Ninevite Lives Matter: A Sermon for the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

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“Then 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 3:1).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
This week, there were many posts on social media about the “Minneapolis Miracle,” the improbable finish of the Vikings’ playoff game against the Saints. But one of the best was by Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. It pictured the Vikings’ logo with the caption: “If you made any promises during the last ten seconds, Sunday masses are at…” and then listed their worship schedule.
Now, I’m not going to ask if any of you made such promises last Sunday. But there is an element of truth, isn’t there? We can make a lot of promises to the Lord when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. Stuck in the belly of a large fish, Jonah had made his own vow. And now it seems it is time for him to pay up. Perhaps the bedraggled, seaweed-draped, vomit-stained, and traumatized prophet will be a bit more receptive to the Word of the Lord this time!
“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.’”
Our text describes Nineveh as “an exceedingly great city.” Nineveh was a city great in power, culture, and size, the New York City or London of its day. The city also contained heathen temples, magnificent palaces, parks, gardens, and, later (650 BC), the famous library of Ashurbanipal, with more than 100,000 volumes. It was the last capital city of Assyria, the largest Gentile power at that time. Here were stationed the fierce troops and swift cavalry of the king. The citizens of Nineveh felt secure behind its massive walls—100 feet high and broad enough for three chariots to be driven abreast on the roadway running along the top.
In chapter 4, the Lord says “there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left.” Many commentators interpret this as children under the age of seven (too young to distinguish between right and left). Since this age group normally comprises about one fifth of the population of a city, Nineveh may have sheltered over 600,000 people. The eternal loss of so great a number is of greatest concern to the compassionate Lord.
“Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey, proclaiming, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Like a dry haystack into which a pine-knot torch is thrown, Nineveh exploded into repentance. The Ninevites were moved wholeheartedly to trust in the Lord. Christ’s words in Matthew 12:41 confirm the sincerity of their response. Jesus declares that “the men of Nineveh will arise” on Judgment Day and “will condemn” those who do not believe in Him. This statement by our Lord only makes sense if the Ninevites became true believers in the triune God, believers who are justified by grace alone and through faith alone.
If I were to ask most Christians, “What’s the greatest miracle found in the Book of Jonah?” they’d probably say, “Jonah surviving in the belly of a huge fish three days and three nights.” Now, don’t get me wrong, that was incredible, but it takes a distant second to what happened in Nineveh. The greatest miracle in Jonah is that, even though a reluctant prophet preached only a few words to a violent, pagan city, all the citizens there believed in the Lord. Every Ninevite, from the greatest to the least, took Jonah’s message to heart. They didn’t just put on an outward show or give God lip service. They humbled themselves before the Lord, fasted and prayed and turned from their evil ways. “Who knows,” said the king of Nineveh, “perhaps the Lord will change His mind and not destroy us.” And that’s what happened. When God saw their repentance, He had compassion on them and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened. What a miracle!
Do you see the irony here? The great city of Nineveh was restored because of the preaching of a reluctant prophet who himself had received God’s mercy. Even though Jonah didn’t want to share God’s Word at first, thank God, he did, for the results were astounding. And the fact is, when you share Jesus with others, you never know what the results are going to be. God may not convert a whole city through your words (not even little Trosky or Jasper or Pipestone), but He may transform an entire family, a circle of friends, or someone from the next generation who will simply be used by God as another link in His chain of grace.
I love this account, because the Lord is simply showing us that if Nineveh can repent, anybody can repent! For, as He is reminding us here, it is not we who bring about repentance; repentance comes through the Word of the Lord, which is more powerful than anything we could say of ourselves. This is important to keep in mind because sometimes we catch ourselves evaluating both others and ourselves, don’t we? We think, I know I should talk to this or that person about Jesus, share my faith with her or invite him to church, but what good would it do? And who am I to be able to persuade her? She would never become a Christian.
Perhaps we assume they’re too evil, too out of control, too promiscuous, too angry, too damaged, or too self-absorbed ever to follow Jesus. And we are too judgmental, too weak, too powerless, too incompetent, too clumsy in our speech to proclaim successfully His salvation. Sometimes it’s easier to label or disregard people than to reach out to them with Jesus. We may see ourselves as being helpless. But to God, these are possibilities. He doesn’t love just you and me; He loves all people! Jesus’ death on the cross paid for the sins of the whole world. In His great mercy God wants to save all that run away from him—not only Jonah, but also the Ninevites! So don’t worry about what you’re going to say to people. Those Ninevites didn’t become followers of the Lord because of Jonah’s expertise or because his sermon was so great. It was the Word of the Lord!
