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[Jonah 3:1-5,10] Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. . . .

10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.


A Matter of Urgency

Some things are a matter of urgency, and sometimes when the window of opportunity is missed, it matters forever. On the other hand, the benefits of addressing an urgent matter can be enjoyed forever.

Jonah the prophet was called by God to an urgent matter. Jonah is a prophet in Israel, among the Israelites – God’s people of the Old Testament. Unlike the other prophets, Jonah is called to go outside Israel and Judah to preach to gentiles.

Jonah is called to preach God’s Word in Nineveh. Nineveh was a great city of the Assyrians – great in size, wealth, and power. Great but not good. Nineveh was a city in love with violence and every kind of immoral lifestyle.

Jonah’s call to proclaim God’s Word to Nineveh was urgent because Nineveh was reaching the end of God’s patience – patience which sometimes lasts years or centuries, but when it ends, ends abruptly. And this can be a permanent end.

Judgment – destruction for the city; condemnation for individuals – is the natural consequence of their behavior – the wrongs they’ve done; the wrong they’ve been; and those right things they’ve failed to do.  

“Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown!”, warns Jonah. God’s judgment is right and just; yet it’s also not what God wants for these people.

Jonah was sent so that, at least at this last minute, the Ninevites might turn and God might relent of the disaster He had for them and instead show them His steadfast love and mercy. The Ninevites did not know God, yet God already drew near to them and desired this better outcome for them.

It was a matter of urgency. Yet it was a matter that Jonah the prophet ran away from.

One of the marks of the Bible’s authenticity is that the Bible doesn’t shy away from the flaws of its heroes. In the first verses of the book of Jonah, when the Word of God comes to Jonah and calls him to go to Nineveh, Jonah straightaway devises another plan and flees – attempting even to flee from God’s presence.

The prophet Jonah boards a ship heading far from Nineveh. But God sends a storm that assaults this ship on the sea. It will soon sink – the sailors are calling out to their various false gods – Jonah, surprisingly, is found sleeping in the inner part of the ship.

However, the captain awakens him. The sailors inquire of him. Jonah admits the storm is for him – that he was on that ship to flee God’s presence, God who made the sea and the dry land.

Jonah even tells the sailors that if they pick him up, carry him to the edge, and cast him into the sea, the storm will stop its raging and their lives will be spared. Jonah thus sacrifices himself for their lives. The storm was for him after all.

They cast Jonah in. The storm turns quiet and calm. And then – this is the part you remember – God had appointed a great fish for Jonah, to swallow him up. Jonah then prays a prayer of great faith and thanksgiving to God within the belly of that fish [Jonah 2:1-10].

That fish was Jonah’s deliverance. God commands and it coughs Jonah up where Jonah belongs – on dry land en route to Nineveh. To Nineveh Jonah finally goes.

That is now where today’s reading begins – “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.’” 

Jonah goes. Nineveh would take about three days for a thorough visit. Jonah travels one day in the city and shouts out what we’ve heard, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown!”

The people of Nineveh, who long sat in darkness – blind to what is good and what is evil – blind to true knowledge of God – they hear, and they believe. “The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.”

And, “The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation… call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” [Jonah 3:5-9]

That city which was ripe for judgment was finally ready for salvation. Those people who sat in darkness for so long saw Light easily. They were more ready and turned out in greater number than God’s own people ever did at the preaching of the other prophets.

“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, and He did not do it.” In that very day, God gave His steadfast love and mercy to Nineveh.

And that is why the prophet Jonah didn’t want to go. “It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? 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 4:1-2]

In our Gospel reading today [Mark 1:14-20], not a mere Jonah, but the Lord Himself, Jesus, the Messiah, comes “proclaiming the gospel of God” saying, “The time is fulfilled – the urgent time has come – and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”

Jesus then calls some of His first disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” – a call which still extends to His whole church in every city.   

