Mission Festival

Preached: October 12, 2014

See the Lost through the Lord’s Eyes
Jonah; Matthew 9:35-38; Romans 1:16

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Dear friends in Christ,


The account of Jonah begins: “The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’

“But Jonah ran away from the LORD and head for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD” (Jonah 1:1-3 NIV84).

Why did Jonah run away? Nineveh was about six hundred miles away from his home in Israel. Was he afraid to travel so far? That couldn't be the reason. Sailing off to Tarshish was an even longer journey and a more dangerous route. Why did he run? Nineveh had a bad reputation. It was a leading city of the Assyrian Empire, known for its brutality. Was he afraid to go because he might die? But a little later in chapter one he doesn't seem afraid of death. Remember when the Lord sent a storm against that ship, Jonah told the sailors to throw him overboard. He doesn't seem afraid to die.

So why did this prophet run from the Lord? To answer that we need to jump ahead. After the Lord rescued him from drowning, Jonah went to Nineveh and preached, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned" (Jonah 3:4 NIV84). All the people, including the king, listened and repented. They saw the Lord's mercy in sending this prophet to warn them and in giving them those forty days. When God saw how they turned from their evil ways, he did not destroy them as he had threatened. Good news, right? Not to Jonah. He wanted them destroyed. That becomes clear as chapter four begins, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, ‘O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’ ” (Jonah 4:1, 2 NIV84).

Jonah had no love for the people of Nineveh. That weren't worthy of his message. They did not deserve to be saved. This was a bad city that had done bad things. It had troubled Israel in the past and in the future would destroy the northern tribes. He wanted the city leveled. So why go there and preach? They might repent, and then the Lord would relent and not destroy them. For he is the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love. That's not what Jonah wanted for Nineveh. That's why he ran.

As reprehensible as Jonah's attitude was, at least he was honest before God about his lack of love for Nineveh. Are we as honest? We can talk a lot about mission work and how much the lost need to hear about Jesus. But is such talk only dressing up a heart that's grown lukewarm or even cold in its love for the lost? How well does the time we spend in prayer for the lost backup our claim to love them? How well do our offerings support reaching out to the lost rather than simply sustaining what we already have for ourselves? How well does the love of Jesus flow out in our actions even to those whom we might think don't deserve our kindness? How well do the words we speak draw others to Jesus and the price he paid for our forgiveness? In how many other ways can you and I still grow in our love for the lost?

Although the shallowness of our love for the lost rightly earns us God's rejection, yet he reaches out to you and me. For he is the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love. He reaches out to fill us with compassion so that we too abound in love for the lost. That's what he did for Jonah.

First of all, remember how the Lord had rescued Jonah. What had Jonah deserve? He had run away from God. But instead of letting him die in his sin, the Lord sent that storm that brought him to realize the evil he had done. He knew he deserved death. But even as he had the sailors through him overboard, Jonah trusted the Lord's mercy. We see that in Jonah's prayer from inside the fish, recorded in chapter two. He begins, “In my distress I called to the LORD; and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:2 NIV84).

What a miracle the Lord did to save him! As Jonah sunk into the depths with the currents swirling around him and the waves breaking above him, the Lord sent a great fish to swallow him and keep him alive for three days. Then the Lord commanded the fish to vomit him out on dry land.

And now in chapter four after Jonah complained that the Lord spared Nineveh, the Lord again shows his mercy to Jonah. Jonah sat outside Nineveh waiting to see what would happen. He even made himself a little shanty to protect him from the hot sun and desert wind. What's more, the Lord God also provided a vine with large leaves that grew up so quickly that it shaded Jonah and eased his discomfort. Jonah was happy about the vine.

The next morning God provided a worm to chew the vine so that it withered. He also provided a scorching east wind. So when the sun beat down on him, Jonah was miserable. He complained to God. And God asked, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” (Jonah 4:9 NIV84). And when Jonah said that he did, the Lord brought home his lesson.

