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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Title:Forsake Idols or Forfeit Grace
Text:Jonah 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Giving your heart to God
 
Preached:2019-06-016
Added:2019-06-18
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

June 16, 2019

 

Order of Worship for the Morning Service– 9:30 a.m.

 

   Silent Prayer

* Call to Worship                               

* Votum & Salutation

* Song of Praise                   “Sing a New Song to Jehovah”                                    # 98C

 

Service of Reconciliation and Renewal

 

   God’s Holy Law

   Assurance of Pardon                          

   Song of Confession        “In Thee, O Lord, I Put My Trust”                 # 31B: 103,7,11

   Congregational Prayer

   Offering:                         Mid-America Reformed Seminary   

 

Service of God’s Holy Word

 

* Song of Preparation:               “It Is Well with My Soul”                                        # 476

 

   Scripture Reading:                                Jonah 2

   Scripture Text:                                   Jonah 2:8

                                                                           

   Sermon:                          “Forsake Idols or Forfeit Grace”

 

   Prayer of Application

* Hymn                            “By Grace I Am an Heir of Heaven”                                # 477

* Benediction                                       

* Doxology:                   “The Glorious Gates of Righteousness”                      # 118B: 7

 

“O Lord, my God, I praise Thy Name, All other names above; O give Him thanks, for He is good and boundless is His love, O give Him thanks, for He is good and boundless is His love”

 

* Reverent Reflection

* Postlude

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Forsake Idols or Forfeit Grace

Jonah 2; Text Jonah 2:8

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, failure can be a very painful and humbling experience in life – and it is a reality we face every day. In fact, when you stop to think about it, there are an number of ways in which we can experience failure on a daily basis.

 

We might fail a test in school; or a driving test, we might fail on a car repair or home project (that’s where I manage to fail with amazing proficiency). We might fail in a financial investment; in a business venture; or in personal relationships. We might fail to make the volleyball team; or fail to hit the winning shot. We might fail to make supper ready on time, or fail to make it like our mom always did; we might fail to stay on a diet or keep ourselves in good shape.

 

So to put it simply: failure is part of life. But as humbling and painful as failure can be, we also have to remember this: every failure brings with it opportunity. Every failure presents an opportunity to learn and to grow and to gain new insight and understanding.

 

And perhaps nowhere is that more true than when it comes to experiencing failure in the Christian life. You see, failure in the Christian life is usually associated with personal sin. We fail to trust God enough; we fail to follow where He leads; we fail to obey His Word; we fail to acknowledge His sovereignty in our lives. Jonah made this mistake. Jonah was a prophet of the Lord who failed to listen to the Lord, to go where God told Him, to carry out the mission God sent Him to do.    

 

As a result of his failure, Jonah found himself entombed in the belly of a large fish for three days and three nights, swimming around somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. But in those three days and three nights Jonah learned something from his failure. He learned what we call a life lesson, and that life lesson is recorded for us right there in verse 8: Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs (NIV). Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs (ESV).

 

This morning we’re going to focus our attention on that phrase and consider not only what it meant for Jonah but what it means for us as well.

  1. What Does this Verse Mean?
  2. How Does this Apply to Us?

 

1) What does this Verse Mean?

The key to unlocking the meaning of this verse can only be found when we understand what God is doing in Jonah’s heart and life -- and the rest of this passage tells us exactly what God is doing. God has brought Jonah to the point of utter despair, of what we might call total surrender. In my previous sermon on this passage I said that God brought Jonah to rock bottom (literally, in the sense of him sinking down beneath the waves, to the root of the mountains, near unto death).

 

I made the point that this is often where God has to bring us hardhearted sinners (to the breaking point) before He builds us back up again; before there can be any hope of deliverance or salvation. We first have to come face to face with the reality of our lost condition.

 

And that’s the point and place where God has brought Jonah. Yes, it meant that God had to chase after Jonah. Yes, it meant that God had to send a great storm, and force those sailors to throw Jonah overboard. And yes, it meant bringing Jonah to within an inch of death before sending a great fish to swallow him up and save his life - but all that goes to show us that God will use whatever means are necessary to save us.

