Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 14- Our God Saves

December 14, 2011

Scripture Reading:
Jonah 1:1-4:11; Revelation 5:1-14;
Psalm 133:1-3; Proverbs 29:26-27

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

Isaiah 52:7

Jonah 1:1-4:11

When I was a child my dad would occasionally fire up the grill and cook steaks.  We all loved steaks in our family, but as a child I remember practically choking on steak almost every time I ate it.  This was because I didn't chew the meat enough. There was kind of a dilemma I would go through when I heard we were having steak for dinner. I liked steak, but I was always afraid I was going to choke on it. Today the prophet Jonah practically chokes on something, but it's not a steak. Jonah practically chokes on his own pride.

I suspect that most of us are guilty of giving the prophet Jonah a bad rap or I should say a bad reputation.  If he is believed to be real at all, then he is scurrilously judged as a whiney, cowardly fellow who didn’t want to do the job that God had for him. Close examination of the story of Jonah will reveal that Jonah is a great man of faith. By the way, Jonah is the only prophet with whom Jesus Christ chose to identify and compare himself.

God calls Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh, which was the capital city of Assyria, but Jonah does not want to go there. The question is "why not?" What does Jonah not like about the Assyrians? The recorded history of the ancient Assyrians proves why Jonah may have hated these people. They were one of the most brutal nations in the ancient world. J. Vernon McGee writes, “They were feared and dreaded by all the peoples of that day. They used very cruel methods of torture and could extract information from their captives very easily.” One method they would use would be to bury a man in the sand up to his neck with only his head exposed. Then they would put a thong through his tongue and leave him there to die. It is no wonder that Jonah was not thrilled about being a prophet to these people.

We have discussed the cruelty of the Assyrians to whom Jonah is called, but we have not talked about Jonah’s knowledge of the character of God and how that factors into his decision to flee.  If Jonah’s job was to solely pronounce God’s judgment with guaranteed hellfire and brimstone to follow, he would have gladly gone to do the task. The reason Jonah is running literally in the opposite direction is that Jonah understands the heart of God and knows that God is a God of mercy and compassion. Jonah fears that the people of Nineveh will repent and be saved. Jonah’s hatred for their sins does not include compassion for their souls. This is the real reason that Jonah does not want to go to Nineveh. He does not want God to save the Gentiles.

Do you ever judge and hate people for their sins instead of having compassion on their souls?

Jonah ran to Tarshish. You may be wondering where Tarshish was. It was near modern day Spain.  The ancient city of Nineveh, which is where Jonah was told to go by God, was located where the city of Mosul, Iraq is today.  Spain is a long way from Iraq. Jonah was running as far away as he could get, but God was in the storm that started to change Jonah's plans.

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god.” Jonah 1:4-5

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain when to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish!” Jonah 1:5-6

Because Christ identifies himself with Jonah, I will take a moment to discuss how this story reminds me of when the storm arose on the Sea of Galilee and Christ was asleep in the boat as the disciples panicked in its midst (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41).

Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” Mark 4:36-38

I do believe that Christ wants us to see himself in the story of Jonah. 

So back to Jonah, he is able to sleep in the midst of this great storm. We must know that Jonah was a man of great faith, who had a keen understanding of God and trusted His Sovereignty over nature and His willingness to save. This does not mean that Jonah has conquered his own sinful tendencies. Although Jonah is a picture of Christ in some aspects of this story, he is not a perfect person.

Regardless, Jonah confesses to the sailors that he is a Hebrew. You could probably hear a collective gasp at this point among the sailors because the Hebrew people were known in the ancient world as monotheistic people. They claimed to be the chosen people of the One True God and the people through whom the Savior of the world would come.

“I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land. This terrified them and they asked, ‘What have you done?’” Jonah 1:10

A Picture of Self-Sacrifice

With respect for Jonah’s God who was considered the Supreme God, the sailors ask how to calm the storm of God’s anger.  Jonah’s solution is a key to why Christ identifies with this man. Jonah’s solution for the problem of God’s anger against Jonah’s own sin is to sacrifice his own life for the lives of others.  Jonah does what Christ did on earth. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee by commanding the wind and waves. Jonah calms the sea by giving up his life. 

Jonah insists that they throw him over the boat and to his death. The sailors are torn at the prospect of Jonah giving his life for theirs. They ask God to not hold them accountable for killing an innocent man.

