"A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Thoughts on Jonah 2:8 | Restrictive Masters

Admiral Jonah | God’s Man: Recognition?
Well, ye scurvy seadogs, here we are once again, and I, a shame-faced rapscallion of an Irishman must humbly beg your pardon as we pick up our scuba tanks once more, and dive into the murky world of whale-infested waters to see if Jonah still breaths where we last left him, bereft of joy, covered in intestinal juices and, quite possibly, relatively unhappy.

I must beg your pardon for the somewhat…long duration since last we communed upon the feast that is the Word, but I have been busy, and at times, I simply forgot.

So, I beg your leave, but trust that we are now onto better things for now (fingers crossed anyways)…! As ever, I would love it if you would click the magic button: here, and read our passage before we jump in.

Let me remind you, however, or where we are at, seeing as you may not remember since last year (for some reason).

Firstly, there was a dude named Jonah. He was a happy-go-lucky sorta prophet guy who spoke nice things to the king. These messages were from God, so there shouldn’t have been surprise when they turned out to happen as prophesied…but there was, and the evil king was blessed by God despite his lack of worthiness.

Jonah, too, was blessed because he presumably became the king’s man.

Turns out though, that being a prophet can have some…bad gigs too. And so it was with dear Jonah, who was given a message not for his own king, but for the king of Nineveh. And, if you remember, Nineveh were the really bad guys.

I mean the really bad guys. Think of all the James Bond baddies mixed with all the nasty CIA folks AND the SS, and you get maybe a little idea of just how bad the Ninevites were.

And Jonah was to go and issue a judgement proclamation to them…! To warn them that God would destroy them for their evil was so great that it had made its way up to the heavens and it angered God greatly.

Now, that sounds like a sweet gig, right? (Well, providing of course that you make it out alive and don’t die. Obviously.) But we also recognised that Jonah had prejudice, and he refused to go to Nineveh.

Instead, he decided to run the opposite direction. Where did he go? Why, to the jolly ocean, and to the happy place of Tarshish, of course!

But God, it turns out, is God of more than simply the land of Israel. As Jonah discovered, he couldn’t hide from God on the sea, in a boat, at the bottom of the boat, nor even in his sleep.

Nope. God followed him, God, found him, God frightened him and God eventually forced him into the water. Whereupon God fed him. To a big fish.

But in all of that, God never forgot him. (I hope you got all the ‘fricatives’ in those last sentences. I spent more time on that than I care to admit!)

Yup. Terrifying.
And there, in the fish, Jonah prayed to God, and admitted that he was guilty of running away from God (although he didn’t ever repent). And even as we come to the final few verses of his prayer this fine evening, we note that poor Jonah doesn’t even grasp the irony of his prayer.

You see, the main point of these three verses is that

1)      God’s Man Knows From Where Salvation Does Not Come (2:8)

The really amazing thing about the book of Jonah is the amount of irony in it.

You can almost literally hear the author’s eyes rolling at poor, slimy, angry Jonah. The text is screaming at us to ‘get’ the subtext!

[Jonah 2:8] “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit grace that could be theirs.

So what do we notice?

a.       Salvation does not come from worthless idols or empty sacrifices (v. 8)

In this verse we read that those who worship worthless idols forfeit grace that could be theirs.

And at once we think of the pagan Ninevites and the pagan sailors, don’t we? After all, Jonah is a Jew, isn’t he? He is a privilege son of Abraham! A prophet, no less!

He doesn’t worship idols, does he!? ‘No’ I hear you cry in horror at the very idea!

Well, Christian, we know this is certainly not the case.


For the man of God certainly has his idols. For Jonah, Israel was his idol. Being part of the people of God was more important than being a prophet of God, for him.

But we know that we have plenty of idols in our hearts, and in our lives.

Sure, they probably aren’t little wooden men or animals that we bow down to. But they exist. And we worship them, slavishly.

So, what is an idol?

Quite simply, an idol is a controversy between us and God. It is anything that makes you dare to say to God, ‘No, you are wrong!’ or, ‘No, this is more important!’

