On the Plains of Moab Blog
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March 3, 2013, 5:21 PM

Sermon Text - I, Jonah: “THAT Kind of God” Sermon #6 of 7

Sermon Text: Jonah 4:1-3

Last week, we left off with an incredible demonstration of mercy from God towards the city of Nineveh.  The Ninevites.  You remember the really bad guys.  The sinners.  Those people.  God looked upon their sincere repentance and relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (3:10 ESV).

Those pagan Ninevites turned from their evil ways.  They were cut to the core.  They were able to turn it around rather quickly and genuinely respond to God’s call through Jonah.  And all Jonah said was, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (3:4 ESV).  An eight word sermon and he's the world’s greatest evangelist.  You would think that Jonah’s reaction to this unprecedented response would be one of at the very least, self-satisfaction -- satisfaction in the success that God had given his preaching.  Greater still, that God offered an unlikely city the opportunity to find a way out of their distress – to come out from under his sure, just and righteous judgment.

But, no.  It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. (4:1 ESV).  Further, Jonah goes into a rant that masquerades as prayer:  "O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country?  That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." (4:2 ESV).

Jonah was disgusted with God; bitterly angry.  Couldn’t see this one coming, could we?  This is why Jonah ran away from God and his call in the first place.  Obviously, he hated the Ninevites.  Obviously he likely did not want to set foot in such an unholy, God-forsaken place.  Obviously he thought the mission was misguided in the first place.  But the main reason he did not go is that he knew what God was like.  He knew that God would be gracious...and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster to those who would truly turn from their evil ways.  God is forgiving.  God longs to forgive.  God is love.  Even to those who don’t belong to the fold of Israel!  Jonah knew that God was THAT kind of God.

And God did not surprise Jonah.

This “gracious and merciful” expression that Jonah uses to describe God was certainly not original to Jonah.  In fact, it was used over and over throughout the Old Testament.  It stands as one of the great creeds in the Old Testament.

The first time it is used is when it comes directly from the mouth of God in Exodus 34.  On the occasion when Moses was allowed to come closer to the glory of God than anyone had ever been before; when God passed him by in the cleft of the rock; he heard these words:  "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.... (Ex. 34:6-7 ESV).

The Psalms claim this statement of faith a number of times as a basic building block of faith:  But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Ps. 86:15 ESV).

Nehemiah uses this creed to remind the post-exilic generation (those returning from exile in Babylon) of who God is and what he has been with their ancestors; giving them great confidence to trust him and believe him and love him.  He said, your ancestors – that wilderness generation, they refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.  But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.  Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, 'This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,' and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. (Neh. 9:17-19 ESV).

About a hundred years after Jonah’s day, when God was about ready to judge the city of Nineveh once again (and this time for sure) through the word of the prophet Nahum, he reminded the city that the LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. (Nah. 1:3 ESV).

Again, Jonah knows this.  It has most likely been written on the tablet of his heart from his youth.

However, as I have said before in this series, Jonah’s theology is not the problem.  He is spot on.  He knows his theological p’s and q’s.  He probably knows the Torah forwards and backwards.  He could probably teach at the level of the finest rabbis in the land.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • His correct understanding of God the Creator:  “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (1:9 ESV).
  • His correct understanding of the price of sin:  “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.” (1:12 ESV).
  • His ability to channel the best of the Psalms:  “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.” (2:2 ESV).
  • His best imitation of King David:  “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”
  • The fire of the best of the prophets:  “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” (2:7-8 ESV)
  • Just good theology:  “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (2:9 ESV).

A right understanding of who God is and what he does is not Jonah’s problem.  His problem is his heart.  It is cold.  It is hard.  It is distant.

  • Jonah doesn’t like it that God’s love is much bigger than ethnic, national Israel.  He doesn’t mind if God loves and lavishes attention on him, even when he doesn’t deserve it.  But he doesn’t want it for those people.
  • Jonah doesn’t like it that God’s plans are much bigger and higher than he can fathom.  Again, all’s well as long as the marvel is reserved for God’s good people, and Jonah of course.  But why waist grand plans on undeserving people.  I mena really undeserving people.  Like those people.
  • Jonah doesn’t understand how God can love people who are so different and so strange and seemingly so far from grace.

