Friday, September 18, 2009

Jonah, Jonah, Jonah

Jonah is a strange choice to serve as the go-to sign for Jesus Christ. Certainly the time Jonah spends in the belly of the whale is a fitting sign for Jesus’ time spent in the grave. That, of course, is Jesus’ point in referring to Jonah. But Jonah teaches a lot about ourselves in relation to God’s gospel. In Jonah 1:1-3, we have the Lord’s call to Jonah and Jonah’s reaction to his call. It does not reflect well on Jonah, but not for the reasons we may, at first, think.
The Lord calls Jonah to preach to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was the great city of the Assyrians and the enemy of Jonah’s people. But the message was one of judgment and destruction (see the content of Jonah’s preaching in chapter three). You would think that the prophet would crave the opportunity to be the message of ruin for the enemy of Israel. So why does he flee?
Of course we might chalk up Jonah’s flight to a fear for his own safety. After all, prophets were sometimes martyrs. The Assyrians were cruel enemies. Peter, in fear for his own safety, would deny his Savior three times. Certainly we could relate to his fear, but it was not fear that drove him away from the presence of the Lord.
Jonah tells us himself what he was thinking in 4:2. He flees because he knew that the Lord is merciful and long-suffering. Jonah flees not because he was afraid, but because he wanted no role in the salvation of his enemies.
Jonah understands the Lord’s ways, he just doesn’t want to travel in those ways. Jonah understands that the Lord is merciful when he warns and when he chastises. The Lord could have simply exterminated the people of Nineveh. Did he give warning to Sodom? As Paul tells us in the opening chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, even the Gentiles give evidence that they know the law. But when the Lord makes his anger at sin evident, it is to humble sinners and call them to repentance. The knowledge of the Lord’s wrath is a revelation of his mercy. Jonah wants no part of it.
How are we different when we shut our hearts to the plight of sin-sick and lost? Are we all that better than Jonah?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Signs from Heaven

At least twice during his ministry Jesus’ opponents requested a sign from him (Matt. 12:38 ff., 16:1-4). Specifically they requested a sign from heaven. In both instances Jesus had worked a miracle that demonstrated God’s mercy and power. In the first he cast out a devil from a man and healed him. The Pharisees accused him of witchcraft (casting out devils by the power of the devil). In Matt. 16:1, Jesus is being “tempted” by his distractors. The Pharisees and Sadducees had no intention of being convinced of Jesus’ Messiahship. They wanted to entrap him.

Jesus refuses both requests. In fact, he gives the same answer: he would only give them the sign of Jonah. The sign of Jonah refers to his resurrection (Jonah was resurrected from the fish’s belly, as it were). In John 2:18-22, Jesus gives the same sign in substance though with no reference to Jonah. So the sign that Jesus leaves the world is his death and resurrection.

This is important for us to note. We often look for signs from heaven. We wonder why our Lord allows his name to be slandered. We wish that we could be relieved of the doubts the world raises in regards to the faith. But Jesus will not give us a sign from heaven. Our faith is trusting him.

The fact is that the gospel is sufficiently suited to rescue sinners and prepare them for heavenly glory. The fact that the enfleshed Son of God suffered on behalf of sinners, and that he calls us out of our sin (not waiting for us to make ourselves worthy), and that the all glorious God has committed himself to us should be all that the failing heart should want. Victory over sin and victory over the grave are signs enough for those who know their sin, and more than enough. There is no need to look for the spectacular, let the Pharisees and Sadducees do that.


The last couple of weeks have been full. Labor Day weekend our church hosted Dr. Pipa from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. During the sabbath school hour he addressed the adults and youth on how to listen to a sermon, very practical. Christ was magnified in his sermon on Psalm 93 and the Spirit used the message to convict and edify. The evening sermon glorified God in his goodness from Exodus 34:5-10. Overall a wonderful way to spend a sabbath.
Then that Thursday our congregation hosted the 125th meeting of Grace Presbytery. Our members showed themselves to be incomparable hosts and hostesses.
The rest of the time has been full for my family and me. But now I think that I can get back to posting. I plan to get caught up a bit this week, so stay tuned.