Saturday, January 25, 2020

Kingdoms in Conflict - Jonah 4:4-11

Kingdoms in Conflict

Jonah 4:4-11

Introduction: Recently someone quoted on Facebook the old story of a Native-American chief who said to a young man, “There are two dogs fighting inside of me. One is filled with hate and evil. The other is filled with love, and good. This battle rages inside of you, and all men.” The young man asked, “Which one will win?” The wise old chief replied, “The one you feed.” There is a battle raging in the hearts of men and women that does not cease the moment we believe (see Romans 7 and the testimony of the apostle Paul if you doubt that!). If you know Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, you have what you need to choose well… We have the Bible, and we have His presence. Walk in the Spirit, Paul said, and you will by no means fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
       We’ve been reading a story about a man who knew God, who had received God’s Word, who was called to serve, but who still heatedly resisted the will of the Lord, at least with respect to the pagan nation of Assyria. It was as though Jonah wanted God’s grace in his own life but did not want to even think about God extending his grace to “those” people. He certainly did not understand that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He clearly did not embrace the sense of the prayer that Jesus would later teach His disciples: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, one earth as it is in heaven… The question this scene puts before is this: Who is on the throne of our heart? Do we desire God’s glory, and the expansion of His kingdom? Or, are we serving a kingdom of one, insisting that we know best, that our way is best, our comfort and security is most important of all? We saw the king of Nineveh get off his throne in chapter 3. Will we? Are we willing to seek God’s will and His glory above our own?
The Maine* Idea: God desires that we get our eyes off of ourselves, and have compassion for the lost, showing them the way to Life.
Context: In 3:10-4:4 we saw that Jonah was self-righteous, judgmental, angry with God, and was pursued and exposed by Him… Someone, on Wednesday night, made the connection with James 1:19-20, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;  20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” Jonah needed that admonition, do we?
I. The Wonderful Counselor and the hot-head Prophet (4). Remember that famous verse in Isaiah 9:6, “…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Here, as the Wonderful Counselor, the Lord leads the prodigal prophet with a question. Let’s pick up with God’s reply to Jonah’s temper tantrum, in the form of a question. He asks the prophet…
4 And the LORD said, "Do you do well to be angry?"
       Jonah is not happy with God. No, more than that, he is angry with God. He had run away initially, and now, in chapter 4, we finally know why. When God told him to go and cry out against the Ninevites, he knew what that meant. They were being warned of impending judgment. Implicit in that warning was a call to change their thinking, to turn from their evil ways and to cry out to the Creator God for mercy. And Jonah knew the character of God, he knew what God had said to Moses on the mountain and had revealed through history in his dealing with Israel, that He is “…a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster…” (Jonah 4:2; cf. Exod 34:6).  Basically, he knew there was a chance the Ninevites would repent, and if they did, he was sure God would act in accordance with His nature. He would show mercy. And Jonah did not want mercy for the Ninevites. He wanted judgment! They were the enemy, they were evil, and they should be destroyed. That would be good in Jonah’s eyes. That would be just.
       Remember that Jonah had disobeyed God, had turned his back on God, had run away from God, and even, as he slept in the hold of the ship while the storm raged, he had ignored God. And yet God showed him mercy, and saved him from the jaws of death.  After all that, when God said “Go” for the second time, Jonah went. But he still did not see the gentile Ninevites as God did. He still wanted them to be judged, not turned toward God and saved! So, when they repented, and God relented, Jonah fumed, he was angry, literally, “hot,” about God showing them mercy. Now God could have shaken the earth, and talked to Jonah out of a whirlwind as He did to Job in Job 38:2-4,
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.  4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding
After two chapters of that, all Job can say is, "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.  5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further." (40:4,5). And then he got some more! Paul said it in his discussion of the sovereignty of God in Roman 9:20, “…Who are you O man, to talk back to God?” God could have rebuked Jonah’s attitude with similar language, but he doesn’t. Whether it is thundering from Zion, as Amos describes in 1:2 of his prophecy, or a blinding blast of light like Paul experienced on the Damascus Road, or a whisper, a still small voice, as He used with Elijah in I Kings 19:11, God’s word is powerful, and effective, it will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent. And so, God engages the ranting prodigal prophet with a simple question, “Do you do well to be angry?” What was God asking Jonah?
