Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 1)

A WORD FROM GOD

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:” (Jonah 1:1 NIV)

Take some time to read the first chapter of the book of Jonah in you Bible.

I recently told my congregation, there are two things to know about me, right off the bat. Number one, I am a really smart guy. Now, I know I do not always do things that make it seem like I am smart, but I do work really hard. I also had to tell them, I promise I am safety conscious. This was really important because the weekend before, I had gotten the church’s zero-turn lawnmower stuck in a ditch. It would have been funny if this had been a one-time incident, but alas, it was not. 

See, the parsonage has a few inclines that would make mowing them challenging. If you did not go at the right angle, I learned, the mower will slip back down the hill. And that is what got me caught in the ditch, the first time. Don’t worry, we were able to get the mower out easily and I was able to finish what I needed to for the day.

This might be a good point to say this is my first time using a zero-turn lawnmower. Over the course of three mowings, I was able to get more confident and do more of the yard safely.

The next day, I decided I needed to finish an area of the yard that had not been able to be mowed because it had been real marshy and I needed that to dry up. The time had come. I put on my rain boots, walked through knee-high grass, and found the ground was dry enough for me to finish this patch of grass. I was excited!

I got the mower out, put in my headphones and turned on Pandora Radio on the Contemporary Christian station. I was getting more and more of the yard mowed, and it was looking good! At this point, I felt myself getting prideful and decided to go up a hill, close to the driveway, so I could easily go back and make another pass. This worked great, until…there was a little culvert ditch I did not see until it was too late. This time, the lawnmower had been backed up into the ditch.

Most of the time I am not easily embarrassed. When people drove by and saw the mower, and then the vehicle pulling a rope (that kept breaking), I felt I just needed to laugh at this situation. Then, a friend came by, called his son, and they were able to get me unstuck.

The other thing I told the congregation they needed to know about me was that I do not like to be told something is too much of a challenge, or it is impossible. I have had this character trait verified on multiple occasions. My wife says this is one of the reasons we are married. J

I do not believe there are impossible situations. There is always a way out and people who can and will be there when needed. Because of this, I was able to get the yard mowed before rain started the next morning. Every time I drive up to the house, I am thrilled to see the yard mowed! Mission accomplished, this time.

Now many people, including me at times, when faced with a seemingly impossible situation, will try to run and hide until the problem goes away. We see this all the time. People will run to drugs, alcohol, the arms of someone who is not their spouse, and more, just to try and run away from the situation for the moment and not think about it. 

It really is amazing what people will do to get out of doing something or face a situation or issue without really dealing with it. Most of the time, when the situation is faced and worked on, it turns out better.

As I study the scriptures and get older, I am understanding more and more how important it is to know who God is and what God’s nature is like. If we do not understand this, we do not clearly or fully understand who we really are. (I’m not talking about who we think we are. I am talking about who God created us to be.)

Now we get to the biblical book of Jonah.

There was something my Old Testament professor, in seminary, said. Think about this. “If you only had the book (or passage) of __________ from the Bible, what could you tell people about God from the text?” This is essentially what we get to do and experience from the Bible. We get to learn more about the nature of God. Yes, we learn about human nature, but as we learn about human nature, we also learn about who God is and how God interacts in this world and with flawed humanity. The book of Jonah is no different. 

As we take this time to study this short book in the minor prophets, take time to go to a new level of looking at the Biblical text. Take the time to see what the text is saying about who God is and what God’s nature is. This is something important for us to do because we can miss out on knowing God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit if we’re only looking for what peaks our interest or what makes us feel good.

Enter Jonah.

The prophet. The whale. The story many have heard from childhood. This is a book that has captured the minds and hearts of many throughout the centuries. So much so that many stories and movies have used something from this short book of the prophets. In 48 verses, Jonah gives us a good picture of what happens when we try to run from God and how persistent God is to get us to do what he wants.

The story, we know, goes like this: Jonah hears from God to go to Nineveh to get them to repent. Jonah says no and decides to get on a boat to try and run from God. A storm hits the sea and the sailors are scared. When they figure out Jonah is the cause of the storm, they throw him overboard and he gets swallowed by a whale (though the text just says big fish we tend to still think whale). He spends three days in the belly of the fish and then gets spewed out on the land. Jonah hears God again and this time he goes to Nineveh. While he is walking through the city, Jonah proclaims the message of the Lord and the people are scared so everyone, including the animals, put on sackcloth as a sign of repentance. God does not destroy the city. Jonah throws a fit. The end.

That pretty much sums it up, right? But, since this is one of the books in the Bible, we have to understand there is always something beneath the surface. There is something God wants us to know through this inspired story, this inspired word. 

This really is a fantastic story. It is easy to try and say this book is about how we should not try to run from God. It is easy to say this book is about God’s compassion for the people. It is easy to say this book teaches us about the human condition. But, if we take time to read and understand this story, we can see this book, like the rest of the Bible, is teaching us about the nature of God.

