THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JONAH (1) ARISE, GO AND CRY OUT!
During the Sunday service Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled ‘The Gospel according to Jonah’ (1). Her main text was taken from the Book of Jonah chapters 1:1-17 and 4:1-4.
The story of Jonah is more than children’s tale. It is more than an adventure about a great fish. It the revelation of God and His Grace towards men. It is the testimony of King Grace. Simply said, Grace means unmerited favor, undeserved Kindness for the sake of Christ! In the Book of Jonah, we shall find the Gospel of Christ Crucified and Resurrected. The study of this Book from the Old Testament will help us see that the Bible is One. In the Old Testament the Gospel is revealed in symbols and shadows. In the New Testament, we see reality of the Gospel. There are many deep revelations here, about salvation and the call of God to ministry. All people can gain wisdom and strength from the study of the Book of Jonah, but in particular the backsliders. Praise the Lord!
The Book of Jonah is one of the most criticized Books in the Bible. Over the years, many people said that the story of Jonah is not true. These critics do not believe in miracles. They are not willing to believe that a great fish (or a whale) had swallowed Jonah and he survived in its stomach for three days. As for me, I totally believe the Word of God! There are two main reasons why I believe Jonah’s testimony to be true. The first reason is because it is in the Bible. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). We must believe ‘all Scripture’ to be God’s Word. We cannot choose some parts and ignore others. The second reason is the fact that our Lord Himself spoke about the Jonah. He said that Jonah’s story is a symbol of His own death and resurrection. “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For 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 in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed, a greater than Jonah is here” (Mt 12:38-41). The sign of Jonah is the death and the resurrection of Jesus. For these two reasons, I believe that Jonah’s story is true.
WHO IS JONAH?
In Hebrew, the name “Jonah” means “Dove”. It is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Jonah was a true Prophet of Jehovah God. God wanted to use him as an ambassador of peace. He prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, the King of Israel. “In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin. He (Jeroboam II) restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher. For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter; and whether bond or free, there was no helper for Israel. And the Lord did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven; but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash” (2 Kg 14:23-27). King Jeroboam II was a wicked king. But God had compassion on the people of Israel. The Prophet Jonah prophesied that King Jeroboam II will restore some of the territories that belong to Israel and that the Assyrians have conquered. King Solomon conquered the area called Hamath and took it from the Assyrians (2 Chr 8:3). It is not 150 years since the death of Solomon. The Assyrians have taken the city Hamath back from Israel. Jeroboam II re-conquered them according to Jonah’s prophesy. This victory was to the glory of God and for the honor of Prophet Jonah.
Jonah lived in a small town called Gath Hepher, located at the north border of ancient Israel. It was part of the inheritance of the Tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:13). (Today, the town does not exist. There are some ruins there, and a stone said to be Jonah’s tomb. The ruins are five Kilometers north of Nazareth). Jonah must have lived between 800 and 750BC. Assyria was Israel’s neighbor in the north. At that time, the Kingdom of Assyria was the greatest power in the world. Its capital, Nineveh, founded by Nimrod, was at its peak. The Kingdom of Assyria was conquered by Babylon in 600 BC. Jonah’s ministry started immediately after the prophets Elijah and Elisha. It is possible that Jonah was a disciple of Elisha. Jonah lives in the northern kingdom. It is now 150 years since the death of King Solomon. The Kingdom was divided. The ten northern tribes are now called Israel. Their capital is Samaria. The people rejected God’s commands and worshipped idols. All their kings were wicked. Jonah lives during the time of King Jeroboam II, one of the most wicked kings. God sent His servants, the prophets, to speak to the people of Israel. Basically, the prophets had two roles: to warn the people to repent and to show them the mercy of God. Elijah and Elisha did that in the past. Now Jonah is to do the same. He prophesies that King Jeroboam II will witness the grace of God and have victory against the enemies. He restored part of the land Israel lost. Jonah knew how to warn the wicked and how God shows mercy. But now, he has to learn who this God is, in a personal way. It is not enough to know the doctrine. You must apply it! The first thing we see is that Jonah struggles with the Grace of God. Jonah knows that God is merciful and kind. That is how Israel survived all the attacks against it. Jonah knows that himself was saved by grace alone, and not by his works. But when God wants to show same grace to the wicked Assyrians, Jonah rejects God’s word. To him, grace is given only to him and his people, not to their enemies. How little Jonah knows about King Grace!
THE THEME OF THE BOOK OF JONAH – SALVATION IS OF THE LORD!
