The God Who Runs Us Down

“Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man!”

When my children were younger and encountered this famous nursery rhyme, they requested I read it to them every night. They didn’t realize at the time, but their story choice was an indicator of much more than they knew. There is something in each of us, even from an early age, that longs to run; and we often can’t explain why that desire is there. It is more than what psychologists refer to as our “fight or flight response,” because of what we often run from. We run not only from danger, but also from grace. We run from a God who intends not our harm, but our ultimate good. As Augustine has put it, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” This is one reason the story of Jonah is so appealing to us. Yet in the book of Jonah we meet a God who outruns sinners and graciously overpowers their stubbornness and sin. There are two important lessons we learn from Jonah.

We Run because We’re Deeply Depraved

The minor prophets, or “The book of the twelve” as their referred to, are among the least familiar portions of Scripture. Even the best Bible students among us would be hard-pressed if asked on the fly to summarize Obadiah or Zephaniah. Yet this portion of Scripture gives us a vivid panorama of God’s glory. In the minor prophets, we aren’t merely told that God is gracious or loving or holy or just. We see God in high definition. We encounter the God who roars like a lion, loves like a Husband, consumes like a fire, and sings over His people. But when we come to Jonah, God flips the script a bit. Instead of meeting another prophet ready and willing to relay God’s message, we find one running in the complete opposite direction. Also, instead of God sending His message to Israel/Judah, He sends it to their enemies. And that’s why Jonah started strapping up His sandals and getting ready to run. “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’ But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD” (1:1-3).

With a population of over 130,000, Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. And Nineveh was a perverse and cruel city. A city that combined rampant sexual immorality with some of the most gruesome war crimes. Not only that, but Nineveh had earned a reputation for being the bitter enemies of God’s people. When called upon to preach coming judgment on this city, you would think Jonah would have leaped at the chance. Yet the reason Jonah didn’t is revealed later in the book. In the prophet’s own words, he says: “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” (4:1) Even though God’s message was one of judgment, Jonah knew God’s character better than that. He didn’t want the slightest chance that God might show grace to such an evil city.

Like Jonah, we run from God because we are rebels in our hearts. Ever since our first ancestors ate that fruit in the garden and listened to the snake, we’ve been pursuing our own authority. We have chosen to be our own gods. And when God calls us to share His message with those undeserving, we run because we are unloving. The reason Jonah ran is the same reason we run from sharing God’s message: we are selfish to the core. We may give several reasons for why we don’t share the gospel with others, but the ultimate reason is that we’re selfish. In Jonah, we see just how selfish we are. By the end of the book, Jonah is angry at God and even begs God to kill him rather than redeem the Ninevites. It’s a good thing God didn’t leave Jonah to himself, and it’s a good thing He doesn’t leave us to ourselves. That never turns out too well anyway (read Romans 1:18-32).

God Runs us Down because He is Truly Gracious

It says a lot about us that we run from God. But it also says a lot about God that He runs us down. If Jonah were the only biblical book preserved for us, it would be sufficient to give us a robust theology of man’s depravity, God’s sovereignty, and mission. God sovereignly appoints one thing after another to stop Jonah and get him set on the mission God intended. He hurls a great wind in the direction of Jonah’s ship, then appoints a great fish to swallow him up once he is thrown overboard, then calls the fish to spit Jonah up. While in the fish, Jonah asserts, “salvation belongs to the LORD” (2:9) and it is this truth that leads to God speaking to the fish to spit him up. Since salvation is solely the prerogative of God, then none but God can determine who can and cannot enjoy this salvation. So God has officially run down Jonah, but that wasn’t all God was after. “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.’” (3:1-2). God got to Jonah so he could get to the Ninevites.

In his book Rediscovering Discipleship, Robby Gallaty famously stated, “The Gospel came to you because it was on its way to someone else.” It is truly gracious of God to use weak and often stubborn sinners like us in the grand plan of saving others. When Moses made several excuses why God should use someone else, God ran Him down and used Him. When Gideon doubted and questioned God’s choice of Him, God was determined to use Him. Why is God so determined to use such sinners in His plans of global missions? To better display the glory of His saving grace to those who don’t deserve it. The reluctant prophet finally caves to the omnipresent God of the universe. He goes to Nineveh and preaches his eight word sermon of God’s coming judgment and the people miraculously repent. I was given an audio Bible for Christmas one year and the story of Jonah ended at chapter 3. Listening to the narrator go from reading the end of Jonah 3 to the beginning of Micah seemed like a perfect ending to a great story. But Jonah contains another chapter for a reason. God has more for us to learn about ourselves and God’s mission in this world. Jonah sits a safe distance from the city to watch God perform Sodom and Gomorrah 2.0. It’s as if he’s got his popcorn ready for a fireworks display. He’s perhaps the only prophet who didn’t want his recipients to repent of their sins. Then God appoints a nice and shady plant to grow to protect Jonah from the baking sun. Then a worm to eat the plant and an east wind to leave Jonah hot and miserable.