       Remember back in 4:1, God’s relenting from destroying the Ninevites “displeased Jonah exceedingly…” Literally, “It was evil [ra-ah] to Jonah, a big evil [ra-ah].” This was not just, it wasn’t good, it wasn’t fair, and it burned Jonah up. Here in 4:4, God uses the verbal form of the root “good.” The play on words seems pretty direct, “You have accused me of great evil in sparing the Ninevites. Jonah, is your anger good? Is that the way life should be?” Jonah needed to learn that God is interested in people of every race and nation, not just Israel. God desires that we get our eyes off ourselves, and have compassion for the lost, showing them the way to Life. So, the wonderful counsellor confronts the hot-head prophet, and we see…
II. The inwardly-focused Jonah, and the Gentle Shepherd (5-6).
5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  6 Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 
      In response to God’s question to Jonah in v.4, “Jonah went out of the city…” No verbal response at this point, and we are not sure how much time had passed.  I don’t know if there is enough in the text to be sure. Somehow, he knew that God had relented from bringing disaster on the Ninevites. Did God tell him, or had 40 days passed? Or was the conversion of the Ninevites so compelling he knew what was going to happen? I’m not sure. But Jonah seems to be making himself comfortable, outside of the city, “till he should see what would become of the city.” It seems he is hoping that God would reconsider the wisdom of His actions (or non-actions) and bring the judgement on the city that these people clearly deserved. Rather than another verbal interaction with Jonah, the LORD first employs an object lesson of a sort. Jonah was “hot” with God about sparing the Ninevites? Let’s see how God turns up the heat to get his attention.
       First notice that Jonah went outside the city and build himself a “booth,” This word is most frequently used in the Scriptures to refer to the feast of Booths, one of the feasts of Israel when the people were instructed to live for a week in these temporary structures, as a reminder of God’s care for the nation during the wilderness wandering.  It was a time to remember God’s faithfulness and to rejoice together in God’s deliverance. Israel had been saved. And Jonah built himself a sucot, to sit and watch, hoping that God would send judgement on Nineveh. He needed shade from the mid-eastern sun. Jonah tried to provide shade for himself, he wanted a good seat to see fire and brimstone fall on the Ninevites! God had worked in the hearts of the Ninevites, and He was still working on Jonah.
       God had appointed the fish to rescue Jonah, now he “appoints” a plant to grow up over his booth to shade him, and to save him from his discomfort. Again, there is a word play here. God sparing the Ninevites after they believed Him and repented in 4:1, “displeased Jonah exceedingly.” It was “ra-ah to Jonah, a big ra-ah.” Here God appoints the plant to save Jonah from his discomfort [Heb. “ra-ah”]. Was God working to ease Jonah’s discomfort, or to save him from the evil in his heart? Both I think! God is interested in nations, and in every person.
      Here we see Jonah’s inward focus, his concern only for his own comfort and blessing. In v.1 he was “exceedingly displeased and angry” about God not destroying the Ninevites, now He is exceedingly glad because of the plant! He has shade, he is comfortable, life is good! Finally, something good in my life! You’ve still got some lessons to learn Jonah, and as we see the ending of the book I think you’ll agree, so do we. God desires that we get our eyes off ourselves, and have compassion for the lost, showing them the way to Life.
III. What we want, versus what we need (7-8).
7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.  8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, "It is better for me to die than to live." 
      God was still at work in Jonah, and He knew what the prophet needed. So this same God who “appointed” a fish to rescue him, and a plant to shade shade Him, appoints a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. The verb “attack,” as in English, is a military term. God didn’t just “allow” the worm to eat the plant, he appointed it to attack it! It strikes me that Jonah may be a picture of Israel, ready to accept God’s blessing, but somehow unwilling to extend His grace toward others and so be the blessing to the nations that God intended. Ironically, the Assyrians, the nation God is sparing here, would be the ones that God would use to “attack” the northern kingdom, to cause it to wither in defeat.
      So, Jonah would be angry, or “hot” with God? God had appointed the fish, and the plant, and the worm, now He “appoints” a scorching east wind to blow on his head. So, if he can’t be comfortable, he asks to die. He says to God, “It is better for me to die than to live.” If this is the way life is going to be in your world God, just count me out! He was rejoicing over his shady spot a day ago, now, his plant was gone. He might as well be dead! He didn’t see the hand of God in any of this, or if he did, he wasn’t thinking about what God would teach him. Might we keep a teachable spirit as we go through ups and downs of life! What is God saying, how is He leading? It is easy to say “God is good” when we are comfortable in our “shady spot.” But God IS good, all the time. He is being good to Jonah right here in this scene. Teaching him. God desires that we get our eyes off ourselves, and have compassion for the lost, showing them the way to Life.
