Saturday, October 26, 2019
God is Present in the Storm
Introduction: We had a pretty good Nor’easter blow through a couple of weeks back, several of you spent a few days without power. The wind got blowing pretty good that night – but nothing that we’re not used to, right? Have you been in the path of a wicked storm that actually scared you with its power? Maybe a hurricane, or a tornado? Perhaps a storm at sea—or extreme turbulence in a flight? If you look around on the airplane, and the flight attendant looks happy and calm, you take that as a good sign right? If they look worried, then, not so good. The pilot comes on and talks, always sounds like he is sitting at his desk in an office—and that tends to instill confidence. Our text today pictures a storm at sea—one so dreadful that it terrifies the experienced crew—and leaves them in despair for their very lives. They recognized their need for divine intervention! They were afraid for their lives. Rather than running, rather than sleeping, Jonah should have had a proper fear of the Lord!
What does it mean to “fear the Lord” (cf. 1:5,9,16)? For the believer, I think it must mean to recognize, at least in part, the awesome, immeasurable power of God, His holiness and His righteousness, and to see ourselves as we really are: one moment the prodigal son walking away from the Father who loves us; next, the elder son, complaining about the Father not conducting “family affairs” the way we think He should, or lamenting His grace in the life of another. Hopefully with growing frequency, we can see ourselves as the prodigal who has returned to the Father in repentance and experienced His mercy and grace. For the believer, we “fear the Lord” because we recognize that He is GOD, and we are not. And so, we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure…” (Phil 2:12,13). Think about that, whatever the storm we are facing we can know…
The Maine* Idea: God is present in the storms of life working for our good, and for His glory.
Context (3): Don’t be tempted to deny His Word and run!
3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.
God said “Go!” and Jonah said, “No!” Rather than heeding God’s call to go to Nineveh, Jonah turned his back on God, and headed due west, toward the sea, setting his eyes on going to Tarshish, on far western edge of the Mediterranean Sea. He was fleeing “away from the face of the Lord.” This is not, like Moses did when he was called in Exodus 3, struggling honestly with a call, voicing his concerns to God. Jonah hears the Word of the Lord, understands it, and turns his back on the Lord and heads in the opposite direction, or at least that is his plan.
The verb translated “went down” occurs twice in v.3 and again in v.5 (see also 2:6). This same verb can also be a euphemism for death. For example, Jacob, broken-hearted over what he thought was evidence that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal, refused to be comforted and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." (Gen 37:35). The same verb, “go down” is used. The repetition here in chapter 1, as well as a later reference in Jonah’s own prayer in chapter 2 (from the fish’s belly) draws the reader’s attention, inviting us to think about Jonah, running from God, the source of life and light, into darkness... The further he goes in trying to distance himself from God, the closer he comes to death.
Jonah had a word from God, and foolishly chose to ignore it, and in fact he chooses to do the opposite and flagrantly disobey. We would never do such a thing, right? "I'll go where you want me to go dear God, I'll do what you want me to do..." Whatever God says, we are ready to obey, right? Love your neighbor, love one another… do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith… Love your enemy… don’t answer evil for evil, but overcome evil with good… “OK Lord, now you’ve gone too far!” Let’s face it, we all fall short, we are all a work in progress. And whenever we know what God would have us to do, and we don’t do it, or even do the opposite, we’ve become Jonah… We need to learn from the prodigal prophet about ourselves, and about Yahweh, the God who is. Jonah “paid the fare” as he boarded the ship. It might have been his life savings, we don’t know. But the cost of running from God would be much higher. And by grace, God was not going to let him go. That brings us to…
***The Maine* Idea: God is present in the storms of life working for our good, and for His glory.
I. God cares: Some storms are attached to our sin [but not all] (4)!
4 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.
Storms happen, they are usually part of life in a fallen world. There are storms, and then there are storms! Here we read, “But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea…” This was not a simple convergence of weather fronts, this was divine intervention! Verse 4 begins with the phrase, “But the Lord…” Jonah sought to run from the presence of God, he turned his back and was going as far away as he could, but God would not simply let him go. The language here is striking, Yahweh, the Lord, “hurled” a great wind upon the sea. The verb is the same that was used of Saul “hurling” a spear at David (and then later at Jonathan when he spoke up for David!), hoping to pin him to the wall. But this great wind, and the great storm it creates, is no fit of anger from the Father as it was for Saul. It is an act of holy love. He is present in the storm, working for the good of the prodigal prophet, and as we’ll see, also for the good of the men on the boat, and the population of Nineveh for that matter.
Pay attention to the wording here. In verse three we are told, three times, that Jonah is fleeing from the face of the Lord. God could have simply let him go, and called another more willing prophet to go to Nineveh. But God was interested not only in that great city, he was interested in Jonah, and in those pagan sailors in the ship with him. He could have spoken again to Jonah on the ship, but He chose to use circumstances to arrest his attention, and to lead him to repentance.
