Category: Sermon Notes

Sermon notes

RESET: The Ever-Loving Truth

Reset
“The Ever-Loving Truth”
(2 Peter 1:16-21)

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV)

One of the most staggering and memorable images of Jesus Christ’s passion took place in the great hall of Governor Pilate’s mansion. We read about this encounter in John 18, as Jesus stood before Pilate, the representative of all the power of the Roman empire and was being interrogated by him.

“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:37-38 ESV)

A part of the RESET we need to return to as a church and as believers today is an understanding and affirmation of The TRUTH. We live in a culture and among a people who have now rejected the concept of truth as a fixed, objective reality and therefore today we can justify just about anything. We need a reset of our understanding of truth to soak into our thinking as Christ followers that is distinct from the way the world around us sees it.

THE CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING OF TRUTH
1). Truth is relative, or fluid, and therefore so is morality
2). Truth is personal, and therefore allows for our individuality
3). Truth is unknowable, and therefore has no absolute authority

THE BIBLICAL UNDERSTANDING OF TRUTH
1). Truth is absolute, and therefore so is morality
2). Truth is objective, and therefore our preferences are subject to it
3). Truth is knowable, and therefore is not subject to opinion.

When you take the untrue things said about truth and layer them over everything that is happening today, you can see the effects of erosion in everything from morality, to education, to politics, to history, to philosophy and even to religion.

Several years ago, when Stephen Colbert’s show was just getting off the ground, he used a term to describe how people today see the truth. He called our new way of understanding truth, “truthiness.” It became Oxford American Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” in 2006. It beat out “bird flu” and “soduku.” “Truthiness” means that actual facts don’t matter. How we feel is what actually matters. American history is being rewritten today on the basis on “truthiness,” and not verifiable fact.

Again, as Christian people, we need to embrace and drill deeply into the foundation of God’s Word as our grounding of truth more than we ever have. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul tells us that when people reject the truth, they will believe a lie.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

We desperately want something solid to hold on to. The Word of God is that. But even Christian people have begun to neglect the reading and study of God’s Word in our day. Only about 32% of church going folks say they read the Bible every day. When God’s truth is not flowing through our veins, then lies begin to take root and grow: Lies about how we see God, how God sees us, how we see ourselves, and how we see the world.

Learning truth begins early. The other night, McCail watched a cartoon version of the creation story with her Aunt Allie. Thursday, Logan told me she gave McCail an apple for a snack, and my grand darlin said, “Adam and Eve ate an apple…and they died.”

Some years ago, in the early 2000’s we hosted Dr Voddie Baucham here at Fruit Cove. He did a national launch of some material that became a book entitled “The Ever-Loving Truth.”
One of his sessions was entitled, “How to Know Your Bible is True.” He took his thoughts from 2 Peter 1:16-21 and that’s what I would like for us to do today. How would you answer the question, “So how do you know the Bible is true?” To vaguely answer, “well I know it because it changed my life,” may be a true answer but will not satisfy a critic. A Muslim could say, “I know the Quran is true because it changed my life.”

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

1). We have a reliable collection of historic documents written down by eyewitnesses. (2 Peter 1:16)

The Bible is not “cleverly devised myths,” as some have suggested. With our Bibles, we have 66 books compiled in one cover that were written by over 40 human writers, over a period of 1600 years, on three continents and in four different languages. And all of them testify to a common theme of creation, the fall, and the redemption of humanity for the glory of God.

In addition to it’s miraculous beginning, we have over 5,800 historic manuscripts, documents, papyrus pieces, and other historically valid documents that we can date, and study and we see incredible agreement within these documents. I minored in history in college, and I did learn that there are ways of scientifically dating documents to the period of their writing.

One thing this takes off the table is any possibility that some crazy little monk or person disaffected with Christians somehow changed the Bible. Whenever someone says that, I want to ask, “So he did that on his laptop right?” How would someone have been able to locate all 5800 manuscripts we have evidence of and change every one of them by hand fifteen hundred years before the printing press?

The earliest New Testament document we are aware of dates to 150 AD, or within fifty years of the original manuscripts written down by the apostles or others. That may not be a big deal to hear that.

The best historic documents we have from antiquity, never challenged by historians, are Caesar’s The Gallic Wars. We have only ten copies of that manuscript, the earliest of which was written nine hundred years after Caesar’s death. Aristotle’s Poetics is another example cited by historians. We have five portions of this document, the earliest one written 1400 years after the death of Aristotle.

We have absolutely indisputable evidence of the historic validity of Scripture. But the Bible is not just that.

2). These eyewitnesses recorded supernatural events, which took place as fulfillment of specific prophecies.

There are literally dozens of Old Testament prophecies spoken hundreds of years before Christ even came that predict the events of His birth, His birthplace, His ministry and ultimately even His death. Every prophecy we can locate in the Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Mathematically the chances of only a few of these being right are mind boggling. For all of them to be correct is…supernatural. It’s not just a history book. It’s a book that records supernatural…God-orchestrated events.

3). The Bible brings light and transformation.

“Day star dawns.” The light of faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God. It’s like a light dawning in a dark place. Lives truly are changed by the Word of God!

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

“I don’t know how to explain that miracle where Jesus came to a wedding a turned water into wine. But I know when He came to my house, He turned beer into furniture.”

4). These prophecies and miracles point to the Bible’s Divine origin

The Bible is essential in these days of fake news, and conspiracy theories, and just not knowing what is true and what isn’t any more. If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, be ready to be ridiculed for it. The world and our spiritual enemy, the devil, wants to silence the truth.

But as CH Spurgeon said, “The Bible doesn’t need to be helped, any more than a lion needs to be helped. You don’t help it. You just turn it loose!”

RESET: Honor God

RESET:  Honor God * Exodus 20:1-3; Romans 1

“And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”  Exodus 20:1-3 ESV

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  Romans 1:19-21 ESV

 

We are in a time of resetting.  We are resetting many things in our life:

How we work, how we socialize, how we go to church, how we do school, and family, and many other areas.  The spiritual reset happening in our day is pretty amazing, though.  People are tuning in to church services in unprecedented numbers.  It’s happened here.  A mathematician in (Jeanette Bentsen) Copenhagen noted a marked increase on internet search engines on the subject of “prayer.” Ninety-three countries showed skyrocketing numbers of people turning to the internet to try to understand prayer!  There is a spiritual hunger… a spiritual reset… happening in our world right now.

We live in a difficult day to talk about religious subjects, especially when THE subject is…God.  It hasn’t always been so, but confusion and chaos and even anger seem to swirl around any conversations about Him.

Some of us remember it not always being so controversial.  There was a day when it was the most natural thing in the world to go to a neighbor and invite them to attend your church with you.  It was just… neighborly, even normal etiquette to do this.

If sharing our faith in that time was like a football game, this would be like taking a ball already at the five-yard line into the end zone for a touchdown.  Easy really.  Even the Jaguars… no I won’t go there.

Then, around the seventies, churches and anything organized began to be suspect.  People were abandoning religious systems by droves.  In that time, talking to someone about God or your faith was more like carrying the ball from the fifty-yard line.  Not impossible, but much harder.

But now in a culture where postmodernism rules and everything solid has become liquid…talking to someone about religious realities is like starting with the ball all the way outside of the stadium.  Today many people have to be persuaded that God exists.  They aren’t even on the field!

To get to a RESET in life means we must return to a Biblically faithful understanding of Who God is.  I don’t think I’m overstating when I say that EVERY problem we are facing today; politically, racially, and personally, comes from our rejection of the truth that there is “one God,” or our belief that there is no God or there are actually many “gods”

So, I challenge you today to think about this important topic with me for about twenty minutes.  It may be the most significant twenty minutes of someone’s life who is listening today.  I no longer assume everyone agrees on what we’re talking about when we say “God.”  They don’t.  I will even challenge some of you who claim to be Christian to examine what you think about when you say “God.”

A.W Tozer said, “What you think about when you think about God is the most important thing about you.”  Your thoughts of God determine your behavior, your morality, and even your mental and emotional health.

The Bible reveals God to us.  In particular, it reveals these three things:

1). God exists.  There is a God.  He made the heavens, and the earth, and all things visible and invisible.  All of creation screams out his glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God….”    “I am the Lord your God.  You shall have no other gods before Me.”  God exists alone.  That does not mean God is lonely.  It means God does not need anything else to exist.

God exists.  He is real.  He speaks.  He creates.  To deny Gods existence is to deny the most fundamental truth of your existence.  You cannot live as a flourishing, contented, fulfilled human being if you deny the very One Who gave you breath and life and purpose. We are incurably religious people.  Every one of us.  It is in our DNA to worship…something. And today you…every one of you…worship something or someone.

Conspiracy theories are not a new thing.  Heard of Area 51?  Heard of Jimmy Hoffa being buried under Giants Stadium?  We kind of laugh these off, but the past six months have birthed so many more conspiracy theories around Covid 19 and the upcoming election.

We believe conspiracy theories about God.  Sometimes the God you have rejected is a god you should reject, since your image of Him is built on lies.  Adam and Eve believed a conspiracy theory about God, and it led the entirety of humanity into sin and alienation from Him and each other.

You see, they believed a lie that some of you also believe.  That, if there’s a God, He doesn’t want you to have joy in life.  He sits in Heaven, makes you miserable, and then laughs at you.  In other words, we sometimes believe God is NOT good… we believe a lie.

The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.  (AW Tozer)

Adam and Eve believed the lie.  While God had opened every venue of food and enjoyment possible in the Garden of Eden, He stopped them from eating the fruit of one tree.  Their belief was God was holding out on them.  He didn’t want them to be fully happy.  He wasn’t truly good.  The tempter lied and told them, “If you eat of this tree, you’ll be like God.”

What they failed to see was they were already like God!  He created them “in His image.”  Eating from the tree would them less, and God knew that.  So, He said, “Don’t.”

We believe lies about God, too.  “God wanted me to suffer, so He took… what… from you?  Your health?  Your job?  Your spouse?  Your money? God just wants to punish me for some little thing I did wrong.”  These conspiracy theories make us push God away or even deny His  existence.

2). God can be known.  He wants to reveal Himself to us.  The first clear revelation of what He expects for our lives to fully flourish before Him was the Ten Commandments.  We think these were rules to stop our pleasure.  He gave them to us that we may know life and not death.

Through the centuries God has revealed Himself through Scripture, and through prophets, and through miracles.  He revealed Himself through creation, but we have worshiped the creation more than the Creator.   “What can be known of God is plain to them,” Romans 1 tells us.  There is no possibility for any person who has ever opened their eyes and had rational thoughts to ignore God as He is revealed through creation.

God speaks.  God is always speaking if you know how to listen.  But His ultimate communication was not through a prophet, and not through a miracle, not through creation and not through a smoking mountain and not even through a book.   God revealed Himself in His Son.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”  (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV)

Jesus was given as the perfect and complete revelation of God.  He showed us God in flesh, so we could see clearly Who He was, what He was like, and how He loves us.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Jesus came to reveal God’s glory.  There’s a name for people who stare at the sun too long without sunglasses.  They’re called blind.  The glory of a star that is the least brilliant star in our solar system can blind you after only a few moments of staring at it without some kind of protective filter.

Sunglasses.

But in Jesus Christ, John’s Gospel tells us, we “beheld (stared long at it; comprehended it) His (God’s) glory….” Jesus was the Divine filter, the protective lens that God gave us so we could see Him, and touch Him, and know Him and even understand Him.  (“That which we have seen….”)  And it is only through Jesus that we can do that.  No other way, no other means of salvation.

Another lie we believe about God is that He reveals Himself to us in all other religions.  “You call God Buddha, you call Him Allah, you call him Vishnu or some other exotic name… it doesn’t matter.  We’re all talking about the same God, and we’re all going to the same place when it’s all over.  Right?”  Wrong.  That’s a conspiracy theory.

The way of salvation is open to all, but there is only ONE WAY to find it, and that’s through the revelation of Jesus Christ.  He is God’s final Word.  “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.   (1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV)

3). We are to honor God.  Are you honoring God with your life?  With your worship?  Do you truly worship God so you can know Him and love Him?Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Does that sound like your pursuit of God?  Do you worship Him with all your “mind, heart, soul, and strength?”  Or is worship half-hearted for you or worse, even ignored?  We honor God when we trust Him as our God.  When we depend on Him.  When we lean on Him for our strength and in our trials.  Do you worship Him?  Do you trust Him?

Do you obey Him?  “If you love Me, you will do the things that I say.”  Do you do the things that He says, or do you pretty much live your life on your own terms, and do whatever your flesh and whatever the world tells you?  Do your friends have more influence on you than God’s Word?

