JONAH #4: THE FAITHFUL LOVE THAT SAVES US

Jonah, influenced by the world around him, unwilling to listen to God, found himself banished from God’s presence, dying. He turned back to the Lord in his distress, the and Lord saved him. This is the gospel in a nutshell, and we find it today in the Old Testament. We are separated from God by our own sin, and yet God’s faithful, covenant-love saves us when we cry out to him, when we trust him to do what we cannot do.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Jonah Part 4

I just said something briefly last time about the miraculous nature of Jonah being in the fish. For Christians today, I think it might be worth spending some more time on the relationship of faith, miracles, and science. A miracle, by definition, is when the normal laws of physics, biology, etc. are set aside by God. Because of this, science cannot either prove or disprove the existence of miracles. Science can’t study them. Many people who pride themselves for being rational thinkers, say that this makes miracles bogus. If they can’t be studied scientifically, why should we believe they are real at all?

Behind that sort of attitude is an assumption that science is the only true way of knowing things. The idea is that if something can’t be studied by science, it isn’t real, or true. Or, to put it another way: everything that exists can be discovered and studied and known by science.

Even though many people think like this, it is utterly ridiculous to believe that science is the only way of knowing anything, or even that it can (eventually) know everything. In the first place, science itself cannot prove that it is the only way of knowing anything. That is a completely non-scientific proposition. It is an example of what we call “a circular argument,” that is, an argument that depends upon itself in order to be true. To simplify, it is like saying, “science is the only way of knowing anything, and the reason we know that is because science is the only way of knowing anything.”

In fact, we can think of many things that normal people consider rational, but cannot be proven by science. We believe that some things are good, and others are evil – yet we cannot know that by the scientific method. Science uses math and logic, but it cannot prove the validity of either one – that would be another circular argument (I can’t use logic to show that logic is real).

We encounter things that are outside of the realm of science every single day. Take for instance, love. If someone were to study love scientifically, they would have to ask questions like these: “How much does love weigh? How long is it? How high? At what speed does love travel? Which molecules are used to build love-units? What does it look like under a microscope? How does it behave under laboratory conditions?” Obviously, these sorts of questions do not apply to love.

However, just as obviously, love exists. So do dozens more such things that profoundly affect our lives, but which science can know nothing about. Another example is freedom. What is the specific mass of freedom? What happens when you mix freedom with water? Again, silly questions. Science is excellent for studying the physical world. All Christians should rejoice at the way science has helped human beings. But obviously, there are more ways of knowing than science, and human beings couldn’t function if we knew nothing other than what science knows.

In fact, in order to do science, we must first accept, without evidence, that human thinking is rational, that our senses do not deceive us, and our thoughts correspond to reality, and that it is possible to discover what it true. In order to do science, all of those things have to be taken as “givens;” that is, we must simply believe that they are true, that is, we have faith that they are true. In other words: science could not exist without faith. Therefore, while science is a powerful way of knowing, faith is also a powerful way of knowing, and in some ways, faith is necessary for science to work.

I want to make sure that we Christians understand that there is no necessary conflict between faith and science. They are not at war. They are complementary ways of knowing things. It is true that some scientists try to use science to attack or undermine faith, but when they do that, they are being unscientific. When a scientist says something like: “this proves that there is no God,” or “this proves that miracles do not happen,” those are not scientific statements. Science cannot pass judgment on matters of faith without becoming unscientific.

All right, let’s look once more at the prayer, or psalm, that Jonah composed while he was (unscientifically) in the belly of the whale. It is important that we do so with the foundation of last week: In the belly of the sea creature, Jonah was saved, and yet, his salvation was not yet complete. So we too, have been saved, but our salvation won’t be complete until we stand with Jesus in the New Creation. Therefore, what Jonah says at this time is very relevant to us.

The Psalm starts with this: “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me.” This is the main point. Jonah says he cried for help from “Sheol,” which means “the place of the dead.” He doesn’t think he died, but he thinks he was knocking on death’s door. Jonah recognizes that he needed salvation because of his own sin and wrongdoing. He says, (as I pointed out last time) that it was the Lord who cast him into the sea, and he says he was banished from the sight of the Lord. In other words, his own sin and disobedience separated him from God. Jonah was almost beyond hope. He says he was near death, banished from the sight of God by his own sin. You can’t get any closer to lost than Jonah was. It reminds me of several different New Testament verses, including:

1 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!  (Ephesians 2:1-5, NLT)

Jonah, in his desperate situation, looked to the Lord alone for salvation. When we recognize our need and distress, when we know we have no hope apart from the Lord, and we call on him, he saves us. No one who trusts him will be put to shame. All who call on him will be saved. This is the basic message of the whole Bible.

This is the message of faith that we proclaim:9If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.10One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.11Now the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame,12for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him.13For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Rom 10:8-13, HCSB)

This is the gospel in a nutshell, and here it in the book of Jonah, in the Old Testament, seven hundred and fifty years before Jesus! 