So God was there in the storm, chastening Jonah, getting his attention, calling Him to repentance. Jonah was going not only the way of disobedience, but heading for self-destruction. Do you think you can just give up on God? He won’t give up on you! He will pursue you because he loves you. Who the Lord loves, he chastens. So, we can see pretty easily that the storm had a purpose in Jonah’s life. But what about the sailors? They had simply gotten in the wrong boat with the runaway prophet, right? Well, their sin didn’t cause that particular storm it seems. Not every storm we face is the direct result of our personal sin, but it is a consequence of living in a fallen world. But these sailors were sinners, and though their sin didn’t cause the storm, God used that storm to bring them to see their desperate need, and then to reveal his power and his grace, leading them to repentance and faith. If news of that far-away storm got back to Nineveh, they would surely think it had nothing to do with them, right? But God also used it for their good as well, as it brought the prophet, and the Word of God, to their ears. To God be the glory! And that is the Maine* Idea: God is present in the storms of life working for our good, and for His glory. God cares, and…
II. God acts: We should always be self-aware, and aware of needs around us, asking what God may be doing, even in the storm (5). He is the Lord of History, in fact “history” is “His Story.” The Christian life means recognizing and embracing our place in His Story. He is there, in the storm…
5 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.
The sailors were terrified, they knew they needed divine intervention! They cried out to their gods but the storm continued. The one who knew the true God, the God who is, was in denial, sleeping. Like the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, the sailors cried out, but their gods were idols, powerless, unable to act. Ironically, it seems that every person on that ship we praying—except for the prodigal prophet. Jonah, the prophet of the Lord, was fast asleep, oblivious, in denial, of what was happening around him! It seems he doesn’t pray until chapter 2, from the fish’s belly! How different this story might have been had he wrestled honestly with God expressing his struggle! Psalm 55:1-11 could have expressed the struggle of Jonah to the Lord…
Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! 2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan, 3 because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked. For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me. 4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 5 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. 6 And I say, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; 7 yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah 8 I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest." 9 Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues; for I see violence and strife in the city. 10 Day and night they go around it on its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it; 11 ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace…
The psalmist expressed many of the concerns of Jonah, even his dismay at the evil in the city, and his desire for judgment and justice. We even see in verse 6 the Hebrew word for dove, “Jonah,” and the desire to fly away from all the trouble! Instead of praying honestly to God, Jonah ran, and brought trouble on himself and those around him.
The response of the mariners emphasizes how terrible that storm must have been. They were experienced sailors, they had weathered many a storm. V.4 says this one was so intense that the ship “threatened to break up.” The wording seems a little strange here, like the ship is talking, “If somebody doesn’t do something, I am going to break up!” The groaning and creeking timbers said it all: the situation was dire, and the sailors knew it. Their prayers to their gods unanswered, the sailors did what they could, they threw the cargo overboard, so it seems the hope for profit was gone, but maybe they could save themselves. They were desperate to make it to land—desperate to save their lives! Ironically Jonah later expresses the truth, in his last words from the fish’s belly in Jonah 2:9b, “…Salvation belongs to the Lord!” So, please excuse the spoiler, but Jonah eventually learns the Maine* Idea: God is present in the storms of life working for our good, and for His glory. God cares, and He acts, we also see that…
III. God hears: We need to be alert and prayerful in the storms of life, considering our needs as well as the needs around us (6).
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."
What irony that this pagan captain could see the need for supernatural intervention—only a god could rescue them from this storm! All the while the prodigal prophet, the one fleeing from the face of the God who is, running from the Creator of the land and the sea, was asleep below deck! The pagans were calling out to their false gods, doing what they thought they could in the face of imminent death. They jettison the cargo, hoping the lightened ship could make better headway toward land. Nothing is helping. Somehow the Captain realized there was one man still sleeping in the hold of the ship, maybe his God could do something! “What do you mean, you sleeper?!” I like the way the NLT puts it, “How can you sleep at a time like this?” It strikes me that this is almost the opposite of another scene we see in the New Testament. In that case, a prophet greater than Jonah is asleep in a boat, on a stormy lake. The crew is terrified that they are about to sink. We read about it in Mark 4:37-41…
37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"
Jesus was sleeping in peace, perfect faith that the situation was under control. It was the peace the psalmist spoke of in Psalm 3:5 and 4:8. Jonah’s sleep was that of spiritual dullness and denial, the idea that Paul addresses in Ephesians 5:11-14,
11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
That quotation is not precisely found anywhere in the Scriptures. Could it be that Paul was paraphrasing a part of the captain’s words to Jonah, and applying it to his teaching to the Ephesians? Jonah was not dead, though spiritually speaking, he was moving in that direction as he moved away from the face of God, and “went down” to Joppa, “down” into the hold of the ship, and eventually into the deep and the belly of the fish! But God so loved the world… that One greater than Jonah came, a faithful Son, the Servant of the Lord, and He faithfully carried out the Father’s plan. He bore our sins and carried our sorrows! God so loved us!
