Jonah 3 – Once I was a Ninevite…

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This week the SheReadsTruth challenge was to write about Jonah 3-4.
I was particularly struck by Jonah 3, so I’m going to focus on that chapter today.

So, when the word of the Lord comes to Jonah for the second time (when he’s looking a bit soggy and smelling of fish), Jonah goes to the giant metropolis of Nineveh to tell them what God plans to do to them because of their wickedness.

Rebecca’s devotional on Wednesday gave some graphic examples of the wickedness of the Ninevites. These were really bad people.
And yet, they hear God’s message through Jonah and they repent so comprehensively that even the cows are included!

This got me thinking… If these super-wicked people could respond so dramatically and be saved, what about the ordinary people of Bournemouth, or Brighton, or High Wycombe, or London?

I don’t like to admit it, but my reflex thought is, “Yeah, but that wouldn’t happen today! You’d never see that many people believe at once!”

Shame on me! WHY EVER NOT?

It’s not down to the power or ability of human beings. It’s not the eloquence of the speaker that counts (Jonah’s preach was only 8 words long!).
It’s all about God. He does it! The Holy Spirit moved so powerfully in Nineveh that no one could remain stone-hearted.

After all, once I was a Ninevite. OK, maybe I didn’t gouge out eyes or sacrifice children, but I was just as lost and doomed as they were.

There are plenty of modern-day Ninevehs. At the moment I’m using a Lent resource from Open Doors called “Live Like A North Korean”. It makes me realise just how free we are, and how much we take for granted our freedom to worship, or do anything for that matter!

If God can change the heart of the King of Nineveh, then God can do the same for Kim Jong-Un and the leaders of North Korea. O Lord, let it be so!
Please bring freedom to that place and build your church in that nation!

Heaven fall down!

Jonah 1 & 2

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This week the SheReadsTruth writers issued a bigger challenge! To write about the first two chapters of Jonah.

I’ve recently written an overview of the whole book of Jonah, which will be published on the Partakers website in mid April – I will be contributing a weekly podcast (with transcript), summarising each the 12 books of the minor prophets. The series begins on Thurs 3rd April with an introduction, followed by Jonah on week 2!

For this week’s challenge I thought I’d look afresh at these first two chapters of Jonah and reflect on the things that stand out to me.

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa…away from the presence of the LORD.

The book of Jonah is a literary masterpiece. It’s full of irony, satire, contrasts and drama. In the opening of the first chapter the reader is presented with Jonah’s stark disobedience:

  • God says “Arise”, “get up”, but Jonah went down.
  • God says “Go to..”, but Jonah flees away.

Jonah’s attempt to run away from God’s presence is so futile, it’s oddly amusing.

The contrasts continue as Jonah boards the ship to Tarshish.

  • The sailors pray to their gods, whilst Jonah sleeps, oblivious to the trouble.
  • The sailors fear Jonah’s God, whilst Jonah underestimates God’s power and intent.
  • The pagan sailors show remarkable restraint and mercy when dealing with Jonah, trying everything they can before finally throwing him overboard. Jonah shows no hint of such mercy towards the people of Nineveh.

And Jonah continues to go down, down, down to the depths of the sea. But God brings him up again. The giant fish swallows him and then unceremoniously vomits him up on the beach.

The little sentence about Jonah going down to sleep in the inner part of the ship during the storm makes me think of the time Jesus slept in the stern of the boat whilst his disciples struggled in a storm. But whilst it took the sacrifice of Jonah into the sea to calm one storm, Jesus (the Greater Jonah) spoke the other storm into submission. The Greater Jonah would also sacrifice himself for the lives of others, but on a barren hill, not a stormy sea.

Jonah cried to God from inside the fish, and God answered him in his time of distress. The Greater Jonah cried out on the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And for the only time in all eternity, the Father did not respond.

Jonah, truly humbled, was raised from the deep after 3 days, by the sheer mercy and grace of God.

Jesus, truly glorious, was raised from the dead after 3 days, because death could not hold him!

As Jesus himself said:

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12:40-41

Psalm 38

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This week, as part of the SheReadsTruth Lent challenge, we’ve been reflecting on Psalm 38.

There is an awful moment when the reality of our sin hits our consciousness. The Holy Spirit snaps the word, or deed or thought into sharp focus. At times like this I sometimes feel a deep physical ache in the centre of my chest. Heat rises in the back of my neck and my cheeks. I want to stare at the ground. Shame. Guilt.

In fact, it’s not just the ‘bad stuff’ we do.

Tim Keller puts it this way in The Prodigal God:

What must we do, then, to be saved? To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do, you may remain just an elder brother. To truly become a Christian we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness – the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things.

The load of our sin is far too heavy for us to bear. It runs so much deeper than we even realise.

Those who meet God face-to-face simply fall at his feet. Isaiah cries, “I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa 6:5); Peter yells, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). John just collapses as if dead (Rev 1:17). The collision of His holiness with our sinfulness causes a gut-wrenching, physical reaction.

David groans in pain, his vision dim and his hearing dull. His sin and his pain is constantly before him. Can it possibly get any worse than this?

But David is able to draw breath again as he remembers the source of his hope – God will listen and God himself is his salvation! Confession and true repentance result in true forgiveness and true freedom.

David anticipated the beautiful, life-restoring forgiveness that Jesus brings.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

And the result:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

I think this verse of the famous hymn by Horatio Spafford sums it up perfectly:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Psalm 130

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If you, O Lord, should mark our iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. Psalm 130:3-4

If God were to judge us, entirely justly, on the basis of our sins, not one of us could stand before him. Without a truly radical solution, we are all eternally separated from him. There’s no mention of good deeds – it’s no good trying to balance out our bad with some good. One single sinful thought, word or deed is enough to permanently disqualify us from being in a relationship with God. That’s how holy he is. No amount of trying to be good, or do good stuff can fix it.

BUT

There is forgiveness, mercy, steadfast love! God himself has provided the means for sin to be forgiven. The psalmist longs for God’s forgiveness, perhaps longing to hear the words of forgiveness proclaimed over the animal sacrifices, which provided a temporary (and ultimately inadequate) means of atonement. Perhaps the psalmist also sees the possibility of permanent redemption and forgiveness from afar. He waits…he hopes…he clings to the promises in God’s word.

We live in the times he was waiting for! Jesus has come, our Saviour and our Redeemer; the one who has borne our iniquities.

The way of forgiveness is open. And yet, we too wait for that final consummation and restoration of all things. We live in the ‘already, but not yet’.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope… Psalm 130:5

This post was inspired by the SheReadsTruth, Lent challenge 2014! Check it out here.