For some here today, or listening online or on the radio, you start by “resetting” what you believe about God.  Let’s start here:  Do you believe that God exists?  Do you believe He made you?  Do you believe that one day you will stand before Him and give account for your life?  “Those who come to Him must believe that He is (He exists!) and that He rewards those who come to Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul. (Packer)Today you can push the reset button.  You can take a step back and say, “Maybe I’ve gotten this all wrong.  Maybe you’re one of those folks not even in the stadium today.  Is it time for you to step onto the field, and begin moving toward the goal line?  If so, today is the day to take that step by faith.

Contact us through the Connection Card on the web page.

Let us introduce you to the God Who Exists…and the God you need to honor by giving Him your life, and your allegiance, and your all.  Don’t believe the lie that says, “You’re too far gone for God.  You’re too messed up.  You’ve used up all your chances.”

07 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

“The Jonah Complex”

Jonah 4:1-11

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed our little socially distanced summers cruise with Jonah.  We’ve gone from the waters off the coast of Joppa to the bottom of the sea in the belly of a fish, and we took a 3 day tour of the ancient city of Nineveh, one of the wonders of the world of its day, and finally ended up on a hillside outside the city of Nineveh, modern day Northern Iraq.

Personally, I’m a little disappointed having to come back to dock again, but that’s where we are with this part of our story today.  Last week we left Jonah sitting on a hillside east of Nineveh…and he’s angry. He has now preached God’s message to the Assyrian people that Jonah hated because he was a Jew and they were not.  Basically, it was a prejudice deeply imbedded in Jonah, and really all Jewish people.  Like we still today talk about Nazi Germany as the epitome of evil.

Now before we leave this too quickly let’s think again where Jonah was.  He was angry…he was resentful that an entire city of pagan, idolatrous people had turned to God in repentance.  Lest we think that would never happen to us, let’s imagine a scenario.

For some of us, had something drastic happened last week during the DNC…speaker after speaker took the platform and began to repent and turn from their sins…revival happened!  For some of us, we might have a problem because it happened at the DNC!  Or what if something similar happened next week at during the RNC.

God forgave them upon their genuine repentance as they turned to God as their Creator and judge.  In 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 Solomon prayed “As for the foreigner who does not belong to Your people Israel…when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from Heaven, Your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of You, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your Name and fear You.” Jonah would have known this promise.  And now he’s seeing it come to pass before his eyes!

With just 48 verses, this is an incredible and God-inspired account we are reading about.  While we’ve talked about Jonah a lot, this is really a story about God:  not a prophet, not a whale, and not a revival in a city.  The fish gets mentioned four times; Jonah 19 times but God is mentioned 38 times!   It is a portrayal of God as “gracious, and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

But it’s also a lesson to Israel to show them Who He was and what He expected them to be.  They were rebellious and resistant to God’s call to be “a blessing to all the nations of the earth” and “a kingdom of priests and kings.”  They wanted to enjoy the privilege of God’s call without the pain of responsibility.  Just like us!  They didn’t want to have to love people they didn’t like!  Jonah’s story was a real-life object lesson for all of Israel and revealed their resistance to doing His will.

But the Book of Jonah also reveals characteristics of God that we sometimes struggle with and don’t understand.  Let me mention three.

God’s Mercy and Jonah’s Resentment. (Jonah 4:1-5)

Jonah experienced what many today experience.  He struggled with reconciling how God could be just, and righteous, and holy and, at the same time, forgive the unrighteous who, clearly in Jonah’s opinion, more than deserved God’s burning wrath.  He didn’t like the “change of plans” that God pulled off, because it crashed into Jonah’s neat and simplistic view of God that some of us entertain:  God loves good people and punishes bad ones.

This view is flawed on several levels, but the most obvious one is this:  Good people compared to who?  “Would God send an innocent person to hell?” Absolutely not!  The problem with that statement, though, is that there are no innocent people.  We usually compare ourselves with other people and then create a sliding scale of good vs bad.  “Well, I’m better than that person, but not as good as her.”  But God stands us up next to His perfect righteousness as the standard.  How’s that working for you now?  “All have sinned…”  There is no righteous person.  No innocent person.  Not even one.

It took the death of Jesus on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin.  Religion can’t do that.  Promising to try harder won’t do it.  Only trusting in what Jesus did for you at the cross can bring you the righteousness you need.

And only the cross can explain how God can reconcile His own holiness, and righteousness and justice and still forgive our sins.

God’s Plan and Jonah’s Resistance. (Jonah 4:6-7)

Let’s remember again a theme that runs throughout Jonah: The theme of obedience.  “To obey is better than sacrifice,” we read in 1 Samuel.  Every element of nature and every person introduced in the Book of Jonah obeyed God unquestionably.  But not Jonah.  The wind and sea obeyed as a storm came.  The pagan sailors on the boat obeyed and the last time we see them they are praying to Jonah’s God offering sacrifices of thanksgiving to Him.  The fish obeyed; worst assignment in the story:   The fish and the worm may have argued about who had the worst job:  The fish might say, “I had to have that ugly, bitter little prophet kicking and shouting inside of me for three days and three nights!”  It is debatable which was more relieved, and who wanted Jonah out of the fish more: Jonah or the fish!  But then a little worm had to eat a castor oil plant!  The people of Nineveh obeyed “even the cattle,” the plant obeyed and grew up over Jonah, the east wind obeyed and blew, and a little worm did what God told him and ate a castor oil plant.

We see this incredible portrait of God’s sovereign rule over all of His creation, people, and nature alike.  All of creation obeyed God.  But Jonah was still stubborn in his rebellion.  He resisted.  He chose to disobey God’s plan.

God’s Love and Jonah’s Reluctance (Jonah 4:8-11)

Jonah preached to Nineveh, but not because he loved Nineveh.  He was an angry, bigoted, Jewish prophet who wanted the God of Israel to obliterate these people.  Jonah obeyed God, but not because he loved God.  He feared God…he saw what God can do with a fish!  He didn’t want to end up in a worse condition.

But God’s “abounding love” even abounded toward the hated enemies of Israel.  Jonah couldn’t handle that.  It was too much, and far too much for him to get his arms around.

So, God gave Jonah an object lesson about His abounding, steadfast love.  He allowed a plant to grow up.  Now Jonah had already made a lean-to, probably tying some sticks together. (Guat: Cornstalks). But God sent Jonah the mercy of a shade plant. (ricisnus—castor oil)

God covers us with His mercy and love.  That’s how the love of God works…that’s how it worked for Jonah…that’s how it worked for Nineveh.  God “covers” us when we don’t deserve it.

And Jonah “set his heart” on this plant.  He was so grateful.  “Finally, something is going my way!” But then came the worm.  And the east wind.  And soon the plant was a casualty and withered and died.

Jonah got REALLY angry then.  And it was right there that God called him out: “Jonah…you set your heart on this plant…but you won’t set your heart on these people I have created.”

God taught Jonah an important lesson we all need to learn.  The Greek philosophers taught that there were two kinds of love:  Benevolence, which basically is a love based on the one loving, since the one being loved could do little or nothing for the one loving.

But they also believed there was a second kind of love:  the love of “attachment.”   This is a love that brings the one loving into the relationship because of attraction and loving desire. (Keller, Prodigal).

[The word used in verses 10 and 11 for “compassion” is a word that means to grieve over someone or something, to have your heart broken, to weep for it.  God says, “You had compassion for the plant” (verse 10). That is, God says, “You wept over it, Jonah. Your heart became attached to it. When it died, it grieved you.” Then God says, in essence, “You weep over plants, but my compassion is for people.” For God to apply this word to himself is radical. This is the language of attachment. God weeps over the evil and lostness of Nineveh. When you put your love on someone, you can be happy only if they are happy, and their distress becomes your distress.

The love of attachment makes you vulnerable to suffering, and yet that is what God says about himself—here and in other places (cf. Isaiah 63:9). In Genesis 6:6 it says that when God looked down on the evil of the earth, “his heart was filled with pain.”6 While this language cannot mean that the eternal, unchangeable God loses any of his omnipotence or sovereignty, it is a strong declaration at which we must marvel.7 Most of our deepest attachments as human beings are involuntary. Jonah did not look at the Ricinus plant and say, “I’m going to attach my heart to you in affection.” We need many things, and we get emotionally attached to things that meet those needs. God, however, needs nothing. He is utterly and perfectly happy in himself, and he does not need us. So how could he get attached to us? The only answer is that an infinite, omnipotent, self-sufficient divine being loves only voluntarily. The whole universe is no bigger to God than a piece of lint is to us, and we are smaller pieces of lint on the lint. How could God be attached to us? How could God say, “What happens to Nineveh affects me. It moves me. It grieves me”? It means he voluntarily attaches his heart. Elsewhere we see God looking at Israel, sinking into evil and sin, and God speaks about his heart literally turning over within him. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender” (Hosea 11:8, ESV).]

And God gives us an object lesson as well as we see His love crucified on a hillside outside of the city of Jerusalem.

Last week I mentioned in our little sidebar on anger that anger happens as a result of a threat to something important or precious to us.

Sin happens when we are inflamed with anger, or “quick to anger” and when we “seethe with anger.” Getting angry is not sinful.  Getting angry all the time becoming inflamed and for no good reason is a problem.  Hanging on to anger and letting it turn into resentment and bitterness is sin.

But if anger is a result of something being threatened in us, and it is, how could anything threaten God?

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Could God possibly be VULNERABLE?  What’s more vulnerable than a newborn baby?  What display of love is more genuine than laying down your life for what you love?

It was this amazing fact of God’s “hesed” love; His steadfast love that even extends to lost, and violent, idolatrous, and pagan people that threw Jonah.  He didn’t know how to think about a God Who loves even people who don’t deserve to be loved.

We don’t really understand the profound message of Jonah without the cross.  From a hillside of judgement and condemnation, where Jonah sat, to a hillside of mercy and reconciliation at Calvary.

“Should I not love…?” is the question that God leaves Jonah with…and us as the book ends.  It really doesn’t end.  The reader must put your own ending on the book!

Two things remain to do.  First, let me answer the question asked me by a young lady early in this study.  “Is Jonah in heaven today?” I think “yes,” not because of any evidence we see in Chapter 4 of Jonah’s changing.

But the logical question is, “if Jonah didn’t tell the story in The Book of Jonah, who did?”  Biblical books don’t just “fall from the sky,” bound in black leather and gold-embossed pages.

They are real.  They happen to people.  People relay what happened to them, as in the four Gospel presentations of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Biblical inspiration can be, ultimately, traced back to a real person experiencing something with God in a valid historical context.

Jonah told the story of Jonah.  He told it as a cautionary tale, because I believe that one of the important purposes of this book was to warn Israel how they were missing the point of their existence by refusing to proclaim their God to the pagan and unbelieving nations of the world.

Second, “what are you going to do about the ending of the book?”

It ends with a question.  Let me prompt your thinking with four. Each are taken from one of the four chapters of Jonah.

  1. What thing that God is calling you to do are you running from?  Maybe God is offering you a second chance to do the right thing.  (Chapter 1)
  2. What storms has your disobedience brought into your own life…and those around you? (Chapter
  3. Who are the most difficult people or maybe just the most difficult person in your life to love? (Chapter 3)
  4. What are you angry about?  Where is that anger coming from?  Why are you “angry enough to die?”  Is it right?  Your anger usually reveals an idol in your life… (Chapter 4).

If you are running from God in your life, remember Jonah.  When his running was finished, he ran right into the God he was running from!  I pray you’ll do the same.

06 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

“An Angry Prophet in the Hands of a Merciful God”

(Jonah 4:1-4)

  • Chapter 1:  Jonah Rebelling and Running from God
  • Chapter 2:  Jonah Repenting and Running Back to God
  • Chapter 3:  Jonah Restarting and Running with God
  • Chapter 4:  Jonah Regretting and Resenting God

Jonah 4:1-10   

“This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So, he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?””

(Jonah 4:1-4 NLT)

Oliver Cromwell was sitting for his official portrait that would portray his image to future generations.  In a time when royal people having their portraits done told the artist, “don’t paint the mole. Paint me with a smaller nose, or a taller or thinner profile.”  But Cromwell told the artist to “paint him as he is, warts and all.”  And so that phrase entered our vocabulary.  It means, “this is how it really is.”.  (OR Use high school portrait)

In Chapter 4 of Jonah, we see him portrayed “warts and all.” If we were writing this story, Chapter 3 would have been a great ending.  In fact, if it ended there Jonah would be considered the greatest prophet in Israel!  “From Running to Revival.”  I can see the book title now!

