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One of the perfections of the Lord that should fill us with amazement is his patience. In so many ways his people test his patience, often repeating the same offences. If it were left to us, we would probably write off the offender, but God draws us back in repentance and restores us to fellowship and to usefulness. We consider Jonah 3:1-10 Mission accomplished.
1. The commission
Jonah might have expected that his mission was over – how could God use such a failure? But God is a God of grace and everyone he uses is a failure. ‘Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time’ (v1) – that is full of encouragement for failed servants. There is still usefulness in the Lord’s service (although not necessarily the same work).
Note v3 ‘Nineveh was a very important city’ – a statement that Nineveh is important to God. Though he will exercise judgment if there is no repentance, he has a deep concern for these sinners. He is indeed ‘a gracious and compassionate God’ (4:2). His people should have the same heart of compassion for the unsaved, not delighting that ‘they get what they deserve’.
‘Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went’ (v3) – he exhibits a trust in the Lord he should have shown earlier. This is the attitude the Lord’s people should manifest – ‘I will hasten and not delay to obey’ (Psalm 119:60). Willing obedience is the fruit of grace.
We recall Jesus’ reference to ‘the sign of Jonah’ (Luke 11:29-30) – the ‘sign’ is divine authentication by deliverance from death and ‘one greater than Jonah is here’ (v33) – to reject the Messiah is deeply sinful and indeed fatal.
2. The response
Jonah preached the message of judgment faithfully (v4) and, contrary to his desire, there was a widespread positive response that included even the king:
- ‘The Ninevites believed God’ (v5) – the beginning of a true gospel response
- They repented, shown outwardly by wearing sackcloth (v5), including fasting. They throw themselves on the mercy of God – ‘God may yet relent’ (v9)
- They matched words with actions. They ‘give up their evil ways’ (v8). True repentance requires a change of life (Acts 26:20).
3. The deliverance
By grace the Ninevites respond appropriately to Jonah’s message, the response desired and enabled by the Lord. So ‘God relented of the disaster he said he would do to them’ (v10, lit.) – a gracious deliverance. How can an unchanging God (see 1 Samuel 15:29) ‘relent’ (or ‘repent’ as in 1 Samuel 15:11)? God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes and promises. That means that when the creature changes (e.g. by repentance), the Lord responds in a way fully consistent with his nature and withholds threatened judgment – not to act thus would be to contradict his gracious nature. The sinner’s only hope is such a gracious God.
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One of the greatest blessings of being a child of God is prayer. It is a privilege that cannot be overvalued but is often underused. We struggle with praying, allowing all kinds of factors to hinder or distract, but as one commentator says, ‘A Christian cannot come into a place so abnormal that he cannot pray to God there.’ We consider Jonah 2:1-10 Salvation comes from the Lord.
1. The plight
Note v1 ‘From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord’ – if we submit to the authority of Scripture, we accept the record, whatever its difficulties. This is the prayer of a man whose mind is filled with Scripture, especially the Psalms. We should use God’s Word in our praying in times of trouble. There is a vivid description of the storm (v3) and Jonah knows it is the result of his disobedience (1:12). He is near the end of his strength – ‘I have been banished from your sight’ (v4) – the sight from which he had earlier fled. But v3 is crucial – ‘you hurled me’ – he sees the hand of God in events. This is the Lord’s doing.
2. The prayer
Jonah evaluates his situation and seeks mercy and deliverance from the Author of his trial. He does not despair – he has sinned but ‘I remembered you, Lord’ (v7). Despite his sin, Jonah’s faith has not failed; indeed it is rekindled – ‘my prayer rose to you’. Jonah can pray with confidence born of faith in the covenant God who will not finally banish him (v4). He has taken the path of repentance and can speak thus before he is delivered – ‘you listened to my cry’. As a result – ‘you brought me up from the pit’. The God of the covenant will not let his children finally fall.
3. The pledge
Jonah knows all other sources of help are ‘worthless idols’ (v8). He has experienced grace – in the face of his sin God has been very gracious in restoring the reluctant prophet. Note Jonah’s response: ‘I, with songs of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you’ (v9). This is gratitude to the God who, he is confident, will deliver him. What the Lord has done thus far convinces him that full deliverance will follow. Believers can testify, ‘The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us’ (Psalm 115:12). Grace restores us to the place of obedience.
4. The principle
The principle demonstrated by Jonah’s experience is summed up in v9 ‘Salvation comes from the Lord. This is the theological centre of the book. The Lord – the God of the covenant – is the only Saviour. This applies to deliverance from physical dangers and especially from spiritual lostness under the wrath of a holy God. It is significant that Jonah’s experience is cited in relation to Christ in Matthew 12:39 – ‘the sign of Jonah the prophet’. These events foreshadow the mission of the Saviour who took the punishment of his people, ‘banished’ (v4) from the Father’s sight – so that we might receive eternal life through him.
