Pride and Prejudice? (3)

Jonah
‘And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’
Jonah 4:11 ESV

God didn’t use Jonah’s sulky obedience and then reject him because of his bad attitude.

Even after Jonah ranted at God saying that he was angry enough to die, God didn’t give up on him but graciously explained himself. We don’t know that Jonah ever truly ‘got it’ about the inclusiveness of God’s love. Curiously, his story leaves us wondering; but maybe that’s a good thing for those of us Christians who also struggle at times to accept the will and ways of God with us and the world. Jonah’s experience put me in mind of a comment C.S.Lewis made in ‘Mere Christianity’. He wrote, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

Sermon
The apostle Paul, before he met the resurrected Jesus, was as clueless about the love of God as Jonah and equally convinced that it could not extend to the gentiles in the way that Jesus taught. But God didn’t give up on Paul either. Like Jonah, the pious Pharisee could not escape from the grace of God. Not only would he come to Christ but he would willingly go to the very gentiles he had despised, preaching that grace, repentance and faith was just as much for them as it was for him.

 
And he would write, ‘Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them…. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.’
2 Corinthians 5:14-21 New Living Translation

I wished Jonah could read that but then I realized he already knows it better than any of us because God, who wouldn’t give up on him, has I am sure already taken the time to graciously explain himself.

Pride and Prejudice? (2)

Jonah

(Jonah) prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah 4:2 ESV

 


Jonah was proud of Israel’s place in God’s plans, and prejudiced against Assyria, her enemy. When commissioned to go and preach to Nineveh, to warn of God’s coming judgment, Jonah just wasn’t ready to forgive and forget, even if God was. Sensing that the Ninevites would repent (they did) he chose to run as far as he could in the opposite direction. But what about God’s response to his wandering prophet?

Peters denial

I am so encouraged by the way God met Jonah on the way to Tarshish. It reminds me of the way he met Saul, on the road to Damascus and the way he met Peter beside the lake, and the way he met Thomas and the rest of the disciples who all ran away. Jonah’s refusal, Saul’s persecution, Peter’s denials and Thomas’s doubt, all met with grace; God’s forgiving, restoring grace.

Jonah GourdThat Jonah found grace in a storm, in the belly of a fish and in the heat of the desert is a heads up to the rest of us, I think, in those moments when we let our doubts and fears, our anger, resentment and pride get the better of us, when we find ourselves failing in faith and so, perhaps, failing in forgiveness.


Jesus told his disciples that their heavenly Father still frowns on failures of forgiveness.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants…one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents…the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me…And out of pity for him, the master forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one…who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me…’ He refused and went and put him in prison …Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. Matthew 18:21-35 ESV

Pride and Prejudice? (1)

Jonah1 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 and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
Jonah 1:1-3 ESV

Jonah the son of Amittai was a prophet of Israel from the town of Gath Hepher in Galilee near Nazareth during the reign of King Jeroboam II around 785B.C. I mention it to affirm him as an historical prophet who in fact did visit Assyria when Nineveh on the banks of the Tigress River was the capital of the great Assyrian Empire.

“The spirit and teaching of the Book of Jonah rank with the highest of the Old Testament prophetical books. Not as much can be said for the prophet himself, who ranks low in the catalogue of Old Testament prophets. He was a proud, self-centred egotist: wilful, pouting, jealous, bloodthirsty; a good patriot and lover of Israel, without proper respect for God or love for his enemies. The Book of Jonah may be regarded as a great work on foreign missions. It anticipates the universality of Jesus’ gospel, and is the Old Testament counterpart of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.”  NBD

Jonah Carmel‘He was a proud, self-centred egotist: willful, pouting, jealous, blood thirsty; a good patriot and lover of Israel, without proper respect for God or love for his enemies.’  So did Jonah learn nothing from his time in the belly of the fish, or from God’s rebuke about the value of 120 000 men, women and children of Nineveh compared to one shady shrub? We have no clue from the Book of Jonah whether he ever repented of his attitude and according to some ancient Jewish scholars (Rabbi Eliezer) Jonah reached quite an old age.

 

By the way, did you ever notice that Simon Peter, another good Jew who took some convincing about the gentiles’ place in the gospel of God (Acts 10) was Simon son of Jonah (Matthew 16:17). Of course, not that Jonah but as a simple fact it appeals to me and I wonder what some of the more allegorically inclined preachers down through the years might have made of it.

Peter's visionAnyway, the similarity of the message of the Book of Jonah to the message of Jesus worked out in the Book of Acts (the preaching of the gospel ‘in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’) makes for a particularly relevant study in the 21st Century when ‘good Christians’ are still inclined towards all sorts of prejudice in sharing the gospel; ‘big picture’ prejudice in regard to race, religion or a host of other categories and ‘small picture’ prejudice in regard to those difficult individuals that God has sent us to, at work or even at church or even in our own families.

