The Time Is Fulfilled
Again today we have two accounts of God calling men into the Holy Ministry. The Old Testament reading is about God calling Jonah to serve the people of Nineveh. In the Gospel Jesus calls four of His disciples to become fishers of men.
In our reading from Jonah, we find God working with a very reluctant prophet. Remember, when God originally called Jonah to go to Nineveh, he ran away. You see, Israel and Assyria were bitter enemies, and Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. Jonah hated the Assyrians and if the Holy Spirit worked faith in them, then God would forgive them. That was the last thing Jonah wanted because he hated the Assyrians.
So Jonah gets on a ship that would take him as far from Nineveh as was possible in the world that he knew. He literally tried to do the exact opposite of what God called him to do so that the people of Nineveh would die in their sins. My friends, Jonah really hated the Assyrians.
God of course intervened. He allowed a storm to threaten the safety of the ship. Jonah was so intent on avoiding the people of Nineveh that he convinced the sailors to throw him into the sea. He knew God was angry with him and he thought that if he drowned in the sea, God would not punish the ship.
Sure enough, when the sailors threw Jonah into the sea, the storm calmed and the sailors continued their journey. But, instead of drowning, God sent a great fish to carry Jonah back to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and there vomited Jonah onto the shore.
So what’s an angry prophet supposed to do? As we heard this morning, Jonah went to Nineveh and preached God’s judgment on them. And the Holy Spirit worked through the message that God gave to Jonah, and the people in Nineveh repented, and just as Jonah feared, God forgave them.
Now we can learn several things from Jonah. First of all, God’s called prophets, apostles, pastors, and teachers are sinners just like everyone else. Second, the most hateful thing a servant of God can do is keep God’s Word to himself. Jonah hated the Assyrians and so he determined not to share God’s message with them. Finally, we learn that God’s message is a blessing to us even if the messenger is not. The message of God brought the blessing of forgiveness even from the hateful mouth of Jonah.
As Jesus preached, He also called disciples to follow him. As we read [Mark 1:16–20] Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
These four men and the others that Jesus chose were not full of hatred like Jonah, but they did all have their weaknesses. As we follow Jesus in His ministry, we see these men fail again and again. Jesus will teach, and they will often fail to understand. While Jesus is proclaiming the kingdom of God, they are arguing amongst themselves about which of them is the greatest. They will walk, talk, and eat with Jesus for years, but they will focus on their own concerns. And yet they the ones God chose to proclaim God’s kingdom after Jesus ascended back to the Father.
Again, God calls men to serve in His kingdom who are born of sin just like everyone else. In fact, it sometimes seems as though God goes out of His way to choose the most unlikely candidates to proclaim His message. As the Lord said to Paul, [2 Corinthians 12:9] My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. That is: it’s the message that’s important, not the messenger.
And nothing has changed. God still seems to call the most unlikely men to proclaim His kingdom. We are weak and frail with enormous faults as Pastor Harrison said when he learned that he was about to become the president of the LC-MS, “You have kept your perfect record of electing sinners as president of the Missouri Synod.”
But how can God take sinful, weak men and make them the bearers of eternal life? Well, if He created a unique “better than you” kind of person to be His under-shepherds, do you think you’d be able to relate to your pastor or he to you? You see, we share a life of ups and downs, of questions, of doubts, of fears – in truth, a life of sin. But we also share something greater than sin for we share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Remember what Jesus said? The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. The fulfillment of all things was and is found in the man, Jesus. The kingdom of God, is not distant but comes to us in Christ who bore all human suffering.
Have you been crushed by the weight of guilt, or pain, or sorrow? Look to Jesus – He knows you and will gladly carry it for you, if you let Him. That’s why God gives His people pastors. When God seems distant, here is a man who shares your humanity and speaks for the One who has redeemed you. He stands in the place of Christ, bringing the ear of Christ in confession and the heart of Christ in absolution.
Do you fear death? Look to Jesus – He’s already been there and has some great news for you! He has taken all the punishment earned by sin for you and every other sinner, shedding His holy and innocent Blood to pay what you could not pay. And the good news is death could not hold Him. On Easter morning with His resurrection He destroyed the power of sin, death and the devil. And this He proclaims to you when a pastor, poured water upon your head in His Name and you became one with your savior Jesus in both His death and His Resurrection.
Are you weak? Come to Christ’s altar where a pastor places into your hand … the very body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you. Here you receive in with and under the bread and wine of His supper forgiveness for your sins and strength for your faith. This is as we sing a foretaste of the feast to come. Here, for you, is the Kingdom of God, it’s not distant, but comes to you this very moment.
God called Jonah to minister to a congregation that Jonah hated. In spite of the hatred, God worked repentance in their hearts and they received forgiveness for their sins. In spite of the failures of the apostles, Christ still sent them to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name and the Word of the Lord grew.
God still calls sinful men into the ministry. And in spite of all our shortcomings, when we are faithful to His word, the Christ we proclaim still forgives your sins and offers you eternal life. My friends, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
In His Name, Amen