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"One Greater Than Mrs. McCallister"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 18, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries

Listen (5-10mb)  Download (35-70mb)  Reflections

Text: Jonah 1

The McCallister family was just heading out on vacation. Who knows how long they had planned this trip. Who knows how much money they had spent on plane tickets, plane tickets to fly everyone to Paris over Christmas. Who knows how much they were looking forward to it. Who knows how their eight-year-old son, Kevin, got lost and left behind, home alone. When Mrs. McCallister, his mother, realizes this on the airplane halfway over the Atlantic, after the initial panic has passed, she becomes determined, undaunted, dead serious, about overcoming every obstacle to get through to her son. The vacation's over; the itinerary's out the window; mom is on a mission. That's the setup for the iconic Christmas movie from the year of our Lord 1990, Home Alone.

As soon as the airplane touches down in Paris, Mrs. McCallister gets right to work. She has the family call everyone they know. She goes on standby; she sells her jewelry; she even hitchhikes with a polka band. Whatever it takes, she's going to get through. Halfway through the film, she says to the beleaguered attendant behind the airline ticket desk, "I've been awake for almost 60 hours. I'm tired and I'm dirty. I've been from Chicago to Paris to Dallas. I don't care if I have to get out there on your runway and hitchhike. If it costs me everything I own, I'm going to get to my son." With no less urgency, with no less tenacity or clarity about what must be done, even more undaunted, determined, and dead serious, the God who created the universe and everything in it is on a mission to get through to you, to me, to everyone. He will overcome any obstacle, go any distance, pay any price, do whatever it takes because He's a loving Father. He's created you; He's created me; He's created everyone to be His beloved children.

Some people think though that God is indifferent. That if He is like a parent, He's the kind that never shows up—the kind that doesn't even really care. Other people think that God is judgmental. If He is like a parent, He's the controlling, abusive kind—the kind that you can't wait to get away from. Angry, indifferent, repellent—that's what many people think God is like, but the Jewish Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, in whose Name today to you I speak, He lived to give a different portrait of God.

In one of His most famous parable teachings, Jesus portrays God as a loving father who runs to meet his lost son. Jesus teaches that God is a loving Father who will overcome every obstacle to get through to His children. Jesus taught this portrait of God, but Jesus isn't just another human teacher. He's the Son of God. He's the eternal Word of God who became a human being for the sake of the mission of God. Jesus enacted God's mission. He got tired and dirty and bloody for God's mission, even gave His life into the jaws of the devil for the mission. On the cross, He covered all and suffered all and carried all and rose from the dead to save all, even greater than Mrs. McCallister. The God and Father of Jesus, He's on a mission to get through to you, to me, to everyone.

This is the portrait of God that we get in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. When you start to see God, the undaunted, determined, dead serious love of God in Jesus, by faith you start to see Him everywhere else, even when it feels like the world is against you. Perhaps no one learned this better than the prophet Jonah. The Old Testament book of Jonah may be one of the best known books of the Bible. As Patricia Hampl wrote, Jonah is the story known in the bones. The story you can't remember ever not knowing. For as well as we might think we know the book of Jonah, Dr. Reed Lessing, in his commentary on the book, makes an important observation in that most people think that the book of Jonah is a double act. For example, how would you finish these pairings Noah and the ark, Moses and pharaoh, David and Goliath, Jonah and the ... did you say whale? Or maybe fish, depending on the translation. That's the common understanding.

Did you know that in the book of Jonah that large marine creature, whatever it is, it's only mentioned three times. Jonah's name is mentioned 18 times. In this brief book of only 48 verses God, the Lord God of Israel, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Jesus is mentioned 39 times. Jonah isn't a book about a man and a fish, it's about God, the true God, and one of His children, and by extension—all of His children. Jesus Himself says as much. Jesus compared His life and His mission to that of Jonah's. He said, as it's recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew chapter 12, Jesus said, "Just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so also the Son of Man" (that is, Jesus) "so also the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, because one greater than Jonah is here."

Both the life of Jesus and Jonah center on events that we would normally consider impossible. One man survives three days and three nights submerged in a pool of living death. The other is raised from the dead on the third day. Impossible as far as we're concerned, but not as far as God is concerned. God, with His Word, created everything out of nothing; to bring life out of death is no trouble for Him.

The important thing to remember is that these miraculous events, they're not a circus; they're not a sideshow. God's not trying to impress us, like spectators. What you see in the life of Jesus and Jonah is the impossible, incredible, inexplicable love of God the Father who will do whatever it takes to get through to His children. That's exactly how the book of Jonah starts. God's working to get through to people He created to be His beloved children. In some ways, the book is not about Jonah at all. It's about the people to whom Jonah is sent. It's the people of that great city Nineveh. It's about the people in your town, in your city, people whom you pass by every day, people you don't particularly care for, people who are different than you, people lost in their impulsiveness, opinionated people, ignorant people, violent people. The life of Jesus and the life of Jonah are about those people: people whom God loves as lost children. People whom God pursues in love, determined, undaunted, dead serious on a mission to get through to all of them. That's where Jonah is not so sure. Maybe you can relate to him.

