Sunday, June 29, 2014
“Do You Do Well to Be Angry?”
June 29, 2014 Second Reformed Church
After Jonah humbled himself and repented of his sin, the great fish vomited him out on the dry land, and God told Jonah – again – to go to Nineveh and preach the Gospel, saying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4b, ESV).
So Jonah made the walk from Joppa in Western Israel to Nineveh, in what we now call, Iraq. And for three days, Jonah walked across the city, crying out: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!”
God softened the hearts of the people from the king to the lowliest peasant, and they all fasted, put on sackcloth, and covered themselves with ashes, crying out to God, repenting of their sin and vowing not to sin against God again.
After repenting in this way for forty days, God forgave Nineveh and reconciled the people to Him – making them – all those who believed – His sons and daughters, and He did not destroy them.
Now, if we had never heard chapter four of the book of Jonah, we might expect that Jonah would rejoice with the Ninevites – that they had come to belief and repentance and received salvation by faith alone in the God of Israel. Jonah had preached the Gospel of repentance to them – calling them to repentance in the wake of destruction for their sin, and they received salvation. But that is not what happened at all.
In this morning’s text, we see three things:
First, God has mercy on whom He will have mercy.
Second, everything happens according to the Will of God.
And third, God cares for all of His people.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 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.’
First, God has mercy on whom He will have mercy.
Jonah was spitting nails. He was in a rage. And Jonah turned to God in prayer – so to speak: “Almighty and Sovereign God of Creation – You see! You see what You did! Isn’t this exactly what I said in my heart would happen? That’s why I fled from You – that’s why I tried to get away from You – because I know You, God. I know Your Character. I know You are the Gracious God – I know You have called wicked men to Yourself and saved them by Your Grace. I know You are slow to anger – You are patient in calling all those who will believe to You. I know that Your Love is unchanging and abounding – and I know You are greatly pleased to see people believe and repent and come to You for salvation. And You have done it! You sent me all this way. I preached disaster against them – punishment for their sin. But You had planned to show them mercy and receive them as Your own – and You did – You forgave them. There is no destruction – they have been welcomed into Your family! And I can’t stand it!”
Why was Jonah so angry?
Jonah had it in his mind that the destruction of Nineveh by the Wrath of God would be the means to get Israel to repent and turn back to God. Jonah thought that if God made an example of Nineveh, Israel would see it and repent – not wanting to receive the same Just Wrath for their sin. But now, since God had been merciful and saved Nineveh – what was Israel to think? What reason did they have to turn away from their sin and follow God? They would surely think that if God showed mercy and saved the evil, pagan enemies of Israel, God would certainly be merciful to Israel – His chosen nation. God had just made it more difficult for Israel to see any reason to repent.
We remember the Samaritan village that rejected Jesus because He would not affirm worship in Samaria: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village” (Luke 9:51-56, ESV).
James and John we acting like Jonah, “Com’on Jesus, Let us bring down fire on these heathens so they will know that You are God the Savior! That will show them! Then they will repent!” But Jesus rebuked them.
God does, sometimes, use destruction to proclaim His Glory – we think of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But more often, He does not. And we are wrong to call on God to inflict harm on any specific person or group for the sake of spreading the Gospel. And we are wrong to say that such and such a disaster was caused to show God’s anger at this sin or that sin.
Jonah did not understand how God could both require payment for sin and be graciously forgiving, and, in some way, he was trying to protect the Glory of God – as he understood it. He thought that if God did not destroy them for their sin, God would not be being just.
We understand on this side of the Incarnation, that God is both just and justifier. Jesus came to pay the debt owed to God for the sin of everyone who would ever believe – even those Ninevites who truly believed and repented. And Jesus lived a holy and sinless life under God’s Law that all those who would believe would be credited with righteousness – even as if we had fulfilled all righteousness. God does require that the debt for sin be paid – and that happened for all those who ever savingly believe in Jesus through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. And God does require holiness to enter into His Kingdom – and all those who believe are credited with a righteous life through Jesus’ life.
Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:3-10, ESV).
And, “For [God] says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:15-18, ESV).