IV. Prioritizing my comfort, or compassion for the lost (9-11)?
9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die."  10 And the LORD said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.  11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"
      These last verses are the “punchline,” so to speak, the point of the whole story. Jonah had been angry about God not destroying the Ninevites, now he is angry about God allowing his plant to die! God himself makes the connection by repeating the question from v.4, “Do you do will to be angry…”, this time, “…for the plant?” Again, the words of James come to mind in James 1:19-21,
…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;  20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.  21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
That verse 21 could be cited from Jonah 3, that is what the Ninevites did. They turned from their wickedness and received the Word! The first two verses would be a good corrective for Jonah! Do you do well to be angry for the plant…? Do you really think your anger is justified?  So how does the prophet respond? How is this for talking back to God: Yes I do well to be angry, angry enough to die! There are obviously two aspects to Jonah’s anger, 1) the unresolved anger from 4:1, after the Ninevites repented and God relented from destroying them is the foundation, and 2) Jonah’s comfort being disrupted so quickly with the death of the plant a secondary factor. As noted in v.4, the verb “do well,” is from the same root as the word “good.” It is spoken again by God and repeated back by Jonah. God is asking if Jonah’s anger is justified, is it righteous, is it the way to the “good life” that God desires for his people? Jonah answers God back this time, as though he was crossing his arms in defiance to the LORD! “Yes I do well to be angry! Angry enough to die!
       God does not answer him from a whirlwind, he does not answer with flashes of lightening and thunder. Instead he asks another question. You pity this plant, it came up in a night and perished in a night, should I not pity this city full of people, along with their animals? I think there is some irony here: Jonah, if you won’t have compassion on the Ninevites, will you at least pity their animals?
What is God saying to me in this passage? God desires that we get our eyes off ourselves, and have compassion for the lost, showing them the way to Life.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Think about the compassion that Jesus showed. Think of how he reacted at the tomb of Lazarus, as he saw the grief of Mary and Martha. He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled… and then, Jesus wept (Jn 11:35). Think about Jesus’ words as he approached Jerusalem that final week, “Oh Jersusalem, Jerusalem…” He wept over the city, knowing their rejection of Him, and the judgement coming in AD 70 (cf. Lk 19:41ff.). Remember when He looked on the mixed multitude in Matt 9:36, “…he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” In the story of Jonah, God sees a people created in His image, and has compassion on them. He sends a prophet to warn them, and they repent!  Do we care enough about our neighbors, and about the nations, to speak the truth in love, to go if God calls us, and to sacrifice some of our comfort and security, and to give so that others can go? Jonah had a struggle in his heart, and so often do we…
      We too are surrounded by people who don’t know their right hand from their left, they have no idea who God is and their desperate need of salvation. I am sure there are those who don’t know or haven’t heard the gospel in an understandable way. Will we have compassion on those around us, will we care enough to share?
       We have missionaries that are ready to go to unreached people, will we pray and give? The fields are white for the harvest, pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth workers into His harvest. We’re part of God’s plan, He will use us, and He will continue to teach us and to grow our faith. I hope we won’t need a storm, or a big fish, before we say, Father, your will be done, in me, in our church, and in the world. AMEN.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Wisdom of God - Jonah 3:10-4:4

The Wisdom of God
Jonah 3:10-4:4
Introduction: Have you ever started watching a movie with someone, who within the first five minutes, starts asking questions about how it ends? It happened just recently. The movie started, and then the questions started! “What happens to this person? What happens to that person?” I had to ask, “Do you really want to know? It will kind of ruin the movie for you!” In most cases the writers, if they are doing their job well, are telling the story in an intentional way, it builds the drama, the tension mounts, and the resolution comes near the end. Do you turn to the end of a book before starting to read it? (Ok, I have done that!). …Jonah may be a story that shocks us by ending in a most unexpected way… Actually, many children’s lessons leave out chapter 4, but to a certain degree I think it is the point of the whole story.
      We’ve called our Jonah series “Jonah: The Prodigal Prophet,” borrowing the title of Tim Keller’s little commentary. Keller used that title to draw a parallel between Jonah, and the parable of the prodigal son. And though the story of Jonah begins with the prophet looking like the younger son who takes his inheritance and then abandons his father, the point of the parable, and the point of Jonah, is really the story of the elder son, who is jealous and angry at the father receiving his brother back so graciously. When I taught this chapter to the Olympian kids the “big idea” was, “God cares about you, and God cares about me, God cares about other people, and so should we!” That’s pretty much the point of chapter 4, class dismissed! Well, maybe the point is a bit deeper, the application even wider. Do we trust the mind and wisdom of God? Will we seek His will, above ours? That brings us to…
The Maine* Idea: God is good, and He does all things well. We can trust Him, even when we don’t understand. First, remember…
The Context: The people repent, and God relents (3:10)!
