Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jonah’


Last year at this time I was preaching through Jonah. I wish I had Tim Keller’s latest book at the time. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy should raise any controversy with the title. I’m sure there will be plenty to annoy some. But I loved reading this book.

The book is dedicated to John Newton whose life and ministry made a big impact on Keller. Those familiar with Newton’s writings will find his influence in many places.

He makes two passes through the book, exploring the themes that are found there. The first pass (9 chapters) handles the text sequentially. The second goes back through thematically to address our relationship to God’s Word, God’s world and God’s grace.

It is in Keller’s typical winsome style that points out where we tend to go wrong whether to the left or the right. He’s an equal opportunity offender, but it is so gentle I don’t understand how people get so mad at him. He’s generally right.

In the introduction he alludes to one of his other books. In the first half of the book Jonah is like the younger brother who goes to the far country to avoid his father. In the second half he’s like the angry older brother who is upset about the Father’s joy in repentance.

Jonah stands out as the willfully disobedient prophet to a willfully disobedient people. He is the representative Israelite. Jonah doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t trust that God has his best interests in mind. He is so like, … us.

“And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. … The story of Jonah, with all its twists and turns, is about how God takes Jonah, sometimes by the hand, other times by the scruff of the neck, to show him these things.”

Keller starts with the storms of life. “All sin has a storm attached to it.” (btw: I read people who claim Keller never talks about sin, or uses the word. What are they talking about?!) Jonah’s disobedience brought a literal storm not only into his life but the lives of the Gentile sailors. Sin’s storms don’t remain isolated to the particular sinner in question. “Sin is the suicidal action of the will upon itself.” He does clarify that most storms are from the condition of sin, meaning that we live in a fallen world and we don’t need to find the particular sin/sinner behind each hurricane, flood or drought. But know that when we sin, there are often earthly consequences.

For the Christian, the storms of life (afflictions) are meant to produce good. He is at work in this storm to bring Jonah to Ninevah for them to receive mercy. For example, I saw a recent interview with Donna Rice who experienced a storm of publicity due to her affair with Senator Gary Hart. She said that the storm brought her back to her Christian faith.

Next Keller explores the idea of who our neighbor is. These Gentiles are better human beings than the prodigal prophet. God is using the disobedient prophet to lead Gentiles to faith and repentance through his disobedience. Jonah only wants to see himself as an Israelite, as part of a faith community. He needs to also see himself as part of humanity, the broader community. Frankly, Christians have the same problem. We don’t have much concern with those around us as long as our lives are going okay. And so Keller explores common grace.

He then moves into the “other”, the question of identity and those who have a different identity than we do. Jonah’s national identity blinded him in many ways. The early church would struggle with the same problem. We use that identity to exclude other people unnecessarily. We dehumanize people who don’t share our ethnic, national or political identities. We’ve seen this as one of the early steps in the holocaust and other genocides (Rwanda, Armenian etc.). This was very helpful as I preached thru Philippians 3 and the false identities we can boast in.

Keller moves to the pattern of love, and the heart of the gospel with substitution. Jonah is a type of Jesus who would die for our sins instead of sins of his own. The storm of God’s merciful wrath (the phrase I used in my sermons, adapted by a phrase of Luther’s) is stilled.

“To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us.”

In this context he connects wrath with love too. God’s wrath is directed at actions (and people) who harm what He loves. He again clearly articulates the gospel contrary to what the discernment blogs claim about him.

The Gentile sailors end up offering praise and sacrifices to YHWH after the storm is stilled. Keller notes the irony in that Jonah sought to avoid bringing truth to Gentiles, aka wicked pagans, but actually does anyway.

Image result for jonahHe then delves deeper into grace as Jonah wrestles with God in the belly of the fish. He’s gone as low as he can go (the literary irony) because he didn’t go up to Ninevah. Jonah “does business” with God only when he can no longer run from God. He’s trapped and finally admits the ugly truth. Often God has to bring us to similar places before, like addicts, we admit we’ve made a complete mess of things by our disobedience and can’t fix it.

With Jonah finally going to Ninevah, the discussion moves to repentance. They repented of their injustice, and moved toward justice. They were a violent, oppressive people. Repentance meant turning away from their violence and oppression. When the gospel calls us out of sin, it also calls us out of injustice. This is Keller’s connection between the gospel and “social justice”. He’s not preaching a social gospel, but the gospel of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement with implications for justice in society. He’s not preaching a privatized faith nor a civil faith or religion. Personal faith is lived out in society as well as the community of faith.

With God relenting another storm arises, this time in Jonah’s heart. He’s beyond angry. In Jonah’s mind, relenting from destruction means the inevitable destruction of Israel. He’s blind to Israel’s sin, apparently, just as we tend to be to our sin and the sin of our communities.

God responds with patience and instruction. He is not only concerned about Israel, but all these people who also bear His image. He even cares about the livestock. That’s who He is. Unlike Jonah, Jesus wept over Jerusalem over the impending destruction for its wickedness.

