Jonah – Angry, Guilty & Prayerful

Jonah had anger in his heart for the Assyrians in Nineveh before the Lord had even called him to prophesy to them. He held that anger in his heart, until the storm moved his anger to fear. Which was good for the moment, but sadly, his anger returned outside the gates of Nineveh after he finally did God’s work as commanded. However, the sailors were moved from fearing the storm to fearing the LORD, just like Christ’s disciples in the boat did when Jesus calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41) The sailors initially did not want to throw Jonah overboard, but their fear of the storm drove them to accept Jonah’s own conclusion. Seldom do we see “blind faith” from anyone in the Scriptures so quickly rewarded. Jonah had evidenced faith, but his heart was not open to the Lord’s mercy. The sailors were desperate & Jonah was guilty. After Jonah is finally thrown into the sea, it is immediately calm. It makes us wonder if Jesus was there in Spirit, assuring Jonah, “I’ve got this”. The classic irony is that the sailors now “fear” Jehovah, 1:16, and are better at it than Jonah. When we worship God as we should in Christ, that is the very definition of “fear” from God’s perspective. The sailors vow was likely an attempt to abstain from other religions and begin anew in recognizing the sovereignty of Jonah’s God.

The first thing Jonah did right was to do the right thing with his guilt. His confession and prayer is the first glimmer of enlightened hope Jonah gives us. 

When we feel guilty about anything, what do we do with our guilt? Most people try to hide it, but here is wisdom, confession & prayer. Jonah’s prayer is written with hindsight. Most scholars are more than certain, these exact words were not what he prayed verbatim, but they are concise thoughts within his prayer while being swallowed and gasping for life. The word “distress” or “affliction” in 2:2 is the anxiety of facing death. This leads many people to pray to God, even if they were atheists in the past. So exactly what motivated Jonah to pray? His own decision to face certain death, was Jonah’s self-sentencing act of guilt. It is interesting to note that while the act of being thrown overboard was Jonah’s idea, and carried out by the hands of sailors, Jonah still attributes God with throwing into the sea, 2:3. This is true insight into the sovereignty of God. We know God didn’t do it directly, but Jonah teaches us that God planned it and gave his consent, Matthew 10:28-29. We should never blame God for the punishment we asked for, but rather, thank Him for his sovereign discipline.

There is a great contrast of faith and experience seen in 2:4, The Jews believed that nobody in the world of the dead was able to worship God again (Psalm 6:5; 115:17). Death had cut them off from God. Jonah may have thought he could never again worship God in the Temple in Jerusalem. The world of the dead was like a prison with many bars from a Jews perspective. Nobody could ever hope to escape, Luke 16:26. But God could bring Jonah back from the world of the dead. And he did. The Temple was in Jerusalem (as in verse 4), where the Jews believed that God was present in a special way. Where Jonah got the idea that God could hear him from the belly of a sea creature is obviously from the experience itself. Evidence that he prayed in faith to be heard, was provided when he landed on the beach in vomit. While trying to pray, we should note Jonah’s mental note of “remembering” v7. This is good for the quality of our prayers, motive, content and result! This act of “remembering” is used in the context of prayer, see 1st Sam. 1:11 & Nehemiah 5:19. Do we “remember” before we pray, or as we pray? Jesus says, “remember I am with you always”, Matthew 28:20. He also told us to “remember Lot’s wife”, Luke 17:32. Most references to “remember” in the Gospels, are reminders to remember what the Lord SAYS., but it is also healthy to remember The LORD himself, as Jonah did, do you? Of course we do on Sunday as we commune around the Lord’s Supper, but is it what we do any other day of the week, even if we were in “distress”?

Introducing Jonah

Jonah lived in the Galilean city of Gath-hepher during the reign of Jeroboam II (appx. 793-746) in the northern kingdom of Israel, 2nd Kings 14:25. Which means the very people God sent him to, were going to destroy God’s children in just a couple of decades, as the Assyrians viciously conquered Israel in 722BC. Nineveh was the biggest city in Assyria, and they had a reputation for violence & world domination, so it is easy to sympathize with Jonah for being less than excited when called by God to go and help them. Jonah was a contemporary prophet alongside Hosea & Amos, both of whom declared that Jehovah would use Assyria as an instrument of punishment against Israel, Hos.11:5 & Amos 5:27) so any patriotic Israelite would have desired to see Assyria fall.

