Jonah is a book about the struggles of humanity coming to terms with God’s plan and purpose. It is about the struggles we have in life when the struggles of life become our ways verses God’s ways. Jonah is like many of us, he too struggles with obedience to God.
He was a prophet who was chosen by God to do something that he did not want to do, and he refused to do it. God’s plans didn’t agree with his plans. This is a problem we all face. Jonah had no interest in leaving the comforts of his home and taking a salvation message to a nation that would not listen to him. Truth be told, he really didn’t care if God had annihilated them from the planet. In all honesty, his preference was for God to destroy the city.
Vs 1- 2: Since we have little information about Jonah, we assume he had a good, quiet life. We can assume that he was comfortable and happy in life. Aside from his story in this book he is only mentioned one other time in the OldTestament (2 Kings 14:23 – 29) where he allegedly spoke a prophecy to the King of Judah which helped restore the nations boundaries with Israel. Then one day God showed up with a command to bring a message of judgment and repentance to the wicked city of Nineveh. This was a big ask from God. Jonah determined he was not going to endanger his life by going to this violent city and he certainly was not going to ruin his reputation with the people of Israel by reaching out to this horrible city. So, Jonah does what so many of us do when we don’t want to do something God asks us to do… He ignores God’s call, and he runs. He runs to a city called Tarshish. Why did Jonah run there? Because at the time of this writing Tarshish was known as the westernmost place in the Mediterranean world. This was a common practice for people rebelling against God. They would physically leave the place where God spoke to or met with them and high tail it in the opposite direction. Tarshish was this place for Jonah. Tarshish is anywhere – anywhere but the place where God calls you; in fact, it is the opposite direction a person takes when he turns his back on God’s call and command… Tarshish is the excuse we give for not going.
Twice in Jonah 1:3 it tells us that Jonah flees from the presence of the Lord. This is significant because it emphasizes what Jonah is NOT going to do. He is not going to go to Nineveh; in fact, he is going as far away from the presence of the Lord as possible.
Jonah’s decision to run was rebellion and he was going to go to any extreme to get away from God. Jonah runs to avoid God. Jonah runs to a city and culture where he could be far away from God.
This is what we do when we live in rebellion to God. The first thing a rebellious person does is not only disassociate with God but detaches with places and people who are following Him. People who turn their back on God do not run to be with other believers, no, they go to places where they believe God is not present.
Jonah runs because he did not love the way God loves. Jonah had no love for the people of Nineveh, and he had no desire to see them spared by God. This was the reason Jonah rebelled. He knew God was compassionate and He would spare them if they repented, and He wanted none of that. So, why does Jonah run?
The good news for those in rebellion and sin is… God will pursue you no matter how far you are from him. This is good news for those who are actively running from God. It is good news because it shows God values you, loves you and desires to get you back into a right relationship with him. He will do whatever it takes to get you back. James Bruckner writes in his commentary of Jonah, “The good news is that God pursues (Jonah). God does not let him go but finds him out in order to rescue him.” The truth is no one can ever run from the presence of God and no one can be so rebellious and sinful that God cannot or will not forgive and set you on the right track. Rosemary Nixon also writes in her commentary of Jonah, “Jonah’s contest with God is ill-matched. The account illustrates the impossibility of escaping God’s presence and folly of attempting such a thing.” Resistance to God is futile because when He wants to accomplish something, he will do whatever it takes get it done.
1:17 “Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah.” The key word for me in this passage is “arranged” … some translations say, “prepared”, “provided”, or “sent” and all these words have the same meaning. God ordained or designated this specific fish for this specific task. Many people read the great fish as a judgment against Jonah but fail to see the fish is a sign of God’s mercy. The fish saved the life of Jonah. Had God not arranged for the fish then he would have died at sea and this would be the end of the story; but God lovingly and mercifully pursues and provides safety for him. I am sure Jonah didn’t see it this way (as most of us don’t see God’s mercy in times of rebellion). He now finds himself in the most unpleasant of places (In the belly of the great fish) and soon he will come to the realization of God’s grace and mercy in this situation. This is very common among men and women in rebellion to God.
