Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 3)

RELENTLESS PURSUIT

“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give to you.” ~Jonah 3:2 NIV

One of the things I hope we are understanding in this book of Jonah is that God never gives up on you. God is relentlessly pursuing you. God is relentlessly pursuing his people. God is relentlessly pursuing the world in so many ways. The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, “[God] wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”[1]

Cory Asbury, a contemporary Christian artist has a song out called Reckless Love.” I love the lyrics. The chorus goes like this:

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God 

Oh, it chases me down fights til I’m found leaves the ninety-nine

And I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God 

Now that really sums it up, doesn’t it? I think people can get concerned about saying God’s love is reckless; so we’re using we’re saying that God’s love is relentless. This means he never gives up. One of the verses for the song says:

When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me 

You have been so, so good to me

When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me

You have been so, so kind to me 

Isn’t this a picture of God in the Book of Jonah. Think about it. Jonah has been running away. He’s been trying to escape God. He’s been trying to go where God is not; or he thinks that God is not. He knows, because he is a Hebrew prophet that God is everywhere. That part of God’s nature is that God is omnipresent. God is also all-powerful (omniscient) because God knows what Jonah will do; yet calls Jonah anyway for this mission.

But when Jonah was his foe God fought for Jonah to do the mission that God wanted Jonah to do. The mission was to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim the word of the Lord that he was given in the first chapter. God told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before him.[2]

We have been looking at how we can see and experience and appreciate the nature of God by finding out more who of God is through this short book of Jonah. As we continue our journey through this prophetic book, we have to understand is this is act 2 of the story. Act 1 of the story was God speaking to Jonah, Jonah running away, Jonah getting swallowed by a fish and then God speaking to the fish.

The book ends of act 1 for Jonah shows a word coming from God first to the person of Jonah and second to the fish who spews, vomits, disgorges Jonah from its belly because it is sick of Jonah being there.

In Act One, the very first thing we learn is how God is persistent God is. How relentlessly he desires his word to be to go to the city of Nineveh and he wants no other person besides Jonah to deliver this message.

Beginning Act Two, chapter three, verse 1 says, “then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” [3]Not only is God persistent, God is gracious in giving second chances. 

I bet there are people reading this here and now that may need to go back to remember, a main point from last chapter is that God is not done with you. God is a God of second chances and he’s constantly working in us and through us so we become the people that he has called us to be. All so we can reach the people that he has called us to reach. Remember Paul’s words in Romans 10:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[4]

This is something very important, God is a God of second chances. Now you may not have done everything right the first time around, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the 50th time around. God is patient. God is relentlessly pursuing you and I so that we are going after the people that he is pursuing. The people he desires to know his salvation which is his eternal life, his presence here and now, and in the life to come. That is one of the beautiful aspects about the Christian faith, that we can have assurance of knowing that we are going to be in God’s presence. We know that this life is not the end of the story. God is saving up for us to be with him in all eternity. Not only that but God is desiring to use our lives to be part of the redemptive story of the world’s transformation. 

God says go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message he gave to Jonah. The very next verse says Jonah obeyed, this time. The New Testament, in Matthew 21, has a parable of Jesus about a father and his two sons.

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.[5]

Jesus explaining the first son is the one who obeyed God because he did what God desired. This time Jonah obeyed. So he went out, he was probably reluctant as we have seen through Jonah’s character so far. 

The text says that Nineveh was a very large city, and it would take three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown”[6]

What we see here is a picture of a reluctant prophet, reluctantly doing what God has called him to do. He’s not even halfway in the city. He waits until he is about a third of the way in (about a day’s journey), and according to the text, he proclaimed the Lord’s proclamation once. This means Jonah did not go through the entire city. Jonah stopped after just one day, after only going a third of the way in. That is when he proclaims the single message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He doesn’t even say this is God’s declaration for them. It is almost as if that Jonah is not wanting to tell the Ninevites the whole story. But the very next verse says the Ninevites believed God.

What’s interesting about that is Jonah, as we have said, did not say anything about God in the proclamation, but the Ninevites, the text says, believed God and all of a sudden a fast was

Proclaimed. All of them, from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth and the message even went up to the king who gave a decree that went out to all the people. Now what does this mean?