What is God saying to me in this passage? The “Maine* Idea” in this story is that God is present in the storms of life working for our good, and for His glory. He was working for the good of the Ninevites, as He had determined they would be warned of the impending judgment. He was also working for the good of the prodigal prophet, Jonah, as he tried to ignore the Word of the Lord. We’ve had some wind and rain on the mid-coast already this Fall. Personally, some of you may feel you are in the midst of a storm right now. God was there in Jonah’s storm—and He is here in yours—and He knows exactly what is happening. Remember, “Nothing touches us that has not first passed through the hands of our loving heavenly Father… Nothing!” (C. Swindoll).
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? I am convinced that I can’t know for certain when God is chastening another Christian. Remember the disciples’ question to Jesus in John 9 about the man born blind, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” Jesus said it was neither, but that God might reveal His power and be glorified in the man’s life. When we see someone else going through a storm, we probably should not presume to think we know what God is doing. We can know that He is there in the storm, and that somehow he will use it for the good of his children, and for His own glory.
But, like Jonah when he woke up, when he knew the storm was because of him, because he was running away from God, because he had turned from the Word of the Lord—I think we will know when God is chastening us. I know that is true in my life. By the way, the storm was not caused by the unbelief of the pagan sailors, but they were caught up in it, they were in the boat with Jonah, literally, and we’ll see that it leads them to faith.
So, God was there, working in their lives in the midst of the storm, to bring them to faith, as surely as He was breaking Jonah’s rebellious will, and leading him to repentance. Think about Job, who, as far as we know, never knew why his storms came, but he grew through them, he learned about himself, and about God. Whatever storm you may be facing today, or may face tomorrow, don’t despair, trust God, cry out to Him. He is there in the storm. What a mighty God we serve! To God be the glory, Amen.
Sunday, October 20, 2019
Jonah, and other Prodigals
Introduction: In a sermon, Dr. Paul Tripp suggested that this little book, just 48 verses, tells us “…everything we need to know about a biblical worldview in a podcast…” He points to four themes…
1. A God of awesome glory who is at the center of the universe (He is, not you!). He is King of the Universe!
2. This world in which we live is terribly broken by sin. It is evident in big cities, and in small towns… in human lives… sin is not ok. Nineveh was corrupt, exceedingly evil, so is the world of today. When we would rather have our way, our control, our pleasure, we are guilty of fleeing to Tarshish…
3. Human beings were created to live for something bigger than “me” and “mine.” “The Holy Trinity” is not my wants, needs, and feelings! We have a higher purpose, to live for God, and His glory.
4. The reality of unrelenting, transforming grace (compare the first verse with the last verse of the book!). Announcing judgement is also a call to repentance. God could have sent someone else, but he was also working in Jonah.
That’s a lot of truth in a children’s Sunday School story! But we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17). God included Jonah in the Bible for our edification! And by the way, don’t let anyone tell that the events it describes aren’t meant to be taken literally. Jesus himself referred to Jonah as a picture of his own death and resurrection when He said in Matthew 12:40-41,
40 "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 "The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
If Jonah is ahistorical, then why would Jesus refer to it in connection with His death and resurrection? Jesus clearly assumes that Jonah is a historical narrative, trustworthy history. People who doubt that get caught up in the idea of someone being swallowed by a fish and living to tell about it. This is a miracle and many people deny anything supernatural in the Bible. If you can believe Genesis 1:1, is this really so hard to believe? God, who brought the universe out of nothing, would not be able to prepare a great fish to swallow a man, and then keep him alive inside that animal for three days? What about raising from the dead, after three days in the tomb? Nothing is too difficult for God! Let’s hear together what God is saying in this book.
The Maine* Idea: God is our Creator and King, He knows best, so trust Him and obey His Word!
I. The Sovereign Lord of the Universe has spoken (1). The main character of this story is introduced in v.1 (and, let me give you a hint, it is not Jonah!). The God who is, Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, the Great I AM, has spoken. The Hebrew construction occurs in this exact pattern 24 times in the Bible, all but once when God was speaking to or through a prophet. We see it here, then again in 3:1 when God calls Jonah for a second time. I think it was Greg Laurie who said, “God said ‘GO!’ Jonah said, ‘NO!’ And God said ‘Oh???’”
