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Our Providing God

March 3, 2010 Speaker: Rev. Braun Campbell Series: Lenten midweek 2010 - The Sign of Jonah

Topic: Biblical Verse: Jonah 1:1–1:17

The Second Week of Lent
St. John's
Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Jonah 1:1-17

“The Sign of Jonah: Our Providing God”

It doesn’t make sense.

In the last verse of this first chapter of Jonah, God provides a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  Why did Jonah need a fish?  Well, he’d just been thrown overboard by a bunch of sailors who were following his instructions.  And why did the sailors throw him overboard?  There was this great storm, you see, and signs pointed to Jonah as the party responsible for this storm which threatened to break the ship apart.  So the sailors went down into the ship to wake Jonah up – he’d fallen asleep while the crew were fighting for their lives – to see what’d he’d done to bring this tempest down upon them all.  And what had he done?  Funny story, that!  He’d booked this trip to Tarshish to get away from it all: specifically, to get away from the mission that God had given him, the very God who made the sea and the dry land.  What could God possibly have given Jonah to do that would make him want to run in the opposite direction?  Jonah was to go to Nineveh and proclaim the message of God’s judgment against their sin, so that they might repent and receive God’s forgiveness.  But that’s a good thing, right?  Why had Jonah run from this mission?  Jonah himself tells us in the final chapter of the book: “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”  Jonah didn’t want to carry a message to Nineveh that would save the people there.  Jonah wanted them to suffer God’s judgment.  That is why Jonah needed a great fish.  And God provided for that need.

It doesn’t make sense.

Wasn’t God angry with Jonah?  As far as we can tell, this man seemed to be pretty stubborn, even spiteful.  Jonah was doing everything in his power to defy God’s command.  Why didn’t God just let Jonah drown in the dark depths of that stormy ocean?  Why does God spare this prophet’s life, even after everything that has just happened?

Since we’re asking “Why?” about Jonah, we might as well ask the same about ourselves.  Even if we might consider ourselves to be pretty good people, have we been perfect people?  We’ve all been in those situations where you’re sure you’re right about something, no matter how many people might tell you or show you otherwise.  We can be stubborn.  We can be hard-headed.  We can even be spiteful, whether we’re clinging to grudges or clinging to a sense of self-righteousness.  Like Jonah, we know Who God is, but we’re not always willing to follow His direction.  Even though we have experienced God’s forgiveness and grace in our lives, we choose to hold back grace from the people to whom God is sending us.  Why should God spare you or me?

It doesn’t make sense.

This Lent, as we follow Jonah on his long, strange trip through the ancient Near East, we learn about our God as we see how He provides.  Despite Jonah’s obstinance, God’s message gets through, and His grace is made known.  God provides, supplying what is needed to bring people back to Himself.  Jonah 1:17 is the first of four times in Jonah’s journey that we hear of God “providing” something.  The word used here is the same one that surfaces later in chapter four.  God provides the great fish to swallow up the errant prophet, leaving the sailors behind on the ship.  (The sailors, now finding themselves on a suddenly calm sea, turn to Yahweh in repentance and worship.)  The fish, as a means of God’s patient grace, saves.  Later, once Jonah has delivered his message to the people of Nineveh – who repent, as he feared! – he sets up shop to the east outside the city, waiting and watching to see what would happen.  And God provides a leafy plant, bringing shade and comfort to His recalcitrant messenger, seeking to pull Jonah out of his fuming and pouting.  But at dawn of the next day, God provides a worm that attacks the plant to destroy it.  Jonah wanted judgment to come to Nineveh, and God sends it – against Jonah!  As a warning to turn away from his spitefulness, God strips away the comfort of shade the plant had provided.  And as a finishing touch, God provides a scorching east wind, a drying wind from the desert, to call Jonah to repentance.  Without his booth, which had probably been blown away, Jonah was left to sit and suffer under the glaring sun (in what we know today as northern Iraq).  In His grace, God provides, constantly seeking to bring an unrepentant Jonah back.

And God provides for us.  In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther lays out God’s provision for us under the three Articles of the Apostles’ Creed.  Considering the work of God the Father, our Creator and Sustainer, we can see God’s grace as He provides for our physical needs: the air we breathe, the clothes we wear, the food and drink we enjoy – everything that we “need to support this body and life.”  Looking at the Second Article, we learn that God the Son provides for the redemption that we stubborn and reluctant people so desperately need.  As Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish, Jesus lay in the tomb three days, having provided his life for you and me on the cross of Calvary.  But unlike Jonah who was unceremoniously vomited out onto dry land, Jesus emerged triumphant on Easter morn, providing salvation over the power of sin and death.  In this Lenten season, God the Holy Spirit is working, providing for our need to be called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified as Christians.  He delivers the forgiveness that Jesus won for us.  Again, in His grace, God provides.

It doesn’t make sense.

Jonah didn’t deserve the provisions that God sent to him, nor do we deserve the gifts that God is constantly delivering into our lives.  But God’s grace is not constrained by what we deserve.  He continues to call us back from our stubborn ways, seeking to bring us and all people back to Himself, so that we might know Him as the loving God that He is.  As we saw with Jonah, God’s message will have out, His Word will endure, regardless of our response.

But during Lent, we can and should take time to reflect on God’s ongoing provision.  And in that reflection, God can change our minds and hearts.  As we gather in His grace, God will work on us to move us out of stubborn and selfish pouting so that we may gladly stand up and proclaim the Gospel message wherever we are sent.

It doesn’t make sense – thanks be to our providing God!


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