Jonah had missed the point that God has chosen a people for Himself out of all the peoples of the world, based on God’s Sovereign Good Pleasure and not based on anything anyone did or did not do. Salvation, mercy, grace – are all of God, freely, as God is pleased to grant them.
Jonah continued, “’Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Jonah thought his career as a prophet of God was over: he had prophesied destruction of Nineveh, and it didn’t happen. He had desired the destruction of Nineveh as an example for the good of Israel, and it didn’t happen. So he prayed, “Just kill me now!”
And God asked him the question we need to answer for ourselves as we see God’s Plan unfolding all around us: “Do you do well to be angry?” Do we have a right to be angry with God if God’s Plan is different from ours? Do we have a right to be angry with God if what we think is best for the Kingdom – if what we think is best for our lives and our friends and family and nation and so forth – is not what God has planned? Do we have the right to be angry with God if we enjoy our fellowship and worship and believe the Gospel is being preached here, and we celebrate our 98th anniversary, and then God chooses to have this church close?
(That is not to say that we are about to close – by the Grace of God, it seems as though we will be able to continue – but what if God’s says, “No”? What if God says that the work at Second Reformed Church is over – do we have a right to be angry with God?)
Do we have the right to be angry with God for whatever He brings to pass?
“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. 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. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 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.’”
Second, everything happens according to the Will of God.
Jonah slinked off and built himself a little shed to spare him from the hot, Middle Eastern sun, and he sat down and watched the city. What was he looking for? Did he think he had convinced God to change His Mind and destroy the city?
Just as God sent the storm and then the great fish after Jonah, God now sent a plant, and it quickly grew up over the shed and provided Jonah with comfort and peace against the sun. And Jonah was exceedingly thankful for the plant. He rejoiced in the life of the plant and its growing up to give him shade. And he rested through the night until the next morning.
But when the sun came up again, God sent a worm to kill the plant – the worm ate through it, and it died, and shriveled up, leaving Jonah exposed to the sun. And God sent a hot east wind to beat against Jonah and he was almost faint. And he cried out again, “Just kill me now!”
We have a tendency to talk about thinks happening by chance or luck – but that’s not what we see in the Scripture: everything that occurs happens according to the Plan of God.
Jesus explained to the disciples that all the forces of Hell and unbelief would rage against the Church – all those who savingly confess faith in Jesus Alone. But then He tells them why this should not worry them: “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:26-33, ESV).
Jesus said it is not possible for a sparrow to die apart from the Will of the Father. It is not possible for us to have one hair more or one hair less than we do without the Will of the Father.
The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html?body=/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ch_III.html).
And our Belgic Confession states, in part: “We believe that this good God, after creating all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without God’s orderly arrangement.
Yet God is not the author of, and cannot be charged with, the sin that occurs. For God’s power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that God arranges and does his works very well and justly even when the devils and the wicked act unjustly” (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/belgic-confession).
What that means for us is that no matter what happens in this world, we can be confident that our Loving, Heavenly Father is in complete control, and as we are promised: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Absolutely everything – God works together for the good of those who believe savingly in Him.
Though we mourn when someone dies or when there is some tragedy, we are not destroyed by it, because we know that God is Sovereign over all things at all times, and God is not scrambling to accomplish His Plan, but everything is occurring just as God planned it from before the Creation.
Paul puts it this way: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, ESV).
“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.’
Jonah cared for the plant and received comfort from the plant – Jonah thought he deserved this good gift of God. Yet, Job responded to far greater tragedy in this way: “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD’” (Job 1:20-21, ESV).
Understand, we are not being told to be unfeeling – mourning is right. Yet, in our mourning, as believers in Jesus Christ for salvation – as those who recognize the Sovereign rule of God over all of Creation – we can mourn and have hope, because God is in control and has promised good to those who believing in Him savingly.
“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. 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?’”
Third, God cares for all of His people.
God responded to Jonah by rebuking him for caring for the plant and not caring for the Ninevites. Jonah had his priorities wrong: our primary care is to be for all people and especially for their salvation – that we would go out and tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
That is the point of the book of Jonah: God has called a people to Himself – who will come to faith in Him, believing and repenting, savingly embracing the Gospel with their minds and hearts – and those people are known to God and God will bring them to salvation. It has been granted to us to go out and tell the Gospel to all people – that those whom God has chosen out of all the nations and peoples of the world to believe would believe and repent and follow after Jesus as Lord and Savior.
