Messiah Is Coming, pt. 3

God made a covenant with Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his offspring. God made a promise through Moses that he would send the people a Prophet like Moses to speak on behalf of God. God made a covenant with David that his heirs would be enthroned forever in the sight of God.

The reigns of King David and his son Solomon were a kind of golden era for the United Kingdom of Israel. During their rule, Israel grew in strength, in numbers, and in territory. They established a military, a government, and a religion. The capital was moved to Jerusalem, and the Temple was built on the very mountain on which Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac so many years before.

It was during this time that the Psalms became an integral part of Israel’s worship and national identity. The Psalms reminded them of their past and brought hope for their future.

The Second Psalm was written for and recited at the coronation ceremony of Israel’s new kings. Let’s look at it, and see if anything sounds familiar. Pay attention to the words in red.

“I am the One who appointed My king who reigns from Zion, My mount of holiness.
He is the one in charge.”
I am telling all of you the truth. I have heard the Eternal’s decree.
He said clearly to me, “You are My son.
Today I have become your Father.
The nations shall be yours for the asking,
and the entire earth will belong to you.”

(Psalm 2:6-8 | The Voice)

There was a special relationship between God and the kings of Israel. As the Jews awaited the Messiah, which literally means Anointed One, they were looking for an earthly king from the line of David who would be honored, not simply as the Son of David, but as God’s own Son.

But even David himself recognized that the one to come would be far greater than himself. Looking ahead to the future Anointed One, David writes these words:

The Eternal said to my lord,
“Sit here at My right hand,
in the place of honor and power,

And I will gather your enemies together,
lead them in on hands and knees;
you will rest your feet on their backs.”
The Eternal will extend your reach as you rule
from your throne on Zion.
You will be out in enemy lands, ruling.
Your people will come as volunteers that day; they will be a sight to see:
on that day, you will lead your army, noble in their holiness.
As the new day dawns and dew settles on the grass,
your young volunteers will make their way to you.
The Eternal has sworn an oath
and cannot change His mind:
“You are a priest forever—
in the honored order of Melchizedek.”

(Psalm 110:1-4 | The Voice)

This coming King would be greater than David, would be honored as God’s Son, and would even take on the mantel of the priesthood in the order of Melchizedek, King and High Priest of Salem (see Genesis 14).

Prophet. Priest. King. Son of Abraham. Son of David. Son of God. Messiah. Anointed One. Christ.

This is who the Jews were waiting for, longing for, praying for. As their ancestors in Egyptian bondage, so they too were crying out to be released from the grip of Rome. The Messiah would do it. The Messiah would rally his followers, march on Jerusalem, and ascend the throne!

Little did they know or consider the prophetic words composed by David that would become the 22nd Psalm.

My God, my God,
why have You turned Your back on me?

Your ears are deaf to my groans…
My life is poured out like water,
and all my bones have slipped out of joint.
My heart melts like wax inside me.
My strength is gone, dried up like shards of pottery;
my dry tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
You lay me in the dust of death.
A throng of evil ones has surrounded me
like a pack of wild dogs;
They pierced my hands and ripped a hole in my feet.
I will speak Your Name to my brothers and sisters
when I praise You in the midst of the community…
He’s not put off
by the suffering of the suffering one;
He doesn’t pretend He hasn’t seen him;
when he pleaded for help, He listened…
They will tell the generations to come
of the righteousness of the Lord,
of what He has done.

The Messiah would be hailed as King of the Jews and Son of God – but only in his death. The Messiah would be pierced by men and forsaken by God. Yet God would not “let his holy one see decay.” The Messiah would be rescued and vindicated by God, beginning a whole new era of love and life and righteousness. The works of God through his Messiah would ripple out into the entire world, like waves in a lake.

The Messiah is Coming.

Messiah Is Coming, pt 2

God promised Abram that he would become a great nation. The only problem was that he and his wife, Sarai, didn’t have any children, and they were well past the child bearing age. God eventually made good on the promise and blessed the elderly couple with a son named Isaac, meaning laughter. God has a sense of humor.

Isaac became the father of Jacob. Jacob became the father of 12 sons whose own offspring would become the 12 Tribes of Israel. Before that, though, they all ended up in Egypt through a series of betrayals, backstabbing, double crossing, and famine. They never intended to stay in Egypt, but that’s just what happened. They never went back home. The subsequent generations, known as the Hebrews, continued to grow in numbers and in strength until a Pharaoh came along who didn’t know about these outsiders. They became enslaved by the Egyptian government, forced into years of hard labor under brutal conditions.

