This is my 2020 Christmas Eve sermon. The video follows this text, below.
We don’t like intrusions into our world from outside. It makes us nervous. It makes us insecure. It makes us scared!
It’s why UFOs fascinate so many of us. Is it true? Could it be real? Is there actually life “out there?”
It’s why movies about Martians and aliens are so sinister. They always have better technology. They always want to hurt us, and they always scare us.
Those Martian movies are always variations on the same theme:
The arrival—dark, mysterious, sinister, and especially scary music! What does it mean!?
The confrontation—they present their demands, often at the point of a ray-gun, and their demands are usually evil. What do they want, and do they plan to hurt us!?
The struggle—we reject their demands, and war begins. Will the invaders win?
In short, those Martian and alien narratives are pretty simple. We’re the good ones, and the extra-terrestrials are the evil ones. So … shall evil triumph over good? Of course not!
The Christmas story is also about an invasion from another world—but the script we’re used to has been flipped all upside down.
Jesus is that visitor from outside this system who’s come to our alien world. It didn’t used to be an alien world, but it’s become one because we’ve neglected it. We’ve ruined it. We and our world are like a garden that was once beautiful 500 years ago, but is now an overgrown mess of thorns, nettles, garbage and rats.
The bible tells us about Jesus’ arrival:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
This arrival isn’t dark, mysterious or sinister. There are no spaceships landing in dark cornfields or hovering over city skylines. No explosions. No otherworldly creatures. No exotic technology. And, no frightening music. There’s only an angelic choir, singing to shepherds in their fields at night about a special visitor from the world beyond. And there’s no mystery about what it means—God has come to bring perfect peace to those with whom He’s pleased!
Not just in its arrival, but also in its confrontation, God’s invasion is different from our expectations. Instead of entering this world and making demands at the point of a ray-gun, God has sent His Son to hold out His hand and say, “I’ve come to rescue you from yourself! Won’t you come with me?”
The script we’re so used to has been flipped because our roles are actually different than we think:
Though you wash yourself with lye, and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord GOD
What God’s telling us is that we’re the ones who’ve gone rogue. We’re the ones who have the problem. We’re the ones who have invaded and taken over His world. We are the bad guys, and nothing we can do will ever wash that stain away from our hearts, souls and minds.
Think of an intervention. An intervention is when you, family and friends gather to tell someone you love the truth. To shake him out of his stupor and make him really see how he’s destroying himself and hurting those he loves.
This confrontation at Christmas is God’s intervention in all of our lives—in the world’s consciousness. To shake us awake. To make us see how we’re destroying ourselves. Jesus is the One who’s come to sit down on our couches, in our living rooms, to have this difficult conversation with every single one of us. And Christmas is when His journey to our couches and living rooms began.
You’re not ok. You’re unclean and your guilt is like permanent marker on your souls—not a scarlet “A” but a black “C” for “criminal.”
God’s intervention is when His Son came here to live and die for people who hate Him, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
His Resurrection breaks the chain that binds you to Satan, and shines a light to us in darkness to lead us onto the path of perfect peace. It’s when He asks us, “you can be free, so won’t you come with me?”
Pledge allegiance to Him by repenting and believing His message, and He’ll be a perfect and merciful Savior.
What will we do once we hear the message?
In those Martian movies, the struggle is never quite one-sided. You have better technology wielded by soulless, faceless enemies from another world versus the heart and grit of real, ordinary people … and we somehow always win—against all odds! The enemy gets into his spaceship and flies away, never to be seen again.
But, in God’s eyes, we’re the bad guys and the struggle is one-sided. This isn’t a struggle or a war, because the outcome isn’t in doubt. It’s God lovingly reaching into His ruined world, telling everyone this Good News which is for all the people (ἔσται παντὶ τῷ λαῷ), beckoning them to come to Him and then plucking the millions of people who do come (whom He’s chosen) out of this world and into something better.
How does He do it?
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
God’s spin cycle is the best spin cycle! We can’t scrub ourselves clean, but God can make us clean. He gives us His Son’s perfect righteousness. He renovates us; spiritually gutting us like a shabby house and then fixing us all up again.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
A new heart, a new spirit—something better than that cheap, defective stock model we came with from the factory. God doesn’t renovate us so He can turn around and flip us to the highest bidder. He does it so He can keep us for Himself.