It is the thing that, if God says, ‘I want…’ your response it, ‘I won’t give you…’

Anything that comes between God and ourselves? That’s an idol. Anything that replaces His throne in our hearts and minds is an idol.

And in Western world, that could be literally almost anything, couldn’t it?

For some it could be wealth. Either the desperate lust for more, a deep yearning for the ‘next big thing’ or to be able to purchase all those things you don’t need but so desperately want.

Or, it could be the refusal to spend anything, buy only the cheapest, hoarding everything and being deliberately ‘un-generous’ because you are storing up riches on earth, in the bank account. ‘A penny saved…’ and all that.

Perhaps it is your family. Have you ever thought of that? That your family is an idol that comes between you and God. What if God asks your child to be a missionary in a dangerous place?

Do you spend so much time worrying about your kids or spouse that quite often you pray more for a good school, and better marriage, than you do for their very souls?

Or that they would be a ‘good’ and ‘respectable’ child, so that they won’t damage the family reputation?

I lost my phone a few years ago (and, obviously, got it back again!!), and although it was immensely frustrating to be without it for a few days, I discovered something truly shocking.

The. World. Kept. Going.

I know, shock horror, right?

I didn’t need to know the latest news story.

I didn’t need to know that a ‘Facebook friend’ (which can be something quite different from an actual friend) was getting their hair cut.

I didn’t need to see a picture of another friend’s doughnut.

Sure, knowing those things can be nice, and even fun (although it rarely is fun), but I realized then (and forgot, and have since been re-realizing…what can I say, I’m slow and a creature of habit) that I spend too much time on my phone.

Idols, moreover, are not simply evil.

They are deceptive.

Let me repeat that.

Idols are deceptive.

They are lesser things than the goodness of God. Listen to the words of the Psalmist:

[Psalm 115:3] Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.
[4] But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men.
[5] They have mouths, but cannot speak; eyes, but they cannot see.
[6] they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell:
[7] They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
[8] Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

And we know the modern versions of that, don’t we?

Our idols offer perfect sexual fantasy on the computer…
…but they are fake, dirty and vapid, and they don’t offer the intimacy, comfort, pleasure or security of marital fidelity.

Our idols can fill up our time and our houses with nice things and shiny gadgets…
…but they break and are soon replaced by a new, higher-spec’d and more expensive god.

Our idols can seem perfect from a distance, but up close they taste of poison, corrupting our minds, our hearts and our very souls.

But in Jonah’s case, the idol was much more slippery than a statue, wasn’t it?

For him, the idols of his heart were deep, bitter and destructive. They were so malicious and dangerous that he fled from God’s mission.

He did not place God as the captain of his heart. Instead he put his idea of God on the throne of his heart.

Have you seen that yet? The irony in these two little verses isn’t that the pagan sailors clung to their idols, for we know (though Jonah doesn’t) that they worshipped the LORD by the end of the storm.

The irony is that whilst they repented merely because of the storm, Jonah was in the fish and didn’t repent! Jonah refuses to give God the prejudices of his heart.

Even in his ‘repentance prayer’, he holds onto his prejudices and will not give them to God!

Jonah-Cat Dropping it like it's Hot.
Let’s remind ourselves of Jonah’s idols:

-          He was a Jew. He identified himself as different from the world because of his ethnicity. He was proud and racially superior.

-          He was a prophet. He felt he had some ‘sway’ with God. Perhaps his rebellion and flight might even make God realize the error of HIS ways…?

-          He was circumcised. He was a covenant-member of God’s people. He deserved salvation because God was in covenant with His people.

o   Which means the pagans didn’t deserve mercy.

§  The sailors? Nope. They don’t deserve God’s mercy.

§  The Ninevites? Nope. They don’t deserve it either. They kill. They rape. They murder. They destroy entire countries.

‘I HATE THEM’ cries Jonah, ‘And I will not let You give them mercy!’

All of these, in their nature, we can say we are guilty of, can’t we? We are Americans/Brits/Westerners/Scientific-era folks. We ‘know better’.

We are God’s people. We know the Bible better than others. We are cleverer than you, holier than you.