Our task, over the next four chapters is to see how, if we only had the book of Jonah, we could still teach about the incredible nature of the God who created the universe, including each individual person.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai.

Before we go any further into this story, we have to pause and think about who Jonah is. The only other time we learn of a prophet named Jonah is in 2 Kings 14:25, which says, “[Jeroboam, king of Israel (Northern Kingdom)] was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea,[a] in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.” (NIV) There really is not much about this guy. Even though we do not have much information, we do know who Jonah was supposed to be, a prophet of YHWH. 

Look at his name. Have you ever thought about Jonah’s name before? Jonah son of Amittai. “The proper name means ‘Dove son of Truth (or Faithfulness).’”[1] Can you sense the irony and humor right off the bat? Jonah is supposed to be a faithful prophet of God, yet he does something very unfaithful and runs away from his assignment. We are not told why he does this in the first chapter, but he tries to run from God and hide.

When else have you heard about people who tried to hide from God, in the Bible? There are numerous accounts, but the one that stands out is Adam and Eve. This is the account you can read about in Genesis chapter 3.

Right after Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”[2]

The story of the fall and trying to hide ourselves from God has saturated and become part of just about every story we know. It seems to be human nature to try and hide from people and/or God when we are ashamed or feel guilty.

When we tell about the beginning of the fall, when the fruit was eaten, notice how we tend to focus on the people’s actions and their sense of separation from God. Have we noticed the great care and grace God offers by “searching” for the man and women in the garden? God knows where they are located but God is asking where their heart is. The man tells God they were afraid. Their hearts were in fear, instead of peace.

Through the fear in their hearts, God still comes to the man and woman and offers them a chance to live, even if it is not in perfect peace as they were used to. God does this because the state and condition of every heart is known by him. Remember what God told the prophet Samuel when he went to anoint the next king of Israel after Saul, “the Lord looks at the heart.”[3]

Back to Jonah. 

JONAH LEARNS HE CANNOT RUN OR HIDE FROM GOD

God knows what Jonah will do. God knows that Jonah will try to run and hide, but God still offers grace from the beginning by giving Jonah the chance to do what he is supposed to do.

Jonah does not surprise God when he flees. God knows everything about us.[4] Jonah thinks he can run away from God by running away from his assignment.

Notice how the text says Jonah “went down to Joppa,”[5] “gone below deck.”[6] Jonah kept going down. The author is showing how the condition of Jonah’s heart is going deeper and deeper away from the presence and calling of God.

What we learn from this is God is not a person we can run and hide from. God is omniscient, meaning God is everywhere. There is no place God is not. Here, we can remember the words of David from Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.[7]

So now we have to ask if there is anything you are hiding from God? Do you wish God was with you and answering your pleas? Rest easy, God is always with you. God has never left you. There is nowhere you can go God is not. The presence of God is always seeking to give your heart peace and vanquish any fear within.

God is everywhere. That is good news for us. This is not all this first chapter of Jonah teaches us about God.

GOD CREATED EVERYTHING

This might seem like a no-brainer but this is a reality and truth we have to understand, or at least believe. Jonah seems to know this, yet he does not seem thrilled about it.

When he gets on the ship, Jonah goes below the deck to take a nap. Suddenly, a great storm comes upon the sea and is threatening the boat and the crew on board. The sailors are terrified and are trying to figure out why they are having this bad luck. They want to know who “cursed” the boat by coming aboard.

After casting lots, which is similar to drawing straws, the sailors find it was Jonah who caused the storm. They rush to get him and bring him to the deck to question him. Now, they already knew why he was on the boat because he told them he was running away from God. This never sunk in until the storm hit.

The sailors questioned Jonah about who he is. 

It’s interesting they did not want to know who he was before, they only wanted to know his reason for going to Tarshish. 

Jonah begins to tell them, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”[8] It is easy for us to hear Jonah with a confident, prophetic voice declaring who he is; but we have to keep in mind Jonah is running from God because he seems to be unhappy with the task he was called to do.

Instead of hearing a bold voice proclaim, “I am a Hebrew and worship the Lord…” Maybe we should instead hear Jonah speak with a snarky, disgusted tone because, yes he is a Hebrew, but he does not or has not shown he worships the Lord since he has run away. 

There are those who would try to make others feel guilty about running away, but pay attention to how Jonah is also showing us the human condition while teaching who God is. People run from God for many reasons. People will claim they worship God but live a life doing the opposite.

Jonah is telling the crew who he is supposed to be and what he is supposed to do. Maybe he has given up trying to pretend because at this point, Jonah is still trying to figure a way to get out of the assignment at hand, for unknown reasons at this point.

Yes, Jonah is a Hebrew. Yes, he is supposed to worship the Lord, but Jonah is unhappy with his lot in life. When the crew tries to decide what to do, Jonah steps in and says, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”[9] Jonah has thought about ending his life. He gets in his head that if he were gone, the lives of those around him would be better, would be safer.