The whole body of Christ – each of you individually – in the various ways you can serve and support the Gospel of God – and by speaking to and being a light of Jesus Christ to the people your life reaches – you have all received the call to be fishers of men.

You are each instruments through which Jesus desires to cast His net to others to gather them out of darkness into His light.

The urgent matter is heaven or hell; salvation or judgment; eternal joy or everlasting darkness – for you, it’s the urgent matter in your life – and for people in your reach. You are called to the urgent matter of showing them Jesus and what He has done for them – and to the urgent matter of delivering God’s gifts to those in your reach of influence or care.  

Why do we run from this call? We don’t understand or believe salvation is an urgent matter. Our life is taken up by many responsibilities or focused on enjoyment and leisure. (Good things; but we do need to make this urgent matter first. Let the rest be second and third.)

Do you neglect this call because there are those to whom you don’t really want God’s steadfast love and mercy to come, just as Jonah didn’t want God’s mercy to come to Nineveh?

Do we neglect the call to be fishers of men because we are overwhelmed by the darkness we see and don’t believe the light of the gospel of Jesus can overcome it?

We have to repent of that kind of unbelief. Jesus the Savior, His work on the cross, and the Holy Spirit who works faith in the heart, are almighty in their power and can change any heart.

 Jonah is the best prophet because, though he wasn’t up to the task – likely in many of the same ways we haven’t been up to the task – he was still God’s man. God still used him for the task and worked mightily through him.

Even on that boat on which Jonah was fleeing from God’s purpose, God fulfilled His purpose. After the storm was calmed by Jonah being cast in, it says those sailors then believed in the one true God and called upon Him [Jonah 1:16].

And, though the prophet Jonah did not meet the measure of a dedicated, fiery servant of God like some of the other prophets, Jesus still was not ashamed to compare Himself to Jonah – “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” [Matthew 12:40]

Just as Jonah was cast into the storm that was due for him, Jesus has already cast Himself into the storm that was due for you. The storm of God’s judgment was ready against our sins. Jesus, the only innocent one, cast Himself into that storm on the cross and quieted it for each of us – and for each person who needs to be reached, who doesn’t yet know this.

Jesus is “the propitiation – the atoning sacrifice – for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” [1 John 2:2]. Let’s not run from the call to be fishers of men, but let’s seek ways to carry it out – trusting that, since Jesus has died for each person, He desires and is able to do this work through us. Amen.

[1 Samuel 3:1-20] …And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”


Too Lightly Corrected

Who is this young man, Samuel? When did he live? Where and how did he serve? Samuel, a young boy in today’s reading, grew from here on out to be a great judge and prophet of God’s Old Testament people, Israel. When was this?

The time is a little less than eleven hundred years before Christ, around 1080 B.C. This is about four hundred years after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. They then entered the land promised to them, the land of Canaan. By God’s command, they drove out many of the nations who were there before them.

After the people of Israel had settled in the land, they were ruled, not by kings, but by judges, deliverers, whom God raised up every so often to deliver them from their enemies. So, this is after the people had settled into the promised land – Moses and Joshua are long gone – but figures like King David and Solomon are not yet around, not quite yet.

The time period of Samuel’s life and service to God is at the tail end of the period of judges, as they transition into being ruled by kings. Samuel himself rules as a judge, yet as a prophet he also anoints the first kings of Israel, Saul and then David.

But right now, Samuel is a young boy. He is serving in the tent of meeting, the tabernacle, that served as Israel’s temple in a city called Shiloh, years before the center of their religious life eventually moved to Jerusalem and the Temple built later there by King Solomon.

Samuel lives in the tabernacle and serves the Lord from childhood onward because he was dedicated to the Lord by a vow that his mother, Hannah, made. Hannah was barren. She had no child, though her husband’s other wife did. Hannah was distressed. She prayed in the tabernacle for a chid and vowed to the Lord that, if He gave her a son, she would dedicate that son to Him.