How did Jonah respond to God reminding Jonah of how much He cares for all His people – and the Creation, too – the cattle?
We’re not told.
The history ends with this rebuke, because the point is not what Jonah did or did not do. The point is that God is sovereign over salvation, sovereign over all of history, and that He cares for His people – so much so that God came to earth to live and die to make His people right with Him again.
There is a story told among the ancient rabbis – not in the Bible – which says that Jonah fell down on his face and repentantly worshipped and glorified God for His Sovereignty and Love. We would hope that was true, but we’re not told.
We hope that Jonah reacted as Job did when Job called God out on the carpet and demanded that God explain why Job went through all the suffering he did, and God responded by asking Job who he was to make demands on God. “Then Job answered the LORD and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job 42:1-6, ESV).
On this, our 98th anniversary, do we believe that God is in complete control of every moment of history and is bringing all things together for the good of those who believe – the people He loves? Are we ready to humbly and obediently follow God wherever He would have us go and whatever He would call us to do – no matter what His Hand should bring – in thanksgiving and praise and hope to Him?
Do we want all people to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation that is only found in Him? What are you going to do about it?
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we give thanks to You for the history of Jonah. We ask that You would grow us in faith and obedience, maturing us and transforming us into the Image of Your Son, Jesus. Open our mouths so all would know that You have made the Way to be saved. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
“Proclaim the Gospel”
June 22, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Did Jonah do the Will of God?
God told Jonah to go preach the Gospel to the Ninevites – the hated, Gentile Ninevites – who were part of another nation – not even living in Israel. And Jonah told God, “no.” He tried to run away, but God hurled a hurricane after the ship Jonah was on, and then Jonah was hurled into the stormy sea, and then God sent a fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah humbled himself and repented, and God told the fish to vomit Jonah out on the dry land.
Jesus said, “’what do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” And he answered, “I will not,” but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, “I go, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him’” (Matthew 21:28-32, ESV).
God told Jonah to proclaim the Gospel to the Ninevites, and Jonah said, “No.” Then, in love and mercy, God – like a loving Father – disciplined Jonah until he humbled himself and repented. Then God told Jonah to proclaim the Gospel to the Ninevites, and Jonah went.
Jonah is a good example for us, is he not? We sin against God – we tell God, “no,” when we tell God He is unfair or that we have a better way. Yet, if we repent of our sin, if we turn back to God and do what God told us to do in the first place, we will then be obedient to God’s Will.
Now, that’s not to say that it is good to sin and repent because then we follow God’s Will. No, we ought to follow God’s Will from the beginning; sin is never excusable.
Jonah didn’t – Jonah disobeyed and God used extreme measures to get him to acknowledge his sin and humble himself and repent. And then God said to him to “Arise” – stand up, shake off the fish vomit, and go to Nineveh with the Gospel.
As we look at our text – which is the third chapter of Jonah, we see:
First, the Gospel we proclaim must be God’s Gospel.
Second, there is only one saving response to the Gospel.
And third, God will forgive those who believe and repent.
“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey.”
God told Jonah to get up and do what He told him to do in the first place – go to that great city – go to the capital of that foreign nation who has done evil against God and Israel – go to them with the message that God tells him to preach.
Now, let’s think about this for a moment: Jonah has been in the belly of the great fish for three days, and now he had to walk from Joppa in Western Israel to Nineveh, which is in what we now call, Iraq. That is not a short walk. Going as the crow flies, it’s about six hundred miles, but, if he were to take the normally travelled routes, it could have been as long as two thousand miles. Jonah didn’t have a plane or a car or a bike – he walked.
Nineveh was a great city – if we take the figure in the fourth chapter to refer to the total number of people in the city, then we would say there were over 120,000. But, if we understand it, as some have, that the 120,000 refer to children, the number could have been more like 400,000 people.
We’re told that the city itself was a three-day walk. And again, it is unsure if that means that it took three days to walk across or three days to walk throughout – but in either case, Nineveh was a big city.