The people cried out for a deliverer, and God heard their cries. God raised up Moses to free his people and lead them to the promised land. They escaped Egypt through a series a plagues. They encamped at the base of Mount Sinai. They ate manna in the wilderness. They were made to live as nomads, wandering the Sinai peninsula for 40 years because they didn’t trust God.

Finally, they were on the edge of entering the Promised Land, the land they had left so many years ago when they were just a small family. Now they are a nation on the brink of seeing God’s promise fulfilled.

But Moses was old. He wasn’t going into the land with them. What would they do without this leader who has guided them for the last 40 years? Who would speak the words of God to them?

Moses gives them this promise:

The nations you’re going to displace seek guidance from people who practice divination and predicting. But the Eternal your God doesn’t want you to do that. He will raise up from among your own people a prophet who will be like me. Listen to him. This is just what you asked Him for on the day you gathered at Mount Horeb: “Don’t make me listen to the voice of the Eternal my God anymore! And don’t make me look at that blazing fire! I’ll die!” The Eternal told me, “They’re right. I’ll send them another prophet like you from among their own people. I’ll put My words in the mouth of this prophet who will tell them everything I command him to say.” (Deuteronomy 18:14-16 | The Voice)

The Prophet is coming.

Moses died and passed the torch on to Joshua who led the people into the land of Canaan. They divided the land and laid down roots. But there was no king, so central government, no true leader. So God raised up a series of Judges who led their tribes in military, religious, and legal matters.

But the people wanted a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations. God warned them what would happen. God wanted to be their King. But he relented and gave them what they wanted. God, through the prophet Samuel, anointed Saul to be the first great king over the united tribes of Israel.

Saul did well for a while, but would ultimately break God’s commands and end up losing his kingdom. Through Samuel again, God anointed a young shepherd boy named David to become the next king after Saul. David was from the town of Bethlehem, of the Tribe of Judah. David was a “man after God’s own heart.”

To David, God made this covenant:

“More importantly, I, the Eternal swear to you that I will raise up a dynasty from your family. When you come to the end of your days, and you leave this life to lie down with your fathers, I will raise up from you a descendant, your own flesh and blood, and I will make his kingdom and family sure. He will be the one to build a temple honoring My name, and I will establish the leadership of his kingdom for all time. I will be to him a father, and he will be to Me a son. When he crosses the line and acts badly, I will teach him with a rod used by people for correction and a lash for discipline. But I will not withdraw My love from him as I did from Saul, whom I set aside in favor of you. Your dynasty, your kingdom, will stand perpetually in My sight; your descendants will rule continually.” (2 Samuel 7:11-16 | The Voice)

The King is coming.

The people of Israel would spend the next thousand years awaiting the Prophet of Deuteronomy and the King, the Son of David, promised in 2 Samuel. The people thought they were looking for two different men. Little did they know this Prophet and King would be one and the same.

The Messiah is coming.

Jonah: Nope

Have you ever heard God speak directly to you? Odds are that you haven’t. I would say that most
people don’t.

If you did, how would you respond?

The closest I’ve come to hearing God speak to me happened when I was just out of my freshman year of high school. I was fifteen years old. We were at church camp that summer. It was one of those super emotional nights where a bunch of campers were thinking seriously about their lives. We ended each night with a time of singing. That night so many youth ministers and counselors were busy talking with teens in need that they turned over the song leading to some of us young guys. I got up in the middle of everyone and led a few songs. In that moment I could see and feel the Spirit of God at work in the lives of my peers. In that moment I felt/heard God tell me that this was what I was meant to do with my life.

From that moment on I began to pursue my calling to youth ministry and worship leading. I’ve been doing that full time for the last eight years. It hasn’t always been easy or fun or glamorous. But I can’t see myself doing anything else.

If God were to speak to you, how would you respond?

The Bible is littered with stories of men and women encountering the divine. The most common reaction is terror. They fall down in fear (Isaiah, Peter, Paul). Some of them choose to test and argue with the divine (Moses, Gideon). Others “gird up their loins” for a wrestling match (Jacob!). Still others willingly submit and obey (Samuel, Mary).

And then there’s Jonah.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose 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, away from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:1-3)

Jonah quietly slips out the back door without saying a word. He doesn’t protest or argue. He doesn’t try to bargain with God or air his grievances. He simply makes like a tree and leaves.

