Deep Worship–Jonah 1:17-2:9

Jonah 1:17-2:9

17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow 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 fish’s belly.

 2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.

 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.

 4 Then I said,`I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.

 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.

 7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.

 8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy.

 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”

 

God knows how we will respond both to favorable as well as adverse conditions.  Nothing takes Him by surprise; in fact, He allows things to happen far more often with the intent of showing us what’s inside of us.  In his book “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis wrote these words as he reflected on his grief in the loss of his wife:

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” Lewis, C. S. (2001). A Grief Observed. United Kingdom: HarperCollins, p. 52.

 

Today’s passage shows a quite different person as it comes to Jonah from the man we saw in chapter one. It’s a man held in the grasp of death, whose greatest concern in the book of Jonah tends to highlight his own preservation but here is also humbled before God. Compare how he responds to nearly dying with seeing people respond in repentance throughout the book and you may soon begin seeing that Jonah’s reluctance had much to do with the focus of his life: his life! This of all things on Jonah’s behalf was more than likely something God was working out of him in directly calling him to the task of preaching to the Ninevites (and the rest of this ordeal for that matter).

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Let’s look at this passage positively, though, for the heart expressed in words shows a side of Jonah that has a relationship with God and reverence for Him. What we do when we come to very difficult circumstances says much about who we are, which is why Jonah’s prayer tells us more about him than simply his reluctance as well as his sulking at the end of the book. 

 

What this book shows us is that not all of Jonah was out of sorts, but there were certainly parts of him that God was performing surgery on out of love for Jonah. It is inevitable for every believer that no matter the calling and positioning of our paths, we will have elements of our character that are being beautified as well as those painful places where character is being buffed out or idols of the heart are being removed. The path of transformation will always be a path of pleasure mixed with pain.

 

All of this being said, let’s take a moment to highlight a handful of points to be made about today’s passage:

1.There was no question that the events unfolding were from the Lord. Jonah knew God controlled the circumstances and even that (v.2) the Lord used affliction to move him to cry out. Jonah was unmoved and attempting to isolate himself from God in chapter one; in chapter two, he could clearly see God pulling him back into Himself. “All your waves and billows passed over me.” Think about that–Jonah recognized the calamity at hand not in isolation from God but in submission to Him. All things that come to pass, in the hands of God, are either determined or permitted but nothing happens outside of God’s sovereignty. 

 

2. One of the marks of having a true relationship with God is a spiritual sensitivity. In saying that, what I refer to is the awareness that God is at work. It is quite possible to be a religious person but to completely lack spiritual sensitivity; in this “setting,” all Christian events happen as a matter of education and duty (not that that’s bad, but there’s more to it than just head knowledge and service). Spiritual sensitivity happens, for example, when we are confronted with sin and convicted or confronted with truth and gripped by it, and other happenings of the like. Really, though, it’s the awareness that God has caused the conviction, the gripping of truth and the circumstances that move us back into Him. Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Consider spiritual sensitivity from the words of Jonah: he was highly sensitive to God in the belly of the fish.

 

3. The mercy of God is on great display in our text today. Mercy moved the storm; mercy sent the fish; mercy made it impossible for Jonah to not be thrown overboard. Mercy allowed Jonah to be swallowed whole and kept alive miraculously in order that repentance might take place in the most unlikely of places. Mercy moved Jonah to remember the Lord as his “soul fainted” (v. 7). Mercy also moved God to allow Jonah to be used even after he tried to abandon God and His plans.

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4. Repentance is the heart of this portion of Jonah. Jonah did not just give lip service to God in hopes that God would bail him out. There was an awareness of his failure, an awareness of God’s righteousness and sovereignty, and a forsaking of his ways as he called upon the Lord. In a play on words, Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish was deep; in his most vulnerable of moments, Jonah prayed in a manner that reflected sound theology. God is found even in the moving of Jonah’s thoughts in this passage, for the things Jonah knew about God came to the surface of his mind in the depths of the sea. He was not alone and he knew it.  Once again, let me tie mercy, #3, to repentance, #4. Repentance and mercy are deeply intertwined.

 

Paul writes in Romans 2:4, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” The goodness of God leads us to repentance; a true believer will look at their repentance and not pat themselves on the back, but look to God as the cause of their repentance before Him. In looking over Jonah 2, it would be very safe to say that Jonah, too, saw that he needed correction and that the correction that came was from the loving hand of God, to whom He submitted. 