Vs 1 – Jonah’s in chapter 2 is a bit surprising because he responds in prayer. I would expect to read, “God I didn’t want to do what you called me to do in the first place. I think you got the wrong man to do the job, so I ran as far away from you as possible. Couldn’t you have just left me alone safe and secure in my comfortable life?” This is not what we read at all. This chapter is a prayer of thanksgiving for being saved and delivered. It only took a potential shipwreck, being thrown into the sea, left for dead and a large fish swallowing him to get him to this point. Is Jonah finally getting the big picture here? Well, let’s not be too hasty because there is still a bit of defiance in this man’s heart even after this time of praise.
The situation Jonah is in is like what many of us do when we hit rock bottom. Sometimes it takes extreme measures and even the fear of death to get us to acknowledge Him in our rebellion. When we get to this point, we either respond in anger, bitterness, and blame or we respond in thankfulness, gratitude, and praise.
There is one important ingredient missing in this prayer and it is true repentance. This is where Jonah’s defiance comes into play. Jonah is thankful God spared his life, but the problem is the same rebellious Jonah is still in the belly of the fish. It doesn’t appear that he has a change in heart. He is a man who has reached rock bottom and has nowhere else to go. Even in Jonah’s slight defiance God hears and accepts his prayer for what it is… “Thank you for not letting me die and for keeping me safe, I’ll do whatever you want me to do even though I don’t like it.”
Vs. 1 - 3 –As far as we know Jonah is the only biblical prophet where God repeat himself on what He wants the person to do. I can just imagine God saying, “Ok Jonah, have you learned your lesson? I am going to get this job done and you are going to be the one who accomplishes it. Now, go to Nineveh and tell them of my impending judgment.” In God’s second call He does not remind Jonah of his rebellion, nor does he say, “I saved you so you owe me your obedience; you even said you would do what I want in the belly of the fish, so I am here to collect on your promise.” God does not hold grudges; he does not keep bringing up previous sins once we have confessed them nor does he hold us accountable to the superficial promises we make in order to get out of the mess we have created. He simply and lovingly restates what He has called Jonah to do.
Vs 3: Jonah’s second response is very different from his first response. His response of obedience was out of the fear of not wanting to go through what he just went through. In other words, Jonah learned his lesson the hard way. Doesn’t this usually seem to be the case? God places a call on Jonah’s life and in his sovereignty, He was going to accomplish his will through Jonah. To this point Jonah’s account is about God accomplishing his will regardless of how the prophet did or did not respond to Him. Does this make God a power-hungry dictator who is set out to take away our freedom to choose? No, the opposite is true. God knows what is best for us in all circumstance and He desires that we trust him at His word in our lives. God wants us to trust him exclusively so that our response to him will be obedience regardless the cost.
This brings up the question of why God calls us to do some things that are unconventional and radical? Nearly every time God calls us to do something out of the ordinary it goes against the status quo and challenges the “we have always done it that way” mindset. Yet God calls us to trust Him and to go in faith to accomplish what he has set out to accomplish through us.
God does not beg or negotiate with us. Even with Jonah he doesn’t bargain with him. Despite Jonah’s less than enthusiastic message to the Ninevites God worked a mighty miracle that day. After Jonah’s little excursion at the beach, he sets out for the city of Nineveh. Upon entering the city, he yells out, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed!” The Ninevites response is astounding! This desperately wicked and prideful people that were despised by all repented from their evil ways. The Ninevites were anything but compassionate and loving towards anyone who dared speak evil of them. To see the response was repentance is unbelievable, but to also see even the King responds in repentance was literally unheard of.
Vs 5: The Ninevites heard the words of the prophet and fully believed they were receiving a warning from God. They may not have fully understood the judgment, but I am sure they knew it meant complete and utter destruction. They repented in hopes that their lives would be spared. We know that their repentance was genuine as the decree was to fast and put on sackcloth for their sins. These are outward signs of repentance and seeking mercy.