And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
He’ll change us so we’ll love Him and want to do what He says. He makes us new—born again, from above (γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν; Jn 3:3).
When the men came from the East following the star, they dealt with Herod the Great that night when they passed through Jerusalem, so many years ago. Over 50 years later, the Apostle Paul told Herod’s great-grandson Agrippa II that God intended this Good News about His Son to open people’s eyes, so that they might turn from darkness to light—from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who have purified by faith and allegiance in Him (Acts 26:18).
That’s still God’s plan—and in His Son’s invasion, He really does “come in peace!” Repent and turn to God—His intervention is for your own good. Believe His message—we’re the bad guys, and He’s the one who’s come to rescue us despite ourselves. And then rejoice—“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Here is the Christmas Eve sermon:
 The participle τοῖς ἡγιασμένοις is the perfect tense-form, and ought to be translated that way (NASB, Jay Adams). Most EVV render it as a present of perfect state, as though there had been no antecedent action. Contextually, this is dubious. God moves new believers into his family so that (τοῦ λαβεῖν) they would receive a share or portion (κλῆρον) among those (ἐν) who have been purified (τοῖς ἡγιασμένοις).
You haven’t read the Book of Leviticus lately … have you? Don’t be shy; I understand! This is a confusing and mysterious book to many Christians, but it doesn’t have to be. The book is about the moral, ceremonial and civil laws that God’s people had to follow under the Old Covenant. It’s full of lots of details, and lots and lots of blood.
Lots of blood.
It may not be a spell-binding page-turner of a book, but it’s one of best resources God gave us for understanding who His Son is. When we compare the elaborate sacrificial rituals from the Book of Leviticus to what Christ did for sinners once for all, we see a beautiful object lesson. That’s what the sacrificial system is; God’s object lesson to prepare His people to understand and accept the need for a final, perfect atonement for sin and rebellion.
That’s what I preached about this past Sunday morning; how “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (1 Pet 3:18).
Here’s the sermon (below):
For reference, here’s the graphic I referenced throughout the sermon, which depicts the Old Covenant tabernacle, as described in the Book of Exodus:
The sermon audio is below. Actually, this is a Sunday School lesson. But, the title has been published, so I can’t change it now!
The Book of Zechariah is a neglected book. At 14 chapters, it’s the longest of the so-called Minor Prophets. It’s an obscure book, tucked away in an even more obscure part of the Christian Bible – that wasteland after the Book of Daniel, before the New Testament.
And yet …
This book has perhaps more direct prophesies per column inch about the coming Messiah than any other book in the Bible. It promises a glorious future for the distressed Israelites, a new and better leader who’ll rule over the world in peace and righteousness, promises a new and better covenant, a new and better High Priest, and vows that Israel will be ashamed for betraying and rejecting her Savior. It’s a thrilling book, and a close reading (with a good commentary even closer at hand) will encourage even the most cynical Christian.
This is also the book which prophesies how the Messiah will reveal Himself to the world as King. That prophesy is found in Zechariah 9:9-11 (and following), and it’s what I taught about this morning. It’s a prophesy which bookmarks the start of God’s fulfillment of everything He’s promised to His people, ever since the Garden of Eden.
I’ll be preaching from Acts 13:13-43 next Sunday. This is perhaps the longest of Paul’s sermons that God preserved and recorded for us. It is a summary of God’s grace and mercy toward the nation of Israel, Jesus’ advent, ministry, rejection, execution and resurrection.
It concludes with a stirring call for everybody (Jew or Gentile) to repent and believe in the Gospel. Paul promised that any person who does believe will be justified by God, set free from slavery to sin, adopted into God’s family and declared righteous in His eyes.
The English word “Gospel” has a tortured and convoluted history. I don’t know this because I’m a genius. I know this because I looked at the Oxford English Dictionary. Behold where it comes from:
It started out as the Greek εὐαγγέλιον
Then it morphed into the Latin evangelium
Then Old English translated this as “godspel”
We now have it as “gospel”
Why should you care? Well, it matters when you read Jesus saying something like this:
Mark 1:15 He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”
The word almost all English translation translate as “gospel” here is the Greek τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ, or “the gospel.” What does this word mean?
