Friday, November 9, 2007

The Gospel According to Jonah

The Gospel According to Jonah
The Message of the Prophet Jonah
How do I have more joy than Jonah?

Scripture Introduction:

If you could be as happy and joyous as possible would you want it? Some of you are probably wondering where I am going with this. Perhaps, you feel a little guilty for saying yes. Maybe it feels a little dirty to say that you desire as much joy as possible. Does that not sound a little unholy? The other day I was listening to the sermon of a very prominent preacher, he said I do not like to use the word enjoy whenever I am talking about the holiness of God. That really struck a chord with me. It goes so contrary to my understanding of God and Scripture. Even though it might sound like a biblical statement or it might sound holy to say “we do not pursue holiness because it is fun but because we are told to”. It is profoundly unbiblical. What I am saying to you is that our greatest joy is found in holiness. Our greatest enjoyment, fun, pleasure, etc. is found in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. My passion tonight is that our joy might increase. And that is not an unholy desire. It is the same desire that the Apostle John had whenever he said I am writing these things “so that our joy may be complete”. He was writing the letter and preaching Jesus for his joy and for the joy of his hearers. It is not wrong to seek pleasure and to seek joy. In fact it is ignorant not to. So, tonight we are going to look at what might seem a strange place to learn about joy. We are going to look at one of the most bitter, cynical, reluctant, grouchy, selfish, rebellious people in all of Scripture. We are going to look at the story of Jonah.

You remember the story of Jonah. The story of the reluctant prophet. God tells him to go to Nineveh. Jonah goes as far the other way as possible. But God catches up to him. God causes a large storm it about breaks the boat. Pagan sailors reluctantly throw Jonah overboard. The pagan sailors are reluctant to not show mercy while the preacher boy Jonah is reluctant to show mercy. It’s a fitting picture of the whole story. God is merciful in this story as well. One of his great mercies is causing Jonah to get swallowed by a big fish. Finally after becoming fish vomit Jonah decides to be obedient. But he is not going to be happy about it. He marches into Nineveh gives his short message. He then witnesses one of the greatest national awakenings in the history of mankind. Some 120,000 people turn and repent! What is Jonah’s response? Anger, frustration, upset with God. So, Jonah sits outside the city for 40 days and bellyaches. God decides to preach a sermon to Jonah through nature. He causes a plant to rise up in which Jonah rejoices, good shade for his bald head. Then God causes a scorching wind to burn up the plant. So for the fourth time in the story Jonah wants to die. God then tests Jonah’s priorities and asks him if he does well to be so angry. God makes the point that Jonah is crying over a plant that dies while he is waiting to see a nation full of people and animals (higher than plant life even) get destroyed! And the story ends.

Sermon Introduction:

In July and August we went through the story of Jonah in our Sunday school. I preached an overview sermon of Jonah on a Sunday evening. Hopefully you know the story of Jonah. My concern here tonight is to take a behind the scenes look at the story of Jonah. I want to ask the question: Why does Jonah tell God “no”? Or perhaps more importantly for us, why do we tell God “no”? I think if we look at the story of Jonah we can see two big reasons why he tells God “no”. If we look further I think these are also the underlying reason why we as Christians will be disobedient. The first reason is that we really do not get the gospel. We do not understand it. It has not gone deeply into our hearts. If we really believed the gospel then disobedience would not be a problem. The second reason really springs out of the first. Because we do not believe the gospel we treasure idols more than we treasure Jesus.

Tonight we will make 4 gospel statements. I will show you from the story of Jonah how he blew it. We will see how in Jonah’s life the gospel did not go deeply. We will then look at each of these 4 statements and how we blow it like Jonah. We might not run away from God to Tarshish and end up getting swallowed by a fish but I painfully see myself in the story of Jonah. After we have done this we will look at our treasuring of idols more than we treasure Jesus. In doing this we will lead to our conclusion which will be tips for treasuring Christ and we will try to figure out, what can I do to make the gospel go deep?