Remember that when God has us where He wants us, and He’s working upon us, the proper response is always worship!

I hope you have enjoyed this brief portion of Scripture; go over it again and just read through it, seeing if there’s anything else you might take note of. Jonah 2 is very applicable to gaining insight into repentance and whether we’ve truly done so, as well as God’s hand in the circumstances we face. Take a moment to thank Him for His goodness on a personal level, as well as the sensitivity to Himself that He gives in His grace. 

 

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

 

Blessings to you–

 

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mid-Week Devo: Jonah 4:11-16 “No Accidents”

Jonah 4:11-16

 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”– for the sea was growing more tempestuous. And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.

 

“No Accidents”

 

Today’s portion of the text shifts into the response of the sailors once they discover the cause of the calamity at hand. The sovereign hand of God is certainly holding all things in tension, not letting Jonah loose from serving Him nor the sailors from beseeching Him for mercy.

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Isn’t it interesting that Jonah’s flight away from Nineveh inevitably led him into testifying about God to pagans who followed false gods? What he didn’t want to do (in essence) towards the Ninevites still took place on the ship going to Tarshish. It reminds me of the childish prank of writing “Turn this over” on a card only to find written on the other side, “Turn this over.” Jonah could not wash his hands of his calling or being used, despite his reluctance and despite his failing attempt to discount himself from God’s desires for him. We could also liken God’s calling of Jonah to a piece of cork in water, perhaps trying to be held down but inevitably rising again to the surface.

 

Perhaps we would do best to recognize the work of God in this passage, for the initial response of the men to Jonah was, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?” Following Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he concluded his lengthy statement to the surrounding audience by saying, 

 

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38)

 

Unfortunately for Jonah, there seems to be an indifference towards the real need of the men on the ship with him. He was content to get on board and leave them unaware of his identity and intentions until a great storm nearly overtook them. Even in declaring who he was, why he was running, and that he was the cause of the chaos, he failed to point them to the Lord. All he directed the men to do was, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” 

 

Notice that the men on board the ship did not necessarily heed his advice initially. “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.” Identifying himself was not enough to end the opposing winds and waves; these men were showing mercy to the man that brought them calamity. 

 

It may not be so obvious at first, but consider this: the crew knew by Jonah’s own admission that they were undergoing a near-death experience and yet even in their fear, they didn’t respond to him with coldness nor a quick, harsh response by immediately dumping him off the ship. If we step out just a bit further, we must see that God moved pagans to show mercy to Jonah if even but for a little longer. In great irony, the men aboard the ship seemed to show better character than the man representing God.

“Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.’” Had these men simply followed Jonah’s instructions, tossed him overboard and watched the sea’s violence abate, they very well would have missed the dire plea with God for His mercy, and that would have been an even greater calamity. We must never forget that though temporal pains may subside, if spiritual needs are never addressed, the greater problem still remains. 

 

It’s interesting here, too, that their theology actually doesn’t seem so far off. First, they recognize the Lord as Sovereign. Second, they recognize that God can hold us accountable for our behavior before Him. Finally, they recognized that God acts in accordance with His pleasure, too. 

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“So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.” It is something to be pondered on here that Jonah was witnessing repentance in the hearts of people he neither cared for nor intentionally engaged on a spiritual level. Perhaps God intended to minister to Jonah through working in others despite Jonah’s heart, that Jonah might be shown mercy when he should have been released for his attitude alone. Neither party in this whole book, that being Jonah or any audience, is really any better than the other; both need grace and both have a lot of flaws. Sometimes it’s our connection to God that our pride gets a hold of, telling us that we’re better than others because of our association when really we’re just as much imperfect sinners in need of the grace of God still.

 

“Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.” Though it may seem a bit murky at first sight, there is good reason to believe that salvation came to the men on board the ship, despite the fact that they had pagan backgrounds. They did not seek God but were found by Him as a running prophet of the Living God intersected with their lives. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The sailors began the act of wisdom by fearing God, but went further by offering him sacrifice and committing themselves unto Him. Though Christ would not come for a long time beyond the days of Jonah, the fact of the matter was that these men expressed faith in God and obeyed with what little they knew. 

