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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Salvation is no loyalty program
Text:Jonah 2:9b (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2009-10-11
Added:2011-03-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy based on 1984 Book of Praise

Psalm 95:2,3

Hymn 24:1

Psalm 74:1,2,8,9

Psalm 18:6

Psalm 89:5

Read:  Jonah 2.

Text:  Jonah 2:9b

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are some Christian hymns that are seen as “hymns for children”.  They have a melody that children seem to like and a simple message.  Some of these hymns, though simple, contain a profound truth.  Consider this old one:

Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the Heaven above;


Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Saviour’s love.


I, though so unworthy, still am a child of His care;


For His Word teaches me that His love reaches me everywhere.

 

This song is not as rich and full as the prayer-psalm of Jonah 2.  But its message is still deep.  “For His Word teaches me that His love reaches me everywhere.” 

His love reaches me everywhere.  Even in the deepest sea.  Even in the belly of a fish.  Even in the wicked city of Nineveh.

His love.  One of the words for love in the Hebrew language is the word hesed.[1]  It’s the word that the New King James Version translates in Jonah 2:8 as mercy, as in “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.”  But the footnote suggests it could also be translated as “loving kindness”.  It is translated in the New International Version as “grace.” It’s the word that the Old King James Version often translated as “steadfast love.

That’s the hesed, the love of God, that reaches me everywhere.  Even in the deepest sea.  Even in the belly of a fish.  It’s the love that caused God to establish an eternal covenant of grace with us.  It’s the love that prompted the LORD to save us.  As we sang, “Salvation unto us has come, by God’s free grace and favour.” (Hymn 24:1)

As we continue this series of sermons on the book of Jonah, our focus today will be on salvation that comes from the LORD, a salvation that is based on His loving kindness, His mercy and His grace.  I preach to you the Word of the LORD under the following theme:

Salvation begins and ends with the LORD.

1.    He has the mercy to save.

2.    He has the power to save.

3.    He has the pleasure to save.

 

 

1. He has the mercy to save.

In the Ancient Near East, that region of the world that is basically referred to as the Middle East today, the justice system incorporated what is called a “trial by ordeal”.  What this means is that when one man accused another of a crime, and there was no way to prove innocence or guilt, the man charged with the crime would have to take some sort of a physical test.  If he passed the test, he’d be declared innocent; if he failed, he’d be dead.

In the country of Assyria, which includes Nineveh, the most common test was as follows.  If a man charged another with a crime (such as sorcery) the man charged would be thrown into the river.  The rushing waters would then determine his innocence or guilt.  If he drowned, it was concluded that he was guilty.  If he survived, he’d be declared innocent, and the one who charged him with the crime would be put to death instead.

Perhaps we can see a link between this and the story of Jonah.  When the storm was blowing, the sailors concluded that someone had sinned.  It is determined that the sinner is Jonah. Jonah is thrown overboard, and the storm stops.  The conclusion must be that Jonah is the one who has sinned.  He is punished, while the sailors are spared. 

However, this is where things get a bit stuck.  For Jonah did not die.  He was saved by the very One who had accused Him:  he was saved by the LORD.  In a triumphant conclusion to his prayer, Jonah proclaims, “Salvation is of the LORD.”

How come?  Why does the LORD save?  How is it possible that He could save?  The city of Nineveh had a great river.  When people were thrown into it, it was believed that the river god would pull the victim down and drown him or her if that person was guilty.  Never would a god be expected to release a man who was guilty!  But not Jonah.  In Jonah we see a man who is guilty as charged, condemned to death, but delivered from the belly of Sheol.  In fact, delivered by the same LORD who had sent him into the depths of the sea in the first place!

Why does God save His people from their sin?  What motivates Him to do that?  It wasn’t Jonah’s looks.  It wasn’t because God was desperate and needed Jonah so badly to go and preach in Nineveh.  It also was not because God has a low view on sin, and figured that Jonah had suffered enough.  The answer, as Jonah confesses in chapter 2, has to do with the LORD Himself. 

Verse 7:  “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD.  And the thing that Jonah remembered was this thing called hesed.  God is hesed.  God is loving kindness.  God is mercy.  I appreciate it that our Bible translates this word as Mercy with a capital “M”.  “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.”  (Jonah 2:8)  It’s a word for God.  It describes Him.  It tells us that He practices this hesed because He is hesed! 

