Jonah 1:17-2:10 Thanksgiving Message

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thanksgiving is a time of the year that we find ourselves thinking about all the things that we can be thankful for. For many families the Thanksgiving meal will consist of a share time where each family member will name off the various things in their lives that they are thankful for.  Typically though, the attitude of thankfulness is not something that we derive from ourselves.  In other words, we really don’t conjure up thankfulness from within ourselves.  Thankfulness is typically connected to persons, things, or events outside of us.  For example, the words ‘thank you’ are said in response to things we are given, or where we are served, or where we receive something to our benefit.  Events, persons, and things that bless us produce thankfulness and bring forth the words, “thank you.”

There is another side of the coin though.  The opposite of being thankful is to be ungrateful, to be unappreciative, and to be thankless.  This was the case in the Old Testament reading for today.  Jonah was a prophet from the land of Israel.  Prophets preached and proclaimed God’s Word to the people, much like modern day pastors do today.  However, Jonah was called by the Lord to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim God’s word to the people of this great city.  However, Jonah’s response was ‘No.’ He disregarded God’s calling by not going North East to Nineveh on land, but by going west, the opposite direction, to the city of Tarshish by sea on a boat (which is modern day Spain).
I know for myself, growing up, that I typically thought that Jonah didn’t go to Nineveh because he was scarred. Indeed, Nineveh was not a pleasant place; it wasn’t a city that you plan a family vacation to.  So, why did Jonah avoid Nineveh?  Jonah was angry that God would have compassion on an enemy of Israel.  He wanted God’s goodness to be shown to Israel and not to Gentiles (vs. 4:1-4).  “Because Jonah knew that God was so kind, he would rather not preach, instead he would rather die, than have the grace of God communicated to the Gentiles who had neither the word of God, nor the laws of Moses…” (Luther)  Jonah deemed that the people of Nineveh were not on the same level of Israel.  He believed that the people were not worthy of God’s grace and value.  He resented the fact that God would give grace and forgiveness to a culture that he deemed lower than Israel, lower than himself.  They were not worthy to receive forgiveness in the eyes of Jonah.  Jonah was a hard hearted, ungrateful, angry, legalist.  Instead of rejoicing and being thankful for the message of the Gospel going forth to lost and condemned people, he burned with anger and frustration.  His will and desires conflicted with God’s will and desires.

Unfortunately my friends, this disposition of Jonah is not something that only he possessed.  For this spirit of ungratefulness is unfortunately found in each and every one of us.  It is the result of our sinful nature, what is called our old Adam.  You see, our old sinful nature does not bring forth an attitude of thankfulness naturally, but our old Adam does the complete opposite. Indeed, our old Adam typically does two things: the old Adam props us up—elevates us—and then he whispers lies of self-promotion.  Our old Adam points us to ourselves, and tells us that we should have what we want when we want it because we are the center of the universe and we surely control our destinies and know what is best for ourselves. 

This Thanksgiving let me ask you this, “Are you completely free from ungratefulness?  Are you completely free from thanklessness?  Are you completely thankful?  Are you completely grateful?”  If you and I are honest with ourselves we must admit that we are not, for the old Adam has his ways with us, even on this most festive holiday of Thanksgiving.

So what are we to do with this old Adam and these outbreaks of ingratitude and the spirit of thanklessness? 

Shall we try to suppress these sinful attitudes of ingratitude out of respect of the Holiday of Thanksgiving? Or, shall we just try harder to be thankful?  No, we do not fight sin by concealing it and we know that thankfulness does not originate in us nor is derived by our own determinism.  Rather a better question is this… what does God do about this old Adam in each one of us?  What does God do with our ingratitude, thanklessness, and so forth?  What did God do with the ungrateful and angry Jonah?  The answer is that God is not content to leave you and me in our sins.  God was also not content to leave Jonah but God pursued Jonah. 

In our text it shows that Jonah was trying to escape the presence of God by sailing west, but God came against the boat and Jonah with a mighty storm, resulting in Jonah being cast off the boat by the crew of the ship into the deep sea.  Once he was in the deep sea we get a sense that Jonah wrestled with the stormy waters before he sank beneath the waters.  Our text said that the currents swirled around him, the waves swept over him, the waters were at his throat, and seaweed was even wrapped around his head.  God in his sovereign authority over land and sea comes against this hard-hearted, bitter, ungrateful, prophet and brings the full force of nature against him.  Jonah was helpless, basically dead.  The heavy hand of God came against Jonah and ground him to a fine powder.  Yet, it was in this despair that something profound happened.  Through this distress that God brought upon him, it drove Jonah to call out to the Lord and the Lord answered him. Indeed, the Lord God brought a hammer against this hard hearted ungrateful prophet, smashed him, and then God came rushing in with a mighty hand of rescue, He provided a fish to swallow Jonah.  God rescued this prophet from certain death by providing a great fish.

My friends, it is no different for you and me today.  Daily you and I sin.  Daily our old Adam, our sinful nature, spews forth poison and ungratefulness.  However, like Jonah, the full power of God almighty has come against your old Adam.  In the mighty and powerful waters of your baptism, the old Adam was drowned and put to death!  At your baptism the God of the Universe came to you and He drowned the old Adam.  In your baptism you were buried with Christ. In your baptism you were also resurrected in Christ.

With that said, we also know that the old Adam is a good swimmer and good at holding his breath.  Thus, the old Adam continually fights and wars against us, trying to get his own way.  However, the good news is that your Lord God continually comes to you with His Word.  Each and every time that you open His Word, or hear His Word at this church… God through His Word comes against your sinful nature to kill it, destroy it, and resurrect you.  Furthermore, each and every time that you come to this church you confess your sins, laying yourself helpless before God only to hear the powerful Words of Christ that you are forgiven.  Indeed, you also come to this church confessing your need for Christ and you receive His body and blood given and shed ‘for you’ for the forgiveness of your sins. 

Why is this all possible?  It is possible because God provided not merely a fish for you, but He sent the only begotten Son for you.  Jesus came for you.  Jesus died for you.  Jesus was resurrected for you.  Indeed Christ’s death and resurrection testify to you right now that Jesus really did defeat the devil that Jesus really did atone for sin that Jesus really was and is divine, that Jesus was and is the Son of God.  Indeed, because of Christ’s death and resurrection for you, the waters of your baptism are indeed powerful waters.  You are indeed, despite the lies of the old Adam, the Devil, and the World, a baptized child of God.  Because of Christ’s death and resurrection for you, the body and blood of your Lord are indeed food for your souls.  Because Christ’s death and resurrection, you can trust the Word.

My friends, like Jonah, you have been rescued from certain death.  Like Jonah, you have been forgiven.  Like Jonah, God has provided for you.  And like Jonah, you can proclaim with thankfulness and joy this Thanksgiving that “Salvation belongs to the Lord” and the Lord indeed “answers you” for He has and will continue to pursue you.    

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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