But that’s not how it ends. It moves from Jonah preaching to Nineveh in Chapter 3 to pouting over Nineveh’s response to his message in Chapter 4.  Now, beloved, I will tell you I have spent some time pouting in ministry, but usually it’s because people DIDN’T respond to what I thought was a really great message!  My warts were showing in times like that.    “The heart of the problem is always a problem of the heart.” (Wiersbe). Jonah had a heart problem!  The Bible does not create plastic, perfect people as it’s heroes.  It’s the flawed, the folks with warts.

God does not airbrush or photoshop the characters of Scripture.

Jonah, however, is pouting because they DID respond to the message!  That’s like a concert violinist getting angry because she got a standing ovation or a Christian singer winning a Dove Award and flying into a rage!  Jonah’s name in Hebrew is “dove.” An “angry dove” is an oxymoron.  Even the anger of Yahweh against Nineveh’s evil (3:9) is not described as “very angry.”

Jonah wanted to be able to return to Israel and report, “Well God said He was going to blast the Ninevites.  I told them so.  And I’m happy to report today that He wiped out the whole mess of them!”

But that’s not what happened.  Instead, the whole city repented, and God showed them grace!  Inside of Jonah, however, that was viewed as a failure…not a success.  It was a failure to how he viewed himself.  It was a failure to the ideal of his national interest.  It was a blow to his false idol of Jewish superiority.  Jonah feared this chain of events would result in his being seen as a false prophet.  So, it was also a blow to his self-esteem, his self-identity.

In the things that make us angry, we meet our “bottom line,” which is the thing we worship.  In other words, it is our idol, our counterfeit god.

Nineveh’s Repentance and Jonah’s Collapse

Jonah prays his best prayer in the worst place, and his worst prayer in the best place.

In 4:2, Jonah gives us a classic description of what God is like: (Taken from Exodus 34:6-7)

1). Gracious (merciful)

2). Compassionate (soft like a womb)

3). Slow to wrath (be patient, postpone anger)

4). Abounding in steadfast love (unrelenting, covenant love). “hesed”

One of the strange ironies of Jonah’s message as he promises, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overturned” is that, while the same words CAN apply to being overturned and destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah, it can ALSO mean “turning something over—turning it around—or turning it into something new…” like the Lord turning Moses staff into a serpent or the River Nile into blood.  It is a word that means, in English, “conversion.”

Jonah thought he was prophesying the destruction of Nineveh when actually he was proclaiming the Gospel to Nineveh!  “Forty days…and you will become something other than what you are…”

So, in reality here, Jonah accomplished what he was sent to do; to proclaim the possibility of forgiveness and conversion to Nineveh even though he thought, and he had hoped he was proclaiming their destruction.  He thought what he had said did not come to pass, and therefore he would be seen as a false prophet.  God actually made every word that Jonah spoke come to pass!

Jonah’s Response and God’s Question

To Jonah this was a disaster…a great disaster…and he became angry!”

Jonah was angry.  Angry enough to die!  “Very angry,” a term that was not even used when we hear God to describe His anger over Nineveh’s evil!   Jonah was madder than God at Nineveh, and now he was angry AT God for not blowing them off the map.

These people he had so despised now became part of the same participants in the grace Israel had known.  But Jonah did not rejoice in that.  He was angry that God was “compassionate, and slow to anger.”

He was angry at God’s focused compassion for Nineveh.

So, the section before us ends with a diagnostic question which God asked of Jonah.  I want to turn the question to us today:

  • “Do you do well to be angry?” (ESV)
  •  “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (NASB)
  •  “Is it right for you to be angry?” (CSB) and (NIV)
  •  “Doest thou well to be angry?” (KJV)
  •  “Is it right for you to be angry about this?

What makes you angry?  Your answer reveals a lot about your true self.  We become angry over the things that are most meaningful to us.

IS ANGER BIBLICAL?

Many push back on this question of anger, and will quickly assert, “Oh, I never get angry.”  But to say that is very quickly to resign from the human race.  People get angry. Good people and bad people.  Men and women.  Infants and senior adults.

Anger is a God-designed defense mechanism.  It was given to us for our protection, and to make us aware when something is threatening to us.  It is actually more dangerous NOT to be aware when you’re angry than to admit and recognize when you are!

We will sometimes play games with our emotions and rename them.  If we say, “I don’t get angry, I get irritated” or “that frustrates me” or some other euphemism for being angry, we have not solved the problem.  You won’t fix an anger issue by refusing to acknowledge the problem.  And it is a problem, maybe in some ways more for Christians or those who were raised to think anger is sinful.

The Anatomy of Anger

The anger response is built into our created nature.  The fact that Jesus felt anger is evidence that, even a man created with no sin could respond with anger.  Anger is no more sinful than the physiological response of hunger or the need for sex.  But like those, anger can become sinful if we express it wrongly.

But we throw out the baby with the bath water.   We have been taught to believe that, if you feel anger, you are doing something wrong.  More, you are “sinning” by feeling the emotion of anger.  That belief has done a world of damage to otherwise normal people.

A Response to a Threat

When I first started doing work in counseling and even started doing post-graduate work in pastoral care at Southern Seminary, I was still not convinced that anger was normal. I had been well conditioned to “swallow” or “suppress” feelings of anger through my childhood home and even by watching my parents, in addition to being raised as a Southern Baptist in the 50’s and 60’s.  It came from my home and from the pulpit of my church and through the lips of Sunday School teachers and church leaders.

“Anger is wrong,” I was taught.  I was not to feel it or acknowledge it if I did.  I learned my lessons well, and it was not until I started breaking down my body that I finally started revisiting my thinking on this subject.

It was there for the first time that someone in authority told me, “You’re normal if you feel anger.”  This was both freeing and terrifying to me.

I had been taught that anger was almost like a monster inside me that I had to keep locked away in a dark room lest it escape and wreak havoc on those around me.  But as we all know, the things we keep locked away in closets grow in the darkness.  Anger is one such “monster.” Opening the closet door doesn’t “unleash” the monster:  It actually reduces it!

God Gets Angry

One of the more commonly quoted verses regarding God’s anger is

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  (Romans 1:18)

However, there are literally dozens of verses in the Old and New Testaments that reference God’s wrath and anger.  Clearly this dimension of God’s character and nature is not hidden.

Jesus Got Angry

In several places through Jesus’ life, we see the reality of His anger.

The difference is Jesus’ anger was never about Him defending Himself.  It was never self-protective anger.  It was “righteous” because His anger was never used to defend Him.

The Angry Christian

Christians get angry.  All the time.  While the Bible never strictly condemns anger per se, there are some cautions that we need to heed:


BIBLICAL CAUTIONS

  • One who is quick tempered acts foolishly.  (Proverbs 14:17)
  • Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.  (Prov 14:20)
  • One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty… (Prov 16:32)
  • Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense. (Prov 19:11)
  • Do not be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. (Ecc 7:9)
  • A bishop should not be arrogant or quick-tempered… (Titus 1:7)
  • …let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  (James 1:19-20)
  • In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath… (Eph 4:15)

We can draw some conclusions about anger from this:

  1. It is not wrong to experience anger.  Everyone does it.  Some are just unaware that it’s happening.
  2. Anger that flares up (“quick tempered”) is condemned in Scripture.  It is always something we should have control over and not let it become the “beast” that devours us (see Genesis 4 with God and Cain).
  3. Anger that we won’t release is wrong.  This anger becomes resentment and embitters us toward others.  We are “not to allow the sun to set on our anger,” Ephesians 4 tells us.  When Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that “to call someone a fool out of anger” is tantamount to murder, He uses the word that meant “to cling to anger” or “to seethe with anger.”. In other words, holding on to anger is sinful.  We must resolve if possible, the issue that brought us anger.  If we cannot we need to trust God to take this from us as we release it.
  4. The experience of anger is tied to our autonomic nervous system, as are our hearts and lungs.  It happens instinctively and automatically.  You cannot “will” your heart to stop beating.  But you can determine what you are going to do with your anger when it happens.  We are not held responsible for being angry.  We are very much held responsible for how we express it.

05 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

JONAH: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

“Revival in Nineveh”

Jonah 3:5-10

So far, we have traveled through some rough miles with Jonah.  In Chapter 1, we meet the prophet, who was well-known and well-respected in Israel.  He received an assignment from God that he really didn’t want to accept, so rather than go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire and the largest city in the world of that day, and preach Jonah booked passage to Tarshish…in the opposite direction.

But as Jonah ran from God’s assignment away from a “great city,” he found himself in the middle of a “great storm” and ultimately in the belly of a “great fish.” His trajectory was downward, which is the only option you leave for yourself when you run from God.

While in the fish, in Chapter 2, and yes, I believe it was a real fish…Jonah came to his senses and came back to God.  But his repentance and turning and obedience were not complete.  In Chapter 3, after being spit out of the “the great fish,” Jonah is back on dry land and running toward Nineveh.  Like the prodigal son, Jonah came back to where he started and was welcomed by a gracious Father.  Then, he got a second chance to do what he should have done the first time.

Now, we want to turn to the balance of Chapter 3.  It is here that we see Jonah coming to Nineveh, speaking God’s message, and the surprising response of the Assyrian city.

JONAH’S ASSIGNMENT AND GOD’S MESSAGE

The call to REPENT

Jonah came with a clearly spoken, Divine mandate from the Lord.  God had said through Isaiah, “My Word will not return to me void…it will accomplish that for which I had sent it.”   The New Testament tells us that “the Word of God is active and cuts like a two-edged sword, dividing even the joint and marrow.”

When we speak or communicate the Word of God, we release something spiritually that we cannot see.  I do not think the power of the Bible is in the printed pages of a book produced by a publisher.  The fact that activists burnt Bibles in Portland does not diminish the Word of our Lord.   It is still “truth without any mixture of error” and it has a spiritual power that changes hearts and minds and lives as those words enter our heart.  We do not worship a book; we worship the God Who inspired the Words in the book.

Jonah unleashed a power when he spoke obediently what the Lord had told him to say.  He repeated it verbatim!  The results were staggering.   If we want to see our nation transformed and healed and brought back to God, it will be through releasing and proclaiming and obeying God’s Word…not through political or military or economic means.  It is “‘…not by might nor by power but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.”

If our world isn’t changed, it is because we’re trying to adapt to and be liked by the culture and minimize the power of God’s Word that has been given to us.  Jonah did not go to Nineveh and run for political office, or start a social services program, or begin to lobby for change in the law.   Nothing wrong with any of these, but true heart-change and a new direction will come only as we speak God’s truth to a culture that prefers lies.  Substantial and lasting change will not come any other way.

The need to WARN

One pastor has suggested that there are over one hundred verses in the Bible that involve warning.  I did not count them all but there’s a lot!  Paul spoke about warning in Acts 20:31. It is a ministry of the church, but it’s also important that we do this with each other.

Jonah’s message was basically a warning to Nineveh from God…” forty days…”  He warned them.  They heard him.  We need people who are bold enough to warn us when our life is heading in the wrong direction. You’re not judging.  You’re warning.  You don’t hate someone when you tell them, “the bridge is out” …you love them.  Every person has blind spots.  But often our pride and independence won’t let us hear and heed those warnings.

We need warnings in life…railroad crossing signs, yellow lights, wet paint, and every medicine bottle has a section on it labeled WARNING.  We may not read them or heed them, but if we’re wise, we will.

JONAH’S WARNING AND NINEVEH’S RESPONSE

The response of the PEOPLE.

The city of Nineveh stopped and mourned at Jonah’s message and preaching.  This city was “great” in its history, founded by Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah. (Genesis 10:39) It was a city of great influence through art and culture and commerce.  It was great in its size, approximately sixty miles at its widest point.  One wall alone had a circumference of eight miles!  But it was also legendary and great in its sin.  And yet God called out to them through Jonah to repent.  And from King to cattle, they did!

Nineveh did not become converts to Judaism or “Yahwists” through Jonah’s preaching.  That much is clear.  The “believed God” but knew little of Jonah’s God.  When they referred to “God” it was translating the Hebrew word “Elohim” which could apply to a number of spiritual realities. They did not become people of the covenant by their repentance. But Nineveh was heading fast for the cliff.  Their injustice, oppression, wickedness, and notorious cruelty had begun to do what any culture does that builds itself on the wrong foundation.  Those qualities of injustice, cruelty, oppression, and victimization of the helpless was also being inflicted upon their own people.

Historians tell us that this neighbor upon neighbor violence, oppression, robbery, murder, and assault was rampant in the streets.  When you raise an army that are specialists in these kinds of activities and then bring them home without a war to fight, they naturally will turn on each other and the surrounding population.