But Jonah underestimates the image of God within humanity. He forgets that God desires people to live and to live in community with others.

What is remarkable is how the sailors try to avoid throwing Jonah overboard. They come up with every other idea. They even tried to row back to the land, back to safety. But the storm was too strong for them to row and they finally relented to Jonah’s plea.

GOD CAN BE SEEN IN THE MOST UNLIKELY PEOPLE

The sailors throw Jonah overboard. But before they completed that task, they cried out to Jonah’s God. “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”[10] The sailors began to plea to the Lord. They cried out to the Lord. What this means is they worshipped the Lord, in that moment.

We never know how our lives are going to touch those around us. Even if we are not living up to the life God set out for us, there is still his Spirit within us to touch the Spirit of another person. Pay attention to how people begin to act when you are around. You or I may not be the most perfect example of living for God, but maybe there is something about us that helps bring people to him. 

I cannot remember where I heard this quote, but it sticks with me: “Your fingerprints never leave the lives you touch.” Because of the grace of God, the Holy Spirit within us reaches out to another person and offers the grace of knowing the God in heaven, the Creator of the universe.

As the sailors were worshipping God, they threw Jonah overboard. All of a sudden, the storm ceased.

They realized the Lord is the One who created the heavens, the earth, and they sea. The Lord created everything. So, they continued to worship the Lord by offering sacrifices to him and made vows to him.[11]

Jonah is in the sea. He thinks his life is over, but notice this: God shows great compassion by allowing Jonah to live. God provides a huge fish, speaks to it, and the fish swallows Jonah. Jonah is kept safe in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Even though it is in the belly of a fish, God still desires his people to live and to experience real life, life in God’s presence here and now not just in the life to come.

What an interesting way to end this chapter. But here we are, in the belly of the fish, learning about the nature of God. Remember this, the circumstance you might be in now could be something God is using to keep you alive and trust in God. You may not be in the best situation, in your mind, but you may just be exactly where God is wanting you to be. You never know who God has placed in your life that has the tools to get you out of the ditch. It is in these situations we are becoming more and more transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Just look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.[12]

So, if this were the only book of the Bible you had in your possession, how much could you teach about who God is and what his nature is?

So far, we have learned:

  1. Even though God knows our real heart, he still calls to us and speaks to us, giving us his mission.
  2. There is no place we can hide from God. This should give us great encouragement because God never leaves us.
  3. The Lord is the One who created everything.
  4. People come to see and know God by our lives.
  5. God offers grace and desires life for people

As we can see, this is who God is and what God is like. Fast forward to the New Testament, we can see all of this lived out in the person of Jesus Christ.

Bringing this chapter to a close, I am invited us to begin to memorize Hebrews 3:15, “today, if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your heart.” God’s word comes to us in many different ways. Do we have the ears and heart to hear?

Maybe someone needs to hear this word, as if it is from God:

“I know who you are and what you’re capable of, yet I still choose you for this life, for this calling, for this special mission I created you for. You can try to go as far from me as you want, but remember, I’m already there and I’m pursuing you with a love so great that I will do everything I can to keep you alive. I created this whole world. I created you! Because of you (whether it’s done perfectly or not) the most unlikely people will come to believe in me, know me, and worship me. You have a great role to play in expanding the Kingdom of Heaven.”


[1] Tribble, Phyllis. New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes Volume 7. (1994). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Page 493

[2] Genesis 3:8 NIV

[3] 1 Samuel 16:7c NIV

[4] Psalm 139:1-6

[5] Jonah 1:3 NIV

[6] Jonah 1:5 NIV

[7] Psalm 139:7-12 NIV

[8] Jonah 1:9 NIV

[9] Jonah 1:12 NIV

[10] Jonah 1:14 NIV

[11] Jonah 1:16

[12] Romans 5:1-5 NIV

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

Confessions of a Pastor

Sometimes I Find Myself Being A People Pleaser

One of the things I hear, from many people, is, “I will do what I want, I don’t care what other people think.” This is something I have said at times also. The older I get, the more I realize I do care what people think.

I am a recovering people pleaser. Is that okay with you?

There are times I cannot stand it when people get mad at me. I feel like I have to fix the situation right away by apologizing and talking with the person. The feeling amplifies when it happens to be a group of people I inadvertently offended somehow.

I do not like it when people are mad at me.

I do not like it when I accidentally hurt people’s feelings. This is one of those times I begin to feel low. I feel like scum because I hurt the feelings of someone I care about.

The list can go on and on.

I also enjoy it when people like me. Not because I am recognized for good work; but because I am liked as a person. This brings happiness and a feeling I have people around I can spend time with and they would enjoy spending time with me.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone else? How many of you feel this way?

I know I am not the only person who goes through these pursuits of people pleasing. This is not how I operate all the time either. But recognizing and proclaiming this reality is important, for me and for you.