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. 
       Jonah finally relented and brought God’s message to the Ninevites in Chapter 3, announcing God’s impending judgement: Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown! The boldness of a Jewish prophet going into the Assyrian capital and preaching such a message had to be shocking!  I don’t think that alone could evoke such a response from such a violent and wicked people. There may have been more of a back story that we’ll never know, providences of God that He used to soften the hearts of the Ninevites. One commentator mentioned a couple of plagues, an earthquake, and a solar eclipse that happened around that time. It is hard to know since it is hard to date the book precisely. The point is that by whatever means, God broke through, and broke the prideful and sinful hearts of the Ninevites, leading them to faith and repentance. They believed the word of the Lord, and they turned from their wicked ways. And in response, God turned from the disaster that he was going to bring on the city. God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, His sending of the flood on the earth in the days of Noah, were harbingers of God’s future judgement of unrepentant humanity. He will be no means leave the guilty unpunished! But, at least for this generation, Nineveh repented and escaped the judgment of God.
       Ok then, God’s prophet brought God’s word, and the people believed and repented, and everyone lived happily ever after, right? That may be where some children’s lessons stop in telling Jonah’s story, but God gave us chapter 4. And this is really the point. God was indeed interested in the Ninevites, just as he was interested in the Phoenecian sailors caught in the storm with Jonah. But he was also working on Jonah’s heartand on ours. Like Jonah needed to learn, we need to be convinced that God is good, and He does all things well… And that we can trust Him, even when we don’t understand. We need to remember that…
I. When we get angry: …and question the wisdom of God (4:1).
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.”
       The language in v.1 is an intentional play on words. We can miss it in the English translation. The ESV gets at the sense of the phrase, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly…” What we miss in English, is the Hebrew phrase uses the word “ra-ah”, which is used to describe the “evil” from which the Ninevites had turned, and the disaster from which God had relented. The wording is, “It was ra-ah to Jonah, a big ra-ah.” Let’s look a bit into the use of that word in the Old Testament. But first let’s set it against the backdrop of God’s evaluation of the original creation. In Genesis 1:10,12,18,21, 25, and 31, at each step in the creation process, God saw that it was good [tov]. This was life before the Fall, the “good life,” the way life should be! God gave humans one simple law, a tree in the midst of the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of “good” [tov] and “evil” [ra]. And you know the rest of that story! Humans sin, the creation is cursed, and the “good life” is disrupted.
       By Noah’s time, we read in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil [ra-ah] continually.” God brought judgment on the earth, but Noah found grace in the eyes of God. At the other end of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers fear for their lives before him, knowing the evil they had done, and he says “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive…” (Gen 50:20).
       So “evil,” on the part of man, is disruption in God’s good creation, something contrary to the “good” he originally created. Now back to Jonah, and let’s think about what has happened in the story. The Ninevites turned from their evil way (3:10). And now Jonah judges God’s relenting from destroying them as “an exceeding great evil” [it was ra-ah to Jonah, a great ra-ah] from his perspective (4:1). Yes, as the English Bibles translate, it displeased him exceedingly. Anger is essentially saying forcefully, “I disagree with that! That is not right!” Jonah is angry, “hot,” and he is angry with God. He is calling good evil (Isa 5:20)! The words of Paul come to mind, “Who are you O man to talk back to God?!” I just heard a news report that the fastest growing church in the world is in a country you might not expect: Iran! It is persecuted, it is underground, it is mostly led by women, but it is growing. God is doing that. Do we pray for Iran’s destruction, or will be pray for revival and souls?
       Like Jonah needed to learn, we need to be convinced that God is good, and He does all things well… And that we can trust Him, even when we don’t understand. We need to remember that…
II. When we judge others: and fail to see our own desperate need of grace (2).
 And he prayed to the LORD and said, "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.
     Finally, only for the second time in the book, do we see Jonah praying (the last time was from the fish’s belly!).  The sailors on the boat had cried out to the God of Jonah. The captain had asked Jonah to pray, but as far as we know he didn’t. The king of Nineveh calls on everyone in the city to cry out to God. Finally, in chapter 4, for a second time, we see Jonah praying. This will be good, right? Not so much, but at least Jonah is praying now, talking to God instead of running from Him. As he begins, we see a hint as to the debate that happened when God first called Jonah to go to Nineveh, and some insight into why Jonah fled toward Tarshish in the first place…
       Is this not what I said when I was yet in my country? When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and announce their impending destruction, he knew what that meant. Why warn the Ninevites? Why cry out against them? Why not just drop fire from heaven and be done with them? Implied in the announcement of impending judgment is a call to repentance! And Jonah knew that God’s character was such that he would respond with mercy if they repented. Think about Jonah’s experience. Why did Jonah run? He tells us…
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.