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Salvation, biblically speaking, is always a matter of looking to the Christ, believing upon Him for His perfect, holy sacrifice on the cross as a means of removing the wrath of God while also having the righteous record of Jesus Christ accredited to one’s own account, God viewing the person expressing faith in Him as justified. Sometimes I’ve heard it spelled out in a sense, “Just as if I’d never sinned.” It’s not a personal performance issue, but a matter of faith relative to the God-Man Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life by God’s standards and died a sacrificial death on the cross that all believing on Him might have the certain hope of eternal life. 

 

Well, are there any further practical applications to be drawn from this passage? Let me highlight a few:

 

  1. God does as He pleases and there are no accidents in the plans of God. For all that people do, they can never suppress God from His free will. No one and nothing can act outside of His permission and determination. This is cause for praise!
  2. God can save anyone at any time through any means. The hope of repentance still ultimately rests in His hands. Therefore, serve Him but do so in reliance upon Him for the outcome. Genuine change never comes apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. 
  3. God does not give up on His children because He is faithful to His promises. They may at times kick and scream, even try to discount themselves, or go as far as to try running from Him (among many poor responses) and while this is never okay, thank God that the hope of our relationship with Him rests in the foundation of His faithfulness. The hope of our relationship with God day after day is bound to His grace towards us. In his mercy, He does not leave us to our own devices for long, but may for times as He allows. 
  4. God knows what He’s doing. Preach that to yourself in 2020, right? 

 

I hope this short devotional has been a help to you, and if you’ve gleaned anything of usefulness to your Christian walk, or it’s stirred up in you a desire for salvation, I praise God for that. Thank you for your time! God bless you.

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mid-Week Devotional: Jonah 1:4-10

Jonah 1:4-10 NKJV

“But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.” And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.”

There is a great contrast between Jonah 1:3 and Jonah 1:4. Jonah did all that he could to run from God’s presence in v. 3: he went to a harbor town, found a ship going about as far away from Ninevah as one could go, paid a fare and boarded the ship. Jonah took every step possible to ensure that he could try to drown out the voice of God in his reluctancy to heed God’s calling.

It is interesting that with all of Jonah’s planned steps that he took, the next verse (v.4) begins with the words, “But the Lord.” It’s almost as if nothing more needs to be said in the verse, because the contrastive word “but” tells us that regardless of all that Jonah did, God took exeption to Jonah’s plans. In similar vein to Joseph’s statement to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, where he tells his brothers “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good,” the plans of Jonah could not trump the plans of God, but only succumb to them.boat on body of water at daytime

Jonah’s plan of running away did serve a missional purpose in the hands of God. Consider this: Jonah’s only intention was to run away; he really had no spiritual concern for the men aboard the ship. We know this, because later on it will finally come out who he is to the others on board the ship and what his intentions were in taking the voyage with them. Nevertheless, we will see later on in v. 18 that the men inevitably feared the Lord, offered sacrifices to Him and took vows in relationship to Him. Even in running, God would not allow Jonah to get away from being part of His activities. Before I get ahead of the passage too much, let’s return to verse 3.

“The Lord sent out a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.” While nature is always a servant to God, there are certainly times where He directs it to accomplish His purposes. Even the great reformer Martin Luther had a similar course, with a thunder storm scaring him while caught out in it only to cry out and offer himself for the priesthood (later, while a priest, he would come to believe in salvation alone by grace alone, and this is when he got saved).

Not only did God know how this would result in relationship to Jonah, but He also knew this towards the sailors. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.” Superstition has been a part of many different social spheres over the course of time, and the sailors on Jonah’s boat saw the storm through the lens of an angry deity causing the tumult. Not everyone tends to look at the violence of nature as though it is the result of offending a deity, but that’s entirely how this crew responded to it.

“But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.” There appears to be a parallel taking place here that is seen in the New Testament with Jesus and his disciples. In fact, the events occuring in Jonah 1 share a lot of similarities with Matthew 8:24-27:

“And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing! But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” 19 Copyright Free Images Sites (You'll Fall in Love With) - PSD Stack

Both passages see a boat full of people extremely terrified, crying out for rescue while the “hero” on board is asleep.  When God (or the Son of God) responds, nature immediately is calmed, and worship ensues. (We can also see a similar incident in Matthew 14:24-33).