Nineveh was teetering and eroding away.  Their soothsayers and spiritual leaders were noticing portends of disaster in things that were happening in nature through a rampant famine, disease, and unnatural weather phenomenon.

Add the social deterioration to this, and they knew something bad was about to happen.  They were telling the people as much. Perhaps that prepared their hearts to be open to a lone Jewish prophet shouting, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be no more…”. The “king” was likely not the King of Assyria.  Nineveh was not even the capital city of Assyria.  Had the King of Assyria repented, he would have called the entire empire of Assyria to repent.

As it was, the voice of the prophet was directed specifically to Nineveh.  And likely, the use of the word “king” was speaking of a governor appointed by the king but who spoke with authority for him.  It was not unusual for ancient eastern cultures to refer to their leader in that way.  But the ruler of Nineveh, and every citizen and even animals, were brought to their knees by this proclamation.

I cannot imagine this, having never been a part of a true spiritual awakening in which God ‘s message has stopped commerce, impacted government and the economy, and swept through in power.     I grew up in Kentucky, where the Second Great Awakening took place in camp meetings in the woods as a circuit riding preacher would come, people would create a clearing by cutting down trees and turning them into seats lined up (don’t complain about uncomfortable pews).  The meetings would last for hours and go for weeks, people wouldn’t even go home.  It impacted how my home state still does church!

A spiritual awakening swept Ireland that was so intense it shut down the mining industry because the mule trains that hauled coal out of the mines stopped. The animals were so accustomed to being cursed and abused by those who ran them that they didn’t know what to do when the operators returned to work, now with Jesus in their hearts, and they stopped cursing!

Those awakenings called God’s people back to being what God had intended them to be.  In America, they called Christians back to the foundation of our nation as a Christian nation.  They were calls to repent and to believe God’s Word.

We have a rich history of spiritual awakenings in America, and throughout the world.  Most of the educational institutions, social reforms, and hospitals in America began out of those awakenings and still affect us as a nation today.

The last true “spiritual awakening” in America and, in fact, through most of the world took place in the 1970’s in a former Methodist church that worked with hippies in California.

Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, decided to allow the long-haired, unwashed, barefoot, young people to come to his church sanctuary and play their music their way.  Some churches had already thrown them out because of their unkempt appearance, and smell, and music and bare feet, the oil of which was destroying the carpeting in their buildings.

Smith simply ripped the carpeting out!  And the kids flooded in by the hundreds and hung around outside as he taught them the Bible verse-by-verse.  The church fed them, gave money to some to travel back home, and just one-by-one won them to Jesus.  A movement began, called “The Jesus Movement.” Proud to say, Baptist pastors and churches were some of the first to open street missions in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco!  I was saved in the middle of that, in December of 1974.

When the nation of Israel was called to repent by the prophets, it was to remember their calling as the people of God and the people of the covenant. The prophets called the people back to what they were at the beginning.

When Nineveh repented it was to turn away from idolatry and injustice and cruelty and oppression and back to God Who had created them.  Repentance is the key to getting us out of the prison of sin.  The Bible is our rehabilitation.  (Eric Mason)

There is, in every person, the ability to know there is a God.  They have even done research on what is called “The God Gene” in people.  It’s in our DNA.  The Bible say so , “What could be known of God is plainly revealed to them,” which means that people who refuse to believe in God (probably refuse to believe in what God has told them to do) are acting in conflict with their own created nature.  The Ninevites knew they were out of alignment with the God they only knew as “Elohim.” Jonah introduced them to “Yahweh,” God of Israel and Maker of Heaven and Earth.

NINEVEH’S REPENTANCE AND GOD’S FORGIVENESS

Does God change His mind?

God cannot and will not act in conflict with His own counsel and will and Word.

We will never see a scenario in which God says, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”  God will never “walk back” a decision as though ill-advised or ill-conceived.  When the Ninevites repented, His forgiveness was in alignment with the His already revealed will: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

It is impossible for God to lie.

1 Samuel 15:29 says, ‘[The God of Israel] does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.’

It is impossible for God to change.

The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘It is impossible for God to lie’ (Heb. 6:18), and Paul refers to ‘God, who does not lie’ (Titus 1:2).

It is impossible for God to violate His Own will. 

When Nineveh repented, they turned directly into the will of God Who said, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and Who desires all men to be saved.

The repented toward God.  They believed God.  And God forgave.

04 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

The God of the Second Chance

Jonah 3:1-5

Well we left Jonah last week drying out on some beach probably near God’s destination for him:  Nineveh.  After three days and three nights in the digestive tract of a fish, Jonah would have been something to see.  Skin bleached white by the gastric juices, clothes mostly dissolved, and smelling to high heaven, Jonah stumbled out of the water blinded by the bright sunlight.  We aren’t told whether or not there were witnesses, but it was a pretty humbling arrival!

We also aren’t told how much time lapsed between Jonah’s arrival and God’s call.  The text simply says, “Then the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…” (3:1), as if to say, “Jonah, now do I have your attention?”  But I want us to notice that there’s a lot of grace evident in that second calling.

JONAH’S FAILURE AND GOD’S GRACE

Some have drawn a comparison between Jonah’s story and the parable of the prodigal son.  In Jesus’ parable in Luke 15, a man has two sons.  The younger came to his father, asked to cash out his inheritance, and he left home.  He squandered “all of his money” in reckless behavior until all of it was gone, along with his new “friends.”

Starving and alone, on rock bottom, the young man took a job feeding pigs and eating the food they were eating.  Dear ones, there aren’t many things that smell more nauseating than a pig pen…unless maybe it’s how you smell after three days inside of a fish!

The younger son and Jonah had both “bottomed out.” They had fallen down as far as someone could fall.  Both had nothing left to their name but ragged, smelly clothes.  The younger son decided to “come home” and throw himself on the mercy of  his father. He confessed his folly and his ignorance and his sin, and the father “placed a robe and a family crest on his finger” and threw a great party for him, saying “this my son who was dead is now alive.”  It was resurrection language.  Jesus compared Jonah’s coming out of the fish alive as a resurrection!

The prodigal son got a second chance that he didn’t deserve.  The prodigal prophet did too.  Chapter 1 and 2 of Jonah, Jonah is like the younger son.  Running, disobedient, away from the presence of his Father, and then going down, down and down to the lowest point on earth.  We remember Jonah’s downward journey: Down to Joppa, down to the belly of the ship, down into the water, and finally down inside a fish.  When we run from God, down is the only direction we can go!

It doesn’t matter how far we fall.  God is ready to receive back any person who will come truly repentant and truly yielded to Him.  We all need grace, we need a second chance.  And some of us today know exactly where Jonah was, and exactly where the prodigal son was.  Broken, alone, messed up, and maybe reeking like the garbage of the world.  You need a second chance…or a third, or fourth…

JONAH’S ASSIGNMENT AND GOD’S MESSAGE

So now we see a second time, Jonah is given an assignment from God.  I am certain hearing the voice of God again was reassuring to Jonah.  After all, when he left for his trip to Tarshish he effectively quit his job!  We are given no indication that God spoke anything to him while he was inside the fish.

But now, as the Word of the Lord came to him a second time, Jonah went to Nineveh instantly.  Nothing in God’s plan had been altered.  God still wanted a message brought to Nineveh.

It is an act of compassion and grace that, before God ever brings judgment to a people or a nation, He always sent a messenger first.  God warns, and then He acts.  “The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The “win” for God, if you would, is not that He acts in destructive force against sinful people, though He can and He has, but that people are given every chance to change course if they choose.

Let me say it this way.  God could have just blown the Ninevites into oblivion if He wanted.  They certainly deserved it. Our nation deserves it.  We are guilty of systemic sin.  It is everywhere, in every institution, and in every heart.  He owed Nineveh no warning, but He gave it just the same because God is compassionate and merciful and gracious.

“So pastor you’re saying then that God wouldn’t send me to Hell without warning me first?”  Did you know that one of the most common Google searches during these months as we have gone through the pandemic is, “Am I going to go to hell?”  640 million Google searches on that.  SO what I’m saying is this.  If your life is not where it needs to be before God, and if you do not repent and trust Jesus as your Savior and Lord, as your only hope, you will die in your sins and you will go to Hell.  Forever.  No chance of escape.  Now, you’ve been warned.

But if you will turn away from your rebellion and sin and return to the Father, you will be forgiven.  You will be given a second chance!  That is what the Father really desires.  “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” God said.

That message of grace is what Jonah went to Nineveh with.  He went to warn them of judgment that would fall if they did not turn away and turn to Him: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”

Jonah obeyed.

JONAH’S HEART AND GOD’S PATIENCE

Jonah obeyed.  But we find later that Jonah’s heart was not in it.  In the first chapter his disobedience was clearly open rebellion.  In the third chapter, his sin was half-hearted obedience. Jonah had not truly repented.  Maybe he went because he made a vow to God that he would while he was inside the fish. (“What I have vowed I will pay…” 2:9)

Jonah was a racist prophet.  He was a man who put his nationality as a Jew above every other race on earth.  It was entrenched in him.  He blamed the Ninevites for what they had done, not to him personally, but to his forefathers and to his country.  It’s a tragic thing when a Christian loses his heart for the lost of the world.  When we get complacent in our spiritual life the first symptom is we lose our desire to see lost people come to the Lord.

Jonah despised the Assyrian people so much he was more eager for God to wipe them off the map.  People he’d likely never met, never sat with for tea; people with whom he’d never shared a meal.  But he hated them.  How much?  Enough to rejoice if God wiped them out and to take it personally and sulk when God didn’t.

None of that changed in Jonah’s attitude, even after his time in the belly of the great fish.  He was still racist and prejudiced and filled with hatred.  He wanted God to fry these people while he sat on a hillside and watched the show.  It is true that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but Jonah certainly was ready to!

The parable of the prodigal son does not end with the son’s return.  There was an older brother in the story too, who had stayed behind with his father and continued doing his duty.  This is actually the main point of the parable.

And when his younger prodigal brother returned home, this older brother didn’t rejoice.  He was resentful.  He was angry that everyone was celebrating his prodigal and sinful brother’s return.  And he wasn’t about to go to his party!  He believed the Father owed HIM a party because of his obedience.

You know folks, there are two ways we can run from God.  One is, like the prodigal, by running into the world and into a sinful lifestyle.  The other is, like Jonah and the older brother, to run into religious practice and performance that makes us believe God owes us.  There’s a lot of “older brothers” in the church today.

Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janeiro. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture—taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did.

God is a God of second chances.  Almost everyone greatly used in the Bible was a recipient of that honor!  God gives second chances, and maybe you need one today.

If so, His arms are open wide for you to come home too.

03 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

Jonah:  The Storm-Tossed Prophet

(Jonah 1:17-2:10)

“A Severe Mercy”

Fish stories are notoriously hard to verify, especially if we are letting the fisherman tell it!  Nowhere is that truer than in the story of Jonah.  People have believed Jonah was telling a “fish story” for thousands of years now.

An uncle was visiting his brother’s family one Sunday afternoon.  The uncle was a hardened skeptic and did not mind spouting his opinion.  He turned to his ten-year-old niece and asked, “So what did you learn about in Sunday School today?”   She said, “We read about Jonah being swallowed by a whale.” He said, “Really?  So, tell me, do you believe that Jonah was really eaten by a whale?”  She replied, “Yes.”  And he said, “And how do you know that happened?”  She said, “I don’t know, but when I get to heaven, I’ll ask him.” He said, “Oh yeah?” with that “gotcha” kind of face.  “Well what if Jonah didn’t go to heaven?”  And without missing a beat, she said, “Then you can ask him.”

Well today we are not going to get distracted with a lecture in marine biology to convince skeptics that there really could have been a fish large enough to eat a man. {Let me ask you this.  If I could scientifically verify it, would you then be willing to believe the story was true?  No, you wouldn’t.  If I could prove medically and biologically how Mary could have conceived Jesus without a man being involved, would you then believe Jesus was the Son of God?  Again, no you wouldn’t.  For the believer, let me say that Jesus believed and taught that Jonah was absolutely true.}

 

JONAH’S PREDICAMENT

(NOTE:  The Book of Jonah has been overtaken through the years by his encounter with a “great fish.” Jonah and the fish are not the point of the story, but in reading many commentators and preachers you would think it was.  The fish was mentioned only four times in the book.  It should be noted that, when sensational events such as this are used as a literary device in fiction or mythology, the event itself finds a central place in the story.  The fact that Jonah downplays the fish event speaks to the fact that this is NOT mythology or fiction.  It is NOT a story made up for the Bible.   The fish is of importance only as it points to God’s providential care for the prophet as he was drowning.  Since the Enlightenment period, scientific proof has become the paramount way of “knowing” anything.  The empirical method— knowing by observation and repeated phenomena— has overtaken the importance of “knowing” reality by faith.  It is this desire to truly “know” something by proving it scientifically that has moved many to comment of Jonah’s great fish and some to discount it as myth.  The Biblical account does not give us any indication of what kind of fish it was, nor does it really matter.  It was an “appointed” fish; a “prepared” fish; a “great” e.g. large fish.  But the genus and species are left unrevealed.)