“They want a “God of love,” but a God of love who does not get angry when evil destroys the creation he loves is ultimately not a loving God at all. If you love someone, you must and will get angry if something threatens to destroy him or her.”

Both God’s righteousness and His love are functions of His goodness! We don’t play them against one another but embrace them both as grounded in His goodness. So, this same God can justify the wicked because He loved them in sending His Son as a propitiation for their sin. Jesus satisfied His righteousness and His love. He didn’t satisfy His righteousness so God was then free to love.

Keller then moves to the three final themes of his book. Like Jonah (following Adam and Eve) we struggle to believe God’s Word is good for us. We minimize His wisdom and magnify ours. We trust our word over His.

“Sin always begins with the character assassination of God. We believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him.”

Keller defends the substitutionary atonement from the charge of “divine child abuse” as infamously made by Steven Chalke. That charge does damage to the Trinity, not simply atonement. The one God in three persons works to save us. Jesus is not some lesser being offered to change the mind of an angry deity.

IImage result for dodo birdn terms of our relationship to God’s world he returns the question of our neighbor. Calvin, he notes, reminded us that all our neighbors bear the image of God and we must remember that. Keller applies this to politics. We must find a way between the erroneous beliefs that we should just preach the gospel and avoid politics, or that politics is all-important. The two party system tries to push a “package deal” on us instead of allowing us to vote “a la carte”. Pro-life Democrats are going the way of the dodo. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus is a Republican. They have anti-Christian views too. The gospel of the One who died for us when we were His enemies, calls us out of our partisanship and demonization of the other side. Loved by One we hated, we can begin to love ones we hated.

Keller moves into how privileged status can play out in perverting justice. The same laws should apply to all within a society. He mentions “citizens over immigrants” without any mention of their legal or illegal status as immigrants (I think this matters in light of Romans 13). But immigrants and other vulnerable groups should not be taken advantage of by the powerful. Christians, who worship a just God, should care about justice.This is not at the expense of the God but on account of the gospel.

“We must realize that since all our social problems stem from our alienation from God, the most radical and loving thing you can do for a person is to see him or her reconciled to God.”

IImage result for c.s. lewisn our relationship to God’s grace Keller clearly puts a changed life as a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation. In this it differs from every other religion. Here he explores Lewis’ The Four Loves to discuss our attachment to our people and culture. Lewis affirms a love for our people, but notes “We all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.” Love of country is not the same a fascism or racism. Lewis rejects anti-patriotism as extremism just as he rejected any nationalism that begins to denigrate and destroy those who are different. [It is important to understand what is meant when someone uses the term ‘nationalism’. It can simply refer to the love of country that is normal for most people, and not the political movement used to justify the supremacy of a nation.] When do you know love of country has gone toxic? When it ignores the blemishes of its past. EVERY country has very ugly blemishes in its past. In the present, every country is full of “good” and evil people (law abiding vs. criminals). Lewis notes that when a country begins to intentionally suppress or erases its misdeeds they begin to express racial/national/ethnic superiority. We then find ourselves on the doorstep of racism and oppression. This is a very helpful section. This is pertinent because it helps us to understand what Jonah experienced in himself. Turning from grace he was in the throes of a toxic nationality that wanted to withhold God from other people groups.

Jesus purchased people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language. The gospel mission focuses on loving other people groups, not just your own. This is the heart of Jonah’s struggle and ours. Will we embrace the mystery of God’s mercy or will we try to bottle it up as exclusively for people just like us? Jonah doesn’t resolve that question in his life, because it isn’t fully resolved in the readers. The question is, what will you do next knowing that God cares about those people too?

In the future I hope to read Anthony Carter’s book on Jonah,Running From Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace, which was released at about the same time.

Read Full Post »


My list differs in that I’m focused on books I actually read in 2017, not books released in 2017. I’ve got a variety of books in this list. It is not simply theology, Bible and ministry related. Perhaps there are some you will be prompted to read. I hope so, because you might benefit from them. So, here we go.

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. This was probably the best book I read in 2017. Ferguson focuses on a series of texts that provide a framework for our sanctification. He does a great job of defining sanctification in terms of our devotion to God, and unpacking those texts. I highly recommend this book.

From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible by Sinclair Ferguson. Yes, another book by Sinclair Ferguson. This is an updated version of one of his earliest book. He addresses the authority of the Bible and how to benefit from reading it. Both novices and experienced readers of the Bible can benefit from it.

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman. I’ve loved this series by Crossway. This is another impressive contribution by Trueman. He is not trying to repaint Luther to look like a 21st century evangelical. Luther places great stress on the Word of God in our worship and Christian living. It is an emphasis that should mark us more than it currently does.

Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton. This  is another excellent volume in the series by Crossway. It is fairly theological, but not for theology’s sake. Like the Luther volume, we see the very different context in which the Christian live is lived. The church was close to the center of life for most people with services offered daily. Horton focuses on the story of redemption and how this shapes Calvin’s views. Not just a man of his times, Calvin was also a man ahead of his time.

