What They Needed To Hear

Sermon Text – 02.17.2019
[Jonah 3:3-10]

          There’s an old story that most of you have probably heard, but I think we need to hear it again this morning. It’s called the Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Anderson – I’ve simplified it for our purposes here.      A long time ago there was an Emperor who was very fond of new clothes and he spent all his money on being well dressed. He had a coat for every hour of the day, and only cared about showing off his new clothes. One day two swindlers came to town. Simply put they were con-artists. They told everyone they were weavers and they could weave the most magnificent fabric imaginable. Not only were their colors and patterns extraordinary, but their clothes were so fine that they were invisible to anyone who was unfit for their office, or anyone who was unusually stupid.  

          The Emperor heard about these weavers and their incredible fabric. He thought, “This is just the stuff for me, if I wore them I would be able to find out who is unfit for their post. I could tell wise men from the fools.” He paid the swindlers a large sum of money to start working at once. They set up two looms and pretended to weave, but there was nothing on the looms. The whole town knew about the cloth’s peculiar power, and they were excited to find out how stupid their neighbors were. The Emperor sent his one of his officials – go and tell me how fine the material is. The official looked at the looms, but couldn’t see anything. He wondered, “Could it be that I am a fool?” So the official lied, “It’s beautiful, it’s enchanting.” This went on. The swindler’s taking the money, and various officials lying about what they could see so they wouldn’t seem stupid or unfit for office. Eventually the Emperor himself went to see the glorious fabric and new clothing. He went with a whole crowd of people. And, of course, he couldn’t see a thing, and he thought to himself, “Am I a fool? Unfit to be the Emperor?” And so he, like everyone else, lied. It’s incredible fabric, it’s magnificent. And so on. The con artists pretended to cut and sew and craft the new clothes. They told the Emperor, “Your new clothes are ready.”


          They held up nothing, as if they were holding up a cloak, and told him, “they are light as a spider’s web, one would almost think he had nothing on, but that’s what makes them so fine.” Everyone agreed. The Emperor put on his new clothes, which is to say, he stood there naked in front of everyone and was showered with compliments. What a magnificent outfit, incredible, beautiful, etc, etc. By now the entire town was abuzz about the Emperor’s incredible new clothes that could only be seen if you were smart or fit for your job. So the Emperor went on a parade, and everyone in town went on and on about how fantastic the Emperor’s new clothes were. Until one little boy, with that beautiful child-like honesty said what everyone was thinking. “What beautiful clothes? He hasn’t got anything on. The Emperor is naked.”
       Today we are continuing our series on the story of Jonah. Today I want to spend some time talking about accountability. What I realized this past week, when it comes to accountability, I have this suspicion that we are all the Emperor. There are times when I think the church is just a like a room full of buck naked people pretending they are wearing the highest and finest of outfits. Parading around, completely naked, afraid to admit anything might be wrong, afraid to even say anything to anyone else, and trying really really hard not to look at someone else’s…um, “private business.” Today I want us to realize that there is a simple power in honesty, if we have the courage and compassion to use it.


