Have you ever considered how much easier life would be if we practiced the words of the old hymn, trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey (Trust and Obey, John H. Sammis, 1887.)?
It was Jonah who gave me an epiphany this morning. Sometimes the Lord opens the door and so much light pours out that it takes our breath away.
God sent Jonah to the Assyrians to preach a sermon. Jonah’s sermon was maybe the shortest sermon in history.
Depending upon which Bible translation that we use of course, it appears Jonah’s sermon was eight words long, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown (Jonah 3:4b NIV)!”
If you are unfamiliar with this story, Jonah was charged by the Lord to go to the wicked city of Nineveh and tell them to straighten up and fly right! Unfortunately, Jonah understood quite well that a situation such as this would most likely end up with the messenger being killed!
Nineveh was located within the nation of Assyria; and, the Assyrians were known for their cruelty. When they conquered a nation, they practiced a scorched earth policy, totally annihilating their foes.
Jonah ran away, heading to the opposite end of the earth from Assyria. Aboard a ship, he was cast into the sea as the crew feared Jonah had caused the Lord’s wrath by his disobedience, creating a horrible storm that was about to kill them all.
“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of this fish three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17 NIV).”
Ironically, it was Jonah who asked to be tossed into the sea, having felt compassion on the crew and remorse that he had caused tremendous calamity to besiege them. Verse 17 is Jonah’s prayer as he asked for God’s mercy and protection when he was about to hit the turbulent sea.
Needless to say, Jonah smelled the coffee! Fast forward now and we see Jonah putting on his cowboy boots and heading into Nineveh.
It is here that Jonah delivers his eight-word sermon. And, it is here that we read the shortest response to the instructions from a prophet in the history of the Bible, “The Ninevites believed God (Jonah 3:5a NIV).”
And, it is precisely at this juncture that all the lights come on, we hear bells and whistles, confetti is thrown and everyone begins kissing babies!
When we peel back the layers, take a deep breath and decide to see things from a wide lens, we have our epiphany!
What we hear are echoes of the words from Jesus a little over eight hundred years later as he and Nicodemus are having their midnight meeting!
“For God so loved the world…(John 3:16a VIV).” To put a finer point on things, God is using Jonah to bring about a cataclysmic miracle.
God is using Jonah to prophesy to a dastardly nation that the time has come for them to repent; and, of all things they listened, trusted and obeyed.
When we weed through this story, we see that all peoples regardless of nationality, faith tradition, ethnicity or even if they are filled with countless sins and transgressions…all people are loved by God.
Why did God give a hoot about the Assyrians? It is because God loves the world.
God’s love overrules nationalism and even Hebrew beliefs, laws, statues and attitudes of privilege. God’s loves the world…as a loving father loves his children, equally, fully and unconditionally.
Why? Well, God’s love is most certainly a mystery! And, left to our own devices we would be in a heap of trouble.
Even so, this is what grace is all about! We are privileged to catch a glimpse of God’s masterplan. God’s vision was, is and always will be to create a path for us to come home.
I find great comfort in the words from Saint Augustine of Hippo, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and; our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions.)