I want to speak a bit more about this word hesed, which our Bible translates as mercy.  Traditionally, this word has always been translated as mercy, loving kindness, steadfast love etc.  However, in the last century, another view has been presented that this hesed, this mercy or steadfast love, is an obligation.  A loyalty program.  Something that God has to do and that the people of Israel had to do back.  That’s the background of the Revised Standard Version’s translation, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their true loyalty.”  Now being merciful and being loyal are two different things!  And we have to get this right.

This teaching that hesed is not mercy but loyalty is based on an understanding of the covenant.  In this teaching, the covenant that God made with Israel was the same as the covenants that the nations around Israel made with each other.  Everything in that covenant had to do with promise and payment.  God commanded the people of Israel to keep the Ten Commandments, and when they did that, He was obliged to pay them back by giving them victory in war or a good harvest or other things that he’d promised.  So those who are loyal (or loving) will receive this hesed while those who are disloyal (or hating) will be punished. To put it more simply, in His covenant with us, God will deal with us according to what we deserve.  The rewards in the covenant are earned.  When we obey Him, God is obliged to reward us, and when we disobey, He is obliged to punish.

But now comes Jonah.  First we get Jonah’s prophecy in 2 Kings 14:25, that the LORD would restore the territory of Israel.  King Jereboam II and the people of Israel did not deserve this, for they were not loyal to the LORD.  They did evil in His sight.  And yet the LORD showed His mercy to them.  If God’s mercy, His hesed, is simply fulfilling an obligation, there is no way that Israel should have been blessed in such a way.  And now in Jonah 2, we have the same thing with Jonah himself.  He’d refused to obey the Word of the LORD and had run away from His presence.  He was disobedient and disloyal.  There is simply no way that the LORD was obliged to save Jonah.  To the contrary, Jonah deserved to die. 

How then could God do this?  How could He be so generous and bless a disobedient Israel?  How could He save a disloyal Jonah?  Because, concluded Jonah, He is hesed.  He is Mercy.  He is Steadfast Love.  He is Grace.  God’s mercy is not a result of His covenant:  it is not as though God is obliged to save Israel and to save Jonah because Israel and Jonah had been loyal to Him.  It is not true that God’s hesed, His mercy, is a reward for being loyal to God.   Rather, the covenant itself is a result of God’s mercy!  God has chosen to establish His covenant with His people because He loves them.  It is a covenant of grace, of mercy, of hesed. The LORD was not obliged to establish His covenant with anyone, and Israel had no reason whatsoever to boast or to think that they deserved God’s hesed any more than the people of Nineveh.  Israel, Jonah – and we – receive covenant blessings because God is Mercy. 

His hesed is a gift.  It is not earned.  It is not the result of some sort of loyalty program that we have with God.  Our Reformed confessions are very clear on this.  Article 24 of the Belgic Confession teaches, “We do not deny that God rewards good works, but it is by His grace that He crowns His gifts.”  And Lord’s Day 24 of the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that the reward God gives us “is not earned; it is a gift of grace.”  Salvation is of the LORD from beginning to end.

That children’s hymn says it well:  “I, though so unworthy, still am a child of His care.”  That’s hesed.  That’s mercy.  That’s grace.  That’s love.

2. He has the power to save.

Salvation begins and ends with the LORD.  Salvation is not simply a matter of God fulfilling covenant obligations, of rewarding us for our loyalty.  Salvation is God displaying His hesed, His mercy, in Jesus Christ.  Of course that does not mean that God ignores sin. Israel must return to the Lord in faith and repentance.  So must Jonah.  And so must Nineveh.  But when we turn to the God of mercy, even though we do not deserve it, he will forgive all our sins.  For the God of mercy and justice poured out His wrath upon His Son Jesus Christ.  In this way, God destroyed the forces of evil, breaking the chains that bind us and granting His grace and salvation in Jesus Christ.

God destroyed the forces of evil.  We tend to think of love and grace and mercy as passive words, as God just opening loving arms wide and waiting for us to walk in.  But God has done much more than that.  Because of His love towards us, He has broken through the strongholds of Satan to save and deliver us.  That power in salvation is displayed so clearly in Jonah.  In Jonah 2:6, Jonah prays, “I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever.”  Jonah went through the “water ordeal”.  He was declared guilty.  The whole earth was like a door that was shut behind him.  He could no longer see the sun.  Light and life were denied him.  Yes, to the point that he felt barred from God’s presence, cast out of His sight forever.  Jonah was sinking into the depths of the ocean. 