What is God’s point? Jonah’s love for the plant and the shade and lack of love for the Ninevites reveals just how inwardly bent he is. “And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’” (4:10-11). And with that the book of Jonah ends. No story of Jonah repenting of his poor attitude and rebellion. Just a question from God to Jonah and all the perpetual readers of his book: should not I pity Nineveh? God wants everyone to know that He has a heart for the heartless. He shows mercy to the merciless. For all who repent and believe in Him, God promises full and final salvation. Later Paul would come from the place to which Jonah was running: Tarsus (same area as Tarshish). And Paul would go on God’s mission around the known world to spread the Gospel of His Son. He would write, “No one seeks for God” and yet He would also write, “God demonstrates his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 3:11; 5:8). So God’s redeeming grace is more stubborn than our rebellion. The opposite of running from God is to abide in Him. This is why Jesus would later say, “Abide in me and I in you” (John 15:4a).

In his book Running from Mercy, pastor Anthony Carter writes, “You cannot hide from God. A better course of action is to hide in God.”

May we all humbly confess our selfish tendency to run from God and seek to live abiding in the light of His relentless grace.

Rhetorical-ness, God’s Not a Fickle Dummy, & the Full Expression of Jonah & Nahum

All three chapters of the tiny ignored book of Nahum are now done.  Let me end it today with 2 thoughts.

First, the rhetorical question:

Did you notice that Nahum ends with a rhetorical question? Do you know what the only other book in the Bible to with a rhetorical question is? Jonah. Jonah 4:11 says, “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Likewise Nahum 3:19 ends with “For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?” Jonah’s rhetorical question pointing out the obvious – that God can show mercy on whomever He desires to while Nahum’s rhetorical question pointing out the obvious – that God can withhold mercy and destroy whomever He desires to. Two rhetorical questions; one about grace and mercy, the other about woe and judgment. What does this mean? God is completely free to do as He pleases. He doesn’t ask permission, doesn’t need a hall pass, doesn’t phone a friend. The ultimate answer is Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will show compassion on whom I show compassion.” God is sovereign. “Our God is in the heavens, He does what He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) God is wise, and decided in that wisdom that His glory would be made much of most by granting Nineveh mercy and then executing judgment on them when they turned away.

I’m sure some of you are feeling what rises out of a thought like that, “Is God really that fickle?” No, God is not a fickle God as if He was merely picking rose petals off a rose flower saying “I love Nineveh, I love them not, I love Nineveh, I love them not.” The question we all should be asking is “How could God have ever showed mercy to Nineveh in the first place?” When I talk to people about the gospel I often get this response, how can God destroy whole peoples and whole cultures, isn’t that genocide? To which I answer, no – God does what He wants to do, the question we should be asking is – in light of our sin and wickedness why would God extend mercy to us through Christ at all? We learn from this that if we don’t understand our sin we will never understand that God is just to not save one single person in history.

If we don’t understand the depth of our depravity we will sit in constant judgment of God ridiculing His sovereign decisions as if we knew better how to run the universe. Jonah and Nahum each end with a rhetorical question to reveal to us that God is God, we are not.

Second, Jonah – Nahum – Jesus:

The theologian B.B Warfield once said, “The Old Testament is a room fully furnished but dimly lit. When Christ comes He turns on the light.” In light of this truth an appropriate question to ask is: How are the two messages of Jonah and Nahum bound up and brought together in Christ for the Church? Well, the prophets Jonah and Nahum foreshadow Christ, the true Prophet. Just as the two minor-prophets were obedient (Jonah with some prodding) by bringing God’s Word to God’s people – so too Jesus was obedient to what His Father called Him to, obedient even to point of death on a cross. In Christ we find the full expression of both Jonah and Nahum. And when I say Christ is the full expression I mean that Jesus was gracious to His enemies as Jonah was in His message Nineveh and Jesus pronounced woe to God’s enemies as Nahum did in His message Nineveh. Jonah and Jesus preached grace to those who knew no grace. Both Nahum and Jesus preached judgment to those deserving judgment. John 1:14 states it, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of (BOTH) grace and truth.” Jesus’ life shows us this as well. To those who were repentant and humble in heart Jesus was kind and gracious. To those who were stubborn and prideful in heart Jesus was harsh and rebuking. He was full of grace and full of truth.

So Church, what will be to our city? Full of grace only? Minimizing the message of God’s judgment to maximize the love of God in Jesus? Will we soften the gospel? Will we obey men rather than God and tell them only what suits their tastes? Will we candy coat the gospel into a message that only says, “God loves and has a wonderful plan for you life.” Have we grown comfortable with telling men how to be saved without telling them why they need to be saved? Do we fear the opinion of other men so much that we have believed the lie that men really don’t need to hear about the judgment of God. Or are we on the other side of the equation: will we be full of judgment? Minimizing the grace of God to maximize the judgment of God against sin? Will we get out the spray paint and posters making signs that say, “God hates Fags?” Will believe the lie that men don’t really need to hear about the grace of God because they are coddled too much already in this life; thinking the only thing men need is to be scared straight? I’m afraid both of these positions are wrong. If we minimize God’s judgment to make much of His grace or minimize God’s grace to make much of His judgment we lose both God’s grace and God’s judgment.

We must follow in the footsteps of Christ, and be full of both grace and truth. We must proclaim both the full judgment of God due to us for sin, and the grace extended to us in Christ. One way that’s helpful to remember to keep the full measure of God’s grace and judgment is to make a distinction between Law and Gospel. Galatians 3:24 says the Law is a tutor, to lead us to Christ.

Charles Spurgeon said, “The Law is the needle which prepares the way for the thread of the gospel into the heart.”

