And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Now that I have your attention! The daily lectionary readings this past week are from Nehemiah. The narrative of a the Persian King Artaxerxes’ cupbearer Nehemiah, a Jew. He was Jew with his fellow countrymen in exile. By God’s will, he returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Those walls were not primarily to keep foreigners out, just the opposite, from King Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication of the Temple, 2 Chronicles 6: 32-33:
32 “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, 33 hear from heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.
The walls of Jerusalem remind me of “The Mighty Fortress is our God”. Jerusalem was a physical reminder of the Lord, our Mighty Fortress. Israel learned in exile that their strength is the Lord. In Chapter 9, the people of Israel confess their sins including these closing verses of their confession:
Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. 35 Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works. 36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.
Israel confessed they were slaves in their own land because of the heavy taxation. They were heavily taxed because their forefathers did not turn from their “wicked works”. Maybe we are “slaves” in our own land, a land “amid Your great goodness that you gave…” to our forefathers, not only in taxation but we are enslaved to our own desires, passions and selves in the land of the selfie. We are no longer thankful for what we have and only pray to have more. Slavery of body and soul is both evil but slavery of the soul to money has eternal repercussions: See Luke 16 and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. O Lord, we confess our sin as we confess that You are Lord and Lord alone, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
The following quote is from Dr. Luther’s Sermon preached on the 1st Sunday after Trinity, 1535. The sermon text is St. Luke: 16: 19-31, “The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus”. Dr. Luther understood this parable as a warning against greed:
“…this warning spoken for the sake of the Pharisees on that occasion availed as little as do warnings addressed to rich and arrogant people of the world today. Unfortunately, as we know, such people most often think themselves pious and without greed. Vice has been turned into virtue. Greed nowadays has come to be viewed as talented, smart, careful stewardship. And as with greed, so sin in general is dressed up to look like virtue and not vice. Murder and harlotry, perhaps, are still considered sinful in some quarters, but other sins have in general come to be viewed more as virtues than vices. That is particularly the case with greed, now so dressed up and polished as no longer to be denominated as such. Neither prince nor peasant, nobleman nor average citizen is any longer considered greedy, but only upstanding, the common consensus being that the man who prudently provides for himself is a resourceful person who knows how to take care of himself.
The same holds true for other sins: Pride is no longer pride, or sin, but honor. The proud man is no longer deemed arrogant but honorable, a commanding person, worthy of respect, a credit to his generation. Anger and envy are no longer that, or sin, but righteousness, zealousness, and virtue. The man who storms, or is envious, or who loses his cool is now considered industrious, with a passion for what is fair, and justly angry when high-handed injustice is done to him. Thus there are no more sinners in the world, but—God have mercy!—the world is full of holy people. In Seneca’s words, when this happens, that vice is turned into virtue and honor, there no longer is hope or a way out; everything is lost.”
5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant[b] and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.[c] So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
General Intro to Commemorations of Old Testaments: The introduction of Old Testament saints into the cycle of commemorations in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is most welcome because it is most Biblical. We may not think of the Old Testament worthies as “Saint”, but that is not so. Hebrews 11 has been called the “hall of heroes”, or the roll-call of the saints in Christ and all of them as recorded in the Old Testament! In the Eastern Orthodox Church, they put “St.” in front of the OT saints, so: St. Jonah! It is these saints who first cheer us on and encourage us saints in Christ Jesus to persevere, as recorded in Hebrews 12, the crescendo of the roll-call:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Now let’s look at St. Jonah:
A singular prophet among the many in the Old Testament, Jonah the son of Amittai was born about an hour’s walk from the town of Nazareth. The focus of his prophetic ministry was the call to preach at Nineveh, the capital of pagan Assyria(Jonah 1:2). His reluctance to respond and God’s insistence that His call be heeded is the story of the book that bears Jonah’s name. Although the swallowing and disgorging of Jonah by the great fish is the most remembered detail of his life, it is addressed in only three verses of the book (Jonah1:17; 2:1, 10). Throughout the book, the important theme is how God deals compassionately with sinners. Jonah’s three-day sojourn in the belly of the fish is mentioned by Jesus as a sign of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matthew12:39-41). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)
Many years ago, when I first read Jonah on my own, no longer in Sunday School, I was amazed by it! Now if you have not read it (it’s short, more like a short story).