Think about what this is saying for who God is in our world. Number one, as we have seen in Chapter 1, it says that Nineveh’s wickedness has come up before God. This is saying that God is concerned about holiness. God is concerned about us being holy. His people, really the not just his people but the entire world being holy, being recast into his image, being perfect, being just like him. In New Testament terms this means being like Christ.

God is concerned about our holiness. Here’s the deal with that. None of us can measure up to this standard. None of us, as it says in Romans chapter 3, have lived up to the glory of God

because it says it all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. 

The other thing that we see is that Jonah went a day’s walk, about a third of the way, into the city. He did kind of this half-hearted proclamation, but what we see is that when he proclaimed the Word of God, when we proclaim God’s truth, God’s Spirit works incredible wonders amid our timidity, in spite of our prejudices, in spite of our reluctedness to go.

Remember, as it says in Hebrews four, “the Word of God is sharper and active than any double-edged sword.” God’s Word works incredible wonders. Now, what happened? 

In Jonah’s message, he doesn’t say “repent” but the people hoped that if they repented, God would relent from the destruction of their city being overthrown.

Let’s talk about repentance for a moment. Repentance is one of those words, Church Words, that we like to say; but here’s the thing about repentance, repentance means doing a 180 in our actions, in our words, and in our thoughts so we are not going on our own path anymore. The path we are turning around to, is God’s direction.

Repentance means that we are going to have to make a change in our heart and life. That’s what repentance means. In Greek, the word is metanoia, which is a change of mind, a change of heart which means that all of us are going to change and be given over to God’s will. We like to say “repent” because we don’t like to hear change, that we have to change in order to become holy in order for Christ to shine in and through us. That’s a challenge for us; but see the incredible thing about grace is that God works in spite of us. We are all called to repent.

Jesus’ very first sermon was, “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” which means change your heart and life because God’s eternal presence is here. His kingdom of heaven is already here. Change your heart and life so that you are able to live in and experience this incredible place called heaven.

Verse 10 says, “when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” God desires holiness but God is about forgiveness.

We have an incredible picture of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. When he was on the cross, his arms were stretched out wide. He looked down and in the crowd. It was as if he looked through time past, present, and future. He said these incredible words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Think about that. What he was doing was looking at you and I because we do not know what we are doing because our desire is to follow our own heart. Our desire is to do things our way, our desire is to be in control of our lives. Our desire even, if we profess Christ, is most of the time to do things our own way. God desires to forgive. 

One of the attributes of God is found in the book of Exodus chapter 33 verse 19. I love this verse because it’s repeated multiple times throughout the scriptures. God is speaking to Moses and he says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

What we have not said up to this point is that Jonah, a Hebrew, is going to the pagans, the Gentiles, in Nineveh. Now, Nineveh is in the area of Babylon place that had many gods and worship the king. Jonah was going there to a place that the Hebrews did not like. In fact this was an area that captured the Hebrews and put them in captivity in exile.

Jonah was called to go there to tell Nineveh it’s wickedness has come up before God. Why should Jonah care about this city? Because God cares about our enemies. When we read Joshua chapter 5, we see the commander of the Lord’s army appearing before Joshua. Joshua bows down and asks, “are you on our side or you for the other side?” The commander the lord’s army says, “neither I’m for God.”

That’s one of the things that we have to understand and remember as Christians. When Jesus says pray for your enemies he means, “don’t let anything come between you and other people. Find a way to make it work.”

God desires forgiveness. God desires holiness. God’s Word works wonders in the world. When we live by God’s Word we see how our enemies are overthrown. We’ll talk about that next week.

Maybe our enemies are not overthrown in the manner in which we want but in the manner in which we may lead them to God.

God is relentlessly pursuing you and I to do the mission we are called to. Are you ready for this work? It will not only change your life, but will change the world!


[1] ! Timothy 2:4 NIV

[2] Jonah 1:2

[3] Jonah 3:1 NIV

[4] Romans 10:14-15 NIV

[5] Matthew 21:28-31a NIV

[6] Jonah 3:4a

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

The Most Important​ Question

Today, we begin a new six-week series on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Yes, we preach, teach, talk about Jesus all year long, but we have to be careful that we are not just filling our heads with knowledge. Our goal will be to answer this question with confidence, “WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?”