That his heart is distant from God comes through in the last words we hear Jonah speak in the book.  Sad words.  Pathetic words.  “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (4:3 ESV).

The word that comes to my mind with Jonah in the big picture here is:  Hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy I would define as the habit or way of life that lays claim to having a higher moral standard (a true faith in God) but that the living out (the reality!) of that standard is lacking quite a bit.  To say it even more practically, it is to know what you believe but to self-righteously disregard the parts you don’t really like.  You preach one thing out of one side of the mouth; but something else quite different comes out the other side.

I can’t help but see in Jonah a little bit of that spirit of the Pharisees that would bedevil Jesus during his earthly ministry.  Good guys.  Professionals.  Sticklers for tradition.  Wanting to do the right thing for God.  But just plain tone-deaf when it comes to the heart of God.

In the New Testament, we have a fleshing out of a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.  That would be God’s provision of Jesus Christ.  We have in the New Testament an unpacking of the love in Jesus Christ that would probably give Jonah heartburn.  Stuff like God’s love in Jesus for the world and the outlandish plan that God’s only Son would die for and be raised for the healing and reconciliation of the world.  Uncalled and unnecessary stuff like God’s desire for all people to reach repentance.  God’s grand plan that there will be people from all nations, tribes and tongues coming together one day to worship before the Throne in heaven, all singing with one voice, praises to the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

This is a Word to the Jonah in all of us:  Our God is THAT kind of God.

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it well.   Amen.

March 2, 2013, 6:39 AM

A Solid Piece of Advice

This book I am excerpting below (from another blog, of course!), comes from "Letters to a Young Pastor" by Calvin Miller.  It is obviously written to a pastor -- but, the topic here in this entry is applicable for all God's people!  Particularly as we go through the remainder of this year taking all things into consideration as we discern.  Perhaps a preview of some special sermon series after we get off the Jonah train?

Don't Privatize Your Creed

I pray that you are an advocate of Jude’s idea that there was a faith once delivered to the saints.

I also pray that you want that very faith to become so much the center of your confession that you will not bypass the Apostles’ Creed, saying, “No, thanks. I have written my own more reasonable doctrine.”

For those who want to be sure the exact teachings of Christ never die, it seems to me to demand this confession: Behind the historical church, there is a great body of nonnegotiables.

To privatize your creed is to confess you are syncretizing your way into a gnostic conversation; you’ve snuggled into a Procrustean bed.

Remember Procrustes? He was the Greek host who always kept a bed, affording hospitality to his guests. But for Procrustes, he had a bed of only one size. So if his guests were too short for his bed, he put them on the rack and stretched them out to fit it. If they were too tall, he chopped them off to fit it. He tailored his guests to fit the bed.

Let us label the myth. The bed is privatized doctrine. The guests are searchers after amendment to Jude’s faith once delivered. Once the guest has agreed to spend the night, he has joined a new kind of conformity. He is deconstructed and made ready for a new kind of congeniality. He does not believe quite as much, but he fits into the meandering borders of faith a lot better.

I have chosen. You must too.

Confess what the centuries have labeled the historical faith, or, well … follow the crowd of those “new kind of Christians” who arrive at the old kind of nothing yet still believe themselves faithful.

- Calvin Miller, from Letters to a Young Pastor

- See more at: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/#sthash.RICotdVq.dpuf




February 24, 2013, 12:25 PM

Sermon Text - I, Jonah: "Who Knows?" Sermon #5 of 7

Text: Jonah 3:3-10

Today, we finally arrive in Nineveh with Jonah here in the remainder of Jonah 3.  Remember that last week we only covered the first three verses of chapter 3.  By way of review, we have been focusing in this series on the life of the prophet Jonah as a sort of mirror reflecting who we are before God.  In other words, Jonah's adventures resemble the stages we go through as we follow Jesus the best that we can.

