Whatever You Do, Don’t Run (Jonah 1:4–16)

 

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“But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” —Jonah 1:5 (ESV)

 

When dealing with Yahweh, whatever you do, don’t run! Additionally, it’s helpful to know that you’re always dealing with Yahweh. Because God is omnipresent, when you run from Him you can’t but run into Him, and you’ll always find that the side of God you run into is worse for you than the side you are running from.

Do not flee the One who can hurl “great winds.” We think it incredible when a pitcher can hurl a one hundred plus mile-per-hour fastball, and it is, but we can get our fingers on that. The average person can begin to approach that in measure. God grips what we cannot, the wind, in quantities beyond our comprehension, and hurls it so that the sea foams.

Man needs a bulky blower with some power supply to send bits of dust and grass off his driveway. God needs nothing. He hurls the wind simply by wiling it and He can do so with laser precision.

Know this, God does not simply watch the storm and it is a euphemism to say that He allows  storms. He hurls the wind. The psalmist sings, “He commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea,” (Psalm 107:24 ESV). Yahweh is the hurler of great winds and the lifter of waves. Weather patterns are not randomized nor do they run according to some complex algorithm that God programmed into the laws of nature. God didn’t design an automated smart-earth. He operates everything manually.

God doesn’t pitch wild. He can throw full force, straight down the pipe, without tiring. He can smack a giant between the eyes with a stone and He can rock a ship with the wind. This storm smack the glove—a little ship headed for Tarshsish.

If you are so foolish as to flee God, and we all are, don’t think you’re getting away with it because you make it fifty miles. God might just want to demonstrate how far and hard He can throw. God throws comets through the cosmos. He can hit you. He can throw over any distance without losing velocity because every pitch is a short pitch. He can throw such that the wind gains velocity, for He is there carrying the storm along its trajectory at every point.

The scariest thing about running from God is how far He might let you run. Don’t presume He will hurl wind and lift waves to bring you into obedience. He might let you sail off the edge of the world and into hell below. You might be in Israel and not be of Israel. You may grow in the church but prove to be nothing more than a weed to be plucked and thrown into the fire. But if you are His, He will keep you by His sovereign power. Either way, it is best not to test Him. When dealing with Yahweh, whatever you do, don’t run.

Swallowed (Jonah 1:1–3)

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One of the best introductions to the little book of Jonah is given by a fictional preacher, “Father Maple,” of what is hailed by many as the great American Novel, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

“Beloved shipmates, clinch the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah—‘And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.’ Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters—four yarns—is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sea-line sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish’s belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods surging over us; we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah.”

Though immersed in nautical terms, though that novel centers on a whale, Father Maple gets closer than many to the true message of the book. Maple was a former whaler and knows more of what Jonah is about than we landlubbers who are preoccupied with the great fish.

Father Maple said Jonah teaches a two-stranded lesson. The first lesson concerns the sin and repentance of Jonah. The second he later says is “to preach the truth in the face of falsehood.” 

Still, Father Maple misses the greatest point of this little book. Greater than Jonah’s sin and greater than Nineveh’s repentance is God’s mercy. God’s grace makes blue whales look smaller than the krill they feast on. God’s grace is so great, a multitude of blue whale-size sinners can swim and live in it.

G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God.” The most astounding thing that happens in this book isn’t that God appoints a fish to swallow Jonah, but that he appoints His grace to swallow sinners. This is a whale of a tale, a big fish story—and it is true. God’s grace really is that big.

Ethical Eschatology (2 Peter 3:11–18)

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness… (2 Peter 3:11).”

Eschatology is that field of theology that concerns the study of the eschaton, that is, the end. Eschatology has fallen on hard times and most often evokes an “Eek!” or and “Eh?”. I believe there are two primary reasons this is so:

First, we fail to remember that all the New Testament is eschatological. Jesus inaugurated the last days. This is why the gospels tell us that the kingdom has come, Peter preaches that Joel’s prophecy concerning the last days is being fulfilled, the author of Hebrews tells us that these are the last days, and John tells us it is the last hour. The eschaton is here now, but not yet fully here.

Second, I lay the bulk of the blame at the feet of Bible-prophecy man, who with his abundance of charts, outlandish interpretations, and flopped predictions has caused many to become cynical. These Chicken Littles have cried “Shepherd!” so many times that we’re no longer on guard against wolves. Because true Biblical eschatology isn’t taught, we’re more prone to accept a counterfeit, so long as it doesn’t get Left Behind weird.

