Archive for September, 2020
“But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God’” (Matthew 22:29).
Having taken an ancient teaching regarding family responsibility (Deuteronomy 25:5), and construing it into a scenario pertaining to life in the resurrection (22:28), the Sadducees (who don’t even believe in the resurrection) are guilty of a common blunder in the reading of scripture—seeking to understand the eternal things of God based up on our own temporal desires and experiences. Knowing that the first things (Revelation 21) will all pass away, we must learn read scripture with an expectancy that far exceeds anything this world can offer.
“Then God said to Jonah, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?’ And he said, ‘I have good reason to be angry, even to death’” (Jonah 4:9).
Jonah has the audacity to say, essentially, “God, you are wrong and I am right.” Such is the attitude of many during times of discomfort and adversity; acting out in a spirit of defiant and arrogant entitlement. Unpleasant circumstances and life’s hardships, however, are never a license for disobedience and doing as one pleases. Like Jonah, instead of lashing out, we are better off listening up.
“So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant” (Jonah 4:6).
The misplaced happiness of Jonah was short-lived and soon followed, once again, by anger and the desire to die (v.8). When it withered and died, it wasn’t the plant for which Jonah grieved, for it had only come up overnight and perished overnight (v.10). He grieved over the comfort and pleasure it was providing in the moment. It should be noted that the source of his joy was the very thing that made him miserable when it was gone. Such is the nature of all earthly pursuits. Like a whale, these things can swallow you whole if your priorities aren’t established.
“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth, sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of the His salvation from day to day” (Psalms 96:1-2).
While the salvation of God is a once and for all experience, it is also a work in progress. That is, what you are isn’t yet what you will be. Each day should be a new song of what God is doing and how his redemptive work is being accomplished in you. God’s work in us was never intended to be a golden oldie, one hit wonder, but a daily breaking into the top of the charts.
“Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).
In a shaky world it is good to know that we are the subjects of an unshakeable Kingdom. When your world is teetering the tendency is to become filled with self-preoccupation. In contrast, those whose citizenship is rooted in a Kingdom, whose builder and maker is God, are better suited to embrace a mindset of gratitude–a disposition that looks outward; upward; Godward. Thus, it is from this stage that we are able to offer worship and service that is acceptable to the Father. That we are able to do so with reverence and awe is the sure indicator that our focus is Him and not us.
“Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life” (Jonah 4:3).
Jonah’s attitude regarding God’s deliverance of the Ninevites is a stark contrast to the apostle Paul, who wrote, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsman according to the flesh (Romans 9:3). Such is the destructive power of prejudice, a predetermined hatred for a particular people group. It reveals that poison isn’t necessarily something you drink as much as it is the way you think. The only end that hatred accomplishes is the demise and destruction of both the testimony of your faith and very life. Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracks 940 hate groups in this country. By our attitudes and actions, let’s not lead others to think that the church is to be counted among them.
“But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1).
It’s difficult imagining a prophet of God angered by the repentant response of his audience. That a people like the Ninevites could be the beneficiaries of God’s grace, compassion, and lovingkindness was more than Jonah’s hatred could bear. In fact, he would prefer death than to life in such a world (v.3). Enjoying the belief that the Ninevites would be the recipients of God’s wrath, only to see them now spared, Jonah has been exposed as someone who takes delight in the misfortune of others. Of this we can all be guilty. Whether it’s the internal smile that finds hidden satisfaction in the divorce of the Facebook friend’s marriage that was always posted forth as a storybook relationship; or the pleasure experienced going to the class reunion and seeing the senior year beauty queen eighty pounds overweight, we must guard our hearts against the prejudices that lead to hidden smiles.
“When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).
God’s response to the belief and repentance of the Ninevites is telling; it reveals the heartbeat of God and his desire to withhold a calamitous judgement. It was the very thing he desired for Israel, but in the hardness of their hearts they mocked, ignored, and became indifferent to the passionate and pleading proclamations of their own prophets. To portray God as a harsh taskmaster, who invokes with great delight misery upon both the guilty and the innocent, is a false narrative and baseless caricature emerging from pagan religion. Scripture reveals the true nature and character of God; that his every activity is performed with one thing in mind—the redemption of all creation.
“Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and the cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3:4-5).
Arguably, it’s the shortest sermon ever preached; an unknown foreigner proclaims a single sentence to a pagan people, and revival comes to a major Assyrian city. A hundred years later, Jeremiah would prophecy to his own people the overthrow of Jerusalem, and they had him arrested and imprisoned. In terms of audience response, Jonah is the only successful prophet in Israel’s history. All others were mocked, ignored, and stoned. It’s but another reason why the best energies and resources of the church are utilized for the Great Commission task; being fishers of men rather than keepers of the aquarium. It is among the unacquainted, and rarely among the overly acquainted, that God’s word has its most transformational effect.
“But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).
It is a strange contradiction, having voiced a spirit of thanksgiving, and acknowledging the redeeming work of the Lord’s salvation, that the prophet would be resentful of God’s compassion and lovingkindness being extended to the pagan peoples of Nineveh. How easily it can happen, that we become so satisfied sitting in our sanctuaries, thinking that salvation is for the likes of us, that we lose sight of the greater reality of God’s salvation, that it is all the more for those not yet here among us.