The Book of Jonah is not a prophecy. It is the Prophet’s miraculous story, his testimony, and his relationship with Jehovah God. Jonah’s story reveals the way The God of all Grace deals with His people, even when they rebel against His commands. The greatest revelation in the Book of Jonah is that “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). This is the Gospel of justification by faith, thru grace, and not by works. When God saves His child, He saves him to the uttermost. King Grace is in charge of salvation, from the beginning to the end. The story of Jonah helps us to understand and appreciate the irresistible Grace of God in salvation and redemption. We see that God is all-powerful, kind, patient, and faithful. Jonah is called ‘the worst missionary’. God commanded him to go on a missionary journey to Nineveh, to warn its citizens to repent so that they will not be destroyed. Nineveh was the greatest city at that time with a population of about 600,000. But Jonah runs away from God’s call. He chooses to be thrown into the sea and die than to bless the Assyrians. Jonah hates that God wants to show mercy to their enemies. It is possible that one of the reasons why God sends Jonah to the Assyrians is to rebuke and discipline His people. God has sent many prophets to Israel, but they rejected all of them. God now wants to show His people that the Assyrians will repent at the preaching of only one ‘little’ prophet. God commands Jonah using three words: “Arise, go, and cry out!” For God to say ‘arise’ it means that Jonah was idle or maybe jobless. ‘Jobless’ prophet Jonah obeys God at the beginning. He ‘rises’ from his comfort zone but runs in the opposite direction.
TWO REASONS (NOT EXCUSES) FOR JONAH’S DISOBEDIENCE: IGNORANCE AND HATRED
*The first possible reason why Jonah refused to obey is because of his ignorance of God, His Grace and His ways. God’s command sounded ‘strange’ to Jonah. He could not imagine why Jehovah God will show mercy to their enemies. The truth is that in the Old Testament, Jehovah God manifested His mercy and Grace mostly to Israel. Generally, God did not send missionaries to the Gentile nations, to preach grace to them. Israel witnessed to other nations but not by going to them. The Gentiles who desired to know the God of Israel came to Jerusalem to see the Temple and God in action. For example, the Queen of Sheba came from far Ethiopia to have an encounter with the God of Solomon (1 Kings 10). People like Joseph, Daniel, Queen Esther or Mordecai, were ambassadors for Jehovah. They witnessed to the grace of God in foreign lands, not because God sent them as missionaries, but because they had to live there as strangers. It is true that in the Old Testament, God revealed Himself as the God of all nations, but generally, His Word was limited to Israel. God said to Abraham that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” thru Him (Gen 12:3). But Israel struggled constantly when God blessed other nations the way He blessed them. It is only after the Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit came, that men and women went as missionaries, going to the Gentiles to preach the Gospel to them. “Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen” (Mt 28:18-20). Our Lord also said: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Practical application: God’s Word and His Ways are extremely different than ours. As children of God, we must trust and obey God’s Word even when we do not understand it. It is better to hold on and pray for a greater understanding and for the grace to obey than to choose backsliding. Faith is stronger than understanding. We walk by faith and not by sight or by our wisdom. Disobedience has terrible consequences. Harden not your heart when God commands you to do something for “obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22).
*The second possible reason why Jonah disobeyed God’s word is hatred of people and of God who created them. Jonah hated the Assyrians and he wanted them dead. He did not want them to be saved. What could be his excuse? The truth is that Assyria was one of the most brutal kingdoms of ancient time. They were extremely violent and wicked. They were like ISIS, a terrorist organization. For example, when they punished a traitor, they will bury the man in the hot sand of the desert up to his neck. They will pierce his tongue with a thorn and leave the man there to die. The Assyrian army moved slowly because the soldiers carried their families with them. When they conquer a city, they will kill all the men and the children. The women they will keep as slaves or wives. When a city was attacked, the people prefer the commit suicide than to fall into the hands of the Assyrians. Jonah’s native town Gath-Hepher, was at the border with Assyria. It is possible that Jonah experienced firsthand the cruelty of his wicked neighbors. That is why when God told him to go on a missionary journey to the Assyrians he refused and ran away. God sent him with a message of judgment. But Jonah feared that the Assyrians may repent, and God will show them mercy. Jonah hated them too much to give them any chance to live. He preferred to be punished by God and even die than to show grace to these wicked people. Jonah prophesied victory to Jeroboam II, a wicked king in Israel, because God told him so. God had compassion upon the people of Israel. That is why He prospered the wicked king. Jonah could accept that because Jeroboam II was an Israelite. But Jonah was not ready to show mercy to the Assyrians, an ‘uncircumcised nation’ hated by Israel.
Practical application: Hatred or people means hatred of God who created them! Hatred is a work of the flesh (Gal 5:20). Pray for the grace to be able, for Christ’ sake, to forgive and love your enemies!
ARISE – GO – CRY OUT!