Here’s the thing. If we are doing the work that God has called us to do, not everyone is going to like us. There are some people who will completely reject and despise us because we are doing work for the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Galatians 1:10 (ESV), the Apostle Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be servant of Christ.”

The questions I have to ask, and answer, each day is, “Who am I really working for? What are the reasons I do what I do?” You have to answer these also. The quality of our work will actually depend on how we answer these questions. Why?

If we are working to please man, there is a big chance we will cut corners and manipulate the work we do to make us look better so others will like us. This really is not our best work because it is really not focused on the work, but rather on what other people think of the work…of you and me.

Colossians 3:23 (ESV) says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

Doing the work for God means we are doing work for a much higher purpose than us, or our personal agendas. Doing work for God means we are going to do the right thing, all the time, in a loving way, so the Kingdom can be expanded.

When we are doing the work for God, and give all glory to God, then we are going to make sure all the “I’s” are dotted and all the “T’s” are crossed. In other words, we are going to make sure the work is the best quality work possible.

Yes, I do like it when people like me. It really makes my job a lot easier. But, the reality is, I do my best to focus on what is best for the Kingdom work in my life, church, community, and ultimately, the world.

My prayer each and every day is simply, “God, you be glorified. Jesus be known and shown. Holy Spirit guide me and strengthen me.”

Betrayed, Denied, Tried, Crucified

In the 1924 book by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game is a story of big game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney ending up on an island owned by General Zaroff. The General talks about how he is bored with “traditional” hunting and has moved into hunting the most dangerous, the most cunning animal, ship-wrecked humans. This is a dark story that shows what happens when we lose our way and give in to the darkness of the world.

As disturbing as this book was, and still is, this is a good picture of the darkness humanity is capable of. We like to think that because we’re “evolved” and “more civil” now that we do not act like this. But the reality is human nature has not changed. There is still darkness looming over humanity. There is still something that pulls us away from the God who created us. There is still Sin.

Over the past several weeks, we have been diving into the life of Jesus Christ. Originally this was going to be the last message, but after some prayer, we’re adding two more so we can take the time to talk more fully about the life of Jesus Christ.

Remember we talked about why the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” is really the most important question. From there we talked about his birth and were reminded this is not just a story we should only hear at Christmas time. Then we talked about his baptism and temptations. From there, we talked about his healing ministry. Last week, we talked about Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. Today, we’re going to talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life.

READ LUKE 23:1-3

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

In this scene, we are already in the courtroom of Pontius Pilate. How did we get here? To understand what’s going on, we have to go back in time about 12 hours.

Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll writes, “Jesus didn’t come to win the approval of people or to swing the majority of a disenfranchised voter base to embrace his platform and sweep him in a position of power in Jerusalem. He came to speak the “solemn truth”. And let’s face it; the truth is rarely popular. In fact, it usually offends the majority.”[1]

This is an important thing for us to remember, especially when we talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life. All of a sudden we have shifted to what appears the majority wanted – for Jesus to keep doing his mission – to a different kind of majority, a group of people who are threatened by the truth and will stop at nothing to get what they want – Jesus gone so they can continue ruling and living the way they see fit.

Whenever people’s pride is threatened, there is really nothing that can stop them from acting the way they do. Reason doesn’t help because we begin to act on our feelings and emotions rather than logical thinking. In fact, if you really think about it, we have moved beyond the Age of Reason and are living in the Age of Feelings.

To understand more of why Jesus was so focused on his mission and purpose, we have to explore more into the depths humanity is capable of.

We can see a picture of this during the last supper (Luke 22:7-38).

BETRAYAL

Jesus and his disciples were gathering together to eat a meal together. They were enjoying the company, the food, the conversation. None of them know, except Jesus, the intentions of a single person. This person would have been upset because Jesus was not overthrowing Rome in a militaristic fashion. This person could also have been nervous because, as the writer of John points out, “[Judas] was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”[2]

Judas was probably feeling guilt which turned into shame and he did not want anyone to find out what he was doing. This “secret” sin begins to eat at him and will cause him to betray the one he professed faith in. Judas was living a double life, and Jesus knew it. One of the most difficult things for us to hear is we do not ever really do anything in “secret.” God is always watching us. We learn through Jesus, “secret sin has a way of warping the mind and twisting one’s values grotesquely out of shape.”[3]

Jesus always knows when we are living hypocritically because Jesus knows “what [is] in each person[4].” A double life always catches up with us and will cause us to act in ways we never intended or dreamed would be possible – all in the name of self-preservation.

Now, it is easy to keep this image of Judas, the image of the one who betrayed Jesus with a kiss and leaves it at that. We, as a people, tend to like it when people get “what they deserve.” But we have to be careful not to condemn Judas completely. Remember, Judas’ feet were still washed by Jesus (John 13) and Jesus was on the cross even for people like Judas. When we hear the words Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,”[5]we hear Jesus’ compassion even for the worst of sinners. We hear the forgiveness of God stretching across the earth, across time, across ALL boundaries and borders that Sin has built.