Jonah was so concerned about the vine, even though he hadn't worked to plant it or tend it. God had done that. He had provided it and cared for it. Yet Jonah was so concern about it. Now look at Nineveh. It wasn't just a vine but an entire city of over a hundred thousand people, each one a special creation of God, each one in need of the Lord's compassion to save them. Even the animals in the city enjoyed the Lord's care. So the book of Jonah closes with the Lord saying to him, “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11 NIV84).

Yes, dear friends, learn to love the lost as you see them through the Lord's eyes. Remember what his love did for you and me when we were still lost. He rescued us not from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea but from drowning in our sins and sinking into the depths of hell. He didn't send a great fish to save us, but his own dear Son. And just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, so also our Savior was in the belly of the earth, dead because of our sins. But on the third day he rose again. There's the proof that his death pays for your sins. There's the proof that his cross rescues you. Just as Jonah's miraculous rescue proved to the people of Nineveh that he was God's prophet speaking God's message, how much more so Jesus' miraculous resurrections proves that he, and he alone, is God's Son, our Savior, bringing us the words of eternal life. How great God's grace and compassion towards you and me, and towards those who are still lost!

See the lost through the Lord's eyes, even as he saw Nineveh. Do they deserve to be saved? No, they don't, and neither do you or I. It's all about the Lord's grace and compassion. See each of the lost as God's special creature. They're not just a vine growing. He made them body and soul, just as he made you and me. See each of the lost as someone for whom Jesus died in order to save him or her, just as he died for you and me. How great the Lord's concern for the lost is! Grow in your love for the lost as you see them through his eyes.

Matthew 9:35-38

See the lost through Jesus' eyes. When you and I were lost in our sins, he came and found you and me. He is the shepherd. He placed us over his shoulders and carried us to his flock. For you see, he is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep and took it up again. How he longs to gather the lost and bring them into his flock!

So he sees the world as a field ripe for harvest. So many lost souls like countless heads of grain covering hill after hill; so few resources to gather them in. The harvest is plentiful. How much larger the field is today than in Jesus day. How much the lost need the Shepherd! How much they need to hear the Good News of Jesus!

See them through his eyes as you listen to Gospel of the day, Matthew 9:35-38.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out works into his harvest field.” (NIV84)

Romans 1:16

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV84). The great missionary, the Apostle Paul, wrote those words. For you see, he not only saw the lost through the loving eyes of the Lord but even more so he believed in the saving power of the Gospel.

Don't misunderstand. It wasn't that Paul spoke the Gospel and people magically believed it and said how wonderful Paul was for sharing that message with them. Often it was just the opposite. Many hated Paul for preaching Jesus. Some imprisoned him or stoned him. They treated him as a criminal. And why not? He was following Jesus, and wasn't Jesus a criminal? He had been tried by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. He was condemned and crucified on a cross just like a criminal.

Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel. Yes, the Gospel says that Jesus died on a cross like a criminal. But he died there not because of his sins, for you see, he had no sin. Rather, he died for the sins of the world. Every last sin, including all of Paul's and all of yours and mine, had been counted against him. Did his death truly count for us and pay for our sins? The Gospel says, "Yes! Yes, his death did pay for your sins, because Jesus rose from the dead. That's God's verdict that freely justifies guilty sinners, like you, by grace alone because of Jesus." This is the good news the Gospel proclaims. Believe it. Even though it sounds like foolishness and weakness to our human minds, believe it, just as Paul did.

So, dear Christian friends, don't be ashamed of the Gospel. Yes the world and our society will label the Gospel as unscientific foolishness. It will label the message that only Jesus can save as a bigoted message that does not respect other religions. It's tempting to be concerned about what others might think. It's tempting to keep our mouths shut and lower the cross, at least a little. But don't give in. Don't be ashamed of the cross. Lift it high. Share the Gospel.

Lift high the cross. For you know the power of the gospel in your own heart. The gospel has brought you from death into life, life with God, eternal life. Lift high the cross. For you know the power of the gospel to convert the hearts of others. Yes many may refuse and resist, and even ridicule us, just as they did in Paul's day. At times we may feel that the gospel doesn't do the work well enough and we need to try other things instead. Don't follow human thought. Don't judge by what man can see. God promises to work through the simple Gospel. So lift high the cross. Share the Gospel. Say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe” (Romans 1:16 NIV84).

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313