John Calvin explains what Jonah was walking into: “The Lord, therefore, expressly foretold Jonah how difficult would be his employment; as though he said, ‘I send thee, a man unknown, and of no rank, and a stranger, to denounce ruin on men, not a few in number, but on a vast multitude, and to carry on a contest with the noblest city, and so populous, that it may seem to be a region of itself’” (John Calvin, Commentary on Jonah).
“And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’”
First, the Gospel we proclaim must be God’s Gospel.
And our first reaction might be: “That’s not the Gospel – you keep telling us that the Gospel is a set of historical facts – that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne – that’s the Gospel.”
And you would be right. So, what is going on here?
There are two ways we can look at this – either what we have is not the whole of the preaching of the Gospel that they heard from Jonah, or they already knew very well that they were sinning against God and were in trouble and we waiting to have a call to repentance.
We think of Noah, who God used to save Noah and his family and representative pairs of the animals to repopulate the earth after the flood. Noah and his sons spent one hundred years building the ark. We are not told anything about what Noah preached to his contemporaries during those hundred years, but certainly he said something – certainly they asked what was going on.
“So, Noah, you’re building an ark. Why?”
The author of Hebrews tells us: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7, ESV). Noah had received the Gospel and built the ark for the salvation of his family and the condemnation of those who did not repent of their sins. And we hear that righteousness is by faith alone in the witness of Noah.
Do you know of anyone who would say they have lived a perfect life – that they have never done anything wrong? Even if they claim not to believe in God, everyone, with very slight prodding, will admit that they have done things wrong – that they are sinners. Believing that we are sinners is not hard to do.
However, it is likely that most people would say they are better than average as far as being good people. In 1999, a study showed that 89% of Americans believe they are morally better than average (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_superiority). That can’t be – right?
People know something is wrong – they are not the best they could be – they are not the people they would want to be in every area. And that is actually where evangelism must begin – we must know the bad news for the Good News to be of any value. After all, if just about all of us are better than average – we’re all pretty good. Or not.
Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). It is the Christian who understands that there is something desperately wrong with the world – we are sinners and our sin has affected all of Creation. In fact, our sin has angered God.
Matthew records, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17, ESV).
Neither Noah, nor Jesus, nor Jonah preached that “you’re ok and I’m ok,” or “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” or “this is your best life now.” Those are all lies of the devil. If this is the best it will be, there is no reason to have hope.
But, if we understand that we are sinners, if we understand that there is a God, and that God has made the Way to be right with Him, and we in honesty ask, “What ought we to do?” The answer must be, “Repent!” How that is possible is then explained through the historical moments of the Gospel that we know from Jesus’ life.
Jonah preached the bad news of God’s anger for the sin of the Ninevites, and God used that message to confront and conform the Ninevites into a repentant people, who believed in the Gospel. The Gospel is the response to the fact that we are at odds with God due to our sin – until we understand that – until anyone understands that – there is no possibility that they will hear the Good News of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.
We must not be afraid to ask people how they will be right with the Holy God – with the God Who requires holiness from us to avoid His Wrath. We ought not to tell people that God loves them and wants to give them a tremendous gift; if they do not understand that they are in need – in sin – in rebellion against God.
I talked with my neurologist about how he went from being an Orthodox Jew to a Reformed Jew – and he talked about going through the ceremonies that Judaism requires, even though they are not as meaningful to him anymore. And I asked him if the real question was not, “How does a person become right with God?” And he said, “Yes.”
The Gospel has two parts – the bad news of our sin – and the Good News of Jesus Christ, our only salvation. That is the Gospel that must be preached.
“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.
“The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 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, 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. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’”
Second, there is only one saving response to the Gospel.
The proclamation of the Gospel warning and the hope of salvation spread through Nineveh. It is not clear whether or not Jonah had an audience with the king of Nineveh, but he also heard the proclamation of the Gospel warning and the hope of salvation.
The right response to the proclamation of the Gospel is threefold: there must be repentance for sin, there must be a renouncing of sin, and there must be a trust in the promises of God.