Maybe you’re someone here today with a “secret sin,” one that would cause embarrassment. Make sure this does not take a hold of you and cause you to live a life far away from God, even though people see you as loving God. Hear this today, “You are NEVER too far from God. God is eternally drawing himself to you, desiring you live a free life: free from guilt and shame and pride. He is pursuing you so you can live in true freedom. Repent and come to the throne of grace where he is graciously and mercifully waiting for you.”

DENIAL

The next scene we come to is Peter. I love Peter. Peter can put both feet in his mouth – at the same time. He is always trying to show that he is “better” than the other disciples. So when Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,”[6]Peter becomes indignant and says, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”[7]

Can you hear the pride in Peter’s reply? Here’s the deal though, whenever we are faced with a choice, the fallen human nature is to choose our own safety and preservation. It is only by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the strength to stand up for Christ and be counted as among his followers. We all have to understand we ALL deny Jesus every single day. When we focus on ourselves. When we choose to not help. When we choose to stay away from people different than us. When we refuse to publically acknowledge our faith in God because we’re scared of how people react or because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We all have denied Jesus many times in our life.

Denying Jesus has more consequences than we might realize. Every time we do not live as God desires us to live, another person is turned off by Christianity and can become angry with God. We see this all the time when followers of Jesus Christ are mean, purposefully acting one way after professing another, refuse to let new people in, become so self-centered in our life we become indifferent to the suffering around us.

Jesus does not leave us in this state. He is giving us grace upon grace so we have new opportunities to turn our life around and so the world can see Christ in us. I love the line in the prayer of St. Patrick, “Christ in heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the hear that hears me.”

Peter’s denial is left in the four gospel accounts on purpose. It is to show that we cannot think we are better and will never deny Jesus.

When have you been like Peter? When have you denied Jesus? He is not mad at you. In fact, Jesus is eternally calling you to come to him so he can show you grace upon grace and restore and redeem you.

TRIALS

Peter’s denial happened during the time Jesus was being tried. In scripture we see six trials taking place. None of them are really legal (according to the Jewish law) but they still took place. Three of the trials were in front of the Jewish religious leaders and three were in front of the civil authorities of Rome (Pilate and Herod). These were all undercover and attempted to be kept private so the religious leaders could get what they wanted without the rumblings or rioting of the crowds that adored and believed in Jesus.

During the trials, there were false accusations against Jesus. But Jesus stayed focused on his mission. He stayed the course for what he was sent to do and he did not let anything stop him. It may seem as if the people are doing this on their own; but what we begin to see is these trials are actually against humanity, not Jesus. God is taking this opportunity to further reveal the hearts that are in humanity. He foreknew this was going to happen and, in Jesus Christ, allowed the people to carry out their plan which God used for the redemption of the world.

Jesus came to show humanity the real life God intended for us to live. He is the living embodiment of the “suffering servant” the prophet Isaiah wrote about several hundred years beforehand:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.[8]

CRUCIFIED

The crucifixion story is difficult for many people to encounter, even read about. Steve Seamands writes, “Yet despite the unbearable physical agony, people in Roman times dreaded the shame associated with crucifixion…By pinning them up like insects, crucifixion was deliberately intended to display and humiliate its victims…Crucifixion, then, was deliberately designed to be loathsome, vulgar, revolting, and obscene…The hideous shame associated with the crucifixion was the main reason why the message of the cross seemed ludicrous to its original hearers.”[9]

It is so easy for us to wear the cross as decoration or even as an accessory. But the sight of the cross, throughout history, has been gruesome and hideous because of how it was used. When you wear a cross or have the decorations of the cross, remember to see them as not something pretty to hang up. This is what the Son of God died upon. This is what God used to conquer the power of sin and death over humanity. This is the key that unlocked the chain so humanity did not have to be slaves to sin and the power of temptations anymore. The cross is the sign of victory.

Alister McGrath says, “The cross of Christ is the point of reference for Christian faith; Christian faith is based upon it and judged by it…Christian theology, Christian worship, and Christian ethics are essentially nothing other than an attempt to explore and develop the meaning and implications of the crucified Christ in every area of life.”[10]

Many people around the globe love to have the cross with the body of Jesus to remind them of the suffering God in flesh endured for the sake of humanity. This is a constant reminder of how God is with us even in our sufferings because God himself suffered.

Many people prefer the empty cross to symbolize the risen Christ and the ultimate victory of sin and death. It is a reminder that Christ did not stay on the cross but is living eternally and has become our mediator between God and people.[11]

The crucifixion is an important aspect of Jesus’ life we cannot just brush aside. The crucifixion reminds that God is willing to do EVERYTHING possible to redeem and restore humanity and all of creation. The cross reminds us that God knows and understands suffering on a very personal level.

Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus was left in the tomb.