The most important detail of Jonah’s prophecy might be that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days, but it survived for a century & a half beyond that time. Therefore the doom predicted was conditional. Many theologians would do well to learn from this, as many theologians obviously don’t get it. For example, Israel too was promised an everlasting inheritance in the land of Canaan, but that promise was prophetically conditional as well. See Joshua 22:4, 5 & 23:1ff. The time eventually came when they lost their “deed” to Palestine, and so today and forever into the future, modern Israel has no intrinsic right to that Middle Eastern piece of real estate, they fight for it and will always fight to earn a place on the map in and around Jerusalem. Is there an innate inheritance for Israel? Obviously not, but in Jesus, they too have an opportunity to live as citizens in the New Jerusalem.

Jesus Christ believed the story of Jonah was literally true. A quick glance over the internet today shows us that most worldly people regard it as fiction. Even many theologians regard it as just an analogy and try to explain away the miracle of surviving the ordeal of being swallowed by a big sea creature. But that is the very act of God, which Jesus uses to test the faith of his disciples in his own resurrection, Matthew 12:39-41. Factually the New Testament documents that over 500 people were eye-witnesses of his literal bodily resurrection from the dead. So this makes us certain that Christ accepted Jonah’s story as literally true. God can do whatever he wants, and if you struggle with miracles, perhaps the most astounding thing to believe is that thousands of hardened idolaters in Nineveh repented of their sin & fasted, when they simply heard a single prophet preaching a message of doom. That seems far more unlikely than one person surviving the ordeal of being swallowed & vomited out by a sea creature! The hardest part of this miracle is understanding how anyone can live without oxygen for approximately 72 hours in the belly of an animal. However, that is the whole point of the miraculous experience. If Jonah prayed as he was swallowed up & then died, that means he was resurrected, then vomited out on the beach, 2:2.  Which could be the reason Jesus uses it to foretell his own resurrection from the dead, as his ordeal in death on the cross was very gory too.

From God the Father’s perspective, the reason He used Jonah was to show us his sovereignty. His power over creation to accomplish his mighty message of mercy is stupendous! The Lord God controlled the elements of weather (1:4, 11, 13, 15, 4:8) and he prepared and appointed an animal, a vine and a worm to do his will (1:17, 4:6, 7) while bringing Jonah to his knees. God’s mercy triumphs over the justice Jonah was craving for in his heart. What is our heart’s desire?

The Hebrew Writer’s Conclusion, Heb. 13:13-25

It’s fair to summarize the entire letter, as the bridge that connects the Old Testament and the New. The best bridge, Jesus Christ. These testaments or covenants are completely different and yet many Christians approach God on the basis of the Old Testament Law of Moses instead of Christ’s New Testament law of faith, Romans 3:27. The entire book is about Jesus and how He is the guarantee of a new and better covenant. When we come to a realization of how much better Christians have life with God, than Jews possess, it should fill us with gratitude and praise, not pride & prejudice. Because the superiority of the Christian’s faith, as the Hebrew writer explains, is based on who and what Christ did in Jesus. Not what God’s children have done, Jewish or Christian. The last few chapters focus on the writer’s plea to Jewish Christians who persevere in the face of persecution. Afterall, you can see the earliest persecution started in Jerusalem among Jewish Christians, in the book of Acts. So it is sensible to draw a lesson of strength & endurance from the very first Christians that knew what it was like to face persecution. One curious surprise at the end of Hebrews is the phrase “brief writing”, 13:22 as describing the entire epistle. Can you imagine what a full-length scroll would have looked like if he had written one? This makes me think that whoever penned this letter is very well accustomed to Hebrew literature, maybe he was a converted Priest (Acts 6:7). He was obviously writing to Hebrew Christians everywhere throughout the whole civilized world, and using the Jewish persecution in Jerusalem as an example.

The Hebrew writer in closing has one more description of Christ to proclaim, he is the GREAT or CHIEF Shepherd of the sheep, v20. This is a reminder to all Shepherds in the church as Elders/Pastors, that there is only one great One among us. Jesus the GOOD Shepherd. Of course that is in harmony with Christ’s own definition of the word “Good”, Matthew 19:17. It was of course Peter also that calls Jesus the CHIEF Shepherd, 1st Peter 5:4. This is in harmony with the entire book of Hebrews, proving Jesus Christ as GREATER than any person that can lead, or any place that can rule “in Christ”, or anything in the Universe, as better than angels, Hebrews 1:3-14.