I want us to pay special attention to verses 8 and 9. The best English translation of verse 8 is the HSCB: “Those who cling to worthless idols//forsake faithful love.” That’s really all it says in Hebrew. I think it is implied, however that the faithful love they forsake is the love of God. In the New Testament there is a Greek word that describes the unconditional, never-ending, sacrificial love of God: agape. In the Old Testament, there is a Hebrew word that is the equivalent of agape. That word is cHesed. (I add the small “c” for pronunciation. It’s like starting to softly clear your throat). It means: “faithful, never-ending love; covenant-love.” That is what Jonah says idol worshippers forsake. God offers us never ending, faithful love. He loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die in our place. But we can’t have both our idols, and also, at the same time, God’s love. If we choose to live for human relationships, or money, or achievement, or pleasure, or art, we forsake God’s love.

Now, all of the things I just named are good in their rightful places. Not even pleasure is evil in and of itself. But if we make any of these more important than God, or if we think of any of them as the “ultimate thing,” we forsake the love of God. If we must have something (other than God), or if we run to such things, rather than God, to bring us comfort and hope, we are in danger of idolatry. Jonah realizes what he almost gave up. Nothing is worth more than God’s cHesed , his covenant-love. But idol worshipers ignore what is eternally precious in the pursuit of things that only temporarily satisfy.

In verse 9, Jonah says he will sacrifice to the Lord, and do what he had vowed. God called Jonah to preach His word. Jonah accepted that call. But when God sent him to Nineveh, he balked. Now, he says, “I will do what I was supposed to do.” Notice that this comes after God has saved him. He is not trying to pay for his salvation. He knows he can’t earn it. But because God showed Jonah his power, and because God saved him, Jonah will live in obedience. It is a response to God’s grace, not a way to earn something from God. He has remembered (with God’s obvious help) that he is in a covenant with God, a cHesed covenant. That means, among other things, that he will go where God tells him, and do what God asks. He does this, not in order to get saved, but because God has already saved him, and given him covenant-love.

Jonah’s ending statement basically reiterates this main point. However, the words he uses makes it truly stunning.

Salvation is from the lord!” (Jonah 2:9, HSCB)

OK, maybe it doesn’t seem that stunning to you. This will take a bit of concentration to understand, but it is worth it, so listen closely. In the book of Exodus, God revealed himself personally to Moses as “I am that I am.” The Israelites took that to mean that God’s name was literally, “I am that I am,” or, as they pronounced it: “Yahweh.” They believed that God’s personal name was Yahweh. God commanded them not to take his name in vain. As time went on, the Jews took this command very seriously, and so, when the Old Testament text said “Yahweh,” they felt it was too holy to pronounce. Instead they said “The Lord.”

Most English Bible translations use this same practice. So, in most English translations, when you read “The Lord,” the Hebrew actually says, “Yahweh.”

Fast forward to New Testament times. For the first Christians, the basic confession of faith was this: “Jesus is Lord.” Those who said that did not mean: “Jesus is an important person (a lord).” They were saying: Jesus is THE LORD, the one true God who revealed himself to the people of Israel in ancient times. In other words: Jesus is Yahweh.

Now, one other thing. Jesus is our English way of saying his name. In Hebrew, “Jesus” is pronounced “Yeshua” and it means, “(the Lord’s) salvation.” Almost certainly, when his disciples said his name, they would have said, “Yeshua.”

Now let’s return to Jonah 2:9. There are only two Hebrew words in this verse. It is translated, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” But let me give it to you straight from the Hebrew: “Yeshua Yahweh.”

In other words: Jesus is Yahweh.

I don’t want to create any misunderstanding. Jonah had no idea that one day God was going to come into the world as a man named Yeshua. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Lord inspired Jonah to use those exact words. To me, it is sort of like finding an Easter egg hidden by God, or maybe like having God wink at us. He’s saying, “Here I am! In case you were wondering if it’s all really true, look, I’m everywhere.” Seven hundred years before he came into the world, the Lord dropped that little breadcrumb there for us!

Thoughts for application:

  • Though some scientists are antagonistic to Christianity, there is no necessary conflict. What are ways that you can praise God for the wisdom he has given the world through science? What are concerns that you might want to turn over to the Lord?
  • How has your own sin and disobedience separated you from the Lord? What about the world, or temptations? Have you called on the name the name of the Lord? Hear the word of the Lord through Jonah that all who call upon him (which means, also trusting him) will be saved!
  • Consider meditating on God’s covenant love for you, his commitment to love you, even to his own death. Receive his love by thanking him for it (and possibly singing, or responding in some other creative way)
  • What is the Lord saying to you today through his word?

Holy War! What is it Good For?

1 SAMUEL #12. (1 SAMUEL 15:1-3)

holywar

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

 

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Samuel Part 12

 

There is one big and totally natural question when we read 1 Samuel chapter 15. Why did God want the Israelites to destroy every living Amalekite? Why the women and children too? How can we accept that God wanted this, and yet still believe that he is merciful, forgiving and loving? There are a handful of passages like this in the Old Testament, and for the modern mind, it seems inexplicable and even repulsive. I think we can get help sorting this out if we consider three things.