Faith Seeking Assurance by Anthony Burgess. This Burgess is the Puritan, not the author of A Clockwork Orange. The focus of the book is assurance of salvation. Assurance is viewed subjectively (Calvin tends to view it objectively- assurance God saves sinners), meaning that God has saved this particular sinner. He holds to the view expressed in the Westminster Standards. In my review I note that this is not a perfect book, but that it is a very good and worthwhile book.

Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Love for God by John Flavel. Another Puritan volume worth considering. It is not long but focuses on maintaining our love for God in a variety of difficult circumstances that Flavel lays out for us. He notes the particular temptation of each set of circumstances and provides means to help us maintain our love for God in them. This is a very good little book.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining and Bitterness by David Powlison. This book is unusual in that it doesn’t frame anger as essentially wrong. He does address our anger problems, tying them back to what we love. Often our anger problems reveal love problems. This was a very helpful book.

Making All Things New by David Powlison. This is a short book focused on God’s plan to restore our broken sexuality. He addresses both the sexual sinner and sexual victims though it is weighted toward the sinner. He is realistic as he views this within the framework of our sanctification. Though brief, it was helpful by providing an overview of God’s goals and purposes.

Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win by John Perkins. If you haven’t read any of John Perkins’ books before, this is a great place to begin. He is an activist for civil rights as viewed through the framework of the gospel. He sees Christ as the only real hope for racial reconciliation. The books is full of stories compiled according to the themes he explores.

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. This is a very good and accessible book on the subject of union with Christ. It doesn’t address all that it could. What it does cover, it covers quite well. It is written for laypeople so you won’t get lost in abstraction or in over your head theologically.

Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together by R.C. Sproul. I read the recently updated volume which was originally published in the 1990’s. Sproul examined and critiqued the controversial Gift of Salvation document which followed after Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Generally winsome and irenic, Sproul explores the reality of the communion of saints and its connection to the doctrine of justification. In the process, R.C. sheds light on a recent theological controversy as well as the one we call the Reformation.

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. I like Reeves’ books. He writes with a sense of humor, sense of history and wanting a doxological focus. This volume focuses on Christology and presents it in an interesting and accessible fashion.  This is a very helpful book for laypeople wanting to understand Christology.

Jonah (The Exegetical Commentary of the Old Testament) by Kevin Youngblood. This was my favorite commentary while preaching through Jonah this fall. It has a very good blend of exegesis and application. It strikes a very good balance. Knowledge of Hebrew was not essential to benefit from his discussion of the Hebrew text. He talked about how each passage fits within the canon of the Bible. I’m looking forward to other volumes in this series by Zondervan.

War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team by Michael Holley. Holley has written a number of books about the New England Patriots. So far, all the ones I’ve read have been interesting. This book focuses on the staff, though it includes some material about key players and the draft process.

Read Full Post »


What does evangelism have to do with grace? Obviously we want the other person to receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ. But why do we want this? Mike Bechtle ponders this in the short, next chapter of Evangelism for the Rest of Us.

Let’s be honest. We often feel guilty about not sharing our faith. I feel it at times. As I prepare a sermon that touches on evangelism I can feel it. I want to produce conviction, surety of thought, on having it as a priority. But I’m sure it is often heard through the filter of failure and my words produce far more guilt than I’d like.

Evangelism often seems like one more obligation of the Christian life. The type A persons around us (or in us) have it on their To-Do List. It’s about obedience, for the love of Pete.

Yeah, but ……

We miss the point if it isn’t about compassion. The Father didn’t send the Son to save sinners as part of His To-Do List. “Oh, yeah. Time to save some sinners!” We see God’s great compassion for sinners in Scripture. This is most clear in Jonah, particularly chapter 4. Jonah’s compassion was limited to the plant that grew up overnight without any help from Jonah to provide Jonah with shade lacking from his lousy lean-to. Jonah was there hoping God would smite those lousy Assyrians. God, on the other hand, had compassion for this great city filled with people and animals that He made. God sent Jonah to them, not out of sense of obligation, but out of compassion. This is also why He sent the One greater than Jonah. “For God so loved the world…”

Too often we are about obligation, obedience, checking stuff off our list (or growing our church to satisfy our selfish ambitions or pay off our mortgage- ouch!!!!). We simply lack compassion.

He tells of a car salesman who paid him and his family so much attention. He felt connected to this guy who seemed interested in them. But the next day the salesman didn’t pay any attention to them when they came to pick up the van. It was simply the sale he cared about.

As we evangelize, or bear witness, we can be all about “closing the deal.” We can communicate that in unexpected ways. This mentality, not just its manifestations, is wrong. But that is what happens when our motivation isn’t compassion.

What we need more of to bear witness more consistently is compassion and love.

“But the more we love people, the more we will want to share with them. The focus will be external- on them, not us.”

As we grow in love our evangelism will be rooted in grace rather than guilt.

God uses weak people. The treasure of the gospel is in jars of clay. He didn’t remove Paul’s thorn but said “My grace will be sufficient.” He didn’t give Paul super-human strength, but enabled Paul to persevere despite that distracting, disabling thorn. The thorn seems to have become a means by which Paul gained opportunities to bear witness.