Jonah was running full out away from God.  God said, “Go east to Nineveh.”  Jonah boarded a boat headed west to Tarshish to “run away from the presence of the Lord.”  And so, as Jonah ran, God “hurled” a storm into the Mediterranean Sea.

Sin always leads you into a storm.  And your sin, as Jonah quickly leaned, is never just about you.  When someone decides to make sinful decisions, they often defend their actions by saying, “It’s not hurting anyone.”  Jonah could have said that, and yet his disobedience was now jeopardizing the lives of a ship’s crew.  Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking your decisions only affect you.  Sin…ANY sin…diminishes you.  It depletes you.  There is less of you to be there for others.  It makes you less human.  And that impacts every person in your life.  “Be sure your sin will find you out,” the Book of Numbers warns us.

The boat was threatening to break apart.   And so, the crew reluctantly decided to do what Jonah requested: throw him overboard.

Jonah expected to die.  He thought this was the end for him.  He was alone in a now – still sea, without a life vest and no land in sight.  It was then God did the unexpected:  He sent a fish.

God appointed a fish… just as God appointed a storm.  Though Jonah took his life out of God’s hand, God did not just leave him alone.  God was determined to bring the prodigal, prejudiced prophet back into His will.  This is a clear picture of the mercy and compassion of God that is presented in Jonah.

But let’s see this properly.  Though Jonah was in a tough predicament, he was still experiencing the grace of God.  God sent the fish as a rescue mission, not to make Jonah’s life miserable.  Jonah had already done that.  God wanted to spend some time having Jonah’s undivided attention.

Well now he has it.  Pitch black, hot, smelly, and swimming in gastric juice and half-consumed fish and seaweed, God left Jonah there for three days and three nights.  Sometimes when God wants to get our attention, He leaves us nowhere to look but up!

 

JONAH’S PRAYER

(NOTE:  The prayer that follows is taken almost entirely from the Book of Psalms.  Every word that Jonah speaks was taken from the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament.  Jonah knew the Bible.  It flooded out through him as he sank down to “the roots of the mountains.”  Yet knowing the Bible and living the Bible are two different things entirely.  Jonah knew the Word of God; it is questionable whether he truly knew the God of the Word.)

Jonah was now in the belly of the fish.  I would imagine he didn’t have a Bic lighter or a cell phone with him to provide light.  It was terrifying, he was all alone.  He did not know if that was going to be his place of death, as much of his prayer indicates.  He hadn’t read the book of Jonah to know how this was going to end!  Don’t let the imagery this provides for some of our situations to escape us.

You may be in the same type of circumstance today.  Through no fault of your own, you may be confined to a wheelchair; quarantined in a hospital bed or maybe locked in a jail cell as you listen to this.  Maybe you are trapped in a situation where your job or marriage has begun to feel like a prison.  Our whole nation, in fact most of the world, this morning is living in the belly of the whale with Covid-19.

Let’s also understand that, for Jonah, this predicament was his salvation though he did not understand that in the moment.  God was still shaping, still working in Jonah’s life.  The Bible clearly states (no matter what the fish was) that it was “PREPARED” or “appointed” for Jonah.  He wasn’t an accidental “catch of the day.”  God ordained this fish, just like He ordained/prepared the storm.  God was always a step ahead.

You know, when we undergo times of chastening or discipline, we need to see God’s grace and His hand in the midst of the discomfort.  “Do not despise the chastening of the Lord….the Lord chastens every child He receives…” (Hebrews 12:4-11)

And from the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed.   But as one writer noted, Jonah’s prayer was a prayer of affliction, not a prayer of affection.  Jonah prayed, but he never truly repented.  He cried out in pain, but not in hunger for God.  He never confessed his own sins.  Not once.

Though Jonah used the Psalms as the structure of his prayers, he carefully avoided the Psalms that talked about confession of sin and repentance.  He could have used Psalm 32 or Psalm 51, but instead he stayed away from those.

He repented of his circumstance; he was sorry for his pain, and that God had thrown him into this mess.  But his prayer was very self-centered.  “My distress…my pain…my problem.”

Jonah did not repent of his prejudiced and unloving attitude toward the Ninivites.  He still thought he was better and more deserving of God’s mercy than they were.  He was, after all, a “Hebrew.”  He even threw shade on the Ninevites when he said, “those who pay regard to vain idols will forsake their hope of steadfast love.” He made this statement without ever repenting of his own idolatry of creating a God in his own image.  Jonah wanted a God of all wrath but no compassion, except for him and for his.    We’ll see how that works out later.

There are also some Gospel pictures here.  Jesus likened Himself to Jonah, calling Himself “the greater Jonah.”   The picture of Jonah’s being tossed into a sea raging with the wrath of God is a picture of Jesus being thrown on a cross for us, to absorb the wrath of God.  Jesus said “the Son of Man has come to give His life a ransom for many.  And his being devoured by the fish is a picture of Jesus dying, and being dead and buried for three days in the depths of the earth.  (see Matthew 12:39-40)

 

JONAH’S PROCLAMATION

The day came for Jonah’s release.  Jonah was expelled as the fish “vomited” him out.   Jonah never spoke much about the fish.  We talk about it more than he ever did.  It only gets four mentions in the whole book!

But Jonah made one statement while he was still in the belly of this mega fish.  “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” “Salvation is of the Lord.” “Salvation is the Lord’s.” (2:10)

Some have said this is the central verse of the entire Old Testament, if not the whole Bible.  It is the Gospel in one sentence.

Salvation comes because of God’s grace, not because of our works and efforts. “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves…”  We are not saved because we’re decent people, or because we’re registered Republicans, or because we’re Americans,  or because we’re not criminals, or because we’re good parents, or good neighbors, or just all around good people.

None of that matters.  All have sinned.  We are incapable of pleasing God in our sin.  No amount of good you can pull off can counterbalance the weight of our sin.  We need grace.  Grace.  God’s grace.  “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” The Gospel is that God moved toward us, not that we decided to move toward Him.

Another man found himself in the middle of a raging storm.  He was a ship’s captain with a cargo of human slaves aboard.  The ship had blown off course and was about to capsize and in desperation, this ship’s captain cried out to God for help.

The ship righted itself, got back on course.  And the captain’s life was changed forever.  He cried out to God.    As Jonah did from the depths of the sea, John Newton cried out and God heard him.  The date was May 10, 1748; the day he forever after marked as his conversion.   He became a pastor, and a powerful voice for the reform of slavery in England.   He also wrote a few songs his congregation sang.  Among those:

“Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound”

But now, in our day of heightened racial tensions and Black Lives Matters and White Supremacy and everyone in between Jonah is taking a brand-new bounce.

Jonah was a racist prophet.  He was a man who put his nationality as a Jew above every other race on earth.  He blamed the Ninevites for what they had done, not to him personally, but to his forefathers and to other nations.

Jonah despised the Assyrian people so much he was more than ready for God to wipe them off the map.  People he’d likely never met, never sat with for tea; people with whom he’d never shared a meal.  But he hated them.  How much?  Enough to rejoice if God wiped them out!

But the large fish is only mentioned four times in the book.  Jonah is not about the whale.  And it’s not about the great city.  Nineveh is mentioned nine times.  It’s not about the prophet either.  Jonah is only mentioned eighteen times.  But GOD is mentioned 38 times in a book that just has 48 verses!

You know that the MAJORITY of our Bible’s 66 books were written from right to left?  Every OT book was written…God’s Holy Spirit inspired  people who read from right to left, and people who think from right to left.  That is one of the main reasons we struggle so much with Old Testament books, and why we miss so much of it while we try to make it make sense as people who read and think from left to right!

Now I know that some of us, as modern, scientifically-minded left to right thinkers, believe that it would be unlikely that this is a REAL event…that it actually happened…that JONAH was swallowed by a fish.  C’mon pastor.  Sounds like a scene from Pinocchio or something.

But you may never have seen the video clips of a whale shark or even a great white that could swallow a person!  So maybe it was something much bigger than a whale that swallowed Jonah.  We do not know.  The Bible says it was a “great fish.”  I’m pretty sure there wasn’t enough space inside the fish to set up a little table and chair like Geppetto had in the Pinocchio cartoon.  It would have been dark, smell like dead fish, and Jonah would have been marinating in gastric juices that probably started bleaching his skin.  And I’m sure that some of our fishermen in here have a “great fish” story at least that big that got away!

We do need to understand that the Lord JESUS believed it really happened!  In fact, He used the story of Jonah’s being swallowed as a way of explaining His time in the grave before resurrection came.  “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish…” (Matthew 12:39-40)

But ultimately Jonah’s story is about God calling Israel back to their intended purpose:  To be a light to the nations who do not know Him…  A missionary people, carrying the Good News to the world.  But the story  was repeated time after time and the Israelite’s chose over and over again  to emphasize their “chosen nation” status and neglect their duty to evangelize and do missions and to tell the nations about the God they served!  They thought God chose them to bless them.  But God blessed them to be a blessing to the nations, not to keep Him to themselves.

Church, be careful.  Christian, listen up.  You were “grafted in” to the vine of Israel to do what Israel would NOT do…go to the nations and share the Good News of Jesus!!  Let’s not fail in that task as they did.

Jonah failed.  This is the story of a man called to do exactly what was in his job description:  Represent the God of Israel to a lost nation—in this case the Ninevites.  But Jonah did exactly what we do:  Eric Mason reminds us that Jonah put his SOCIOLOGY above his THEOLOGY.  He put his RACE above God’s GRACE.

02 Jonah: The Strom-Tossed Prophet

Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

(Jonah 1:7-16)

 

It is not difficult to see in the early verses of Chapter 1 and now as we continue further, that Jonah’s mess was of his own making.  Rebellion always leads us into a storm.

And Jonah was in one.  A GREAT storm, the Bible calls it.  Jonah, you remember, was running from the clearly revealed and spoken will of God.  Jonah was sent by God to bring light and hope to a GREAT city. Jonah went the other way and found himself in the middle of a GREAT storm.  Few of us receive as clear an assignment as Jonah received.

But to Jonah, this assignment seemed impossible.  It was impossible first, because Nineveh was a GREAT city.  I’m sure most reading this have been in some of our national urban centers like New York, or LA, or Miami.  The sheer number of people are overwhelming and intimidating if you don’t live around it.

Growing up in a city with a population of about 38,000 even Jacksonville is an overwhelmingly large city.  It is the second metropolitan location I have lived near, including Louisville, Ky.  But neither Jacksonville or Louisville look large next to Manhattan, or Dubai, or Dallas or Guatemala City.

Jonah lived in a very parochial setting, surrounded by people like him and people he liked.  He knew many of them and if not, they probably knew him.  Going to Nineveh was way out of Jonah’s comfort zone.

But not only did it seem an impossible assignment from God to go and preach in such a large city, but it seemed an implausible one as well.  Jonah was being asked to go and offer grace and an opportunity for repentance to some of Israel’s most hated enemies!  They likely didn’t even speak the same language.

It would be like a Jewish rabbi being sent to talk about the God of Israel in Tehran!  “I can’t go there!  They hate Jewish people there!” And that was Jonah’s conundrum.  He hated the Assyrian people.  And they reciprocated their hatred.

But Jonah had forgotten the forbearance and mercy of God.  When Moses saw the back of God’s glory as he was hidden in the cleft of a rock in the wilderness, the word he heard as the Lord passed by was,

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6)

God’s nature had not changed since that proclamation.  And it still has not changed!  God loves your enemies as much as He loves you!  Jonah was to be an emissary carrying that message to an idolatrous people.

 

The Fleeing Prophet

But Jonah ran from that opportunity. He fled west when God clearly told him to go east.  Jonah’s intention was to book passage on a ship carrying him, literally, to the end of the world as far as the Jewish thought of that day was concerned.  He was going to Tarshish, and probably bought a one-way ticket.

With this act, Jonah was retiring from the vocation of prophet.  He quit.  It was too hard, too unreasonable, too confusing.  He hung up his prophetic mantle and ran.