I. If we want our joy to be fullest then the gospel must go deep

In on sense of the word we cannot fault Jonah for not understanding the gospel. Jonah lived some 800 years prior to God becoming flesh. He had little to know knowledge of Jesus and even the revelation that there would be a Messiah was a new development. So in one sense we cannot fault Jonah. But Jonah would have known some of the basic elements of the gospel. Jonah would have known God and His character. He would have known God’s righteous requirements. He would have known of God’s love and mercy and willingness to save. But I submit to you that these truths did not go deep in the life of Jonah. And they do not go deep in our life as well. As stated earlier we will make a gospel statement, show how Jonah missed it, and then try to discern some areas in our life were the gospel is not deep enough.

Gospel Statement:

God created us; God created us for His glory. (Isaiah 43:1-7)

Jonah Misses It

Jonah understood this in theory but he missed it in heart and practice. You do not understand that God is your Creator and that He has done so for His glory if whenever He calls you to act upon that truth you decide to go as far away as possible. When God called Jonah to live for His glory and to spread that glory to the nations (as he was supposed to) Jonah ran. These truths did not go deep. But Jonah was confronted with the truth that cripples every rebel trying to run from God. You cannot. “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” The psalmist lets us know that you cannot flee. You can go to heaven and God is there. You can ascend to the grave and he is there also. You can flee to the depths of the sea and God will find you. You could go to the highest mountain. He will find you. You can hide in the darkest of dark and it will be as light to Him. Because God is our Creator and Lord over all things we cannot escape the presence of God. Jonah found that out the hard way: as his boat came crashing down by the waves, as he is swallowed up in the sea, as he is eaten by an obedient fish. You cannot escape the presence of God. He has created us, and He has done so for His glory. Jonah missed it; Jonah thought he could successfully flee from this truth. He thought he might escape his duty to live for the glory of God.

We miss it too

Jonah is not alone in his defiance. We too do not understand how passionate God is for His glory. We miss the truth that God has created us and He has done so for His glory. There are a few indicators that let us know that we (even as Christians) do not always live for His glory as we ought. The number one indicator that we do not “get it” is the level of our pride. Whenever our lives are about pursuing our own glory instead of His we do not understand the reason for our being created. It was not so that we could be made much of. We were created so that we could enjoy and make much of God. Not the other way around. Few people in the world have grasped this like Robert Murray McCheyne the eminent Scottish pastor who died at the age of 29. McCheyne once remarked, “I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake—until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and seeks only to attract them to Christ.” Again when he was leaving a place of preaching with much applause and praise McCheyne says this, “Some tears; yet I fear some like the messenger, not the message; and I fear I am so vain as to love that love. Lord, let it not be so. Perish my honor, but let thine be exalted for ever”. McCheyne understood his own pride and understood that God would not share his glory with another. How foolish and vain of us to rebel against the Lord of glory and to seek our own honor over his. Would you rather have your name be great or the name of Jesus?
We can also tell that this gospel truth has not gone deep into our hearts whenever our lives are concerned with seeking our lives are filled with complacency and a desire to seek our comfort over His glory. You cannot say that you are concerned with the glory of God whenever you do not labor with all of your might to make that glory known. While our lives are busied with other things we cannot in truth claim that we do all for the glory of God. Does your life reflect that you have been created by God and sent on a mission to bring Him glory?

On to the second Gospel Truth

Gospel Truth:

Life comes from living for God’s glory and in perfect obedience to Him. For our joy to be full we must treasure God supremely and love other perfectly.