Always remember that this is not the end of the story. The worst thing in life is never the last thing. God always has the final word.

Stay tuned next week as we talk about the next incredible event of Jesus’ life that continues to change the world today..

We all have been in a place to betray Jesus. We all have denied Jesus. Jesus took on the weight of sin on humanity and carried that with him on the cross. Do not live in fear that God is mad at you. Do not live with guilt or shame. Repent (change your heart and lives), confess and live into the freedom that God has waiting for you. Come to the throne of grace and experience an incredible presence of grace and mercy that changes our lives.

 

Works Cited:

[1]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[2]John 12:6 NIV

[3]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[4]John 2:25 NIV

[5]Luke 23:34 NIV

[6]Luke 22:34 NIV

[7]Mark 14:31

[8]Isaiah 53:2-7 NIV

[9]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 57

[10]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 55

[11]Hebrews 9:15, 1 Timothy 2:5

Healing and Restoring

Luke 8:26-39

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes,which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, as witnessed in the Gospel of Luke. Why would we take the time to go through a specific series on the life of Christ? For one thing, we have made Jesus into an impersonal being that we seek to help us out only when we are in trouble or in need of assistance. We have also undervalued Jesus’ humanity to the point he doesn’t even resemble humanity anymore. Remember, Jesus was human. He was/is God in flesh. Not only is Jesus human, but he is also the epitome of how humanity should live with each other and with God.

At the same time, we remember that Jesus is also fully God. So, he is fully human AND fully divine. The second person in the Trinity brings us closer into the relationship of God, the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. We learn more about the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s work in this world. This was/is part of his mission.

One of Jesus’ first sermons was actually a reading of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”[1]

Jesus said a lot by reading this passage in front of his hometown. Proclaiming the good news to the poor brings healing of the spirit, proclaim freedom for prisoners brings healing to societal status. Recovery of sight for the blind, setting the oppressed free brings healing to eyesight and to bring healing to those who have been held captive.

Wherever Jesus is, there is healing. When we encounter Jesus Christ, you and I experience some form of healing. Because that’s what Jesus does. Jesus brings healing.

In the passage we read out of Luke 8, we witness an exciting scene. Jesus has just come from a situation where he calmed with wind and the sea. His disciples were witnesses to this and they still questions who he was and what he could do. The thing we need to remember and see is that Jesus does not leave things in a state of chaos.

JESUS ALWAYS BRINGS PEACE AMONG THE CHAOS.

This is what he does. We can see evidence of this all the way back to the beginning of creation. The waters of the earth were chaotic, then God comes in and brings order. He brings his peace.

The presence of Christ channels the chaos and brings order and new life to the situation.

The demoniac.

This man had been tortured in his soul causing him to act in ways that the people took notice of him. He lived in the tombs and did not wear any clothes. Now I don’t know about you, but living in tombs would most likely change me also.

Side note about demons: I am often asked if I believe there are demons, and there is spiritual warfare going on. My answer is, “I don’t think we take the spiritual realm serious enough whether a person believes in demons/spiritual warfare or not.” I do know that Jesus took people being possessed by demons seriously. Jesus took the spiritual realm seriously.

This man saw Jesus coming, fell to his feet, and made a scene by shouting, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

This man is making a statement that he knows who Jesus is and is…well…mocking Jesus in some way. He knows Jesus has the power to free him from the demons. There is an excellent point here. We often say we believe in Jesus. Well, remember what James writes, “You believe that there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe and shudder.”[2]

So, I do believe in the spiritual realm and believe there is stuff going on we cannot imagine. This is why trusting that Jesus will give and bring peace to our lives, to the world is important.

See, we often say we “believe” in Jesus, but we do not really take it much further than that. Yes, believing in Jesus is essential; but if we do not allow this belief to come into our heart and transform our lives, then we will let other forces to take over our lives:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Bitterness
  • Anger
  • Sex
  • Lust
  • Hatred
  • Selfishness
  • Indifference to any suffering around our community and the world.
  • This list can and does go on and on.

All of this will consumer our lives and cause us to act out in ways God did not intend for us to act. The power of Sin in our world, and in our lives, is stronger than we realize. Sin has already possessed the world, and without Jesus, there is no freedom. Everything is in chaos:

  • Our inner selves
  • Our mental being
  • Our emotional being
  • Our relationships

We like to think, here in America that we are above being demon possessed, but also remember what we do allow to control our lives, that is not God.

We all have different voices in our heads, trying to lead us, voices of darkness, and voices of light and life. When we listen to the voice of darkness, we can see evidence of chaos, yet we are unable to break free from this chaos because it has tormented our life so much that we become enslaved to it.

Notice what the demon-possessed man says, “I beg you, don’t torture me!” The demons inside him have the man convinced that Jesus is there to torture him. When the darkness fills our life so much, it is challenging to believe that Jesus brings anything other than torture because this means we have to change. And change to many people is torture.