 

God will use whatever means are necessary to bring us to that point of utter desperation, to show us the emptiness and the foolishness and futility of our own head-strong ways; of thinking that we know better; that we know what makes us happy; that we’re in control of our lives; that we determine our own destiny. God says: “No you don’t. And I’ll prove it. Watch and learn.” 

 

And I can almost hear the skeptics and critics arguing and objecting to this saying: what a sick and twisted God you worship! This is just another story in the Bible that shows the cruelty of your God. Why would God play games with Jonah’s life? If your God is really as sovereign and powerful as you say He is, then why doesn’t God just ‘zap’ Jonah and instantly change his heart and make him obey and spare him all this torment and misery?

 

In other words, why does God let Jonah disobey, and let him run away, and let him get on board that ship, if all along God intended to bring him back anyway and have him complete the mission he gave him to do in the first place? Is it just so he can punish Jonah? Is it so that he can just humiliate him and show him how powerful He is as God and how small Jonah he in comparison?

 

Is God so bored of ‘being God’ that he has to play little games like this with our lives? Those are exactly the kinds of questions people ask when they read or hear stories like this in the Bible. They ask these questions because they do not understand the way God works; they don’t see the way God uses the circumstances of life to change us; and they don’t see the way God’s grace and love and mercy are evident and at work throughout those difficult trials and circumstances.      

 

And let me say a few words as well about the kind of obedience that God desires. God never “zaps” people in order to make them obey. God doesn’t program us to obey as if we were mindless robots. No. God wants his people to obey him for the very same reason that an earthly father wants his children to obey him: out of a sense of love and honor and trust.  With a sense of reverence and respect. Genuine obedience comes straight from the heart – it must be a willing obedience (the example of a father saying to his child “come to daddy” and the sense of joy when the child obeys).  

 

That’s what God wants from Jonah – and from you and me. And so what we see happening to Jonah is not the antics and actions of a sadistic God who delights in sending trials and afflictions into the lives of his people. But what we see is a wise and merciful and loving God who knows what’s best for his wandering child. God knows what He has to do in order to bring his sons, his daughters to the point where their hearts and wills and spirits might be malleable and moldable.

 

By way of illustration, it’s similar to the process that clay has to go through before it ever reaches the potter’s hands or the potter’s wheel. I watched a short You-Tube video of this process. It turns out that you don’t just go to the river bank somewhere and grab a bucket of clay and take that back to your studio and go to work. No. The video I saw showed a man going to a clay pit that was dry. He scooped up a bucket of dirt. Then he took that dirt back to his home. He added water and then he spent at least ten minutes stirring and agitating the water and dirt together. Then he put a lid on the bucket and let it settle for a while.

 

He came back to the bucket later on, after all the clay sediment settled on the bottom. He drained off the water that was on top. Then scooped out the clay into a these two shallow trays (like wooden cookie sheets). Then he let that wet mud dry out and bake in the sun light for a few hours.

 

After it was dried out, he cracked and scraped that clay off the shallow trays, and he dumped it out on a work table, and that’s when started to knead the clay – he pounded it flat with his hands, then he brought it all together into a ball, and then he flattened it all out again. And he did that again and again until he could tell it was just right.

 

But why did he do all that? Because that is what is necessary to make clay moldable; malleable, and ready to shaped and molded, formed and fashioned (by the potter) into a beautiful vessel; into a beautiful piece of art or pottery. That’s what God, the Potter, is doing within Jonah heart and soul here. God is patiently and painstakingly taking the necessary steps to prepare Jonah to be a beautiful vessel willing and ready to carry out God’s purposes and plans -- but that preparation requires some pretty intense breaking down and smashing together and pounding out flat.

 

That’s the process that Jonah is experiencing and enduring in the belly of that great fish, and here’s the beauty of it all -- Jonah finally sees that this is what God is doing. Jonah recognizes that God’s Hand was in all this. Look at verse 3. He says: It was God who hurled him into the deep; it was God’s waves and breakers that swept over him; it was God who had banished him from his sight!

 

So Jonah sees that God was breaking him down (like clay); and not only that, but he sees that God was also building him back up (end of verse 6). God was restoring him through this process. You, O Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit (back from the dead!). So do you see what Jonah sees here? Do you understand what Jonah is saying about God and about what God has done here? 