First, God does not answer to us. The questions are natural, but the truth is, God does not owe us an explanation. Our human nature wants God to justify himself toward us. But this is exactly the opposite of the situation the Bible describes. We are accountable for our actions before God, not the other way around. If God indeed made the universe, if he is infinite and we are not, then he has the right to do what he wants, and what he wants may be beyond the ability of our limited minds to comprehend.

This is true, but the Lord often chooses to reveal his reasons anyway. So the second thing to consider is that this is about holiness. Several weeks ago I shared what happens when pure sodium is exposed to water. The sodium explodes and burns up. Pure sodium simply cannot exist in the presence of water. The greatest scientist in the world cannot bring the two things into actual contact without creating spontaneous combustion. In the same way, sin simply cannot exist in the presence of God. So unless there is some kind of intervention, God’s presence will destroy sin. We live after the time of Jesus. Jesus and his sacrifice have eliminated the holiness problem for us, if we trust him. He has made us holy. He took the destruction of sin into himself so we could be spared. But we forget that without Jesus, God’s holiness is a huge problem for sinful people. Sin is so serious and God’s holiness is so pure, that if it wasn’t for Jesus, it requires the destruction of every living thing associated with sin.

The Israelites, however imperfectly, were living in faith that God’s promises to Abraham were true, and that God would redeem them from their sins. So the Lord included them in what he was going to do through Jesus. Their faith in God’s promises protected them from the effect of God upon sin. Paul writes to the Romans:

1 So what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the spoken words of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, will their unbelief cancel God’s faithfulness? 4 Absolutely not! God must be true, even if everyone is a liar, as it is written: That You may be justified in Your words and triumph when You judge. 5 But if our unrighteousness highlights God’s righteousness, what are we to say? I use a human argument: Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath? 6 Absolutely not! Otherwise, how will God judge the world? (Rom 3:1-6 )

Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath? Absolutely not. His presence destroys sin, whether or not you believe his words. The only salvation through Jesus Christ, by faith. This was true even for the generations who lived before Jesus came:

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26 NLT, emphasis mine)

Everyone in the past who believed God’s promises, was included in what God was going to do through Jesus. But in Old Testament times, before Jesus had come, those who rejected God became physical illustrations of how serious God’s holiness is, and how big a problem our sin is. God was showing the world their desperate need for a messiah who could bridge a gap between our sin and God’s holiness.

In the case of the Amalekites and the other Canaanite tribes that God commanded Israel to destroy, they were given both a witness to God’s holiness and grace, and an abundance of time to repent of sin. All the way back in the time of Abraham, the Lord said this:

13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions. 15 But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age. 16 In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Gen 15:13-16 (emphasis mine)

Amorites were just one of the tribes that Israel was supposed to drive out or destroy. They had witnesses to the truth of God through Abraham, Lot, Isaac, and Jacob. They had four hundred years after Jacob to correct their ways – God was still giving them a chance to repent and live in faith. For forty years, after the Israelites left Egypt the nations in Canaan heard about what God did for them. They had the chance to repent during that time, and a few of them did (Joshua 2:9-15).

The Israelites invaded the Canaanite lands under Joshua. The Israelites in subsequent generations did not eradicate the Canaanites as they were supposed to. So the tribes of Canaan had four hundred more years through the time of the Judges to repent and follow the Lord. All told, these civilizations had roughly 800 years before the time of Saul to repent and follow God. During all of those centuries, they were witnesses to the truth about God through the Israelites. So it isn’t as if God suddenly woke up one day and said, “ You know, I hate the Amalekites.” Basically, the Canaanite civilizations had showed, over the course of about 800 years, that they would not live by faith, that they would not repent, that they were determined to continue in their sinful, rebellious ways. As such, there was no purpose in giving them more time, and until they were eradicated, they remained a spiritual and military threat to God’s people.

A third possible reason for this harsh command was that while the Canaanite peoples continued to live in the land next to the people of Israel, the people of God were often led astray. The Israelites were the only people in the whole world who understood about living in faith. They were the people entrusted with the word of God, as Paul points out in Romans. God could not allow them to be corrupted and lose the truth. If they lost it, the whole world lost it. So the Lord commanded his people to take extreme measures to make sure the world did not lose the truth about faith-relationship with God.

Fourth, God did not choose the promised land randomly. For thousands of years it has been both the cradle and the crossroads of civilization. Trade routes flowed through the land from Africa to Asia and Europe, back from Europe to Asia and Africa, and from Asia to Africa and Europe. It is the meeting place of three continents and two oceans. Whoever lived in this geographical location from the beginning of civilization until the fall of the Roman Empire was in a position to spread ideas, culture and religion to most of the people in the world. In fact, one reason Christianity spread so quickly and influentially is because it began in the Holy Land. In fact, the three most dominant religions in the world – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all began in the Holy Land. The reasons these three are so widespread is due in part to geography. Even today, Jerusalem is a major epicenter of the world political situation. [click the link to keep reading]

Continue reading “Holy War! What is it Good For?”