A.B. Earle said, “I have found by long experience that the severest threatening’s of the Law of God have a prominent place in leading men to Christ. They must see themselves lost before they will cry for mercy. They will not escape from danger until they see it.”

Martin Luther said, “The first duty of the Gospel preacher is to declare God’s Law and show the nature of sin…we would not see nor realize our sin if it were not for the Law, and we would have to remain forever lost, if we were not again helped out of it through Christ. Therefore the Law and the Gospel are given to the end that we may learn to know both how guilty we are and to what we should again return.”

John MacArthur said, “We need to adjust our presentation of the gospel. We cannot dismiss the fact that God hates sin and punishes sinners with eternal torment. How can we begin a gospel presentation by telling people on their way to hell that God has a wonderful plan for their lives? It is true that God has a wonderful plan for their lives—but it is that they would repent and trust the Savior, and receive the righteousness of Christ.” It is this message, the message of the wrath of God against sin and grace of God in Christ that saves men and women like us. It is that message we must preach to ourselves each morning, and that message we must take to our city each day.

This is why John Wesley in writing a letter to a young Christian said, “Preach 90% Law and 10% Grace….Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but the grace of God for sinners, I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”

So, as we come to the end of Nahum may we trust in the sovereign power of God to do dispense grace and judgment as He pleases. May we rejoice in Jonah’s message of the grace of God heading toward those who deserve judgment and be encouraged to take the gospel to our own city. May we be challenged in Nahum’s message to fear God in response to seeing such a Divine Warrior at work and be encouraged to not minimize any of the attributes of God be it His wrath or grace. And may we like Jonah and Nahum, more so like Christ, may we be obedient to the message of the gospel in actually proclaiming it to those who need it.

Running With Jonah, Judas, or Darwin?

This past month the Desiring God Blog has been phenomenal.  Below are two of the posts that hit me square in the face, I pray they hit you too.

Running With Jonah

“Not called,” did you say?

“Not heard the call,” I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burden, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face — whose mercy you have professed to obey — and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.

Two things have always struck me about the famous quote from William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. First is his politically incorrect preaching. His references to “pulling sinners out of the fire,” “hell,” and “the damned” have the smell of sulfur about them. True, it might be a bit outdated now, but each of those descriptors could come with a Bible reference. Yet Booth’s words are not filled with anger and arrogance — his words run with tears, not unlike his Savior who wept over dark Jerusalem.

The second thing that’s striking to me is that over a century ago Christians were waiting for “the call” before venturing out for the sake of the gospel. Not much has changed. We continue to add so much mystery to “the call” that it must be accompanied by a bolt of lightning, a voice from heaven, or multiple fleeces drenched with dew. No use moving from our comfortable, cul-de-sac Christianity if it’s not necessary, if it’s not clear, if we aren’t “called.”

Jesus says, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). So we already have a clear calling to begin with, and the specifics of what that looks like will follow in the path of radical obedience. God leads us in motion. In few other areas of life do we add such prerequisites to action.

To read the rest, click here.


Why Was Judas Carrying the Moneybag?

Jesus put a thief in charge of his moneybag. Has that ever struck you as odd?

Last week we focused at Mary, who poured a year’s wages on Jesus’s feet, and Judas, who saw Mary’s worshipful act as huge waste, because “he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).

But this fact begs the question: Why was Judas carrying the moneybag in the first place?

Jesus could have given the moneybag to Nathaniel, “an Israelite indeed, in whom there [was] no deceit” (John 1:47), or to John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20), or to Levi, who had extensive financial experience (Luke 5:27). But he didn’t. Jesus chose Judas to be the treasurer of his itinerant nonprofit.

One is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship. Donors were supporting this ministry financially (Luke 8:3), and Jesus appointed the one guy he knew was a “devil” (John 6:70) to manage the money. But this was not poor judgment on Jesus’s part. It was deliberate; Jesus knew Judas was pilfering. Why did Jesus allow it?

To read the rest, click here.


Let Darwin Teach You

Charles Darwin loved his scientific studies. They were his “chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life.” However, as the years passed, Darwin experienced a tragic atrophy. He described it near the end of his life in his autobiography:

Up to the age of 30 or beyond it, poetry of many kinds … gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare…. Formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music… I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did… My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

What a devastating loss. All that time abstracting theories from facts so conditioned Darwin’s mind for analysis that he lost his enjoyment of beauty. He lost the forest to the trees. He lost the poetry of life to the dry prose of life data.

To read the rest, click here.

How Relevant Should the Church Seek to Be?

I worked in a downtown church in Atlanta for all 4 years during my seminary education, and I found that it’s very popular among downtown pastors to talk about how to reach the “urban centers” of the world, and it seems that there were as many ways to reach downtown Atlanta as they were pastors in Atlanta.

Some would tell us, “It takes a certain type of discipleship plan to reach an urban downtown group.” Others said, “It takes a very un-offensive, seeker sensitive type of worship service to draw an urban crowd.” People even said, “It takes a cool, hip, and trendy pastor to reach a cool, hip, and trendy people group. If you want to reach them become like them – get skinny jeans, a skinny tie, a fohawk haircut, and thick rimmed glasses and watch, they’ll come to your church by the thousands!”

