On the Plains of Moab Blog
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February 18, 2013, 10:44 AM

Sermon Text - I, Jonah: "Déjà Vu" Sermon #4 of 7

February 17, 2013.  Text: Jonah 3:1-3

This morning, we move on to another chapter in this series on the book of Jonah.

Let me review very quickly where we've been up to this point:

  • Jonah receives a call from God.
  • Jonah says no to the call.
  • Jonah goes down to Joppa.
  • Jonah goes down on a ship heading out to sea.  Away from God.
  • Jonah goes down into the cargo hold as a great storm develops.
  • Jonah is caught and thrown down into the sea.   -Judgment
  • Jonah sinks further down; but is saved by a great fish instead of drowning.   -Grace

And so here we are today.  The fourth sermon of seven.  The very center of seven sermons in this story of a prophet gone rogue.  And you find here precisely what you might expect from a sermon in the middle:  The climax of the story.  The decisive moment.  The turning point.

The best way to describe this high point in the Jonah story is with the words déjà vu.  Déjà vu is the experience of thinking that a new situation has occurred before.  Listen to the opening call from God to Jonah - The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,  "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me." (Jon. 1:1-2 ESV).

Listen again to what I read a few moments ago from Jonah 3 - The word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you." (Jon. 3:1-2 ESV).  Déjà vu!

Aside from the addition a few extra words and a different ending, the second call to Jonah here in chapter 3 is almost identical to the opening words of the book.

The déjà vu here represents a been-here-done-that-moment for Jonah.

It represents a chance to do what he didn’t do before.

Last week, I suggested to you that Jonah's rescue in the great fish was a vivid illustration of what God does for the world through Jesus Christ in saving us.  The Old Testament is fertile ground for providing salvific (Divine) previews of God's plans through Jesus.  We, just like Jonah, deserve the death penalty for our sins.  The wages of sin is death.

And yet, for some reason, God doesn't give us what we deserve.  He does something as unexpected as a great fish swooping in at the last moment to save a rotten prophet from a certain drowning.  In the same inexplicable manner, he gives us grace.  Amazing grace!

Now, fresh on the heels of this saving grace, Jonah is given a second chance to complete the mission given to him.  After the first call, Jonah blew it.  He wanted nothing to do with God’s plans.  He wanted nothing to do with being the bearer of potential good news to his hated enemies.  He quit and tried to run away:  But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jon. 1:3 ESV).

And so, after a significant detour through the belly of a gigantic fish, he gets it right!  So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.  (Jon. 3:3 ESV).

When the fish spits Jonah out, he finds himself in roughly the same place where his disobedience left off on dry land.  Square one.  In Joppa.  Now he must make the long trek east to Nineveh to speak a word from God to the city of Nineveh that will either be judgment or grace.  A word that he himself has just lived out.

Jonah gets a fresh beginning from God.  A royal do-over untarnished by the stain of his past failures.  In an instant, Jonah's past falls away.  It doesn't matter anymore.  It doesn't have any bearing on his future.  What Jonah receives from God is new life.  He was as good as dead in his sin.   Quite literally.  Yet God saved him.  Quite literally.

I want to stop here at this point in the story and reflect for a moment on this offer of new life to Jonah.  A couple of thoughts.

Thought number one.  Think about God's offer of new life to Jonah and compare that to the way the world works under similar circumstances.  In the world, when you really blow it like Jonah, the verdict is usually severe.  Judged.  Toasted.  Unforgiven.  Ostracized.  Discredited.  Humiliated.  Fired.  Fried, dyed and laid to the side.  Barred from ever pursuing the same vocation ever again.  Unfriended.  And in the eye of the world, justly so.

No need to give examples here.  Just think about the world of politics.  The world of entertainment and sports.  Life in the working world.  You know this is true.

But then, you come across this story in Jonah.  You find the grace and forgiveness of God that results in a new life.  Grace and forgiveness that overwhelms our failure.  Not judgment.  Not now.  Now don't worry, we talk about repentance next week, and that is entirely necessary.  But today we are talking about this way out, unbelievable counter-cultural way of God in the world!

Do you not sense at least a tiny bit of irony oozing out in the pronouncements from the world that the church of Jesus Christ is harsh and unforgiving?  Really?

Thought number two.  There is no question in my mind that this second chance, fresh start graciously given by God to Jonah represents a foretaste of the new life we are given in Jesus Christ.  We are found by Jesus in much the same way the fish finds Jonah.  We find forgiveness in Jesus.  We are given new life.  And we go forth.

But we know it doesn't end there, happily ever after.  For heaven's sake, we know that Jonah has been saved, forgiven and given a new life...but he is still going to blow it in a pretty big way.  Just wait and see!  Life is tough.  Life has ups and downs, even in Jesus.  Sin has received the death sentence; but it ain't completely dead yet.  We haven't arrived.  We are in a holy process we call sanctification.  The process of becoming more holy, like our Lord.

But we need to be reminded early and often of the new life we have been given in Christ.  Perhaps you might think of the re-commissioning of Jonah every Sunday when we pray together the prayer for forgiveness and use the Kyrie eleison (Lord, Have Mercy!) to hear the reassuring words of forgiveness.  Praise God!

Every Sunday when we hear the promise of forgiveness following the prayer of forgiveness, it is like Jonah hearing, "Arise, go!"

Déjà vu.

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it well.   Amen.

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