We hate pain. We’d rather be pain-free than experience sufficient grace. And that means we’d rather enjoy ease (like Jonah) than be channels of grace by pointing people to Jesus. Graceful  evangelism bears witness from reality, who we really are and out of our circumstances, not out of some fantasy land where Christians have it all together, have plenty of cash on hand, and never deal with sickness and tragedy. God often reaches people dealing with tragedy or illness through people who have or experienced something similar.

As Christians, Bechtle argues, we are to be bilingual people. The language of faith is our second language if we’ve come to faith in adulthood. We are speaking to people who don’t know or understand the language of faith. We are communicating to unbelievers. Graceful witness means speaking their language (I’m not talking about dropping “f” bombs), translating our faith into words they can understand as best we can. We connect it to their world, their needs, rather than keeping it abstract. Graceful witness doesn’t expect them to learn our language so we can share the truth (if they come to faith they will learn it).

This will happen if we genuinely care about people. If we love them and have compassion on them, we won’t expect them to buy a theological dictionary so we can evangelize them.

If we genuinely care about people we will listen to them.

“If I learn what’s important to him, I can find out where Christ might fit in his life.”

The above statement isn’t meant to somehow limit Christ, but to identify the points of entry for the gospel. Because you genuinely care! We want them to come to faith for their well-being, not so you can boast about it, ease your guilty conscience or feel better about spending time with them.

Graceful witness keeps in mind that it doesn’t all depend on me. I’m not just talking about my theological commitment to “the efficient call”, meaning God converts the person. I’m also talking about the fact that God may be using a variety of people in this person’s life. I can show them grace because it isn’t about my timetable for them or somehow showing my methods are superior to yours like some kung-fu showdown. (Yeah, I’m not sure where that came from.) We genuinely care and so wait on the process and players God is using. It isn’t about my airtight arguments. It not about winning the debate. It is about loving another person.

 

Read Full Post »


As I prepared to preach on Jonah I wanted to pick up a new commentary. I’d preached thru Jonah (a mere 4 sermons) during a stint as supply just before moving to AZ. I struggle with reading books over again. I wanted a fresh look, so I took a look.

I came across Kevin Youngblood’s volume Jonah, part of the Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament Series. This was a new series to me, and relative new. I liked the section of the Introduction I read on line and decided to buy it.

I was not disappointed. This volume was greatly helpful to me as I thought through Jonah and prepared to preach it again.

This is a more technical commentary, but not overwhelmingly so. Youngblood did a good job of making the literary and grammatical features of Jonah understandable, and indicate their importance to the text.

Each chapter gives you the Main Idea of the Passage, Literary Context, Translation and Outline, Structure and Literary Form, Explanation of the Text,  and the Canonical and Practical Significance. It packs in quite a bit of information. It was understandable. It was not overwhelming in sheer volume. Many of his thoughts found their way into my preaching on the text as I pondered the original meaning and made the epochal adjustment for application.

This is a series I’ll consider using in the future as my technical volume. I really enjoyed how it was set up. The information was pertinent and assisted my preaching. One weakness would be it was a bit light on connecting the text to Christ. There was some, but there could be more to help those less experienced in using typology to get at the gospel in OT texts. This is a worthy addition to a pastor or teacher’s library.

Read Full Post »


The first part of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is focused on apologetics: showing how Christianity has better and more complete answers regarding pain and suffering than any other way of looking at the world. The 2nd part of the book is called Facing the Furnace. It is about how Christianity looks at suffering, preparing us to enter the furnace. What does our theology say about suffering? That is an important thing.

“The world is too fallen and deeply broken to divide into a neat pattern of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.”

He begins with the challenge to faith. Christianity does not look at suffering simplistically like Job’s counselors. There must be answers that satisfy the heart and not just the mind.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


A Great Little Book

February is fast  approaching, and with it my responsibility to preach on Jonah.  In my cold-induced haze, I went stumbling through my as-yet-unboxed commentaries looking to find my stash on Jonah.  There was one in particular I was looking for, one that finally became available in the U.S.  only recently.  Sinclair Ferguson’s Man Overboard! seemed to be just that- lost at sea!  I could not find it.

This morning, since we all have horrible colds and did not go to public worship, I was doing a bit of cleaning.  A thought came to mind of a few places it just might be.  I could not imagine putting it in a box.  I had 3 places in mind, and thankfully it was in the 3rd place.  I rejoice that I will be able to refer to Sinclair Ferguson’s fine little book on the wayward prophet.

Man Overboard!: the Story of Jonah by Sinclair Ferguson.  He is a theologian who writes with a pastor’s heart.  This little book is no different.  You are not overwhelmed with Hebrew (though there is some in important places), or tedious arguments for/against the historicity of Jonah.  That is not the purpose of this book.  It is to drive the message of Jonah into your heart.  Perhaps this first chapter will whet your appetite.

Salvation Through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah by Bryan Estelle. This is part of the Gospel in the Old Testament Series which I love and recommend.  It keeps these Old Testament books within the larger context of the whole of Scripture- the message of reconciliation accomplished through Christ.