Hopefully, you can see the rendering “Gospel” really doesn’t tell you anything at all. The word is useless, in and of itself. It descended from the Old English rendering of the Latin, which in turn was descended from the Greek. The only place in this chain where we really have primary contact with the true definition is in the Greek – because the Old English, Latin and Modern English renderings are just derivatives from the Greek, not the actual definition itself.
So, what on earth did Jesus mean when he commanded everybody to believe in τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ? He meant they must believe the “good news.”
If we translate terms consistently throughout the Bible, you can see connections easier. I stumbled across a perfect example this evening during my Bible reading:
Isaiah 52:7-10 How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains the feet of a messenger who announces peace, a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen, your watchmen shout; in unison they shout for joy, for they see with their very own eyes the LORD’s return to Zion. In unison give a joyful shout, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the LORD consoles his people; he protects Jerusalem. The LORD reveals his royal power in the sight of all the nations; the entire earth sees our God deliver.
The Israelites will go into exile because of their sin. Life will be terrible. It will be hard. They’ll be punished for their sins. But, all hope is not lost. God will deliver them. Enemies will be vanquished and trampled in the mud. The tables will be turned. Because of the new and better covenant, peace, justice, holiness and righteousness will reign in all God’s people and on all the earth. The Israelites will be rescued from their exile, and led back to their own Promised Land by Yahweh Himself.
In our passage, Isaiah gives us a picture of a special messenger from God. The messenger races over the mountains toward them. He has news! He has a message! What is he bringing?
He is bringing good news.
We just saw that phrase somewhere before, didn’t we!? Interesting. How do you suppose the Greek translation of the Old Testament which Jesus and the apostles used translated this word for “good news?”
I’ll bet you can’t guess it! They translated it as εὐαγγελιζόμενος, which is the exact same Greek word (in different form) which Jesus used in Mark 1:15, when He commanded Israelites to believe in the “good news.”
Connecting the Dots
Jesus is called elsewhere the “messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3:1). He is the messenger who will bring word about God’s new and better covenant. In Isa 52:7, He is also the “messenger” who will race across mountains to the Israelites bearing the message of peace (compare the angel’s Christmas message to the shepherds). He comes preaching “good news.”
Coincidence? I think not. Now do you see why “good news” might be a better translation than “gospel?”
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Then the twenty-four elders who are seated on their thrones before God threw themselves down with their faces to the ground and worshiped God with these words:
“We give you thanks, Lord God, the All-Powerful, the one who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations were enraged, but your wrath has come, and the time has come for the dead to be judged, and the time has come to give to your servants, the prophets, their reward, as well as to the saints and to those who revere your name, both small and great, and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
We live in a created world. You can look at this world and see that it was planned, designed, created and is being sustained by an intelligent being. That Being has revealed Himself to us in the pages of the Old and New Testaments. He spoke to us by the prophets of old, like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, David and Noah. In these last days, He has spoken to us through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1).
That phrase, “Jesus Christ,” is both a name and a title. “Jesus” is the Greek rendering for the the Hebrew name translated as “Joshua,” which means “God is salvation.” That is His name – Jesus, Joshua, God is salvation. What a fitting name for the Son of God! The word “Christ” is a title, not a last name. It means “Messiah” or “Anointed One.” It means Jesus is the promised descendant from Eve who will crush Satan once and for all (Gen 3:15). He is the Suffering Servant whom Isaiah prophesied about (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). He is the true and great High Priest, clothed in fine garments (Zechariah 3). He is the Israelite prophet like Moses, whom all people are obligated to listen to (Deuteronomy 18:15ff). He is the One who King David prophesied about, whom the Lord will never allow to remain in the grave and see corruption (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27-31, 13:35-38). He is the one who is righteous and just, who came on the scene in a meek and lowly manner bearing the glorious message of salvation, reconciliation, forgiveness and adoption for all those who repent and believe His Good News (Zechariah 9:9).
