Jonah 2, June 28th 2020.
Third Sunday of Trinity
Also Psalm 32
Lord, before your eyes, everything is uncovered and laid bare: speak your word – living and active, sharper than any double edged sword; let it penetrate our souls and spirits:
Examine our thoughts, and by your Holy Spirit renew the attitudes of our hearts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Smashing – What did you learn?
Watchman Nee was a Chinese church leader who spent more than 20 years of his life imprisoned for his faith. He was one of the first to establish the Chinese House Church movement. Persecution was growing. He wanted to meet with the local church leaders to encourage them. It would be in Shanghai. However the authorities discovered this meeting and sent police to this gathering in plain clothes. Their plan was to wait until Nee spoke, then they would rush onto stage and arrest him. Nee became aware of this threat. Yet he wanted to encourage the pastors.
He walked onto stage. He stood there. He spent 5 minutes looking at people, in silence. He said not a word. Some thought he had cracked – the fear of being arrested. He then put on a very angry look on his face, he took his glass, full of water, and threw it onto the floor. It smashed, bits everywhere. He used his shoes to crush the glass, and he looked smug and proud as he did it. Everyone wondered, what is he doing? He then looked down at the crushed and broken pieces. His face began to change, from hatred to horror – he put his hands to his head, ‘how have I been so stupid’ is what his expression seemed to say – then he got down on his hands and knees and began to pick the pieces up. He tried to put the glass back together but he just couldn’t. He tried this for 5 minutes. He then gave up, he then left the stage without saying a word, without the police acting because he had not spoke.
But he had spoke and the house church leaders there knew. He had been acting out a parable. He represented the state. The glass the church in China. A time would come when the state would smash the church. But the state would then realize it had made a mistake – it had not destroyed it, but had only dispersed it, underground, where it was beyond state control. The state would try to reconstitute the church, to bring it back up to the surface so it could see what it was doing. It would fail, because the smashing had been too through. Never again could the state control the church. That is what happened. Smashed under Mao Tse Tung, then pushed under ground and it spread through the nation….
For some, this Corona pandemic smashed up our existing structures, meeting on Sundays, now not able to meet, praying with people, now praying online via a phone, home group in a living room, now on Zoom. For some of us, we don’t like or trust Zoom, so we have felt even more isolated. It has for many been a hard time, and even as churches, like our own begin to restart meeting physically, things do not begin as they were, it is a new normal – for how long we do not know. We have been isolated – against our will – like Jonah, who is now in the belly of a fish.
Nee’s parable pointed to what would come and church historians look to those events and see it was one of the reasons why there was the huge Chinese revival. Our reading began, ‘The Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and he was inside the fish three days and nights. It ends : And the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.’ Jonah was in the fish. When he lands on that beach, the question is: what will he do now, what will he be like?
Six questions – which will be on screen. You can stop and think about these – if you do, I guess many of you won’t make coffee Zoom today but that is okay! I’d rather you think about these or write them down or photo the screen. I will put them in the Church Whatsapp too.
- In these days of Coronavirus – what did you lose? Jonah in his prayer shares how hard things were, even dangerous…
- What did you gain? Space? Time with family?
- What did you do that was difficult, but was good?
- What did you learn or re-learn about God and Jesus?
- As you come out of the fish belly – out of isolation – what will you take on with you? What will you continue with?
- Finally, what would you love to continue with, but it is too hard, how things currently are – can you take these desired things in prayer to the Lord, for strength, or insight perhaps to ask him to show you how your life has to change, about new priorities?
In this period, things have been happening. It may have been really hard. But what has come out of it? What perhaps you need help to keep on – because you know as well as I do, Jonah’s seems a changed man in this fish belly, yet you need to only look to the next page of your bible to find, all he learned, seems to have been lost or forgotten again…the Jonah of chapter 4 doesn’t seem much different from Jonah 1…We don’t want to lose what we have been learning in our fish belly isolation.
Prayer – What did you pray?
‘In my distress I called out to the Lord’. This is the first time he prays. But, he didn’t call in prayer when the Captain asked him to during the storm. Jonah was silent.
It struck me when we consider Abraham. Abraham who obediently went when he didn’t understand, Abraham who was given the promise of blessing to the nations, not just the Hebrews. Abraham – upon the visit of the Lord God – is informed about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God said ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin is so grievous that I will go down and see if that they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.’’ God told Jonah ‘ preach against [Nineveh] because its wickedness has come up before me.’’ Abraham hears of a city’s destruction to come; so does Jonah. Their responses.? Jonah, ran away, jumped in the boat and ended up in the belly of fish. Abraham, informed of God’s intention, Abraham jumps to intercession for the city and finds Yahweh more merciful than he initially thought he would be. The wickedness had come up to Yahweh in both cases, both cities face judgement. Abraham’s cries out for them. Jonah cries out only for himself.
To intercede. What are the places of wickedness we know? The cities? Streets? Activities? Human trafficking and sex slavery could be just two. Do we intercede for these cities or activities? Or do we remain silent. Karl Barth said: ‘To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.’ Remember, Jesus doesn’t only invite us in the Lord’s prayer to pray personally for our daily bread, our daily needs. He instructs us to pray for regime change – your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven!’ As Intercessors, we pray to God on behalf of the people; we pray for the people on behalf of God.