The farewell given in this book, is sharing good news in the release of Timothy, v23, so perhaps the first audience was not exclusively Jerusalem, since Timothy was well known to the saints in more northern regions. But regardless of the whereabouts of the original recipients, we too see the warmest farewell as Gentile Christians, parting in this message with the greatest word in the Bible, “GRACE”, v25. Why is it the greatest? Because without God’s grace in Christ, there would be no Bible. Who among us deserves such rich wisdom as the mind of Christ in this unique & spectacular covenant the Hebrew writer expounds upon? We pay money for our Bibles, but no one can earn the point of the message itself, and neither can anyone buy faith, which this covenant in Christ produces in our hearts! GRACE to you!

The Nature of Christ’s Kingdom & Our Sacrifices, Hebrews 13:1-25

Most people read this chapter as separate in theme from the previous one. As if it is an added addendum with a bunch of random instructions and a farewell tagged on the end. But it is not written that way at all. It is a description of the unshakeable eternal Kingdom we have become members of. Herein this chapter, are the highest virtues of Christ’s Kingdom from an earthly perspective. Brethren must be loved (Heb 13:1); Strangers must be received (13:2); the Persecuted must be supported (13:3); Spouses in Christ must be honored (13:4).  The context of one of the greatest promises in the Bible, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is covetousness.  Insecurity promotes a perverted attraction to material things.  “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God”, v16. Covetousness and all other insecurities are overcome by faith in God’s power to keep his promises, with God as our ally, and Jesus as our King of kings (Mat. 28:18, Rev. 17:14, 1st Tim. 1:17) we have nothing to fear from men (13:6). Why? Because God has proved Himself over and over again as being omnipotent against sin, death and all the weapons of the evil one. Do you believe this? Joshua had the same promise made from our God and He kept it powerfully! Joshua 1:5.

  Go With Him Outside the Camp, v7-14

This must be one of the tallest orders God ever gave a Christian. But we will never be expected to Go alone, the word “WITH” is very important. Under the old law on the Day of Atonement, the high priest could not participate in the sacrifice after the sin offering was made (Lev 16).  These sacrifices had to be taken outside the camp and burned. In a similar way, Jesus was taken outside the camp (gates of Jerusalem) and crucified.  He suffered outside the city/camp in order to sanctify humanity through His own blood, the blood of the Lamb of God.  So therefore, we too must go outside the camp and bear His reproach (1 Pet. 4:13). This is a spiritual exercise, that we can do within our hearts in the communion on Sunday, (this could be the “altar” he refers to in v10), or we can do it whenever we feel we are being mistreated, mocked or even persecuted, in our minds when we pray. Who do you pray through when you’re in a trial? Who is the intercessor when you’re tempted? 

Listening, Obeying & Submitting to our Leaders, v7, 17 & 24. Those who are speaking this faith to us in the first place are leading us in the path of glory & grace, and it is their faith we should imitate, not necessarily their every action or deed. The “outcome” of their way of life in faith, which is what is important for us to keep in mind & heart. Praying for our Leaders is a command for us to obey, not just for our civil leaders, but for our spiritual leaders too, 1st Timothy 2:1-2. For this congregation, that is Dennis & Ralph. For me personally it is my mom & step-dad David & Loretta Armstrong and brothers like Joe Nisbet & Frank Worgan who taught me God’s word in numerous Bible classes.  Who is this passage telling you to pray for personally? Who is this passage telling us to pray for as a congregation? Who spoke the word of God to you in truth from the beginning of your Christian walk of faith? In 1st Timothy 5:17, it was Paul telling Timothy to honor his Elders, even though Paul himself considered himself to be like a spiritual father to him. So your leaders may change throughout your life, but we should always keep them in our prayers! Those prayers will be answered, and you will be blessed beyond your expectations!