 

Jonah is not angry at God for making his life miserable or for nearly killing him. No! Quite the opposite is true! Jonah is praising God and thanking God (vs. 9: But I, with a song of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you!). Jonah’s heart is filled with praise and gratitude because he realizes that in the midst of his rebellion and hardheartedness, God did not give up on him. God did not let him destroy himself! And God was not punishing him. Instead, God was showing Jonah his steadfast love and mercy and compassion!

 

That’s the beauty of this passage – and this is the meaning behind verse 8. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace (the compassion) that could be theirs. The grace and compassion that is at our disposal -- that is at the disposal of all men – is only available from the one true God, and it is only accessible to those who love God and fully trust in Him!

 

But to all those who do not know God, who reject Jesus Christ as Lord, and instead turn to other gods, or look to other so called ‘higher powers’; and to those who are atheists and rely on the wisdom of this age, or rely upon their own strength and who are content to live life on their terms;  or as was the case of Jonah, those children of God who wander and stray from God, who ignore God’s will for their lives, who want to be free of God’s grip on them; who want to push God out of the picture or at least into the background – verse 8 is telling us: they only hurt themselves.

 

In the end, they are destroying themselves and they are cutting themselves off from the only source of hope, from the only source of help and love and grace and compassion found in the entire universe! And this is exactly what Jonah the evangelist so loudly and boldly proclaimed from the belly of the fish (look at the last words of vs. 9): Salvation comes from the Lord!

 

That has a very New Testament ring to it! Think of Acts 4:1-12 where Peter preaches to the hardhearted Jews of his day. It was right after the Apostles had healed the lame man by the temple gate. Peter proclaimed: “know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

 

You see, that is the powerful message which Jonah was made to realize again! Back at the beginning of chapter 1 Jonah refused to obey God’s Word. He refused go to Nineveh and preach the Good News of salvation to the lost sinners of that Gentile city.

It’s because Jonah hated the Ninevites. He had no compassion or pity or love for them. He was afraid that if he obeyed God and preached the Gospel to them, that those Gentiles dogs might be saved! And Jonah didn’t want that. He didn’t want to share His God, or God’s grace, or God’s salvation with the people of Nineveh He didn’t consider them worthy of salvation.   

 

But through his recent affliction and trial, God made him see things differently. God had now smashed the idol of pride and ethnic superiority and he made Jonah see that no one is worthy of salvation. He made Jonah see that he wasn’t worthy of salvation! God didn’t have to save him. God would have been right to leave Jonah in his despair; to let him drown and die, to abandon him to the murky depths never to see the light of day again.

 

And that is the truth for all of us sinners. God didn’t have to save anyone. God would have been fully justified in letting us all die – unworthy sinners that we are. But God showed himself to be a gracious and merciful and compassionate God. In his love and mercy God sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ into this world so that He would suffer and die – so that we would not have to! 

 

And God did that out of His own goodness and grace and all for the praise of His glory. And again, that is what Jonah is made to realize here. Salvation comes from the Lord! And salvation is not earned or deserved; it is a free gift of God’s grace. And salvation is not ours to hoard, or to offer only to those who we believe are fit recipients. No salvation is to be offered freely to all men!

 

And now Jonah is ready (although still begrudgingly) to go and proclaim take that message of salvation to the men and women of Nineveh! And it’s all because what God has brought about in him. It’s all because now, more than at any other time in his life, Jonah understands the true nature of God’s grace. It’s all because he had personally experienced the grace and mercy of God in way he had never known before!

 

Jonah has discovered the truth of verse 8 in his own heart and life: Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace, the mercy that could be theirs! I wonder, have we, have you discovered the truth of this verse, beloved? Do you know what it means for your life? Let’s look at that a moment.

 

2) How Does this Apply to Us?

I said earlier that when Jonah ran from God, when he abandoned his calling, he was actually running from the only source of help and comfort and grace in the inverse. In the end, Jonah was made to see the vanity and the futility and the foolishness of his own actions; he saw where his idolatry and ungodliness was going to lead! From beginning to end, it was a downward spiral that (without God’s merciful intervention) would have culminated in his own self-destruction.