Too often we come to hear a sermon and we are seeking information. We like to know things. We like to learn new things. We all can and should keep growing in our knowledge of who Jesus is and what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do.

But we cannot stop at simply “knowing” Jesus, or knowing about Jesus.

Do you know what two objects have the furthest distance? It’s not the 5,500.3 miles of the Great Wall of China. It’s not the 9,175 miles from Texas to Australia. Not even the 238,900 miles from the earth to the moon or the 92.96 million miles from the earth to the sun.

THE GREATEST DISTANCE BETWEEN TWO OBJECTS IS BETWEEN OUR HEAD TO OUR HEART.

Why? It takes a lot of work, effort, and energy to allow the knowledge we gain to fully come into our lives to transform us and recreate us. We tend to like who we are and what we’re doing. We often do not like the idea of changing because we can think it is scary and the future is unknown.

But, when we fill our heads with the knowledge of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit works his way to the heart so we can fill our entire being with the love, grace, mercy of God who is working to recreate us into the likeness of his Son – Jesus Christ.

So, we are going to begin this series with the most important question we can ever answer:

“WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?”

This is the most important question we have to answer because who we say Jesus is shaping how we will live our lives. If we say Jesus is a good teacher, then we can still reject some of his teachings when they don’t correspond with how we want to live? If we say he is our healer, then how do we treat him when we are healthy? If we say he is our rock, then how do we treat him when our life is going well?

Answering the question “who do you say Jesus is” shows who we truly believe to be Lord and Ruler of our life: his will be done or my will be done.

Luke 9 tells the story of when Jesus asked the disciples who they said he was. If we have spent time reading our scriptures then we know Peter said “You are God’s Messiah” which means “you are the one who has come to save and redeem the world.

Let’s read and hear this passage from Luke. Pay attention and see if anything stands out to you:

READ LUKE 9:18-20

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

I love the translation the Common English Bible uses: “The Christ sent from God.” Peter was the one who was bold enough to speak the words the Holy Spirit gave him. Jesus, in Matthew 16, even tells Peter

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”[1]

Then, Jesus goes on to rename Simon to Peter saying, “on this rock I will build my church.”[2]

THE CHURCH’S FOUNDATION IS JESUS IS THE MESSIAH GOD SENT

This is why we exist. We are working with God to build and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on the strong foundation that JESUS IS THE MESSIAH SENT FROM GOD. Nothing else matters or is as strong as this truth. The church is still in existence today because of the reality of Jesus being the One God sent.

How does this impact us today? (This is where we can step on toes 🙂 )

Since the Church is built upon this truth, then we are also part of the mission Jesus came to earth to do. His earthly work was done on the cross and we all can experience grace, forgiveness, and eternal life (the full presence of God here and now AND in the life to come). But his work in the world is still not complete. There is still redemptive work to be done, souls to know Jesus is the Christ.

Hate, violence, war, racism, you name it, still seems to be more powerful because this is what people love to talk about. Many people build their lives around trying to eradicate these injustices, and that is a good cause. But, if we go into the world knowing and living as Jesus is the true Ruler and Lord of the world, then everything we do works toward breaking down all injustices and seeks to help people see and live in the light of God’s presence and live in peace with one another. We make working with God to help people see the reality and truth of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us a priority.

Too often, because of our fallen and sinful human nature, we end up putting everything else before and above Jesus and the mission we are about. We will focus more on decorations, our “traditions”, anything that brings us comfort, and there is so much more we place in front of Jesus.

Taking the time to answer who Jesus is really showing where our priorities lie. If we’re not careful, we can end up putting ourselves in the place of Jesus Christ and mold Jesus into who we are instead of being molded into the likeness and image of Jesus Christ – the image we were originally created to be.

If the truth about who Jesus is stays in our head and do not fully transform our lives, we have missed it. The information/knowledge about who Jesus is must dwell and live in our hearts because he desires to transform our lives.