Then they cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do no hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.” Jonah 1:14-15

Just as Jesus, the perfectly innocent man, died for the sins of others and calmed God’s wrath against the sins of humanity, so Jonah’s death in the sea calmed the anger of the storm. His sacrificial death was a testimony to these men who became believers in God through Jonah’s testimony, seen in his life and his death.

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.”  Jonah 1:15-16

“But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17

Chapter 2- A Prayer in Death- The Hope of Resurrection

Now we can peak into the heart of Christ and into the emotions that he felt as he faced death and trusted God to resurrect him after dying for the sins of humanity. I believe Christ points us to the prophet Jonah so that the words of Jonah in the belly of the fish can be the words of Christ as he faced three days and three nights in the earth.

Jonah quotes from Psalm 18:6; Psalm 120:1; Psalm 42:7; Psalm 31:22; and Psalm 69:1-2. The psalms are the voice of David, the voice of the nation of Israel, the voice of Jesus Christ who comes from Israel, and now they are the voice of all believers who die trusting in Jesus and in his promise of resurrection. 

As Jonah sinks into the deep into death, his trust in God sustains him and his hope of resurrection comes forth. His final words, “Salvation comes from the Lord” says it all.

“In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, the very heart of the seas and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.” Jonah 2:2-3

“I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.” Jonah 2:4

“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” Jonah 2:7

Although most commentators contend that Jonah did not die, but was alive in the belly of the fish for three days, I am inclined to agree with J. Vernon McGee, who believes that this is not just a symbolic resurrection for Jonah, but an actual resurrection from the dead.  McGee contends that Jonah’s prayers would have been his final words in the face of his impending death and that when writing this account he merely recalls how he cried out to God in death.

The point of Jonah’s prayer is that he trusted the Almighty with his life and his death with the hope that the promise of salvation and resurrection was possible through faith in the LORD.

Jesus Christ refers to Jonah in Matthew 12:40, when the unbelieving Pharisees and teachers of the Law demand a miracle from Christ in order to believe in him, “’Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sing of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.’”

Oh my, the power and the authority of Christ’s words. Please notice the respect that Christ gives to Jonah as he claims that one greater than him is now preaching to the Pharisees. Christ completely identifies with what Jonah experienced as he plunged into the deep sea and sank into the mire of death. Christ implies that Jonah’s resurrection was a miracle from God.  Christ perhaps thought about Jonah as he hung on the cross and anticipated his own death and resurrection.

It is when one faces one’s own mortality that the gift of immortality that only Christ provides becomes so precious. This is what happened to Jonah.

Lesson:  Your faith that Christ will be with you in death and bring you to resurrection life is the type of faith that makes you righteous.

After this gigantic lesson in humility, God tells Jonah to go and deliver a message of judgment on the great city of Nineveh. This time Jonah obeys and shouts a message of judgment upon the wicked Ninevites.  He tells them that in forty days they will be destroyed! The whole town, including the king, repents of their sins in sackcloth and ashes. They have a mass prayer meeting and turn their hearts to God.  In His great mercy, God accepts their humility and does not judge or destroy the city.

Our prideful prophet is upset. Jonah said the city would be destroyed, and now it's not destroyed. Because they repented, God had mercy on them. Jonah knew that this might happen and when it does happen Jonah is upset.  Jonah is a sworn enemy of the Assyrians. They have been the scourge of the earth during his lifetime. He tells God he wishes he was dead. That is pride, folks. Pure and simple pride...  God challenges Jonah's right to be angry.

Is a Vine More Important than a Person?

Jonah is the true essence of an Israelite.  He is nationalistic, loyal to his God, and misguided in some of God’s deeper purposes.

Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at down the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:5-8

Jonah was called to go to the Gentile world and preach that the Savior would come through the Jewish people, that His holiness was reflected in the Laws of God, and that people should repent and be saved just as the nation of Israel was called to be God’s kingdom of priests on earth and bring the Gentile world the very message that Jonah was required to bring to Nineveh.

God closes this book with a final reminder, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up over night and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Jonah 4:10-11

Israel is often seen as a vine in Scripture. Jonah was concerned for the vine of Israel, but not the Gentile Assyrians. God cares for Gentiles as well as Jews. This is what the book of Jonah teaches us. If you have ever wondered if God personally cares for you, the book of Jonah should settle that question for good.

Lessons:  God is gracious and God saves those who are humble and repent of their sins. God always intended to save the Gentiles, as well as the nation of Israel. God desires mercy for the lost from those who are already saved.