Hosea-Jonah (WBC Series) by Douglas Stuart.  I heard Dr. Stuart preach at my church in NH way back when.  I have pretty much all his commentaries.  Yes, I was impressed.  I have not read this yet, but have started the section on Jonah.  As is common in the Word Biblical Commentary Series, it is more academic.  It has lots of Hebrews and interacts with the various views put forth by scholastic liberals.  It is a very good academic commentary, though not all of them in this series are as solidly evangelical.

Here are some books I don’t have, but find interesting.

Jonah (Geneva Commentary Series) by Hugh Martin.  It is small, and published by Banner of Truth.  Based on reputation, I’d say this is a concise, solid commentary.

Jonah: A Study in Compassion by O. Palmer Robertson. Once again published by Banner of Truth, this book brings the perspective of the missionary-theologian to bear on the book.

Read Full Post »


Yes, I can’t believe I had to type in 2010.  Only one more year to go, or is it 2?  I plan to be preaching for some time as God displays His patience and graciously calls people to repent and believe the Great New about His Son and Jesus’ work on the behalf of sinners.

January 17 Desert Springs Presbyterian Church Colossians 1:28-29  Messiah is the Message

January 24 Frostproof ARP Church  Colossians 1:28-29  Messiah is the Message

February 7 Morning Star Reformed Presbyterian Church, Vero Beach,  Colossians 1:28-29  Messiah is the Message

February 14 Morning Star Reformed Presbyterian Church, Vero Beach, Jonah 1  The Runaway Prophet

February 21 Morning Star Reformed Presbyterian Church, Vero Beach, Jonah 2  The Grateful Prophet

February 28 Morning Star Reformed Presbyterian Church, Vero Beach, Jonah 3 The Repentant Prophet

March 7 Desert Springs Presbyterian Church  1 John 5:21

March 14 Morning Star Reformed Presbyterian Church, Vero Beach, Jonah 4  The Angry Prophet and the Gracious God

March 21 Morning Star Reformed Presbyterian Church, Vero Beach, John 15:1-16  No Pain, No Gain

March 28 Morning Star Reformed Presbyterian Church, Vero Beach  1 Corinthians 5  Christ- the Passover Lamb

(Subject to change in accordance with the providence of God)

Read Full Post »


Jonah 4 seems to be the key chapter of the book (yes, hard to say for such a short book).  Everything has been pointing to this showdown between God and Jonah.  Yet both Ferguson and Estelle cover this in far too pages.  Ferguson takes 3 (short!) chapters to address it, while Estelle takes one longer one.  What they do say is good, I just hoped for more in light of the multiple chapters written on the other chapters in Jonah.

Here we get to why Jonah didn’t want to go to Ninevah in the first place- he was afraid God would be merciful!  He didn’t want mercy for the Ninevites?  Is there some person or group of people you don’t want mercy to find?  We all struggle with that.  But Jonah 4 reveals that mystery that Paul discusses in Romans 9-11 which was earlier unveiled in Genesis and Exodus.  God is sovereign in His distribution of mercy- He has mercy upon whom He has mercy, and shall harden whom He shall harden.  Despite Jonah’s fears and misgivings, God has had mercy upon Israel’s enemy!

But it is not just about God’s sovereign mercy toward Ninevah.  It is also about God’s continuing pursuit of Jonah’s heart.  Jonah 4 contrasts God’s responses with Jonah’s.  They are at odds, but God moves toward the once again retreating Jonah.

“But God was not willing to give him up.  That was why, in all likelihood, his misery was so miserable.  Jonah was caught between the vice of his own self-will on the one hand, and and the strong hand of God on the other. … He was bound to remain miserable until either he or God let go.  He knew that God had no intention of giving up!”  Sinclair Ferguson

God illustrates the problem for Jonah.  He provides a vine to provide some needed shade from the sun and the hot east wind (which God also appointed).  It may have been his companion, much like Wilson in Castaway.  The Lord gives …. and the Lord takes away!  He appointed a worm to eat the plant.  Jonah was ticked about the demise of this plant.  The word of the Lord came to Jonah a 3rd time!  Jonah was again confronted with the need to either commit himself to God’s purposes or to disobey.

Ferguson continues with this internal struggle in Jonah, relating them to the common missionary experience.  Proper doctrine is not enough, and is not the same as love for Christ.  Jonah had orthodox doctrine, but his heart was not in line with God’s.  Like the commom missionary experience, the pressures of the task brings out the worst in them.  Ferguson quotes a missionary-

“I never knew what a heart of stone and filth I had until I went overseas.”

The key, for Ferguson, is how we react to hardship.  This is a better barometer of where we are.  How do we react to failure, rejection, affliction etc.?  He then talks about success from the life of Martin Luther.  After seeing the progress of the gospel in significant ways “the devil rode his back.”  He experienced great temptation and affliction.  Dan Allender talked about this on a visit to RTS Orlando some years ago.  Elijah experienced a deep depression after his showdown with the prophets of Baal.  Our reaction reveals how much more progress the gospel needs to make in our own hearts.