This is who Jesus Christ is; the Anointed and Chosen One sent by God, who is God, who is salvation, who bears the message of salvation, who offers the refreshing and life-giving waters of eternal life (John 4:14) to sinners who are dead in their own trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). He is the One who is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father, who voluntarily and willingly left the Father’s throne room in heaven and came here to live a perfect and sinless life, and to die a sacrificial and substitutionary death for men, women, boys and girls from every tribe, language, people and nation on earth (cf. Revelation 5:9).
If you’re a Christian, it is He “who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Colossians 1:12b-14). If you’re not a Christian, then you have no cloak or pathetic pretense (cf. John 15:22ff) for your continued rebellion and insurgency against Him. The Apostle Peter said,
He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:42-43).
Peter also warned,
But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets – that his Christ would suffer – he has fulfilled in this way. Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you – that is, Jesus. This one heaven must receive until the time all things are restored, which God declared from times long ago through his holy prophets.
Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must obey him in everything he tells you. Every person who does not obey that prophet will be destroyed and thus removed from the people.’
And all the prophets, from Samuel and those who followed him, have spoken about and announced these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.’ God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities (Acts 3:18-26).
You’re reading these words from a device which was deliberately engineered and designed by professionals to work just like it’s working right now. It is the same with this world we’re living in. The obvious intelligent design of the world around us tells us that God exists.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; like a strong man it enjoys running its course. It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape its heat (Psalm 19:1-6)
Yet, all too often, we ignore the plain evidence of God in creation. We pass by the world around us without a second glance.
Bright, however, as is the manifestation which God gives both of himself and his immortal kingdom in the mirror of his works, so great is our stupidity, so dull are we in regard to these bright manifestations, that we derive no benefit from them. For in regard to the fabric and admirable arrangement of the universe, how few of us are there who, in lifting our eyes to the heavens, or looking abroad on the various regions of the earth, ever think of the Creator? Do we not rather overlook Him, and sluggishly content ourselves with a view of his works? And then in regard to supernatural events, though these are occurring every day, how few are there who ascribe them to the ruling providence of God—how many who imagine that they are casual results produced by the blind evolutions of the wheel of chance? Even when, under the guidance and direction of these events, we are in a manner forced to the contemplation of God, (a circumstance which all must occasionally experience,) and are thus led to form some impressions of Deity, we immediately fly off to carnal dreams and depraved fictions, and so by our vanity corrupt heavenly truth (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge [reprint; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008], 1.5.12).
This knowledge is meant to drive us to know more about God, and it is His dear Son, Jesus Christ, who reveals the Father to us, tells us who we are, where we stand with God, and what we must do to be reconciled, redeemed, forgiven, adopted into God’s family. It drives us to the Messiah, to the Christ, who in turn drives us to the Gospel.
Paul and the Christians in Colossae have something in common; they have each been redeemed from Satan’s kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son. The “we” includes everybody who has, is and will ever be a Christian. For the saints under the Old Covenant, Christ’s perfect and finished work has been retroactively applied (cf. Hebrews 9:15).
Giving thanks to the Father, who made you acceptable to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light, who rescued us from the kingdom of the darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we now have the redemption; that is, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:12-14).
Think about what the word “redemption” actually means. It gives the sense of being freed from an oppressive and harmful situation. It has overtones of being purchased and ransomed from the clutches of an evil taskmaster. It means to be released and absolved from bonds or a particularly terrible debt. It means to make good on an obligation, to set things right between yourself and an offended party. It’s really only a nuance or two away from the proper meaning of the all-important concept of “propitiation,” (1 John 2:2). This is who you are, who I am, who every single person in this world is – worthless sinners, criminal terrorists in God’s universe, rogue insurgents who live to rail against the Lord and against His anointed. Jesus Christ said, “He that hateth me hateth my Father also,” (John 15:23). Well, the truth is that we’re each born hating Him and His father, we’re each born “by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephesians 2:2), and we’re each born as people who need to be redeemed.