“So the captain came to him, and said to him, ‘What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.’ And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.” In the case of Jonah, men were crying out to false gods to no avail. They then woke up Jonah in demand that he also call upon his God. It’s not certain whether he did or not, but the way the passage is written, it seems that they didn’t even wait for a response. They quickly turned to the casting of lots, looking for a sign of the culprit. God once again worked by accommodating disbelief with His sovereign hand guiding the events.

“Then they said to him, ‘Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ So he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'” Notice that the sailors were driven greatly by fear in this passage, and from their point of view, they were going to die if something didn’t change. When the lot fell upon Jonah, they demanded answers and quickly, for they had no idea who it was that they had allowed on their ship. Jonah’s response could have been dismissed, but all things as they were, the men on the ship were primed to believe every word that he said and to be captivated in fear with Jonah’s God. The Lord, being maker of the sea and dry land, had absolute control over their circumstances.

“Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, ‘Why have you done this?’ For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.” It’s a great question that these men asked Jonah, isn’t it? “Why have you done this?” It’s perhaps a very complicated answer if he was to be completely honest. We must see here that their concern regarding Jonah’s disobedience wasn’t necessarily out of interest for him, but out of self-preservation as his disobedience brought pain into their lives, too. Disobedience to God has a way of doing that: when we live in sin or drag our feet with God, oftentimes it’s not just us that suffer, but those around us, too.

Perhaps today we should consider our relationship with God as not just something that affects us, but everyone around us as well. When we’re close with Him, others benefit. When we’re resistant to Him, unwilling to accept His plans or to obey, others will feel the effects, too. This is an incredibly important lesson for us to learn about relating to God: we affect others by our relationship with God.

Near or far, loving or apathetic, worshipful or selfish, who we are and how we are rubs off on those in our company. Our values do indeed give direction to others about what is to be valued. Please keep this in mind: reading your Bible, praying, going to church, serving, etc. are not just about us, even though that’s how most Americans look at spirituality. Attitudes towards God create a culture and a climate, neither of which come out of a vacuum. The people, families, and churches that we are becoming do have a profound connection with our relationship to God.

God has given us a high calling if only in knowing Him. See it not only as an act of worship, but also an act of service to others when you pursue Him. Jonah may have gotten on boat for his own reasons, but everyone with him felt the weight of his reluctance soon enough. Keep seeking the Lord!

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Living in Light of True Freedom: Galatians 5:1-6

Thank you for joining us for this message from Pastor Sam, taken from Galatians 5:1-6 about freedom, true freedom.

Mid-Week Devo: Jonah 1:1-2

Jonah 1:1-2 (NASB)

 1The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 

 

I’d like to start this short devotional by beginning in the book of Jonah, what is a short book of the Bible but still a powerful lesson indeed. Jonah was a reluctant prophet of the Old Testament, and while there may definitely be moments of reluctance on the part of multiple Bible characters, even the heroes, perhaps Jonah would be best defined by his disinclined nature at preaching the word of God to a nation that he had no heart for.

Have you ever considered why Jonah would not want to go to the Ninevites? There are numerous reasons; primarily, the Ninevites were known not just for wickedness on a spiritual level with God, but also for being a violent, oppressive group that horrendously tortured those that they captured. Some of the most gruesome forms of torture could be attributed to the Ninevites, who were one group that practiced the “art” of flaying people while they were still alive: that is, removing their skin with the purpose of causing unspeakable pain. They also practiced sticking people on poles and leaving them to die if they hadn’t already. If you’d like to see a document recording some of this, here’s a link to an article detailing their atrocities.

Not only this, but those cities that they captured were burned and the people carted off. They struck great fear in the hearts of those that they fought against, and this obviously would have caused a great deal of psychological defeat in their enemies far before there was an actual battle. Who wants to fight those that are merciless and calculated in their infliction of pain on others?

It has been speculated that some of Jonah’s own family may have endured such violent and tragic ends. Even if not his own family, certainly his own people. Even if not his own people, certainly the fact that anyone had such terrible injustices done against them would cause great pause in ever showing kindness on his part. Jonah was not uneducated in the ways of the Ninevites, and he, like many, only wanted them to suffer for their deeds.