1. Sin

In the first sermon, we found Jonah saying "No" to God, bringing to the forefront our basic problem in this life:  Sin.  Jonah is a sinner.  Our sin too, is the most pressing problem in this life.  It brings us down and it separates us from God.

2. Judgment

In the second sermon, Jonah was on a ship heading out to sea, away from the presence of God when a fierce storm sent by God put a stop to that run.  Jonah received the judgment his sin deserved:  He was thrown overboard to drown in the Mediterranean Sea.  The inconvenient truth of the Bible is that this is also what our sins deserve.

3. Grace

Sermon number three took place in the belly of the great fish (or the whale).  Jonah's prayer recognizes that it is the grace of God that saves his life from certain drowning.  Undeserved and unexpected.  It is only God's good pleasure that saves a sinner.  Jonah inside the belly of the great fish is a picture of what God does for us through Jesus Christ (Ichthus), saving us from certain and sure death and eternal separation from God.

4. New Life

Last week, Jonah was right back in Joppa, receiving the exact same commission to go to Nineveh.  God gave Jonah a new life.  When God saves us through Jesus Christ, we too are given new life.  Last week I suggested to you that each week when we cycle through the prayer for forgiveness and hear the promise of forgiveness, we are in Joppa being re-commissioned once again to go out into the world anew.

5. Repentance

Today, the focus in this sermon is not so much about Jonah as it is on the Ninevites and their response to Jonah’s preaching.  Today, in Nineveh, the word is repentance.  This little word is important in understanding aright how to receive God’s offer of salvation to the world.

Let's go to the text.  In Jonah 3:3, we read that Jonah…went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.  Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. (ESV).  This "three days' journey in breadth" has puzzled some.  Did it take Jonah three whole days to walk through the entire city of Nineveh, end to end?  Man, that would be a huge city.

Probably not.  Most likely, this is diplomatic language.  Royal protocol.  When an emissary comes into an ancient town on official business, the duration of the mission is usually three days.  This detail tells us that Jonah would be in Nineveh preaching three full days.  And so, Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey.  And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (3:4) ESV.

This forty days and judgment brings to mind the forty days of rain upon the earth in Noah's day and especially the forty years of wilderness wanderings of Moses and the people of Israel.  Forty days is a symbolic period of purging and purification.  While the darkness of judgment hangs over their heads for forty days, they can either respond in a positive, constructive way by owning up and repenting to live; or they can go over the cliff together in their sin.

What comes next is entirely unexpected!  And the people of Nineveh believed God. (3:5 ESV).  It says that on the very first day of the Nineveh crusade, right out of the starting gate, the response to Jonah's preaching is right up there with Billy Graham.  The Ninevites believed God's word to them.  No need for days two and three of the crusade.

When it says that the Ninevites believed God, it means that they responded to his message by turning away from their sin.  In other words, they repented.  Their immediate reaction to Jonah’s oracle of doom included putting on sackcloth and fasting, both gestures a sign of contrition and desire for mercy.  The king of Nineveh went even further by putting aside his royal robes and sitting in ashes.  He calls for every Ninevite, rich and poor, old and young, all the way down to even the animals highlights to do just as he has done.  The king says, “Who knows?  God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (3:9 ESV).  Who knows?

There is a prophetic key in Jeremiah that helps us understand the Ninevites response Jonah’s impending message of divine doom:  God says, if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. (Jer.18:7-8 ESV).  Usually, when God issues an oracle of doom, there is a possibility that it could change, based on the response.

Joel 2:11-14 also sheds light on their actions, and in particular, the king of Nineveh’s question about God: …the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?  "Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments."  Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him…? (ESV).  Who knows?  We know God is good.  May we then expect that if we turn things around and fly straight, he might turn and do the unexpected, the outlandish, and forgive us?

The answer we get in Jonah is that God is indeed willing to relent and spare the Ninevites.  When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (3:10 ESV).