There must be a repentance of sin. If someone truly receives the Gospel message, he will repent of his sin. He will despise his sin and ask for forgiveness for it. A person who truly believes and understands the wretchedness of his life and all that he has done against God and man will renounce it and desire forgiveness for all that he has done sinfully.
The people of Nineveh and the king – and some of the people just following the king, perhaps – did repent of their sin. They called for a fast – denying their physical pleasures and necessities in repentance. They put on sackcloth and ashes, symbolizing the destructive Wrath that would have come against them if they did not repent, and the humility by which they were now coming to God and asking for forgiveness. They recognized that they were deserving of nothing of the blessings of God and that they would return to the ashes of which God created them. They acknowledged that they were creatures made by the Living God, Who caused them to live and breathe and move upon the earth. And they came to Him in sorrow for their sin and asked to be forgiven.
And we might wonder about putting the animals in sackcloth and ashes and not feeding or watering them. Certainly they had no sin. But they served as a mirror to the Ninevites – as they cried out, wanting to be fed and watered, bearing the image of sackcloth and ashes – the Ninevites would look at them and have a reaffirmation of their sin portrayed on the back of the animals and in their cries.
After renouncing sin, they committed not to sin again – as they progressed in mortification and vivification – as they worked towards holiness – as do all true Christians. The king commanded that everyone call out mightily to God and turn from the evil and violence that they were doing.
Repentance is not merely asking for forgiveness for our sins; repentance is turning around – committing to strive against temptation and to sin no longer. We see this in Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery:
“Early in the morning [Jesus] came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more’” (John 8:2-11, ESV).
We understand that the scribes and the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into breaking the Law. They brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and told Jesus part of the Law – that a woman caught in the act of adultery is to be put to death – actually the Law says, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10, ESV).
But Jesus wasn’t playing their game. He said to them, literally, “He who is without this sin, cast the first stone.” And they all left – beginning with the older men.
The point here is this: The woman sinned. Jesus knew her heart, being God, and forgave her, in her repentance, yet, He did not leave it at that. Jesus said, literally, “From now on and for the rest of your life, sin no more.” Jesus called her to a life of holiness.
We are all called to repent of our sin, to confess and ask for forgiveness, and then we are to stop sinning. “But it’s so hard!” Yes it is, but we have God the Holy Spirit living in us and we do not ever have to sin. Our trouble is more that we don’t believe that what God has given us and promised us is better than sin, and we don’t believe that God will provide the way that He promised that, when we are tempted, we can turn away and choose not to sin.
After repenting of sin and committing not to sin – to strive after holiness, a final part is found in trusting the promises of God.
The king said, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Here we see that the king trusted in the promises of God.
Now, someone maybe thinking – “Wait a minute – isn’t the king doubting that God will keep His promise to forgive them if they repent of their sin and follow after holiness?” And the answer is, “no.”
The king’s doubt was not with God, but with himself – and with his people. Having come to the point of recognizing their sin and repenting of their sin and vowing to strive towards holiness, the king was beside himself with awe of this God – “How can God forgive us after all that we have done in sinning against Him? Even though I believe and Nineveh believes that God has promised to forgive us if we repent of our sin and turn from it – how can God allow that to be? How can God forgive us?”
The details of salvation were unknown – Jesus had not yet come. The king trusted in God’s promise, but didn’t understand how God could forgive them. We know that we are forgiven because God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under the Law – and that righteousness was credited to the accounts of all we who believe, took on Himself the Wrath of God for all of the sins of all we who believe, died, and physical rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne. How much easier it is for us to believe who have this history behind us and recorded for us – where they had the promises of a Savior to come, but did not know how God would accomplish all that He had promised!
So, the king believed the promises of God – his repentance and vow to follow after God was sincere – but he wondered how the Holy God could forgive such great sin. Through Jesus: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, ESV).
Do you believe God’s promise of salvation through Jesus Christ? Do you think you should tell someone? Are you amazed that God would forgive us?
“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.”
Third, God will forgive those who believe and repent.
The prophet is writing in human language, which is the only one we can understand. God intended and knew that the Ninevites would repent of their sin and follow after God, believing His promises. And so, when they did – just as God had planned – God forgave them for their sin and did not destroy them.
John puts it this way:
“This is the message we have heard from [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10, ESV).