This kind of background gives the book of Jonah an interesting perspective on God. Let’s draw our attention to three places found in today’s text that we ought to focus on:

  1. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah.”  Why would God even care to send a word towards such a group and to give it to Jonah, an unlikely prophet to be sent? God is in His right to offer mercy to whomever He pleases and to overlook whomever He desires. He is not obligated to show kindness to the most morally upright of individuals, nor is He obligated to pour out wrath upon those who have done everything possibly wicked in their power. This is a plug for the Gospel: salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor; it is not earned by our works nor is it dismissed by our works. Grace must function in both directions to be grace, else it becomes a matter of law-based righteousness. Unfortunately, there is no one good enough in relationship to God in His perfect holiness to ever be counted worthy in themselves of His righteousness; therefore, it is always and only a matter of God’s grace should a person come into a right relationship with Him. Additionally, He has the right to ask any of His children to go and to serve Him in whatever capacity He should desire. He has the rights, and even if we do have pain and weakness towards certain places, His grace is sufficient and He knows what He’s doing. He does not fail when He moves any of His children to serve Him in the capacities that He does. Consider that the book of Jonah has much to do with the rights of God.
  2. “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it.” It is an act of mercy for God to ever let people know before eternity that they are living in sin. It is an act of mercy when He moves one of His servants to go and to make that known. Every time we witness, whether people respond positively or not, it is an act of mercy in that truth is being relayed and people are being made aware, whether they like that or not. God could let any person on this planet live and die without ever having any awareness of His righteousness, their sinfulness, and the judgment to come without a Savior. Even in Jonah’s time, the people would have to respond to his message in faith, taking God at His word through the prophet Jonah and essentially believing upon the Messiah that was to come.  You see, Old Testament or New, the Savior was always the one people had to look to, and it was just a matter of whether He was to come or whether He already had. Regardless, when God sends a witness to decry the sins of the people, even that act is part of His gift of mercy. It’s not all that a people need for salvation, but it’s certainly a part of the package. 
  3. “Their wickedness has come up before Me.” The deeds of the Ninevites, that is, the sin of this people, caught God’s attention. We will see that Jonah’s first response is to run, and why is that? He will tell us eventually that he suspected God would show kindness and that was the last thing that He wanted. Had he thought that God’s intentions were only to bring down wrath, perhaps he would have gone. Then again, if God only intended wrath, perhaps there would not have been a need to send a message, but just to pour out that wrath. God’s kindness to humanity, in part, is to let them be made aware of what is to come, whether they accept it or reject it, believe it or mock it. He has the right to save and the right to pass over. He has the right to let people be made aware and to not follow through on breaking their hearts in repentance to Him. God can do as He pleases.

I hope we think about this truth of God’s rights in this world in which we live. A lot is happening and while we may petition God to change things, it’s always His right to answer right away or to let things continue on. He knows what He is doing and He has a plan for what He allows. Sovereignty must be something that we rest in with the world in which we live. Pray, preach, teach, love others, but rest in God’s control over it all.  Sometimes we just need to remember that God is always good and always right to do as He pleases, even if we don’t always like it. Rejoice in knowing that He still sits on the throne, every moment of every day.

Thank you, and God bless you this evening.

Where is God in the Midst of Pain?

Happy Independence Day weekend! Today during our in person services, Pastor Sam will be talking about freedom, which we will post next week for you to enjoy. Today on our website we have last week’s message for you on pain and suffering.

We would all love for all of these pressures in the world to just be resolved, to go away. But will that truly resolve the problems? Pastor Sam delves into 2 Corinthians and shows us the problems that are simply revealing the bigger, deeper problems and where our hope truly lies.

 

A Father of Character in a Crazy World

Father’s Day was last week and we invite you, especially those who cannot join us in person today,

to watch today’s online sermon by Pastor Sam Stringer from Genesis 17:15-22

Devotional–Following in Faith (John 6:60-71)

Scripture Reading:  John 6:60-71

As the crowds would begin to depart, Jesus would turn to His disciples and give them an opportunity as well. “Do you also want to go away?” might strike us as a bit of a strange question, since they’d now been with Him for a  while, well before the whole event of the feeding of the five thousand occurred.

Why would He ask such a question? John 6:60-61 indicates where their hearts were before the mass exodus: “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’ When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’” The word for “offend” implies shock or anger; it comes from the Greek word skandalizo, in which we derive the word scandalous. We must remember that though the disciples followed Jesus, there were sayings of His that were hard for them as well. The dividing line of this difficulty for His disciples, as well as every person who claims they are a follower of Christ, is whether or not there will be persistence in following Him or deviation on account of confusion or disagreement.

