Thursday, June 23, 2016

Jonah and the God of Sovereign Compassion

I recently finished preaching through the book of Jonah.  Every week for six weeks I continued to stress that this book is not about the fish—it is about God!  G. Campbell Morgan states the matter much more eloquently when he writes:[1]

Men have been looking so hard at the great fish
that they have failed to see the great God.

In particular the book of Jonah shows us a picture of the God of Sovereign Compassion.  Every chapter in the book contributes to demonstrating these attributes of sovereignty and compassion.  Below is a chapter-by-chapter survey of these themes.

Chapter One


·      The sovereign word of Yahweh comes to Jonah and commands him to speak a word of judgment against the wickedness of Nineveh. (vv. 1-2)

·      When Jonah fled from his mission the Lord “hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm.” (v. 4)

·      Jonah’s creedal-like confession emphasizes the sovereignty of God as Creator: “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” (v. 9)

·      Even the Gentile sailors are brought to a place where they confess the sovereignty of Yahweh: “We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for you, O Lord, have done as you have pleased.” (v. 14)


·      God “chases” Jonah by sending the great storm upon the sea.  This is subtle form of compassion.  God could have rendered an immediate judgment of death upon his rebellious prophet—this was done to another prophet in 1 Kings 20.35-36.  Instead, the Lord will pursue Jonah so as to bring him to a point of being ready to proclaim his message.

·      The Gentile sailors are brought to a place of authentic worship of Yahweh in verses 14-16.  The covenant name of God is appealed to and they make vows to sacrifice in the name of Yahweh.  God’s dealings with these men has brought about their conversion.

Chapter Two


·      At the end of chapter one in verse 17 it famously states, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah…”  This language of “appointed” speaks of God’s direction and control.  The language of “appointed” will also figure prominently in chapter four.

·      When Jonah prays he recognizes the sovereign hand of God as the ultimate causative agent behind his being thrown into the sea.  In verse three he prays, “For you had cast me into the deep, …”  From 1.15 we know that the sailors “threw him into the sea.”  In his prayer Jonah goes back to the sovereign hand of God which has placed him where he is in the sea.

·      Verse 10 again shows the sovereign control of God over the fish.  The fish is “commanded” by the Lord and he obeys—unlike God’s reluctant prophet!


·      God’s compassion is demonstrated in his hearing the prayer of Jonah—“I called out of my distress to the Lord, and he answered me.  I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; you heard my voice.” (v. 2)

·      Jonah seems confident of God’s compassion toward him as he contemplates in faith that he “will look again toward your holy temple.” (v. 4)

·      Echoing language from the Psalms, Jonah confesses the deliverance of the Lord: “But you have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” (v. 6)

·      And, of course, verse 9 simply but profoundly states: “Salvation is from the Lord.”

Chapter Three


·      God again issues his sovereign word to Jonah that he should proclaim to Nineveh “the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” (vv. 1-2)

·      The Ninevehites repentance recognizes the sovereign hand of God.  They don’t presume a manipulating posture in their repentance.  Rather, they humbly declare: “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw his burning anger so that we will not perish.” (v. 9)


·      In this chapter the “word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time…” (v. 1).  God compassionately gives “second chances” (cf. Jesus with Peter in Luke 22.31-32).

·      God “relents” concerning the deserved judgment he was going to bring upon Nineveh.

o   What is important to note is that Nineveh’s repentance is rather shallow.  It doesn’t entail a conversion to full-blown “Yahweh-ism”—there is no circumcision; no repudiation of other gods.  It’s as if God is showing his people Israel that even pagan, violent Nineveh gets God’s compassion with a small amount of repentance.  If they, too, turn to God in repentance they will find the Lord to have a “hair-trigger” for compassion (cf. Joel 2.12-14).

Chapter Four


·      Repeatedly the verb “appointed” is used (as in 1.17) in reference to God’s power in orchestrating “natural” events.  A plant, a worm, and a scorching wind are all “appointed” by God to be used in specific ways (vv. 6-8)


·      Verse two has Jonah recite a bit of Israel’s theology drawn from Exodus 34.6-7: “…for I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.”

·      In response to Jonah’s anger the Lord does not destroy him or even level an accusation against him.  Rather, he asks a question—“Do you have good reason to be angry”—so as to lead Jonah to a place of repentance.

·      The Lord continues to labor with Jonah in verses 5-8 so as to bring Jonah to a place of understanding regarding God’s compassion.