Paul does not say that everybody has been redeemed, or even will be redeemed. Only those who repent of their sins and believe in the Good News which our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ died to bring will be redeemed. You are not born belonging to the family of God. You are a stranger and alien to righteousness; all of us are. We come into this world as members of Satan’s kingdom; we’re born under his jurisdiction, his power, his authority, his dominion and his control. We’re slaves of sin, “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day,” (Jude 1:6). But, for those who have obeyed Jesus’ cry, “[t]he time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” then this is nothing but a terrible memory, a nightmare on a dark and stormy night, a horrifying time before God shined in your heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Indeed, as the Apostle Paul wrote,
“For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 6:20-23).
What does it mean to be “redeemed?” What is this redemption that Christians now have? Paul tells us that it is “the forgiveness of sins.” Your sins prove you’re a criminal. You live in this world God created, you breathe the air Christ provides, you live your life according to natural laws which Christ upholds and sustains, and you enjoy the blessings which the Lord showers on the just and the unjust alike.
If you are an unbeliever, you do belong to Satan’s kingdom, but make no mistake – everything in heaven and earth is ultimately under God Almighty’s power and control. Satan’s jurisdiction is like that of a metropolitan city within a state; its sovereignty is subject to the laws and regulations of the state it’s located in. You are under God’s jurisdiction, you are a proven criminal who has violated God’s holy laws, and you must be punished. It’s really as simple as that.
Because God is so holy, so perfect, so mighty, so awesome and so powerful, you deserve the greatest possible punishment. The Bible tells us that punishment is eternity “[i]n flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power,” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
You need to be forgiven. In order to be forgiven, certain criteria must be met. When a person commits a heinous crime in civilized society, people instinctively know that two things simply must happen when the perpetrator is caught: (1) the crime must be paid for, and (2) once that crime is paid for, things will be “set right.” This is what the word “propitiation” means. Your sins need to be paid for, wiped clean, atoned for. God’s righteous anger must be appeased, and things must be set right. You can either pay for your own sins yourself, as you surely deserve to, or you can confess and forsake your sins, and believe the life-giving and life-saving Good News which Jesus Christ preached and taught. You only have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
For Moses truly said unto the fathers, ‘A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.’ Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.
Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, ‘And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.’ Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities (Acts 3:19-26).
Jesus is writing to the people in the local church in Philadelphia, and He says something very simple and yet very profound – Jesus always knows our deeds, and what we do. Here is the text, from my own translation:
8I know your deeds. (Pay attention! I have put an opened door in front of you, and no one ever has [the] power to shut it.) I know you have a little strength, and yet you have obeyed my message and have not disowned my name.
We can hide nothing from Him. He is omniscient and all-knowing. Jesus never takes in knowledge and learns new things. He is equal in power, glory, honor and attributes to the Father. He knows what you have done, are doing and will do.
There is nothing you can do that Jesus does not already know all about:
Proverbs 5:21 For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.
Proverbs 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.
Job 34:21-22 For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.
Jesus’ remark gives the sense of, “I always know your deeds!”
He knows the good and the bad. He knows our faithfulness and our deliberate failures. He knows whether your heart and spirit is hypocritical or tender. He knows your motivations and your motives. He knows what you’re planning and what your ambitions are.
Jesus’ remark will either (a) strike fear into the unregenerate, pretending heart, (b) convict and rebuke the lazy Christian who stopped trying a long time ago, and is just treading water on autopilot; or (c) comfort the weary sinner who is honestly trying to serve the Lord day by day.
Let everybody sit up and take notice of these simple truths:
God created this universe and everything in it, and He did it through His unique, one and only Son, Jesus Christ; “by whom also he made the worlds,” (Hebrews 1:3)
We are – each of us – products of this creation, and we owe our lives, our blessings, our comforts, the air we breathe and the blessings we enjoy to Him
We are alienated from God and estranged from Him because of the wicked things we think about and do every day, which violate His holiness and His law
Because God has great mercy, love, grace and kindness (cf. Ephesians 2:4-7), He provided a way for people to be reconciled, forgiven, adopted into His family and saved from Satan and ourselves
As you go about your day to day life, whether you are a non-Christian who thinks this is all ridiculous superstition, a “slacker” Christian who lives a life of pitiful hypocrisy, or a sincere Christian who tries day by day to be cleaving tighter unto the Lord (Acts 11:23), know this – the Risen and Resurrected Christ knows your deeds. “He is Lord of all,” (Acts 10:36), and the Father demands you apologize to Him and set things right by repenting of your sins and believing in His Son’s perfect work for your sake, in your place, as your substitute. As the Scripture reads,
Mark 1:14-15 After John was taken, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying: ‘The time is come and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.’ (Tyndale 1534 translation)
 I take the word translated “I know” to be expressing a timeless truth. Here is my note on this from my own pitiful translation; Οἶδά: (1) Voice – a simple active voice. (2) Tense – context suggests a gnomic perfect, suggesting that Jesus has always known the church’s deeds. He never comes to know anything – He always knows all. (3) Mood – a declarative indicative.
