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Saturday, 9 May 2015

Jonah chapter 2: God's grace that leads to repentance.





And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
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.
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.’
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 for ever; yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord my God.
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!”
And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Read also Psalm 139

Jonah the rebel prophet was hurled into the sea and left for dead! Certainly death was what Jonah had hoped for but it was not to be the case. It seems to me that all of Jonah's hopes and dreams in this were futile because God had a much higher purpose for him and for his ministry. God by His good grace and mercy was about the work of re-commissioning His prophet. That is a point worth noting, Jonah and his ministry belonged to God therefore he should have been more concerned for His God and His ministry than he was. This is also true of all who belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ. His reputation ought to be of greater importance to you than anything else!

As we can see from chapter 1 Jonah had absolutely no intention of repenting. The later chapters of the book reveal that Jonah knew the full implications of preaching to Nineveh and as such he had absolutely no desire to go there! Jonah preferred to die than to obey and so he not only rebelled against God's instruction but he also argued with God. If I read correctly between the lines of scripture Jonah was hoping that the greater the offence the greater the judgement from God. How could God ever use such a man? Or so he hoped would be the case. We can imagine him saying to God “send somebody else because I will not go!” Such rationale only goes to show that even the tried and tested prophet of God was guilty of a lack of understanding of the character of God Almighty. Our God in heaven is much bigger than Jonah's theology and He is certainly more faithful to His promises than Jonah would ever be. God had told Jonah to go to Nineveh and that includes giving him the ability to go, safety whilst he was there and also success of the prophetic or preached word! God's plans and purposes will never be thwarted by the antics for a rebellious, racist and sulking prophet. This is yet another lesson that we must learn: God is working His purposes out through those whom He has chosen and He will do it despite our protestations and even our rebelliousness. That having been said, Jonah had a very painful experience which eventually brought him to repentance. We will not experience God's anger as did Jonah if we act according to God's will and purpose.

The big lesson to learn from all of this is that God is sovereign. Backsliding or rebellious Christian we would do well to take a keen interest in this passage before us. It is recorded for our benefit and to warn us to not go there. It is for this reason that I think that Jonah did actually write this account; who else would know his secret thoughts and prayers before God and who better to warn us from backsliding than Jonah?

Despite all of this Jonah would rather die as a rebel prophet rather than go to Nineveh in obedience to God's calling. To some this is thought to be a battle of wills but is that true? God's position is non-negotiable and Jonah's is totally unreasonable. During the 70's and 80's the UK was blighted by industrial tensions that all too often resulted in strike action. The problem was that there was a total stand off between employers and employees where both believed that they were right and the other was wrong. It usually took many days of negotiation with mediators in order to bring about compromises to resolve the issue. This stand off between Jonah and God is nothing like that, God is always right. If that were not the case then God is no longer God! Jonah was not only wrong, he knew full well that he was. He simply did not want what God had planned for Nineveh and so he refused to go. The way that God chooses to bring Jonah to obedience is quite remarkable; a giant fish is provided just for this purpose. It is too much to believe for some; science and critics alike love to tell of the impossibilities of this account. Coming from a scientific background and also my being a pragmatist I can honestly tell you that I agree entirely with them. It is actually impossible for a fish to sustain human life in it's stomach. Hydrochloric acid at ph1 is perfect for digestion but it is disastrous on the complexion. Naturally Jonah would not last many minutes inside a fish's stomach.

BUT

Does science or pragmatism have all of the answers? Of course they do not! It is equally impossible for a man to stand up in a boat and still the storm but yet Jesus did. It is impossible to walk on water but Jesus did and He also encouraged Peter to do the same. It is impossible to make water into wine but Jesus did it! It is impossible to raise the dead but Jesus did it. God who created the heavens and the earth supersedes the laws of nature therefore He can at any time perform any miracle that He chooses for the sake of His purposes and glory. This is an occasion that He did just that. He prepared a fish big enough for the job and He kept Jonah alive despite the normal and natural workings of the stomach. Equally he directed the fish to the shore at exactly the place of His choosing and at exactly the right time (3 days and 3 nights!) Then He gave the fish a large dose of spiritual emetic and Jonah was thrown up or vomited out upon dry land; safe and secure.

There is so much imagery in this that we do not have time to consider but can you not see the signposts here that are pointing to Jesus?

Again as is consistent with God's character revealed in scripture, God is displaying His sovereignty in the life and through the experiences of Jonah. Today's big lesson is that God is sovereign over Jonah's repentance.

It was God who brought Jonah to:

Recognition: Seeing the need of repentance.
Repentance:The place of repentance.
Restoration: Re-commissioning.

Recognition:

As we have previously seen Jonah's great desire in all of this was that he die and get out of his responsibility. He is taking a rather extreme position because to most of us life is precious. But when things get on top of a person then even the value of life becomes at risk. Elijah was another prophet who wanted to die because he no longer had the fight in him. We would say that Elijah was burned out which resulted in his depression which was evidenced by his desire to die. I see no reason to believe that Jonah was burned out, he was simply rebelling against God's command on his life and rather than come to God in repentance he rebelled which caused him to be depressed and had to lose the will to live.