Now, at this point in the story, we don't know exactly what Jonah's issue is. He might be afraid to go into that city, to those people. He might think that they don't deserve a second chance. Whatever it is, Jonah doesn't want to be with God on His mission. He doesn't want to get dirty and tired and bloody for that mission, so he runs away. God pursues, to get through to him, to get through to you, to get through to everyone. Listen to how it goes in the first chapter of the book of Jonah.

The Word of the Lord, the God of Israel, the great I am. The Word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai saying, "Arise and go to Nineveh, that great city and call out against it because their evil has come up before me." Jonah arose to flee, to Tarshish, the opposite direction away from the presence of the Lord. Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. After he paid the price, he went aboard and sailed to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break apart. And all the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. They threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. Jonah had gone down into the depths of the ship where he laid down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain came and said to him, "How can you sleep? Get up, call on your God. Who knows? Maybe that God of yours will have compassion on us and we won't perish."

The sailors said to one another, "Come on! Let's cast lots and find out who is responsible for bringing this evil upon us." They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. They said to him, "Tell us, please, who's responsible for bringing this evil on us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What's your country? From what people are you?"

Jonah said, "I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven who made the sea and the land." The men were afraid with a great fear and said to him, "What have you done?" See, they knew that he was running from the presence of the Lord because he had already told them so. They asked Him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?" For the sea was getting more and more tempestuous. Jonah answered, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm for you. For I know that it is on my account that this great storm has come upon you."

Instead, the men did their best to row back to land, but they could not, because the sea grew even wilder than before. The sailors cried out to the Lord, "O Lord, do not let us perish because of this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, because You are the Lord and You do just as You please." They lifted Jonah up and they hurled him into the sea. And the raging sea grew calm. The sailors worshiped the Lord with a great worship, and they offered sacrifices to the Lord, and they made vows to Him. Then the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

Years ago, I knew a man who felt like God was chasing him. This man was pursuing something in the world. He was looking for something, but never quite finding it. One day, he handed me a little book, a book that could fit in the palm of your hand. He said it was a poem. He said it haunted him. The poem was titled, "The Hound of Heaven." It was written by Francis Thompson in 1893. The speaker in the poem is running from God, and God is pursuing him, hunting him, hounding him with deliberate speed, unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace. The man is vaguely aware of God's love for him, but he thinks that if he turns to God completely, he's going to miss out on something, he'll lose something he might've found in the world. What he's only starting to realize is that the world belongs to God. The world is in some ways opposed to God, but in another way, even the world is in league with God. Because nothing in the world will give this man shelter; nothing in the world will give this man contentment; nothing will give him love, because true shelter, true contentment, and true love can only be found in the God who created the world.

When a person runs from God, when I run from God, when you run from God, you'll feel that the world is always just one step ahead of you. Just out of reach. With that in mind, you can see that the book of Jonah isn't just another fish story. It's the real life testimony of a man who tried to run from God. In this account, Jonah experiences firsthand how the whole universe answers the call of God. The wind, the whale, even the little worm serves God. The sun, the shade, and the sea obey God. Even death bows to God.

The thing to remember as you listen to the book of Jonah ... and do that, go listen to it, go read the whole thing this week. The thing to remember is that all these miraculous events—they're not a circus; they're not a side show; it's not God trying to impress us as spectators. It's about God pursuing us. Pursuing us, not like innocent children who accidentally got left home alone, but rebels who've run away from home. It's about God pursuing us, not with the panic of a frantic parent, but with deliberate speed, unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace of a Father who sent His Son to be lifted up, thrown into the storm, and swallowed in the jaws of death so that He could get through to us.

Now, if you go back and re-watch that movie, Home Alone, you might wonder why Mrs. McCallister loves her son, Kevin, as she does. Because Kevin is basically an evil genius with a budding penchant for inflicting pain on his fellow human beings. The prophet Jonah knew the legendary cruelty of the people of Nineveh, but they got nothing on Kevin McCallister. He sends his victims hot irons in the face, a nail through the foot, a blow torch burning the head. You go watch the movie again. Even if you don't agree that Kevin McCallister may very well be the most brilliant on-screen villain of all time, the kid, as far as empathy for humanity is concerned, isn't what you would call "lovable." All of which makes his mother's love the more profound, when you think about it. One greater than Mrs. McCallister is here, and if you're ready to stop running from Him and turn into His arms, pray with me.