This is the beginning of a short little series on the Book of Jonah. Enjoy!
All people know about Jonah is that he was swallowed by a giant fish! That’s all most Christians remember about this wonderful little book. The truth is the Book of Jonah isn’t a Sunday School lesson, but a real account of a real event that has real meaning for your life
JONAH RUNS (1:1-3):
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
Jonah is commanded to go and preach to the people in Nineveh because of their wickedness. God hasn’t just found out about their wickedness. It’s just gotten so bad that He’s decided to take some drastic action. Nineveh is in Assyria, and if you know the Old Testament, you know that the northern kingdom of Israel isn’t exactly friends with Assyria!
God gives an immediate command, “Arise, go to Nineveh!” In other words, “Go, right now!” It’s also a pretty big undertaking – over 500 miles overland! This is more than a car-trip!
Before we move on, I want you to think about how strange of a command this is in the Old Testament. We see calls for repentance all the time in the prophets – for Israel, though. Where else do we see a prophet sent directly to a pagan nation to preach to them about their wickedness in particular? Nowhere else! So, this raises the question – what kind of missions work was done in the Old Testament?
Missions Work in the Old Testament:
Here are some good questions to ponder, and if these questions have never occurred to you, then do some thinking on it now:
Why don’t we see a “great commission” in the OT?
Why weren’t the Israelites told to go make disciples of all nations, and bring them to Jerusalem to worship the One true God?
Why don’t we have maps telling about Old Testament missionary journeys in the back of our Bibles?
Did God have no message of salvation for the rest of the world?
I want to start by reminding you that God has worked with mankind in different ways, at different times. Before God chose Israel, He worked with all of mankind individually. After God chose Israel, He worked with all of mankind through Israel
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).
God makes a whole lot of promises, but one of them is that the vehicle of blessing for all the other nations will be Israel:
“In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount. And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:1-6).
What in the world was God talking about here? What does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? What does a priest do? A priest represents God to the rest of the people – He’s a go-between. So, to go back to the missions question – what were the Israelites supposed to do to fulfill this responsibility of being a kingdom of priests, or a corporate go-between for God and the pagan nations?
Option #1: Go out, preach the Gospel, and make disciples!
Option #2:Live holy lives, follow God’s law with a true heart and let unbelievers gradually flow to them, slowly but surely?
Don’t worry about what scholars say, or what your study Bible notes say – what do you think? I take option #2. If Israel had lived as a holy people, God would have continued what began under Solomon. After all, some great things happened under Solomon. Israel came closer than ever before to realizing the covenant blessings that God had promised for obedience. The temple was built and God did dwell inside it. Solomon was a godly king who only asked for the wisdom to rule right (see 1 Kings 10:1-9).
And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom (1 Kings 4:34).
And king Solomon passed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, that God had put in his heart (2 Chronicles 9:22-23).
This sounds like a good start, doesn’t it? So, what happened to this seemingly unstoppable roller-coaster ride to greatness and God’s blessing? The Bible tells us:
But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart (1 Kings 11:1-3).
Sin is what happened. That’s why we need Christ – the perfect King who will succeed where even good men like Solomon failed.
But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
So far, so good – Jonah is commanded to go preach to the heathen Assyrians in Nineveh. But, he doesn’t like that idea, so he heads off to Joppa and books passage on a ship bound for Tarshish. Nobody is quite sure where Tarshish was – but the smart money says the southwest coast of Spain.
Why is Jonah Running?