OUR LIVES ARE TRANSFORMED BECAUSE OF GOD’S LOVE

Coming to worship, Bible study, praying, going on mission trips, etc. is so much more than simply making people be “good.” All of this is important because of how Jesus Christ works through these “tasks”, these opportunities and changes our lives because of his great love for us. Through the great love he has for us, we get to watch Jesus work through us to change the lives of the people we get to help, we get to serve, we get to listen to, we get to provide basic needs.

And how we answer “who do you say Jesus is” determines our approach and heart as we step out and serve in our community, in our world.

Over the next several weeks, we are going to dive into certain aspects of who Jesus is. I’m going to invite us all to be on this journey through prayer and careful consideration of who we say Jesus is. As we go through this series, continue to think about Jesus and all he has done, is doing, and will continue to do in the world, and also in our lives.

Now, I want you to take a brief moment and write down, who you say Jesus is. In other words, who is Jesus Christ to you?

We have just started Confirmation classes. I know some people have negative connotations with confirmation and think it’s a time to be preached at what we should believe, but there is so much more to it. It is about coming to a place where we can wrestle with ideas, questions, and answers so we can understand deeper what it is we say we believe. It is a time to help us come to a place of belief. My understanding of God and his work in the world is greatly enhanced when leading Confirmation. This is why we open it up to middle schoolers and adults. So we can all learn and grow with each other.

This past week, the Confirmation class began by asking “Who is God?” and “What is God like?” So often, we do not realize we don’t know how to answer these questions, especially when other people ask us. If we really want to know who God is and what God is like, we have to look no further than Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul records a hymn in his letter to the Colossians about who Jesus is:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 

16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 

17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.[3]

Who we profess Jesus to be shapes how and why we do everything. We get to go into the world with greater purpose and greater power to see transformation really happen.

Professing Jesus as the Messiah, the One sent to save the world, reminds us of God’s great love for the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.[4]As we step out in faith, and profess Jesus as the Christ, the One who is Lord and Ruler of all the earth and universe, we allow him to come into our lives so we are transformed. Then we understand, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed by the faithfulness of God’s Son who loved me and gave himself for me.”[5] 

Isn’t that beautiful? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, lives is you and I because of his love for us.

Look, we all mess up. We all place other minor things above Christ which turn out to be other idols (lesser gods) we end up worshipping (finding more value in at times). But God loves you and me so much that we have Jesus Christ. We are loved so much that he has given us his power and heart to go into the world so others can know of his love for them and find their true value and worth.

This is so much more than simply knowing this, or coming forward to accept Jesus as our Savior, though that is very important for our lives. It is all about how Jesus is working within us, because of his love for us, to transform our lives into his likeness and image so we can be his agents, his vessels who go into the world to transform the world and bring the Kingdom of Heaven with us.

 

[1]Matthew 16:17 NIV

[2]Matthew 16:18 NIV

[3]Colossians 1:15-20 NIV

[4]John 3:16 (paraphrase)

[5]Galatians 2:20 CEB

More To Your Story

There is an interesting line in Genesis 37 that says, “This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” (Genesis 37:2 NIV)

This is actually a pretty significant line. Have we paid attention to it before? We can think it is talking about the people that descended from Jacob, and it does; but there is more to consider.

For one thing, we have to remember who Jacob was. He was the grandson of Abraham. Jacob’s name means “deceiver or heel.” When he was born, he was grabbing the heel of his twin brother Esau.

His name fits him. After all, Abraham set the example when he would lie to keep himself safe in other countries. Abraham was the person God had called out to be the father of the Hebrew people, God’s set apart people.

Along comes Jacob, and he seems to only want to play by his own rules and only get what he wants, even if it means to run people over. He would get upset when others would cheat him. Many people could have thought that Jacob’s life path was set, that he would be a swindler and cheater all of his life, only concerned about himself.

But, when we realize God is with us and we are part of His story, we realize that it is not our past, or even our present, that defines us. It is God who defines us. Jacob’s story was not over, and neither is yours or mine.

Genesis 37:2 says, “This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” Jacob’s story gets to live on, because of God’s grace, through his family!

Yes, there are many examples of how the people of Jacob (people of Israel) left God’s path, and God guided them back. Yes, there are times we will stray from God’s path; but there God is guiding us back as well.

God somehow uses our past and redeems it. God works through our past to bring healing, transformation, and ultimately redemption.