We are God’s covenant people. God has saved us, so we have an ‘in’ with Him…so things should go my way…right?

But worst of all, for Jonah? His idol was God himself.

He idolised YHWH.

He loved YHWH.

In fact, he owned YHWH.

YHWH was his God, and he will not share. Especially not with uncircumcised pagans and idol-worshippers like those dirty, evil, blood-thirsty Ninevites!

No. YHWH was his God, and Israel’s God. And theirs alone!

Friends, Jonah failed to see the supremacy, and sovereignty, of God. Jonah, I believe, did truly worship YHWH. But I think he did so in a way that minimized God’s Godness, and effectively made God Jonah’s property.

Do we do that? Are we, Baptists, the only denomination who can worship Christ?

Or, are we Westerners the only ones who deserve Christ?

Now, I expect you to say, ‘No! Of course not! We disagree, sure, but error is different than rebellion!’

But think about this. How many of your friends are different from you? Your socio-economic class? Your ethnicity? Your language group? Heck, even your home-town?!

What is the most deceptive idol of all?

Well, the human heart, above all, wants to be God. That is our idol.

We are our idol. We are our own god. Other things, like pornography, masturbation, money, greed, power, possessions, sex, control…these are all offerings we lay at the altar of ‘self’, and we worship ourselves by the gratification of our desires.

And we look up and shake our tiny, ant-like fists at God, and cry, ‘No! I am god!’

But, if we can’t be God, we try to own Him.

If We Bring the Power Within...We Gonna Be in Trouble
But that is not our option. We don’t own God. He owns us. If we are believers in Christ, then He is our master. We are literally ‘paid for’ by Him.

Just as God expected Jonah to obey, and go, so too are we to obey God’s commands and trust in His promises.

God, in Christ, literally paid our ransom. We were slaves to sin, slaves to Satan, slaves to self.

We readily worshipped at the altar

-          of self-gratification,

-          of self-proclamation,

-          of self-glorification,

-          of self-promotion,

-          of self-deification.
Just In Love With Me

Other people were simply priests to our own godless desires:

-          We used the images on the screen to feed our fantasy that we are to be worshipped

-          We used the person we were angry at to feed our fantasy of over-importance

-          We used the possessions we have to feed the fantasy that we don’t need God’s provision

-          We used the power we had over others to feed the fantasy that we are in control

-          We used the knowledge we had gained to feed the fantasy that we are all-knowing

-          We used the very Scriptures God gave us to feed the fantasy that we determine right from wrong

We used others.

We sacrificed them on the altar or self, and we narcissistically watched as our lives crumbled around us, in a self-saturated conflagration of worldliness, wastefulness and wretchedness.
Just the human condition, folks.

[1 Corinthians 6:11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Friends, we were washed, sanctified and justified in Jesus’ name. And so we are able to obey Him, because He indwells us by His very Spirit.

[1 Corinthians 6:19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit living within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
[20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Friends, we were bought at a terrible price. A price we couldn’t pay. But a price He willingly paid. And so we obey Him, because we owe Him our very salvation!

[Galatians 3:25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
[26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
[27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
[28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
[29] And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Friends, we are no longer enslaved to sin, nor under condemnation of the guardian, the Law. We are now Christ’s people. We are heirs to the eternal promise given to Abraham, because we are brothers and sisters of Christ.

He bought us, bringing us from slavery, and into life. And He shares His inheritance with us.

[Galatians 4:31] So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
[5:1] For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slaver.’

Friends. Brothers. Sisters. We are free.

We are free from the chains of sin. We are free from the self-destructive worship of ‘self’. We are freed for the life-giving worship of the life-giver!

We are freed from the yoke of slavery.

We are freed from the punishment of death.

We are freed to be with Christ. To obey His commands.

Where are your idols? Are you holding them in your hands, across your chest, and like Gollum are you crying out to God that they are ‘Your precious?’

Or have you, by the power of the Spirit through the work of Christ at the Father’s command, crucified them with Christ, and thus entered into the inheritance of freedom?

Friend, where are your idols?