Jonah is about God shaping a prophet.  The story ends in Chapter 4 without a concluding word.  We leave Jonah stewing on a hillside under a withered castor oil plant.  We don’t know if he re-embraced his calling or not.  Jonah may have been finished with God, but God was not yet finished with Jonah!  Romans 11 tells us “the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.”  When God calls, God never changes His mind…even if we change ours.

Before we get there, however, we go on an incredible journey with Jonah.  And that’s where our present text finds us.

Jonah had found a boat.  Again, in his effort to escape from “the Presence of the Lord,” Jonah saw his ability to book passage on a ship out of Joppa that just “happened” to be going to Tarshish as good fortune to him.  “You’re lucky:  There’s one boat left and it’s going to Tarshish!”

It’s interesting, when we find ourselves in rebellion and disobedience, and we seem to “get lucky” and take a job we shouldn’t have, or leave our family for another person (“surely God must have sent this person to me”), that we see these as signs of our good fortune.

The Proverbs tell us “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end are the ways of death.” The Tarshish-bound vessel seemed “right” to Jonah, but it was about to transport him into the middle of a fight for his life!

 

The Sleeping Prophet

Jonah was sleeping when he should have been praying.  It took a frightened ship’s captain shaking him awake in the hold of the vessel during a “great” storm.  Jonah was physically exhausted, no doubt to sleep through a storm like this.

But more than that, Jonah was spiritually asleep.  Here is a word for the church in a fearful time.  The men on this vessel were terrified, out of control, and frightened for their life.

And in the bottom of their vessel lay a man, sound asleep, who should have been awake, and on the deck, and telling these sailors to call out to the Lord of the heaven, sea, and earth.

One of the influential voices from the Jesus movement in the 1970s was Brooklyn-born Keith Green.  His prophetic songs still haunt me today.  One song, called “Asleep in the Light” has a refrain which says

The world is sleeping in the dark,
which the church just can’t fight
Cause it’s asleep in the light.

The sailors on the deck above were living in spiritual darkness.  They were crying out to non-existent pagan gods which could offer no relief for their situation.   Jonah meanwhile slept through his opportunity to be light in the darkness of their situation.

Before we start throwing stones at Jonah, however, we need to take a look in the mirror.  We are living through a time, in this generation, that will define the human race from this time forward.

In the midst of the craziness of people’s responses in this fearful, anxious time…what will history say the church did?   The sailors on the deck of Jonah’s ocean-going vessel were terrified for their lives.  They were ready to try anything, and more receptive to truth than they had ever been.

And yet, the church’s voice is ominously silent.  Are we fearful of the storm?  Do we not know the God of the virus?  Are we beholding to human definitions and limitations and the rebuke and fear of “political correctness?”

Or is this our hour to wake up?  We’ve been “asleep in the light” for longer than I can remember.   Our message no longer has relevance to a broken world. They think we have nothing to say that must be heard.

I wonder if it’s possible that, like the frightened sailors, the world is now searching for a true word, a hopeful word in this storm?  And if they are, can we rouse ourselves from our slumber?

I find myself convicted by this passage.  I see myself in Jonah’s face, wrinkled by blankets of self-righteousness and an unwillingness to be inconvenienced by the cries of despair around me.   More often than I’d like to admit, I hear the cries and roll over and go back to sleep…always wrapped in the comfort of my excuses.

When will we stop dickering over our petty political posturing and step up to be the church?  When will we prioritize the message of the cross over any other message?  When will we rouse from our sleep and ask the Lord of Heaven and Earth to still the storm and show His power to the fear-blinded world around us?

A fearful, sin-blinded, and storm-tossed world is waiting for a word from the sleeping church.  If God has truly placed us here “for such a time as this…” isn’t now the time to rouse from our slumber and speak and live for Jesus?

Jonah never found his identity, never let the sailors know who he was as a prophet.  He never embraced his identity as God’s man in that situation.  He hid in fear…in apathy…and turned a deaf ear to the despairing cries of the sailors on the ship.

The Hiding Prophet

When Jonah was awakened in the belly of the ship, not by the storm but by an insistent, pagan ship’s captain.  I don’t know how it goes for you, but there have been times that I have been awakened and didn’t know I had been asleep!

The problem today with the church is, we think we are awake.

But in reality, we are asleep.

 

The Waking Prophet

Whether or not Jonah knew the despair of his situation was unclear. He had slept through the storm.  Jesus did the same in the Gospels.  When Jesus was awakened tough, He calmed the storm.

When Jonah awakened, he did the same, though in a different way.  Jonah had already missed a lot of the action:

“But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So, the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Jonah 1:4-6

Jonah was awakened by a pagan sailor throwing question after question at his passenger:

“How can you sleep through this?”

“Get up and call out to your god.”

One of the awkward moments for a backslidden, disobedient Christian is having someone ask him to pray for them.  “Everyone on this ship is calling out to their god, Jonah.  Why won’t you?”

Jonah could have honestly responded, “My God and I aren’t on Speaking terms at this time.”  But he climbed wearily to the deck and saw the peril of the storm.

“And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So, they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.”   (Jonah 1:7-10)

The men in desperation did the best they could spiritually.  They knew they were at the mercy of a power greater than they themselves could control.

And so, they cast lots.  This was a common way of seeking answers and solving problems in that day.  They were superstitious, like most people are who reject the truth of the Living God.

We may not resort to “casting lots” per se but a world that flounders spiritually will consult fortune tellers, Ouija boards, palm readers, horoscopes and other occult and voodoo and Wiccan approaches to try and find answers for life.

Paul tells us in the New Testament that when we reject the truth, we are susceptible to believe any lie.  The more we push the truth back, the more appealing a lie will seem to us.  We see it happening all the time in the media, and in entertainment, and even in politics and government.

These men were doing all that they knew to do.  And the lot, interestingly, fell to Jonah.  He was the problem.  He was the reason for the storm.

Immediately questions began to come:

“Who are you?”

“Where are you from”

“What is your nationality?”

“Who is your god?”

“What did you do to make him angry?”

When he answered their questions, they were terrified!  “What is this you have done?” He had already told them that he was running away from the presence of the Lord.

And so now, they are left with a quandary.  They know who is to blame for the storm.  They know he is from the Hebrew people and they had obviously heard of the God of Israel and were terrified by that knowledge!

What are we to do to stop this storm?  The answer surprises them.

And repels them.  Jonah said, “Throw me overboard and the storm will stop.”

 

The Sinking Prophet

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So, they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

Jonah’s suggestion that they throw him in the raging waves did not appeal to the men.  As desperate as they were, they still sought to escape the tempest by their own strength.  The men “rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not…”

They feared the Lord of the storm.  They were afraid of what His wrath might do if they injured one of His prophets.  Their confession and their statement “…for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you” was an expression of theological confidence that Jonah should have demonstrated.

It’s an embarrassment to Christian people at times when the world speaks more truth about God than we do.  Certainly, it seems at times that unsaved, worldly people have a more certain moral compass than those who claim to know the Lord.

These things are cause for embarrassment for those who named the name of the Lord as their God.  We should be proclaiming truth to a lost world, not the world repeating things to us about God.  We should be shining out in our lifestyles and moral choices, reflecting God’s light to the world.

And yet far too often it is the case that we are outlived and sometimes, out-thought spiritually by a world that has no access to the Holy Spirit.  These things should not be true of us.

After praying to the God of Jonah to forgive them for casting His prophet into the stormy waters, they threw Jonah overboard.  Immediately, the waters calmed…the winds ceased…the boat returned to normal…the skies cleared.

And they did the unlikely…the unexpected.  They worshiped.  They truly worshiped the Lord of Heaven and Earth and the sea and offered sacrifices.  Once again, these are things Jonah should have done, but would not do.

In his backslidden, disobedient state Jonah bore witness to the greatness of God in spite of himself!  God accomplished His greater purpose even without the positive help of Jonah, and even more in spite of Jonah’s efforts to frustrate God’s will!

But now, Jonah was adrift in an ocean, and truly in the hands of God.

 

A Concluding Application

All of the little Book of Jonah is an incredible well-told, artfully written literary work.  It takes on so many themes and so many important subjects that one time reading it will lead to many others.

But a question that arises time after time is this:  Did this really happen?  Is this (as some have said to me) a “preacher story?” In other words, is it some made-up or hyperbolized anecdote or is this a recounting of an actual event with a real person?

It is certainly a true story (actual event, historical rooting) as far as the Lord Jesus was concerned.  He referred, not only to the Jonah account, but read Himself into it!

In Matthew 12:39-40, Jesus spoke of being “three days and three nights” in the ground as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish.  Jesus saw Himself as the fulfillment of Jonah and of Jonah’s ministry.

Now there are certainly some hard things in that to understand.  Jesus was not comparing Himself with a disobedient, fleeing prophet.  By no means.  But there are two things we need to pay attention to in what Jesus said.

First, Jonah was cast into the sea as a means of appeasing the wrath of God being demonstrated in the storm.  His sacrifice saved the ship and the men aboard from perishing.  He allowed them to offer his body as a sacrifice for the sake of their salvation.

Like us, the men sought first, in vain, to save themselves.  They worked.  They tried hard.  They were genuine and sincere in their effort, but without the sacrifice of another their efforts were in vain.

Second, Jonah was swallowed (next chapter) by a “gedola” or great fish.  Not necessarily a whale, though it could have been.  The question that lingers in the Jonah story, especially since Jesus points to it as a type of His coming death and resurrection, is “did Jonah die?”  We will come back to that in the next session.

But clearly, we see in Jonah an Old Testament telling of the Gospel that would not be preached by the church for many years after Jonah walked on the earth.  How beautiful that, even before Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem, the Gospel story was being outlined and told by a soggy, Old Testament prophet named Jonah.

Only.  God.

01 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

JONAH, THE STORM-TOSSED PROPHET

(Jonah 1:1-6)

JONAH text. (Jonah 1:1-6)

We make some common mistakes as we read Jonah.  Only 48 verses in Hebrew, it mentions a “great fish” 4 times.  It mentions a “great city” (Nineveh) 9 times.  Jonah’s name comes up 18 times.  But God is mentioned 38 times in 48 verses!  Now just doing the math, what is Jonah about?  Well, we might correctly say “a GREAT GOD!”

It’s a great story to tell children, but we miss the “grown up” message of Jonah.  Jonah raises some of the toughest questions we wrestle with as Christians in the 21st Century:  Questions on racism, and nationalism, and death, and judgment, and God’s mercy and compassion, and God’s sovereignty.  Jonah deals with our call to missions, and evangelism, and our problems with idolatry.

I want to deal today, not so much with the storyline and narrative of Jonah, but to talk about some very serious mistakes that Jonah made…mistakes we also are prone to make.

First, Jonah underestimated how FAR God’s love reaches

Jonah went down to Joppa….

(NOTE:  You might remember Joppa from the New Testament.  It was in Joppa that Peter led a soldier named Cornelius, the first non-Jewish convert, to faith in Jesus.  But this was after God sent Peter a vision in Acts 10 to teach him “call nothing unclean that I have called clean.”  Peter had to overcome his prejudice. It’s maybe just ironic that it was the same Joppa where Jonah had gone to run with his own prejudice.)

The Biblical storyline begins with Jonah running “away from the Presence of the Lord” to the city of Joppa, to book passage on a ship to Tarshish.  One of the things that happen through the Book of Jonah is that we see the character, or attributes of God either plainly stated or implied in the story.

One of the first we’ve already encountered.  God is merciful and compassionate.  His call to Jonah is proof of this.  Jonah was not a philanthropist.  Nothing in this prophet could indicate he had an ounce of compassion toward Assyria.  God had to forcibly impress on him His desire for a message to be sent.

Jonah also was about to learn of an attribute of God’s nature called “omnipresence,” or “God is everywhere.” Conversely, it means we cannot go anywhere God is not.  God is not local.  He is not regional.  He is not national, nor does He belong to any political party, race or culture of people.  God transcends all of this and stands over it.

God sent Jonah to warn and testify to the Assyrian people…ruthless enemies of Israel.  They were an unusually cruel people and were considered a “terrorist state” people Jonah had been conditioned to hate; people that were beyond Jonah’s capacity to love, given his history with them.

Jonah was a prophet to Israel’s northern Kingdom and served King Jeroboam.   We read about him in 2 Kings 14:25 where he prophesied that Israel would regain territory lost to their enemies.  It came to pass as he predicted.

Jonah was a nationalistic, gung-ho, pro-Israel prophet.  He was a patriot to Israel and to his king in every sense of the word.  But God was about to take him from his pedestal of popularity and place him in the deepest struggle of his life.  Jonah was about to go into a storm that left him wondering about this God with Whom he claimed to speak.  Did he really know Him at all?  Had He been forsaken by Him?

