Monday, May 6, 2013

"Eager to Forgive (Jonah)"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Major Lessons From Minor Prophets
Lesson 6: "Eager to Forgive (Jonah)"
Scholars who study the book of Jonah agree that the prophet of the Lord was mixed up in his thinking. He didn't sense an evangelistic duty toward the souls in Nineveh for whom Christ had given His blood. He had rejected the Lord's call to ministry, ran the other way. It becomes evident that the root of his problem was deep. Jonah had actually rejected the New Covenant truths that the Lord had articulated to Abraham in Genesis 12. The Lord had promised the descendants of Abraham, Israel in fact, that "thou shalt be a blessing ... and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (vss. 2, 3). That had to include the people of Nineveh!
If Jonah had believed that most precious New Covenant truth, his heart would have thrilled with delight at the call of God to "arise, go to Nineveh." He was to become the greatest evangelist of all time--converting an entire highly populated city of heavy. The Lord was choosing him to demonstrate His promise to make him to be a "blessing." If the Lord had truly "sent" him, would He not sustain him? Yes, of course.
We wonder whether Jonah's experience of repentance in the belly of the great fish really reconciled his heart to the New Covenant promises [1] God had made to his "father" Abraham. When God finally spared the city from its deserved destruction he was still mired in Old Covenant thinking. Abraham understood the agape-love-character of God, for he had "rejoiced to see My day: ... and was glad," said Jesus (John 8:56).
Why then could it be possible that an inspired prophet of the Lord, called to great city evangelism, couldn't understand the New Covenant? Could it be that Jonah was the heir of a vast Old Covenant mind-set that had permeated God's true people during the centuries that followed Mt. Sinai? And could it be that true people of God, as sincere and devoted as the "repentant" Jonah was, could even today unwittingly be saddled by Old Covenant patterns of heart attitude? (Jesus said something about their feeling "rich and increased with goods" when in fact the opposite was true.)
Does this ancient book of Jonah with its strange story say anything to us in our modern world? Many millions of other Christians have long ago dismissed the book as a hopeless myth telling impossible tales: how could a fish swallow a man and he survive? But the Holy Spirit will teach God's people from the book of Jonah about the repentance of the ages, the miraculous repentance yet to come; Jonah's God still lives, still works.
Jesus Christ believed the story of Jonah and referred to the book as straightforward historical fact (Matt. 12:40, 41). In the process, He told of a second miracle in the book of Jonah that eclipses the fish story in wonder. When the prophet preached his most precious message, the people of this very wicked pagan city of Nineveh actually believed his message and repented! Moreover, the highly sophisticated "king and his nobles" led out in the work of repentance, "all of them, from the greatest to the least"--a most unusual twist of human history.
Usually, it has been assumed that any genuine revival or reformation must begin at the grass-roots level and then with the blessing of the Lord spread upwards to the leadership. But this time, it was backwards. "When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, ... and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation" calling upon the city as a whole, as a corporate body, to repent and be reconciled to God (Jonah 3:5-9, NIV). It worked! The "city" responded! They repented!
In contrast, the Father "sent" Jesus Christ, His Son, to the wicked city of Jerusalem, calling upon them to repent. But the leadership rose up in rebellion against Him, and murdered Him. And by and large, the people followed their leaders into national ruin. Imagine what a blessing it would have been to the nation (and the world) if Caiaphas, their spiritual leader, had followed the example of "the king of Nineveh," and had risen from his seat of leadership and led the nation into repentance! In that Matthew passage, Jesus appealed to the story of Jonah as an example of the kind of repentance He was calling for, from the Jewish people. But tragically, they refused.
There is no difficulty in understanding what the Lord Jesus means by His call to repentance. We have a divine illustration of it in His call to the leadership of the Jewish nation of His day. If we find out what He meant then, we know what He means now. With the repentance of Nineveh standing in sacred history as the model, we can easily see the pattern that the Lord Jesus expects to see develop today. "From the greatest of them to the least of them," the repentance envisaged in the Laodicean message must spread from the "top to the bottom" throughout the worldwide church. When the experience Christ calls for is understood and embraced by the "angel" of the church, the methods of its promotion will be uniquely effective. It will be clearly seen that the Holy Spirit, not advertising promotional technique, will have "caused it to be proclaimed and published." As in Nineveh's day, "the king and his nobles" will range themselves solidly in support of the experience Christ calls for.
In our study, we are fascinated to find that we have points of contact with the humiliated prophet to Nineveh. He made a fool of himself; we're discovering he's our brother in the faith. We haven't done all that much better, individually or corporately. It takes a little time to discover reality.
The "great fish" that the Lord had "prepared ... to swallow up" Jonah had a hard time with him; the Lord Himself had a hard time with him. In the fish, nothing would digest; Jonah made it so sick to its stomach (do fishes have one?) that it "spued him out," to borrow a King James Version phrase that is familiar to us (Rev. 3:16). Can you imagine anything so humiliating for a human to go through--except to be crucified naked? (Why did Jesus compare Jonah's experience to His own?)
When Jonah got "spued out" the Lord said, We won't give up; start over again. I forgive you those sad failures of "yesterday." "The word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city" (3:2).
The Lord tells us, "Arise." There's a "second time." [2] I have cleansed you; I have forgiven you, I have accepted you. And you go to " Nineveh" again, on cloud nine.
But in the great final Day of Atonement, all the failures of ancient Israel must and will at last be rectified in a repentance of the ages (Rev. 3:19, 20). Then at last "Nineveh" will be given the Lord's message (18:1-4), and Christ will be honored.
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland(Compiled by Carol A. Kawamoto
[1] The new covenant truth was an essential element of the 1888 message, and even today lifts a load of doubt and despair from many heavy hearts. Ellet J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 "messengers," wrote in his The Glad Tidings: "The covenant and promise of God are one and the same. ... God's covenants with men can be nothing else than promises to them. ... God promises us everything that we need, and more than we can ask or think, as a gift. We give Him ourselves, that is, nothing. And He gives us Himself, that is, everything" (p. 71).
[2] Ellen G. White writes of "another opportunity" or "second call" for salvation: "The men of Nazareth did Satan's work [dragging Jesus from the synagogue]; but Christ could not give them up without granting them another opportunity for salvation" "We are in just as much danger in our day as were the people in the days of Christ. The Lord is speaking through His delegated messengers; but the same unbelief is exhibited." "Those who ... have taken a course similar to that of the men of Nazareth, should take heed lest they follow their example when a second opportunity is given to accept the gracious light of truth" (The 1888 Materials, pp. 397, 398).
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