  So we jump back into our story of Jonah and the whale, and you’d think that we are just about finished, but the truth is we’re only halfway there. First, Jonah gets eaten by the whale, does a little prayin’, then he gets, uh, deposited back on the shore. And now he’s got to do the job he was supposed to do two chapters ago. And it says, [read v.3-4]. So Jonah goes to Ninevah and warns them that God is upset and they need to change. Verse 5 continues, [read it]. Even the king gets involved, and makes a decree for the whole city, [read v.8-9]. And then the story ends, [read v.10]. Now, it’s a very simple story – fairly straightforward. But what I found when I looked a little closer is that this story is a step by step example of how repentance works. It’s a model for how we can turn back to God in our lives. Let’s break it down into four easy steps.
Step 1 – Realize your sin. Jonah shows up, proclaims the message God wanted people to hear, and verse five again, [read 5a]. They believed God. God said, I have a better way I want you to live, a righteous way. The way you are living right now is wrong and will lead to destruction. And they believed God. Now, I know that seems very simple, but I think in the modern world people have trouble with this. Moment of honesty, modern humanity does not want to believe in sin. They have trouble believing in Hell or punishment of any sort. They think, a loving God would never do that! So many people, even in the church, we like to turn up the compassion volume, and turn way down the judgment volume, so it’s barely even there. There’s a lot of rationalizing that goes into this. We spend a lot of time convincing ourselves that we are wearing beautiful clothing, that we’re actually really good people – when we are really standing there completely naked in front of God.  Let me see if I can show you what I mean. We all know that Jesus came to the earth so we could be connected to God and not have to live legalistic lives anymore. And yet, Matthew 5 tells us [read v17]. Well let’s see what he means. Let’s take an example – murder. We all know murder is wrong. It’s a bad thing, and thankfully most of us haven’t done it. To be honest, it’s not that tempting – most of the time, except in football and politics, that’s a really easy rule to follow. But then Jesus says this, [read verse 22]. According to Jesus, you don’t have to actually commit murder. If you commit it in your heart, you are subject to judgment. How about another easy example? Adultery. We all know that adultery is wrong, that’s easy. You get married, you park it in one garage for the rest of your life – that’s the deal. And that’s how Jesus starts, [read v 27]. You’ve all heard that, we all know that. [verse 28]. Can I have a moment of honesty with you? I have never cheated on my wife, [tap the bible], but according to this I have committed adultery. I stand before you a convicted murderer, a convicted adulterer, just to give two examples. I am a sinner, no better than the worst of humanity. And no amount of people telling me that it’s no big deal, everyone does it, it’s just the way our culture is nowadays – no amount of that will ever not make it a sin. Jesus came, and forgave us – that doesn’t lower the standards. It raises them. I don’t care what the world says is okay. I don’t care what your friends say is okay. I don’t care what the tv or politicians tell is you is morally okay. I only care what Jesus says is okay. Jesus came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. To raise us to a higher level, a divine level. And at that level, we cannot measure up. Step one is to realize your sin, recognize your brokenness, our helplessness. The Ninevites believed God.
Step 2 – strip away your pride. It says, [read verse 6]. The realization of sin in our lives is a humiliating thing. We bristle when someone suggests that we might not be perfect. We get indignant, outraged. I’m not going to lie to you, I did not want to get up here this morning and point out that you are all sinners, that we are all sinners. To be honest, I’m worried some of you may not come back next week – because I made you feel guilty, like your life might actually need change. But I can’t stand up here and lie to you, I can’t pretend you’re wearing fancy beautiful clothes when the truth is we are standing naked in front of God just as we are. The first thing the king does when he realizes his sin, is strip off all his fancy clothes, his robe, his crown. He puts on sackcloth. They all put on sackcloth – because it’s embarrassing, it’s an ugly outfit. They strip away their pride. Any false notion they had that they were better than the rest of the world, or better than each other. There’s a strange equality in realizing that we all come before God in the exact same way. From the highest official down to the lowest stable boy. From the Pope to Donald Trump our Bishop in the Methodist Church, to the drug addict down the road to me to each of you. We all come before God in the same way. We have to strip off our pride, and realize that we can’t do this alone. Step one – realize your sin. Step two – strip away your pride. Step three – Call on God.

The decree in verse 8 continues, [read 8b]. Call on God. This is my favorite part. Yes, God calls us to holiness. Yes, we all fail and sin and screw up the perfection God would have us live. But then there’s step three. Give up your evil ways, and your violence and call on God. I love it because it says call “urgently.” Once you realize the sin in your life, once you begin to see it, and how much it covers everything we do in the world – we can’t call on God fast enough. We want sin OUT of our lives! I remember a story I heard about my grand-father-in-law. He was listening to the radio, when my mother-in-law was a kid. And they were just starting to figure out how bad cigarettes were for you, and there was a public service announcement explaining second hand smoke and how it effects your kids. And he looked at the kids in the car, and threw the pack out the window – never smoked again. I’m not saying smoking is a sin, but that ability, once you find out something is bad for you, to just walk away from it and never look back. Call urgently on God, give up the sin in your life. Verse 9 [read it]. Step four, which is really just more step 3 – is to enter hope. As Christians we are given the promise of redemption. We know that when we repent, God is waiting to forgive. We call on God and we can enter into hope. Because we know that God is merciful and forgiving. Sin keeps us away from God, and I know as a Father, anything that would keep me from my child would make me angry. So yeah, sin makes God angry. But if we realize our sin, strip off our pride, call on God for forgiveness – we know that God will relent and with compassion turn from his anger and forgive. Step 1 – realize your sin. Step 2 – strip off your pride. Step 3 – call on God. Step 4 – enter into hope. Repentance in four easy steps, as shown to us by the people of Nineveh.


