Reading Jonah

When one sits down to read through Jonah, an activity I do recommend, a sense of the extreme creeps in. Just let your mind process the following:

  • Nineveh is a great city. (1:2)
  • Jonah flees in the opposite direction by ship.
  • A great wind and fierce storm arise. (1:4)
  • The sailors seem to understand more about God than Jonah does. They have great terror in the storm and then great fear of the Lord. (1:10-16)
  • A great fish has been prepared.
  • Jonah is in the fish three days and nights praying!
  • Jonah travels for three days across the great city of Nineveh. (3:3)
  • The king of Nineveh refers to God’s fierce anger. (3:9)
  • All of Nineveh fasts and repents – from the greatest to the least.
  • Jonah expresses great displeasure. (4:1)
  • Jonah derives great pleasure from a plant. (4:6)
  • When the plant withers, Jonah says, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
  • At the end, God asks Jonah a question but what about the answer?

Do I believe Jonah is true?

The hardest to believe part of this story is the three days and nights Jonah spends in the belly of the whale. It is exactly this that Jesus refers to in Matthew 12:38-41. The scribes and Pharisees ask for a sign and Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah. “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.” We know that Jesus was buried and rose again the third day. Jesus speaks of Jonah’s experience as if it is fact – so I believe it!

Jesus continues his teaching in the same “great” theme as the story of Jonah. “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.

Great city, great fish, great emotions, great sign and yet, something greater is here! This certainly must be part of our message.

 

Cofradia 2013 – Hard to Believe

Hi all!

A team of women is busily preparing to return to Cofradia once again in January, 2013. This year’s trip is scheduled for January 5 – 12, 2013.

The theme for this year’s teaching and events is “Hard to Believe Bible Stories.” Yes, there are sure a lot of stories in the Bible that are hard to believe. We have chosen just a few:

  • Jonah. The whole story of Jonah is hard to believe. Jonah, a prophet (the vessel of God’s voice) of Israel, is sent to Israel’s enemy with a word of judgment and a call to repentance. When Jonah runs in the opposite direction, God send a great storm and prepares a great fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him up on the shore of his destination. Of all the possible reactions, Jonah is greatly distressed by Nineveh’s repentance!
  • Elijah and the Altars on Mt. Carmel. Elijah has prophesied judgment on the king, the land, and the people for worshiping idols. A contest is held on Mt. Carmel between the prophets of Baal and Elijah, the prophet of God. It is hard to believe how the prophets of Baal acted to call for the idol’s attention; it is hard to believe what Elijah did to prove God’s authority; it is hard to believe that some still won’t believe.
  • Jesus on Mt. Calvary and the Empty Tomb. Hard to believe that God would enter into the time and space of a human body and live with us. Not only to live with us and for us, but to die for our sins. Then, after this apparent failure, some women witness the empty tomb and hear of a Living One! Others did not believe their testimony but what came after that event has changed lives into eternity.
  • We are hosting a catered banquet as a special event for the local ladies. They and their friends may come free of cost to enjoy a meal, decorated tables, learn to know some of the women of the Bible, and hear of an invitation to a greater banquet.

What makes each of these stories hard to believe? How do we even know they are true? If they are true, what do they tell us about God? Who is He? What has He done? What is He doing? What will He do? Can we know why God sent Jonah; why God’s fire came from heaven; why God’s Son come to earth; why a home and banquet are prepared for us? How do these old stories affect us? Where do we fit in?

Ah….

What are some of your “Hard to Believe Stories?” What do they tell you?

Surprised by Grace (3)

Well… I had better finish this review or it may end up longer that the book.  I do recommend this book for your reading and study.

This book is at its finest when the author directly interacts with the text of Jonah or explores the application suggested by its subtitle: “God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels.”  It suffers in clarity in the (small) sections that stray too far from this theme.

The author, Tullian Tchividjian, takes his time to work through the book of Jonah.  Many insights from scripture are woven together with observations made of artistic expressions trying to capture the meaning of this story in paintings, prose, and poetry.  I commend the publisher for including color plates of the paintings mentioned.  The book is well footnoted to allow a reader to pursue sources.

The reader is gently led to conclude that the story recorded in the book of Jonah is really the story of God.  God’s grace is extended to a foreign multitude in the great city of Nineveh.  He hears the prayers of frightened sailors who show more compassion that the prophet.  Out of his great mercy, God pursues one rebel from his own people – Jonah.

Jesus tells a parable about a rebel son who runs away, lives in great wickedness, repentantly returns home to ask for mercy, and is restored.  The father has another son who is jealous of the treatment afforded the rebel.  He was the good son who stayed and worked.  This son does not realize that all that the father has is already there for his benefit. (Luke 15:11-32)

This book’s primary theme is that the gospel is good news for all sinners.  The Gospel is good news for sinners with power to save them from the penalty of their sins – salvation from destruction.  The Gospel is good news for saved sinners who rebel in the continuing pervasiveness of  sin – sanctification.  God is a great Savior.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:4-5

The most distressing part of this story is not knowing if Jonah ever repented and turned away from his sinful rebellion.  I pray that I embrace the full and continuing reach of God’s great mercy and love.  I pray that I am willing to accurately and completely share the good news of God’s salvation of all sinners.

Surprised by Grace (2)

This is the second installment of my review of Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels by Tullian Tchividjian. 

One of the repeated descriptors in the tale of Jonah is great. Nineveh is a great city; God sends a great wind and storm; the sailors suffer great fright and come to great fear of the LORD; God appoints a great fish; Jonah suffers from great displeasure and great delight in a plant; Nineveh mourns and repents from wickedness – “from the greatest to the least of them” (3:5).

Tchividjian spends some time exploring this last contrast of great and least.  The change in the people of Nineveh is huge and all encompassing.  This point is emphasized with a picture of the king, stepping off of his throne and into the ashes, putting off his robe and covering himself with ashes.  The fast is proclaimed on man and beast.  Then there is that last strange verse in Jonah where God asks, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

This section of the book has the following subheadings and quotes:

  • God uses the defeated to do great things

The story of Jonah “shows us that in God’s eyes, and in Christianity, weakness precedes usefulness.” (pg. 102)

  • Good news for losers

“The gospel frees us from the pressure to generate our own significance and meaning. In Christ, our identity and significance are secure, which frees us up to give everything we have, because in Christ we have everything we need.” (pg. 104)

These thoughts shine a bright light on the difference between what we often value and give honor to and what God deems valuable.  The Facebook guy gets public recognition for giving a large amount of his even larger fortune; the working family down the pew from you may be giving up dinners out to support your church or a family member in need.  We sign up to hear that famous, successful person give their testimony; the woman sitting next to you in Bible study quietly serves her family, church, or community because that is where God has put her.  We like to be strong in the Lord; perfect in weakness – not so much.

This brings us back to the last verse of Jonah.  That odd reference to those who do not know the difference between their right and left hands and the animals is thought to refer to children and others who are dependent on those who do know better.  Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

Nineveh was saved when their king left his throne and took off his robe and led the way to repentance.  This story is not about Jonah but about our great, gracious, forgiving God who blesses humility and dependence on him.  This story points to Christ who humbled himself and left his throne to become a baby, child, and then a man.  He who knew no sin bore ours on the cross.  His grace is free but to honor it costs everything.