·      Verse 11 in the crowning question of the book which shows God’s abundant compassion:

Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?

o   O. Palmer Robertson nicely comments on the last phrase regarding the animals:

The gentle downturn of the last phrase of the book of Jonah has memorialized forever the compassions of the Lord for the entirety of his creation.  Should not Jonah have compassion on Nineveh, a city with numerous people, "and also much cattle" (Jon. 4:11)?  God takes note when his lowliest creatures are terrified by the brutalities of insensitive human beings.  He hears the groanings of his entire creation, and will see that the whole created universe joins in the final redemption of mankind (Rom. 8:19-21).  (The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah—NICOT [Eerdmans, 1990], p. 205)

     [1] Quoted in Leslie C. Allen The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah—NICOT (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1976), 192.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jonah and the Gospel

* From a small devotional I did for our church as I finished up a series of sermons on Jonah.

As we come to the end of our series on Jonah we should feel something of its challenge for each of us individually and our church.  Pastor and commentator Lloyd Ogilvie connects the message of Jonah to our vision for the gospel with these words:

The book of Jonah is no less challenging to the contemporary church.  Often we desire to stay in the holy huddle when the next play calls for energetic evangelism and costly mission.  Either our congregations are in mission or they are still a mission field.

The little book of Jonah packs a big punch into our exclusivism and judgmentalism about the pagan world.  Evangelism and mission are not an aspect of a well-rounded congregational program; they are the reason for all we do in worship, education, and fellowship.

Churches, like individuals, can run away from God.  It happens when traditions and customs become more important than our calling.  We can get introverted into our own programs, buildings, and budgets.  In every town or city there are hundreds, thousands, millions who do not know Christ.  Our members must be called and equipped to be winsome, winning evangelists.  And we dare not run away from the call of the city—your city or mine—that is as great to God as Nineveh of old.  It is good to ask ourselves, then church officers, and then those vision shapers who determine how our congregations respond to obeying the Lord, “Where are we as a congregation?  Back at Gath-hepher still wrestling with the call of God?  In the hull of the ship asleep?  In the depths trying to placate God so we can keep our agenda intact?  Or, have we reached our Tarshish and think we’re in Nineveh?”  There’s nothing worse for a congregation than to have the mind-set of Tarshish in Nineveh.  The question is: “Do we love the people of Nineveh?”

Powerful words.  They show us how the message of Jonah reinforces our call to be a gospel people.

We exist to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ

as we manifest his truth and character

in the church and in the world.


The Gospel: Love it! Live it! Share it! Defend it!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Life, Death, & Growing Old (part two): Thoughts on Life and Death

* The following is part of a teaching series for a Sunday school class. 
 Part One

Life, Death & Growing Old

Thoughts on life and death

1.     The Shortness of life and the need for wisdom: Job 7.16; 8.9; 14.1-5; Psalm 39.4-6; 90.12; 103.14-16; Isaiah 40.6-8; James 4.14

So teach us to number our days,
that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90.12

a.     It is good to contemplate the shortness of life

b.     We will be before the presence of God to be judged—1 Peter 1.17

c.      Consider your 5-year, 10-year, and 10,000-year plans!

2.     Death

a.     Genesis 2.17

b.     Romans 6.23—“for the wages of sin is death”

c.      1 Corinthians 15.26—“last enemy”

d.     Three aspects of death

                                               i.     Bodily death: Genesis 2.17; 3.19

                                              ii.     Spiritual death: Ephesians 2.1-2

                                            iii.     Eschatological death (“second death”): Revelation 20.11-15

e.     Jesus experienced death: Matthew 27.50; Luke 23.46

“Through all of this it is important to note that Jesus did not go through life approaching death as a Stoic seeking to remain indifferent in the face of suffering.  On the contrary, Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he pleaded with his Father to spare him from death if there was any other way, displays that for Jesus death was neither natural nor peaceful (see also Heb. 5:7).”[1]

f.      Jesus wept for a friend who had died (John 11.35)

                                               i.     There is a place for grief at funerals—even for believers.