Your story is not over yet. There is so much more that God can do and will do with your life, your family line. Look no further than Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was on the cross, his arms were outstretched. We can think of this as him having his arms stretched out to embrace the world. He not only came for the world; Jesus also came for you.

Just think about all Jesus Christ can do in and through your life. When you feel discouraged or down. Or your past seems to get in the way on visioning for a bright future, remember this:

“This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” Jesus was part of this family line. Because of Jesus, your life, my life, and the world will never be the same. There is always hope and a chance to experience an incredible future and life because of Jesus.

Confidence in the Calling

Click here to read Acts 14:1-7.

It’s the same things that have happened to Paul and Barnabas before. People are undermining the truths they are speaking and are doing everything they can to discredit and remove the “threat” other leaders consider Paul to be. Have you experienced this kind of situation in your life?

Being a leader is difficult. It is a calling. It is a lifestyle. It is who God created the leader to be. Leadership is difficult and not for the faint hearted. Please don’t let this discourage you. Being a leader is also very rewarding. People in leadership, who exercise their gifts effectively, motivate and encourage others to reach toward a higher standard of living. When a leader answers the call of God in their lives, guiding people to see the work of the Living God all around is an incredible experience.

The thing I see, in this passage today, is how Paul and Barnabas kept growing in their confidence of being God’s servants because they paid more attention to the results than to the hardships that were going on around them and to them. Did you notice that people kept responding to the grace of God? Even in the midst of hardship, the midst of tragedy, chaos, God’s shining light came through and people’s lives are changed because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Look around you, what do you see? Do you see more of the good or the bad around you? When you wake up each morning, what do you look forward to each day? I would encourage you to find ways to start each day with praising God for all the ways He is working in the world.

Now, this does not mean all we need to do is change our attitudes. This means we do change our minds, we change our hearts. Change happens with the work of the Holy Spirit is your life. It is not something we can do on our own. This change, this renewing of our hearts and minds happens when we are open to the Spirit working in us and allowing our eyes to see the incredible things that are really going on around us.

As you pay attention to the work of Jesus Christ, you have many chances to remember Who called you, and Who continues to work in and through you. I pray you grow in your confidence in Christ. Remember it is through Christ we get the power, direction, grace, and confidence to do the work He calls people to do.

Stay confident with Christ’s work in you and around you. As you stay confident in Christ’s work, I hope you can remain confident in the work Christ called you to do.

REDEEMED: Out of Egypt

This week, I want you to think about what your defining story. This would be a story that defines your life journey from where you were to where you are, and are going.

The defining story of the Hebrew people is the Exodus, the escape from Egypt. I invite you to read the passage for this week, Exodus 12.

Now if you had a story like the Hebrew people, you would definitely remember what happened and how your past changed you into the person you are today. This is one of the things we should reflect upon during the season of Lent. When we remember where we have been, we keep in focus who we are being formed into. The question we need to keep thinking about is, “what are we being transformed into?”

The Israelites moved to Egypt as a family of 70 people (see Genesis 47-50) and grew into millions of people in the next 400 or so years (Exodus 1). There came a time when the Pharaoh of Egypt forgot about Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel), and enslaved the Hebrew people for fear become too numerous and too powerful and they would take over the country of Egypt.

So, the Israelites were praying for deliverance from the oppression they lived in each and every day. There were times, I am sure, the people lost hope at times because their situation had not improved.

But God did not forget the people of Israel, and raised up a man of power to deliver the people of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. This man was Moses. Moses was not who the Hebrews thought would be their deliverer; but God showed otherwise. God used Moses, who was raised as Egyptian royalty by Pharaoh’s daughter, and knew how to move through the governmental system to get to the right person, Pharaoh himself.

Moses was still not the right person in the Hebrew people’s eyes because he murdered and Egyptian for beating one of the Hebrew people. He had to flee because he was going to get found out. Moses ended up spending the next forty years in the desert as a shepherd.

When the time was right, God called to Moses and had him go back to Egypt. The unlikely person of Moses, now 80 years old, was going to lead millions of Hebrew people out of Egypt.

Whenever the Exodus story is told, they remember the faithfulness and power of the God who delivered them from slavery and lead them into freedom.