Jonah is also about God’s will.  God has a desired will for each of our lives.  The debate is usually about just how detailed the plan is.  But most would agree, if God is our Creator, and He is Sovereign and in control of all things created, as well as the time we are living, then He has some intention for us to live out.  Sometimes elements of that plan frustrate us.

Jonah didn’t want to go where God was sending.  Sometimes the greatest opportunities for life begin just outside of your comfort zone.  But we don’t immediately see these times as opportunities.  We see them as a problem.

Jonah’s problem was his love was limited, as yours and mine tend to be, to include only those we like.  Or those who like us.  Or those who ARE like us.  Jonah couldn’t understand how God could love the Assyrian people.  In Jonah’s religion, God blessed good people (meaning Israelites) and judged bad people (meaning non-Israelites).  He couldn’t reconcile God’s mercy and God’s justice as he saw it.  How can a just God forgive and allow a horrible nation to repent and come back to Him?  It didn’t fit Jonah’s theological paradigm.

Eric Mason said that Jonah let his SOCIOLOGY overrule his THEOLOGY.  He allowed RACE to trump GRACE.  Racism and nationalism make the mistake of saying that if we hate someone or refuse to love them or think they don’t deserve to be loved, God must feel the same way.

It’s our duty to hate them too.

But Who does God love?  And Who does God hate?  And how do we know?

Second, Jonah underestimated how BIG God is

God HURLED a storm….

There is an interplay in Jonah with the adjective “GREAT,” or, in Hebrew, “gedola.”  The same word is used interchangeably to describe a “gedola” (great) fish, a “gedola” (great) city, and a “gedola” (great) storm.

The word “gedola” has to do with immensity, dimension, intensity and size.  We use the English word “mega” in much the same way.  “Mega” could describe a hit movie in a theater, a city, a shopping center, a sale in a store, and other uses.

As Jonah ran from the will of God, which was specifically to “go and preach to Nineveh, that “gedola” city.  But Jonah’s refusal to go and do as God desired led him directly into the path of a “gedola” storm, and later into the belly of a “gedola” fish!

That is exactly what happens when we run from the revealed and clearly stated will of God.  We run from God’s best into our mess.  We abandon the glory and joy of working with God to accomplish His purposes in the world, and squander them on the confusion and chaos of trying to do things our own way.

The little book of Jonah also stood as a stark message to the people of Israel.  While I believe Jonah really happened (so did Jesus by the way, if you’ll check out Matthew 12:39-40), it is presented as a larger working parable for the people of Israel.

Jonah had simply been sent by God to do what God had intended for Israel to do all along:  Being a light to the nations; being a missionary people to a lost world.

But Israel had squandered their opportunity by emphasizing the privilege of being the people of God and refusing to embrace the responsibility that goes with that.  Lest we think we’ve ironed that out, we haven’t.  God grafted us in (Romans 9) to be a new growth on the vine of Israel that would hopefully bear fruit, since the original vine did not.

We find ourselves doing the same thing, however.  We would much rather emphasize our privilege as the people of God.  We have grown complacent in the thought and belief that we are saved, so that should be enough, and that’s all God expects.  Now, let’s enjoy the privilege of the people of God.

But God is still seeking a people to be the light…to be the missionaries who will go with His Presence and bless ‘all the families (nations) of the earth’ as Abram was called to be a blessing in Genesis 12.  The Great Commission that Jesus left us in Matthew 28:19-20Sadly, like Israel we miss it.  Like Jonah, we run from it.

Jonah kept going down…an interesting metaphor that occurs throughout Jonah.  The further Jonah ran, the further down he went.  He actually thought he could get somewhere that God couldn’t see or know where he was.

You see, Jonah thought God’s “jurisdiction” as God ended at the border of Israel.  That God was not even God of the oceans, and that he could go there to hide from the face of the Lord.

David the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 139,

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Psalm 139:7-12)

Assyrians, like most cultures of the day, were idolatrous.  They had their own religions and their own deities.  They worshiped the god Marduk.

One underlying message of Jonah, though, is that he also was idolatrous.  He had created God in his own image…made Him an Israelite…believed He hated Israel’s enemies and only really loved the Jews.  And He stayed in Israel!  Blessed to be a blessing to the nations.

Whether we acknowledge God as God or not, He still is.  Though none in Assyria named the name of Yahweh in worship, He was still their Creator and their sustainer.  He was about to become their REDEEMER.  It was God’s grace for His creation that kept them alive.

You know when the Bible says, “Every knee will bow, and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…”  that’s what this is saying.  Whether we acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all or not doesn’t change the reality that JESUS IS LORD!  We will either acknowledge this and bow before Him or resist Him and be judged by Him.

And we will never take missions seriously until we understand and acknowledge this reality.  God loves other nations as much as He loves America.  Now if you are trapped in nationalistic thinking, that statement will give you some heartburn.  You may say you believe it, but your heart recoils from it.  There’s nothing wrong with patriotism, until it becomes nationalism which means you believe your country, your nationality, is the only one God cares about…or the people He loves most.

The problem with a theology that is nationalistic in nature is that it reduces God.  As long as we see God as the God of only nation, one people group, one culture…we reduce not only God, but we reduce ourselves.  Nationalistic religion is self-absorbed, and self-centered.  And when the chips are down, it is easy to kick a nationalistic God to the sidelines.

We will never take God seriously as long as we reduce Him to a size we can comprehend, explain, or relate to.  If you can understand all of God, you are not truly understanding God at all.  Our sin is making God too small in our eyes.  Jonah made God small in his own eyes by believing He could only be the God of Israel.

We are guilty of making Him smaller than our problems.  We think, “God is big, but obviously the coronavirus is bigger, right?”  Well of course it’s not, but we can drift into thinking that way.

Is God bigger than cancer?  Than your marital problem?  Than mental illness?  Than addiction?  Is God bigger than the grave?  And we make Him smaller than our passions.  We make Him smaller than our causes, or our agendas, and even our nation.  We use God to serve what we want or what we think is best.  That’s what Jonah was guilty of doing. That’s what Israel had done.  And if we aren’t careful, we will repeat the same sin.

God is sovereign. He is bigger than this universe.  Over every problem, and bigger than every issue you confront.  In our Milky Way galaxy, there are over one hundred billion STARS.  Our sun is among the smallest of all stars.  In our known universe, as far as we can see and estimate, there are no less than one hundred billion GALAXIES!   This awe and wonder made the Psalmist David reply,

“When I consider the heavens, the handiwork you have made what is man that You are mindful of him…?”

Trust me, God is more than enough to handle any issue you are dealing with right now.  With David the Psalmist, we’re amazed to know that God knows us…and cares.  He is God of the farthest-flung star in our universe.  And He certainly reigns as God of every nation, every ethnic group, and every piece of ground on earth.

Third, Jonah underestimated how DEEP God’s mercy will go

God pursued Jonah into the depths, even in Jonah’s disobedience.  You know, whenever you run from God’s will or God’s command or God’s presence, you always go “DOWN.” You never go “UP!”

The story of Jonah is the story of God giving a rebellious, disobedient prophet a second chance.  Jonah was confronted in the belly of the very ship he had booked passage on by a pagan sailor who was showing more devotion to his false God than Jonah was to the One True God!

How far will God go to get our attention when we’re in a state of rebellion?  Well first, we need to be very afraid when God leaves us alone!  Here is an amazing act of a merciful God Who would not let go of His rebellious child’s hand, no matter how hard he tried to pull away.

“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me… (ruthlessly pursue) me” (Psalm 23)

God in grace doesn’t turn His back on us, even when we are determined to turn our back on Him.  Like the story of the prodigal son, (which parallels Jonah on many fronts), maybe you’ve found yourself running “away from the face of God.”  He’s calling you back…calling you home today.

No matter how hard you’ve run or how far you’ve gone…

…He wants you back.

But now, in our day of heightened racial tensions and Black Lives Matters and White Supremacy and everyone in between Jonah is taking a brand-new bounce.

Jonah was a racist prophet.  He was a man who put his nationality as a Jew above every other race on earth.  He blamed the Ninevites for what they had done, not to him personally, but to his forefathers and to other nations.

Jonah despised the Assyrian people so much he was more than ready for God to wipe them off the map.  People he’d likely never met, never sat with for tea; people with whom he’d never shared a meal.  But he hated them.  How much?  Enough to rejoice if God wiped them out!

But the large fish is only mentioned four times in the book.  Jonah is not about the whale.  And it’s not about the great city.  Nineveh is mentioned nine times.  It’s not about the prophet either.  Jonah is only mentioned eighteen times.  But GOD is mentioned 38 times in a book that just has 48 verses!

You know that the MAJORITY of our Bible’s 66 books were written from right to left?  Every OT book was written…God’s Holy Spirit inspired people who read from right to left, and people who think from right to left.  That is one of the main reasons we struggle so much with Old Testament books, and why we miss so much of it while we try to make it make sense as people who read and think from left to right!

Now I know that some of us, as modern, scientifically-minded left to right thinkers, believe that it would be unlikely that this is a REAL event…that it actually happened…that JONAH was swallowed by a fish.  C’mon pastor.  Sounds like a scene from Pinocchio or something.

But you may never have seen the video clips of a whale shark or even a great white that could swallow a person!  So maybe it was something much bigger than a whale that swallowed Jonah.  We don’t know.  The Bible says it was a “great fish” I’m pretty sure there wasn’t enough space inside the fish to set up a little table and chair like Geppetto had in the Pinocchio cartoon.  It would have been dark, smell like dead fish, and Jonah would have been marinating in gastric juices that probably started bleaching his skin.  And I’m sure that some of our fishermen in here have a “great fish” story at least that big that got away!

We do need to understand that the Lord JESUS believed it really happened!  In fact, He used the story of Jonah’s being swallowed as a way of explaining His time in the grave before resurrection came.  “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish…” (Matthew 12:39-40)

But ultimately Jonah’s story is about God calling Israel back to their intended purpose:  To be a light to the nations who do not know Him…  A missionary people, carrying the Good News to the world.  But the story  was repeated time after time and the Israelite’s chose over and over again  to emphasize their “chosen nation” status and neglect their duty to evangelize and do missions and to tell the nations about the God they served!  They thought God chose them to bless them.  But God blessed them to be a blessing to the nations, not to keep Him to themselves.

Church be careful.  Christian, listen up.  You were “grafted in” to the vine of Israel to do what Israel would NOT do…go to the nations and share the Good News of Jesus!!  Let’s not fail in that task as they did.

Jonah failed.  This is the story of a man called to do exactly what was in his job description:  Represent the God of Israel to a lost nation—in this case the Ninevites.  But Jonah did exactly what we do:  Eric Mason reminds us that Jonah put his SOCIOLOGY above his THEOLOGY.  He put his RACE above God’s GRACE.

The God Who Sends

This is actually an amazing beginning.  Most of the prophets, especially the minor prophets, began and finished their ministry calling Israelites back to covenant obedience to Yahweh.  Some of the prophets were sent to the northern Kingdom of Israel, and some to Judah in the south.  But it is rare to unheard-of for a prophet’s ministry to turn to a pagan people…especially despised people like the Ninevites…maybe God could find us some NICE unbelievers to love, right?

The Assyrians were an unusually cruel and wicked people.  Their evil was notorious.  It would have been an easy assumption that God would simply want to wipe them out for their sinfulness.

But instead, God sent a prophet.  An emissary to warn them and give them opportunity to respond to Him in repentance and faith.  This is where we encounter the radical mercy and grace of God.  “And…”

It was a difficult assignment for Jonah.  He had been taught all his life to hate Assyrians.  He had been taught all his life to believe GOD hated the Assyrians too.  Isn’t it interesting that we assume that because we hate someone, that God must hate them too?

The God Who Sees

Jonah went DOWN to Joppa, bought a ticket going DOWN to Tarshish (away from God’s presence), went DOWN into the bottom of the ship ….away from the place God had called him to go…to flee from the assignment God had given him.

Jonah’s story is one of going down…down to the ship…down in the ship…down in the sea…. down in the belly of the fish.

Now before we shame Jonah, let me ask this question.  Have you ever tried to run from the call of God?  Has God ever clearly told you to do something, and you just pretty much said NO?   We find our life in a downhill spiral when we do this.  We don’t ever help ourselves…we only hurt ourselves.

Maybe like our children sometimes do, we say OK, but LATER.  That answer normally aggravates parents.  Because the next thing they’re going to hear is I FORGOT.  Some smart Moms and Dads have learned to say NOW.  If you have people working for you, and you supervise them or own the company that writes their check, and you ask them to do something isn’t it  implied with your request…NOW?