“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying…”
Jonah, the son of Amittai, is the principle human character in this story. We don’t know a lot about Jonah beyond what is written here. We do see him mentioned in his prophetic role in 2 Kings 14:23-27,
23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26 For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. 27 But the LORD had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.
So we see Jonah, perhaps the son of a prophet, prophesying in the northern kingdom, and his word being fulfilled. We learn that he is from Gath-hepher, which would be near Nazareth, in Galilee, not so far from where Jesus was raised. What we are not so sure about is whether the book of Jonah describes an earlier time in Jonah’s life, perhaps His initial call to prophetic ministry, or whether it is later. I’ve seen a few different commentaries suppose one or the other position. It seems more likely to me that the Book of Jonah presents an initial call to prophetic ministry, but I am not sure. So, this we do know. Assyria was a rising power in the east, a threat to Israel, a pagan nation, and Nineveh was its capital. And the Word of the Lord came to Jonah. God told Jonah to bring to that violent, pagan nation, a warning of impending judgment. Is a call to repent implicit in that warning?
God, Yahweh, is the main character in this story. The God who spoke the universe into existence, who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, who parted the sea and allowed the Israelites to walk through, before drowning the army of Pharaoh. The God who led them through the wilderness by the Pillar of cloud by day and Pillar of fire at night, who dwelt in the midst of the people in the Tabernacle and then the Temple, He spoke to Jonah, and by the way, He has spoken to us. The writer to the Hebrews began his Epistle saying, “In different times and in different ways God spoke in times past to the fathers through the prophets, in these last days He has spoken in [the] Son…” (Heb 1:1,2). The Word of the Lord has come to us—the Word was made flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). Does that astonish you? It should. If we grasp just a little of who God is, of His holiness and majesty, His awesome power omniscience, it is astounding that He would stoop to talk to us, through the prophets, and ultimately, through the Son. We should be quick to listen, and to obey! In 2 Kings 14:25 Jonah is called the Lord’s “servant.” That is a precious title, a time in his life when it seems he knew God and walked with Him. He is not at that point in this story. At least not yet. How about you? The God of the universe has spoken! That’s the Maine* Idea: God is our Creator and King, He knows best, so trust Him and obey His Word!
II. God is Holy and Just, He is also compassionate and calls us to bring His message to the world (2).
"Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me."
It wasn’t so unusual for God to speak an oracle against a pagan nation through one of His prophets. We saw several in our survey of Isaiah in Sunday School. Jeremiah has some as well, as do some of the minor prophets. What I think is unprecedented, is telling one of His prophets to actually go to that pagan nation, and to pronounce against it God’s impending judgment! What do we know about this city Nineveh?
Nineveh later became the permanent capital of Assyria, and in Jonah’s day was already the political, cultural, and economic center of the Assyrian Empire. The ruins of Nineveh are located about a mile east of the Tigris River, opposite Mosul in northern Iraq (see Major Cities of the Biblical World, ed. R.K. Harrison, p.181). It was one of the largest cities of its time, maybe close to half a million people, including women and children. Because of the wealth and power of Assyria, they were considered a threat to the security of Israel. Eventually, in 722 BC, they would be the ones who would overrun the northern Kingdom and sack the capital city of Samaria. These were enemies, and God tells Jonah to go to them, and to announce His coming judgement. Why did he run? We’ll learn more later in our study, but, as Tim Keller asks, “How long would a Jewish rabbi have lasted if he stood on the streets of Berlin and called on Nazi Germany to repent?” (Prodigal, p.14). That wouldn’t be too different that asking you or me to go to Tehran, or Bagdad, or Peking, and to preach the Gospel in the public square! How would that go?
God said to Jonah go to that “great city,” it seems talking about its size and population and influence. The need for the mission is that their evil had come up before the Lord. The wickedness of their pagan culture was like a stench in God’s nostrils, an offense to His holiness. They were a violent, immoral, and idolatrous culture. Like the world in Noah’s day, like the world in our day, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes… there was none righteous, no not one…” God is holy, and He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. But why send Jonah to warn them? Well, what happens when he does? They repent, they put on sack cloth and ashes and cry out to God for mercy!
God had souls to save in that city, and He is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance. It would seemingly be only for a generation, but some would believe! But they were pagans, violent and sinful, the enemy of Israel! And Jonah did not want to go. Are you convinced that God has souls to save in the Boothbay region? God said “Go!” and Jonah said, “No!” Your neighbors and family and friends who have not yet believed, are separated from God. God has placed you where you are, as His witness, he has told you, “Go and tell.” The Word of the Lord has come to us, as surely as it came to Jonah. Will we make excuses? Will we run and hide? Or will we speak the truth in love? God is our Creator and King. He knows best, so trust Him and obey His Word!