Notice that in chapters 1-3, we are not told why Jonah runs away when the Lord called him to preach to the great capital of the Assyrian Empire, Ninevah. Oh, Jonah was reluctant prophet, we were taught. Yes, he was, but reluctance is the result, not the cause. We are not told why he was reluctant.
When Ninevah, from the King down, repents, the Lord forgives and changes His mind about His judgment towards them. The Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from their evil to the Lord and live (see Ezekiel 33:11).
So Jonah, after Ninevah’s repentance unto life in the Lord’s grace, parks himself outside of the great city and we are told he is angry. Dr. Reed Lessing (professor OT, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in his commentary Jonah), points out that the 4 times the word anger appears (really: infuriated), it is in the last chapter and it’s subject is Jonah! Why was he angry? Finally, after all the action in the first 3 chapters we find out that his anger is coupled with the reason why he fled to Tarshish and away from the Lord’s call, from Dr. Reed’s translation:
“For this reason I previously fled toward Tarshish because I knew you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in loyal love, and changing your verdict about evil.”
Jonah fled because of God’s grace! He fled because He did not destroy the Gentile Assyrians! Jonah’s true confession of the Faith (“…you are a gracious and merciful God, etc.) becomes in Jonah’s heart and mouth his accusation against the Lord!
When Jonah fled, maybe he thought he was in control of his own destiny. Maybe when Jonah preached God’s Word of Law, he thought he was in control: ‘Now Ninevah will get what’s coming to it”, and quite frankly that sounds like something I would think. Is your evil because I myself am good? (see Matthew 20:1: literal translation of the second question!). Yes.
Ask any congregation, ‘do you want to grow?’ and the answer is yes. But I would maintain we may not want this to happen to the point of those people joining who don’t deserve it like we do who have “…borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (Matthew 20: 12) and they receive the same, even the most wicked and at the 11th hour: the Lord’s free gift of grace to all who hunger and thirst, and repent and turn to the Lord (see Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20: 1-16/ Matthew 20 ). From Dr. Lessing’s commentary:
We simply stand under God’s overflowing grace like rain, allowing its cool refreshment to fill our dry cracks. Then we pick up the bucket and dump it on someone else. Grace flows from Yahweh not on those who attempt to earn it, but on those who confess their need for it. The Spirit-empowered response is then to share it. But Jonah is like the angry older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:28-30): he views God’s lavish welcome for undeserving sinners who repent as an insult to his “deserving” self. The prophet has yet to embrace the Law and Gospel character of God expressed in James 2:13: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
One last thought: Jonah ran away twice. The Lord never runs away and He sought Jonah twice and you as well and maybe more times than you can count! Blessed Jonah’s Day!
Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Jonah, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Prayer of the Day:
O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist. Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
About St. Matthew:
St. Matthew, also known as Levi, identifies himself as a former tax collector, one who was therefore considered unclean, a public sinner, outcast from the Jews. Yet it was such a one as this whom the Lord Jesus called away from his occupation and wealth to become a disciple (Matthew 9:9-13). Not only did Matthew become a disciple of Jesus, he was also called and sent as one of the Lord’s twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4). In time, he became the evangelist whose inspired record of the Gospel was granted first place in the ordering of the New Testament. Among the four Gospels, Matthew’s portrays Christ especially as the new and greater Moses, who graciously fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew5:17) and establishes a new covenant of salvation in and with His own blood (26: 27-28). Matthew’s Gospel is also well-known for the following:
The Visit of the Magi (2: 1-12)
The Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes and The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5-7)
The Institution of Holy Baptism and the most explicit revelation of the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28: 16-20).