                                              ii.     We should grieve as Christians—not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4.13)

3.     Death as unnatural and “natural”

a.     Unnatural—a result of the “fall”

                                               i.     “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15.26)

                                              ii.     An intrusion into God’s good creation

                                            iii.     “When Christians consider the multitude of ethical issues revolving around death, therefore, they must never view humanity as naturally mortal.”[2]

b.     “Natural”: within the confines of a fallen world there is a divinely imposed order

                                               i.     “The way of all the earth”—metaphor for death: Joshua 23.14; 1 Kings 2.1

                                              ii.     Upper limit of age around 120 (Genesis 6.3)

·      Jehoiada lived to “a ripe old age”—130 years old (2 Chronicles 24.15)

                                            iii.     Usually old age is seen to be 70 or 80 years (Psalm 90.10)

                                            iv.     “Today, after so many generations and the advance of medical technology, these biblical statements about the boundaries of human life are still remarkably accurate.  Seventy to eighty years remain for us an ordinary span of life, and the upper limit in cases of extremely long life is about 120 years.  Thus there is an ordinary length for human life, and this fact makes ‘life expectancy’ a reasonable idea.  We instinctively understand that a person who fails to reach seventy or eighty years has died, by ordinary human standards, prematurely.  We instinctively judge that a child’s death at age nine is a tragedy in a way that an elderly person’s death at age ninety-nine is not.  Death is our enemy—this is a profound theological truth that Christians must affirm.  But death is also ordinary and natural at certain stages of life and not others, when viewed in terms of the divinely established boundaries of this fallen yet preserved world.”[3]

4.     Dying satisfied and “full of days”—having a long and good life; doesn’t mean the absence of pain in the midst of life

a.     Abraham: Genesis 25.7-8

b.     David: 1 Chronicles 29.28

c.      Job: Job 42.16-17

5.     Dying in Christ

“Because of Christ’s resurrection and our justification, death no longer confronts us as a sign of our condemnation.  Now we face death not as helpless victims but as hopeful pilgrims waiting for our Lord to bring death to its final end, when we can with Paul, ‘”Death is swallowed up in victory.” O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Cor. 15:54-55).”[4]

a.     Philippians 1.21-24

b.     1 Thessalonians 4.13-18

c.      2 Corinthians 5.1-10

6.     Intermediate State: “What happens to the believer at death?”

a.     “Traditionally, the intermediate state refers to the state of individuals between the time they die until they are reunited with their own resurrected bodies.  In this state the person enjoys conscious fellowship with God while waiting for a reunion with a new, resurrected body.”[5]

b.     The Bible does not teach “soul sleep”

                                               i.     Soul sleep: “This doctrine teaches that when believers die they go into a state of unconscious existence, and the next thing that they are conscious of will be when Christ returns and raises them to eternal life.”[6]

                                              ii.     The Bible does use the metaphor of “sleep” to describe the state of death: Matthew 9.24; 27.52; John 11.11; Acts 7.60; 13.36; 1 Corinthians 15.6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thessalonians 4.13; 5.10)

“But when Scripture represents death as ‘sleep’ it is simply a metaphorical expression used to indicate that death is only temporary for Christians, just as sleep is temporary.”[7]

c.      Passages that teach or imply an intermediate state

                                               i.     Luke 16.19-31—rich man and Lazarus

1.     Parable?

a.     Some figurative language used

b.     But a specific name (Lazarus) is used—unique to parables

2.     Hades (v. 23): abode of the dead

3.     Bodies are mentioned; no other way to be visualized

4.     Not the resurrected state

a.     Brothers are still living—v. 28

b.     Final judgment has not yet occurred—v. 30

5.     “Regardless of one’s approach to the story the reader must face the question, ‘If Jesus did not want people to think they would remain conscious after death, why would He choose to tell a story that hinges on that notion?’”[8]

                                              ii.     Luke 23.43—“I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

                                            iii.     2 Corinthians 5.1-10

1.     Three states

a.     “Earthly tent” (v. 1) = current body subject to decay (4.16)

b.     “Building”/”house from God” (vv. 1-2) = resurrected body

c.      “Naked”/”unclothed” (vv. 3-4) = intermediate state

2.     Paul’s desires

a.     Verses 1-4: Paul wants to clothed with the resurrection body and not in a state of being without the body

b.     Verses 6-8: Paul prefers to be absent from the body (“naked”) and to be home with the Lord (intermediate state)

c.      “This view therefore suggests three states: (i) this life, (ii) the disembodied state of the dead and (iii) the consummation of resurrection/transformation at the Parousia.  Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 views the prospect of the third state as far more desirable than the second; but in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 the second state is superior to the first as it involves ‘being with the Lord’.”[9]

                                            iv.     Philippians 1.23—“the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better”

d.     The great Christian hope is the resurrection of the body—not the intermediate state (Philippians 3.10-11, 20-21; Romans 8.20-25; 1 Corinthians 15.20-26, 50-54)

                                               i.     Intermediate state is real but we are not given much information on it.

                                              ii.     When the believer dies they go to be with the Lord and experience a conscious relationship with him while they await the resurrection of the dead.