The evil, bad, wicked, oppressive, violent, enemy Ninevites expressed genuine repentance, and God responded by repenting himself.  Repenting of the disaster that he intended to bring upon the city.

Now, from what we know of God and his dealings with Jonah, the sparing of the Ninevites should not be surprising.  After all, Paul in his letter to Timothy says that God our Savior…desires all people to be saved….  (1 Tim. 2:3-4 ESV).  Even hopelessly bad people.  Even people who have done terrible things in their life.  Even people who have hated God.  Even people that you do not like personally!

But here is where that little word that we are focusing on comes into sharp focus.  Repentance.  God’s acceptance is contingent on repentance.  The apostle Peter expands on Paul’s thought in 1 Timothy:  The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).

As an aside, let me tell you what repentance is NOT:

An actual note to the IRS:  Enclosed is a cashier’s check.  I cheated on my income taxes 20 years ago and I haven't been able to sleep since.

PS  If I still can't sleep, I'll send you the rest.

Repentance is recognizing the course you are on is wrong.  Repentance requires not only a change of mind; but a change of direction in life.  Heart, mind and will turning to God.

So often, we hear of God’s love as an unconditional guarantee of God’s love, no matter what we do or how we live.  We can believe anything and do anything our hearts desire because God will accept us unconditionally.  That is not Christianity.  That is a form of universalism.

On our website, you can find a section called “What We Believe.”  Under that tab you’ll find the “Four Non-Negotiables for New Hope.”  The very first non-negotiable states:

The doors to this church will always be open to anybody and everybody. No matter where they are in life; their economic status; their race, color, creed, living arrangements or sexual preferences. We are called to proclaim the good news of the Gospel; and every man, woman and child should have the opportunity to hear and respond to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

That final clause, that all should have an “opportunity [just like the Ninevites] to hear and respond to the life-giving message of Jesus Christ.”  Each man, woman and child must be in the place where they are able to respond in faith to what Jesus has done with his life and his cross.  That means repenting of all known sin and a willingness to see sin for what it is and walk away from it and into the arms of God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why I keep getting up here each Lord’s Day and preaching the same Jesus week after week.  This is why I keep talking about the love of God.  This is why I will continue to invite you into that love until I have no more breath.  Because, who knows what will come of it?  Who knows?

You have heard the Word of the Lord.  Please consider it well.   Amen.

February 23, 2013, 5:51 AM

Another Perspective

One Greater Than Jonah

For Jonah was a servant,
but I am the Master,
and he came forth from the great fish,
but I rose from death.

He proclaimed destruction,
but I have come preaching the good tidings of the kingdom.

The Ninevites indeed believed without a sign,
but I have exhibited many signs.

They heard nothing more than those words,
but I have made it impossible to deny the truth.

The Ninevites came to be ministered to,
but I, the very Master and Lord of all,
have come not threatening, not demanding an account,
but bringing pardon.

They were barbarians,
but these – the faithful -
have conversed with unnumbered prophets.

And of Jonah nothing had been prophesied in advance,
but of Me everything was foretold,
and all the facts have agreed with their words.

And Jonah indeed, when he was to go forth,
instead ran away that he might not be ridiculed.
But I, knowing that I am both to be crucified and mocked,
have come nonetheless.

While Jonah did not endure so much as to be reproached for those who were saved,
I underwent even death, and that the most shameful death,
and after this I sent others again.

And Jonah was a strange sort of person
and an alien to the Ninevites, and unknown;
but I a kinsman after the flesh and of the same forefathers.

- from a sermon by John Chrysostom

Thanks to Trevin Wax and his Kingdom People blog for this gem!

February 19, 2013, 8:30 AM

Further Thoughts on Sunday

As I left church on Sunday, there was this thought in my head that just perhaps I had footnoted something that should have been in the main body of the sermon.  As you may remember, I closed the sermon with two thoughts on God's offer of Jonah's second commission to Nineveh.  His do-over!  The theme for Sunday was New Life.  Jonah's second chance was, to me, a great parallel of what God does with us when he saves us and re-commissions us, so to speak.