Obviously, Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh. But when does God ever call us to something we already want to do? I guarantee you that God will never call you to pursue a promotion, a bigger pay check, more exotic vacations, a larger home, a nicer car, a more respectable position.

NOPE!

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” God called Moses to confront his past and lead an unwilling slave population to freedom. God called Gideon to face down an enemy army with just 300 men carrying trumpets and torches. God called Isaiah to speak out against the evil kings and governments. God called Saul/Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles, literally saying, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah thinks Nope! and runs the other direction. Jonah was totally cool with the stuff that benefitted his own people and his own standing among them. Jonah would prophesy all day long about how Israel would increase and their nation would become great again. But a mission trip to Nineveh? The enemy? No thanks, I’d rather not.

When I look at the state of the church in America, I am saddened to see so many people walking out the doors never to return. I’ve seen people leave our church without saying a word to anyone. They don’t want to have that confrontation, so they simply leave. They escape silently like Jonah rather than stick it out through a tough situation.

I also see certain churches thriving and growing at an unbelievable rate. Then I hear what their pastors are preaching and I’m sick to my stomach. They make it seem like following Jesus is always an easy and #blessed life. Follow Jesus and you’ll get that promotion. Follow Jesus and your family will be perfect. Follow Jesus and all that you want is within your reach.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re never guaranteed and easy life in the here and now. But we are guaranteed that God will be with us no matter what we go through.

God would have been with Jonah every step of the way on the 550 mile journey to Nineveh. But Jonah would rather go to Tarshish without God than to Nineveh with God.

Still Nope!

And here is one of the great ironies of the story. **Spoilers** The wind and the waves obey God. The gentile, pagan sailors obey God. The fish obeys God. The people and king of Nineveh obey God. The plant obeys God. The worm obeys God. The only player in the whole story who doesn’t obey God is the prophet of God!

If God were to speak to you and call you to a mission, what would you do? Creation has no choice but to obey the sovereign Word of the Lord. But humans have the ability to say Nope! and move on. God always gives his people a choice. You are always given a choice.

What’s your Nineveh that you might be avoiding?
What good but difficult thing might God be calling you to do that you would rather not bother with?
Are we really any better than Jonah?

Tell me, have you ever heard God speak to you? What did God say? How did you respond? Let me know in the comments, and subscribe for email notifications so you never miss a post.

Jonah: World’s Worst Prophet

I may be one of the few people in the world who considers Jonah among my favorite books of the Bible. Don’t @ me. The book of Jonah has a lot of things going for it:

  1. Emphasis on God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness
  2. High seas adventure
  3. Near death experiences
  4. A man swallowed by a gigantic sea creature
  5. An entire city on the verge of destruction
  6. Angry outbursts and melodrama by the overly emotional main character
  7. A protagonist that you just can’t really like, but is also super relatable
  8. Twists, reversals, and ironic situations
  9. A cliff hanger ending
There has been a lot of debate in scholarship about whether Jonah is based on a true story or if it’s merely a fictional parable. I’m not going to get into it much except to say that it has a lot of similarities to the stories of Elijah and Elisha. If it’s based on a true story, then it’s quite a remarkable tale! But if it’s not grounded in fact, it is still an amazing story that illustrates God’s love to its fullest extent and reveals our own failure to live up to God’s expectations.
If the story of Jonah is a parable, it is, in a way, THE parable of the Bible.
It begins with a pretty standard format:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai… (Jonah 1:1)

Right from the start there are some things worth diving into. (Pun intended)
THE WORD OF YHWH
The author wants us to know that God is the main character, the main driver of the plot in this story. Nothing else would have occurred had it not been set in motion by “The Word of YHWH.” God is the main character. Jonah is just playing a supporting role in God’s story.
I can think of a couple other instances when God’s word set great things in motion. Immediately this should bring us back to Genesis 1 – the beautiful song of creation that begins our whole Bible. It is by the power of God’s word that he sets time and space into motion. “And God said…” is the driving force of creation. God’s word has power. God’s word must be obeyed – at least by nonhuman creation. That is an important distinction to keep in mind.
For Christians, this should also bring us to John 1, “In the beginning was the Word…” John wants us to know that “the Word of YHWH” took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. His name is Jesus. Immediately, there is a solid connection between Jesus and Jonah – a connection that will be made more and more clear as the story unfolds.
JONAH, SON OF AMITTAI
What do we know about Jonah? First off, names almost always have significant meaning in the Bible. This is no exception. Jonah’s name is the Hebrew word for “dove.” He is the son of Amittai, whose name means “God is Faithful.” Jonah is a flighty prophet, here one moment and gone the next. When things get uncomfortable, he flees. But he is the son of God’s faithfulness. Where Jonah runs away, God is faithful in pursuing Jonah. God is faithful to Jonah even if Jonah is not faithful to God.
“Jonah, son of Amittai” is a good synopsis of what the story is about.
This is not the first time we encounter Jonah, either. We find him first mentioned in 2 Kings 14.

