Whenever the New Year rolls around, people always have aspirations and resolutions. Even those who are anti-resolutions have some hopes in their heart. I don’t think anyone is wishing 2011 is more worse for them than 2010. We want some things to change. Some want to lose weight this year so the gyms are full right now. Some hope to get married. Others hope to be parents. Others hope to read more. Still others hope to graduate while others hope to get into school or even do better in school. Some hope to make more money or climb up that corporate ladder.
As you think about those things and you are serious about it, you will make steps to make those things happen. But in all these things, which are not bad in themselves, did you ever ask yourselves, who is it all for? Is it all so that I will have a good year for me? Is it all so that I feel better or look better around people? If we are not careful, these good things can become the main thing in our lives, which is then idolatry, since it takes God away from being at the center of our heart and we look to it to satisfy some thirst in us. Do you know that God has put us in the center of His heart? The real question is: Have we put God in the center of ours?
The temptation will always be there to put other things in the center of my life. But in the end this is futility, trying to spend hours and hours building a sandcastle, which will be destroyed in a matter of hours by the tide of time. We are one more year from seeing Jesus Christ. That’s all we are. This life is all we have to do something for Jesus Christ. So although I have own list in my mind for 2011 with stuff I just mentioned and since this life I have been given is not my own, I have been praying this prayer for 2011 for me and for Living Hope: /Lord, I want to leave a little bit of you with everyone I meet so you will have something to work with in their lives long after I’m gone.
I realize that this prayer gives me purpose. This is what my real job is this year. It is to create thirst like peanuts on the table for the living water. It also relieves the pressure in my life. I am not called to save anyone. There is a Messiah already. His name is Jesus. My job is to be faithful to leave something in people’s lives so that HE CAN USE THAT TO BRING THEM TO HIMSELF. I just need to do my part.
Where is that prayer from? It is simply the Great Commission from Matthew 28:18-20. These were Jesus’ words to His disciples, telling them what their lives should be about after He leaves and before He comes. Jesus did not save them so they can look pretty. He wanted to use them. He wanted their lives to be like Christ’s, which was about others and not Himself (The Son of man came to serve, not to be served cf. Mark 10:45). Sure, these disciples had families to take care of. But Jesus literally tells them in essence that, “As you are going about your daily life, with all its demands and cares, be all about making disciples. Live your lives in such a way, you are showing others the priority and worship of me in your life, causing them to follow me to do the same.”
700 years before this command, we see God was telling Jonah to do the same thing. God’s heart has always been a heart of mission. We saw that when we studied Jonah 1. He is willing that no man should perish. The call came to Jonah to go to a godless, evil nation that would soon take his country into exile. He tries to run from it, but God intervenes in grace, reaching out to him to bring him to repentance. Even in his desire for an ultimate escape of death, God intervenes in grace to deliver him. The breakdown in Jonah’s life led to a breakthrough as we saw last week. He realized that God’s covenant faithful love isn’t just for Israel, but for everyone. And we ended last week with Jonah saying, “Where you go Lord, I will go. I’m not going to live for myself anymore. I want my life to be about you now Lord.” Today we are going to look at how God encourages Jonah to live out God’s heart of mission and consequently, how God enables us to do the same.
I’m excited for this message as God has, by His grace, in the last few months, entrusted us with souls that He has brought into our lives. He, in His grace, though He still calls us to go to our Nineveh, has brought Nineveh to us through our Friday night outreach Bible studies. I want God to do more! It has been amazing to see all of us come alive on these Fridays. And that is because our heart is finally beating in response to His heart. So this word is for all of us today as we trust God to do more with us in 2011:
Here is the first encouragement:
I. Our God is always a God of new beginnings (v.1)
Look at Jon. 3:1. The author does not tell us how long after the fish vomited Jonah out that God spoke to him. Sometimes we might think the fish vomited Jonah like a missile right into Nineveh or the outskirts of Nineveh. And we think he shows up in Nineveh wrapped in seaweed, in a bad need for a shower and bleached by the juices inside the stomach of the fish. However, since Nineveh is 500 miles away from the Mediterranean Sea, it would probably take Jonah 3 weeks to a month to get there. He had a lot of time to pray and process some things as well as get cleaned up again. Regardless, that’s not the issue. The issue is not when did God speak to Jonah, but the fact that God did speak to Jonah at all! The word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time (italics mine). Isn’t that great? No mention here of God bringing up Jonah’s past failings or even the deliverance that was necessary because of the mess Jonah had made for himself. Notice God doesn’t give Jonah any speeches: “Alright Jonah, let’s try this again. You failed me so badly. Really? I had to bring you to the bottom of a fish for you to get this through your thick head?! Sheesh! Do you want to try this again? Oh man, I’m really going to regret this. And this time if you get it wrong or try to run, don’t even think I’m going after you!” Aren’t you glad that God does not hold any grudges against you? Thank God for that! He does not keep a record of sins against us (Ps. 130:3). God is so gracious. That is the theme of our series: Grace in pursuit! Grace pursues Jonah, but also grabs a hold of him and says, “You’re still the right man for the job, bud.” I love that phrase here in Jonah. This guy does not deserve to be trusted. This guy has done some bad things. This guy had failed miserably and God did not have to call him again to do this. But He does in grace because He is a God of new beginnings.