III. We must overcome the temptation to resist His Word and to think that we know better than God what is best for us (3)!
But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.
First, let’s look at Jonah’s Plan, it wasn’t very complicated: Run away from God! Notice twice we are told in this verse that Jonah planned to flee “from the presence of the Lord.” A more literally rendering would be, “…from the face of the Lord…” He was turning his back on God. Tarshish was across that Mediterranean Sea, in Spain we think, it was essentially the end of the earth as far as Jonah knew, as far away from Jerusalem as he could run. But run from God? Now, Jonah knew something about God. Two hundred years before his time David had written the beautiful lines of Psalm 139 that describe the omniscience and omnipresence of God,
O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
That is not a God you can run away from! Yet Jonah turned his back on God and ran. Foolish? Yes. Yet we do the same thing, when we know what God expects of us, we know what He would have us do, we know what His word says, and yet we rationalize and justify our unbelief, choosing our sin, as if it is in that pleasure that we’ll find happiness rather than in the will of God! I am Jonah, and at times, so are you. God’s way is best. He has spoken in His book. Let’s take Him at His Word!
Notice too, Joppa’s “provision”: A boat, going my way! I have talked with people who have convinced themselves that the circumstances through which they have passed, the series of events that came together, “proves” that God wants them to take a certain course of action – even though it is contrary to the Word of God. “This is an exception; this must mean that God knows it is how I will find true happiness…” If God is in it, know this: His Word is truth, He will not contradict His Word. God’s best for you will always be found in submitting to His Word. Jonah planned to go to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. He arrives in Joppa, and there it is, a boat going his way! To the end of the earth! Away from Nineveh. Did he think to himself, “Look, maybe God has opened the door for my trip!”? We can rationalize like that! This was not providential confirmation of Jonah’s decision. God was there, allowing him to go a bit further, before reeling him back in!
By the way, if the town of “Joppa” sounds familiar, you may remember that it is the town in the New Testament time where Peter went to stay in the house of Simon the Tanner in Acts 10. It was there that he received a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, and got the message that it was ok to eat cheeseburgers and lobsters… and also to go to the gentiles with the Gospel of Jesus. He goes with some men to the house of Cornelius, and while he is speaking of Christ, God shows his grace to those present as they hear and believe and receive the Holy Spirit. Jonah had been called to go to a pagan, gentile nation, and ran to Joppa on his way to Tarshish. 800 years later or so, Peter is at Joppa, and he is told that God has included the gentiles in His plan, and He was to go to them. Jesus spoke to His disciples, and to us, the same truth,
All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore, and make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Mt 28:18-20).
God said “Go!” Jonah said, “No!” And God said, “Oh???” We are here for a purpose. Jesus has said “Go!” Not necessarily across the sea or even across cultures. But across the hall, or down the street, to the people in our sphere of influence. Will we trust and obey?
The journey’s “price”: “He paid the fare…” In this case, Jonah literally paid in coinage a price to run away from God. But the cost would be much higher. Sin has a price. Yes, for believers, the price for our redemption is paid in blood, by Jesus himself. The debt is paid. But God is always working for our good, and for His glory. He will chasten every child He receives (Heb 12:5). Sin has consequences. Because God loves us, because He is working in us, to make us more like Jesus, He won’t let us go on in our rebellion. Even if He needs to send a storm… or a big fish!
What is God saying to me in this passage? This passage reminds us that God is our Creator and King, and that He knows best, so let us trust Him and obey His Word!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? I am not sure if our study of Jonah will bear out Dr. Tripp’s assertion that we’ll find in this little book “everything we need to know about a Christian worldview in a podcast.” I am already learning, and being convicted, and challenged. This is no fish story. It is God’s story, God who cares about humans so much, that he is present in the storm, to accomplish His purpose according to grace, and grow our faith. The God who is, has spoken. Just as surely as He called Jonah, His call is on my life and on yours. Will we listen? We can’t run from God. We can trust Him. Remember the old song, “Trust and obey, there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” That truth is part of the message of Jonah. Let’s explore it together. AMEN.
Saturday, October 12, 2019
GLORY IN THE CROSS!
Introduction: Our series in Galatians began back in May, and today (hopefully!) we’ll conclude this urgent letter from Paul. Our series before this was on the Gospel of Mark, do you remember the first verse of that Gospel? "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." That Gospel showed how Jesus lived a sinless life, and how He willingly took the wrath of God against sin for all who would believe. He took our sin, and by grace, through faith, we receive his righteousness. That is Good News! As Paul wrote Galatians, some false teachers were saying that the work of Christ was important, but it wasn't enough to make us right with God. Certain outward acts of obedience, such as circumcision, were needed for us to be saved. Paul is calling the Galatians back to the Truth: Grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone! This last paragraph is not simply a series of disconnected thoughts as Paul is ending the epistle. It is packed with truth. And here Paul draws together some of the major themes of the letter, a final reminder of the message they had heard and believed, the Good News through which we can have a relationship with God and by which we can live as His people in a fallen world.