 

And that’s what I want to focus on in this second point. Now maybe you don’t think of yourself as an idol worshipper. Maybe you say to yourself: I believe in God. So how can I be guilty of idolatry? The answer: the same way that Jonah was guilty. Remember, Jonah was a prophet of God. He was an office-bearer. He was a preacher – he revealed God’s Word and will to the people!

 

Yet he proved that he was an idol worshipper when he disobeyed God and ran away. You ask, “What God did Jonah worship”? He worshipped the god of self. He served the god of pride. The god of arrogance and anger and stubbornness – this is the god which says I don’t have to listen to God anymore, I am going to go my own way, and live my own life, and do my own thing no matter what anyone says. That’s one of the most powerful deities in our age and of any age.

 

And sadly that is the god that is alive and well and dwelling in the hearts and minds and souls of so many of God’s people in the church today – especially in our young couples and young adults and young people. It seems that the voice of God from God’s Holy Word is being drowned out in our age; and that God’s people are listening to other voices, or to their own inner voice which tells them that they should be free to make their own choices in life. I am my own authority. I am my own god.

 

So instead of letting God lead them, and instead of trusting in God’s Word to inform their lives, they expect God to adjust to the way THEY want to live; and they are offended when someone comes along and says that’s wrong. That’s not the way God calls us to live or that’s not what God wants us to do.   

 

And as a result, they go off and live the way they want to live all the while thinking that in doing so, in pursuing their own desires; in living life according to their own rules that they are going to find happiness and freedom and fulfillment. That’s the illusion and lie of every sin!

 

But what really happens instead? What verse do you want to share with them after hearing this sermon? Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace (the compassion) that could be theirs! You want to tell them this because you want to spare them the pain, and the despair, and the futility that is waiting for them right around the corner -- when they abandon God and go their own way.

 

You tell them this because you want to convince them that following God’s ways, and listening to God’s Word unlocks heavenly blessings that cannot be found anywhere else, blessings that they cannot even begin to imagine; blessings that no child of God should ever want to live without!

 

The blessings of God’s Fatherly goodness, His amazing grace; His tender mercies; his sweet compassion; his steadfast love, His unchanging plans and his faithful presence – all of which things make our lives worth living. All of which things we should covet and desire for this life!

 

And I am convinced that the reason so many of God’s people turn away from him, and are content to live without these blessings – is the same reason Jonah was content to do so. It’s very likely because they have never personally experienced the grace and love of God in their hearts before – at least not in a way that truly touched their heart and soul.

 

I think there are a great number of people in Christ’s church today for whom this is true: people like us who consider ourselves Christians but we are graceless Christians; we are Christians who have never encountered the grace of God in such a way that we have felt it deep within our souls such that it filled our hearts with thanksgiving so that we proclaimed: Salvation if of the Lord!     

 

And if you have ever experienced that grace – then you know exactly how precious that grace is; and then you know the depths from which you have been saved; and then you know the wide extent of God’s mercy and compassion for your own soul! And then – and only then – will you realize that you don’t want to run from God and live your own life. NO!

 

Instead, you want to run to God, and you want to live the life that God calls you to live; you want to glorify God in your life. You want to go where He calls you to go; you want to do what He calls you to do; and you want to submit your heart, and your will, and your desires to God’s word and will. In short, you want to live your life for the very God who died for you to save you!

    

Again, that’s how you know you’ve experienced God’s grace. And the other wonderful thing about that grace is that once you’ve experienced it, you want others to experience it also. You have a newfound compassion for the lost, and you want everyone to know the joy and the blessings of salvation that you have come to know.   

 

Finally, if you’re not sure you have ever experienced this grace; or if you doubt or wonder if a friend or if a loved one has ever experienced this grace, then make it your prayer today that God would do whatever it takes to make them experience it. Even if it means sending them trials and hardships and heartache and afflictions and despair. Pray that God would chastise them as he chastised Jonah – so that through it all they would be made to see that God did not give up on them; that God loves them; then they will see and know God’s beautiful and amazing grace! Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.bethelurc.com

(c) Copyright 2019, Pastor Keith Davis

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