And Peter preached, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself’” (Acts 2:36-39, ESV).
Brothers and sisters, Jesus has commanded us to proclaim the Gospel to the whole Creation. Jonah preached the Gospel to the Ninevites, and in the mercy and providence of God, they repented of their sin, began to strive after holiness, and believed the promises of God.
If you are a Christian, this morning, you have be commanded by the Almighty God, our Savior, to proclaim the Gospel – that humans are at odds with God and the only hope and salvation is through the historical work of Jesus that we confess. And if anyone repents of their sin, turns away from it, and seeks to do what is right in the eyes of God, believing the promises that God has made in the Scripture, God will forgive them and adopt them into His family for salvation.
Are you ready to obey the Will of God and His call on your life to tell others the Gospel of Jesus Christ? There is no other hope, and God has entrusted us to proclaim His Message of Salvation.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and repent of our sins and pray that God the Holy Spirit, Who indwells us, would help us to take the way of escape from temptation that You have provided for us and continue to strive after holiness in our own lives. Help us to proclaim Your Gospel to each one who needs to hear. Keep us from fear and overwhelm us with the urge to let those know who are perishing. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
"That is how preachers should preach, evangelists should evangelize and believers should believe: according to the Word of God, no more and no less. We should not think that we can make the gospel more attractive or effective by our additions. We should not think that we can make the gospel more compelling by our omissions. It is our duty to declare, believe and live by the whole counsel of God -- with no changes." -- Baruch Maoz, Prophet on the Run, 62.
June 15, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Jonah was a prophet around 750 B.C. in Israel. Israel was at peace, but they were worshipping idols, and God sent Jonah and other prophets to warn them that if they did not turn away and repent of their sin, God was going to discipline them. Then, God told Jonah to go to the hated Assyrians – to Nineveh – to preach the Gospel to them – to call them to repentance and faith in the God of Israel – but Jonah was having none of it.
Jonah ran away – thinking that he could escape God by going to Spain – thinking he would give God time to reconsider what He had commanded Jonah to do. So Jonah hopped on a ship bound for Spain, but God hurled a hurricane at them, and Jonah finally admitted that he was the cause of the disaster, and Jonah recognized his sin and – to save the crew of the ship – told them to hurl him into the sea. When they did, the sea was at once calm.
And Jonah was swallowed by a great fish that God sent to him.
This morning’s text – chapter two of the book of Jonah – is the record of what happened during Jonah’s three day and three night stay in the belly of the great fish.
Last week, we said that Jonah’s being thrown into the sea to save the sailors was symbolic of the Atonement – of Jesus taking on the sins of all those who would believe in Him savinlgy – as well as the Wrath of God for those sins.
We also noted that God sometimes uses extreme measures to get us to awaken us to our sin. The first of these, we saw, was God hurling the storm at the ship and Jonah being hurled overboard into the raging sea.
In this morning’s text, we see:
Frist, when God disciplines us, the goal is that we will humble ourselves and return to Him.
Second, God is Sovereign and forgives the repentant.
Third, God raises believers from the dead.
Fourth, if we return to the Lord, He will save us.
“And Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17b, ESV).
It is unlikely that anyone here has been swallowed by a great fish, but, perhaps, some of us have entered into sin and found ourselves in a deep and dark place and not known how we could arise out of it.
The Psalmist experienced this, certainly, as he recorded his distress: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Psalm 130:1-2, ESV).
Surely, Jonah’s first thought in being swallowed by the great fish was that he was going to be eaten – this was his end – his punishment for his arrogant sin – in turning away from proclaiming the Gospel to the people that God command him to go to. But, on the third day, Jonah truly repented and humbled himself and called out to God in prayer:
“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.”
First, when God disciplines us, the goal is that we will humble ourselves and repent.
God told Jonah to go preach the Gospel to the hated Assyrians in Nineveh, and Jonah sinned in arrogance, thinking that Israel was worthy of the Gospel message, but not the Ninevites. He forgot the promise that God made to Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through God’s working with Israel. As Jesus reminded His disciples: “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’” (Mark 16:15, ESV).