What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? If all of this was hard to take, certainly it would be hard for them to fathom that Christ would die, resurrect, and not much later ascend back into Heaven as it records in Acts 1. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” What Jesus is connecting here is that these words that He speaks are spiritually discerned, though the words are naturally observed by all who hear. He has spoken many things already, difficult as they were, to the Jews and to His own disciples who heard the same things. Jesus equates these words of His both to spirit and to life; they tell the truth and if heard for what they are, are perceived through the work of the Holy Spirit.

No one can perceive what Christ says in a deep sense of understanding and security without the Holy Spirit’s enabling; it is the Spirit of God who confirms truth to the heart (see Romans 8:16). Consider, therefore, that without such confirmation the reading of Scripture and the hearing of the word of God is an entirely different experience for those devoid of His presence. There will always be some degree of uncertainty in examining the Bible without the supernatural act of God reverberating the veracity of His word within the heart of the regenerate.

“‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.” The word know will come up so often in the Gospel of John that we may be prone to overlook it for as much as it shows up. Jesus inherently knew who those who did not believe, and Judas Iscariot was always one of those people (His allusion to Judas is displayed in both v. 64 and v. 71). We might be tempted to think that He would not choose a disciple that He knew was not drawn by the Father, lacking belief, but it was not lost on Him.

What can we learn from the selection of Judas Iscariot as a disciple? Even those who have had immense closeness with Christ, seeing a multitude of works done by the power of the Holy Spirit and hearing words spoken with the authority that comes from Heaven, are still just as capable of disbelief despite all that is seen. There is not a person on this planet today, no matter how well read they are in Scripture, who has seen as much evidence for Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God, as those who lived and ministered with Him. They saw the impossible being done and they saw a Man full of grace and truth, who handled Scripture like no one else. The only beings that have seen more of God than those who lived day to day with Jesus Christ were the angels, and even some of them would not maintain their obedience despite their witness of His glory.

Without God working in the heart, there is no amount of evidence that will ever win a person over to Him; arguments and logic may be how God engages certain types, but the desire for Christ can only come from the activity of God. “And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’” It gets very hard to deny this necessary precondition to faith the further we listen to the words of Christ; ignorance is one thing, but when it does become clear as to what He is saying, rejecting certain teachings often takes place to maintain harmony with others we respect or to avoid inconsistencies in how we have learned to interpret Scripture. The foundation of faith according to this verse is that the Father must first grant the ability to come to Christ before that will ever truly take place. No matter how free the offer of the gospel is, the chasm separating man from believing in God can only be spanned by the Father’s will; no one truly believes until God gets a hold of their heart.

“From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” A disciple is a follower, a pupil, a student, a learner from and of a particular teacher. It does not imply that a person is convinced of what they learn that they should follow another person. Belief is not ingrained in the meaning of discipleship; if one believes, they must by nature follow, but if one follows, it does not necessarily translate into belief. In reality, people are often followers of Jesus before they are ever believers, and that is far more appropriate than the paradigm of conversion and discipleship thereafter. The disciples of this passage, also appropriately labeled “followers,” followed no more. Therefore, they were no longer disciples; we ought to be wary in our discernment that the Scriptures never did imply that they believed, but that they listened to Christ for a season.

“Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’” Sometimes the proving of an individual isn’t so much in doing what we can to keep them, but seeing what it would take to get them to walk away. Those who are committed to Christ will have difficulties in this life, but they will also have a difficulty in defecting despite their hardships. This is not a reflection of the character inherent to them; they are acting in alignment to a new nature and the Holy Spirit of God who has made His home within them. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10:

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 

A Spirit-indwelt believer cannot depart from God without taking Him with them, and because of this, find that there is often a wrestling within that occurs should they deviate from obedience. If they were of one accord within, a desire to disobey and a slavery still to sin, they would succeed in defecting. The pressures of life and the hardness at times of following Christ reveal the excellence of the power of God in keeping His own until the day of glorification.

“But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Peter’s verbal testimony came from the Holy Spirit’s testimony within him. He recognized that there was no other place that he could go, no matter how hard it might get. We know that when Christ would be betrayed, it would be Peter who would deny Him three times, and after Jesus’ resurrection would attempt to go back to a life of fishing but to no avail. God would not let him succeed in resuming the life God had called him out of. God, in His grace, gave Peter confidence that Jesus was the Son of God and in this confidence He would confess that Jesus was both the Messiah and the Son of God.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.” It is likely that Jesus says this in response to Peter because Peter had assumed that all of those close disciples of Jesus were all believers. “To whom shall we go…we have come to believe and know…” The truth was, when Peter said “we,” he had declared an assumption that because of their close association to Christ there was spiritual life in them all. Proximity to God is not the same as spiritual life.