 God didn’t show grace to Jonah just to save Jonah; He did so to save the people of Nineveh, too. God planned to use Jonah’s preaching to bring the Ninevites to repentance and save them from destruction. Yes, Jonah’s life matters to God; but Ninevite lives matter, too!
So, how does this apply to you and me, on a day in which we are observing the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday? What does Jonah and the great fish, the Ninevites and Jonah’s reluctant preaching, have to do with you and me?
In many ways, you and I are just as guilty as Jonah, too afraid of what others might think that we fail to speak up for the weak and helpless, so self-righteous that we fail to reach out to others with the grace and mercy that God has bestowed upon us. Maybe even more than a little afraid that God will not punish the Ninevites, that they, too, might experience God’s mercy and grace.
Who are our Ninevites? First, there are those Ninevites who literally cannot tell their right hand from their left. The unborn, those little ones in the womb who are considered by some to be disposable because of inconvenience, cost, or perceived lack of quality of life. Then there are the aged and infirm, those nearing the end of life or suffering the ravages of dementia or other disease, those precious souls that some say should be eliminated for the sake of society, or even their own sake, because they no longer have a certain “quality of life.”
Then, there are those who cannot tell their right hand from their left morally or ethically because the sinful world has muddied the water so much with double-speak and political correctness. They’ve been led astray by a world that calls evil “good,” the decision to kill the unborn “a woman’s right to choose,” euthanasia “death with dignity.” There’s the couple who is not told all of the moral and ethical aspects of various procedures that could help them conceive a child. The man or woman who is now feeling the weight of guilt over a past abortion decision.    
Those are the Ninevites for whom we might be able to muster up a little compassion, some level of tolerance. Many are victims of others, caught in their own weaknesses, and at least they’re not trying to push their agenda on us.
But there are also those Ninevites who we find impossible to love, who make our blood boil. It could be the director of Planned Parenthood who raises my blood pressure every time I hear her speak. The doctor who sneaks into town twice a month to perform abortions. The radical feminist who accuses me of trying to take away one of her most important “rights.” The pragmatic politician who is “personally opposed to abortion” but “supports the woman’s right to choose.” The out-of-state group that hides its true agenda in misleading ballot initiatives. The research group grabbing for money by promising cures using embryonic stem cells. The abortion provider who increases profits by selling aborted baby parts.
There are times when I ask the Lord, “How long, Lord? How long are you going to let this go on? How long are you going to let this evil, this violence, this casual disregard for life go on? Why don’t You just come, take us believers to be with You, and sweep all the rest away. What’s taking You so long, Lord?
The Lord’s answer, in effect: Because Ninevite lives matter, too.
St. Peter expresses it more eloquently: “The Lord is not slow to keep His promises as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens and earth will be destroyed, and new heavens and a new earth will take its place in which righteousness and godliness dwells. As you await that day, live in the holiness and godliness that has already been given you in Christ through the water and Word of Holy Baptism. Purchased and won by Christ’s holy blood, His innocent suffering and death, you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteous, innocence, and blessedness.   
Having been saved yourself by God’s mercy, you reach out to the Ninevites! Ninevite lives matter to God, and they do to you! Having been given new life in Christ, you support the sanctity of all human life from womb to tomb. Having received forgiveness for Christ’s sake, you forgive others. Having been loved by God’s perfect love, you love others. Having received mercy, you show mercy. Having been blessed by God the Father in Jesus Christ, you bless those who curse you, and pray for those who can’t or won’t pray for themselves. Having been reconciled to God through Jesus, you have been given the message of reconciliation, and you seek to share it with others, often finding the opportunity to do so amid the most trying or inconvenient circumstances. 
And when you fail to love the Ninevites? For although you must love, you won’t always, not perfectly. Well, remember this: God’s grace covers all your sins—even those times you fail to love your Ninevite neighbor and show him or her mercy. Then, repent! Confess those sins. Daily put to death that pharisaic Old Adam through contrition and repentance, so that empowered by the Holy Spirit your new Christ-like man may rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Go out and love your Ninevite neighbor, believing that the Holy Spirit will give you the strength to do so, and trusting that all your less-than-stellar attempts to witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus are covered by the grace of Jesus Christ. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins. 
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen 
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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