Jonah Misses It

Jonah misses this in at least two ways. One, Jonah thinks that there is more pleasure and safety in running from God to Tarshish than in following Him in obedience. Even when Jonah obeys he does so reluctantly. Jonah’s heart does not treasure God as it ought. If Jonah really grasped that life comes from obedience then he would have gladly went to Nineveh and would not have had such disdain for the Lord’s mission. Secondly, we know that the reason for Jonah’s strong disobedience is because he does not love others perfectly. You do not understand that loving others perfectly is a means to life if you are a racist like Jonah. If you have such nationalistic pride that you want God to bring his wrath upon Nineveh you do not understand what it means to love others perfectly. Jonah wanted God’s electing love to be only for the Israelites. Not the pagan Ninevites. Therefore, because Jonah cares not that others find their satisfaction in God alone it reveals that He does not love them.
If you want to really understand Jonah’s heart here think of a beggar in a community of beggars. Every night they search for bread to sustain their life. They go dumpster diving. They wait outside restaurants hoping for scraps. One day one of the beggars stumbles upon a bread company. They always produce too much bread and have to give it away each night. There is more than one beggar could eat on his own. In fact there is more than enough bread for the entire community and there will be more there tomorrow. But this beggar decides not to tell the other beggars. He wants to enjoy the bread alone. That is what Jonah is doing. He has found the bread of life and wants to keep it for himself and perhaps for a select group of his friends. He is not one beggar telling another where to get bread and therefore he does not love others perfectly.

We Miss It Too

We like Jonah rob ourselves of life and joy in God. One way we do this is by finding sin more pleasurable than God. Our lives are saturated by what John Piper calls the “suicidal exchange of the glory of God for the broken cisterns of created things”. You can really discern whether or not your heart finds sin pleasurable by asking a simple question: If you could sin wholeheartedly without any consequence of punishment would you? Forgetting the consequence of punishment would you rather have all sorts of sex now or be confined to one person only in a marital relationship? Would you enjoy being free to party, drink, do drugs, etc.? Or do those things seem deplorable to you? With no consequence of punishment for a wasted life would you rather spend your time watching television and eating Cheetos or spent with God and sharing His glory to the nations? Before you answer all holier than thou to these questions look at your life. We can say that we want to live for the glory of God until we are blue in the face but until our lives reflect that we are full of it. Do we have a passion for knowing God? Do we have a passion for reading His Word? Are we concerned about total obedience to God no matter the cost? No matter if obedience means making yourself or others uncomfortable? No matter if obedience means losing friends or gaining ones you do not want to? No matter if obedience means doing things that stretch you outside your comfort zone? No matter if obedience means sacrifice of your time or money? Every sin whether a sin of omission (what we do not do) or a sin of commission (what we do) reflects that we do not understand this gospel truth. There is more pleasure in God than in anything or anywhere else.
We also reflect that this gospel truth has not gone deep whenever we do not labor with all of our might to bring about others finding their joy in God. If we are not passionate about spreading the gospel to others we do not love them perfectly nor do we realize that God is the source of all joy. The most loving thing you can do for another person is point them to the source of all love, beauty, joy, peace, etc.—namely Jesus Christ. When our lives do not reflect this by laboring with all of our might to bring others into the fold of God so that they too can enjoy Him then we either are not experiencing this joy ourselves or we do not love others: thus revealing that we, like Jonah, do not get it.

Gospel Truth

Every human has failed to glorify God as we ought. We hate what we should treasure and treasure what we should hate. Our hearts are deceitfully wicked and we can do nothing to atone for our wrong doing and make ourselves right with God. There is no end to the depth of our depravity. We are spiritually helpless.

Jonah Missed It

We can tell that Jonah does not get the depth and extent of depravity by his nationalistic pride. If you really understand that a man drowning in 10 feet of sin is no better shape than a man drowning in 100 feet of sin then you do not have Jonah’s attitude. You do not say Nineveh can go to hell. Jonah made the same mistake that Simon the Pharisee made in Luke 7. He did not see himself as a desperate sinner in need of unmerited grace. He saw the prostitute before her in all of her sin and saw that she deserved God’s wrath and judgment. And indeed he was correct. Just like Nineveh. They deserved God’s wrath. But what Simon and Jonah before him failed to realize is that they too deserved God’s wrath. They, like the prostitute, had only one hope: the forgiving grace of God. More than likely Simon and Jonah are reflecting their cultures attitude. The Jewish people believed that because they were Jewish they deserved God’s grace. Deserving God’s grace is an oxymoron. It is not grace if you deserve it. Jonah missed this and because of it he hated the Ninevites and missed out on having more joy in God.