Now, what about your defining story? What was it you were enslaved to before you met Jesus Christ and lead into freedom and salvation (the presence of God). Or, what is holding you back from entering into the freedom God gives? What are you enslaved to? Addiction? Porn? Alcohol? Money? Fame? Pride? News? Self?

There are many things that can and do enslave us, especially when we allow ourselves to stay in that state of being. It can get so bad that we can lose hope that everything will not get better.

God constantly showed His people his faithfulness and His power throughout the Exodus redemption story. He does so today to. My friends, God has placed the right people in our lives to help us hear and experience His grace and His presence. He has been right there with you your whole life.

Because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we have the opportunity to fully experience and embrace love, mercy, grace, God himself. We are different after an encounter with God.

This week, as you take time to reflect on who you were before you met Jesus Christ personally, thank Him for changing your life and bringing your freedom. If you have not yet experienced grace, why not? Why would we allow ourselves, or other people in a state of life that is not joyful?

The story of God is written all through your life. How will you remember it? How will you tell it?

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

SENT OUT: to Make Disciples

I invite you to click on this link to read our scripture for this week: Matthew 4:12-23.

In our church we have been going through a 5 week sermon series called “SENT OUT.” Jesus invites his followers to go into the world on mission to help people experience the Kingdom of God here and now AND in the life to come.

It all starts with knowing our Identity: children of God…this gives us purpose. Our purpose is to follow Christ in all aspects of our daily life. While we are following Christ, we have opportunities to lead people to find faith in Christ and make disciples for Jesus Christ.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of discipling another person in the faith?

Does the thought seem nerve-racking? Does it seem like something to add to our already busy schedule? Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go into the world and make disciples…” In other words, “as you are going on with your day and wherever you are, make disciples.”

This is through our actions, yes; but also through our words.

Jesus went to the villages. Jerusalem had heard the proclamation of God’s Kingdom on earth because of John the Baptist. Jesus continued the same message by going into the surrounding villages.

In “The Bible” miniseries, Jesus calls Peter in the boat to follow him…Peter asks, “what are we going to do?” Jesus says, “change the world.”

The whole point is to work with God to change the world.

Jesus called out to the people who would be his successors. I love how my wife puts it, “Jesus didn’t say ‘come follow me and learn from me.’ He said ‘come follow me and change the world.’”

Jesus wasn’t interested in people simply learning from him. He was interested in people coming along while changing their hearts and lives so they can experience the Kingdom of God and show others.

It’s all about transformation.

Jesus goes to the places most would not have looked to find the best help. Rabbis chose the students who would follow and learn from them. Jesus saw these men at the seashore and called to them with the invitation to “follow.”

When Steve Jobs started Apple computers, he demanded perfection and finding the right people who had the heart, determination to do the impossible with computers so our everyday lives would be easier.

In the movie “Jobs”, Steve Jobs (talking to John Scully advertising executive he acquired from Pepsi) “Do you want to sell sugar water the rest of your life?”

That’s a question we should always ask ourselves: do you always want to be a ________ and only known for that the rest of your life? Or, do we want to be known as people seeking after the heart of God and showing them true joy, peace, happiness, hope, and love that is a gift from God, our Creator?

How does this really apply to us today?
– Remember the beginning of the scripture? Those living in the dark have seen a great light…the world is not beyond redemption…remember that God called his work “good”
– Following Christ is much more than coming to worship on Sunday…it’s a lifestyle that begins anew each day. My favorite bible verse is Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your heart.”
– Seek to build relationships wherever we are so “they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
– There are always ways to show grace and the love of God through Jesus Christ in our day to day life.
– Jesus calls you and I to this mission of helping others find faith in Christ

It is by grace that we have been saved, not by our own works so that no one will boast. We have been called for and by this purpose. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

See the best in the world. Like Christ, ask people to come along with us to follow Christ.

Steve Jobs and Apple were instrumental in changing the world through technology.

Transformation begins with receiving the grace that God has given and allowing His love into our lives daily. This gives us strength and wisdom to disciple (help others follow Christ) so we can go with Christ “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”

The Kingdom of God is here. May we know this peace daily and share the good news.