Yes, as Paul reminds us, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, ESV). The Gospel is first to the Jews – they received the prophets and the Law and the birth of the Incarnate God, the Savior. But then, the Gospel must go out from there to the whole Creation – to every man and woman of every tribe and country and nation – even to the people we don’t like. Even to the people we don’t think deserve it. Because, the fact of the matter is that none of us deserve salvation, but God is merciful to whom He shows mercy. Our call – Jonah’s call – is to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ Alone to everyone, and God will save as He wills.
Are you willing to obey and proclaim the Gospel to everyone? Can you think of anyone you can’t stand to be around who needs to hear the Gospel? Can you think of any nation or people that you don’t think deserve to be forgiven by God? Are you willing to humble yourself and obey the call to tell everyone the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Who are you going to speak to today? Who ought you to speak to this week?
Jonah was right to be concerned – and even angry – with Israel for their idolatry, but he had not understood God – he had embraced bad theology – and he thought Israel better than the Ninevites – more worthy to receive the Gospel than the Ninevites. But, now, confronted by God, having spent three days in the belly of the great fish, under God’s sovereign and loving discipline, Jonah repented and in humility, cried out to the Lord from the belly of the great fish.
We are right to be angry with the sins of our nation – with the sins of our neighbors – with the sins of we who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Are you ready to cry out to the Lord and return to Him in humble obedience? Or do you need more time in the belly of the great fish?
Jonah cried out to God – as though in the grave – in Sheol – he cried out from the depths – from a place he could not return from on his own accord. He cried out that God would hear him in his repentance and in his humility before the Lord, in the darkness – floating in the fluids in the belly of the great fish.
“For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’”
Second, God is Sovereign and forgives the repentant.
And as Jonah cried out, he confessed to God that he understood that he had sinned – in not preaching the Gospel to the Ninevites – in trying to run away from God – in putting the sailors’ lives at risk. And he confessed that he understood that he was now under the Divine and Sovereign Discipline of God.
Jonah confessed that God cast him into the deep. God cast him into the heart of the sea. God flooded over him with the waters of the sea. God set the waves roaring above him. God set the billows to pass over him.
Jonah confessed his understanding that all he was going through was by the Sovereign Hand of God as discipline for his sin. And he prayed that God would hear him and deliver him – that his discipline would not merely end in his humility and returning to God in repentance but that God would save him from the belly of the great fish, in the depths of the sea, under the waves and the billows of the sea.
Jonah’s entombment in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights was the second extreme measure that God used to awaken him to his sin – and Jonah did awaken and repent and humbly call on God in repentance and prayer.
The Psalmist also cried out in prayer: “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4, ESV).
When God disciplines us for our sin, how do we react? When we know we have sinned and we suffer the consequences of it, what is our response? Is it to stand by stoically as we receive what is due us? Do we say our punishment is unfair? Do we say that God is unfair? Do we try to make deals with God? Or do we repent of our sin and humbly call on God in prayer for His Mercy and forgiveness?
Hear this encounter with Jesus: “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1-5, ESV).
Peter preached, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:19-21, ESV).
And Jesus said to the Church, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5, ESV).
Even if we are in the belly of the great fish, if we humbly repent of our sin, God will hear us, and God will restore us to a right place with Him, so we can come before Him in His temple and worship Him – just as Jonah did and looked forward to, even as he was still in the belly of the great fish.
“The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”
Third, God raises believers from the dead.
Jonah’s discipline for his sin sent him down, deep into the sea. It was as if he was wrapped in seaweed – tied to the bottom of the sea – as if he was closed up in Davy Jones’ locker. He was effectively dead. Without God’s intervention, he was dead.
But, as he confessed, God brought his life up from the pit. God received his humble repentance, forgave him, and raised him from the dead.
Jonah’s being in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights is symbolic of the time that Jesus would spend in the grave between the crucifixion and the Resurrection. During that time, Jesus was really, truly dead, and there was nothing that He or anyone could do to bring His body back to life, unless God chose to bring Him back to life.
Jesus prophesied that this would be the case – as we remember from last week: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just 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’” (Matthew 12:38-40, ESV).
We, like Christ, will be raised in our physical bodies, as Paul tells us: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5, ESV).