Dear Father, why You love us is beyond us. We have not given as You have freely given to us. We have not made room for others as You have made room for us. We have not loved as You first love us. Our hard hearts do not break for Your lost children—not like Your heart. And so, pursue us, that we may join in Your loving pursuit of others through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.

Reflections for April 18, 2021

Title: One Greater Than Mrs. McCallister

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to Now back to our Speaker Dr. Michael Zeigler.

Michael Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. I'm visiting with Dr. Bob Kolb today. He's the author of more than a dozen books focusing on the Christian faith as seen through the lens of the Reformation, especially the writings of Martin Luther. Welcome, Dr. Kolb.

Robert Kolb: Thank you, Michael. It's great to be back with you.

Michael Zeigler: Well, today is the 500th anniversary of the day when Martin Luther was brought before the highest political and church authorities of the day, under guard, brought to the town of German city of Worms. That's how we say it, right?

Robert Kolb: Worms.

Michael Zeigler: Worms. Good. And he was already by this time in 1521 a pretty well-known public figure in Germany and seen by many as a notorious heretic. What was it that Luther was teaching that caused such a stir? What was at the heart of his message?

Robert Kolb: Well, he was just redefining what it means to be a Christian. And that was major, because the whole society was based on being Christian. He was raised in a society that believed that to get right with God you had to perform good works and especially ritual good works. You had to go through the religious motions that would make God think that you were on His side. That put a terrible burden on Luther because he had a great fear of a wrathful God. Even before Worms in 1512, he'd gotten his doctor's degree. Essentially, he had taken an oath to teach the Scriptures. And that's how he really came to realize that Scripture was presenting a different picture of being Christian than that with which he had grown up.

That's wrote drove Luther to issue his 95 Theses. But people read into that what was behind his thinking by this time, namely, that that old ritualistic system that depended on the local priest to get you into contact with God was not the way the Bible talked about God. God comes to us. He doesn't wait for our actions in His direction. God comes to us through His Word; it's a Word that brings Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection to us.

And so, Luther was shaking the very foundations of society when he raised these kinds of questions about what it meant to be a Christian.

Michael Zeigler: He was redefining what it means to be a Christian, and that was to trust in God's Word, take God at His Word, His promises in Jesus. That's what it means to be a Christian.

Robert Kolb: And that was really redefining who God is. God is at His heart a merciful God who was also redefining who we are. We are basically people who trust and depend and have confidence in what Christ has done for us. And because we have that confidence that He's given us the gift of righteousness, we act righteously.

Michael Zeigler: In Luther's teaching on the book of Jonah, it's right there at the beginning in chapter 1 when all the sailors are crying out to their own gods because of the storm, Luther says this: "Some think one way about God; others think another way. But the only true form of God is for us to grasp Him by faith," or by trust like you said, namely, to learn that God is always a well-disposed, a kind Father, a Father of mercies. How does that statement touch on what you were saying earlier about the core, the heart of Luther's teaching?

Robert Kolb: We might be tempted to say Jesus Christ is the center of Luther's teaching, the core, but the Father of mercies, the merciful Father exhibited His mercy in Christ. So Christ is hidden in this quote. He's there behind it. We often hear that that his relationship with his parents wasn't all that good. But I think his relationship with his parents must've been much better than a lot of scholars have tried to make it, because he did see God as a father. And he did understand that fathers sacrifice, fathers give, fathers are there to support and embrace and to train and to cultivate the right kind of life for their kids. This really gets, I think, to the heart and core of his understanding of God at His heart and core that for all the times we experience Him as angry, for all the times we know that He's not liking at all what we have done and are afraid of what He might think of us. God is behind all that, this well-disposed Father, Father of mercies.

Michael Zeigler: And we can know that regardless of what kind of relationship any of us may have had with our earthly parents, we can know that because of Jesus Christ. That's how Jesus has revealed God.

Robert Kolb: I once asked my pastor at the time if I should really talk about God as Father, because I knew I had some students who had not had good relationships with their fathers. And he said his experience in teaching seventh- and eighth-graders was that those who did come from homes that were less than ideal and who hadn't had a good image of a father often had a better image of God as Father than those of us who had just good fathers.

Michael Zeigler: By means of contrast.

Robert Kolb: Yes, yes. And so, I think that image is an image that becomes far more frequent in Jesus' words than in the words of most of the prophets, but that it really does capture the ideal we have because we recognize the need for good parenting. And even if we haven't experienced it, we recognize how the world really works on the basis of the way our parents raise us. And that means on the basis of the way our Heavenly father has exercised his goodness in our lives.

Michael Zeigler: Thank you for joining us today.

Robert Kolb: It's been a pleasure.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

(CANADA ONLY) "Let Songs of Praise Fill the Sky" by J.S. Bach. From Let All Together Praise by the Cathedral Singers (© 1997 GIA Publications, Inc.)

"With High Delight" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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