           So that’s the good news for us today – God relents, God forgives us when we repent. What’s beautiful about this whole forgiveness thing is that modern Christians have so much more confidence. Jonah is in the old Testament, and the king of Nineveh – he doesn’t know much about God. He doesn’t know just how compassionate and merciful God is in the face of repentance. We know more about God than he did at that time in history. Verse 9 he says, “Who knows? God MAY yet relent.” But because of the story of Jesus, because we have seen just how far God will go to free us from sin in our lives and bring us into glory – we know! The king of Nineveh asks, “who knows? God may yet relent. But we know! We know that God will relent. God will forgive in the face of true repentance. And we can take it even farther. In our darkest moments, when we realize our sin – sometimes we think we are beyond saving. But there is nothing in your past that can keep you away from God’s forgiveness. If we repent, lay our sins, our past life at the feet of Jesus – there is nothing that can keep you away from God’s forgiveness. I have a colleague who loves to say, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Or as Romans says it [Romans 8:38-39]. If Christ Jesus is your lord, then you are forgiven, wholly and completely. God forgives us, and then he guides us into the rest of our lives. We can walk down the path of righteousness because Jesus is there to guide us.

          So that’s the beginning of our application. As they said in Jonah – give up your evil ways. Be forgiven. It starts with recognizing our sin. With realizing who we are and the status of our soul. Then we strip away our pride. Give up your evil ways – well, I don’t have any evil ways. Yeah you do. Let go of the idea that you are better than the rest of humanity. No matter what you tell yourself – you are walking around naked before God just like the rest of us, your highness the Emperor. We strip away our pride, put on the sackcloth of equality and call out to God. Then we enter hope, because we have assurance of forgiveness through faith in Jesus. It’s just good stuff. First part of the application – give up your evil ways and be forgiven.  
           And it would be so great if I could just stop right there. Call the worship team up, get out of here a little bit early…but I can’t. Because there’s one more step in our walk with God. Four steps to repentance, and then step number five – accountability. So much of Christianity, so much of what we find in most churches is worried about our sins – focused on just us. We’re like a football team that never hikes the ball. We just go the church, the holy huddle, talk about how great it is that God loves us and then go back to the bench. And then next week, we come to Church, huddle up with the other Christians, talk about how great it is that God loves us, and then go back to bench. I’m not a big football guy, but I’m pretty sure you never score any points that way. Part 1 – give up your evil ways, be forgiven. Part 2 – is to spread that forgiveness. We call it accountability. There’s three parts to this final step.
          First, after you give up your sin – you INVITE others to give up theirs. Key word there is invite. Let’s be honest here – accountability is hard. Trying to help someone, especially when they don’t want to be helped, is hard. It has to be an invitation, you can’t force someone to come to God. They’ve tried in the past, it doesn’t work. In our culture in the modern world, you start telling them that they need to change their lives – they’ll label you as judgmental and you’re gonna get the New York Peace Sign minus one, more commonly known as flipping the bird. They don’t want to hear it. Even if you’re right, even if they KNOW you’re right. Especially when they know you’re right. They don’t want to hear it, and they will dig in their heels. Whether they are a Christian who has lost their way, or they’ve never known about Jesus – you cannot force someone to repent and change their life for the better. It has to be an invitation. And even though it’s really hard, and awkward and uncomfortable – we have to offer that invitation. Not because we judge them, but because we love them and we want them to know the love of Jesus too. First we INVITE others to repent. Second, you need to find a method that works. Jonah used proclamation, he walked through the streets yelling about God’s wrath. Little hint – that doesn’t work anymore. It’s about as convincing as a political facebook post – just makes people angry. We need to figure out how to proclaim in the modern world. I can’t tell you how this works, because it’s different for everyone. Some people need compassion and support, some people need a little tough love with firm boundaries and still others need persistent reminders, little nudges that build momentum – and some people need all three at different times. Step one – it has to be an invitation. Step two – try different methods to bring people to God. The third and final step – bring in the Holy Spirit. I think the reason most Christians are afraid of accountability is that they don’t want to fail. They invite someone to church one time, and when they say no – hands off, they give up. But we need to have endurance, do everything we can, and in the end – leave it to the Holy Spirit. You cannot change someone’s heart, but when you invite the Holy Spirit, God might just work through you to bring someone out of the pit and into the light. Think about it this way – you could be the reason a marriage stays together, you could be the reason someone walks away from drugs, or gets a job and keeps it. You could be the reason someone gets to spend eternity in paradise. It’s not really you, but if you call on the Holy Spirit –  God works through you to reach their lives. Once we have stepped into repentance, dealt with our sin – we have the opportunity to spread that forgiveness to those around us.

Accountability. It’s hard to do – nobody likes to point out someone else’s problems, someone else’s sin. Nobody wants to be the guy that says, “Hey Emperor, you’re naked.” And yet, the alternative is that we all walk around naked, and pretend we don’t notice. Repentance is not an easy message, but it’s what they needed to hear. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you repent of your sins. May you walk in forgiveness. And most importantly, may you share that forgiveness with those around you in your life. Amen.  

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