Is that a storm on the horizon?

Not drowning, doubting… (6)

Isaac laughs

‘…what is that to you?’
John 21:22

And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.’
Hebrews 6:15

 

It means a lot to me that even after the Egyptian episode and the Hagar incident (both of which, to me at least, suggest impatience on Abraham’s part) Abraham still becomes our example of patience as well as faith.

Of course we learn patience; even Job, and the prophets mentioned in James 5.
Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22) and not an innate quality for any of us.

Abraham, in the long run, learned to wait patiently and received what was promised;
Isaac his son born to Sarah, and descendants ‘as numerous as the stars’.

‘What is that to you?’ Jesus asked Peter when he inquired about John’s fate.

Jesus had just described the death Peter would die in glorifying God when Peter noticed John (known to be a favourite of Jesus’) following them and asked, not unreasonably I think, ‘What about him?’ Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

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It’s so good that the disciples are drawn ‘warts and all’ in the gospels; their doubts, their failures, their jealousy of one another regarding who would sit at Jesus’ right hand in his kingdom; we are shown all of that and more besides.

The other day I found myself confronted with Jesus’ question, ‘What is that to you?’ in light of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah.

 

I was reading Luke’s gospel; that passage in chapter seven where John the Baptist, in prison and soon to die at the hands of Herod, sent his own disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

In prison, John heard about Jesus’ miracles; already he had been convinced that Jesus was the messiah; he had already gladly said, ‘…my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease’. He knew that Jesus, in the synagogue in Nazareth, read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me … He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners … to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4)

We read familiar passages of scripture so many times yet suddenly something speaks to us, making new connections to encourage us (or to rebuke our little faith) or both; or more. Exciting, isn’t it?

Sure I knew that John was in prison when he sent his disciples to Jesus but I had never connected that with Jesus reading from Isaiah in Nazareth. Suddenly it seemed only reasonable that John’s attention would be drawn to that portion, ‘He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners…to release the oppressed’.

john baptist


Perhaps I am making too much of this; perhaps it says more about me than about John, but if such a connection is valid, if even John was liable to doubts in the light of God’s blessings in the lives of others but not in his life, then I find it, not too perversely I hope, encouraging.

 

When we are tempted to ask like Peter ‘What about him?’ or like John ‘Are you (really) the one? If you are, then what about me?’ is the only answer we can expect Jesus’ answer to Peter, ‘What is that to you. You must follow me.’

I don’t believe so. Two passages of scripture came to mind as I thought about it.

First, from Romans 12:15, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’ which speaks for itself I think as a tonic against our self absorption.

And then, from 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, Paul’s assurance of the comfort that produces patience, the ability to endure suffering and see it become a blessing for ourselves and for others too.

‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.’ 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

What’s that to you?

 

Not drowning, doubting… (5)


Abraham stars

“… LORD, how can I know…?”
Genesis 15:8

How may the promises of God,
received by faith,
be affirmed in doubt?

 

 

By a promise we became God’s children; “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

By other promises we live as God’s children; “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3

Yes, we received with Christ (Romans 8:32) ‘everything we need for life and godliness’, but when, like Abraham, we come to doubt God’s promise what then?

We may also ask, “Lord, how can I know that I have received these promises?”

When Abraham, doubting, asked, God said, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon,” so Abraham spread out his sacrifice, (keeping the vultures away) until at sunset at last he heard God say, passing among the broken pieces of the sacrifice, ‘Know, for certain…’.

When we, doubting, ask, “Lord, how can I know ?” what might God say to us?

vultures
Might he say, ‘Bring me your heart, your soul, your mind and strength; bring me all your possessions and all your relationships; bring me your few loaves and fishes; and bring me your sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise as well’; so we present ourselves (time and again, not once and for all) as ‘living sacrifices holy and acceptable to him’ (Romans 12:1) and (keeping the vultures away) we wait and watch him passing through all the parts of our life every day, saying,Know, for certain…’

 

The great affirmation of the promise of God is the presence of God and the signs of his presence are the fruit and gifts of his spirit.Through them, at work in us, he makes us, like Abraham, his blessing to the world.

Doubt follows faith like a shadow; inescapable in the world.
We overcome doubt, taking hold of God’s promises by faith.
We continue as we began

Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians encouraging them in their faith to continue in Christ as they began; by faith, overcoming their doubts, believing what they first heard from him; the promises of God.

‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?  Have you suffered so much for nothing–if it really was for nothing?  Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?’ Galatians 3:1-5