So, why is Jonah fleeing? What in the world does he hope to accomplish?
Option #1 – Jonah thinks he can hide from God, and God won’t be able to find him
Option #2 – Jonah just wants to get away, wash his hands of the whole business and have God find someone else for the job
I go with option #2. Jonah hates the Assyrians and doesn’t want anything to do with them. He’s so sick at heart and outraged that God’s mercy and forgiveness is being offered to them, that he’s willing to run from God!
Think about how drastic of a move this is! He’s dropping everything, leaving his home, family, friends, possessions – everything! He books last-minute passage on a ship bound for the ends of the earth (not literally, but you know what I mean!) – this must have cost a whole lot of money! He has no baggage, probably not much money and no plans.
He used a ship; today we’d use a plane. If I were in Jonah’s position today, and wanted to run far, far away, long-distance destinations available from O’Hare airport today are Beijing, Berlin, Tokyo and Zurich. I’d personally choose Zurich. There’s a flight leaving on tomorrow, for only $1,000! I could pay for the flight, and survive for a few weeks on just the credit card, but I’d have to figure something out very quickly:
Where would I live?
How would I earn money?
Where will I buy clothes?
How will I afford food
Jonah is doing something very drastic – and his situation would be more dire than mine! He’s so opposed to the very idea of the Gospel going to the Assyrians that He’d willing to do all this!
Why Didn’t Jonah Want To Go?
He didn’t want to go because the Assyrians were not nice people! They were the dominant empire in the entire Middle East – Babylon would come next. Archeologists and historians have discovered evidence of several massive military battles in Israel from 853 – 845 B.C. During that period, Israel, Judah and a bunch of other countries apparently joined together to defend themselves against the Assyrians. The Judean King, Jehu, is shown cowering down and kissing the Assyrian King’s feet in this picture, below:
In Jonah’s day, Assyria is in the middle of a roughly 75 year (823-744 B.C.) slump. They’re not doing so well anymore and are fighting amongst themselves. Meanwhile in Israel, Jeroboam II has come to power. Israel is expanding northwards and gaining territory. The economy is booming. Jonah and Hosea are from the same approximate generation.
But, Assyria is still out there, still dangerous and still a threat to Israel. They’re a serious danger to Israel – that means they’re a serious danger to Jonah. I want you to picture the absolute last kind of foreigner you’d want to share the Gospel with as an American – who would it be?
The five Taliban members who were just released in trade for SSG Bowe Bergdahl?
The 9/11 hijackers?
Osama bin Laden?
How would you like to leave behind your family, friends and your home to preach the Gospel to these folks? Not many Christians would be too eager to sign up for that trip? Yet, that’s what Jonah was told to do; and he didn’t like it!
There is a new book out about a Lutheran chaplain during World War II named Harry Gerecke. He served two years in England and then in Europe with the Army. He was preparing to ship back home in the summer of 1945, but was asked to stay and be a Chaplain to the German war-criminals during the Nuremberg Trials. He had watched soldiers blown up, shot and killed by Germans for two years. Now, he was being asked to delay his return home and preach the Gospel to the captured Nazi leaders, many of whom had committed horrible atrocities!
What would he do? What would you do? He stayed 1.5 years extra and reported that four men were saved! Put yourself in Jonah’s position, and don’t condemn him too easily. What he did was wrong, of course – but what would you do if God told you to travel to Syria and preach the Gospel to ISIS militants?
WHY DID GOD SEND JONAH TO NINEVEH?
I won’t answer that question until we reach the end of the book! But, what can we learn about God from the very beginning of this little book? God saves people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
The Gospel isn’t an American thing and it wasn’t an Israelite thing – God’s vision has always encompassed more than that. Israel wasn’t supposed to sit still and look pretty because she was chosen (“elect”) by God to be His holy people – she was supposed to:
live the right way
follow His law out of a pure heart, and
draw other nations to Him by her own example!
The Gospel gets shared with everybody, even if we don’t like them.