My first thought was, "Wow, God is so very gracious to give us second chances when we don't particularly deserve them."  And then, I started thinking about the way of the world.  Particularly as we witness it in the news with celebrities and especially politicians.  Man, one slip up, and they are toast!  Discredited, shamed, kicked out of the limelight and sent into an embarrassing exile.  The amazing thing about this thought, at least to me was, "And the world thinks that the Church is judgmental?!"  Please.  Spare me!

Of course, the world does that with Christians who drop the ball as well.  When a Christian leader really blows it big, somehow, the world thinks that Christianity is discredited and phony -- at the very least, that the one who blew it is phony!  In reality, the world just demonstrates its own spectacular failure to comprehend the message of the Gospel!  In my mind, epic personal fails drive home our need for God's grace and mercy.  They highlight why God sent his Son to us in the first place.

The second thought was, in my mind, worth the price of admission.  When you think about it, every time we run through the part of our liturgy where we are called to confession; pray together the prayer of confession and then hear the words of forgiveness -- in a sense, we are right there in Joppa being called once again to go to Nineveh.  But, in our case, we are standing at the starting line to the week.  Being called once again to go and be faithful disciples in the world.  I can imagine that many of us had Jonah-like fails during the week.  But, on the dry land of the Lord's Day, you hear, "Forgiven!"  "Go!"  New life! 

February 18, 2013, 10:44 AM

Sermon Text - I, Jonah: "Déjà Vu" Sermon #4 of 7

February 17, 2013.  Text: Jonah 3:1-3

This morning, we move on to another chapter in this series on the book of Jonah.

Let me review very quickly where we've been up to this point:

  • Jonah receives a call from God.
  • Jonah says no to the call.
  • Jonah goes down to Joppa.
  • Jonah goes down on a ship heading out to sea.  Away from God.
  • Jonah goes down into the cargo hold as a great storm develops.
  • Jonah is caught and thrown down into the sea.   -Judgment
  • Jonah sinks further down; but is saved by a great fish instead of drowning.   -Grace

And so here we are today.  The fourth sermon of seven.  The very center of seven sermons in this story of a prophet gone rogue.  And you find here precisely what you might expect from a sermon in the middle:  The climax of the story.  The decisive moment.  The turning point.

The best way to describe this high point in the Jonah story is with the words déjà vu.  Déjà vu is the experience of thinking that a new situation has occurred before.  Listen to the opening call from God to Jonah - The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,  "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me." (Jon. 1:1-2 ESV).

Listen again to what I read a few moments ago from Jonah 3 - The word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you." (Jon. 3:1-2 ESV).  Déjà vu!

Aside from the addition a few extra words and a different ending, the second call to Jonah here in chapter 3 is almost identical to the opening words of the book.

The déjà vu here represents a been-here-done-that-moment for Jonah.

It represents a chance to do what he didn’t do before.

Last week, I suggested to you that Jonah's rescue in the great fish was a vivid illustration of what God does for the world through Jesus Christ in saving us.  The Old Testament is fertile ground for providing salvific (Divine) previews of God's plans through Jesus.  We, just like Jonah, deserve the death penalty for our sins.  The wages of sin is death.

And yet, for some reason, God doesn't give us what we deserve.  He does something as unexpected as a great fish swooping in at the last moment to save a rotten prophet from a certain drowning.  In the same inexplicable manner, he gives us grace.  Amazing grace!

Now, fresh on the heels of this saving grace, Jonah is given a second chance to complete the mission given to him.  After the first call, Jonah blew it.  He wanted nothing to do with God’s plans.  He wanted nothing to do with being the bearer of potential good news to his hated enemies.  He quit and tried to run away:  But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jon. 1:3 ESV).

And so, after a significant detour through the belly of a gigantic fish, he gets it right!  So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.  (Jon. 3:3 ESV).