The priest Eli tells Hannah that God has heard her prayer. And God had. God granted Hannah a son. Hannah, after weaning the child, hands her son, Samuel, over to the Lord to serve God for life. Year after year, Hannah visited Samuel at the tabernacle where he grew and served. Each year she made a new linen robe for him. There Samuel stayed, being raised in priestly service.

Samuel was raised in priestly service, but was not like the priests. The leading priests at the time were Eli and his sons, who are referred to as worthless men. Eli’s sons, priests in the tabernacle, lived in sexual immorality even as they served the Lord. They also stole portions of the sacrifices for themselves, and took for themselves the best portions which were meant to be offered alone to the Lord.

Eli, though he did correct them by word, corrected them too lightly and did little about it. He allowed his sons to continue to serve, even as their service was really treachery and blasphemy against God. Eli’s first love was not God but the approval of his sons.

Eli corrected them too lightly, the blasphemy continued – God’s name continued to be dragged in the dirt by their actions – and God judges Eli for this.

In our time, what is God’s temple? Who is judge, prophet, priest, and king? We know that Jesus Himself, God’s Son made man, is our Judge, our final Prophet, our once-for-all High Priest, and forever our King. He alone has done it right and is perfect.

And Jesus has made your body the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, by His sacrifice on the cross, made purification for your sins and washed you clean in your Baptism. Now you yourself are set up as a dwelling place for the Lord. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have made their abode in you.

Our Epistle lesson tells us, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. And, by your Baptism, you are all priests of God, each of you – “A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” [1 Peter 2:9]

We too correct ourselves too lightly. We don’t take into consideration that we are not only sinning against a lump of flesh and blood but against God’s own possession, against God’s own temple, against His dwelling place – when we sin with those bodies – and when we sin against one another.

What I do to my brother or sister in Christ, I do to the temple of the Holy Spirit, the blood-bought, redeemed dwelling place that God has chosen as His own. How I ought to treat the house of God is how I ought to treat these true houses of God around me, these baptized sons and daughters.

And, just as it would be a disgrace to bring any indecency or cursing or unclean, immoral behavior or speech into God’s house of stone, how much more of a sin is it when I bring such things into my own body, which is the true sanctified temple of the Holy Spirit?

We all sin. But we need to tell ourselves the hard truth about our sin. In thoughts, words, and actions, sinning with this redeemed body and soul is a double sin – against God’s command and against God’s special house, bought with the blood of Christ.

We should not correct ourselves too lightly, therefore. In God’s presence, we should face up to our need for repentance. We should not be content to be like Eli or his sons. Let’s address our sins before God and seek His help in doing better, every day.

God does help you. He has given you a Savior and the Holy Spirit, who are mighty and who love you. It’s their will to keep you as a pure temple – to forgive you and to do repairs.  

Samuel, the young boy, was called by the Lord for the first time in today’s reading. The first message He was sent to deliver from the Lord – the first of many – was not easy news to share. But Samuel shared the truth.

Eli encouraged him to do so, which is a good thing we can say about Eli. He too knew that the truth of God had to be shared without us holding anything back or adding anything to it.

Above all, let’s remember in our day that we do now have the Savior, Jesus. There is a sacrifice for your sins – Jesus who gave Himself for your sins upon the cross, once for all. It is finished.

He died for your sins so that you won’t. You stand and move and go through your life and trials forgiven, in a state of His grace, under the umbrella of His atoning sacrifice.

You are still alive today, which means Jesus isn’t done with you yet. As we come forward to His Supper today, to receive Him, let’s each come to be corrected strongly, to be forgiven fully – as He always does – and to be helped by His careful and willing hand, which is building and renovating you – bit by bit, more and more – into temples fit for His dwelling. Amen.

[Matthew 2:1-12] … behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.


Prophet, Priest, and King

If you were to ask people what their basic needs are, you might get a smattering of various answer. Some may be thinking in physical terms – food, water, shelter, physical safety.         