He had experienced God’s mercy firsthand, and he was grateful for it. Jonah in fact quotes from Scripture God’s own words to Moses when He had revealed himself on the mountain in Exodus 34:6…
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…
So, Jonah had some good theology, but it broke down in terms of application. He did not yet understand that God was interested in people from every race and nation. When God called Jonah to go to that great city, Nineveh, he tried to run from God. God hurled a great wind toward the boat on the sea. He wasn’t going to let Jonah get away. When Jonah was thrown into the sea, just about to drown, he remembered the LORD, and God sent along a great fish to bring him back to dry ground. And God calls him to go a second time.
       Jonah knew about the mercy of God, he had experienced His grace. He wanted it in his life, and in the life of his nation, but not for these pagan Assyrians! So, the first time he was called, he ran. The second time, in chapter 3, he went, and he proclaimed God’s message, but not with the heart God had for those people. It seems Jonah is like the stubborn child, who refuses to sit down at the dinner table. Finally he gives in, but crosses his arms and says, “I am sitting down, but I am still standing on the inside!” Jonah did not agree with what God was doing – he hated the Assyrians so much, he didn’t want God to show them mercy! He seemed to forget his own rebellion, and how much he needed God’s mercy and grace in his own life. He didn’t understand, it seems, how evil his own rebellion was. He didn’t realize there was a log in his own eye.
       Like Jonah needed to learn, we need to be convinced that God is good, and He does all things well… And that we can trust Him, even when we don’t understand. We need to remember that when we get angry with God, when we are tempted to judge others, and…
III. When we are self-righteous: …and put ourselves in the place of God (3).
3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." 
       Think about what Jonah is saying to God: Your actions, God, are so repulsive, so unacceptable, I don’t want even to be alive to see it! Jonah is essentially saying “Your actions are not good, this is not the way life should be. I would rather be dead!” Let’s think first about what this is not. It is not the laments of the psalmist that we see so frequently…
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1).
       We see times when the psalmist expresses his pain and confusion to God. Something doesn’t seem right in the world, it might be enemies, or famine or sickness. Life the way it should be seems to be disrupted and the psalmist cries out for help and deliverance. Feeling abandoned or lost is not the same as questioning the goodness of God. It is not calling good evil, or evil good. And that is essentially what Jonah is doing in our text here in Jonah 4:3. He is saying that God’s actions are not good, not righteous, not acceptable! He is saying, “I know better than you what should happen here, and if you are not going to do it, just kill me now!” He is that self-righteous.
       Before we get too hard on Jonah, lets be honest about something. Even though we might not say this to God like Jonah did, if we choose to sin, if we made a decision and take an action that we know to be contrary to God’s will, we are doing the same thing. We are saying to God, “I know you don’t want me to have this, you don’t want me to do this, you don’t want me to see this, but I know this will make me happy, this will fulfill something in my life better than you can Lord. So I am going to do it. Don’t I have a right to be happy?” The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it? Recall God’s warning to Cain in Genesis 4:7, before the first murder, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Now is the time to flee Jonah, flee from the evil welling up in your own heart, and run back to God!
       Like Jonah needed to learn, we need to be convinced that God is good, and He does all things well… And that we can trust Him, even when we don’t understand. We need to remember that…
IV. When God holds up His Word as a mirror:and we are exposed (4)!
4 And the LORD said, "Do you do well to be angry?"
       The gentle, patient, dealing of God with the prodigal prophet! (OK, a storm and a great fish maybe weren’t so gentle, but it was merciful, and it was what Jonah needed at the time!).  Here, Jonah has had a self-righteous, judgmental, temper-tantrum, and God responds with a simple question, which He’ll need to repeat in a few verses, “Do you do well to be angry?” A simple question, an invitation to think, to meditate, to consider what Jonah is saying and feeling, to bring those thoughts captive to Christ.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Are you convinced that God is good, and that He does all things well? We can trust Him, even when we don’t understand. He is good, all the time. His way is always best.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Some applications…
       1. I am all for patriotism, but when it becomes a religion we can get in trouble. Jonah wanted God’s grace and mercy for Israel, but not for the Assyrians. Listen: The whole world is God’s world, and world evangelization is God’s work. A remnant from every tribe and nation will gather around his throne one day – and that is something to celebrate and be a part of, now! You might think, wait a minute, we support missions. But even today I hear it argued, why should we send missionaries overseas if we have needs right here in America? Well, we’ll always have needs in America. Why go? Because He said, “Go, make disciples of every nation…” Because He said, “…you will be my witnesses, even to the ends of the earth.” That’s God’s plan, and it should be good enough for us!