We see here a final, personal appeal from the apostle to the gentiles: "See with what large letters I have written to you..." We know that Paul routinely used a scribe, an amanuensis, to put in writing the content that he dictated for his letters to the churches. On several occasions, perhaps to authenticate the letter as genuinely from him, he would add a closing word written in his own hand. Some take his reference to the “large letters” coming from his hand as evidence that his physical malady had something to do with his eyesight. That could be. But by saying this at the end of the letter he clearly is emphasizing his concluding statement: "Don't miss this!" It is like underlining something for emphasis, or maybe using bold letters or all caps. I thought of John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence and saying something like, “The king won’t need his spectacles to read that!” For Paul, the passion and urgency that has been present in this letter continues to the very end!
The “gospel” the Judaizers were tempting the Galatians with was "no gospel at all." It was in fact contrary to the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith which Paul preached and by which the Galatians were saved. Paul argues that “works religion” and “Grace” are mutually exclusive. His exposition of the Christian life in Chapter 5 and into 6 is answering the possible charge that his gospel would lead to license to sin. Yes, we are saved by grace apart from works—yes salvation is based on what Christ has done on our behalf, not on our ability to keep the rules well enough—but a saved person, indwelt by the Spirit, is controlled by a deeper Law, a Law not legislated from without but produced from within, the law of love (5:13-14,16,25).
After giving instructions for restoring a sinning brother, after warning that there are consequences to sin—Paul exposes the false motives of the Judaizers and shows what should motivate us as faithful followers of Jesus. Simply put…
The Maine* Idea: The Spirit-led believer lives for the glory of God not the praise of men. We’ll look at that from the perspective of three questions, as you see in the outline, A-B-C… 1. How is our attitude; 2. In what can we boast; and 3) Have we counted the cost?
I. How's OUR ATTITUDE? Legalism is the desire to exalt human achievement and to minimize the cost of true discipleship. It is thinking, We can do this (6:12-13). Really?
12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
Paul points out that the legalists were guilty of being man-pleasers, and of being prideful and arrogant. He points out the root of the opposition to him and his message: religious pride (12a). “Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh…” Let’s face it, we all want people to like us. But Paul is saying that these men are adding to the Gospel in order to win the approval of the Jews. The offense of the Cross would be lessened if the case could be made that Christians are observant Jews. Paul says that grace plus works in no gospel at all. And that teaching didn’t start with Paul. Jesus had repeatedly confronted the Pharisees over their focus on the outward, while neglecting the weightier matters of the heart. In one such encounter we read in Luke 16:14-15,
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. 15 And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
The story of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14 illustrates the hyprocrisy of any system that relies on good works to be justified before God. Notice how Luke as narrator introduces Jesus’ teaching in that story, “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others…” The pharisee in that story was self-righteous, he was “not like other men,” but it was the tax collector, broken and praying for mercy, that went away justified.
The way that seems right to humans but ends in death, the idea that is at the center of every man-made religion, is “good works” as a basis for justification. Paul spoke to the issue in Colossians 2:8,20,23, using a term, “basic principles,” [stoicheia] which Paul has used in Galatians (Gal 4:3,9) as well. In Colossians 2:8 he said,
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
He then gets more specific in Colossians 2:20-23,
“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," 22 which all concern things which perish with the using — according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh…”
Paul asked the Corinthians in 1 Cor 4:7 “ For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” Jesus did it all! He gets the glory.
They were also motivated by fear of persecution, 12b. “…simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ…” Why do they do it? “So that…” they may not be persecuted. It is easy to compromise the truth when there is a cost. Remember Peter’s bold assertion when Jesus said they would all leave Him? Though they all leave, Lord, I will never leave you! I am ready to die with you! But after His arrest, what happened? Three times Peter denied that he knew Jesus! Peter failed, but he was graciously restored by Jesus after the Resurrection (John 21:15-19). Then, empowered by the Spirit, we see this same Peter boldly proclaiming the message of Christ (cf. Acts 4,5)! Faithful preachers of the Gospel won’t compromise the message because they fear the reaction of the world. The Cross, has always been an offense…
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Cor 1:22-24).
The Gospel message assumes we need to be saved; we are sinners deserving judgement. That wasn’t a popular message for the Jews of Paul’s day, nor for the Greeks. And it isn’t a popular message today. People have the idea that all paths lead to God and that we have the right to do whatever we want, as long as it makes us happy. When we say with Peter that “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), people can take offense. “That is ok for you, but don’t tell me what to believe!” Listen: We don’t get to make the rules. God is God. We are not. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6). Is that exclusive? Yes. Is it offensive? To unbelievers it will be, until God intervenes and opens their heart to the truth.