His Best Effort in The Best Kingdom, Hebrews 12:11-17

In this passage we are given several commands, authoritative instructions, based on the warning that we should not despise the Lord’s discipline. Being reproved & disciplined by God is actually kind of  like painful coaching from a good coach that is like your Father. As if you’re on the team you’re Father coaches and you can’t win the championship without Him as the Coach, to get you fully fit to play your absolute best in the final game of the season. It hurts, but you know it’s worth it. Here are His powerful demands in the training:

  1. Strengthen your tired arms & legs, v12
  2. Make straight paths for your feet to run in, so they persevere, v13
  3. Pursue peace with everyone & pursue holiness with God, v14
  4. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, v15
  5. Avoid sexual immorality & don’t be unholy, v16

It is important to remember the goal in this race we run, v1. To not only stay in Christ, but to help as many people as possible to get to the eternal unshakeable Kingdom of Christ with us in all His glory. The Hebrew writer now points us to how superior a goal this truly is: Back when the Hebrews were being brought into existence as a Nation, the Kingdom of Israel. They were given a law, with that law, even Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling”, Deuteronomy 9:19., All this fear did not succeed in promoting holiness among the people of Israel. It did not succeed in changing the heart of Israel. 40 days later, they worshipped a gold calf and said it was the gods that brought them out of Egypt. So now we have the Kingdom of Christ giving his holiness, and his law of faith that will stand even when Jesus arrives a second time, shaking not only the earth but also the heavens. Then we will see God as the consuming fire that he truly is. In Hebrews 12:24, we are taught that in this Kingdom of Christ where our citizenship is, we have Jesus as the ONLY mediator between each Christian and our Creator/Father God. Read 1st Timothy 2:5. Our citizenship in His Kingdom is reliant on the Covenant which Christ guarantees, (Heb. 7:22) with his priceless, sacrificial blood! What are the details of this Superior Covenant? An entire New Testament that describes all the promises of a perfect covenant, which will gain us entry into all the glory & power of His eternal Kingdom. For now, he has made us the assembly of the firstborn, enrolled in Heaven, where every righteous person is made PERFECT (Gk = Teleioo) “complete consummated maturity”. That is total holiness! Because He is our righteousness, Jesus, 2nd Peter 1:1, Php. 3:9, 2nd Cor. 5:21. We are in The best Kingdom, because He has made us to be His best work.

In my collection of 36 English translations of the N.T., all of them read, “God IS a consuming”, None of them read, “God is AS a consuming”. His eternal flame is purifying & holy. Because of this unique and powerful virtue of God, the Apostle Peter reminds us that we should be holy because He is holy, 1st Peter 1:15-16. The purifying fire in God is not here to punish us, but to separate and destroy sin from our nature, which is made by Him in such a way that desires it. Without God’s purifying flame, we are in trouble. If we don’t want Him, we will live in trouble and die in trouble to be sent to hell, wasted by the trouble we desired more than God Himself. Don’t get wasted, get saved!

Confidence in the Champion Christ, Hebrews 12:1-8

This penultimate passage opens up by pointing our attention to the reality of a ‘cloud’ that includes men and women of God who are spectators and are larger in number than those 18 or so saints mentioned here, known and unknown to history. We are also under angelic observation, read Ephesians 3:10-11 and a few people in the world today are watching our faith and conduct. We are surrounded by them, as spectators in a stadium observe the players in the championship game of the ages from all angles. Do we have as much anticipation about how our faith plays out in our lifestyle as ancient saints, angels and loved ones here on earth? Many masses of beings are more than interested in how our faith is shown, so…. Do you share your faith?

Is there a difference between a “weight” and “sin”? Can something be a burden without it being a sin? Our weights in life could be pressure put on us by harmful people or hypocrites. If we can find a way to cast their pressure aside, what better direction than to lay them at the feet of Christ in prayer? 1st Peter 5:7. When it comes to sin, we should be eager to confess all kinds of sin to Christ, the lover of our soul. Sins come in various types, some can be avoided, admired, seductive and/or dangerous. Be dead to them all.

Why? Because Jesus is the Champion, as in founder and perfecter, v2, or Alpha & Omega, (Revelation 1:17) which offers his established victory to us personally, and he promises us His power, if we will accept Him for who He says He is, trust Him and obey Him. This position of Jesus is why the disciples called him “Lord” when they realized they were sent (apostles) by him, Luke 17:5.