       2. I think we can avoid falling into Jonah’s error, by keeping the Gospel at the forefront of our life. If we remember that we were sinners, spiritually dead, separated from God, destined for wrath, and unable to do anything to save ourselves, yet God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, made us alive, by grace we have been saved (c.f. Eph 2:1-5). By His doing we are in Christ. What mercy! What grace! How can we not pray for God’s mercy to be extended to others? Why would we not be available to be used of God to be agents of the message of grace, His ambassadors?
       3. The key to knowing the mind of Christ is to allow His word to dwell richly within us. To receive it, as the Ninevites received Jonah’s message, as the Word of God. Pray as you read, that the Spirit of God would open your heart and mind to the will of God. Let’s trust Him, obey, and delight in the will of God.    AMEN.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Pastor's Report Preview - January 2020

[This is a preliminary draft of my report for the upcoming quarterly meeting. SN]

Jesus said, “…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” (Matthew 16:18b).
Pastor’s Report – January 2020
       The start of a new year (and a new decade!) is an opportunity to pause, pray, and plan, recognizing our dependence at every step on the Lord. Boothbay Baptist Church has a history on this peninsula of over 200 years, but, by God’s grace, we are a part of a work that God began from eternity past. It is not programs that build a church, it is Jesus. By grace we are included in what God is doing!  We must never lose sight of the fact that it is by his doing we are in Christ (1 Cor 1:30). Therefore, He gets the credit, not us. To God be the glory. Let’s pause and look back…
       We have recently shifted our morning worship service to the fellowship hall in the lower level of the building, in accordance with the vote of the church at our last annual meeting. We have had a relatively mild winter so far, but we can expect this move will allow us to more efficiently heat the building. Just as importantly, with our summer folks gone for the season, it also provides a “cozy” setting for worshiping together in the winter months. We’ll look to return to the main sanctuary again in April, for Palm Sunday and Easter.
       After concluding our five month preaching series in Galatians in October, I began a series in Jonah which will conclude this month. At first, I envisioned a four-week series, but the riches we have uncovered in this little book have been both convicting and edifying for me personally. I think God intends for us to find ourselves in Jonah’s story, and then to respond appropriately. The adult Sunday School has continued at 9 AM, though since the ladies’ class took a break, we have had a significant drop in attendance. We have another week or two on the 9Marks series from Southeastern Baptist Seminary on prayer. My desire is that this teaching will challenge us to embrace the privilege (and responsibility) of prayer, both individually, and as a church.
       In prayer we express our trust in God, acknowledging our dependence on Him. We’ve continued gathering for prayer before the morning service, as a few of us, led by Stan and Cindy Lewis, pray together at 8:30 AM.  Our midweek meeting at the parsonage also has a prayer time as we meet Wednesday’s at 6:30 PM. The Bible Study at that time is based on the questions in the bulletin which allows us to expand and apply the Sunday morning message. We are glad Bob Conn is recovering well from his surgery and has resumed leading in some music at that time. We have a time of fellowship afterward as we share some refreshments together.
       Our small men’s meeting on Tuesday morning at 6:30 is an opportunity to talk through the passage I am planning to preach on the next week. It has been a help to me to get input from the men who come. We also pray together, bringing the needs of the church to the Lord. Our Word of Life Olympian ministry on Thursday evenings is going strong! We have a growing group of energetic kids and a small team of dedicated leaders guide the kids in Bible study, games, music, and small group “discipleship” huddles (snacks included!).  I had the privilege of teaching Jonah to the children over a four-week period, which I really enjoyed. What a blessing to partner with parents as they seek to teach their kids the way of the Lord!  By the way, we are thankful for Pastor David and Celeste Holwick initiating and leading our teen ministry. God is at work!
       As we plan ahead, let's embrace anew the biblical model: every member is a minister. God saved us and left us in the world to be a part of His church, using our diverse gifts for the building up the body, and for carrying out God’s mission. We don’t want to over-program, but we need everyone involved at some level in that mission. Please consider your involvement, pray about what you can do, and then together let’s determine to be a lighthouse of God’s grace and truth!