When the fish spits Jonah out, he finds himself in roughly the same place where his disobedience left off on dry land.  Square one.  In Joppa.  Now he must make the long trek east to Nineveh to speak a word from God to the city of Nineveh that will either be judgment or grace.  A word that he himself has just lived out.

Jonah gets a fresh beginning from God.  A royal do-over untarnished by the stain of his past failures.  In an instant, Jonah's past falls away.  It doesn't matter anymore.  It doesn't have any bearing on his future.  What Jonah receives from God is new life.  He was as good as dead in his sin.   Quite literally.  Yet God saved him.  Quite literally.

I want to stop here at this point in the story and reflect for a moment on this offer of new life to Jonah.  A couple of thoughts.

Thought number one.  Think about God's offer of new life to Jonah and compare that to the way the world works under similar circumstances.  In the world, when you really blow it like Jonah, the verdict is usually severe.  Judged.  Toasted.  Unforgiven.  Ostracized.  Discredited.  Humiliated.  Fired.  Fried, dyed and laid to the side.  Barred from ever pursuing the same vocation ever again.  Unfriended.  And in the eye of the world, justly so.

No need to give examples here.  Just think about the world of politics.  The world of entertainment and sports.  Life in the working world.  You know this is true.

But then, you come across this story in Jonah.  You find the grace and forgiveness of God that results in a new life.  Grace and forgiveness that overwhelms our failure.  Not judgment.  Not now.  Now don't worry, we talk about repentance next week, and that is entirely necessary.  But today we are talking about this way out, unbelievable counter-cultural way of God in the world!

Do you not sense at least a tiny bit of irony oozing out in the pronouncements from the world that the church of Jesus Christ is harsh and unforgiving?  Really?

Thought number two.  There is no question in my mind that this second chance, fresh start graciously given by God to Jonah represents a foretaste of the new life we are given in Jesus Christ.  We are found by Jesus in much the same way the fish finds Jonah.  We find forgiveness in Jesus.  We are given new life.  And we go forth.

But we know it doesn't end there, happily ever after.  For heaven's sake, we know that Jonah has been saved, forgiven and given a new life...but he is still going to blow it in a pretty big way.  Just wait and see!  Life is tough.  Life has ups and downs, even in Jesus.  Sin has received the death sentence; but it ain't completely dead yet.  We haven't arrived.  We are in a holy process we call sanctification.  The process of becoming more holy, like our Lord.

But we need to be reminded early and often of the new life we have been given in Christ.  Perhaps you might think of the re-commissioning of Jonah every Sunday when we pray together the prayer for forgiveness and use the Kyrie eleison (Lord, Have Mercy!) to hear the reassuring words of forgiveness.  Praise God!

Every Sunday when we hear the promise of forgiveness following the prayer of forgiveness, it is like Jonah hearing, "Arise, go!"

Déjà vu.

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it well.   Amen.

February 16, 2013, 6:42 PM

What's in a Name?

Thought I would link to an article by a former professor of mine at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando.  Mark Futato is the Old Testament guy at RTS.  Passionate and engaging in his Hebrew classes.  Had him for a Genesis-Joshua survey course and he even taught one of my homiletics labs (preaching).  Here's a link to an article he wrote for Ligonier on the significance of Jonah's name.  Good article.  Please do read!

What's in a Name?

February 15, 2013, 12:03 PM

Swallowed by a Fish

I feel like I can't say enough on the question of whether or not a prophet was actually swallowed by a great fish.  I want to say, with the utmost seriousness, that I don't think I'm committing intellectual suicide by stating my belief that we have here a historical account.  My beleif here is tethered to a statement that Jesus himself made in Luke 11:29-32 (// Matt. 12:39-41).

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, "This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.  The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (ESV).

Jesus refers to the events of Jonah's life as established historical in every sense that he grants to Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  No good Bible student of orthodox fiber dismisses Solomon as the stuff of legend!  neither, I suggest, should we dismiss Jonah as a morla fable!

I recognize the presence of many literary genres within the canon of Scripture.  Believe me, I do.  I do not, for instance, believe that the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is supposed to be recieved as an actual historical event.  It is a parable.  Jonah, on the other hand, is not presented as a parable.

