Jonah Flees before Preaching to the Ninevites / God’s Righteous Judgement: 14th July 2021

Jonah 1:1-4:11

Today, we have the entire entertaining book of Jonah. This feels like light relief after 2 Kings even if God was threatening to unleash his full wrath on a mighty Gentile city.

God told Jonah (meaning ‘dove’) to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and preach to its people on account of their wickedness (Jonah 1:2). Nineveh was notorious for its cruelty, idol worship and prostitution.

MacArthur (2021, 1161) notes that a ‘unverifiable Jewish tradition says Jonah was the son of the woman of Zarephath whom Elijah had raised from the dead’ (1 Kings 17:22-24).  

The wickedness of the city had ‘come up before’ God. This reminds me of the angel saying to Cornelius: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). This implies there is a threshold quantity of good deeds or wickedness that alerts God to a person or place and prompts him to intervene directly.

Jonah promptly ran away, which is seriously underestimating the reach of God. There is nowhere in the heavens or on earth where we can escape from God’s presence. We might alternatively try to escape from God by using mind-bending drugs or alcohol but He will always keep calling us to Him. Perhaps Jonah thought that God was confined to the temple in Jerusalem. He was wrong.

Jonah embarked on a ship to Tarshish and so God sent a violent storm. Each of the sailors cried out ‘to his own god’ in vain to save the ship from breaking up. While the storm raged, Jonah was fast asleep. Jesus slept through a storm at sea due to his faith in God (Mark 4:38). Jonah shows that the wicked can mimic the actions of Jesus. We need discernment to see if an action is good or evil.

The sailors cast lots to find out who was responsible for the calamity and pinpointed Jonah. The Old Testament has several stories that show that ‘casting lots’ can give a correct answer such as Lev.16:8 and Num.26:55. When humans cast lots on the instruction of God, he intervenes to show his divine will and purpose.

The sailors had previously been told that Jonah was ‘running away from God’ but they became terrified when Jonah told them that his God had made the sea and the land. Jonah admitted his guilt and told them to throw him overboard. Jonah had put other lives at risk by trying to hide from God as can we if we try to hide by means of drugs, crime or alcohol. There is no such thing as a private sin. All sins affect other people.

The sailors were reluctant to do this but rowing was ineffective and the sea grew even wilder. They threw Jonah overboard and the sea became calm. This converted the sailors who feared the Lord, offered a sacrifice and made vows to him. Through their frightening ordeal, they had discovered the one living God with power over creation.

God will rescue us from anything if He has an unfulfilled purpose for our life. Jonah was swallowed by a ‘great fish’ and had to live in the fish for three days and three nights – the same period of time that Jesus’s body was in the grave, prior to his glorious resurrection. It was interesting to see that a man survived being briefly swallowed by a whale a few weeks ago but the Bible does not use the Hebrew word for whale, it definitely states fish. Scientists have identified teeth of a giant extinct shark (Otodus megalodon) which appears to be extinct now. It was an enormous relative of the great white. Maybe God created this enormous shark for the sole purpose of swallowing Jonah whole. https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/animals/man-reveals-what-it-was-like-to-survive-being-swallowed-by-a-humpback-whale/news-story/778d2566919e1ef279bcc03a1f21462d

While inside the fish for three days, Jonah prayed in distress and God answered! Being hurled into the sea, swirled by the currents, surrounded by the deep and engulfed by the water had made Jonah remember and turn to his creator. God had saved Jonah from drowning when his life ‘was ebbing away’ (Jonah 2:7). Jonah acknowledged that ‘salvation comes from the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9).

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs’ (Jonah 2:8).

At the Lord’s command, the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land. Being a prophet isn’t a glamorous affair. Maybe he washed himself in the sea before staggering into the city, but there is a legend that the acid in the fish’s stomach had dramatically bleached his clothes, skin and hair.

As the Ninevites worshipped both the fish goddess, Nanshe, and Dagon, who was depicted as half man half fish, being vomited onto the shore by a giant fish was quite an entrance. God does have a great sense of humour.

