214.  Swing the atmosphere

It is the end of November – again!  The year called 2021 is gearing up for that usual spectacular Christian feast – Christmas.  It happens in the usual ways – lights, balls, bells, shopping the sales and herding the family.  

We are tugged and tossed by the fast passage of time – unrelenting and rigidly just – the same for everybody all over the world.  Years come and go, with all the turmoil, changes, and progress that time affords us. It might feel that we do not always grip tightly to the speedboat of time, but rather float on the stormy waves of life without sight of land. 

For us in the Kingdom of God, feelings and fear of the stormy sea can never dictate.  We have made it to the big liner, crashing through the waves without effort, driven by the powerful engines of the holy Spirit on a divine course set by God himself according to his perfect plan that maps the route. 

Kingdom living hears the rhythm of the universe and the trumpet of God’s voice in every circumstance that we might have to face.  We are co-workers in his mighty purpose with man (Philemon 1:24).  We discern his work and intent so that we could align our lives with what God is doing.  The clamour of the world is loud and could easily distract.  Only love will sharpen our discernment to recognize and respond to God’s action in everything around us. (Philippians 1:9,10).  The harvest is ready and the labourers few. (Luke 10:2)

The world needs salvation – there is no doubt about that.   The heartbreaking misery around us has only one solution – the redeeming power of God.  The ruins of human plans fill history with the bloody wrecks of failure and anger.  Even now, the hysterical voices in our community bring chaos and confusion.  It is the enemy of order and peace.  Only God with his almighty provision could ever bring goodwill, prosperity and reconciliation to all mankind with no discrimination whatsoever.

It is in the commotion of modern living that we have the privilege to read a refreshingly unusual story from antiquity.  

Let us read – Sunday School 101 – Jonah 1.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 

But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

Could Jonah really have thought that He could flee from God?  It could be that he wanted to flee the command of God and reasoned that to put some distance between him and Nineveh, would free him somehow.  Tarshish was in the opposite direction.

God’s intention with the pagan nations are very clear.  His care for the Gentiles and their response to His voice, was the purpose of Jonah’s mission.

But the fact that a prophet of Israel was sent to a heathen city, and that not to denounce destruction except as a means of winning them to repentance, declared emphatically God’s care for the world.  In himself, Jonah had to rebuke the exclusiveness which claimed Jahveh for Israel alone.  He is, of course, free to decline the command.  The prophet can always refuse the instruction of God.

Jonah is neither scared of the bloodthirsty Assyrians, nor of death, would they perhaps kill him.  He fears success!  He refuses to accept that his  loving Father would extend the blessings and benefits of the true God to a nation as undeserving as Assyria.  Maybe it would have been easier for Jonah if God commanded him to annihilate the Assyrians.  In worldly terms killing an enemy is the only solution.  Only God can change a man’s inner being (Psalms 7:9; Jeremiah 24:7; 1 Samuel 10:9).

It is significant that he chooses a sea route.  The Jews in general were not drawn to sailing and only very reluctantly travelled by sea.

Is he willing to take the consequences of his disobedience in the full force of the frightening storm at sea?   Disobedience has consequences.  God is God.  His Plan is eternal and always accomplishes that which He purposes.  Disobedience brings destruction.

The Storm at Sea

 But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.

Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.

For the people on the ship with Paul (Acts  28) his presence was life-saving.  The people with Jonah on the ship is in a life-threatening situation with great material loss.  He sleeps in the lower parts of the ship where he defies his conscience hidden in the darkness.

The sailors are pagans but deeply aware of supernatural forces at work.  facing death  they are willing to worship any god who could save them.  What a mighty Gospel-moment!  In desperation they will throw their prejudice and preconceived ideas overboard – with the cargo.

So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”

 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 

God is active in the situation.  The lots show the truth.  His mercy extends over the people of the ship.  

Jonah confesses the truth and changes the atmosphere from desperation to determination. They are giving attention to his story. 

Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”

So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

Jonah Thrown into the Sea

Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.

Jonah has the answer.  His truth gave him power.  He can provide the answer to their predicament.  It is in his power to calm the sea.  What is the truth in the stormy sea of the angry arguments in our communities these days?  For most people it is a struggle for survival.

God’s word is the  truth – always.  We have to raise the discussion to the things that are truly important. The only way to do that is to grow in love.  Love generates discernment (Philippians  1:9,10).

In a very practical way, we can steer the conversation towards peace and harmony, keeping calm in the face of the storm and speaking the testimony of Jesus.  Humility and love will bring peace.  How shall we overcome? By the  Blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.  (Revelation 12:11)

On the ship the situation is worsening…the sea was growing more tempestuous.

 And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

Jonah gives them the solution, but the atmosphere has already shifted in such a manner that they try to save him with a heroic effort.  They row frantically for land.  They suddenly display courage and resoluteness because of the truth in their midst.  Their prayers are directed to the God of Jonah – the true God.

God accomplishes his purpose in the disaster brought about by his judgment.  That is the message.  Our truth swings the atmosphere to worship of the true God.  Truth aligns us with God’s Plan.

 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.

 Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” 

So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 

Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

Well, Jonah is in the sea and the ship is saved – the souls of the ship, which is the most important after all.  The place of the prophet, even in his failure and disobedience becomes a place of repentance and salvation.  God is mighty – He saves in spite of his fallible servants.  

Let us proceed in truth and love and change the atmosphere of anger and desperation to worship. 

You know the end of the story – read it  – the fish, the worm in the tree…

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