Now I’m sure you’ve heard these things too. Plenty of people within the Church today argue that we should be more “user friendly” and more open to those who’re outside, and I agree wholeheartedly – we must be relevant!  But what I’ve found is those putting forth such strategies usually (sometimes unintentionally) soften the truth, not proclaim the whole truth, or even change the truth to compete with secular entertainment.  Can the Church of Jesus Christ do such a thing?  Never.  We’re not in the business of clowning around to make ourselves relevant through entertainment!  This would merely be using worldly means to reach a worldly audience.  Let us never be a people who stunt the message of the cross out of some misguided belief that in doing so we’re making ourselves relevant.  I fear that too many churches are yearning to be successful by worldly standards at the expense of being faithful by Biblical standards.  I want us to reach worldly people in our city, but I want us to do so with the means God has given us to do so – His Word.

If you want to reach the cool, hip, trendy, and popular urban centers of the globe, more so, if you want to reach anyone in the world for Jesus, you do what Jonah did in Jonah 3…you preach the Word of God!  This is how, through the Church, the Kingdom of God moves forward and grows in this world.  Jonah preached the Word of God and the trendiest place on the planet in his day (Nineveh) was transformed, so much so that the king even converted!  If we want to see the Church have an enormous impact in this city, this country, this world, during our lifetime, we must cling to the Word, believe the Word, live the Word, and preach the Word, in this world and before this world.

God Working for your Neighbors Through your Heart

After reading and studying the book of Jonah recently, I’ve seen something I’ve never noticed before.  Taking a step back from the book it is perhaps a bit surprising to see two whole chapters worth of attention given to “getting Jonah to Nineveh” and a few verses given to “Jonah activity in Nineveh” and another whole chapter given to Jonah’s response to what “God did in Nineveh.”

That’s 3 chapters given to God dealing with the heart of His rebellious prophet, and 1 chapter given to the work God did through this prophet.  What does this mean?

I think this means that though Nineveh met the true and living God and experienced a completely transformed change in life and worldview, the main lesson in the book of Jonah has more to do with God and Jonah, rather than God and Nineveh.  Did God therefore call Jonah to Nineveh to reveal to Jonah his own deep-rooted idolatry?  Did God call Jonah to Nineveh grow Jonah’s faith and trust in Him?  Did God call Jonah to Nineveh so that Nineveh would repent?  Or did God call Jonah to Nineveh so the Church would have an example of the kind of work God does in and through His people in a hip, urban city?

I think the answer we’re looking for in all of these questions is a simple “yes.”  It’s good for us to see this, because God, in doing His work is an extraordinarily intricate Person. He’s never just up to one thing in the hearts of His people.  He was acting through Jonah for Nineveh, He was acting through Nineveh for Jonah, and the result is heart change in both cases.  Be encouraged, therefore, and know that when God is up to something it usually has more of a community implication than an individual implication.

God is doing things for your neighbors through your heart.

One Greater than Jonah is Here

Well, we’ve gone through the whole book of Jonah in throughout the past two weeks here, and it’s been fun.  We’ve seen Jonah act like a godly prophet receiving the Word from God and preaching the Word from God to Nineveh, and we’ve seen Jonah act like a wicked little child throwing a temper tantrum when things don’t go his way.  Doubtless there are thousands of lessons for us here in the book of Jonah and I think we’ve only scratched the surface in our time together.  But there is one more lesson from Jonah that we must talk about…and it is found in Matthew 12.

Matthew 12:38-41 says, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Jesus 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 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.  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, One greater than Jonah is here.’”

This last lesson to learn about Jonah is a lesson of fulfillment.  Jesus says here that by looking at Jonah we get a preview, a foreshadow, a picture of what Jesus would look like when He comes!  For those of you that kept up with whole series, did you notice that chapter of Jonah we always ended up talking about Jesus?  That’s because the OT is like a bathroom mirror.  After you get out of the shower it’s all foggy – you can see your outline in it but you can’t see any details.  But slowly as fresh air comes into the bathroom and steam goes away, you see more and more details until you can see every little detail in your face.  In the same way, when you start the OT you see a foggy picture of the Redeemer that will one day come to save God’s people, but as you begin to make your way through the OT the picture gets clearer and clearer and clearer.

So, what’s the connection between Jesus and Jonah?  They’re two and Jesus makes them clear:

a) First, there’s a connection with “three’s” – Just as Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish, so too Jesus will spend three days and nights in the grave.  This implies that just as Jonah only spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish and was vomited out to go preach, so too Jesus will only spend three days and nights in the grave and be resurrected in power to equip the Church to preach His gospel worldwide.

b) Second, there’s a connection in repentance – If the Ninevites repented at the preaching of the prophet Jonah, how much more should the everyone in the world repent at the preaching of the True Prophet Jesus?!  Jonah was great, but Jesus said it clearly, “One greater than Jonah is here.”  Therefore if we do not listen to Jesus, and trust in His gospel, Jesus says the Men of Nineveh will rise up at our judgment and condemn us for not believing the Truth.

