like any of the objects of God’s judgment in the Minor Prophets?

In what ways do we need to repent, as individuals, as a city, and as a nation?

Or have we nothing to repent of?

Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:9ff), both of whom went up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee, standing by himself, thanked God that he was not like others, including the tax collector. He fasted and tithed. The Tax Collector meanwhile, standing far off, looked down and beat his breast.

Tax Collector, Jesus says, went home justified. The Pharisee did not. Luke gives us his interpretation of the parable:  Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. This as we’ll see was Jonah’s attitude.

Both Jonah and Ninevites followed God in body, Jonah into the city and the Ninevites with fasting and wearing sackcloth. The Ninevites were delivered from their sin and like the Tax Collector, they went home justified. Jonah did not experience the joy of salvation. He did not go home justified. And as we’ll see next week, Jonah has yet to come home at all.

May we not be like Jonah. May we follow God not only in body but also in spirit.

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