Don’t we run into this same problem today? Just because we go to church and claim Christ does not mean we are believers in our heart of hearts; it means to our peers that we are followers, but God knows our hearts. If anyone places their faith in anything outside of Jesus, including attending church, knowing Scripture, giving or sacrificing in any fashion, or even believing in their own sincerity, they are yet to be saved. Spiritual life starts with faith in Christ alone.

The spiritual barrier of New Testament times has not disappeared; pray that God would help us to discern our own hearts and to carefully examine His word, making sure that what we tell others is in line with the intentions of God’s word. Pray that we would be marked by discernment.

Prayer:

Lord, grant that we walk circumspectly, attendant both to ourselves and to the souls of those around us. Guide our minds to thoughts of You and fill our hearts with a praise for Your glory. Give us a joy in You and flush out the selfishness and self-seeking to which our hearts are so easily given. Help us in discerning ourselves before You in light of Your word. Lay hold of us in the depths of our souls that we might be lovers of You and not merely people who look the part. Lord, we need wisdom tremendously in these days, so please give us wisdom in accordance with Your grace. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional– When God Breaks Man’s Rules (John 5:17-18)

Scripture:  John 5:17-18

Coming in the likeness of men, being both fully God and fully man, was one of the great veils Christ used, somewhat of a parallel to His parables. If we consider it, the manner of His birth, the scandal around His conception, where He was born, where He grew up, His humility and meekness, and especially His treatment surrounding the week of His crucifixion (especially His crucifixion) were all forms of veils, stumbling blocks that became a dividing line for those who had “ears to hear and eyes to see” and those who persisted in their spiritual deafness and blindness. 

Opposition up until John 5 has not been a major highlight of what John has written in this Gospel account. Certainly it was present, but John 5 is where Jesus will give an extensive challenge to the Jews as they balk over His handling of “work” on the Sabbath. Responsibility for this interpretation of work was placed not on the lame man made well ultimately, but upon the one who told him to rise and take up his bed and walk; it is certain that Jesus knew when He healed the man He would be held in contempt for defying their view of work on the Sabbath.  The uproar would create an opportunity to speak to the heart of the problem. He would also reveal where the infirmity lied most, in the paralyzed hearts of spiritually dead people.

Notice that Jesus gave authoritative commands to the man both in having him walk and in sinning no more, which is not a call to sinless perfection, but a call to change his lifestyle, to live as one forgiven of his sins. Through all of the passages we’ve seen in the Gospel of John, it is important to see that when Jesus speaks, He speaks with authority. His tone of authority would not be lost in the presence of opposition.

“But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.’” The Jews wanted to kill Jesus, which is established in verses 16 and 18.  We ought to identify something from the outset of v. 17: Jesus answered them.  He did not react to the threat of death, but spoke into their own insecurity without shying away. When we face opposition, even just general discomfort sometimes, it’s quite easy to become defensive or anxious, shutting down or turning up the heat of the moment in airing our grievances. Jesus never responded sinfully; He neither clammed up nor exploded, but answered in complete control of His emotions. Pressure has a way of drawing out what is inside of a person; if there is sin in the heart, sin will find its way out. Only a sinless individual, and that was only Jesus, could endure many frustrations and sins against Himself, defamation and disrespect, and not bring forth sin of some fashion. 

“My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” My Father is a very exclusive way of talking about God the Father. The New Testament will refer to believers as sons (and daughters) multiple times, so we too certainly call God our Father. Note a difference, though, in Ephesians 1:3-6:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.”

In the complete verse of John 5:17, Jesus is claiming a mirrored equality by virtue of like begetting like, the apple falling (in His case) completely in line with the tree. A parallel concept would be Him forgiving sins: only if He were the Son of God, equal with God the Father, could He offer forgiveness of sins against God. It would be blasphemy for Him to offer a pardon He had no authority to extend.  