God and Our Enemies

“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.” 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.” 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?”  (Jonah 4:5-11)

In 4:5 we find Jonah leaving the city, but not going home.  Rather, he goes up on a hill, makes a hut, and waits.  For what?  4:5 says it, “to see what would become of the city.”  Jonah is still angry, and he obviously wants the city to be destroyed and Jonah wants a front-row seat.  Then, God does what He always does, and gives grace to sinful Jonah by providing a plant to shade him from the sun.  Jonah looks at the plant and 4:6 says, “Jonah was exceedingly happy because of the plant.”  Again, Jonah is happy at God taking care of him and angry at God taking care of the Ninevites.  Then in 4:7, just as God appointed a fish to swallow Jonah, He appoints a worm to eat this plant.  And right after this in 4:8 God brings a “scorching east wind” to beat down on Jonah.  To which Jonah again replies, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  We, as the readers, can tell that God is still teaching Jonah a lesson and asks him in 4:9, “Do you do well to be angry at the plant?”  Jonah, raging in anger and still throwing his childish temper-tantrum, talks back to God, and says in 4:9, “YES! I do well to be angry at the plant, angry enough to die!”  Then comes the lesson from God in 4:10-11 when God says, “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?

This may seem like a strange lesson but what God’s rebuking Jonah because if he can care for one little plant so much that it made him want to die, God can care for a whole city that needs God.

The end of Jonah does tell us what happened next.  Why?  I think Jonah wrote this book and didn’t tell us what happened next because he wants us to answer this question as well.  Will we think we’re closer to God than other people because of our ethnicity, nationality, wealth, etc?  Will we understand that the gospel is for anyone who believes and for the nations?  Would we be okay with it if God were to show mercy to terrorists?  We ought to be.  May we be the kind of people who rejoice when heaven rejoices, when one sinner (no matter who they are) repents.

Jonah here looks forward to Jesus.  How?  Jonah came to a people not his own, an alien people, and watched them repent.  Jesus came to His own people and watched them reject and kill Him.  The Truth remains, as Jonah and Jesus were sent with the message of gospel, the Church has also been sent, to give and bring the message of the gospel to those all around the world, even to our enemies.


“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. 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 4:1-4)

Jonah has returned to his old ways it seems, because he’s angry that what he knew would happen, happened.  He knows God is merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and because of this he tried to run away to Tarshish by boat.  Rather than rejoicing in the fact that over 120,000 people have just repented and come to the true God, Jonah says, in prayer to God in 4:3, that he would rather die than continue living.  It’s interesting that when Jonah’s life was saved and rescued by God a few chapters ago he praised God for His great salvation, but now when Jonah’s enemies are rescued by God, Jonah gets angry.  Well, God responds to Jonah’s foolishness and asks Jonah a question that we all know the answer to in 4:4, “Do you do well to be angry?”

These first four verses of chapter four are alarming to me, and I want them to be alarming to you too.  You see, Jonah had all the right things in his head about God, and yet when it came down to it, his right thinking didn’t lead to right living.  This means that knowing the right things about God in your head doesn’t cut it before God!  When I graduated seminary my friends and family threw a party for me, and they allowed me to preach at my own party.  So I preached on James 2:19, which says, “You believe that God I one; you do well.  Even the demons believe this – and shudder!”  I know that what demons believe is not the usual subject of most graduation parties, but it was and is still very pressing to me right now as I reflect on seminary.  Since most of you don’t know seminary’s like I want to give you a window into its world.

The goal of a good seminary is to teach you right things about God, and to teach you how to think about those right things well.  Now, seminary taught me a lot of things about the Bible, about God, and about man; seminary taught me to know God rightly.  It was a very academic setting, and though I loved being in that setting, seminary opened my eyes to a massive reality: knowing God rightly is not the way God is fully glorified.

Some of you may be thinking – “Wait a minute, a bunch of students studying about God, going into major depth regarding the nature of all things in the Christian faith, aiming to get those things exact and correct, is not how God is fully glorified?”  No.  Don’t get me wrong, knowing God rightly is a huge part of the whole picture, but it is not the whole picture.  Did you notice in that verse in James that the demons knew God rightly?  James makes it clear that the Satan and his demons have a correct knowledge of God.  Seminary students and demons have this in common.  This reveals that seminary is a dangerous place, because it can produce demons as well.  This is not an over statement because Joseph Stalin was once a seminary student.

So, what’s the difference between the seminary students and demons?  Demons and seminary students (Christians) both know God rightly, but what separates the two groups is that where demons only have knowledge about God in them, Christians have knowledge and a love for God.  Christians treasure God more the more they get to know Him where demons only carry empty facts about God.  You see, Jonah brings this issue up for us because we see that people can know get facts about God exactly right while not having an ounce of spiritual fire or love for God inside their souls at all!  You can know about God while not knowing Him at all.

So, many of you claim to be Christians, almost all of you.  And by claiming to be Christians, you put yourself in Jonah’s camp.  I want to ask you a question, do you only know right facts about God?  Or do you know God personally?  One way to find out is to examine your treasures, so ask yourself, “Would I be happy, in this life or the next, if I had everything I’d ever wanted without having Jesus?  To which I reply, if you’d be happy without Jesus, you don’t know Jesus because if you did, all those treasures would be seen as what they really are, lesser treasure.  God is the treasure of the Christian, He is what the Christian longs for and looks forward to having forever throughout eternity.  So God is fully glorified in two ways: 1) by being known rightly, and 2) being treasured robustly above all things.