The point of all of this is…evil is real in our world and within ourselves. But evil never has the final say. Jesus does.

Jesus gives permission for the demons (evil) to speak just a bit, but then it is his power that drives them out and sends the demons always to where they will be tortured and break free their control over the people.

What are you struggling with today that has a tight grip on you and is not letting you live into the life that Jesus Christ offers? What are you holding on to that is preventing you from fully loving God, loving people, AND trusting in God completely? Name it. Claim the power of Christ over it, then confess to other people.

We must go to others, confess our sins and articulate how Jesus is breaking us free from the powers of darkness. If we do not, then we are still living with selfishness and our own ability to get through life, which will wear us down. We are to have a group of people (whatever size) to help us and walk with us as we are stepping out to follow Jesus, we will fall down, but there are people to help pick us up.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

I personally have a core group of friends that I can be genuine with. These friends have been by my side for years, and I’ve been by their side for years. Together, we hold each other accountable to live into the light and not pick the chains of enslavement up to sin again.

There are times this may seem to bring chaos and torture into our lives, because we don’t want anyone to think less of us or see us as anything than perfect; but the truth is, when we tell confess to other people, the light is shining on our sin, it is brought into the open, and peace can finally enter in.

Jesus brings this peace. Whenever and whoever Jesus heals, peace has come into the picture. Do you feel like you live in peace? Then come face down to the feet of Jesus and cry out to him, “Lord, save me! Free me! I want to only live for you!”

Right after this scene, Jesus and his disciples were traveling, and we see two more healings: one of the raising of a dead girl and the other is cured of the issue of blood.

There are a couple things that are happening here.

One is Jesus brings life wherever he goes. When he proclaims the Kingdom of God is at hand, this is where real life is experienced. It is living in the full presence of God here and now, AND in the life to come. Because of Jesus,

WE EXPERIENCE NEW LIFE

The other thing that we see is someone who was outcasted in society, someone who was told they had to stay away from everyone. We have people like this today. All we have to do is drive down 7th street downtown, and we see the people the rest of society has cast out for one reason or another.

When have you experienced shame for a condition you have? When have you experienced rejection from people just because you were not like everyone else? When have you been told you weren’t good enough, so people withdrew themselves from you.

Something incredible about Jesus is, he did not just heal the condition of the person, he healed the state of their social status as well. Jesus’ healing was not only so the physical aspects of the person would be healed and whole, but Jesus also healed so people could experience wholeness as part of a community. He restored them to be able to be with society and not live on the fringes anymore.

JESUS BRINGS HEALING, WHOLENESS, AND RESTORATION TO MIND, BODY, AND RELATIONSHIPS.

Have you taken the time to seek Jesus, not just to fix our physical illnesses or injuries, but to restore our relationship with other people? So often, we get focused on praying about fixing and healing our bodies that we forget that Jesus is working to fix all of us and make us whole.

He is working to heal our physical bodies, our mental self, emotional self, and relationships. Jesus is concerned with the entire person. So, when we talk with people about praying for healing, let’s remember what Jesus did and focus on the bigger picture.

The physical healing is more about making us able to be part of society once again. Jesus is working in and through us to make us whole people, not just putting band-aids on injuries but healing us so we can be healed mentally, emotionally, and relationally with ourselves, others and HIM.

Notice another aspect of Jesus’ healing ministry that we need to pay attention to:

JESUS OFFERS FORGIVENESS

Remember that we are so messed up by sin and the enslavement to the power of sin and temptations that we need to hear and understand GOD FORGIVES YOU.

God is not in the business of making us feel guilty about anything we have done wrong. He is not interested in continually reminding us of our failures. God is interested in healing us from the inside out with the power of forgiveness driven by his great love for you…and me.

Guilt and shame weigh us down. When we do wrong, we remember, and our minds are tortured because we relive the tapes of our sin over and over again. We do this with other people. Just look at the news, newspaper, Facebook, or any other social media. We love to remind people of the ways they have messed up constantly, yet we don’t like it when people point our sin out.

Jesus brings forgiveness, which brings peace to our lives so we can share this peace, grace, and mercy to others. We get to be part of building the Kingdom of Heaven with every step we take, every word we speak and every time we encounter another person, in person or online.

As forgiven people, we have not right to hold anyone’s sin against them. If God can forgive you and me, then we have the responsibility and mandate to bring the forgiveness of Christ with us wherever we are. We can do this with those people we hold dear to our hearts. Can we do this with those who have made us enemies have done something so wrong to us that it destroyed the relationship? Can we offer forgiveness to all people?

Jesus was constantly proclaiming the “year of the Lord’s favor” by announcing the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the year when ALL people would be free from their sin. We are the people God has called, is transforming, and has sealed us to go into the world and be with people to help release them from the power of sin and temptations in their life.

He has an incredible way of bringing peace with him wherever he is. Since we are the body of Christ in the world, let us do what we can to bring his peace and grace, and not cause others to feel guilt and shame anymore.