Another issue Ferguson takes up is the rise in nationalism.  Sadly, Christians (and denominations) are often more American, or British or Kenyan than they Christian.  They are shaped more by their culture and national agenda than by the gospel.  We can care more about how our country propers than about whether or not the gospel prospers around the world.  Like Jonah, we can be more concerned with our comfort than the salvation of anyone.

I was reminded of this last night and this morning.  I returned home from vacation to discover I had no phone (digital), no internet and no digital cable.  A power surge had wiped out my cable modem and DVR.  A minor inconvenience, even the DVR’d movies I’d planned on watching while the family was away.  This morning I discovered my old laptop was also knocked out by the surge.  I had not backed it up before leaving, so months worth of photos, updates to resumes, questionaires were lost.  I can’t apply for a position from home now.  I was surprisingly non-apopyletic.  I was reminded- the Lord gives, the Lord takes away…

I need to remember that many people like the Ninevites are around me.  They are trapped in sin, and don’t know how to get out.  They need people like me to instruct them in all Christ has done to save sinners like us.  We must keep in mind that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and that He now sends us out to tell other sinners of His saving acts.

Sinclair Ferguson ends his book with a bit of a surprise.  He notes, again, that Jonah is biographical.  What we read here really happened.  But he says it operates like a parable (he calls it a parable).  What he means is that the story ends without Jonah’s response to God.  It is ambiguous precisely because Jonah represents us all.  We struggle with the same issues he did.  The point becomes, what will you do?  Will you embrace all that Christ has done for you both in His earthly ministry, and the special providences of His heavenly ministry has He pursues us?  Will we embrace His call and Commission?  Or will we  remain blinded by our selfishness and prejudices?  The ambiguous ending of Jonah puts the ball back in our court, so to speak.  Having heard, what shall we do?

Read Full Post »


Jonah miraculously survived 3 days in the belly of the fish/whale.  There he was humbled, submitting himself to God who then had the sea dwelling creature spit him up on the shore.

Then the Word of the Lord came to Jonah again.  He is again sent to Ninevah, the difference in wording being “the message that I give you.”  He is still to call out against it, warning the people to prompt repentance.

Some have argued that it could not have been a genuine revival.  How, they argue, could these coverted Ninevites then resume their conquering ways resulting in the defeat and exile of the Northern Kingdom?  Students of revivals will notice that often revivals last but a generation.  The effects are not permanent.  For instance, barely 100 years after the Welsh revivals, Christianity is nearly extinct there.  This shows how long their declension has lasted.

“People who experience mighty revivals may be all the more hardened against God in the generations that follow.  The presence of the Spirit of God is a far more delicate matter than we are prone to imagine.”  Sinclair Ferguson

This is illustrated in the life of Jonah, and repeatedly in the history of Israel and Judah.  So we mich take Paul’s warning against greiving the Spirit seriously.  We cannot be sure we will repent of any sin we are tempted to commit.  But such disobedience will produce spiritual declension at the least, if not be evidence that the person was spiritually dead to begin with.

God’s evangelistic sovereignty is revealed in this passage, as Ferguson notes.  God sent a messenger in Jonah.  He authorized the message Jonah would declare.  It is good to pray for revival, but we must also evangelize for revival.  The God-declared end has a God-ordained means.  He sent an evangelist AND He opened their hearts to the message.  This is the very reason He sent Jonah in the first place.

The message was simple, but the effect was profound.  Historically the Spirit works in 2 ways.  The first is in the messenger or preacher, and is called unction (anointing has also been used but this term has recently been hijacked by televangelists like Benny Hinn to mean something quite different).  The message is delivered with power and conviction.

“That word can only come with power to our hearers when it has come with power to our own hearts.”  John Owen

The Spirit also works in the hearers to illumine them.  Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians 3-4.  God sheds His light into our hearts that we might see the glory of Jesus.  Suddenly people see their need AND the sufficiency of Jesus’ work on behalf of sinners.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Jonah ran from the face of God, not wanting to bring a message to Ninevah.  He declined (repetition of “went down”) spiritually.  In the midst of a horrific storm he was sound asleep, but for very different reasons than Jesus would sleep in a storm centuries later.  Just as the Lord told him to arise, so did the Captain of the ship.  There it was learned he was the reason for the storm.

Jonah probably didn’t have a death wish at this point, that would come later.  But he knew that the storm would only stop if the Maker of the sea and land, whom he worshipped, was appeased.  Lacking any sacrificial animals, Jonah told them to toss him over.

At this point God again intervenes.  He appointed a fish to swallow Jonah.  Jonah was in the midst of a typical Middle Eastern water ordeal to determine guilt and innocence.  If he survives he is innocent, and if he drowns he is guilty.  It was sink or swim for the Israelite who probably didn’t know how to swim.  He was a dead man, until that fish swallowed him.  And he probably still thought he was a dead man.