And for Jonah and the people of Israel, it was not a sparkling, deep blue sea that he’d plunged into.  It was not a delightful place to play, to swim and to fish.  For the people of Israel, the seas were normally seen as a place of dread, of danger and horror.  It was the realm of the Leviathan and the sea monster.  It was the realm of the powers against God, the realm of Satan.  It was from the sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the sea into which Jonah was thrown, that the prophet Daniel saw in a vision those four great beasts come up to devour the earth.  The fourth beast was described as “dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong.  It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet.”  (Daniel 7:7)  It’s no coincidence that these beasts were seen to be coming out of the sea, for the sea was considered a place of horror and dread.  That’s the sea into which Jonah had plunged.  And God reached into that sea, He reached into that chaos, He reached into the realm that Satan claimed for his own, and He grabbed Jonah, stuck him in the belly of a fish, and said, “This one is mine.”

The LORD has the power to save.  And on a number of occasions, the LORD’s power to save is pictured in His power over the beasts of the sea.  Psalm 74:12-14,

“For God is my King from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.  You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea serpents in the waters.  You broke the heads of the Leviathan in pieces, and gave him as food to the people inhabiting the wilderness.”

And Isaiah 27:1,

“In that day the LORD with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; and He will slay the reptile that is in the sea.”

The LORD saves Jonah from the belly of Sheol by His strong arm and His almighty power.  Salvation is from the LORD and no one can stand up to His power.   And that is what separates the LORD from all those false gods that Jonah speaks of in verse 8.  None of them can save.  Only God can.  “I, even I, am the LORD, and besides Me there is no saviour.”  (Isaiah 43:11) 

It is especially in the work of Christ that we see the power of the LORD to save us.  When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord responded and said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”  (Matthew 16:18.)  The gates of Hades, that’s the Greek word for the gates of Sheol, will not prevail against it!  Jesus came to swallow up death forever.  He broke its power, He destroyed its sting.  Here in Matthew 16 is a picture of Satan and his angels storming out of the gates of hell in order to attack and destroy God’s church, to devour us in pieces, to drown us in the deep.  But he can not.  The war against the great dragon, the serpent of old, has been won.  Revelation 12:10,

“Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.”

The LORD has the power to save.  He has conquered sin and death.  He has conquered Satan.  And that’s what keeps us going, even when we feel as though we are drowning.  Salvation is of the LORD from beginning to end.  And He will make sure that we are victorious.  For He also has the pleasure to save.

3. He has the pleasure to save.

The word “vomit” never sounded so good.  “So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”  (Jonah 2:10)  Vomit.  It is hardly surprising, but of the 14 times this word is used in the Bible, this is the only time that something good comes out of it.  The book of Leviticus uses this word a number of times, warning that if Israel would turn their back on the LORD and reject His ways, the land would vomit them out.  To be vomited out of the land was the ultimate covenant curse.  And we know from 2 Kings 17 that the nation of Israel was eventually removed from the LORD’s sight; the land did vomit them out.  But Jonah is vomited out of the fish so that he could once more walk before the LORD.

The LORD takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.  He takes delight in His work of salvation.  In the book of Jonah, the LORD shows mercy to Jonah, to the sailors, to the people of Nineveh and even its animals.  Jonah’s deliverance speaks of the hesed of the God of Salvation and of His pleasure to save.  That is the message of grace that God wished to preach to the nation of Israel.    It is the message that He preached through the prophet Elisha.  It is the message that He preached through the prophet Hosea.  The LORD is able and willing to save unfaithful and disobedient Israel from the power of Sheol.  Israel has fallen out of love with their covenant LORD and has run after vain idols.  But the LORD calls to Israel, He pleads with Israel to return to him and be saved.  “I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”  (Isaiah 43:3)  The LORD, the God of grace cries out, “Turn to me, abide in my love, my hesed, and I will save you.”

Jonah begins to see it.  He responds to the salvation given by God and says, “I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed.”  (Jonah 2:9)  Jonah will sacrifice.  Not animals, but with the “voice of thanksgiving”.  Jonah will now get up and do what the LORD had commanded him.  Jonah is now ready to obey and go to Nineveh.