Your co-workers in Christ,
Pastor Steve and Mary Ann

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Repentance and Revival - Jonah 3:5-10

Repentance and Revival
Jonah 3:5-10
Introduction: As we have been going through this little book of Jonah, we have been seeing some big lessons about human rebellion and divine sovereignty. I think about the opening lines from the second psalm,
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,  3 "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."  4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.  5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury… (Psalm 2:1-5).
Yahweh, the God the Bible, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is LORD. Even so, humans, since the fall of Adam, resist His rule! We know that is true of the Ninevites, as the second verse of the book tells us that the stench of their evil had come up before God. We know it is true of Jonah, since initially at least when God said “Go!” Jonah said, “No!” and went in the opposite direction! And we know it can be true too often and too easily in our own lives – when we choose our will instead of submitting to what we know to be the will of God. Most are seemingly oblivious to the seriousness of sin…
       The “Good News” of the Gospel is seen most clearly in the light of some very bad news for those who are unsaved… It is the position described by Paul in Ephesians 2:3, “…we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The wrath referred to is God’s wrath against sin. We were indeed, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God…” (to borrow the title of Jonathan Edward’s famous sermon). Thank God for the truth expressed in the next verse of Ephesians, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us…” Thank you Jesus! By the way, it seems that Jonah understood that aspect of God’s character. We’ll see in Jonah 4:2 the prophet says, “…I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” He understood that in God’s announcement of impending judgment there was an implicit call to repentance – and, though Jonah was grateful for God’s mercy in his own life, at least with respect to the Ninevites, Jonah wasn’t happy about it! We’ll get to that next week.
       “Faith” and “repentance” are best understood as two sides of the same coin… I think this is a fitting passage to study on the first Sunday of a new year, as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Table together. The principles related in God’s promise to Israel are reflected in his dealings with humans:
if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land… (2 Chron 7:14).
The Maine* Idea: If we believe God, and trust in His mercy and grace, we will turn from the idolatrous and sinful ways of our past life. 3 attitudes follow…
I. Humility: Genuine faith and repentance will break our pride, and be accompanied by genuine sorrow for our sin (5,6).
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 
       Let’s back up to v.5 and reflect on that statement again, “And the people of Nineveh believed God…” This is the language that is normally used for a faithful Israelite, the Ninevites, “believed in God.” Their faith is demonstrated by their actions. They together call for a fast, indicating serious reflection and prayer. Putting on sackcloth indicated sorrow for sin and repentance. The merism in v.5, “from the greatest to the least” is meant to indicate everyone responded. V.6 confirms that, “the word reached the king.” The message of Jonah, the word of the Lord, was shared among the people, and the king himself heard it, believed it, and responded to it.
       Notice that genuine faith always results in action. The king took God at His word. His action of getting off the throne, removing his royal robe and putting on sackcloth seems to indicate humble recognition that he is not the ultimate Sovereign. By the way, in talking about the voluntary self-humiliation of Christ, Paul told the Philippians what would one day happen:
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father... (Phil 2:9-11).
Sitting in ashes was an indication of mourning and repentance.  The King of Nineveh is confessing the God of Jonah, Yahweh, as the true sovereign, King of kings, the one to whom all authorities, even the mighty king of the superpower of the day, must bow. For the believer in Jesus, humility is seeing ourselves rightly, in relation to majesty of God. It is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. I like Andrew Murray’s definition:
“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”
God is God, we are his creatures. Enough said? After all, as Paul told the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (I Cor 4:7). Genuine faith and repentance will expose our hearts, break our pride, and be accompanied by genuine sorrow for our sin. We see that here. And we will see that If we believe God, and trust in His mercy and grace, we will turn from the idolatrous and sinful ways of our past life.
II. Heart Change: Genuine faith and repentance will be accompanied by a changed heart, as individuals confess and turn from their sins (7,8).
7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,  8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 
The call to the people is to repent, and to do the things that demonstrate repentance. The Assyrians, and Nineveh was the capital, were an idolatrous, corrupt, and violent people. They would humiliate and mutilate their defeated enemies. Allegedly there were piles of human skulls at the gates of the city, a warning to any foreigner or would be invader. Foreigners, like Jonah, were at risk, but inter-personal violence was also rampant among the Ninevites themselves – it was survival of the fittest. It was to these people that Jonah went and preached the impending judgment of God.
       Then the word reached the king, and he believed it. He sent out a proclamation, a call to “turn from their evil ways.” And the people got the message! That recalls the word of the Lord to Jonah in 1:2, “their evil has come up before me.” The wickedness of the people and the nation was such that as far as we know, Jonah never even mentioned it, he didn’t need to. The king called the people to “turn” from evil and “the violence in their hands.” That word “turn” is the Hebrew word used to express the idea of repentance. By specifically mention their “hands,” the indication is that a change in heart must lead to a change in actions. The Ninevites knew what they were doing, and it seems along with the word of the Lord came a deep conviction for their sin, and a desire to turn from their evil ways.