It in while Jonah is in the swimming tomb that God begins to work on Jonah’s heart.  Biblical narratives are filled with miracles, and this is just another one.  Biblical narratives are filled with prayers and songs – Hebrew poetry- and this is just another one.  Jonah, perishing in the belly of the fish, returns to the face of God through prayer, prayer which reflects His Word.

This prayer focuses on what God has done, and it isn’t pleasant.  Jonah is in this mess because God put him there as a result of his own disobedience.  Jonah fears for his life, and recognizes that his life is in God’s hand.  He is experiencing the merciful wrath of God- for God’s purpose is to restore Jonah, not destroy him.

“Restoration to fellowship with God must begin in the very areas where rebellion formerly existed.  This is what repentance basically involves.”  Sinclair Ferguson

We cannot underestimate these key issues.  God continues to pursue Jonah, utlizing both ordinary and extraordinary providences.  He does this in the lives of all His adopted children as well.  He pursues us, just as I just pursued my petulent daughter.  He pursues to bring repentance and restoration.  Like my daughter, we doubt His intentions and seek to run further.

His prayer reflects God’s mercy toward him.  God brought him up, and brought him out.  Jonah did not do this- he did not accomplish restoration on his own.  God did it.

I love this difficult to interpret phrase- “those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the [hesed] that could be theirs.”  We tend to treasure all kinds of worthless things more than God.  We think that somehow our reputation, wealth or goodness will deliver us.  However, we forsake hesed, covenant love, when we do.  This word is translated “grace” here, but that word is typically ‘hin‘.  ‘Hesed‘ is usually translated enduring love, faithfulness, etc.  Jonah recognized that he almost threw it all away to protect ….

It is open-ended.  This is because Jonah in this way represents us all.  When we pursue our various idols and addictions, we forsake the mercy, love and covenant faithfulness that could be ours by faith and repentance.  In Jonah’s case it was probably his reputation.  He’d be viewed as a traitor for preaching to the Ninevites, especially since he thought they’d repent (otherwise why preach to them at all?).

We come to the crux of the matter- Salvation is from the Lord.  This has rightly been called the hinge of the Bible.  Jonah confesses that salvation comes from the Lord, and He is a Lord that loves to save.

“No aid and no help can be expected from any other quarter than from the only true God.”  John Calvin

The Lord then commands the fish to spit him out.  Again we see God’s providence in Jonah’s life spelled out for us.  God delivered Jonah from the judicial ordeal, not because he was innocent but  because One greater than Jonah would enter a similar ordeal in his place (and ours).

The sign of Jonah refers to this death that Jonah experienced in the belly of the whale.  He suffered for his sin.  But Jesus would suffer for the sin of others.  Like Jonah he would be hidden from the world, experiencing the wrath of God.  Like Jonah Jesus would be delivered from death.  He was vindicated as righteous- the sin he bore was ours.  So as a result we are free, able to experience the covenant faithfulness we forfeited by our idolatrous pursuits.

Before we can go to our Ninevah, the people God calls us to, we must be humbled and restored for our own sinful pursuits.  This is not something that happens only once- at conversion.  It can happen any number of times as the Father deepens our understanding of our sin, His mercy and His mission.  Let us “marvel at the lengths to which God is prepared to go for his children, and the efforts he is willing to make for them (Sinclair Ferguson).”  Even the death of His Son.

Read Full Post »


I’ve been working through Jonah, using Man Overboard! by Sinclair Ferguson, and Salvation Through Judgment and Mercy by Bryan Estelle.  It is a challenging book of the Bible in terms of understanding it, and then how convicting the book is when you understand it.

Sinclair Ferguson, as usual, makes some penetrating observations in his preface and introduction.

“Jonah was thus trained in the gymnasium of God’s special providences to be an obedient servant.”

As I prepare a sermon on Deuteronomy 8, we see the same thing.  God is humbling and testing Israel that they might be obedient to Him.  The same thing is in the background of Romans 8 as He works all things for our good- to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.  So, God’s work in Jonah- though it contains extraordinary events- is part of the normal pattern for Christians.

“Jonah was forced to learn in his flight from God that God is sovereign.  He rules over all things.  He also learned that the pulse beat of God’s heart has an evangelistic rhythm.  He loves men and women and he will pursue them with his love in order to bring them to repentance and faith.  … But the marvel of the biblical teaching is that God’s sovereignty and our evangelism are married in beautiful harmony- as Jonah himself discovered at the most personal level.  Few sections of Scripture emphasize so clearly that God is sovereign in all evangelism, and he is evangelistic in the exercise of his sovereignty.”

That is a gem!  It stressed God’s missionary heart, which culminated in sending the Son to lay down his life for those he’d save.  It also stressed how God works in history to accomplish this evangelistic task.  He must work in Jonah to create an evangelist.  To do this he must first pursue Jonah, that through Jonah he might pursue the Ninevites.  We run, and He catches us and redeems us to accomplish His purposes.  This is what happens in Jonah.

(I’ll address the question of the genre & historicity of Jonah in a separate post.  I had to consider this recently as a candidate to transfer into a local Presbytery raised this issue.)

