5th Sunday of Pentecost – Sermon 2
Prayer to start
May every word and every thought be graciously received for the Glory and Honour of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What’s your favourite story ?, a good mystery story on the radio? – or perhaps you like to curl up on the settee with a good book or watch a T.V. adventure film or Drama. I like to watch a good action film like James Bond ! – Something that grips your imagination and yet might still have an element of truth in it ?
– Is that how we might see the book of Jonah – 3 days and 3 nights in a big fish ? – and then being found on the beach apparently unhurt? – its certainly the sort of stuff mystery stories are made of – is it just a fictional story – or is it more than that? –
First Point God is in control
Without doubt here is a very important truth in the book – which is given clearly at the beginning of every chapter – that is- that God is the initiator of all the events –
He is in control – He is directing Jonah to deliver His message of Judgment to the Ninevites – Jonah is commanded to follow God’s plan !
Jonah had been raised up by God to preach to the Ninevites at this particular point in Israel’s history. – He was a well established prophet in Israel – and – Assyria was in turmoil because of dynastic struggles – the time was right – God was ready to reap in the harvest from other nations – God’s mercy was to be extended beyond the chosen people of Israel – to embrace the Gentile nations.
– and what happened ? – Jonah decided to go in the opposite direction but – it was God who initiated the events on the ship – and in the sea – which resulted in Jonah repenting and being physically brought back to start again – We are not told what was in Jonah’s mind when he found himself on the beach – he had just had a near death experience – and now by the Grace of God he had been given a second chance – a fresh start – a ressurrection experience
– everything would now be viewed in a different light – a new beginning – everything put into perspective – Such an experience is at the very heart of knowing Jesus as our saviour – God had extended his mercy to Jonah dispite his disobedience – a clear indication of a redemptive and loving God – that shows compassion and forgiveness even to those who reject Him –
Jonah was again told to "go to the great Assyrian city of Nineveh and denounce them for their wickedness " – This time Jonah obeyed – and the results were fantastic! – beyond belief !
In the New Testament lesson we are told of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas to the Gentile world from Antioch. – Here God is initiating the beginning of the missionary era of the church. – This was Paul’s ultimate calling – there is a clear emphasis on God being at the centre of things – the Holy Spirit is right there at the beginning –
Verse 2 says " While they were offering worship to the Lord and fasting , the Holy Spirit said ‘ Set Paul and Barnabas apart for me, to do the work to which I have called them’ – there is a clear emphasis on prayer and on guidance from the Holy Spirit
– it wasn’t their idea to go to the Gentiles – it wasn’t their plan that was drawn up – it came from the Spirit as the leaders worshipped – it came from God – God gave them the strength and the power and sent the Holy Spirit to guide them to do His work –
Paul and Barnabas were willing participants in God’s work – God was clearly at the centre of their lives and they obeyed him without question – they went to Barnabas’s home country Cypress, preaching right across the island – It wasn’t easy – in every town Paul would go to the Synagogue first and preach to those who would listen, – until he was eventually thrown out and rejected by antagonistic Jews – He would then preach to the Gentiles – sometimes he was beaten, jeered and spat at, thrown into jail – but he kept on at his work knowing that he was part of God’s plan. –
Point 2 Conversion of others
At the city of Paphos Paul had an encounter with a magician Elymas – Full of the Holy Spirit Paul pronounces God’s judgment on him in the form of temporary blindness. – This was a signal – to differentiate between truth and falsehood – and as a result the Proconsol and the city were converted.
In the story about Jonah there is again a clear distinction between truth and falsehood but this time the falsehood comes from within Jonah. His hatred for the Abyssinians gets in the way of his obedience to God – he preached a message of judgment and wanted God to carryout that judgment whether the Ninevites repented or not. – Jonah knew that God was gracious and compassionate, unchanging and yet ready to relent – a God of love as well as wrath –
– he knew that if the Abyssinians turned away from their evil ways and asked God to forgive them – they would be given another chance – Jonah trusted in the lord for his salvation – he believed that God’s grace is unmerited and cannot be earned – and yet he could not see God’s grace being given to the Ninevites –
he had a mental block on this point – so much so that that he became angry at God to the point of obsession.
The sort of obsession we read about every day in our newspaper or see on the TV.
– Jonah was probably the leading prophet of the day – yet he still had an important lesson to learn – and this was the purpose of the story of the plant in chapter 4 . Jonah was beyond being reasoned with – he had shut God out – but God tried to reason with him – to teach him something of the meaning of grace and of his need for a change of heart – God gave Jonah a plant to provide him with shade while he waited for the Ninevites to get their come-up-ance and this pleased Jonah. – but this was turned to anger and eventually despair as God destroyed the plant and exposed him to the " scorching East Wind" – so much so that he wanted to die ! –
The story is intended to emphasise the absurdity of our inbuilt obsessions and how infinitely more important God’s plans are compared with our prejudices.
Jonah was probably the most successful missionary of his time – we are not told how long it took to convert the city or whether others were involved – but the result was a wholehearted transformation. – they all prayed with fervour to God, the King declared a public fast and dressed in sack-cloths – even the animals were required to fast ! Jesus Himself referred to the sign of Jonah in Luke 11: 29 – 32 – He says " Just as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation "
Paul and Barnabas guided by – and full of the Holy Spirit – transformed whole areas of the Gentile world to the Christian Faith. Paul was surely the greatest teacher of the Christian faith after the Lord Jesus Himself – He was called and led by the Spirit to take the Gospel to the Gentiles and his total commitment to Christ crucified stands as an example to all believers throughout the centuries. – Such is the level of achievement when God’s will and God’s Spirit is within the believer working at the purposes of God Himself
Point 3 Churches Mission to All
So what do these accounts tell us about our churches mission to all? – what lessons can we learn from them ?
1) The importance of prayer – we must make sure God at the centre of everything we do – not just on Sundays but every day of the week – It is only when we are in tune with God’s wishes that we will be successful. – We must be a praying and worshipping people – we must talk to God – ask his advice – even for the little things – if it doesn’t begin with God it won’t succeed no matter how committed or enthusiastic we are – The Holy Spirit is our guide and we must seek his guidance in everything.
2) We are part of God’s church and we are here to perform God’s work – it’s His plan we are working to not ours.- it’s not what we would like to see happen – its not our own personal likes and dislikes that we should be concerned with – He has given us all gifts and abilities of different kinds – He will provide us with the opportunities to use those gifts and fulfill God’s plan – we must be true to God’s will .
3) God is loving and compassionate – He is all forgiving dispite our past wrongs and if we turn to Him he will welcome us with open arms . God’s deep love for us is unchanging and forgiving – He loved us so much that He sent His only Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven – so that we can turn back to Him and begin again.
He sent the Holy Spirit to give us all we need – to provide us with the gifts and the power to perform God’s plan here on this earth – for His greater glory !
4) God wants us to go out into the world and do His work. – he wants us out there in the community radiating his love and giving his message to all – This is not a request it is a command from Jesus Himself –
We have to be ready to accept whatever challenges God puts before us each day – with God at the centre, with the power of prayer and the Holy Spirit to guide us we must then be prepared to act according to our Lord’s command – not to go a different way like Jonah – or equally as bad do nothing – or will we have to take risks and be obedient to His will like Paul and Barnabas. –
After communion we say a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord which affirms our commitment to reach out and to bring others to him so that they may know of the saving love of Jesus.
Prayer to Finish
Send us out
in the power of the Spirit
to live and work
to your praise and glory
In the Name of Christ