As I said on Sunday, if you can't swallow that yet, give it time, you may develop an apetite in time!

February 11, 2013, 7:01 AM

An Exegetical Note to the Sermon Yesterday

Alright, I made an executive decision not to include this information in the sermon yesterday.  It was already long enough, and I sensed that the room was a little too warm.  The pull of pressing the ichthus angle was overwhelming.  In the big picture, the angle was entirely appropriate.  But on a technical note, the Greek word for the fish used in the Septuagint (i.e. the Greek Old Testament) translation of Jonah 1:17 and 2:10 is not ichthus, but ketos (pronounced keh-tos).  The Greek word ketos means "sea monster" or "large sea creature" or "large fish" or even "whale."  The word is even used in Job sometimes where the Hebrew word is "leviathan."  On the other hand, the Hebrew in Jonah is much simpler, even if a bit too generic.  It is: dag (fish) gadol (great), meaning "a great fish"...just like it reads in most good English translations.

Kind of funny, in Hebrew, a dag (sounds like dog) is a fish!  I digress.

As I said at the beginning, the sermon title still holds, in my mind.  Ichthus is a fairly common word for fish in the Bible.  Ichthus is surely loaded, symbolically.  I suppose the Septuagint was trying to make the case that the fish that swallowed Jonah was special.  Perhaps of gargantuan proportions.  I don't know.  The Hebrew is much less complex.  Most importantly, I think the parallel between Jonah's adventure and the work accomplished by Jesus is held up in the New Testament (cf. Matt. 16:4 and Luke 11:29).  Therefore, I was comfortable going forward with the angle I took.

The sermon was long enough yesterday without clouding up things with a long detour into the world of word studies.  Personally, I don't like it when preachers do word studies in the pulpit.  Far too often, it makes mountains out of molehills.  (eg. "It wasn't a whale in Jonah, it was a big fish!" *sigh*)  Grammatical fine tuning is the kind of stuff that tickles the fancy in the Pastor's Study, but tends to be tedious in the pulpit.

There.  I feel better now.        

February 10, 2013, 3:38 PM

Sermon Text - I, Jonah: "Saved by the Ichthus" Sermon #3 of 7

Text: Jonah 1:17-2:10

Coming now to the third sermon in this series on Jonah.

Jonah, the prophet who said "no" to God.

Jonah, the prophet who ran from God.

Keep in mind that Jonah is a prophet of God.  In familiar Christian lingo, he is "saved."  He has been raised right.  He knows God.  He knows God's Law.  He is a good Jew.  And yet, he shows himself to be a miserable failure when it comes to living out his faith.  He knows the right things to say, but that's about it.  He knows that God expects him to love his neighbor just as he loves himself; but he won't do that.  He knows Samuel's famous words to King Saul, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. 15:22 ESV); but he doesn't seem to care.

Consequently, Jonah pays for his sins as we saw in last week’s sermon; the judgment is being thrown overboard into the waves of the stormy Mediterranean Sea where he will drown.  This is real justice.  You sin, you pay the price.

However, Jonah gets something else, something that exceeds his expectations.  Instead of drowning, the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jon. 1:17 ESV).  He opens his eyes expecting Sheol, the place of the dead.  …But he is still alive!  He thought God wanted him dead.  But, for some reason, God has shown him mercy!

I used to think that the great fish was part of the judgment from God.  After all, that’s a pretty disgusting thought, getting swallowed whole by a fish!  But it is the fish that actually saves Jonah’s life even though he deserved death.  The great fish is an instrument of grace from God.  Jonah did not deserve grace – but then again, that’s the point of grace in the first place!  Grace is simply undeserved.  Grace is gratuitous.  Grace is in the end, unexpected favor.