The “struggle” v4, against sin, can be equated to “our cross” which Jesus demands every follower of Christ should pick up and bear, (Luke 9:23). If we do not identify and know this struggle, then we are not picking up our cross. Do it for the “cloud”, do it most of all for the One who suffered v3, and died for us in the worst way of all.  Why, because God empowers us to fight the good fight if we do, He will never expect us to pick up our cross alone! Jesus didn’t and neither will any of us.The founding principle for the best reason to fight the good fight against sin, is because of our need to respect the power of God and God himself. The author quotes this encouraging warning from Deuteronomy 4:9-10, with the same point Solomon makes in Proverbs 3:11-12. Forgetting this principle, v5, will cost us dearly, so dearly, God is willing to discipline us, so that we will learn His will and never forget His priorities. If discipline does not hurt, then it’s not real. The pain of discipline is not just an attention-getter, but rather, it instills in us the importance of God’s priorities for what is right as more valuable than what is wrong. Because even Christ underwent discipline by what He suffered, and his perfect life of righteousness in doing the Father’s will, is why He is the King of kings in this Kingdom eternal and unshakable! 12:27-28. It is for discipline that we have to endure. God is treating us as His own children. For what child is there, whom his father does not discipline? If we are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then we are illegitimate children and not God’s children, 12:7-8. I want to be God’s own child, adopted with the priceless gift of Christ’s blood, 1st Peter 1:18-19. Don’t you?

Faith Achievements, Hebrews 11:32-34

Never forget that the only “King” mentioned in this chapter is David. Most heroic men and women of faith are usually those that live lives out of the public spotlight. Genuine mature spiritual giants in Christ today, love living life behind the scenes of the public’s eye. Praising and serving Christ amongst those that Jesus would serve if He were here, because His Spirit is here, read this: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

11:32-34, have excellent comfort for us, phrases like; “Wrought righteousness.” In their narrower sense, these words signify “to execute judgment, to enforce the laws of justice:” the historical reference would be to such passages as Joshua 11: 10-15; 1 Samuel 24:10; 2 Samuel 8:15. But in its wider scope “wrought righteousness” means the living of a holy life: “Lord, who shall abide in Your tabernacle? who shall dwell in Your holy hill? He that walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart” (Psalm 15:1-2). “In every nation he that fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:35). “Righteousness” signifies up to the required standard; and to work righteousness means, walking according to the rule of God’s Word: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

“Stopped the mouths of lions.” The historical reference is to Daniel in the den. It shows again the marvellous power of faith. This comes out clearly in Daniel 6:23: “So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.” But how far may this be of help to us? Is the answer far to away? There are ferocious people, as well as fierce animals! There are savage oppressors and persecutors who try to intimidate, if not destroy, the mild and harmless Christian. True, but they should not terrify us, nor spoil our testimony, by causing us to hide our light under a bushel. Daniel would not be forced into compromising by the threat of the lions of Babylon, nor should we be frightened by the menacing looks, words, and actions of the world’s lions today. “I will trust and not be afraid.” IN CHRIST. The phrase, “Stopped the mouths of lions.” almost looks as though faith were omnipotent! We dare not set any limitations to it, for faith has to do with the living God, and nothing is too hard for Him. Faith lays hold of the Almighty, and not until your faith learns to do that, is it of much worth. Is the Lord God a living reality to you, or do you have but a theoretical knowledge of Him? The ultimate reference in our text is to him of whom it is said, “The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). His mouth is opened against many a child of God, uttering lies, telling him that our lifestyle is an empty one. Have you learned to “stop his mouth?” Do his false accusations no longer terrify you? Does he now find it useless to harass you any longer? It all depends: “stopped the mouths of lions” is preceded by “obtained promises”!

  “Escaped the edge of the sword.” The historical reference is to such passages as 1 Samuel 18:4; 1 Kings 18:10; 1 Kings 19:1-3, Jeremiah 39:15-18: It seems in those eminent servants of God, escaped from danger more by fear than by faith—by fleeing from those who threatened their lives. The life of faith is many-sided, and care needs to be taken to preserve the balance: to keep from merely being passive on the one hand, and from fanatical presumption on the other. While the Christian is to walk by faith, there is wrestling (Ephesians 6:12) and fighting to be done (1 Timothy 6:12); we are to seek grace and develop all heroic virtues, such as courage, dignity, boldness (2 Timothy 2:3), and endeavour by Divine aid to overcome everything which hinders us entering into God’s best example. On the other side, the Christian must not refuse the use and aid of all lawful means in times of danger: “when they persecute you in this city flee ye into another” (Matthew 10:23)—to refuse to do so, is not faith, but presumption. This chapter of faith should invoke us to “walk wisely”, see Ephesians 5:15. It is amazing what achievements God’s wisdom can accomplish. What do you really believe?