Read the book of Acts and you will see how unbelievers responded to the preaching of the Apostles. In Acts 5:29-33, the religious leaders were “cut to the quick and intended to slay them…” The ESV translates the scene like this,
…Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." 33 When they heard this, they were enraged [literally, “cut to the quick”] and wanted to kill them… (Acts 5:29-33).
Ok, Peter was pretty direct, wasn’t he? Even after being threatened and arrested twice, he had to tell the truth, no matter the cost. This time, they would be beaten and then released. Later, we see Stephen (Acts 7) and then James martyred (Acts 12). Ultimately, preaching the truth led to all of them laying down their lives for the Gospel (except John, who apparently died in exile on Patmos). The last quarter of the Book of Acts Paul is a prisoner. It strikes me that that is the same pattern we see in the Gospels, the last quarter or so dedicated to the final week, the passion week, of Christ. Jesus said “Do not be surprised if the world hates you, it hated me first” (John 15:18; cf. I John 3:13). The Judaizers in the Galatian churches wanted no part of such suffering, they were unwilling to take Christ at his word, and so to take up their cross and follow Him. They wanted to make the message a little less offensive by requiring the outward obedience to aspects of the Law. We can be in danger of the same error, if we are so concerned for cultural sensibilities that we water down the truth. We can be so “seeker sensitive” that we never tell people they are lost sinners needing grace!
According to Paul, that attitude amounts to religious hypocrisy (v.13)—they knew the impossibility of keeping the Law themselves, and yet were essentially enslaving others. Jesus similarly said in Matthew 23:2-5,
"The scribes and the Pharisees… bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 "But all their works they do to be seen by men.”
The Gospel leaves no room for boasting in ourselves. God gets all the credit. And the Spirit-led believer lives for the glory of God not the praise of men.
II. In what can we BOAST? The believer's only basis for boasting is what Christ has accomplished on the cross (6:14-16).
14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
“May it never be that I should boast, except…” God forbid that I boast for any other motive than this… Paul words this as a strong negative prohibition, God forbid that this should ever happen. No boasting is warranted, none is justified, if it is focused on my ability or character or achievements. And the wording makes that emphatic: God forbid “…that I should boast…” Like the song says, “Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who you are… because of what you’ve done…” The pronoun here is in an emphatic position, “May I never boast…” These false teachers are boasting in their human accomplishments, they are proud of their rule keeping as a demonstration of their supposed spirituality. Paul is saying, “As for me, may the only boasting that you hear from my lips be in what Christ has done on my behalf.”
Galatians has shown us our need for grace. There is not room for boasting. The paradigm for sin is the famous example of the boast of the King of Babylon, perhaps also reflecting the rebellion of Lucifer, in Isaiah 14, “I will make myself like the Most High…” Satan indeed used that idea as he tempted Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, “…you will be like God…” No. We need to see ourselves rightly, God is God, we are not! We boast only in the Cross of Christ. Paul knew the person of the cross-the crucified and risen Lord. Jesus Christ is mentioned at least 45 times in Galatians- the heart of the Christian faith is not a religious system, it is a Person, and a relationship with Him. We don’t convert people to Christianity when we witness, we introduce them to Jesus. Salvation isn’t found at the end of debate. It’s God opening a heart to know Him.
Paul also knew the purpose of the cross – it was not a defeat, but victory, accomplishing redemption, paying a debt we could not pay. And so He brought into the world a new people of God, the church, composed of Jew and Gentile, without distinction. He knew as well the power of the cross – two cross beams, stained with blood, to the world an object of disgrace and defeat, not only a means of execution, but of humiliation and scorn. For the Christian it is “Good News” – Paul said in I Cor 1:23-24, “…we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called… Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” The Cross of Christ, the pivot-point of salvation history!
The power to free men from the world’s bondage (14b). I am crucified to the world, it has no power over me. I am free from bondage. And the world is crucified to me, it is dead to me. The life I live in the flesh, I live be faith in the Son of God! The only “life with meaning” is the life lived in Christ, by faith (Eph 2:1-7). It doesn’t mean we are never influenced by sin, it does mean that we are not under its dominion!
The power to do what the flesh cannot do (v.15). “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Man needs a new life: we enter into that life by grace through faith. He used similar language in 2 Cor 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ — a new creation! Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” I don’t think Paul is talking about our transformation or sanctification in these verses, but he is looking to the future, to our sure hope in a new creation – the New Heavens and the New Earth. In a certain sense, believers, sealed with the Holy Spirit, who is the down-payment of our inheritance, are already experiencing the blessings of the age to come!