Others may think in terms of emotional needs – a sense of security, joy, happiness. While others may list things like meaning, a purpose in life, identity. Or, the need to be something good – how can I be a good person?

As varied as the list might be, the ways of attempting to obtain these needs varies even more. Though you may be able to boil it down to the search for a prophet, a priest, and a king.

A prophet. A messenger. From advice and opinion columns, to the self-help section of the bookstores, to the ever-growing emphasis on education – to the many wild theories and conspiracy theories – to a person’s attachment to this or that talk radio or tv host.  

The world fills its ears with prophets. Messengers to be a compass and give us an identity, something to believe – but let it be something that suits me! To satisfy itching ears [2 Timothy 4:3].

A priest. A spiritual connection. We sometimes think in terms of secular vs. religious. In truth, the world has always been overflowing with religions and spiritualities – organized and not. Mankind has always been very religious and still is – from spiritual practices or rules to charismatic personalities. Though none fits the bill of what we really need.

And a king. A ruler. A president. A party. That one man who will finally set the wrongs right. One who will give security and prosperity. One who will bring might to my side. Or one who will promise me bread and shelter. Or one who promises peace and civility. They disappoint and their goodness doesn’t last.

The world’s many options leave you grasping at an abundance of straws and standing on ever-shifting sand. On Epiphany, the Rock of our salvation, our bedrock on which to stand, was revealed to the nations.

Magi, the wise men – whether there were three or more – men of great learning from the “east”, came to worship this one newborn King. They brought to this child, Jesus, gifts fit for a prophet, a priest, and a king, and they worshiped Him.   

Myrrh was used in anointing oils. The prophets of old anointed the kings of Israel and Judah. In this child is the one who is both prophet and the anointed king. Likewise, Jesus is both God’s messenger and the content of the message.

Jesus is the final prophet who proclaimed and fulfilled God’s promises. In Jesus’ words, actions, life, death, and resurrection, we see God revealed and proclaimed – shown forth – to the whole world.

Jesus is King. He inherits the nations. He saves all peoples. He is the one to whom all must look for both physical and spiritual security. He Himself is our fortress and provider who does not fail. He is the trustworthy one – the one in whom we really can trust – who will right all wrongs, with knowledge and justice.

And Jesus is priest. He is our One, last, final High Priest who fulfills our need forever. Jesus has reconciled God and man by offering Himself as the perfect and only God-pleasing sacrifice, once for all.

When Jesus gave Himself as sacrifice for all, He fulfilled our greatest need – He purified us from our sins and closed the gap between us and God. God and sinners reconciled by the one, final offering of Jesus on the cross.

And, as almighty God in human flesh, He conquered death, hell, and the grave. He secured eternal life for soul and body, rendered our graves temporary, and gave our bodies and souls life with God.

The nations seek after their needs. On Epiphany, the answer to all need and desire sat on His mother’s lap, received gifts, and was worshiped by those who sought Him. Other’s chose the unsure promises of what this world can offer.

“I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come” [Haggai 2:7 KJV]. “O Come, Desire of nations…” [O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, stanza 7, Lutheran Service Book].

The one thing needed [Luke 10:41-42] has come and remains yours today. Jesus remains your High Priest, forever interceding for us at God’s right hand [Romans 8:34].

Jesus remains your prophet – proclaiming His Word in Scripture, in sermon, in Bible Study – to be the message which guides you in truth. The way, the truth, and the life [John 14:6].

Jesus remains your King. “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Me” – therefore, we go and “make disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:18-20], revealing to others the One in whom all need and desire is met.

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” [Psalm 118:8-9]. Don’t spin your wheels forever looking to what this world has to offer. Bow down, worship, and receive from Jesus Christ, who is the One thing needed. Amen.

Pastor and preacher at Trinity Lutheran Church

Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023. 

rinity Lutheran Church

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