The interesting thing about both of these prophets is that neither of them could “pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start all over again!” They were simply sinking deeper and deeper into self pity. To both of them it was far better to die than to continue. They were both severely depressed but from two different causes. I am in no way saying that all depression is a spiritual issue but I am more and more convinced that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater somewhat in our efforts with depression. Modern medicine does not make allowances for the soul and as such cannot generally accept the need of spiritual counsel. The church has taken this mindset on board somewhat and has lost sight of the need for wise spiritual counsel for those who are depressed due to spiritual issues.

A doctor friend of mine when coming across some people with mental issues would say that on occasions a persons needs a priest rather than medication. On the other hand some Christian groups are guilty of seeing sin as the only cause of depression! As the church we need to be aware of the real needs of each individual and to offer the correct help for their condition.

For Jonah and Elijah they both needed a priest and were ministered to in different ways by the Great High Priest. Today we will concern ourselves with Jonah. Notice that God was allowing Jonah to experience something of his desire to die. Jonah was at the point of no return, he was also in relationship far from God. But God was clearly closer to him than he knew! Jonah was in trouble and now he recognised it. At last he could see his dilemma and it is at this point that he realises that life is precious; but it is too late for him personally to do anything about it. He had descended into the depths of the sea which he described as Sheol or to us hell.

In his depressed state he wanted to take his own life by being thrown into the sea, but Jonah now saw that God had not forsaken him. Even though things were going from bad to worse and the sea was mustering all that it could in order to take Jonah's life;

Jonah suddenly can see the temple.
The sight of the temple comes to him with a certainty that he will once again look upon it personally. Hope is now coming to Jonah but he is still in the sea facing death and hell. Only a miracle can save him now. All that Jonah can do is to call upon the God of Grace to rescue him.

Verse 6 is key to what God teaches in this passage, Jonah is just outside the gates of hell but the wonderful thing for him was that they were locked to him. He could not enter. But God lifted him back to life from the very point of death. It was here that the work of the Great High Priest was accomplished. God's anger which could rightly have sent Jonah into the land of the dead (Sheol) was abated and Jonah lived. Jonah did nothing to deserve this; it was purely an act of grace on God's behalf. This is one of the great bible passages that reveals God's grace being extended to an undeserving sinner.

The wonderful thing here is the picture that this portrays for us: remember a sign that Jesus gave to His critics was of Jonah being in the belly of the fish for 3 days and 3 nights. The implication of that being that it would be the Son of Man would rescue His friends from the gates of Sheol.

There is one fundamental reason why Jonah did not enter into those gates; if he had there would be no way out for him. But the power of hell had to be conquered and so it was Jesus who did go on through those gates. The sin that He bore was so odious to God that He was hurled into hell by God and this was on our behalf. The cross was Jesus' hell where he experienced the full wrath of God as He bore our sins in His body on the tree. The darkness that came upon the land was clear evidence that the “Light of the World” had been extinguished. Jesus' vehicle of rescue was a grave where he stayed for those 3 days and then He came out and is now our Conquering King. He is our Great High Priest who always intercedes on behalf of His people as he did with Jonah on that day.

Jonah's lesson from God taught him the value of life and gave him the ability to go to the next phase.

Repentance:

For Jonah repentance was was brought about by his fear of death and of going into hell. That is an unpopular message in our 21st century church but it is nonetheless biblical and as such is of vital importance. We have somewhat lost sight of the severity of hell. Do you believe that if Jonah had once entered hell then there would be no way out for him ever. Hell is eternal and there is no way out. I think that it was general Booth of Salvation Army fame who once said that if it were possible he would like to dangle gospel preachers above the fires of hell to show them the awful suffering contained within. The purpose being that this would make them more diligent and passionate in their preaching of the gospel and that they be determined to rescue as many from hell as was possible.

Jonah saw hell at close quarters and knew there was nothing but grace that could save him from it. He was dying (verse 7) and the only thing left was prayer. Even at this point we see Jonah's impotence in the situation; but God's grace was at work. The sight of hell had caused Jonah to remember God! Sinner or Backslider how far has God got to take you before you remember Him? God at this point had enabled Jonah to pray and then His grace was displayed to Jonah.

From the depths of the sea staring at the very gates of death and hell a prayer is heard in heaven and Jonah is saved.

Jesus who is the second and perfect Jonah fulfilled this completely He experienced hell it's very self and to all of His followers everything seemed to have gone hopelessly wrong. It was when darkness was covering the earth that Jesus prayed the prayer which is effective for our salvation. “Father forgive them” and “It is finished” was His prayer. Sin had been dealt with, God's wrath has been turned and salvation had been accomplished by that one act of Amazing Grace. Just as Jonah could not save himself then neither can we! We must call on the Great high Priest who made Himself to be the Ultimate Sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins and He will rescue us from the clutches of sin, death and hell.

Have you come to Christ in repentance yet?
Apply.

Restoration:


You will be please to hear that this is for the next time. I leave you with a cliff hanger to ponder concerning God's providence and sovereignty over our ministry.

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