Now that Jonah was obedient, God told him again to go to the vast city of Nineveh. On the very first day he entered the city, the Ninevites listened to his proclamation of doom and responded. They declared a fast and all put on sackcloth. They must have been aware of their own depravity and sin and it took just one person (vomited from a giant fish) to push them into repentance. Even the king humbled himself and issued a proclamation to fast, wear sackcloth and pray.

Unlike the Ninevites, the Pharisees in Jesus’ time did not repent even when faced with the Son of God (Matt.12:41). Jesus denounced the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida for not repenting in sackcloth and ashes after witnessing his signs and wonders (Matt.11:21).

God heard the prayers of the Ninevites. He saw that they had turned from their evil ways and relented from destroying them.

God can change his mind on occasions.

Jonah dared to be angry at God’s compassion. He didn’t consider that his journey had been worthwhile even though his arrival had catalysed the Ninevites to change heart. He had wanted the pagan Ninevites to suffer God’s wrath in punishment for their grievous sins. He had been rescued by God but didn’t want tens of thousands of Gentiles to experience the same mercy.

God made a vine grow over Jonah’s head which pleased him as it shaded his head. God then withered it with the help of a worm and scorched Jonah with an east wind, which infuriated him.

Throughout the book of Jonah, God shows himself to be the master of all creation using a storm on the sea, a giant fish, a vine, wind and a worm to get his points across. The Ninevites had been softened up to repent by recently enduring two plagues and a solar eclipse (MacArthur, 2021, 1161).   

God pointed out that he had a right to be concerned about the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh who ‘cannot tell their right hand from the left’ (Jonah 4:10-11). Does this refer to actual children or were all the adults in Nineveh like children in God’s eyes? Jonah had been concerned about a vine, which he hadn’t even planted. God cares for all of us and sent Jesus both to the Jews and the Gentiles to gather us like lost sheep, so we won’t be destroyed.

We need to urgently respond to the Word of God as the sinners of Nineveh did. Gods’ kindness and forbearance should lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Jesus died for us when we were still sinners. The angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents. Imagine their celebrations when the entire city of Nineveh was saved (Luke 15:10).

When Jesus returns, the Jews will fulfil their Jonah-esque mission. They will finally preach to everyone to repent. God commissioned the Jews and called on them to spread the Gospel. He has miraculously saved them on numerous occasions despite them trying to evade and disobey him. Salvation will come from them in the end.

Romans 2:1-16

We must not be hypocrites and the easiest way to avoid hypocrisy is to avoid judging others. Let us share the Word of God and we all can judge ourselves against it.

When we pass judgement on others, we often find we will be guilty of doing the same things.   

Many of us have carried on with sinful secular lives with little regard to God, showing our contempt for his kindness, tolerance and patience. Eventually, the Holy Spirit will try to crash into our lives and convict us of our sins. We will then realise how blessed we have been to get away with our dreadful behaviour that warrants death. When we realise God’s kindness and forbearance at sparing our sinful lives, it leads us to repentance.

We need to repent of our stubbornness and unrepentance, which will have stored up wrath against us.

To gain eternal life, we need to ‘persist in doing good, seeking glory, honour and immortality’ (Romans 2:7). If we are self-seeking, reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. The Mother Church teaches that to stand a change of being granted eternal life, we must persist in resisting grave sin right to the end of our lives. It is a sin of presumption to judge ourselves and conclude we are saved.  Other denominations teach that once we have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, we are saved forever. Our good deeds are the evidence of our salvation and not the basis for it. However, Paul confirms that we must persist in doing good. We can’t rest on our laurels. There will be trouble and distress for every person who does evil and that includes ‘born-again’ ‘saved’ Christians for ‘God does not show favouritism’ (Rom.2:11).