     [1] David VanDrunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009), 57.
     [2] David VanDrunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009), 54.
     [3] David VanDrunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009), 225-226.
     [4] David VanDrunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009), 61.
     [5] Gary Habermas and J. P. Moreland as quoted in Larry J. Waters, “The Believer’s Intermediate State After Death” Bibliotheca Sacra 169 (2012), 285. 
     [6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 819.  Grudem is not endorsing this idea; just defining it.
     [7] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 819.
     [8] Waters, “The Believer’s Intermediate State After Death,” 294.  Waters notes that he is quoting personal correspondence from Randy Alcorn.
     [9] Ian K. Smith, “Does 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 Refer to an Intermediate State?” Reformed Theological Review 55 (1996), 14. 

Life, Death, & Growing Old (part one): Introduction

* The following is part of a teaching series for a Sunday school class.

Life, Death & Growing Old

1.     Purposes of series

a.     Reflect on the biblical teaching and principles that intersect with growing old, dying, and death.

b.     To tackle controversial issues revolving around dying and death (i.e., definition of death, termination of life support, physician-assisted suicide, burial vs. cremation, etc.).

c.      So that we might be ready to reason about and respond to these stages of life and death as well as think biblically and rationally about controversial issues.

The Bible as our Guide

2.     Christian life is lived under the authority of God’s word

a.     Important: we are not autonomous

b.     We will look at controversial matters and we must be willing to reason in a biblical manner

c.      Deuteronomy 8.3 and Matthew 4.4

d.     2 Timothy 3.14-17

e.     John 17.17—“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

                                               i.     Doesn’t use the adjective for “true” but, rather, the noun for “truth”

                                              ii.     “The difference is significant, for this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being ‘true’ in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the final standard of truth.”[1]

3.     God’s word is a comprehensive authority

a.     Deuteronomy 6.4-5 and Mark 12.29-31

“People who love God more than everything else will want to express that love in every situation.  If we love god more than anything else, we will seek to know how to love him wherever we are, whatever we are doing.  We will continually ask how my love for God makes a difference—in my relationship to my family and neighbors, on the job, in my recreation.  And believers will want to know how to take dominion of human culture for the lordship of God: art, literature, science, medicine, government.”[2]

b.     The Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1.28; 2.15) and The Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20)

c.      Colossians 3.17, 23

4.     The sufficiency of Scripture

a.     2 Timothy 3.16-17—“…equipped for every good work.”

b.     Use of extra-biblical data—reasoning and empirical investigation

                                               i.     We must not equate extra-biblical information with divine words

                                              ii.     Scripture requires us to correlate its commands with extra-biblical information

“When God told Adam to abstain from the forbidden fruit, he assumed that Adam already had general knowledge, sufficient to apply that command to the trees that he could see and touch.  God didn’t need to tell Adam what a tree was, how to distinguish fruits from leaves, what it meant to eat.  These things were natural knowledge.  So God expected Adam to correlate the specific divine prohibition concerning one tree to his natural knowledge of the trees in the garden.  This is theology as application: applying God’s Word to our circumstances.”[3]

                                            iii.     Luke 12.54-56—Jesus recognizes the use of empirical investigation and induction

                                            iv.     “Scripture is sufficient to provide all the ultimate norms, all the normative premises, that we need to make any ethical decision.  Scripture contains all the words of God that we need for any area of life, and all ultimate norms come from divine words.”[4]

c.      Important for when we discuss bio-ethical issues regarding end of life: life support, physician-assisted suicide, defining death.

Key Doctrinal Points

5.     All of life is to be lived under the authority of God’s comprehensive and sufficient word—for the glory of God!

a.     1 Corinthians 10.31

b.     Deuteronomy 6.4-5 and Mark 12.29-31

6.     God is sovereign over life and death[5]

a.     Psalm 139.13-16

b.     1 Samuel 2.6-7

7.     Humanity—Genesis 1 and 2: Implications and applications of being created beings[6]

a.     Humans have no independent existence

                                               i.     Created by the will and design of God

                                              ii.     We are creation of God: Not an outflow of him

1.     Creator/creature distinction à metaphysically distinct

2.     We never cease to be creatures of God

b.     Humans are part of creation: share a kinship with the rest of creation

c.      Humans are unique in creation: “more to humanity than just creature-hood”

