Our devotion for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany focuses on the reading from Jonah and comes from LifeLight: Obadiah/Jonah/Micah—Leaders Guide.
Jonah 3:1–5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29–35
Read the propers for today on lutherancalendar.org.
Like Jonah, we can be reluctant and unwilling to extend God’s love and forgiveness to our neighbors who sin against us. We are all too easily tempted to hold grudges or seek revenge rather than share the saving message of the Gospel. Yet the Word of the Lord works in even the hardest of hearts, bringing us to repentance in order that more and more might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
(V. 1) “The word of the LORD came to Jonah.” But notice that this time the passage begins with “Then” instead of “Now,” while adding, “the second time.” God is starting over with Jonah by starting in the same way. Everything Jonah did before this didn’t change a thing. God still wanted him at Nineveh; the job was the same. On the one hand, this may seem frustrating. On the other hand, we all love a do-over, a fresh chance for success. Seeing God do just that for Jonah should teach us something about our moments of failure, our place in God’s grand plan. He still calls us. He still uses us for His purposes. The text goes on to repeat God’s command, (v. 2) “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city.” God’s commission remained the same. What changed was Jonah’s response. This time, instead of reading (1:3) “But Jonah rose to flee,” we read, (3:3) “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh.” He picked himself up off the beach, since now he had come to realize that one cannot undo God’s plans.
As will soon become evident, however, Jonah remained an unwilling missionary (ch. 4)—if not in his actions, at least in his attitude. He carried out his mission, but not with hopes of accomplishing it. So Jonah proclaimed to the city, (3:4) “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” No doubt this is but a summary of his message. Yet even in this brief synopsis, we see both Law—“shall be overthrown”—and Gospel—“forty days.” God was giving the city a time of grace, a time to turn.
As was the case with the sailors, Jonah’s preaching bore surprising fruit: (v. 5) “And the people of Nineveh believed God.” The Word of God is powerful in and of itself; it does not depend on the attitude or motivation of the people who proclaim it. . . . How reassuring it is to know that the effectiveness of the Word does not depend on the perfection of the messenger! The power of God’s Word comes from the holy and omnipotent God and not from the person delivering the message. . . .
Of course, we want to have a willing and ready heart when it comes to doing the Lord’s work. And how do we get that? Through that very same Word! Jonah had seemed to forget that the word he preached to others—repentance—also applied to himself. Can that happen to us? Yes, it can. That’s why we need to apply God’s Word to ourselves as well as share it with others.
The text in Jonah 3 makes a point of the greatness of ancient Nineveh, (v. 3) “an exceedingly great city, three days journey in breadth.” Its population has been estimated as perhaps half a million people. But the expression “exceedingly great” may well suggest more than size, as it can also be rendered “important to God.” Nineveh was a great city both in size and in the eyes of God. Although filled with idolaters, Nineveh mattered to the Lord, for God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God desires to reach out to all with the message of salvation.
Devotional reading is from LifeLight: Obadiah/Jonah/Micah—Leaders Guide, pages 19–20 © 2015 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.