For some reason, God determines to show mercy…and Jonah recognizes it for what it is.  His prayer/psalm of praise in 2:2-6 recognizes the goodness of God in saving him.  "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol [the sea, not the belly of the fish!] I cried, and you heard my voice.  For you cast me into the deep [judgment!], into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.  Then I said, 'I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple' [i.e. I will return to the land of the living].  The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains.  I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever [death]; yet you brought up my life from the pit [of death into the safety of the belly of the great fish], O LORD my God." (ESV).

That’s the good.  This is the bad and ugly:  Jonah continues, "Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.  But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!" (Jon. 2:8-9 ESV).  A little of the old Jonah comes through here.  O Lord, you have saved me.  But those foolish sailors above; how futile in their thoughts and hearts?!  Those pagan fools.  But, I will serve you forever, my God, for you are indeed Lord of all.

Note well the good, solid theology there:  Worshipping other gods is a terrible affront to a holy God.  And, Salvation [really does] belong to the LORD!  But, his heart still seems far removed from God.  Jonah is willing to give God thanks for sparing his own life; but he doesn't seem to extend that wish that for anyone outside Israel.  He is thankful for the grace in his life; but still (here in the belly of salvation!) seems to begrudge it for anyone else.  What a mixed bag this guy seems to be!

And yet, and here's the bottom line: God still preserves him alive and gives him another chance at life.  As we heard a little earlier in the kid's Veggie Tales clip, God is the God of second chances!  And so it says, the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out [safe and sound] upon the dry land. (Jon. 2:10 ESV).

The heart of God is on display in his dealings with a reluctant, angry rebellious prophet.  If justice were done, Jonah would be dead, the compensation for his sin.  But Jonah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Far too often, this message of God's grace gets muddled in the debates over the fish.  Did a great fish really swallow the prophet?  Come on now, you can't really believe that now?  How could he survive?  That just doesn't happen.

Well, as far as that's concerned, how realistic is it to say that God came to us as a baby, wrapped in human flesh?  That kind of defies all categories of the way the world works.  God becoming one of us and dying for us to deal with our sin.  What’s up with that?  And yet the Christian church has for centuries unashamedly and boldly professed that Jesus is a man and yet God.  It works the other way around too:  Jesus is God, and yet a man.  How about Jesus dying for our sins?  Taking it even further; people don't rise from the dead when they are really dead, do they?  And yet, saints down through the ages have placed their hope in the reality of the historical, in space and time, resurrection of Jesus and the promise that he only the first fruits of many more to come.

For myself, I believe that God provided a great fish that saved Jonah.  If you can’t swallow that just yet, then at least grasp what Jonah and the great fish communicates about God.

I can’t help but see in God’s provision of a great fish for Jonah a picture of what he provides for us in his Son, Jesus.  Some of you may have picked up on the double entendre in the title of the sermon this morning: “Saved by the Ichthus.”  Ichthus is simply the common Greek word for fish.  However, the early Church adopted the fish as a symbol for Jesus.  Each Greek letter in the word ichthus represents a name for Jesus:  Iesous (iota, “i”); Christos (chi, “ch”); Theos (theta, “th”); Uios (upsilon, “u”); and Soteros (sigma, “s”).  Acrostically, ichthus literally spells out, “Jesus Christ, God, Son, Savior!”

What God did with that great fish that rescued Jonah is what he does with the world.  Our sins deserve death.  Our sins, just like Jonah’s, deserve eternal separation from a holy God.  And yet, for some reason known only to God himself, he sends an even greater fish, Ichthus, to rescue us from certain death.  It is all of grace.  We don’t deserve it.  Using Paul’s language in Romans 6, we have rightfully earned our “wages.”  Apart from God’s provision, justice will be done.

If I may push this analogy a little further.  After we are saved by the greater Ichthus, we like Jonah, are still a mixed bag.  We still have sin that remains that needs to be put to death.  We still have sin that we cherish and refuse to let go.  We still have much to learn.  We still have much room for growth.  We have an imperative to be led by the Holy Spirit.  We have a non-negotiable mandate to be changed from the inside out.

You have heard the Word of God.  I ask that you consider it so very well.   Amen

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