In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. (2 Kings 14:23-27)

Jonah was a prophet in the Norther Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (ca. 750 BC).

During Jeroboam’s reign (who was an evil king, BTW) the borders of Israel were restored to the greatest extent they had ever been. Israel gain in power like it hadn’t seen in a long, long time. Israel improved its military, its economy, and everything was going well. Israel had been made great again, all thanks to the prophetic word of Jonah, son of Amittai.

So we know that Jonah worked closely with the king. We know that Jonah oversaw one of the greatest surges in nationalistic power they had ever seen. We know that Israel’s enemies were losing strength during this time. Jonah was surely swelled up with nationalistic pride and probably equated patriotism with religious fervor.

That’s why the next words in the story are so shocking:

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2)

This was the first time God had called one of his prophets to go specifically to a gentile nation for the purpose of prophesying to/against them. Why is this important? Why Nineveh?

NINEVEH
The earliest mention of Nineveh is way back in Genesis 10. It was one of the major cities established in the Fertile Crescent along the Tigris River. Genesis claims that it was established by Nimrod as part of his kingdom. This automatically puts Nineveh in a bad light, because Nimrod was viewed as an enemy of God.

Nineveh is a very ancient city. It was an ancient city by the time the Assyrian Empire rose to power. The Assyrians were brutal. When they overthrew a city or nation, they would completely decimate its people and culture. Assyria had its eyes set on Israel for a while because Israel was a very strategic location. But during Jonah’s time the Assyrian Empire had a string of incompetent rulers and was in a period of decline and upheaval.

Nineveh was not the capital city of Assyria at that time. But it was easily representative of the Assyrian Empire in much the same way New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles would be representative of the USA. If God wanted to send a message to the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh was as good of a place as any.

But why even bother?

God tells Jonah that their “evil has come up before me.” The phrase is similar to saying, “I’ve had it up to HERE with their evil!” YHWH had not turned a blind eye to the evils of the empire and the surrounding nations. YHWH would seize this moment of opportunity, while the empire was up against the ropes in decline, to try and reach them with his message of mercy.

And God chose Jonah to be the mouthpiece, the arbiter of grace to Israel’s enemy.

What could possibly go wrong?

God told Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh…

But Jonah rose 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, away from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:3)

Jonah, what are you doing? Running away from God? Are you crazy?

Notice a few things about this verse. Tarshish is mentioned three times. This was a purposeful, deliberate plan on Jonah’s part. He didn’t just show up and board the first boat he came across. He wanted to pick the farthest point on the map – a three year round trip by some estimates.

“From the presence of the Lord” is said twice. Jonah knew he was directly disobeying God. He was doing everything he could to get out of this trip. By why would he think God wouldn’t be in Tarshish? Because Isaiah had said as much:

I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. (Isaiah 66:19)

God’s word and presence hadn’t been proclaimed in Tarshish. Perfect. Let’s go there!

Jonah went down to Joppa and down into the boat. This begins a downward spiral, descending into further rebellion and distance from God and closer to chaos and the grave.

And that phrase “paid the fare” is better understood as commissioning the whole ship and crew for the voyage. He wasn’t just buying a ticket for a bunk on the boat. He was financing the entire mission.

Verse three emphasizes the lengths to which Jonah was willing to go in order NOT to do what God told him to do. Nineveh was about a 550 mile, relatively easy trip across land via trade routes. Tarshish was on the Southern coast of Spain at the farthest edge of the Mediterranean Sea, risking storms, shipwrecks, pirates, disease, and more.

Jonah truly was the world’s worst prophet. I don’t like Jonah.

But then I realize that I see so much of Jonah inside me. To what lengths have I gone to avoid doing what God has called me to do? Who am I staying away from? What am I running from? What responsibilities am I shrugging off?

There’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us.