If God Saved Them, He Can Save Me

“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.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”  (Jonah 3:5-10)

This back half of Jonah 3 makes it crystal clear that when the Ninevites were confronted by God in Jonah’s preaching, they repented, just as the pagan sailors repented when confronted by God on the ship.  In 3:5 we see that everyone in the city, from the greatest to the least repented.  In 3:6-8 we see that the King of Nineveh (who was what we would call a governor) repented himself and then issued a decree, telling all the citizens of the city to not even eat or drink until they’ve mourned over their sin and repented.  In 3:9 we see that they understood Jonah’s preaching, and that one of the reasons they repented was so that God would not destroy them in 40 days, and in 3:10 we see God again, being gracious to sinners by not destroying them.

I think we’ve grown accustomed to reading things like this and just pass on by without giving it a second thought.  This is no small event, it was a huge deal!  Why?  Because Nineveh was a pagan, non-God following city.  They had their own gods and idols they worshiped and sacrificed to.  And not only did they not know of Israel’s God, they also were one of the most evil cultures to have ever existed, so much so that you would think they are too far away for God to reach!

But the glorious Truth here for us in Nineveh’s repentance is that no one is too far away to be submerged into the ocean of God’s grace!  If God can save Nineveh, He can save you, and He can save me.

How to Impact a Trendy, Cool, and Hip Urban City

“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. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  (Jonah 3:1-4)

Notice 3:1, “Then the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…”  For Jonah, to hear God give him another chance to obey Him and go to Nineveh, would have sounded glorious because what does anyone want more than anything after they’ve blown it big time or made a huge mistake?  ANOTHER CHANCE.  God, by giving His Word to Jonah a second time, shows not only His desire for every sinner on the planet to repent (Nineveh included), but it also shows His heart for His own people.  Jonah is an adopted son in God’s family, and God is Jonah’s patient and kind Father.  So again we see the glory of God’s grace being the central theme in Jonah.  Jonah didn’t deserve a second chance, he disobeyed the God who created him!  But God was gracious, and gave him what He didn’t deserve.  Now, I want you all to believe that God is just as patient with you, when you sin and disobey, as He was with Jonah.  Some of you surely will think, “Awesome, God is very patient with me indeed.”  But I know that there are others of you out there who have a huge struggle trusting in God as a patient and kind Father because you’ve got an earthly father who is anything but patient and kind to you!  I’m sure some of you have Dads that are mean all the time, not there in your life or always at work, or perhaps some of you have Dads who’ve just left.  Well, if that’s you, let me encourage you.  No matter if your Dad is a good one or a bad one, God is better than them all!  Every human will eventually let you down in some way or another because we’re all sinners, but God is faithful, He will never let you down, hurt you, or leave you, ever!  So when you sin, know that your sin will bring consequences, like Jonah’s did, but know that when you sin, like Jonah – worse them Jonah – or different than Jonah, God is gracious and will always welcome you home if you turn from sin to Jesus.

So Jonah received the Word from God and He preached the Word from God in the city of Nineveh.  And we read that Nineveh repented when they heard Jonah’s preaching, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  Stop…right…here.  God has something for us here.  In Jonah’s day, Nineveh was the largest city in Assyria, the largest and most powerful nation in existence.  This made Nineveh the biggest, greatest, coolest, most-influential, most-hip, urban city on the planet.  Just like people who want to be famous now move to Hollywood, if you wanted people to know that you’re a big deal, if you wanted to be famous, or you wanted to be in on the most recent and current trends and fashion in Jonah’s day, you moved to one place, the one place where Jonah is headed – downtown Nineveh.

I worked in a downtown church for 4 years during seminary, and it is very popular among downtown pastors to talk about how to reach the “urban centers” of the world, and it seems that every pastor had a different answer for this.  Some said, “It takes a certain type of discipleship plan to reach an urban downtown group.”  Others said, “It takes a very un-offensive, seeker sensitive type of worship service to draw an urban crowd.”  People even said, “It takes a cool, hip, and trendy pastor to reach cool, hip, and trendy people.  If you want to reach them, become like them – get skinny jeans, a skinny tie, a fohawk haircut, thick rimmed glasses, and a visible tattoo, and they’ll come to your church by the thousands!”  To which I reply, “Hogwash!”  If you want to reach the cool, hip, trendy, and popular urban centers of the globe, more so, if you want to reach anyone in the world for Jesus, do what Jonah did and preach the Word!  Jonah preached God’s Word and transformed the trendiest place on the planet in his day, and if we want to see the Church have an enormous impact in the world during our lifetime, we must stick close to the Word, believe the Word, live the Word, and preach the Word, in this world and before this world.

Glorious Vomit in Jonah 2

God responds to Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2:10.  It says, “And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.” 

Now there is not a lot that is cool about vomit, but this vomit, is awesome because it is a foreshadow of what’s to come with Jesus.  You see, the fish’s vomiting up Jonah onto dry land symbolizes Jonah’s resurrection from the dead.  Jonah symbolically died in the sea, was swallowed by the fish, and was resurrected onto dry land, by fish vomit.  After his resurrection Jonah is going to go to Nineveh and preach the gospel.  So, in a sense, Jonah’s resurrection saved the Ninevites, because if Jonah died in the sea or in the fish Nineveh wouldn’t have heard Jonah preach, and if Jonah didn’t preach to them, they couldn’t repent, and if Nineveh couldn’t repent, they would have died hopelessly in their sin.  But Jonah was resurrected.