We Miss it too

Certainly we live in a culture that knows their depravity. Many Christians have dropped the use of such terms as sin, damnation, wrath, judgment, etc. Their reasoning is that we already feel bad enough about ourselves why should we add to it in our churches? What people need is a message of grace and a message that God loves them. Let me submit to you that while people do need a message of grace that message will not go deep enough unless they know the depth and weight of their depravity. The reason we so often do not “get grace” is because we do not “get depravity”. Do you feel the weight of your depravity? One way you can discern is to look at your battle with sin. Is there a battle? If you are not doing battle with sin then you do not accurately see its seriousness. Even if you are doing battle with sin you can still not understand depravity. Most Christians realize God desires our holiness. Since Christians have the Holy Spirit in them they desire holiness. But many Christians struggle in their battle with sin because they rely on their own strength in this fight. That is a reflection of a misunderstanding of the extent of our depravity. If you realize that your heart is deceitful and that your flesh cannot do battle with sin then you will not fight in your strength.
Another telling sign is if you have judgmental pride. If you are able to look down your nose at other believers or people who are not Christians then you do not understand depravity. You figure you must have done something to deserve it. As Paul asked, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” You cannot understand your own depravity and look down on others.

Gospel Truth

Jesus Christ restores forever our relationship with God by providing us with the great exchange; taking our sin upon Himself on the Cross and giving us His perfect righteousness. Our righteousness is found in Christ alone.

How Jonah Missed It

Again we cannot fault Jonah for not trusting in the person of Jesus. Jesus came some 800 years after Jonah. But we can see that Jonah knew God’s character. He knew that God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Jonah blew it in that he thought God’s mercy only extended to the Israelites. He forgot that God can have mercy on whomever He will have mercy! As we learned in the last point Jonah probably felt that God owed Him mercy. But let us leave Jonah for a moment and look at ourselves. We blow it here worse than Jonah.

How we miss it

This is really the crux of the issue. This is the part of the gospel that determines if you get all the others. If you do not get the Cross then you will not get depravity. You will not get the climax of God’s revealed glory. The Cross is where we see everything clearly. If we do not understand this gospel truth then we do not understand the gospel. The question is not do we understand it but how deep has it penetrated. Do we believe the gospel enough to live it? Are we living the gospel? Jonathan McIntosh an elder at The Journey in St. Louis gives us 8 signs that help us see if the gospel has gone deeply. How can you tell if your identity is based on your performance or based upon Jesus—the gospel? You can tell that the gospel is not deep and you are living in the flesh whenever you:

1. are worried, anxious, or fearful
2. are insecure or paranoid (protect your identity)
3. cannot take criticism (your performance is attacked)
4. constantly explain or defend yourself (protect your reputation)
5. are consumed by thoughts of yourself and how others perceive you in conversations
6. fish for compliments
7. need to advance yourself—make your name great
8. are struggling with pleasure-related sins (escape when attacked)

How does this change? If we have established that we do not get. If we understand that we are like Jonah. If we do not want to be an angry reluctant prophet like Jonah, then how do we move from there to where we need to be?