Believers are adopted children of God, but they are not “biological,” if you will. The claims a believer stakes in the promises of God are on the basis of rights not inherent to us, but imparted from the righteousness of the Son of God in the justification of the sinner on the basis of faith. His sacrifice on the cross took on the punishment we ought to have endured and transferred to us His righteous record in the sight of God. Even that concept itself, justification, ought to suppress the heresy of earning the favor of God or even maintaining His favor by our spiritual, moral performance. Our sonship is entirely dependent upon His Sonship; our righteousness is only suitable because it is by nature derived from faith in His righteous sacrifice.

Jesus claimed Sonship, like begetting like, the Father working “until now” and the Son doing the same.  It is necessary to say once again that Jesus has always existed eternally as the Son of God; God the Father was never existent prior to the Son or the Spirit, but all three Persons of the Godhead have existed together forever. Saying “like begetting like” is referring more to the alignment of nature, not Jesus being the spiritual seed of God the Father.

“Working,” from the Greek ergozomai, means “to engage in activity that involves effort” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks). God is active, and He is active all the time. He spoke into being all that is created as found in the first two chapters of Genesis. While He rested on the seventh day of creation (Gen. 2:3), His activities did not cease after this. How many Sundays are accounted for in biblical texts where God was working in hearts and lives? God is working His plans out all the time.

The real problem is how the Jews had defined work and had lost the heart of the matter. Their concern for themselves far outweighed their concern to please God and that is all too often true for many of us in our own generation. The Father’s will on this particular Sabbath in John 5 was for Jesus to heal the lame man and to speak truth to those who were rejecting it for their own version. Jesus did not forget to check his calendar when He healed the man in such a way that would cause a disturbance. He could have waited for another time or healed the man in a way that wouldn’t have caused a stir, but everything that transpired was a part of the eternal plan of the Father.

“Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” The Jews ought to have observed Him more closely, for they would not have seen a defiant man but the Messiah Himself. Nevertheless, on the basis of His statements, they only wanted to kill Him. Verse 18 tells us that they now had two “good” reasons to want to kill Him: first, because He broke the Sabbath (though He didn’t). He did not break the Sabbath, only their interpretation of righteousness by legalistic means. Secondly, they wanted to kill Him because He was making Himself equal with God

Has it dawned on any of us reading these two verses that the man who was healed had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years? The Jews opposing Jesus would have been very familiar with the man, and should have marveled that he was better, but all they could think about was that he now “worked” on the Sabbath. Then again, were they familiar with the man at all? Did they even care? They did not love the man; they only held him to standards that totally missed God’s righteousness. No one rejoiced; no one was saying, “If Jesus can heal this man, surely He must be the Son of God.” No, they missed the amazing work of God because their heads were buried in the sands of self-righteousness. What Jesus did in healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda ought to have brought exaltation rather than indignation.  He would have much to say to this group of people before He moved on.

Is there a simple application for us today from this passage? Perhaps there are some warnings we need to be made aware of in relationship to the sinful attitudes of the people in John 5. Sometimes we are so caught up in what we want that we do not stop to see what God wants. Sometimes the changes God is making are not happening at the rate we think they should, or they go a direction we don’t think they should go. We may easily hold others to the standards of what we think they should be when their alignment with God is of greatest concern. We can also lose sight of people being sinners in need of salvation when look at them and their horizontal influence upon us or others in this world. When we only identify people by politics, lifestyles, cultures, jobs, even sin, we will relate to them as such and loving them to be winsome for Christ will not be a hallmark of our behaviors towards them.  People need reconciled to God far more than they do to us.

Judgment and criticism are easy to fall into but hard on the soul. Are we concerned with loving people or loving ourselves? We live in a nation and world right now full of disagreements and uncertainties and it is our responsibility to align ourselves with the God’s word, not today’s headlines. Eternity is coming and it must influence the kind of people we are in these fleeting moments. We must set our focus on Christ no matter the storms that befall us.

 

Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Father, keep our hearts steadfast on the grace by which we have found favor in Your sight. Give us vision to see people beyond how they affect our  lives; help us to see them as eternal creations who need the righteousness of Christ. If they will not place their trust in Jesus, help us to still be good examples of Your love to them. Lord, give us wisdom in our interactions with others and help us to think about how our behaviors affect and influence them, too. Keep us from only thinking of ourselves. Help us to rejoice in the blessings You supply, whether they are ours or the blessings of others. Help us to set our sights on the Savior. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.