God simply tells Jonah to do what He had asked him to do from the beginning. And God is the same with us today. We confess our sins before Him and His mercies are new every morning. His blood covers our sin. He is the God of new beginnings and fresh starts.
I don’t really know anything or care for golf. My only exposure is my first computer game when I got Windows 95. It came with a Microsoft Golf cd. I didn’t play much and I wasn’t good at it, but what I did love about it was the mulligan feature. Mulligans are do-overs. You can hit a really bad shot, like into the trees or the ocean, but if you hit mulligan, it’s like you never took it. Fresh start. Clean slate. Do-over. No record of your disastrous swing. No mention of your really poor play. You can just play the mulligan.
If only we had mulligans in life! You botch the final exam, but you tell the teacher, “I’ll take my mulligan on that one.” Or the cop pulls you over for speeding and you say to him, “Mulligan, officer.” Or the check bounces and you call the bank, “Mulligan!” Life rarely gives you a mulligan. But God always does. That is our God of grace! You can have a do-over. And do you know why that’s possible? It is only because on the cross, Jesus purchased your do-overs. He paid the price for our sin, so we can have new beginnings and fresh starts. Our hope is not in a new year for a fresh start with God. Our hope is in the cross where God purchased it for us! The failures of our sin were counted against Him.
Who needs to hear that this morning? Let it come into your soul right now. God’s ready to enable you to leave a little bit of Him everywhere this year and before you can say, “Well what about this past week, God? What about 2010? What about…” He stops you and says, “Love does not keep a record of wrongs.” No grudges. The word still comes to you. And so today, as you hear this, the word of the Lord comes to you again and God wants you to choose Him right now despite the past. Don’t drive your life looking at the rear view mirror. You’re gonna crash! Look ahead at the broad windshield of what is ahead for you if you trust God. Take the mulligan and move forward!
II. Our God’s call is always the same (v.2)
So God’s Word comes again to Jonah. What is God going to say? “Ok Jonah, Nineveh is too hard? How about you just pray for Nineveh then? Or go home and study about Nineveh so you can pray better? Is that too hard? Why don’t you preach to a small town then near Nineveh? Why don’t you invite Hosea to be a guest preacher for you while you stay home?” God doesn’t play “Let’s make a deal” with Jonah. The call is the same in Jon. 3;2: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
By the way, let me give you a brief look at Nineveh. It is called a “ great city” four times (Jon. 1:2; 3:2-3; 4:11). It is not “great” in God’s eyes, but the world’s. Why are they seen as great? Well for one, they had a long history. Noah’s great-grandson, Nimrod, built it, possibly as early as 4500 BC (Gen. 10: 8-10).  In addition, Warren Wiersbe writes, “it was also great in size. The circumference of the city and its suburbs was sixty miles, and from the Lord’s statement in Jonah 4:11, we could infer that there were probably over 600,000 people living there. One wall of the city had a circumference of eight miles and boasted 1,500 towers.”
It was a powerful city of influence, but was also great in sin. You may remember that Assyria was a violent nation. In fact, Wierbe adds, “They impaled live victims on sharp poles, leaving them to roast to death in the desert sun; they beheaded people by the thousands and stacked their skulls up in piles by the city gates; and they even skinned people alive. They respected neither age nor sex and followed a policy of killing babies and young children so they wouldn’t have to care for them (Nahum 3:10).” Later Jonah 3:3 says that to go through the entire city and its outskirts, it takes three whole days. It’s a huge metropolis for its time!
Since Jonah’s attempt to run away from this, nothing has changed, well, maybe except Jonah, God and His will for Jonah’s life. The Ninevites were still as violent as ever. The task is still huge. The people are still evil. Nineveh was still east. The call is the same. The implications of what people might think of him back home are still there. I think Jonah still saw how impossible the task is. And I think he still feels resentment at this. For Jonah, God cannot bless his enemies. Perhaps he hoped that though he would preach, the Ninevites may not repent and God would judge them in the end after all.