“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up” (Jonah 1:1-4)
The word of the Lord came to Jonah. In the Old Testament, God speaks expressly to His prophets and expects instant and total obedience. In the New Testament, God speaks thru His Word and by the Holy Spirit. For the child of God, obedience brings blessings and disobedience invites discipline. God commanded Jonah: ‘Arise, go…’. Jonah heard the word. He decided to obey partially. He arose and went… but to the opposite direction. After the initial ‘rising’ Jonah goes lower and lower. “Jonah went down to Joppa… and down into the belly of the ship”.
GOING DOWN- DOWN- DOWN
He bought a ticket to a ship that was going to Tarshish, a city in the south of Spain. Jonah did not care where he is running to. He had no business in Tarshish. All he wanted was to be far from God. Two times in one sentence we are told that Jonah flees ‘from the presence of the Lord’. In Hebrew, the word ‘presence’ is also translated ‘the Face’ of God. Jonah did not want to see God’s face anymore. One of the greatest blessings for the people of Israel was that God’s face will shine on them. “The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance (face) upon you and give you peace” (Nu 6:25. 26). Jonah knew that the face of God brings life out of death, light in darkness, victory in war and favor in any situation. “For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them; But it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance, Because You favored them” (Ps 44:3). In other words, when King Grace looks at you, He blesses you! Jonah was ready to die, to suffer, to forsake all God’s blessings and His Grace, just because of a rebellious proud spirit. Selah! Backsliding is always a tragedy! A child of God does not lose his salvation, but he loses his peace, joy, fellowship with God, opportunities for service and many rewards. “The way of the unfaithful is hard” (PV 13:15). Jonah ran away from God. Many Christians get busy with secular work so that when God calls, they have an excuse that they do not have time. Rebellion is always evil. It is suicidal. There is no gain in it. Running from God never succeeds. It is like running from light. You will only end in darkness.
Practical application: No man can hide from God. Jonah was running from the “God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9). Where can he run to? It is foolishness to run from the presence of God. This is because God is omnipresent. The Psalmist says: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You” (Ps 139:7-12). Rejoice that you serve the Omnipresent God!
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:43-48)
Let us study the general definitions of love and hate.
Love is an unselfish, warm, deep, strong, and tender emotion. Love always manifests in a relationship. Love is ready to sacrifice for the benefit of another. God is Love because God is a Trinity. God cannot love itself. Love must love another. Love is the eternal champion for ‘love never fails’ (1 Cor 13:8). Hatred is the opposite of love. It is a negative emotion, an extremely strong feeling of dislike, mixed with anger, bitterness, envy, and malice. It is a spiritual poison, wicked, ugly, destroying the soul and all relationships. Hatred leads to crime. It comes from feeling as a victim when another has hurt you and you continue to blame that one. Hatred is like holding a live coal in your hand, so that you throw it to your enemy. But it burns you before you can attack another.
This command of our Lord is the climax of behavior for the Christian. As Jonah struggled to love the Assyrians, so many Christians struggle to love the people who mistreat them. We need the Holy Spirit to be able to obey this command. We should desire to pay the price to be ‘perfect’ as our Father in heaven is perfect. In the Sermon of the Mount, our Lord exposes the teachings of the Pharisees as total error. He contrasts these false teachings with the truth. He says many times: “You have heard that it was said… But I say to you…”. The Pharisees thought the people that this is God’s law: “‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. The truth is that nowhere in the Old Testament this sentence appears. This is a law the Pharisees made by themselves. The Jews considered themselves as God’s people. Any other person or nation, they considered to be cursed. The Jews called the Gentiles ‘dogs’ and thought of them as more inferior human beings than them. Over the years, this proud attitude brought a lot of hatred and discrimination against the Jews. When the Jews thought of a ‘neighbor’ they only thought about themselves. They never thought of Gentiles as neighbors to be loved, but as enemies to be hated. Jonah never thought that the Ninevites are his neighbors to be helped or loved. That is why he refused to extend grace to them. Jonah wanted that all Assyrians should go to hell. It is the same attitude that Jesus exposes here among the teachings of the Pharisees.
Why did the Pharisees commanded the Jewish people ‘to hate their enemies’? Some passages in the Old Testament, if wrongly understood, may lead people to think that God loves some people and hates others. For example: God commanded the Jews that when they enter the Promised Land, they should kill all the pagan inhabitants and take over their land. God told the Jews not to make friends with the Moabites. God said that if a man kills another, the victim’s family can pursue and kill the criminal, except he hides in one of the cities of refuge. In the Book of Psalms, we read of curses spoken upon wicked people. These are called ‘Imprecatory’ psalms. Imprecation means curses! For example: “Let their table become a snare before them, And their well-being a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; And make their loins shake continually. Pour out Your indignation upon them, And let Your wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their dwelling place be desolate; Let no one live in their tents. For they persecute the ones You have struck and talk of the grief of those You have wounded. Add iniquity to their iniquity and let them not come into Your righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous” (Ps 69:22-28). These imprecatory psalms are written for people who have been oppressed and violated. It is their cry for justice. If we like it or not, this is God’s Word. In the New Testament our Lord curses some cities, the unfruitful fig tree, and the Pharisees. But at the same time, our Lord said we should love our enemies.
