Faithlife Sermons

God's Love for Nineveh

God's Pervasive and Sustaining Love  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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To affirm that God's love extends even to our enemies.

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Introduction/Seeing the Need

God’s love is big enough for all creation. God can love our enemies without that love for us diminishing in any way.
It’s no wonder that Jonah had run away from prophesying to Nineveh. He would have much preferred for Nineveh to have been destroyed with no warning. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and Assyria had repeatedly attacked Jonah’s home country of Israel.
The Assyrians would destroy the nation of Israel utterly, forcing the Israelite people to abandon their home and live away from the land God had given to them. They did not worship God. Many of us have the most difficulty accepting that God loves those who have declared war against our nation or our people.
Sometimes, the enemies that we least want God to love are personal enemies, people who have hurt us or who have hurt our friends or family. The Assyrians were the worst enemies of the Jews since the Egyptians, but God did not want to destroy even the Assyrians without giving them a chance to repent.

Repeating the Commission -

Jonah 3:1–4 NRSV
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
The previous instruction was for Jonah to “preach against” the city; here Jonah is informed that he must proclaim what God tells him to preach. Jonah is not to come up with his own set sermons, but is to use those provided by God. Jonah had set himself so against that entire city that he had resisted taking God’s word to them, lest they be given an opportunity to repent.
God kept trying to get through to Jonah, to help him understand God’s love for all people, even his enemies. Jonah set himself against Nineveh, a city filled with people God loved, and God still loved him, too.
Are there people God loves against whom we have set ourselves? Are there people whom we have threatened, harmed, or wished harm upon?

God’s Enemies React to the Message -

Jonah 3:5–9 NRSV
And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”
Jonah and Nineveh were enemies to one another, but Jonah and the people of Nineveh had much in common, simply as human beings. The people of Nineveh loved their country and their families just as the Israelite people loved their own country and their families. They had the same physical and emotional needs as the Israelite people. Most importantly, however, Jonah and the people he preached to were God’s creation, God’s creatures who were in rebellion against God. Jonah and the people of Nineveh were enemies of God.
Jonah ends up being one of the most successful preachers of all time, as repentance is demonstrated at all levels of Ninevite society, from the greatest to the least. Jonah’s proclamation is followed by a proclamation by the Ninevites themselves. The Ninevites have no assurance that their demonstration of repentance will result in the prophesied disaster’s being averted. But they desperately want to do whatever it takes to preserve themselves.
God understands that many of us are conflicted. Although we cannot seem to always do what God desires for us, nevertheless we continue to desire to please God, or at least we do sometimes.
All of us studying this lesson devote at least some of our time to trying to understand or please God, or else we would not be bothering with Sunday School at all.
What are some specific ways that leaders can encourage others to repent?

Response by God -

Jonah 3:10 NRSV
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
An important lesson about prophecies is illustrated here. Some prophecies are absolute; they will be fulfilled, no matter what. Other prophecies are conditional; Jonah’s prophecy falls into this category. When the various actions of the king, his nobles, and the people of Nineveh combine to demonstrate sincerity, God cancels his plan to visit judgement destruction on the city.
God sees into our hearts and sees that each of us is God’s enemy at times. However, God also sees that each of us is, or may be, God’s friend. God loves each of us in our entirety, understanding where and how we are broken, while finding ways for us to become our better selves, to become the people God created us to be.
What sorts of thoughts, words, or behaviors make a person God’s enemy? What makes a person God’s friend?

Prayer

Merciful God, you have extended your hand in love even to our enemies. This can be so hard for us to accept that instead of turning in love to those who have hurt us, we turn on you in our anger. How could you love our enemies, Lord, and claim to be our friend? Help us to understand your love for those we cannot yet love, and help us to accept that your love for them is no more or less remarkable than your love for us; in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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