Vs 10: However, it wasn’t just the act of fasting and sackcloth that God saw. He saw their hearts. This is true repentance. The king of Nineveh’s response was unique. He may have been uncertain that God was going to have compassion on them as he says, “Who knows? May God turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we may not perish.” These words of the king imply that he has humbled himself and is truly repentant.
We also read God “changed his mind” which basically means he had compassion or felt sorrow. God’s heart was moved by the people’s response and his response was compassion. Some people have a problem with this but there is no problem because God was just doing what He always does… extending grace and compassion on those who are truly repentant.
Vs 1: Jonah was witness to one of the greatest movements of God in history and his response is displeasure and anger. Instead of rejoicing and thanking God for his wonderful mercy Jonah gets angry because He didn’t destroy the city. Jonah wasn’t just mad; he was furious. This was a problem because he allowed his anger take root in his heart.
Vs 2 - 4: Jonah says, “(This is) why I fled to Tarshish in the first place” which literally means, “I ran as fast as I could, I hurried away, and I took flight”. He intended to get away from God. Jonah is so angry that he asks God to kill him and be done with it. His anger is burning so hot he would rather die than rejoice with God. God asks Jonah, “Is this anger really doing anyone (yourself included) any good?”
The book of Jonah ends on a somber note. There is no closure to this story. It ends with a rebuke from God, and we do not know how Jonah responds to this rebuke. We all would like to believe he came to his senses and repented and got right with God, but we just don’t know. I believe the book ends the way it does because it leaves us with a challenge… How do you respond when God calls you to something you don’t want to do? How is your heart? What is God calling you to do? Is he calling you out of your comfortable life to go to places you wouldn’t normally go? Could that place be right outside this church, across the street, and to the surrounding community?
I am thankful that God in his great love for humanity extends grace and compassion even when we have failed him. It is comforting to know that God shows mercy to the vilest of sinners when they stand before God broken and repentant for their evil ways. As a former person who once declared himself, “Too far gone to be saved” standing up here preaching about the wonderful grace and compassion of God goes to show how God is an awesome God. None of us are too far removed that God can’t reach out and save us.
I don’t know where you are today… Maybe you are in the midst of rebellion with God, maybe you are fighting with him about something happening in your life, maybe you are engaged in full on sin and wickedness, or maybe you think you have done something(s) that you feel you are to far removed from God’s grace and compassion. I want to implore you to remember the God we serve and take to heart this verse…
Psalm 40:1 – 3
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
3 He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.
Evangelist John Wesley was riding along a road one day when it dawned on him that three whole days had passed in which he had suffered no persecution. Not a brick or an egg had been thrown at him for three days.
Alarmed, he stopped his horse, and exclaimed, “Can it be that I have sinned, and am backslidden?”
Slipping from his horse, Wesley went down on his knees and began interceding with God to show him where, if any, there had been a fault.
A rough fellow, on the other side of the hedge, hearing the prayer, looked across and recognized the preacher. “I’ll fix that Methodist preacher,” he said, picking up a brick and tossing it over at him. It missed its mark and fell harmlessly beside John. Where upon Wesley leaped to his feet joyfully exclaiming, “Thank God, it’s all right. I still have His presence.”
Not too many of us would respond the way Wesley did when we think our lives are too comfortable. In fact, many of us wouldn’t consider persecution or trials as being the sure sign that we are truly following God. I would say many Christians in the United States believe just the opposite. I have met people who believe that if they are facing any sort of trial, tribulation, or persecution that God is punishing or judging them for something, or they are facing an attack by the enemy. Or even the opposite, since life is going so great God is blessing me. This is called the Retribution Principal: where the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer.
This principal is evident throughout the Bible, and this principal may be true sometimes, but it’s important to know that God allows suffering, difficulties, and trials in the lives of the righteous for good and for his glory. The problem is that very few (if any) of us welcome and/or quietly endure suffering and trials in our lives. Nobody I know personally enjoys trials and suffering but there are some who endure it and grow from it because their hope and faith lies in something far bigger than the temporal and fleeting tribulation they face here on earth.