None of this is to say that we don’t think of the end at all, only that, as a result, we don’t think about it seriously. We now reflect on the end only in light of the inevitability death and only enough so as to pacify our conscious and comfort our sorrows. True eschatology though not only gives us hope in death, it gives us grace to live.

It has been said, “You can be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” To this we might add, “you can be so focused on the future that you lose the present.” There is a sense in which these are true, but they obscure a greater truth. If your meditation on heaven and focus on the future cause you be worthless in the present, you’re doing it wrong.

The fruit of Bible-chart man’s teaching often bears bad fruit indicating that he doesn’t know how to garden eschatology so as to bear the fruit God intended. Whenever he leads you through Revelation the result is often anxiety, panic, and fear of the wrong sort. This is because eschatology is not a mystery to be solved, but a truth to be lived out. Readiness for the coming of Christ isn’t a matter of chronological awareness but ethical preparedness. Eschatology is ethical. Every time eschatology is taught in the New Testament, there is an ethical bent to it.

Instead of trying to solve the mystery, live as though it were true and you will find peace instead of anxiety.

Antecedents, Don’t Forget Your Antecedents (2 Peter 3:1–10)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).”

Many try to deny the first chapter of Peter’s first letter by appealing to the last chapter of his second letter, but I find the arguments for election in 1 Peter 1 to be pretty thick and the arguments against it from 2 Peter 3 to be pretty thin.

Peter addressed his first letter to “elect exiles… according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:1–2). “Knowledge” here refers to God’s covenant love as I’ve argued here. Of those God chose, Peter goes on to say, “He caused them to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Jesus’ atonement doesn’t simply make all men potentially savable, it accomplishes the salvation of God’s elect.

Rather than try to deny this plain text by another shouldn’t we attempt to harmonize them? I find the Arminian counter with 2 Peter 3:9 to be a weak punch for two reasons:

First, let’s take the passage at its basic meaning without reading any extraneous theology into it. It simply says that God in some way desires that all men repent. No Calvinist would say otherwise. God commands all men to repent. It is the duty they owe to God.

Theologians have long spoken of there being two wills in God. Sometimes these are referred to as his secret and revealed will, or they might be called his decretive and preceptive will. God’s secret will, or His sovereign, is what is. He wills, it is done. He says let there be light and there is light. He decrees the end from the beginning, and so it will be (Isaiah 46:9–10). But we also see in the Scriptures God’s will of command. God says “You shall not murder” and yet murders abound, but only in such a way as to accomplish God’s sovereign plan. It was sin for man to crucify Christ, that is, it was a violation of God’s revealed will; and yet, that great sin did nothing more than achieve God’s secret and eternal purposes. God’s preceptive will is that all men repent. His decretive will is that the elect repent.

Second, I don’t think this interpretation, which is true in itself, is true of the text. What is the antecedent of “all?” If I announce to Meridian Church next Sunday, “All are invited to my house” none would take this to mean I am inviting the whole world. When Paul says in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved” no orthodox Christian understands him to say that all ethnic Israelites will be saved. The context makes clear that he is speaking of true Israel—meaning those he has chosen, as Romans 9–10 makes clear.

Peter here is not talking about God’s patience towards all humanity but towards His people. He is patience towards you, not wishing that any of you should perish but that all of you should reach repentance. This is further confirmed when in 3:15 he tells them to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Again, it is the church that is to count God’s patience in not returning immediately as their salvation.

There are then two ways we could take this text. Peter may be saying that God is patient towards all His people, the elect, delaying His return until the full number is gathered in. The other option is that God is patient giving those who may be following the false teachers he warns of time to repent.

2 Peter 3:9 says nothing contrary to 1 Peter 1; rather, it is addressing the very same audience, God’s elect.

The Way to Deepest Darkness Is Found in the Light (2 Peter 2:17–22)

“For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.” —2 Peter 2:17 (ESV)

Dante’s Inferno sets forth nine circles of hell, with the innermost being the most hellish. Working our way in those circles are Limbo (where virtuous pagans reside), Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery.  Though The Divine Comedy is imaginative it is fitting that we find Socrates in Limbo and Judas near the center just shy of Satan. 

While Dante’s work is fanciful, here we learn who the “gloom of utter darkness” is reserved for—false teachers. Not false teachers as in pagan philosophers, like Plato, nor those false teachers of false religions who never learned of Christ such as Gautama Buddha. They are in hell, but not the hell of hell. Peter is speaking of false teachers who have risen within the church. Inside the church, one finds the door to the darkest pit of hell. There is no safer place for the saints than the church, and, there is no more dangerous place for hypocrites than the church.