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The story of Jonah is familiar, but how are we to approach it? Many dismiss it as fiction or myth, others see it as a parable or allegory. The view of Jesus is decisive – he treats this as a historical record (see Matthew 12:39-41 and Luke 11:29-32). Jonah brought an encouraging message about Israel’s flourishing during the reign of Jeroboam II (782-753BC) – see 2 Kings 14:25. This book is very different. We consider Jonah 1:1-17 The reluctant prophet.
1. The commission given
‘The word of the Lord came to Jonah’ (v1) – this is a commission directly from the Lord, with his full authority. It is a command to be obeyed. God requires action – ‘Arise’ (ESV). The specific mandate is ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it’ (v2). Most OT prophecies against the nations were not taken directly to them but were for the instruction of God’s people, but Jonah is to go and speak face to face with the Ninevites. It is a message of judgment ‘because its wickedness has come up before me’. The Lord speaks as Judge (Genesis 18:25), but the message also implies hope, for there is forgiveness for the repentant, including those in Nineveh (Jeremiah 18:8). If they repent, they will be forgiven.
2. The commission refused
‘But Jonah ran away from the Lord’ (v3) – going in the opposite direction. This is defiant rebellion. It is unlikely that Jonah thought he could escape the presence of the God ‘who made the sea and the land’ (v9), but he was trying to make the fulfilment of his commission impossible. Someone else would have to go. The reason for Jonah’s response is in 4:2 ‘I knew you are a gracious and compassionate God…who relents from sending calamity’. He does not want Nineveh to be spared and is afraid it will be. Probably he had 2 reasons:
Nationalism: Assyria was an enemy of Israel and he did not want it strengthened.
Isolationism: he was unwilling to think of God being gracious to any non-Jews.
3. The divine chastening
The Lord’s plan will not be thwarted and Jonah will be chastened. The wind and storm show the Lord is in sovereign control. Sadly the prophet is rebuked by a pagan for not praying (v6). God determines the outcome of casting lots and Jonah admits responsibility for events (v12). He realises his sin and the fact he is in God’s hands. Chastening has brought him to the point of sincere repentance, the result of God’s loving discipline (Hebrews 12:6), a reassuring truth that should always be an encouragement to God’s people when they go astray.
4. The divine mercy
Here we see the wonder of God’s grace. Despite Jonah’s sin, the Lord shows him mercy and provides the ‘great fish’ (v17) for his deliverance. God sets Jonah back on the path of obedience. Nothing but grace can explain this. Jonah is still commissioned to go to Nineveh – another token of grace. The God whose actions impressed the pagan sailors (v16) is able to change the sinful hearts of the Ninevites. Jonah’s mission can be a means of grace to them.
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Jesus had many debates with the Pharisees, who were always seeking to entangle him in his answers, so that they would have an excuse to silence him. The debate often centred around the Old Testament – the whole OT pointed to Jesus’ work (see Luke 24:27). In Matthew 24:41ff the debate concerns Psalm 110, one of the most clearly messianic of the psalms, most often quoted in the NT. We consider Psalm 110 Three Portraits of the Messiah.
1. The Messiah as King (v1-2)
Though most of the psalms first refer to the psalmist’s own day, this psalm is different. ‘The Lord says’ (v1) – the words of God revealed to David by the Holy Spirit. This is a solemn authoritative utterance of God regarding the Messiah. Note:
- His dignity: ‘Sit at my right hand’ – the place of highest honour, sharing the glory of the ruler. The Father is addressing the Son. The NT shows the fulfilment of these words in the exaltation of Christ after his resurrection. Peter quotes the verse on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36). The eternal Son always possessed such dignity, but now he has it as the God-man, the incarnate Son, the Mediator, as a result of the work of redemption.
- His dominion: The Son reigns with the Father – ‘until I make your enemies a footstool’. The Father rules through the Son and so the Messiah’s dominion is universal (Matthew 28:18). Note John’s vision of the final state – he sees ‘the throne of God and of the Lamb’ (Revelation 22:1). ‘He must reign’ (1 Corinthians 15:25) – none can frustrate him.