Jonah has learned his lesson . . . or has he?  Actually, as we will see in chapter 4, he’s only learned half of it.  He knows that God is a God of hesed, of steadfast love and mercy.  He knows in theory that his salvation is only from the LORD.  But he can not yet accept that God’s hesed, His mercy and salvation, will extend even to Nineveh.  And that is quite shocking, actually. 

In the Bible, it is more common that after experiencing God’s saving work, that those who were saved would respond with a hymn of praise.  After Israel was delivered at the Red Sea, the people of Israel sang of their deliverance in Exodus 15.  When Israel was delivered by the hand of Barak and Deborah in Judges 4, they sang a song of deliverance in chapter 5.  In the book of Isaiah, after prophecies concerning salvation through Christ, songs are sung in chapters 42, 49 and 54.  And Jonah sings of his salvation in chapter 2.  But what Jonah fails to understand it that neither he nor Israel deserves the mercy of God.  Salvation begins and ends with the LORD.  While God did establish His covenant with Israel and they were His cherished possession, God wished that in Israel all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  God’s plan for salvation was so much bigger than just Israel.  And since there is no salvation outside of the LORD, He extends the invitation, “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other.”  (Isaiah 45:22)  God’s pleasure is that His work of salvation might spread to all the earth.

It is the grace of God that moves us to share the gospel.  If grace does not move us to compassion for those who have not heard the Gospel, then it is not grace.  If grace does not cause us to get up and call our neighbours to be saved in Jesus, then it is not grace.    But for the hesed, the grace of God, we too would be outside of God’s covenant and favour.  “The promise ought to be announced and proclaimed universally and without discrimination to all people and to all men, to whom God in His good pleasure sends the gospel, together with the command to repent and believe.”  (Canons of Dort, chapter 2, article 5)  There are people in our towns, perhaps even in your street, who have never heard the gospel.  Who have never had someone speak to them and share with them the good news that salvation begins and ends with the LORD.

Sinclair Ferguson writes in his commentary on Jonah of an elder in his church.  The man had cancer and was in a ward in hospital.  As pastor Ferguson comforted this church elder, the elder pointed towards the far end of the ward.  There were two beds there in which lay two young boys.  They also had cancer, and it appeared that they too would soon die.  Both of these boys’ beds were draped with the colours of their favourite soccer clubs.  And it appeared as though a few team players from those clubs had even come to visit.  But the elder pointed to them.  “Do you see those two lads?”  he asked.  “I discovered that they had never heard of Jesus.”

The LORD has the pleasure to save.  But He has the pleasure to work through us.  He calls us, His children, to proclaim His hesed, His mercy and His love to those around us, calling them, urging them, to repent and believe. 

It is true.  The job is too big.  None of us is able to share the gospel with everyone.  But how about if we all start with just one?  And then perhaps another.  And another.  And we’ll keep doing that until the number of the elect, that God Himself has determined, is complete.  And then it will all be over.  Then the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven from God, and the tabernacle of God will be with men and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.  God Himself will be with us and He will be our God.  (Revelation 21:2,3)

And do you know something else?  At that time, when God makes all things new and there will be a new heaven and a new earth, there will be no more sea!  (Revelation 21:1)  Oh, for those of you who love the sea, you need not despair:  there will the river of life, and all rivers have to run somewhere!  But from the sea, in both Daniel 7 and Revelation 13, came terrible beasts.  The sea in the Bible is a picture of unrest and conflict.  The roaring, raging, agitated, tempest-tossed waters, the tidal waves that destroy, is a symbol of death, destruction and a world in turmoil.  But when Christ returns and makes all things new, the universe in which the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, and the harlot were carrying out their program of iniquity will be no more.  All that separates us from God, all that is evil and causes suffering and tries to drag us under and pull us away from God will be no more.  In its place will be peace and rest.  Still waters.   Hesed.

Salvation begins and ends with the LORD.  And that’s where it is all going to end.  Only it won’t be an end, but the wonderful start to a new beginning.  That’s the gospel of salvation.  He came to rescue and set me free, for He the LORD my God, delights in me. [2]  Amen.



[1] The “h” is pronounced like a soft “ch”, and both “e”s are short vows, as in “bed”. 

[2] Psalm 18:6, Book of Praise.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2009, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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