I never expected the theological depths found in the story of a man being swallowed by a big fish and then delivered alive on dry land after three days. This fun to tell and hear children’s story has been a staple of last minute or surprise teaching opportunities for many years by more than one faithful Sunday School teacher. If you find yourself having been raised at all with any influence of a Christian church, you know the story very well, right?….. Maybe not. The past several weeks we have been preaching and teaching through the book of Jonah. We always follow up our morning worship hour with Sunday School and the topic of discussion and discovery for the adults is the morning message (man does this keep the preacher honest). The discussion these past several weeks has been wonderful. The topics which the book of Jonah has led us to has caused us to stretch and rethink our individual perception of God and who He is. Stretch and conform our thinking to a biblical view. As Pastor, I have found myself nearly at a loss for an adequate answer to some of the questions posed. Questions dealing with God’s sovereignty and His will. Why do bad things happen, sin and evil in general, election and man’s will, creation and the fall are just a few of the questions discussed these past 5 weeks. Yes, when you give serious consideration to the issue of God’s sovereignty, these issues become unavoidable in your study. Unavoidable but not always answered satisfactorily. In many of the cases, I have felt I nearly copped out when asked these probing questions by coming ultimately back to the cause of all things, God’s will. Why did God place His love on Israel, because he loved them. Why does God bring prosperity and create disaster, because He, the Lord does all these things. Why did God chose to persevere with Jonah and save Jonah from himself, because He did. Why did God….because He willed it. As I found myself in study today, I came across this statement from one the church’s divines. He sums it up better than I ever could…. “. . . it is very wicked merely to investigate the causes of God’s will. For his will is, and rightly ought to be, the cause of all things that are. For if it (God’s will) has any cause, something must precede it, to which it is, as it were, bound; this is unlawful to imagine. For God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it. But if you proceed further to ask why he so willed, you are seeking something greater and higher than God’s will, which cannot be found. Let men’s rashness, then, restrain itself, and not seek what does not exist, lest perhaps it fail to find what does exist” I hope the folks of Center Hill have found this study to be as rewarding and convicting as I. I believe they have. It is encouraging when 75% of the adult congregation find the Word preached so compelling, not by human attraction incidentally, that they remain to discuss it further. When this occurs lives must be changed and God is honored. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!…. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33 By the way, who was the divine quoted above? No fair googling. E-mail me the answer and I’ll let you know who is right in Sunday School this week. SOLI DEO GLORIA!!!!!
As our church continues her series in the book of Jonah, I was once again challenged in the depth of this book as I consider the attributes of our covenant keeping God. Our passage this week led once again to God’s sovereign rule over all creation and we are beginning to get a glimpse of God’s mercy. When God sets His mind and purpose on something, He will go to all lengths to accomplish it. Disobedient Jonah has said ‘no, I will not go and preach to pagans’ contrary to God’s desire and will for him. God now intervenes supernaturally in circumstances to bring about His purpose in and through Jonah’s life. As we read the first 16 verses of the book of Jonah, it becomes apparent that God was determined to use Jonah, either as an obedient child or as a disobedient servant. It isn’t directly stated in the passage, but logical deduction tells us that Jonah didn’t enter into his disobedience quickly or immediately. No, his disdain for the Ninevites was rooted deeply. His rationale of God being merciful and gracious was a learned truth. His choice to turn west to Tarshish instead of east toward Nineveh began with one and two and three steps. He searched out a ship in a port city going as far from Nineveh as possible and decided to pay his own fare to further his disobedience. Then content in his rebellion against God, he falls asleep in the lower deck of the ship. Jonah’s sin took thought, planning and time. But just as Jonah’s disobedience didn’t instantly appear, neither did God’s judgment appear instantly in it’s fullest toward Jonah. Our God is a merciful God, slow to anger and judgment. He wants Jonah’s repentance and humility and sets His purpose to that end. He turns the storm up in intensity as the sailors row harder and throw out the cargo, examples of our human efforts to thwart God’s purpose. The tempest is raging. But God is so committed to His purpose of Jonah preaching to the pagans of Nineveh, he brings a ship full of ‘innocent’ sailors to the brink of a watery grave instead of allowing His erring child to continue on his disobedient journey. It is the same for His church today. God will bring the gentle nudge toward obedience, then the push and finally the knock down should we resist in His will. He is like that, He is merciful. He wants to save us from our sin and He will go to any length to do that. James Boice expanded on the philosopher Virgil’s statement, ‘The descent to hell is easy’. I quote ‘When we disobey God, he does not rearrange the stars of heaven to say, “Stop, do not go farther.” He let’s us go. At first he does not put great obstacles in our path. If we choose to stop reading our Bibles, he does not send a prophet to get us reading them. If we stop praying, he does not send a disaster into our lives to make us turn to him. Not at first!! He simply allows us to go downhill and to pay for our own foolish choices. However, when we persist in our disobedience, he gets tougher. He begins gently, just as we gently disobey. But in the end he sends a tempest.” How is it with you today? Has God called you to something specific and yet you have gently started to disobey. You cannot thwart His will. He is sovereign and will accomplish what He plans. He is also merciful and will not allow His children to continue in their disobedience but may very well wield all the forces of the omnipotent to produce an obedient child. Study Jonah and find a deeper and greater assurance in a purposeful, merciful God, willing to save. soli deo gloria
We at Center Hill begin a short 5 or 6 week series on the book of Jonah during our Sunday Morning worship. My intention, as Pastor, was to continue in our series from the pastoral Epistles after the break we took to study biblical ordination. However, the Lord has brought the prophet Jonah to my mind on numerous occasions during the past month or so and I have become aware of the rich doctrine taught in the book named for him. The doctrines of God’s sovereignty, mercy and love. We began this past Sunday with an overview of the book and I posed a question to our folks during the message and then later in our adult Sunday School class. Do you believe in the sovereign rule of God over all matters? We say we do even if we only have the most rudimentary understanding of the gospel. It is actually the very foundation of our hope. We hold to the truth that even during the worst of life’s calamities, there sits on the throne of the universe an omnipotent, good God in control working all things for His glory and our good. It is the very bedrock of our hope in times of trouble. But do we really believe in God’s sovereign rule when His will comes into conflict with the obstinate disobedient human will? You’ve heard it said from the young lady considering marriage, “I now he doesn’t claim Christ, but we love each other. I know what God’s word says, that I’m not to marry him, but I don’t care. It will work out”. What about God’s sovereign rule in that case? Or what about “I know I should apologize and ask for their forgiveness but I just can’t, I just can’t. I was wrong and I know God’s word says I should make this right but I just can’t talk with him, I won’t”. What about God’s sovereign rule in that case? It seems that man’s will trumped God’s, right? Jonah is told by God to go east to Nineveh because He had a purpose for him there but instead Jonah said ‘no, I’m going west’. And so he does and even pays his own fare for this disobedience, amazing. But turn loose the Hound of Heaven and watch stubborn grace at work. Watch as a sovereign God controls the forces of nature, appoints fish, a plant and a worm, and changes the hearts of a vicious murderous people from haters of God to lovers of God. His will will not be frustrated. Join us for this series as we look deeper into the attributes of God and see His merciful, loving control over His creation to bring about His perfect will of redeeming a people for Himself in spite of His disobedient children, unbelieving bystanders and pagan idolaters. soli deo gloria