 This is indeed the crux of the issue! Perhaps the most accessible advocate for the idea that Israelites were supposed to be active missionaries to the pagan world is Walter J. Kaiser. He asks, “[i]t is at this point that the thesis of this book participates in issues that are hotly debated today: Did this ‘kingdom of priests’ serve Israel alone or the entire world? Were they to be active or merely passive witnesses,” (Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012], xiii). Kaiser goes on to insist, “[t]he fact remains that the goal of the Old Testament was to see both Jews and Gentiles come to a saving knowledge of the Messiah who was to come. Anything less than this goal was a misunderstanding and an attenuation of the plan of God. God’s eternal plan was to provide salvation for all peoples; it was never intended to be reserved for one special group, such as the Jews, even as an initial offer!” (Ibid, xiv). Kaiser states the issue well, but his opponents do not suggest that Israel was supposed to be an elitist, snobbish society. Nor do they suggest that Israel did not fail in her adherence to the Mosaic Covenant. They merely disagree over the nature of her missions mandate – was it passive or active?
Over against Kaiser’s model is the idea that Israel’s “missions mandate,” such as it was, was basically passive. This position believes that the great ingathering of Gentiles is an eschatological one, for the latter days. This position is well represented by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (Downer’s Grove, IL : IVP, 2001), 25-53. At this point, one’s theological stripes will be revealed – will this ingathering take place when Jesus rules and reigns from a literal Jerusalem over a literally restored Israel (dispensationalist), or is this ingathering taking place right now as the spiritual kingdom of Christ reigns in the hearts of the elect (covenantalist)?
I hold to the second option, advocated by Kostenberger and O’Brien, that Israel’s missions mandate was very real, but basically very passive (Jonah being an obvious exception). I am a dispensationalist, so I believe the great eschatological ingathering of Gentiles will take place when Israel is restored, and Christ rules and reigns as her King in Jerusalem in the Millennium (see, for example, Isa 61).
 There is some debate about whether Jonah chartered the entire vessel, or whether he merely booked passage as a passenger to Tarshish, where the ship had already been headed. The Scripture itself provides the answer; v.5 tells us that the frightened sailors tossed the wares they were carrying overboard. Evidently the ship was engaged in trade and already bound for Tarshish; Jonah merely slipped on-board after negotiating the fare. If Jonah had chartered the entire vessel outright, they wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of loading wares for later sale in Tarshish. If they had tried to, there would no doubt have been a considerable delay and Jonah would have sought passage on another vessel.
 “Although alternatives have been suggested, south-west Spain remains the most likely location for Tarshish,” (T. Desmond Alexander, “Jonah,” in Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, vol. 26, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988], 110). John Walton suggests Tarshish need not be taken as a literal destination, but as a reference to great distance, e.g “I’m headed for Timbuktu!” doesn’t necessarily mean one is going to Mali, Africa. It could mean one just wants to get far, far away (Jonah, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, revised ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008], 469).
 No Bible believer would really believe one can literally hide from God. This is not a legitimate option!
 “Jonah wished to escape, not beyond the power of God, but away from the stage on which God was working out His purposes and judgments. The Christian worker anxious to avoid the full impact of modern problems should have no difficulty in understanding Jonah’s action,” (H. L. Ellison, Jonah, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 7 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985], 369). See also Ellison’s remarks on the silliness of the first interpretive option (369). Walton remarks, “Jonah does not necessarily think that distance will put him out of range of the Lord’s reach; he may have thought his flight will simply result in the Lord’s finding someone else for the job,” (Jonah, 469).
 Many commentators discount the idea that Jonah was a “missionary” in the NT sense, and certainly don’t agree that Jonah preached the Gospel (according to the revelation Jonah had at the time, the Gospel entailed saving faith in God alone for justification [e.g. Gen 15:6] and loving adherence to the Mosaic Covenant as proselytes). John Walton (Jonah, 457-458, 477-485) and H.L. Ellison (Jonah, 363, 383-384) are particularly insistent on this point. The particulars will wait until we reach Jonah 3, but as for a hint of my own position, Jesus’ own words in Mt 12:41 are rather decisive on this point! But for the sake of brevity I’ll simply refer to Jonah as a “missionary” and his message as “the Gospel” and save the details for later!
 See A. K. Grayson, “Assyria, Assyrians” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, ed. Bill T. Arnold and H.T.M. Williamson (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), 100-102