Jesus’ Resurrection was a physical – bodily resurrection – which we know because He could be touched and eat. So, we, after we have died – if the Lord tarries – will be raised in our physical bodies, perfected and glorified as Jesus’ body is.
For now, we have the glorious gift of the resurrection of our spiritual bodies – all we who believe in Jesus the Savior. As Paul explains, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom 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. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7, ESV).
This is what Jesus meant as He talked with Martha about the death of her brother, Lazarus: “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’” (John 11:23-27, ESV).
Yes, there will be a future resurrection of our bodies, but now, there is a spiritual resurrection of all those who believe in Jesus – and if you are in the depths due to your sin, God is able to raise you from that death, if you humbly repent and believe and call out to Him in prayer.
Do you believe? Do you repent of your sin and promise to strive towards living in all holiness? Are you willing to lay yourself aside and cry out to our God – the only life-giver – and pray that you would be restored from the depths to which you have gone? God will hear the cry of the believer.
That is not to say that everything will be all peaches and cream the moment you cry out to God. Jonah had to spend three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish. Even for the Sake of Christ – and not our sin – Jesus tells us that we may have to spend a (relatively) short time in duress – and we may have to physically die to become completely free: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10, ESV).
Whatever the case may be – but especially if we, like Jonah, find ourselves in the deep – in the belly of the great fish – God will raise us from the dead – but it may not be according to our timetable. As we wait on the Lord for His time to be right, let us cry out with the Psalmist – and have hope: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:5-6, ESV).
Fourth, if we return to the Lord, He will save us.
“When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
What joy is it – when darkness is all around us and all hope seems to be lost – to cast our eyes upon the Lord and pray to Him in His Holy Temple! Wherever you are, you are in the presence of the Almighty God Who – in love – sent His Son to save all those who would believe. You are in the Temple of the Lord, and whether God’s good plan is life or death for us – He is there – our hope and our future.
When it looked like God was going to allow Jonah to die in the great fish for his sin, he looked to the Lord – he saw the Glory of the Lord in the plans that the Lord had made and in the discipline that he had received. Whether he lived or died in the great fish, he was reconciled to God, and he joined with God in communion – praying to God, lifting up his praise and prayer to God his Savior.
Jonah confessed that he had received the steadfast love of God in all of God’s dealing with him – something those who continue in their idol worship will never have. The only hope of every man, woman, and child is to repent and believe in Jesus – the worship and belief in anything or anyone else will only end in the opposite of steadfast love – in the Wrath of God for sin.
The hope of every believer – every Christian believer – is that God loves us with a steadfast love – a love that continues eternally, because we are those whom Jesus came to save. John makes it clear: “ We love [God] because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV).
And Jesus promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).
Does that make you well up with thanksgiving? That God loves us with an everlasting love and will save us now spiritually and in the future – whether in life or in death – He will raise us physically so we will be like our God and Savior, Jesus Christ? Are you holding back saying, “Thank you, Jesus”? Or are you saying it to yourself? We ought to be thankful for this promise – for this love.
Jonah was thankful and responded as we ought to – with the sacrifice of praise, with the promise to be obedient to God’s call on his life – confessing that “salvation is of the Lord!”
The Psalmist wrote, “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:7-8, ESV).
Salvation is all of God, as God has mercy.
Our text ends with the historic event of God’s response to Jonah’s prayer: “And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”
Jonah had risen from the dead! He who was dead in the belly of the fish, was alive and walking on the land. A new man. A new prophet. Forgiven by his God. Restored to his call.
As God says of each of us who believes in His Gospel, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24a, ESV).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, our Savior, we thank You for the gift of salvation. We ask that You would forgive us for our sins in the Name of Jesus Christ. We ask that when we do sin, we would quickly and humbly come before You in repentance. Help us to seek You out as our loving Father, even when we sink into the depths of sin in rebellion against You. Help us receive Your discipline, acknowledging the rightness of it, as the discipline of our loving Father. Help us to be the men and women You have called us to be. Cause us to do those good works that you planned for us. Especially we ask that you would cause us to proclaim the Gospel to the whole Creation. For it is in Jesus’ Name, we pray.