I say this is a foreshadow because Jonah’s resurrection points to a greater resurrection which saves people as well.  Jesus, after He lived and died, was resurrected from the grave (His fish, you could say) by God in power!  This resurrection assures us of two things:

a) Jesus’ resurrection promises that our salvation is real, and that death died in the death of the Christ!  Therefore if death died in the death of Jesus, sin no longer has power over us, because we are no longer in our sins, but in Jesus by faith!  If Jesus wasn’t raised, we’re still in our sins and hopeless.

b) Jesus’ resurrection promises that one day we also will rise from the grave as Jesus did (if we die before He returns).  Just as death could not hold the Son of God, death will not be able to hold us back either, because if death died because of Jesus, and couldn’t hold Him down, and we’re in Jesus by faith, death cannot hold us down either!  Therefore, death does not have the final word over any Christian, God does.

God Shows Up for His Glory – Always

When we come to Jonah 2:7 we see a change take place.  In 2:6 we left Jonah deep in despair, sinking and sinking further into the ocean, with no hope and a growing realization that he’s probably going to die soon; and at the end of 2:6 we see God save Jonah.  See it?  “…you brought my life up from the pit…”?  It is this moment when the whole feel of the prayer radically changes in 2:7-9 says, “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 changed in 2:7?  Before from 2:2-6 Jonah was describing his dire circumstances, he was drowning, and the deeper he went into the sea the more understood the end was coming!  Then in 2:7 we see Jonah begin to pray “as his life was fainting away,” or in other words “as he was losing consciousness,” and throughout these final words from Jonah’s mouth in 2:7-9, Jonah praises God for what He’s done!  What a different man we see now!  Jonah is no longer the silent, racist, running prophet.  This trial, sent by God, has turned Jonah’s sinful attitude into praise!  Who cares what kind of fish this was, Jonah is no longer a rebel!

Before I end this post, let me say one thing about Jonah’s praise here.  Do you notice who he is praising?  GOD!  Jonah praised God for saving him, not himself.  You may be thinking, well that’s a weird point to make.  It may seem weird, but I think you and I praise ourselves far more than we should.  Let me explain: I recently heard a song by “Mike’s Chair” on the radio that made me a bit upset.  The song started out by explaining that the singer is having all sorts of hard times and trouble in his life, then the chorus comes, and says this, “Am I really something beautiful?  I wanna believe that I’m not just some wandering soul, that you don’t see and you don’t know, yeah I wanna believe that I’m someone worth dying for.”

Can you tell why I got mad at this?  The point of the chorus is to answer his hard times and troubles, and he answers his troubles by singing about own worth, beauty, and significance before God by saying, “I’m someone worth dying for.”  To which I respond and say, WHAT!?  Is this really how this guy views salvation?  Is this really worship?  NO!  You don’t look at Jesus who lived, died, and rose to save us and then say, “Look at me, I must be lovely and beautiful to God because He saved me!  I’m worth something.”  You don’t say that!  You say what Jonah said, “I was dying and I am now alive, praise God, praise God, praise God!  Salvation is from the Lord!”  You see the difference?  The song’s chorus was praising man’s worth, Jonah’s prayer was praising God’s worth!

I’m not being a theological nit-picker, that song is not Christian, because Christians praise God, and get happy about God, not their own significance!  Jesus does not save us so that the story of our worth, beauty, and significance could be broadcast over the whole earth. Jesus saves us so that the story of His worth, beauty, and significance can be broadcast over the whole earth!

Boldness in Messy-ness

After reading Jonah 1 and Jonah 2, do you notice how different Jonah is in chapter 2 than chapter 1?  Before in chapter 1 Jonah was trying to avoid contact with God in any way he possibly could whatsoever, but here in chapter 2 we see a completely different Jonah.  We see a Jonah that is not running away but a Jonah that is humble, repentant, and actually praying, asking God for help.  Jonah has “manned up” to his own sin, and “manned up” to God by facing Him directly rather than continuing to run.  Part of me pauses here and thinks, “Well, yeah that may be true, but where else are you going to turn when you’re treading water in the middle of a massive ocean with no help in sight?”  The other part of me thinks, “Man; that had to be hard for Jonah to do.  I mean, Jonah was not disobeying a motherly request to take the trash out or walk the dog, he was disobeying the God and Lord of the universe; the very God who commands obedience from creation.”

This God looks at stars after He made them and says, “All you stars, move yourself to this place and rotate in this order do this until I give you another word.”  He says to the planets, “Planets pick yourself up and spin, make this formation until I give you another word.”  He looks at mountains and says, “Be lifted up”, He looks at valleys and says, “Be cast down”, He looks at the sea and says, “Come this far and stop!”  The stars obey Him, the planets obey Him, the mountains and valleys obey Him, even the ocean obeys Him.  Yet when God looked at Jonah and said, “Go to Nineveh.”  Jonah said “NO!”  Who does Jonah think he is to tell God no, and run away?  It’s not a small thing to disobey the God who gives you your very breath!