The power to bring salvation (v.16). “Peace and Mercy” speak to present salvation, “peace” speaks of a new, right relationship with God; “mercy,” the forgiving of sins and setting aside of judgment. “Rule” translates the word “canon,” which refers to a “measure or standard.” It refers to God’s way, the way of Grace. Because of what God has done in Christ, the Spirit-led believer lives for the glory of God not the praise of men. But no one said living by faith in a fallen world would be easy…
III. Have we counted the COST? There is a price to pay for those who would be a committed follower of Christ (6:17-18).
17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
Jesus said in Mark 8:34, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Salvation cost us nothing, Jesus paid it all: “It is finished” = "The debt is paid." Yet discipleship is a call to radical commitment – “Take up your cross and follow me!” is about as committed as you can get (cf. Rom 12:1,2)!
In v.17, Paul suffered for his faith. He could have taken an easier path but chose to follow Jesus. He was beaten, arrested, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned, and finally, according to tradition, beheaded. He kept believing, he trusted in Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord. This is the man who said “God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Grace keeps the focus on Jesus, and grace is Paul’s final word, “The grace of the Lord be with you all” (v.18).
What is God saying to me in this passage? Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. The Spirit-led believer lives for the glory of God not the praise of men. We’ve called this series, “Getting the Gospel right.” When you do, it changes everything. It is the foundation for our new life, and it fuels New Creation living, now.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you decided to follow Jesus? If you have recognized the truth about yourself, that you are a sinner, if you have understood that there is no other way but through Him, if you believe that He took the wrath of God against sin for you, then you have understood the Way of Grace. That is how God showed His love among us. Does that astonish you? Now what? Read the love letter He has given us (the Bible), ponder every word, and so know Him and love Him. And be ready, because that love will overflow in a changed heart, a heart set on obedience and service. You will see the church differently, and you will see the world differently. When you get this, it changes everything! Amen.
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let is not become conceited, provoking and envying one another…” (Galatians 5:25,26).
Pastor’s Report – October 2019
This quarter we finished our preaching series on Galatians, “Getting the Gospel Right.” I hope together we have been reminded that the message of the Cross is not something that is relevant only to showing the unsaved the way to peace with God, but it is also the foundation and motivation for believers to live life in a fallen world. We love because He first loved us. We have value because, incredibly, we have a place in God’s story. Because our new life is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we can’t take the credit, so there is no room for boasting. Because Jesus paid it all He gets the glory. That understanding is the foundation for a healthy Christian life, and healthy Christians together make a healthy church!
In follow up to Vacation Bible School in the summer and our September FASCAR event, our Word of Life Olympian ministry has relaunched for the Fall. Our ministry to 1-6th graders has had a good start, as we come in alongside of our young parents in helping teach the children the truth of the Word. Bible stories and memory verses, music, game time and discipleship huddles all combine to build relationships and share the truth with these young ones. I am excited that Pastor David and Celeste will be working with teens starting this month, as this will potentially provide continuity between our ministry to the younger children and the church, as one ministry feeds into the next.
Our Sunday School year also restarted in September, following an all-church breakfast on September 8th. We currently have two adult classes running, with Lisa Conn doing a special class for women, combining drama and teaching to tell the story of 4 women who were included in the genealogy of the Messiah. In the other adult class, I have been leading a study of the prophet Isaiah, “Messiah, the World’s only Hope!” We also have a teen class plus two children’s classes covering all age groups, and I am thankful for the teachers who pray, prepare, and lead these classes weekly. In addition, we have an excellent Children’s Church ministry which presents an age appropriate lesson during the sermon time to younger children.
A ladies’ Bible study led by Fay Murphy meets on Wednesday morning in the Fellowship Hall, and we have a men’s coffee and prayer time on Tuesday morning at 6:30 AM. During that time we read through and discuss the passage I’ll be preaching on the following Sunday, and I am appreciative of the men who have made the time to come to that early morning meeting. We also pray together for some of the needs on our prayer list. The elders, deacons, and deaconesses have shared in the shepherding ministry of the church, and I am encouraged how many in the church body take seriously the admonition to “bear one-another’s burdens…”
Our Wednesday night prayer meeting and Bible Study in the parsonage usually begins with a time of singing together, led by Bob Conn. We then discuss the study questions that were in the bulletin the previous Sunday, centered on the message that was preached, and then have a time of prayer together, usually followed by snacks and fellowship around the table.
There are many opportunities for ministry, and the biblical model is clear: every member is a minister. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Please be praying about how you can be involved, look at the ministry board openings in the back of the sanctuary, and come talk with me or with one of the elders if you need direction about where to serve. In light of what God has done for us in Christ, let’s stay faithful and engaged until He returns!
Your co-workers in Christ,
Pastor Steve and Mary Ann