       Note that the people were to express their repentance by dressing in sackcloth, along with their animals, and they were to fast, and to “call out mightily to God.” Remember what the captain on the boat had said in the midst of the storm? He, though a pagan idolater, confronted the sleeping Jonah and said in 1:6, "What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god!” A pagan captain had called on Jonah to pray, and he didn’t, at least not immediately. Here, a pagan king calls on the people to fast and pray, and to put on sack cloth and ashes as a sign of repentance and mourning, and they do it! The king, like the captain, seems to have more spiritual sensitivity than the prodigal prophet, Jonah. Someone made the comment that our brother Richard C. was an example of one who consistently spoke of his faith, he “talked the talk,” and he also “walked the walk,” that is, he lived out his faith. I remember someone asking, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence for a conviction?” I hope so! That’s the Maine* Idea: If we believe God, and trust in His mercy and grace, we will turn from the idolatrous and sinful ways of our past life.

III. Hope: Genuine faith and repentance recognizes our only hope is in the mercy and grace of God (9-10).
9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish."  10 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.
The king expresses the same hope that the captain on the ship had shown in 1:6 when he had called on Jonah to pray, “…Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish." The language is not just wishful thinking, a shot in the dark when there is nothing else to try or do. It is actually an expression of hope, looking to the Great God for mercy. In Jonah 1:14, in the face of the worsening storm and the word from the prophet that casting him into the see would bring deliverance for them, the sailors pray to the God of Jonah, "O LORD, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you."
      Seeing our desperate need, we look to God for mercy (9). The only way to escape God’s wrath against sin is to run to Him, not away from Him! We need to see our desperate need, and realize, as Jonah expresses in the next chapter, that He is “…a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster…” (Jonah 4:2). The fact that God does not immediately judge us in our sin indicates, as Peter wrote, that God “…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance… (2 Pet 3:9).
      God had demonstrated His mercy toward Jonah in sparing Him from certain death in the storm and the sea. Miraculously He kept Him alive as His “Uber-fish” brought him to land, giving him time to think and pray. And now, we see again in his dealing with the Ninevites, that He is rich in mercy toward those who trust Him: Genuine faith and repentance will lead to being saved from the wrath of God (10).
       By the way, we need to be reminded here of the need for ongoing teaching of the Bible, and the need to be diligent about teaching our children. Have you noticed how often the Bible exhorts the people of God to teach the next generation, and to raise them up in the way of the Lord? The message of grace is always only one generation away from extinction. We have the example of Israel to show us that “revival” can be fleeting. Certainly, the time of the judges shows us that. It begins by saying that in those days there was no king in Israel, and “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” As the people fell into sin and idolatry, God allowed pagan nations to oppress them. Then the people looked up and cried out to God. God raised up a judge and deliverer, he rescued them, and for awhile they walked with God, until they didn’t. Rinse and repeat! Here, Nineveh repents, and it has the markings of a spiritual awakening. But a generation later the God-fearers seemingly die off, and with them the fear of the Lord. They failed to teach their children about the true God, the God of Israel. And they attack and decimate the northern kingdom, and surround Jerusalem in the south, and would have destroyed it had God not intervened.
      Every generation is responsible to teach the truth about God to the next generation, and to live in such a way that they will see that this is real, and understand that God has spoken. Remember, God has no grandchildren, only children! Let’s be diligent to teach the Gospel of God’s grace, by word and example, to the next generation. Parents this is your mission, and church, we are responsible to come alongside of them, with our diversity of gifts, to assist them in that mission!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Have you recognized your need, turned from your sin, and trusted Christ as your only hope of forgiveness and life? Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” If we believe God, and trust in His mercy and grace, we will turn from the sinful ways of our past life. Has God changed you?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Just as “faith” is something that is ongoing in the life of a believer (the just shall live by faith), “repentance” is not something that is done only once, at the beginning of the Christian life. Are you reading through the Bible this year? As the Word of God exposes areas of our life that are contrary to God’s will, we should mourn our sin, because it grieves God, and we should confess it and turn from it. As we do, the promise of Scripture is that “…as we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). That is amazing grace, and incredibly good news! A new year is before us, and a new opportunity to examine our walk, and to determine to live for Him. As we prepare for the Lord’s Table, let’s take a few minutes to pray, and seek His face, confessing our sin… AMEN.