Revelation 5:1-14

Who is worthy to judge other people?  We learned today that God was not interested in having Jonah judge other people.  Today we are back in heaven with the Church at God's throne.  Today we learn who is worthy to judge the earth.

God the Father sits on the brilliant throne in heaven and He holds a scroll that is sealed seven times.  Remember that seven is the number of completion in the Bible. In the ancient Roman Empire a will had to be sealed seven times in order to be valid.  This would prove that it had not been tampered with.  But what is this scroll in God's hands?  It is the will and title deed to the earth. Who is worthy to own, rule, and judge the earth?  Who can break the seal because they have the authority to inherit what the scroll represents?

John weeps because no one steps forward and who is worthy.  The elders tell John to stop weeping.  Remember, the elders represent the Raptured Church which is now up in heaven with Christ. The Church tells John that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the heir to David's throne, has conquered and is worthy to break the seals and unroll the scroll. Jesus is the heir to the inheritance. A death must occur for someone to inherit something. Notice that the Church is always a witness to the truth about Christ.  Even in heaven, the Church has illumination about Christ and His role.

Who is this Lion? Well, it is a Lamb. John sees a Lamb that was slain, but is now alive. He is standing between the throne and the living creatures and among the twenty-four elders.  What does this tell us?  Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb who was slain before the foundations of the world and who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, stands in heaven (no longer seated at the right hand of God, but now on the move in the end of time) amongst God the Father on the throne, amongst the living creatures of the gospel of Christ, and amongst the Raptured Church, who will rule with Him forever. The death that occurs and allows for an inheritance is Jesus' own death.  This death and resurrection back to life make Jesus, the Son of God, the heir to the throne. He, alone, is worthy to open the will, which reveals his inheritance. His inheritance is the title deed to the earth. Jesus inherits the earth. The elder of Christ's Church testifies to this truth.  That is the role of the Church, my friends, to testify to the truth about Christ.

This Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits sent out across the earth.  Once again, the number seven represents completeness.  The horns represent power and dominion, and the eyes represent knowledge and intelligence.  Jesus has complete power, dominion, and knowledge to rule the world.

Jesus takes the scroll.  At that moment the living creatures and the elders fall down to worship him.  This is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who has authority over the earth. To worship him is a given. Notice that music and prayer are part of the worship. They sing a song celebrating that Jesus is worthy to open the scroll.  Why is He worthy?  The song tells us that he was killed and his blood ransomed people for God from every tribe, language, people, and nation.  Notice that all people, not just Israelites, are listed here. This is the nature of those who are saved in heaven. All people on earth who have loved God have become the Kingdom of God and his priests.  This is a picture of the Raptured Church now being called God's priests in His Kingdom. The song declares that they will reign on earth.  This goes back to what Jesus promised in his letters to the churches.

Next, millions of angels join the elders and the living beings to sing a chorus about the worthy Lamb.  Then every creature on earth, under the earth, and in the sea join in the singing.  Have you ever heard animals sing?  Do you laugh when a dog sings with a person?  Animals are going to sing God's praise in heaven.  What a picture!  The four living beings say "Amen!"  So be it!  The Church in heaven, represented by the twenty-four elders, falls down to worship again.

What a glorious reality.  Jesus is worthy to rule and judge the earth. Why?  Because he has saved the earth through his death and the shedding of his blood. The Redeemer Child who was promised to Eve in Genesis chapter 3 has come and saved mankind from their sins.  He has died and been raised from dead.  His death makes him the heir to this world.  He created the world and now his death to save the world makes him worthy to rule the world as its King and Judge. God was true to His promises. God is in all and through all. It's all about Him. Are you catching on?  God will complete His story. Praise God!

Are you going to be part of the Raptured Church in heaven?  Will you be singing God's praises in the end? God is starting to wrap up His Story.  Where do you fit in?

Psalm 133:1-3

How wonderful it is when brothers live together in harmony.  How true.  We are brothers and sisters with Christ, if we have believed in him.  Will you live in harmony with God forever?

Proverbs 29:26-27

Justice comes from the Lord.  We will be seeing that as we finish God's story.

What are you seeing as you read?


Jubilee Gal
Kathy Fullerton

1 comment:

  1. Jonah was also a patriotic Jew and did not want to go to this enemy and extend any kind of mercy towards them b/c of their past cruelty and torment of the Jewish people. It's a lesson on God's sovereignty, that He will do what He wills, and His mercy, that God has compassion on one's national enemies, too. His plan is so much bigger and merciful than ours.