How do we reconcile all these scriptures? The only way for us to understand these apparently opposing scriptures is to see God in His position as Sovereign, the Creator of all things and the Judge of all men. God is holy and just. It is hard to see mercy in God’s Judgments, but God is also Love. God the Father sent His Son to die for some people, called the elect. Only God knows who these people are. The Gospel is preached to all. Believing in Christ means life. Rejecting Christ means condemnation and death. God has the right to bless and to curse. He has the right to condemn all unbelievers. This is God’s right! The problem is that the proud Pharisees put themselves in God’s place. They thought that all Jews are saved by God and all Gentiles will go to hell. They distorted God’s law. That is why our Lord cursed them and condemned their doctrines.
THE COMMON AND THE SAVING GRACE
In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord introduces the principle of Agape Love. He commands us that we should love not only our ‘neighbors’ but even our enemies. We are to hate sin and the devil, and we are commanded to love all men. This is the correct doctrine. It is not an easy doctrine to apply practically in our daily lives. But we must do it. What are some principles of Christians behavior?
*The way we behave towards others should not be a reaction to what these people say or do to us. God is Love and He is kind towards all people. He gives sunshine, rain, and the blessings of life to all, the good and the bad. It is not only the business of the godly that prospers. The business of the wicked prospers too. The people who reject Christ also marry and have beautiful children. This general kindness towards all men is called ‘The Common Grace’. You should not be jealous when the wicked prosper. It is still a manifestation of the general grace of God. But these natural blessings are not a proof that the man is going to heaven. The amazing effectual special Grace of God must call a man to become saved. King Grace works in some people’s hearts, convict them of sin, brings them to repentance and to salvation. They become children of God and citizens of heaven. This saving grace does not work on all men. Men hate this doctrine. They refuse to believe that God saves some people and the others, He allows them to go to hell. Please remember that Grace is the unmerited favor of God! It is God’s choice and sovereign will to save some. May we fear God! May we worship God!
*The way we behave towards others is to be like Jesus! We want to be like our Master! We forgive and love others by choice, because our Lord did that! As a born-again believer you are a new creation! You see everything differently, thru the lenses of King Grace. When people insult you, you do not react with another insult. You show self-control and wisdom. You see that your ‘enemy’ is an ignorant tool of the devil. You pity him, forgive him, and pray for him to be saved. The reason a Christian does that it is because of the Holy Spirit in him, the Spirit of love, wisdom, strength, peace, and joy. Too many people live their lives in bondage to others. They react to what others say or do to them. Is it not true that each time you thought wicked things in your heart was in connection with a person? As Christians we must live in a higher realm. It is called the realm of Agape Love. The greatest example of Agape Love towards enemies was manifested on the Cross. Our Lord prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Mt 23:24). Apostle Paul said: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink…” (Rom 12:17-21). When Stephen was dying, he prayed for them who stoned him. He “knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Ac 7:60).
How can we practice such love? The only way you can love your enemies is to have the mind of Christ. You need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. You need to be dead to all self-interest. For as long as ‘self’ is still active, you will fight back defending your reputation or your ideas. It is only by the Cross that you are able to become dead to self. Some people say that you should love your enemies so that they become your friends. That is not what Jesus teaches. If your enemies become friends or not, that is not your problem.
What then is the purpose for such a sacrificial love? It is to display the Grace and Love of the God who saved you to others. You are an ambassador of Christ. That is a great responsibility. Your behavior gives honor or dis-honors your King. This is how the Kingdom of God spreads. This is how revival comes. By living and loving like Jesus; by laying down our lives for the sake of the glory of God! May we be found to be holy and noble vessels for the Master’s use! Worship the Lord!
“The Lord had accepted Job. And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed, the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the Lord had brought upon him. Each one gave him a piece of silver and each a ring of gold. Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:9-12)
Immediately Job prayed for his friends who misunderstood and condemned him, who behaved as they were his enemies, God blessed Job again, with spiritual and material blessings. By the Grace of God, Job was able to change Pain into Prayer. God accepted that sacrifice and prospered him twice as much as he had lost! We must forgive the people who have hurt us in the past. We must pray that God blesses them. Our prayer is the ‘signal’ accepted and rewarded in heaven. God will restore all that the ‘canker-worm’ has eaten! There shall be supernatural prosperity manifested in our lives! Glory to God! Worship the Lord!