                                               i.     Matthew 6.26; 10.31: more valuable than birds

                                              ii.     Francis Schaeffer’s diagram

d.     There is kinship among humans: we should care for humanity as a whole and for those we do not personally know

e.     Humanity is not the highest object in the universe

“His [God’s] glory, not our pleasure and comfort, is the ultimate value.  We must never elevate our respect for humans to the point of virtually worshipping them.”[7]

f.      There are definite limitations upon humanity

                                               i.     Humility due to our finitude

                                              ii.     Only God is inherently eternal à all else dies

g.     Limitation is not inherently bad à not something to “grow/evolve beyond”

h.     Should accept our own finitude to properly live life

“The fact of our finiteness is clear.  We may, however, be unwilling to accept that fact and to accept our place in the scheme of things as creatures of God who are dependent upon him.  Adam and Eve’s fall consisted at least in part of an aspiration to become like God (Gen. 3:4-6), to know what God knows.  A similar aspiration underlay the fall of the evil angels (Jude 6).  We ought to be willing to let God be God, not seeking to tell him what is right and true, but rather submitting to him and his plan for us.  To pass judgment on God’s deeds would require an infinite knowledge, something that we simply do not have.”[8]

§  Consider God’s speech to Job (ch. 38-41)-- reminds Job of his finitude

i.       Humanity is something wonderful à “image of God”-- dignity!

                                               i.     It will probably amaze us to realize that when the Creator of the universe wanted to create something “in his image,” something more like himself than all the rest of creation, he made us…We are the culmination of God’s infinitely wise and skillful work of creation.[9]

                                              ii.     Psalm 8.5-- “a little less than God” (Hebrew = elohim)

2.     Image of God-- crucial concept!

a.     Actual phrase “image of God” used infrequently: Gen 1.26-27; 9.6; 1 Corinthians 11.7; James 3.9 (see Gen 5.1 for “likeness” language)

b.     What is the “image of God?”  Was it lost in the Fall?  Do all people share in the “image of God” now—believers and unbelievers?

c.      Some have denied that post-Fall people are in the image of God à the image has been lost and is only renewed in coming to Christ Jesus

                                               i.     But see: Genesis 9.6 and James 3.9 à post-Fall situations that do not restrict image to believers

d.     Structural and Functional (or, broader and narrower) aspects of image

                                               i.     Structural: “In sum, then, we may say that by the image of God in the broader or structural sense we mean the entire endowment of gifts and capacities that enable man to function as he should in his various relationships and callings.”[10]

1.     Intellectual powers
2.     Moral sensitivity
3.     Capacity for religious worship
4.     Responsibility
5.     Volitional power
6.     Aesthetic sense
7.     Gifts of speech and song
8.     Ability to feel; have emotions

                                              ii.     Functional: “Thus the image of God in the narrower sense means man’s proper functioning in harmony with God’s will for him.”[11]

                                            iii.     Consider two sets of passages

1.     Gen 9.6; James 3.9
2.     Col 3.10; Eph 4.24

If we put these two types of passages together, we conclude that there must be a sense in which fallen man still bears the image of God, but that there must also be a sense in which he no longer bears that image.  Hence the distinction between the broader and narrower aspects of the image is necessary.[12]

                                            iv.     C. John Collins outlines views on the image of God

1.     Resemblance: human beings like God in some aspect(s) such as intellect, moral sense, will, rationality, etc.

2.     Representative: humans commanded by God to rule creation on God’s behalf

3.     Relational: humans as male/female and in community as they manifest the “image of God”

·      Scholars commonly speak as if these categories are mutually exclusive.  My view is that the linguistic and exegetical details favor the idea that “in our image, after our likeness” implies that humans were made with some kind of resemblance to God, which was to enable them to represent God as benevolent rulers, and to find their fulfillment in their relationships with each other and with God.  That is, I have combined all three views,…[13]

e.     Practical implications

                                               i.     How do we view people? 

1.     Race, ethnicity, social standing (poor/rich), disabled (physically/mentally)

2.     Proverbs 22.2 “The rich and the poor have a common bond, the LORD is the maker of them all.”

3.     Created by God to live in relationship—four-fold relationship

     [1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 83.
     [2] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2010), 217.
     [3] Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 228.
     [4] Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 231.
     [5] For more on God’s sovereignty in general see my Bible study “God’s Comprehensive Control.”  Online:
     [6] For a slightly expanded study of the doctrine of humanity see my Bible study “Doctrine of Humanity.” Online:
     [7] Millard Erickson Christian Theology, 453.
     [8] Millard Erickson Christian Theology, 455.
     [9] Wayne Grudem, Sytematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 449.
     [10] Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986), 70-71.
     [11] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 72.
     [12] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 64.
     [13] C. John Collins. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?  Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Crossway, 2011), p. 94.  See also Herman Hoekema’s discussion of “structural” and “functional” aspects of the image of God in Created in God’s Image (Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1986), pp. 68-73.