I really do think Jonah is being bold and honest here, and facing up to God as he ought to because Jonah knows he messed up, and notice that even though he knows he messed up bigtime (!) Jonah doesn’t let his own failure stop him from coming back to God to make things right in prayer.  I wonder if you, when you’ve sinned, immediately go back to God and deal with what you’ve done, or I wonder if you think, “No, I can’t talk to God after I did that, or looked at this, or said that, or lied like that.  No, I can’t go to God.  I’m too dirty.”  Learn from Jonah, that no matter how far you’ve gone, or no matter what you’ve done, God will always welcome you home.  Look at what Jonah says in 2:1-6.  He “called to the Lord” in his distressful mess, in the middle of the ocean, while the waves were crashing into him and over him, and you know what happened?  2:2 says, “I called…and He answered me.”  2:4 says, “Though I’m driven away…I shall look on your holy temple again!”  2:5-6 say, “The water closed in to take my life, it surrounded me, seaweed was even wrapping around my head down at the bottom of the ocean…yet You God…brought up my life from the pit.”

You see, Jonah had confidence that God would not only welcome him home, but rescue him from his messy sinful situation as well.  I want you to have the same confidence, and be as bold in your messy-ness.

The Redemptive Nature of God-Ordained Trials

Jonah 2:1-6 says – “Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, “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 forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”

Now, in 2:1 we learn that Jonah prayed this prayer inside the belly of the fish, but when we look at the prayer it seems to show that Jonah got thrown overboard than cried for help while he was being tossed around in the water, and God in response to Jonah’s prayer sent the great fish to save Jonah’s life.  This means that God delivered Jonah’s life from death with something that normally would seem to be a disaster.  No sane person thinks getting eaten by a large fish is a good thing.  From a 1 – 10 disaster level list, Jonah has just experienced a 4,000!  This implies that God will sometimes cause a crisis in your life to bring you back to Himself.  Think about it, we read in 1:15 that the sailors threw Jonah overboard, but notice what Jonah says in 2:3?  “You cast me into the deep.”  Jonah believes God did this to him, and he’s right!

There are two ways to go with this: option 1 says, “God threw me into the ocean, therefore God is displeased with me and wants to kill me.”  Option 2 says, “God threw me into the ocean, therefore God wants to teach me something.”  Now, it may sound strange, but the Bible talks like this about our trials.  James 1:2-4, “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Psalm 119:71 says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.”  Psalm 119:75 says, “I know O’ Lord, that Your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” 

These verses teach us that Jonah’s trial with the boat, the sea, and the fish, were from God, for his good.  Don’t think that God hates you because He allows bad things happen to you – God knows what He’s doing, trust Him and know that when God is brings us trials, and though these trials may not be good, He is always working for our good, and bringing us closer to Himself.  Jonah sinned, that was his fault – God responded to his sin and brought a trial into his life, for his benefit.  For the Christian, trials are redemptive, not punishment because God will always bring us out of them better than before.  Psalm 66:10-12 says, “For You O’ God have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.  You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.”

God Constantly Pursues the Praises of His Name in the Hearts of His People

Obviously this chapter is well known to many of you because you’ve heard the story of Jonah being swallowed by the fish before.  I wonder though, do you think this is a bit too much?  I mean, swallowed by a great fish and remaining in its stomach for three days?  Some people respond and say, “You see, this is exactly why we must believe that the book of Jonah is a made up story, like a parable meant to teach us a great spiritual truth, it’s not real life history.”  Jonah does sound like something that should be in a fantasy movie or something right?  Well, it is my opinion (and I think it should be yours as well) that Jonah really did exist, and that he had a real mom and a real dad.  Remember 1:1?  “Jonah the son of Amittai?”, and not only 1:1, 2 Kings 16 gives more of Jonah’s background.  We also should believe that a real fish, in real life, really did swallow Jonah because God told it to.  Martin Luther, one of the key historical figures of our Church said this about the book of Jonah, “The story told here is almost incredible, sounding more strange than any poet’s fable.  If it were not in the Bible I would take it for a lie.”  Let’s jump into this story that is stranger than a fable and see what’s up with Jonah.

As soon as we get into the passage we’re met with one of the most astounding events in history, to say the least.  1:17 says, “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.”

God appointed this great fish (maybe a whale, but it just says “great fish”) to swallow up Jonah, which happened and led to Jonah spending 3 days and 3 nights in its belly.  This leads us directly to a Truth so great we hardly have words to explain it.  We find this Truth in Jonah 4:2, “God is gracious, merciful, abounding in steadfast love.”  Think about this.  It is grace that God called someone to preach to the wicked Ninevites…it grace that God saved pagan gentile sailors through Jonah’s disobedient running…and speaking of Jonah’s running it is grace that we actually hear of Jonah again in this book!  God would have been completely right and just to kill Jonah when he was thrown into the water because of His disobedience!  Yet 4:2 remains true, it is grace that God caused the crazy storm, it is grace that God caused Jonah to be thrown off the ship, and it is grace that God saved his life by providing a fish to swallow him rather than leaving him to drown.  Everyone in this story would be dead because of their sin if God were not gracious.  And the hard word here is that because of your sin, you would be dead right now if God were not gracious.  The crazy fantastic Truth too great for words found in the book of Jonah is not that a whale swallowed a man, and that that man lived.  The crazy fantastic Truth too great for words found in the book of Jonah that is a trillion times more shocking is that God is so gracious to sinners like us, that He chases us down when we rebel!  God is chasing Nineveh through sending Jonah, God is chasing the pagan sailors through Jonah’s running away, and God is chasing Jonah through sending the fish to swallow him.

He is constant chasing us down as well, pursuing the praise of His name in the hearts of His people.