We all have God’s law written on our own hearts, which is why people in the furthest reaches of the world, who have never heard of Jesus, can be saved as long as they follow a good life. The Mother Church teaches that the unreached who would have desired baptism if anyone had told them about it can be saved if they live virtuous lives. Jesus achieved victory on the cross and we can only get to the father through him. I watched a gentleman give a testimony on Sid Roth’s ‘Only Supernatural’ program. He had received a vision of the queue to get into heaven. Jesus asked each person at the gates ‘Did you learn to love?’ That was the requirement to get through him to reach the father.

‘God will judge men’s secret thoughts through Jesus Christ’ (Rom.2.16).

Psalm 86:1-7

God will restore us when we turn to Jesus and believe in him. The Holy Spirit will come into us when we are baptized and revive us.

Jesus’ precious blood did not just cover our sins, it washed them away so that God forgave our iniquities.

When we are baptized, God removes our transgressions from us ‘as far as the east is from the west’ (Ps.103:12).

After I went to my first confession, I could no longer remember my post-baptism sins. God delighted in showing me mercy and compassion.  I had a vision that my sins were chained down in deep water below opaque ice.

God had hurled all my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).   

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jonah#/media/File:Pieter_Lastman_-Jonah_and_the_Whale-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

‘He who does not Gather with me Scatters’: April 6th 2021

Deuteronomy 4:15-5:33

No-one, apart from Jesus, knows what God, the Father, looks like. ‘You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire’ (v.15). Therefore, we aren’t meant to make an image of God and then worship the object we created. When Jesus became incarnate, we could see an image of God. The church allows us to make a painting or sculpture of Jesus, but we must not worship the actual created object, we must worship through it towards Jesus himself. It’s the same for any photograph that we might take on a phone. We wouldn’t worship the actual image of our children or spouse, the image would remind us of them and assist us in directing loving thoughts towards them.

Moses once again said, ‘The Lord was angry with me because of you,’ (Deut. 4:21). We can seemingly work hard all our life for God or an employer but can be destroyed by the unfaithful actions of those around us. However, God was just. Moses was actually responsible for his downfall in that he hit the rock at Meribah with a staff rather than speaking to it as God had instructed. Moses served the quarrelling people but didn’t fully follow God’s instructions. We need to always remember who we are working for.

We need to be careful not to ‘worship man-made gods of wood or stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell’ (Deut.4:28). I watched a documentary about a famous chef who appeared to be in love with his car, an Aston Martin. He lovingly polished it and agonised over every new stone-chip that it collected. We need to have a healthy lack of regard for created objects. I appreciate my car – but I never wash it and it is covered with little scratches and dents from other people’s supermarket trollies. As long as it starts when I need it and is safe to drive, that’s all I need and I will trade it in without a moment’s thought when it is near the end of its life. We also need to avoid the cult of celebrity. We don’t need to follow celebrities careers and lives on sites such as Instagram. There is a danger of putting famous people on a pedestal and starting to idol worship them. If we spend more time on social media than we do working on our relationship with God, we have a serious problem.

However, God is merciful (v.31). Even if we have worshipped idols he will accept us back and we will find him if we, ‘look for him with all your heart and with all your soul’ (v.29).

Moses asked the Israelites to reflect on the wonderful things they have experienced and how special they are as a nation. No other God has rescued his people from another nation by such mighty signs and wonders. God rescued them because, ‘he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them’ (v.37).

Moses reminded the Israelites of the Ten Commandments. God had given these to them at Horeb speaking to the Israelites face to face ‘out of the fire of the mountain’ (v.4).

Jesus taught that the entire Ten Commandments are based on love for God and love of our neighbour. There are hundreds of different ways we can show our love for our neighbour each individual day.

Our modern society breaks the Ten Commandments in a myriad of different ways and, as Christians, we must not join in with their deadly ways. I found it impossible to consistently follow all the Ten Commandments until I started to speak in tongues for an extended period of time on a daily basis. Handing over control to the Holy Spirit allowed him to progress with my sanctification and the temptation to carry out habitual sins started to evaporate.