Is delayed obedience enough?  Or is it, in reality, the same as rebellion and disobedience?  Jonah ran.  He didn’t want to do what God had said, and so he headed in the opposite direction.

Jonah had prophesied before about the fortunes and lands of the people of Israel being restored (2 Kings 14:25). He was obviously a very popular prophet, carrying joyful messages from God and getting applause.  He would only get God’s applause for doing this.  Some would think he was crazy doing this.  Some would think he was a traitor to the Jews!

So, he became, in the words of one book title, a Prodigal Prophet as he ran from God’s call.

The God Who Pursues

But God stubbornly pursued Jonah.  Listen.  The times we need to fear are those times when God STOPS pursuing us and leaves us to our own devices and our own destruction!

Jonah experienced and received the same mercy that he was willing to withhold from the Ninevites.  We learn in later verses that he was not fleeing God because he was afraid of what they might do to him.  He was afraid that God would do exactly what He did:  Show them mercy!

You see we want to help God decide Who He should save, Who He should show mercy to, and Who He should love.  Who are those people?  The ones we believe deserve it!   If God hates the people we hate, then He also has to love the people we love, right?  Jonah decided God should not be showing mercy to these Assyrians!  He hated them, and surely God did too!

God pursued Jonah.  From the moment he departed from Israel and headed south to Tarshish…but from that moment God was after him.  He made the mistake of thinking he could leave God behind in Israel.

His theology was wrong.  He believed God was the God of Israel exclusively. That was very common thinking among people in that day.  This God belongs to us!  He watches over everything that happens in Israel and the more land and nations that are captured, the more God can rule over.

But Jonah was about to learn an important lesson, and a hard one for him.  First, that God is the God of every people, every land, every nation, every culture, every people, every ethnic group.  God is multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual, and multi-national in His dominion.  God is omnipresent. He is universal in scope.  He created every person, not just those of certain races and nationalities.

Whether or not they acknowledge that does not change the reality.  Whether or not you believe in God does not change the reality one bit that He exists.  You don’t diminish Him with your unbelief.   He is still God.  You will either acknowledge Him as Creator and Lord, or you will be called to account for choosing to disbelieve.  But either way, the reality doesn’t change.  God is the God of all people.

As such, God is a lover of all people.  Every ethnos, every land, every nationality.  He doesn’t love us more as Americans any more than He loved Israel more than the Ninevites.  His heart, His love is for every person…because every person has the image of God stamped on them.  If you hurt or hate any person, you are doing the same to the God Who made them.

Third, Jonah was about to learn one of his most important lessons:  that the God Who called him also pursues him relentlessly.  This is such a powerful lesson of grace.  We don’t earn God’s love by our obedience or lose it by our disobedience.  We will know greater blessing if we obey, plus we get to partner with God in His redemption of the world.  We miss those blessings if we refuse to obey and live only for what we want.

—What is God calling you to do today?

—Are you thinking biblically about Who God is?

—Who is the hardest person…or group or race or nationality for you to love?

Philippians Sermon Notes Week 06

The Secret of Contagious Joy

Having the Mind of Christ Part 2

(Philippians 2:5-11)

Two little guys were arguing at breakfast over the last pancake. Mom broke the conflict up and said, “Now boys you remember what we learned about the way Jesus thought? Do you think that Jesus would argue over the pancake? No He would let His brother have the pancake. Now I need you to be like Jesus to each other and do what He would do.” The boys were quiet for a moment, staring each other down. Then the older brother looked at the younger and said, “You be Jesus first.”

We need to be Jesus to each other. And we need to go first.

Paul’s appeal to the Philippians applies equally to us today. He didn’t leave what that would mean in the area of theory. We are to outwardly show the inward and hidden mind of Christ, which you have if you’re a Christian. Having it, however, does not mean we are perfectly showing it!

You know we miss the joy of the Lord sometimes precisely because we look for it in all the wrong places. We look for it as we grasp selfishly, and live proudly, and refuse to give ourselves sacrificially in service to others. A selfish, proud man who will not love His wife sacrificially is a death sentence to his marriage.

Selfishness, pride, and an unwillingness to give ourselves freely should not characterize us if we’re Christians. Now we will no doubt occasionally slip back into these from time to time. After all, they are our default mode! We still live with a fallen nature.

The Bible doesn’t just show us how Jesus lived and what He, but it takes us inside how He thought. And then it says, “When you think this way, and then you’ll live the same way.” If we are not acting this way, it’s a thinking problem. And we must be willing to have our minds renewed. How often? Well every time we start living and thinking in the flesh again. “The mind set (same word) on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the spirit is life and peace.”

How does that look? Well, three things we learned last week. The mind of Christ (or “mindset” of Christ) leads us first to be unselfish…considering the interests of others first.

FIRST, JESUS DEMONSTRATED UNSELFISHNESS BY GIVING UP EQUALITY WITH GOD. (V 6)

Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Jesus had a good thing going in heaven. Jesus didn’t come to earth to become God. He was eternally God before He came. “Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich” we read in 2 Corinthians 8.

This One Who is Deity, was Deity, and will always be Deity—the second person of the Trinity—had eternal wealth and power and wisdom and strength and angels worshiping Him constantly. He was enthroned in glory, but He gave that up unselfishly, seeking the interests of His Father and our interests before His own.

We had nothing to motivate Jesus to act unselfishly toward us. We are not unselfish people by nature. Anything but, actually. Now that said, there are some folks who seem to be less selfish than others; who are more generous and philanthropic. But that is not the kind of radical unselfishness Jesus demonstrated for us.

Recently there was a picture on Twitter that demonstrated something of this. A twelve year old girl was having trouble with her math homework, and so she emailed her teacher. He came to her home with a whiteboard, knelt down on her front porch and taught her through the door! He didn’t say “good luck” or “come to my front porch.” This teacher would have been paid the same to stay home. He didn’t have to risk his health or give up his free time to help this little student out. He had nothing to gain, but the satisfaction of getting to help.

We couldn’t comprehend God. We couldn’t solve our sin problem, and didn’t know enough to know we were in real, eternal trouble. A person unawaken to their sinfulness is like a person infected with the coronavirus but is not aware that something is terribly wrong inside them.

But Jesus, Who was equal with God, Who in fact WAS “the fullness of the godhead bodily,” gave that up to be born as a Jewish man, and He came and knelt before us and gave us a picture of Who God is. He washed His disciple’s dirty feet. He served the least deserving.

The mind of Christ leads us to live unselfishly. Even when it’s hard; ESPECIALLY when it’s hard. We are to have an unselfish attitude (mindset) even toward people who are selfish by nature.

JESUS SHOWED HUMILITY BY BECOMING A SERVANT

You know it may sound strange, but the Bible says that Jesus, “for the joy set before Him” went to the cross. Sometimes there are hard things we have to endure. But even hard times don’t stop the joy Jesus gives us.

He did not count equality with God something to be clung to. He unselfishly gave up His rights to be worshiped, to be honored, to be adored as He was in Heaven and He stepped onto earth as an infant.
RG Lee, the great Southern Baptist evangelist, used to say, “Jesus was as much God as God is God, and as much man as man is man.”

I know some critics have claimed that Jesus never directly claimed to be God, but let’s understand that when Jesus was tried by the Jews He was being tried for blasphemy. They understood that He was making a claim to be God, and they wanted Him crucified for it. 3 reactions to Jesus: Hate Him, run from Him, follow Him. But you can’t “like” Him.

We are remembering the HUMILITY of Christ as we think about and reflect on His dying. I think, of all the qualities of Christ we need to be looking for in our lives, humility is the one thing (my opinion) that God values most. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The death of Jesus, the obedience of Jesus shown by the humiliation and shame of the cross, is the extreme illustration of Christ’s humbling Himself. Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” The mind of Christ is a mind of humility.

JESUS SHOWED THE DEPTH OF SACRIFICE BY GIVING UP HIS LIFE

Jesus “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

We see some amazing illustrations of sacrifice in our world today in the self-giving we are seeing in our medical communities. Doctors and nurses are risking their lives just by showing up for work. Yet they serve even knowing it may cost their lives.

These sacrifices point us to the One Who said, “No man takes my life from Me, I give it to them.” You know it’s one thing for us to see these amazing folks giving as they are, but let me ask you a question. If a patient showed up one day that the doctor knew; let’s say a guy that he had recently found out was having an affair with his wife.

So ideally that wouldn’t change the doctor’s treatment of this patient. But now, this man who took the doctor’s wife has the virus and treating him may cost this doctor his life. Would he give up his health and maybe his very life to care for one who was an enemy?

What is unique about Jesus’ sacrifice is that EVERY PERSON He died for was an enemy! “But God demonstrated His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were enemies (at enmity) with God, He sacrificed Himself for us.

There will be countless ways, I believe, for us to show a sacrificial attitude. But for the Christian, there should be no hesitance here. We have the mind of Christ! A mind that forgives; that loves even when love isn’t returned; that shows the best when others show their worst.

We should not shrink back when we are called to give everything for the sake of the Kingdom. In his book The Insanity of Sacrifice, missiologist Nik Ripken wrote,

It is one thing to read about God’s people in other times and other places who have sacrificed in obedience to God. It is another thing altogether to imagine that God would expect the same of us. But why would God exempt us from the same sacrifice that He has required from His people throughout history? God will do anything—ask for anything—demand anything . . . to fulfill His purpose. He even sent His only Son to fulfill His purpose. And when that Son arrived, He declared the purpose of God clearly and openly: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). That is the purpose of God: to seek and to save the lost, for His glory. As the people of God, it is both our privilege and our calling to embrace and share in God’s purpose. In fact, the very reason for our existence is to join God in His work.

These three attitudes: unselfishness, humility, and sacrifice should mark us as Christians. The verses we have briefly examined show a perfect picture of all three.

JESUS DEMONSTRATED THE PLEASURE OF GOD IN HIS EXALTATION

“Therefore,” Philippians 2:9 begins. “Therefore,” looking back on all that was written in verses 6-8; Christ’s self-emptying, His refusing to “grasp” the privileges of Deity, His becoming a servant (doulos: slave), His becoming obedient to the death of crucifixion; all of that is included and summarized in THEREFORE.

THEREFORE God has “super-exalted Him.” Jesus stepped down into human existence, occupying a lowly human body. He became man and yet never ceased being fully God.

Of all the world religions and philosophies that people have followed, NONE regards the material, physical world as highly as Christianity. Eastern religions as a whole reject the material world as an illusion. Greco-Western religions regard matter as evil.

Neither religions of the East or the West could have imagined a statement like the Hymn to Christ that is found in Philippians 2:6-11.

That God became a man…not for a little while, but reigns forever in a human, though exalted and resurrected body!

THEREFORE God has exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every Name…

“There is no other Name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved, “ we read in Acts. Jesus has a Name that excels and exceeds every Name that could be named.

It is before Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that HE IS LORD, to the glory of God the Father. Every knee, every tongue, in every language…for the first time since Babel every tongue will speak the Name of Jesus together!

The confession, JESUS IS LORD, has been for two millennia the confession by which men and women, boys and girls are saved. No other Name will do. No other Name can suffice. No other Name but the Name of Jesus.

This confession requires two things:

  1. It requires CONVICTION. We must be convinced in our hearts that Jesus is indeed Lord of our lives. He is God, as He claimed to be. When the disciples said “Jesus is Lord,” they did not confuse what they meant. The Greek word “kurios” (Lord) was used in the Greek Old Testament translation to translate the word “Yahweh,” which is the Hebrew name for God. Over 1600 times this term was used. For the apostles who wrote the New Testament, this would have been the Old Testament translation they were most familiar with. For them, saying “Jesus is Lord” was claiming “Jesus is God.”
  2. If Jesus Christ is God, as the Bible claims He is, then this requires of us a second thing: COMMITMENT. Our conviction of Who He is must be followed by our COMMITMENT of everything to Him. You cannot casually “like” Jesus. People didn’t just “like” Him. Some people hated Him, and wanted Him dead. Some feared Him, and fled. But some fell at His feet and called Him Lord and God.

If Jesus Christ is Lord, then that confession demands “our soul, our life, our all,” to paraphrase the old hymn. It leaves us no quarter. We despise Him, we flee from Him and hide in claims of atheism and intellectual arguments to prove His claims wrong, or we fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.

But you can’t just “like” Him. That option is not open.

He is Lord, He is Lord
He is risen from the dead and He is Lord
Every knee will bow, every tongue confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord

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