Tradition is uncertain where his final field of labor was and whether Matthew died naturally or a martyr’s death. In celebrating this festival, we therefore give thanks to God that He has mightily governed and protected His Holy church through this man who was called and sent by Christ to serve the sheep of His pastures with the Holy Gospel.
St. Matthew was an excellent, noble man–not only one of the 12 fountains of consolation, the apostle of Jesus Christ of paradise, a holy evangelist, whose words flowed from the great fountain in paradise, Jesus Christ. He not only praised the Lord in his heart and with his tongue but also put his quill to paper and wrote his account as a memorial…pay attention so that everything in and about you is directed toward the glory of the Lord, according to David’s example in Psalm 103:2. In the kingdom of God it is said…”Strive with every skill and word, to please your Savior, Christ the Lord.” None of the other evangelists described the history of the Lord Jesus to such an extent as Matthew. He also has many beautiful passages that cannot be found in the others.
Here the Lord Jesus says (Matthew 11:27-29), “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
And again (Matthew 18:19-21), “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”
And in Matthew 28:19-20, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
These three passages, which should cause the legs of all devout Christians to run quickly to the Church, were written only by Matthew.
(Quotes above from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)
Reflection: One word that can not be found in the other three Gospels is “church”. The two times the word “Church” is spoken is by the Lord:
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
The context of the first passage is Peter’s Confession of Jesus as “Christ, the Son of the living God”. The second is our Lord’s preaching on the forgiveness of sins. The two passages are intimately related. At the heart of the Church is the confession of Faith: You are Christ, the Son of the living God”and it is upon this Word that Christ builds His Church. Flowing forth from Christ, the true Temple (John 2:21) are the rivers of God’s forgiveness (John 7:38) which forms the Church day by day in His Presence and by His grace. It is also significant that in all four Gospels that St. Matthew’s begins and ends in Baptism: the Lord’s Baptism in the river Jordan and the Lord’s command and promise to baptize in God’s Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Holy Baptism formally ends the written Gospel of St. Matthew but by no means does the Gospel end! As the Lord said recorded in the last chapter of Matthew that His Baptism goes to the ends of the earth! We have brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Siberia, Germany etc, etc. Gospel (written, preached, taught and administered in the Sacraments) and Church and Baptism are all one Christ as He builds His Church. These are the means, the living tools of the Holy Spirit to build us up in His Church.
From Matthew Henry’s (Born: October 18, 1662, Died: June 22, 1714) Complete Commentary:
Eve’s being made after Adam, and out of him, puts an honor upon that sex, as the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7). If man is the head, she is the crown…. The man was dust refined, but the woman was dust double-refined, one removed further from the earth. [She was] not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.
Cyprian (A.D. ca. 200–258), was acclaimed bishop of the north African city in Carthage around 248.During the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decius, Cyprian fled Carthage but returned two years later. He was then forced to deal with the problem of Christians who had lapsed from their faith under persecution and now wanted to return to the Church. It was decided that these lapsed Christians could be restored but that their restoration could take place only after a period of penance that demonstrated their faithfulness. During the persecution under Emperor Valerian, Cyprian at first went into hiding but later gave himself up to the authorities. He was beheaded for the faith in Carthage in the year 258. (From the LCMS website)
Regarding his martyrdom, from The Penguin Dictionary of Saints: “When persecution began again in 258, under Emperor Valerian, St Cyprian was one of the first victims. There is an account of what happened compiled directly from contemporary documents. Cyprian was first examined by the proconsul, and on affirming his adherence to the one true God, and refusing to divulge the names of his priests, he was exiled to Curubis. When a new proconsul came into office, Cyprian was brought up for trial in Carthage. He again refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, and was sentenced to death. Accompanied by a tumultuous crowd, he was led to the field of Sextus; there he knelt in prayer. He gave a generous gift to the executioner, blindfolded himself, and his head was struck off.”