II. If we want our joy to be fullest then we must treasure God over idols

The first thing that we must do is be intentional about treasuring God over idols. In Jonah 2:8 while he is trapped in the belly of the great fish Jonah cries out to God. In the midst of his pray Jonah says this, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love”. That is another way of saying if you are stubbornly clinging to yourself (a.k.a. do not believe the gospel) then you are forsaking the hope of covenant love. Or again Jonah is saying that you cannot treasure an idol and treasure Jesus at the same time—if you try that you will forsake your hope of enjoying God. Therefore we must be very passionate about ripping all competitors out of our life. Does your PlayStation 2 keep you from enjoying God then unplug it. Does television please for your thoughts and time then shut it off. Does music distract you from enjoying the glory of God? Then shut it off. Does that boyfriend or girlfriend keep you from moving closer to God? Are you unable to grow spiritually with him/her? Either redeem it or break up. Does your devotion to friends weaken your devotion to God? Does your pride and self-centeredness consume you? Do everything you can to rip these things out of your life and to treasure God over idols.

But this merely begs the question. What can we do to rip these things out of our life? What can we do to treasure God more? In closing let me suggest that four things that we can do. But again these things can get you further from God. These are not the goal; they are a means to that goal. Your goal is Jesus. You want to meet with God. Some will work better at different times. But do not make these the goal. If you do they can just as easily kill you. Do not treasure the pipes that bring you the life giving and sustaining water—treasure the water.

III. If we want our joy to be fullest then we will fight the battle with these weapons

These are the weapons in our fight. They will be used by God to drown out the voice of pride and to kill the flesh and replace them with the voice of God and a happy heart that treasures God alone.

1) Bible Meditation

This is not merely studying scripture or reading it. This is the weapon that Joshua needed when leading the Israelites; to meditate on the word of God day and night. Biblical meditation is not a clearing of your mind like yoga or some Eastern practice. Bible meditation is taking the word of God and feasting on it: pouring over the Scriptures, reading them slowly, crying out to God over them, and pleading with him to show you Himself. That is Bible Meditation. And it is a required weapon. When pride rises up before you will you be able to have a solid biblical foundation to fight? When the porn is one click away, when everything in you is desiring a relationship you know God disapproves of, when the voice of your friend is deafening your resolve to live for the glory of God will you in those moments be able to follow God? Will you be able to find your joy in God or in those things? When everything in you wants to become a vegetable and do nothing but play video games and watch television will you have a passion for God that overcomes that? Will you be able to not waste your life? When the battle becomes so fierce and the voice of Satan sounds like the voice of God, when you hear condemnation, when you want to give up and quit, when you feel so guilty, so helpless, so worthless will you be able to fight? If you do not make it a consistent habit to meditate on the Scriptures you will not. Bible meditation is important because it shuts up all those voices. It is objective truth. It is truth outside of us and how we feel. Romans 8:1 is true whether you feel it or not; even if you feel condemned Romans 8:1 is still true. You are not condemned. We need Bible meditation to remind us of this.

2) Scripture Memorization.

Scripture Memorization is an important part in our battle. You will not always have a Bible handy. Can you quote Scripture? Do you have it as a ready weapon? Jesus used Scripture memorization in his battle with Satan. Someone once said that the only Bible we really have is the one we have memorized. If that is true then many of us do not own a Bible; many not more than a couple of verses.

3) Journaling and Prayer

Despite what some might think journaling is not something for only girls. It is a discipline that traces our spiritual journey. We can look back and see where we have been. Get a journal. Write out your prayers. Write what you are feeling. Tell the story of what God is showing you. Furthermore pray. You cannot pray enough. I am constantly struck by what John Owen said, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.” You can replace those activities with your desires. And replace minister with your name. What we are on our knees in secret that we are and no more.

4) Silence and Solitude

I hate this one. I do not thrive in silence and solitude. But we need it. God said, “Be still and know that I am God”. Sometimes we need to get away. We need silence. We need to hear the voice of God. We need to get away from music, television, the internet, books, everything and just get alone with God.

These are a few weapons that we can use. But ultimately we need the grace of God. Let us pray that God might give us the grace of ripping out everything in our life that is not Him and filling us with His Spirit and putting us in a place to enjoy Him further.

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