In his introduction, and through the book, Estelle explains and utilizes a Christocentric method of interpretation.  He instructs, at one point, the proper use of typology.  In his chapter on orientation, he discusses the purposes of the book.  We can get lost in this question at times, or think there is simply one purpose.  Utilizing a triperspectival model we can see that it reveals God as a “sovereignly evangelistic God” (normative), that we must repent of our own covenant unfaithfulness to experience His mercy (existential), and proclaim His mercies to unbelievers (situational/circumstantial).  Israel, like Jonah, had fled God’s presence in disobedience.  Part of that disobedience was failing to be a light to the nations.  What I ponder is if Jonah acts much like part of Jeremiah does, to prepare the Northern Kingdom for their coming exile that they might seek the well-being of their new ‘home’ and bring them the message of reconciliation.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


We have escaped the heat and humidity of central FL.  We are savoring the beautiful views, sounds and temperatures of the Adirondacks.  Oh … sleeping with the windows open.  No A/C unit drowning out the sound of birds.  Yes!

While away I’ll be studying Jonah.  I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, and now have the time and energy to pull it off.  I’ll be reading Sinclair Ferguson’s little book Man Overboard! and Bryan Estelle’s Salvation Through Judgement and Mercy: the Gospel According to Jonah.

Great stuff just from the first 3 verses this morning.  One day soon I hope to preach through this little book, but first it must break and refashion my own stubborn heart.  Jonah, like all of us, struggled with obedience.  In Deuteronomy 8 God brought Israel into the wilderness to humble and test them.  The idea behind humble is not humiliation (though there is often that) but bringing to complete submission.  It is used of conquering an enemy.  God providentially works to bring about our complete submission to his revealed will.  This is what happened to Jonah- he was brought to submission, fuller though not yet complete (evidenced by the fact that he was angry with God at the end).

Read Full Post »


I received my latest order from WTS Books today.  It has been some time between orders.  First, I had to wait until I got over $50 due to referrals.  Then I waited until the first book listed was available.  Finally, new stuff to read.

  • The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.  I should start this one this weekend, and hope to have a review shortly.  Very much looking forward to this book.
  • Love Walked Among Us by Paul Miller.  Paul is the son of Jack Miller, and wrote the early edition of Transforming Grace.  His ministry, See Jesus, has some curriculum to consider like the Person of Jesus (based on this book) and Prayer Life.  I look forward to using them in my next church position.
  • Man Overboard! by Sinclair Ferguson.  This is his short commentary on Jonah which was not available in this country until recently.  Rejoice!  Now I’m ready to preach on Jonah.
  • Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges.  Been afraid to read this one 🙂  I know many of my sins are “respectable” but sin none the less.  There is also a Study Guide available which means it might be a great study for groups.
  • Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy.  I’ve been wanting to read this for some time.  I’ve enjoyed and been challenged by some other stuff he’s written.  It will be interesting to see how he approaches this, and if it fits well with the triperspective approach (Christ’s work for us, in us & thru us) that I’ve been using.

I’ve got a good patch of reading ahead of me!

Read Full Post »


I have not played much guitar since the adoption.  Foolishly, I have kept it at home since I sometimes play at our Family Small Group.  But there just doesn’t seem to be much opportunity to play.  Can’t play when the kids are awake, and if they are asleep….

Well, last night I needed to play.  I needed some truth in my head, and that is a great time for me to ponder lyrics and try to draw near to God.  It’s been a long week, and I needed some of that time.  So I played after the kids went to bed, but before they usually drift off to sleep.  And I played this morning after they all went to Bible Study Fellowship.  Ah, if only my callouses weren’t so thin.  Then I would have played longer.  Here’s part of my “song list”:

Blessed Be Your Name, I Need Thee Every Hour (Jars of Clay version), O Worship the King (Passion verison), Here is Love, Beautiful, Scandalous Night, Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) [still learning this one], A Shield About Me, Guide Me, O Great Jehovah, Be Thou My Vision, From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee.

Good for the soul.

In the quiet home this morning I read some more of In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson.  Actually, I read some last night too.  I try to read 2 chapters a day and am moderately successful.  I finally finished Part V- A Life of Wisdom.  Great stuff in there about discernment and character.  The material I read this morning intersected with my sermon.  We focus on circumstances, but God focuses on character.  My choices flow out of my character so my choices have to be focused on how God transform my character (truth and trial).  The chapter in question was on contentment.  Character traits like this must be learned through experience, as we bring truth to bear on them.

“Christians must discover contentment the old-fashioned way: we must learn it. … It is commanded of us, but, paradoxically, it is created in us, not done by us.  It is not the product of a series of actions, but of a renewed and transformed character. … This seems a difficult principle  for Christians today to grasp.  Clear directives for Christian living are essential for us.  But, sadly, much of the heavily programmatic teaching in evangelicalism places such a premium on external doing and acheiving that character development is set at a discount.  We live in the most pragmatic society on earth (if anyone can ‘do it,’ we can).  It is painful to pride to discover that the Christian life is not rooted in what we can do, but in what we need done to us.” 

(more…)

Read Full Post »