2. The Messiah as Priest (v3-4)
This King often executes his rule through his people. He requires obedient servants and the provision of a people is bound up with the Messiah’s priestly work. Note:
- His work: ‘You are a priest for ever’ (v4). He has the task of making a unique sin offering, with himself as the sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14). He holds a unique priesthood, not Aaronic but ‘in the order of Melchizedek’. He sits because his offering is complete, but his priestly work continues as he draws sinners to salvation and intercedes for them (Hebrews 7:25). ‘The Lord has sworn’ – there is no possibility of failure.
- His people: The result of Christ’s work is a redeemed people (v3). As the Spirit imparts new life, they are made willing (there are various ways to translate v3). They are ‘a free-will offering’, giving themselves entirely to the Messiah. By grace they are holy people and are like ‘dew’ – continually refreshed and renewed to be like the Lord.
3. The Messiah as Judge (v5-7)
Father and Son work together (v5) – the right hand now is the place of power, action, help and support. As Judge the Messiah pours out ‘wrath’ – enemies are called to account for refusing to submit to him. There is no contradiction between the love of Christ and his holy judgment on the unrepentant. All must appear before him (2 Corinthians 5:10). There is no doubt about the Messiah’s total victory. God’s holiness will be vindicated. Even nations and rulers will be judged (v6). Christ is always fresh for the battle – lifting his head (v7). He is sure of final victory and every knee will bow to him (Philippians 2:10).
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The Bible often speaks about holiness. God makes his people holy; God expects his people to be holy (see 1 Peter 1:15 and many other verses). But among Christians there is confusion: some passages seem to say we are holy, whilst others seem to say we must become holy. How can we reconcile these two views? As always, we need to pay close attention to what the Word of God says. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 1:2 Biblical holiness
1. The gift of holiness
Note the description ‘those sanctified in Christ Jesus’ – the verb tense shows this is a single completed event in the past. (Paul addresses the Corinthians on the basis of what they profess to be – although later it is clear some are hypocrites). It is crucial to see how this sanctification has taken place – it is ‘in Christ Jesus’. It is a consequence of the believer’s union with Christ, as set out in Galatians 2:20 and at greater length in Romans 6. The Christian life can be described as a dying and rising spiritual with Christ. This is clearly spiritual, not physical – Paul is saying that the life, death and resurrection of Christ are in a profound sense reproduced in the experience of believers. We benefit from what Christ has done for us as our representative. It is as if we lived that life of perfect obedience to God’s law, died that death on the cross and rose to new life. We benefit from what he has accomplished (2 Corinthians 5:21) on our behalf. The result is twofold:
- Our standing in the sight of God is transformed. Once we were ‘children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3), now we are ‘sanctified’, set apart for God as holy. This relates to our legal standing before the holy Judge. The Judge declares us ‘righteous’ (‘justified’ Romans 5:1). This is possible because God imputes the work of Christ to believers (Romans 5:17). We stand as holy in the court of heaven and are ‘sanctified’.
- Our bondage to sin is broken. Our slavery to sin and Satan is broken once for all. This too is God’s gift. We are not sinless (see 1 John 1:8) but at conversion the bondage of sin is broken and we are set free from the prison of sin – ‘sin shall not be your master’ (Romans 6:14). This is ‘definitive sanctification’ true of every Christian.
2. The pursuit of holiness
We read in Hebrews 12:14 ‘Strive…for the holiness without which no-one will see the Lord’ (ESV). This is an unequivocal command, as is 1 Peter 1:16 ‘be holy’. The holiness of the Lord as separation from all sin is to be reproduced in his people. Thus the imputed holiness that changes our status before God is to be matched by acquired holiness that changes our lives and conduct. We are to become in daily living what we already are in terms of our spiritual status. This too is dependent on our union with Christ. As the fruit of that union we have all the necessary resources for growth in holiness: ‘His divine power has given us all we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him’ (2 Peter 1:3). All the means of grace we need have been provided – the Word. prayer, fellowship, the sacraments, even trials. These must be used faithfully and in reliance on the Spirit’s blessing. We live in this world united to Christ – ‘in Corinth…in Christ Jesus’. We pursue holiness in this present world.
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The Lord never promised that the Christian life would be easy – he warned his people that it would be tough (John 16:33). One of those who heard Jesus’ warning was Peter. In 1 Peter he warns of the devil’s hostility (5:8) and earlier refers to ‘the fiery trial’ (4:12 ESV). Though these are fearful things, the Christian need not feel overwhelmed. We consider the encouragement offered in 1 Peter 5:10-11 The God of all grace.