How to intercede:
1) get informed. Jonah knew all about Nineveh – that is why he ran. We share the Open Doors prayer information to help you pray in an informed manner for persecuted believers. You may have particular peoples, situations, even cities on your heart, get informed. One global resource well used is Operation World, where there is prayer information on every country of the world. Get informed.
Link to Operation World: http://www.operationworld.org/
Resources of Operation World: https://www.ivpress.com/operation-world-resources
2. Get inspired by God’s word. American theologian Jonathan Edwards – ‘That which God makes clear the subject of his promises, God’s people should make clear, the subject of their prayers’. What are the possibilities or God’s desires for that place, person, city, in God’s word. We see the promise in God’s word, let that be a focus within our intercessions. At times, we wonder how to intercede – let a promise of God be the fuel on the fire of our intercession. Get inspired.
3. Get passionate. Let your heart engage with the issue, the place. It isn’t about emotionalism, but it is allowing the situation to grab your heart and let that emotion flow into your prayers – This matters God!
Intercession: – get informed, get inspired, get passionate.
How do you respond – Grace?
Jonah’s words look like a prayer of thanksgiving. A typical prayer of thanksgiving at the start declares how the prayer was answered. Then the crisis is described. There is a vow, a commitment to worship God for his deliverance / salvation. So these are psalms about an event / threat, that was not due to the person’s sin. Example psalm 30 or 116.
There are also prayers of thanksgiving, when sin is the cause of the problem. The person makes that sin the primary focus – he acknowledges and seeks deliverance from the sin, before anything else – like psalm 32 we read. God is then praised as being the only deliverer.
‘In my distress I called to the Lord.’ He needed deliverance and help – we can imagine him floating, sinking down. The prayer – if it was read by itself, it sounds like an solid inspiring prayer of someone who was in need. One we could use to give our own times of sinking, words for prayer. But when you read it following chapter 1, it does jar a bit doesn’t it? He was in the storm due to disobedience and sin, yet there is no mention of this in his words. ‘You threw me in’ God did it he says. ‘I have been banished from his sight.’ No acknowledgement of his flight. A theologian writes: ‘’either his memory is faulty or his interpretation of events is skewed.’’ It is the fault of others. Not mine. He does not admit responsibility for this brush with death. He could have prayed on the ship – a prayer of confession like David in Psalm 51, he could have asked for forgiveness as he realized he couldn’t run from God. He could have asked God to spare the crew due to his sins.
So God is told the ordeal that Jonah experienced. He falls through the sea, seaweed wrapped around his head, lowest of all points he reaches and then God breaks in, the kingdom breaks in you could say – God acts, the fish is there. ‘But you LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit.’ He praises his deliverer. Yet. And compare it to eg psalm 30 or 116, when we look at the whole prayer, the words of the ordeal and how he prayed for deliverance, is longer and more prominent than the praise to the Deliverer.
Then he says: ‘those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.’ Beautiful words. He is saying – he is faithful – he will experience grace and deliverance. Yet, his mind so far has not been open to others, turning from those idols. He says he will perform his vows and give sacrifices – which is exactly what the sailors have been doing – again a sign that these Gentiles can turn to Yahweh. The nations can come to him. Salvation comes from the Lord for Jonah but for others too.
His prayer he cries out to the Lord in his need. The Lord hears and delivers.
Yet we see he seems to have a blind spot in his prayers – that he is mostly in the right, and yet, doesn’t acknowledge his own sins. This of course, asks us, what is the content of our prayers – it can be a spiritual health check for us.
Jonah is delivered. God delivers him, despite the blind spots. It is Grace. He truly doesn’t get what he deserves. He gets what he doesn’t deserve.
The entire Book reflects the theme of God’s character. ‘God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’ But this isn’t about God’s grace and compassion to Nineveh. It is about his grace and compassion to Jonah. Grace and compassion is shown to Jonah, as God desires to show it to Nineveh. God is consistent to him, to us. How will Jonah live and act in response to God’s grace and compassion shown to him?
Jonah’s description reminds us of grace in another manner. Jonah knew where he was – powerless. He could not do anything. He was sinking. He looks to the holy temple, his prayer rose to God. He was delivered. He received mercy and grace, salvation.
He looked to the temple. In the temple, we remember, the Holy of Holies held the Ark of the covenant – the place where God dwelt. How could someone approach close to God? Once a year blood was shed on the Day of Atonement on the mercy seat – which covered the top of the ark. Death of another, enabled one to come close to God without fear. Only the death of another secures our forgiveness that we can speak with and be in God’s presence.
Grace. We are sinners, we have all fallen short of God’s glorious standard. We are unable to save ourselves. We are powerless. We are saved, forgiven, through costly means. God has saved us, at infinite cost to himself. Truly ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’ for our wonderful God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’
How do we respond to grace shown to us?
Smashing – what did you learn?
Prayer – What did you pray?
Grace – how do you respond?
And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto the dry land. Then the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. ‘Go …’
Lord, blessed are you, King of the Universe.
Lord, what have we learned during Corona and what should we continue with?
Lord, help us intercede for the places or cities or activities of darkness and wickedness in our world.
Lord, help us respond with praise for your grace and live a grace-filled life towards other. Amen.