But notice here God does not negotiate with Jonah to give him an easier task. He never lowers the bar in our lives. We are His children. He wants nothing but the best for our lives. And if we are the center of our lives, we will quickly be disappointed and bored. One of the things we must realize is that if we want to choose the easy and comfortable life, there are plenty of ships headed there, to Tarshish. Our God is a God of new beginnings, but He gives us that fresh start with the same call that might still come with the same issues that caused us to run in the first place.
The call is still there for us to be going about making disciples. I feel like in 2010, we took some risks as a church, by starting these outreach studies. We put the boat out a little from the land and we found Him to show us that there were large fish for us to catch. But are we going to stay a little bit from the shore and keep hugging the land because we are scared? Is that all that Jesus wants from us? I don’t think so! There are deeper waters, more fish, greater power to be experienced for us still. There is still net-breaking fullness of the Lord to be experienced. We cannot settle!
I love this prayer by Sir Francis Drake, in 1577, an adventurer, which I have shared with you in the past, but felt strongly to revisit here as we pray over 2011 and ministry for us this year:
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.
It’s not going to get easier for us in ministry. There will be storms. There will be people rejecting us. There will be hardhearted stubborn unbelievers. But nothing should stop us from pouring out our blood, sweat and tears for the lost this year than ever before. Success is merely perseverance misspelled. We don’t want to look at His call and settle for halfway. And it is not merely our effort, but leaning on Him more and more and finding that the more we lean on Him, the stronger we find Him to be. And if my God washes my sins clean and gives me new beginnings, I must also realize He still calls me to His high calling. But if the calling is so high, how can I ever reach it? Take note of this last thing:
III. Our God always supplies for what He demands (vv.3-4)
Notice Jonah 3:3. “SO Jonah…” Before it was “BUT Jonah…” He stops butting up against God and finally steps out in obedience. Is his heart completely pure? I don’t think so. Did he know exactly where and who he should go to and how to do this completely? It does not seem from the text that God mapped it all out for him. God simply said, “Be my ambassador and speak for me.” Don’t try to figure it all out. We want our whole lives mapped out. God will provide His resources for what He has called us to do. If we wait until we have figured out everything, we will never do it! That’s what faith is for!
Jonah simply trusted that God will take care of him. There a million “what-ifs” What if they impaled him? What if they don’t listen? What if they laugh at him? What if I don’t know what to say? What if I sound stupid? When Jonah arose and went instead of arising and fleeing, God blessed him. Not a moment sooner. Not a moment later. God’s never going to show you the whole picture with every detail, because then we will not need faith. We will simply follow the blueprint and not the Lord.
I think Jonah received a greater blessing than getting all the details for God’s demands here. He received the presence of God. What a greater gift for us when God says, “I’m not going to tell how I’m going to do it all. How the fish will be caught. Where the nets should be cast. How high and deep you should throw the nets. But what I will give you is my presence. I will be on the boat with you. And as you get to know me, you will know how the details will all fall into place.” As we step out faithfully, we will find out that God will always supply for what He demands. But you must step out first. You won’t see it a moment sooner. And as Pastor Ray Stedman once said, in the eyes of the world, it is not going to be our relationship to Christ that is going to count, but our resemblance to Him.
God wants us to be faithful to what He has called us to do. I know that is cliché, but God blesses faithfulness. And Jonah preaches a five word message (in Hebrew, it is five words). I know you wish I preached messages like that! By the way, forty days in the Bible is always a period of testing and encountering God. I still think Jonah’s heart is not completely there, but still God uses them. Notice that he preaches judgment to Nineveh. There is nothing about God’s compassion or mercy if they repent. Now we may only get the trailer and not the whole movie here, but it still seems like the heart of Jonah’s message and the heart of Jonah is hoping for judgment to come to these Gentiles.
God is so gracious isn’t He? Not only to the Ninevites here, but also to Jonah! Why use a guy like this? Why trust someone like this with something so great? And just as we ask that question, we look in the mirror and ask the same question about us don’t we? God is extremely gracious. He will supply for what He demands as we step out in faith. God’s work, missionary Hudson Taylor would say, done God’s way will never lack God’s supply!
I want to close here and have us consider these two prayers for Living Hope in 2011. The first is the Great Commission prayer to be going about leaving God with everyone I meet as much as I can. The second is a prayer to sail out further together with Jesus as our Captain into deeper waters. All of this to trust God that He will supply us for the demands he makes, as we take the steps necessary to complete the journey. Some of us need to hear that God is a God of new beginnings. He comes to you again with another word, another charge, without bringing up your past. This is not so we will feel better about ourselves, but that we will join hands with Him to take us farther than we could have ever gone on our own.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Amazed (85). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.