1. The gracious call
The starting point must not be our experience but the truth about God. The reference to ‘the God of all grace’ is crucial. ‘Grace’ is freely-given favour to those who deserve condemnation. Grace is closely linked to the love of God, a demonstration that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16) and ‘all grace’ covers every conceivable form of favour to undeserving sinners. God is the possessor and source of ‘all grace’, and is also the giver of it. This God ‘called you to his eternal glory in Christ’. The call is his sovereign, effectual call brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit which conveys new life and always results in faith and repentance. It is all ‘in Christ’ – designed to unite us to him. We were ‘chosen in him before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4). Salvation’s goal is ‘his eternal glory’ – we will share the glory that Peter glimpsed at the transfiguration (2 Peter 1:17-18). We will be fully ‘transformed into his likeness’ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
2. The limited suffering
Peter introduces what may seem a jarring note – ‘after you have suffered a little while’. God’s call and the prospect of glory do not mean for Christians a life free from suffering. Jesus warned of ‘tribulation’ (John 16:33). Christians face the same trials as others (illness, loss, etc), and also the spiritual battles that result from our belonging to Christ. These, however, are for ‘a little while’ – limited by the sovereignty of God. Our times are in his hands (Psalm 31:15) and glory will ultimately be revealed in all believers (Romans 8:18).
3. The full restoration
Beyond the suffering, God ‘will himself restore you’. The word is used of a doctor setting a broken bone and of fishermen repairing nets. God repairs what is broken in us and restores us to useful service. The work of the Holy Spirit is to restore us so that we reflect the likeness of Christ, reversing the damage dome by sin. The Lord will ‘confirm, strengthen and establish you’ – as we use the means of grace he provides, we have a solid foundation for life. Even suffering leads to growth when received in the right way (Romans 5:3) – a big challenge to us.
4. The hearty praise
It is appropriate in the light of all that Peter has said that he ends with praise. It is essential that our whole spiritual life is God-centred – ‘to him be the power for ever and ever’ – A heart acknowledgment of what he possesses. God is able to do all he plans for us. We have assurance of the certainty of salvation. ‘Amen’ – ‘so be it’ – is the voice of faith.
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How a man introduces himself can be very revealing. We may quickly learn about his origins, background, work, etc. Often he will begin with what is most significant for his identity. This applies to the Apostle Paul at the beginning of his letters. In a few words he can get to the heart of his gospel ministry. Here he writes to Titus, one of his Gentile converts who was left by Paul to complete the establishment of the church in Crete. We consider Titus 1:1-3 A gospel to proclaim.
1. Gospel goals
As Paul introduces himself as ‘a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ’ (v1), he sets out the goals of his ministry. Though not apostles, we are servants with a ministry. Note:
- Faith: ‘for the faith of God’s elect’. His first aim is to build the faith of God’s people. He desires that people will come to faith in Christ and grow in that faith. There is no other way to salvation. Behind the sinner’s response is the sovereign election of God (see Ephesians 1:4, Acts 13:48). This gives great hope in our gospel ministry.
- Knowledge: Paul aims to increase believers’ ‘knowledge of the truth’. This is not salvation by intellect, but knowledge of the basics of the gospel is essential. This knowledge is relational – knowledge that feeds a living relationship with the Triune God.
- Godliness: the outworking of this ‘leads to godliness’ – a life of devoted service to the Lord and increasing likeness to him. This is a proof of the genuineness of a profession. God empowers and is the pattern for Christian living (1 Peter 1:16).
2. Gospel hope
Paul turns to consider ‘the hope of eternal life’ (v2), the foundation of faith and knowledge. Biblical hope is confident expectation, full of certainty (Romans 5:5). Note 2 aspects of hope:
- Eternal life: ‘the hope of eternal life’ (v2). We already possess eternal life (John 5:24), but resurrection glory lies ahead, with the end of death itself (Revelation 21:4)
- Sure promise: a wonderful reminder from ‘God who does not lie’ – he cannot and will nor break his word. He ‘promised before the beginning of time’ and his promise is absolutely certain. Our hope is not built on us but on God’s sure promise and cannot fail.
3. Gospel preaching
How is the gospel to be made known? There is an application of Paul’s words to all believers:
- The time appointed: God’s work takes place ‘at his appointed season’ – an outworking of God’s sovereignty. All steps in the provision of salvation take place in ‘the fulness of time’ (Galatians 4:4). That provides great assurance in gospel work as he leads us.
- The message revealed: ‘he brought his word to light’. The gospel is a revealed message from the Lord, not the product of mere human reasoning. It is vital we understand our message is revealed truth, given by God himself.
- The messengers entrusted: ‘the preaching entrusted to me’. As an apostle Paul had a foundational ministry, but all believers are to be witnesses – Acts 1:8 was not fulfilled by the apostles alone. We have a great privilege and a great responsibility.