Forgiveness is a powerful healer. It can mend relationships, even while on a deathbed. Forgiveness heals, restores, and brings wholeness.

Remember, Jesus is the Great Healer who comes to forgive, heal, AND restore our standing with God and people.

Come, all you who are worn down by sin. Come, all you who are sick. Come, all who need to experience peace and joy in your life. Come to the throne of grace where Christ will set you free, heal you from the inside out, and bring you into a close relationship with God and other people. Come, be builders of the Kingdom of Heaven with our lives.

 

Works Cited:

[1]Luke 4:18-21 (reference Isaiah 61:1-2)

[2]James 2:19 NIV

Convincing Arguments

Click here to read Acts 26.

When was the last time you tried to convince another person (not family or friend) about coming around to your way of thinking? How did it go?

I love talking with sales people. They really know their stuff, and you can tell the ones who are passionate about their product/service. People in sales are always fun to talk with because you know their goal is to try and sell you on what they’re offering; but at the same time, it is the customer who really is in control of the situation.

People are going to hear what they choose to hear. If a person is convinced they need ______ product, it is because the value of the product/service for their life was heard. On the other hand, if a sales person offended the potential buyer, all the potential buyer will hear is how they don’t like what the sales person is saying. There is always a line to walk when trying to sell any product or service. The two things that must be demonstrated are: 1) passion about the product/service and 2) knowledge about the product/service.

Look at today’s passage in Acts 26. Paul gives his testimony many times and is in positions to defend himself a lot. But, is he really trying to prove himself right? No. Even though he is in custody, he is still doing his best at sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with all he encounters. Paul is even placed in in front of powerful rulers that willingly listen to him.

All this time, we can see that Paul has had many hardships and difficulties throughout his ministry and missionary journeys; but he did not waste any opportunity. Paul was still, first and foremost, a slave (servant) of Jesus Christ and was compelled to share Christ wherever he was and with whomever would listen.

How does this go for us today? I hear many people say something like, “all my friends are Christian.” To that response I say, “well, you don’t know enough people.” Another thing I hear a lot is “everyone around here goes to church.” Then I say, “nope.”

One of the things that gets in our way is our own perception of reality. All we have to do is look around and see that not everyone knows Christ. Even Jesus’ own followers miss the boat at times. But it is all because of God’s incredible grace that we are given chances to talk with people about Jesus Christ.

Have you noticed what happens within you when you seize the opportunity to talk about Jesus? I hope you feel like I do and sense an overwhelming feeling of joy and peace. Sharing Christ to others is not just good for them to hear and be ushered to the throne of grace; but it is also important for us to share because it is a great reminder for us about who Jesus Christ is.

So, do we have to be the best or most convincing sales people when we talk about Jesus? Not at all; but we should allow our passion for Him to come out in such a way that people are willing to listen. When we do not quench our passion, the Holy Spirit uses that to draw people to God through Jesus Christ.

We will not always get our words correct; but we can continue to share the hope, joy, peace, love, grace the God through Jesus Christ offers the entire world.

God Working Through Our Lives

Click here to read Acts 22.

Have you ever been in a place where you have to defend what you’re doing? Of course you have. We all have. My kids love to give me the reasons why they’re playing the way they are or why the other person is upset. We all love to find ways to defend ourselves.

The question comes into play as to why we are defending ourselves. Do we defend ourselves simply to make ourselves look good? Or do we defend ourselves to show how God has called us and give him the glory for all he has done through us?

Paul has now left Ephesus and was captured by the authorities. He had to give testimony as to who he is; but really he talked about how Jesus called him and has used him. Everything he said was pointing people to the Christ, the One who is, who was, and is to come. Notice how he also shows the people to trained him and his background. He is showing how God has worked in and through his life to bring him to the place he is now.

Now, I want you to look back in your life. Think about everything you have done. How has your past helped you to be where you are today? How has your past helped you become who you are today?

Many times, I hear people talk about how their past was not what they wanted. We can look to the past and see what we have done, or we can look back to see how God was working in and through our lives. It is here, I think of the quote, “We can complain because roses have thorns; or we can rejoice because thorns have roses.”

If you have the time, think through the toughest and best parts of your life. Do you think of those times as something that could have been better? Can you think of them as something you went through to help you get to be who God has created you to be?

Paul could have been discouraged as to how his life was now going. Prison, beatings, humiliations, etc. But he was able to rejoice because he has discovered that he actually has everything he needs, and more. He has the real presence of Jesus Christ with him each and everyday.

Take time to praise God for your past. Praise him for how he has brought you to this particular moment in your life. Praise him he is with you right now.

Now if you are doubting God is with you, I am inviting you to sit down and say something like, “Jesus I want to know you.” Say that over and over. You never know how he will appear and make himself known to you and you can see how he has never left you. God is always working in your life, especially when we don’t know it.