False teachers are overcome with a particular and tragic kind of slavery. Having come within inches of freedom, they reject that freedom for slavery. It is one thing to walk in the darkness, another to refuse the way of righteousness. When an Ammonite king burned his child as an offering to Molech it was a horrid evil, but it was far more evil when Manasseh did likewise, for he, knowing the way of righteousness, turned from the holy commandment of God. False teachers exchange a slavery of ignorance for a slavery that rejects the true knowledge of Jesus Christ.

It is worse to sin in the light than in the dark. It is a sin worthy of an eternal hell to sin against the light of the finite Sun, that is, the light of natural revelation as it declares the glory of God. It is a sin worthy of the hell of hell to sin against the more radiant light of the eternal Son, the light of special revelation, the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.

The way to deepest darkness is found in the light. Be warned not just of false teachers, nor only of heeding them, but of becoming one. Before any are false teachers, they are false believers. As you sit under the preaching of the gospel, that gospel will be either your great salvation or your great damnation.

“They’re (like) Animals” (2 Peter 2:10b–16)

“But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV).

Long before President Trump described the members of MS-13 as animals, Peter used that word to describe a far more deadly gang. False teachers are like animals in that their behavior is irrational and instinctual. Paul spoke of this instinct which we all have in Adam as the “passions of the flesh” and “the desires of the body and the mind.” This impulse in false teachers is set loose and wed to audacious arrogance (2 Peter 2:10). Some false teachers may appear intellectual and have many academic accolades but what really drives them isn’t the mind, but an animal like lust, craving, and desire.

Additionally, their blasphemy, for that is what their false teaching is, is a further expression of their animal-like, irrational instinct for they blaspheme “about matters of which they are ignorant.” Consider how often false teachers make a big deal of obscure and vague passages in the Scriptures. Their claims of new revelation are really just a cover-up for ignorance. One of fresher laid piles of heresy is known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). People like Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding California are regarded as new apostles, just like those of old. John MacArthur quips concerning the NAR, “It is not new, it is not a reformation, and it is certainly not apostolic.” Their arrogance is a guise to veil their ignorance—blasphemous ignorance.

Because our theological walls are down, these animals are allowed to arise within the church (2 Peter 2:1). Peter pulls back the sheep’s clothing to reveal the hideous wolf beneath. Peter’s description of these animal-like predators is meant to revolt, somewhat like watching a predator tear into its prey on a nature documentary. This is not a pleasant chapter, but it is a most necessary one.

We Must Pummel (2 Peter 2:1–10a)

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV).

In the second chapter of his second letter, Peter unleashes, not on false teaching, but false teachers. One commentator aptly captures the tone writing, “ ‘Refuting’… is not quite the word for Peter’s language; pummeling, denouncing, castigating, condemning, attacking, and assaulting are more accurate descriptions of what Peter does to his opponents. He offers a few arguments in response to false teaching in chapter 3, but chapter 2 is mainly occupied not with refutation but denunciation of the most severe sort.”

Though Peter is writing this letter near his death (1:14), the apostle could still grow fiery hot, though now, in contrast to his youth, we see the beauty of a sanctified flame. The potentially dangerous wildfire has become a useful blowtorch. This is the most extended and intense treatment of false teachers in the New Testament and it is blessedly brutal.

How far are we from making any denunciations of false teachers that approach this? Something is seriously wrong if you think Peter unloving or unChristian. That so many do think this wrong demonstrates how unloving and unChristian we are.

Consider how incapable the contemporary church is of even identifying or understanding the danger. The late R.C. Sproul well diagnosed the epidemic upon us writing:

“We are living in perhaps the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Christendom—not anti-academic or anti-scientific but anti-mind. I doubt if there has ever been a time in church history when professing Christians have been less concerned about doctrine than they are in our day. We hear almost daily that doctrine does not matter that Christianity is a relationship, not a creed. There is not simply indifference toward doctrine but outright hostility, which is exceedingly dangerous and lamentable. We cannot do even a cursory reading of the Word of God without seeing the enormous emphasis accorded to doctrine and that unsound doctrine and false teaching are not merely errors in abstraction but are profoundly destructive to the life of the people of God.”

We cannot identify the false because we don’t know the true, nor do we care.

In addition to animosity towards doctrine, we are indifferent to history. Few Christians have any knowledge of heresies such as  Arianism, Pelagianism, or Unitarianism. The church has fought heresy, condemned it, and crafted creeds and confessions in response, but we’re so ignorant that these weeds are allowed to sprout up again and again unnoticed. If we will not learn from history, we must be prepared to be one of her lessons.

False teachers will rise, and false teachers will fall. We must know this, and must recognize them lest we share in their destruction.