As well as condensing the commandments down into two themes: loving God and loving other people. Jesus also cut the ten commandments down down to six in Mark 10:19, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother’.

We still need to be careful to do what the Lord, our God, has commanded us to do in regards to Jesus’ six commandments. We must ‘not turn aside to the right or to the left’ (5:32). If we obey God’s commandments, believe in Jesus and become baptized we can live and prosper and prolong our days.

Luke 11:5-32

Jesus taught us about persistence in prayer. If we ask our Father for something, it will be given to us. If we seek God, we will find him and he will open the door to us (v.9). Some people worry when they start to pray in tongues, whether the gift comes from God or whether it is a counterfeit evil version from the devil. If we pray to God for a good gift from the Holy Spirit, he will give us a good gift, ‘how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (v.13).

We can judge a good gift by its fruits. If we routinely exercise a supernatural gift like Speaking in Tongues and we become calmer, more self-controlled, more patient and demonstrate other fruits of the Holy Spirit, we know it’s a good gift.

Jesus drove out ‘a demon that was mute’ (v.14). The demon was mute and it actually made the man it was residing in mute as well. The demon’s ‘muteness’ over-ruled the man’s natural ability to speak. The man spoke as soon as the mute demon had been cast out. Possibly the man had previously got into a habit of not speaking, of not offering praise and thanks to God and this sinful behaviour had given this demon a legal right to latch onto this behaviour and make it permanent. Some physical issues can be cured instantly through prayer if they are being caused by an evil spirit.

Jesus confirmed that there were other Jewish exorcists, ‘by whom do your followers drive them out?'(v.19). After the tower of Babel, mankind was dispersed to the four corners of the earth and subjected to demonic tyranny. In every continent, some holy and righteous people preserved and exercised knowledge of how to exorcise demons to prevent their compatriots from being slaughtered. Some of these holy people were taught by angels. God didn’t abandon indigenous people to their fate. Primitive exorcists could carry out deliverance work in the name or God or carry out what we might call spells. For example, in the book of Tobit, in a Catholic Bible, the Archangel Raphael instructs Tobias on how to drive away an immensely powerful and persistent demon, by burning a specific fish’s heart and liver: ‘the reek will rise, the demon will smell it and flee, and there is no danger that he will ever be found near the girl again’ (Tobit 6:17-18). Some commentators think the fish may have been a pike.

Jesus was able to exorcise with a simple command. We can command demons to leave through deliverance prayers, ‘in the name of Jesus’. Official church exorcists exert the power and authority of the church, in the name of Jesus, to exorcise the most evil and powerful demons – the Biblical big hitters with personal names.

When someone is exorcised from a demon, it is vital that they receive prayers to fill them with the Holy Spirit and they continue to live a holy life. They must not leave a spiritual vacuum inside them or they can be demonised again, ‘and the final condition of that man is worse than the first’ v.26).

We live in a particularly wicked generation. Bibles are readily available. there are first class commentaries available on the internet and most have heard the gospel. Yet, familiarity breeds contempt. Many of us, in the West, can easily access a church but so many people still don’t bother accessing the truth and teaching of God. We have to be wholeheartedly on the side of God, ‘He who is not with me is against me, he who does not gather with me, scatters (v.23). We need to critically look at our lives and behaviours? Are we fully with Jesus or are you against him? Are you the enemy of God?

We are blessed if we ‘hear the word of God and obey it’ (v.28).

Proverbs 8:32-36

We must not ignore the voice of wisdom (v.33). We are blessed if we listen and watch out for wisdom on a daily basis (v.34).

If we find wisdom, we find life because we will realise we need God, we will turn to him and receive favour from him (v.35).

All who hate wisdom, will, as a result, hate God and love death (v.36).

After all, what is wisdom?

‘The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding’ (Job 28:28).

If people reject holding God in reverence and awe, they hate and reject wisdom, they turn down God’s blessings and love death.

Turn away from death, love life.

Picture: Didgeman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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