The common questions people ask when faced with or amid suffering and persecution are “Why? Why me? And why does God allow the innocent to suffer and the wicked to prosper?” This is a valid question and one that many struggle to understand and accept. Often when faced with this question people turn to the book of Job for answers because suffering and God’s justice are common themes in the book. The purpose of Job is to explore God’s rules regarding suffering in the world, especially for the upright or the innocent. In the progression the book aims to change our thinking about God and the way that he runs the world. Most importantly, the book seeks to change our attention from the idea that God’s justice is foundational to the operation of the world to the alternate view that God’s wisdom is the more fitting foundation. Interestingly the book that people turn to for answers in suffering does not offer an answer for suffering and does not try to defend God’s integrity. It does not answer the “why” question that so many ask when things go wrong. Instead, we are pointed to God’s wisdom and, in the course, come to conclude that by faith he is just.
In truth, we will never be in the position to evaluate or question God’s justice. For us to assess the justice of a decision, we need to have all the facts, because justice can be disturbed if we do not have all the information. Since we never have all the information about our lives, we cannot judge God when he allows experiences for us or make assertions and demands.
The book of Job, however, is not about Job (the one who is suffering), his friends (the ones trying to pinpoint the reason for Job’s suffering), or the accuser/the Satan (the one who challenges God’s goodness). It is the story of humanity, and it is ultimately about God. The questions we may have about suffering inevitably points us to God, for when we go through hardships and suffering, there is no one else to question – God and the way He rules, and reigns is the one whose ways we want to understand. When we ask, “Why me?” we are asking “How does God work?” We may begin by asking why we deserved this, but ultimately the question we ask is, “What kind of God are you?”
Patience and Suffering
While Job may not answer these questions, I think we can gain a better understanding on suffering and our response to it in James 5.
James 5:7 -12
In this passage James reminds his readers about the oppression they are facing by the ungodly. His letter contains some practical, godly, and biblical advice regarding how his readers should respond in the face of suffering and persecution. He does mention in 1:19 that retaliation in anger is not the solution because it does not produce the righteousness of God; instead, he encourages them to endure.
Verse 7: James admonishes his readers by using the dreaded “P” word. It is a word so many of us dislike or do not like to hear. James says, “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return.” In this passage James is talking about suffering and He tells his readers to have the mindset of patience and endurance in their suffering and trials.
I am sure these were not the words they were hoping to receive from James. They, like most of us when wrongfully persecuted and oppressed, wanted swift and immediate justice by God. The question then was how long are they supposed to patiently endure their suffering trials?
James gives them even better news; they are to endure until “The Lord’s return”. What does he mean by this? The return of the Lord is what the early Christians believed about Jesus’ physical return to judge the wicked and deliver the saints. They lived in this hope and in this expectation and this is what helped them through the suffering and trials they were called to endure. The return of Jesus is not a secret thing, it is referred to in both the Old and New Testament (One commentator says there are 300 references to Jesus’ return in the New Testament). Jesus spoke about his physical return in one of his famous talks called the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24).
James is encouraging the believers to wait patiently and in faith… they are to wait just as a farmer patiently waits for his crop. He uses the example of a farmer to show how they are to wait. A farmer knows better than anyone about faith. A farmer works hard to till the ground, plant the crop, and prepare the land for a successful harvest… This is all a farmer can do. He cannot control the weather (amount of rain or sunshine), he can’t make a seed grow, and he can’t determine whether it will be a bountiful and healthy crop or not. He realizes his livelihood depends on so many factors other than himself. R. Kent Hughes writes,
“All farmers must patiently submit to this process (the growing process). To fight against it, to bite their nails, to insist they must have fruit in the middle of the process is futile.
In submitting to God’s process, they will inevitably undergo stressful times when it appears the rains will never come. But these times can be spiritually beneficial to them as they call upon their faithful God.”
Verse 8: James tells his readers that the Lord’s return is not far away (or so it seems), yet he does not say when his return will happen. These believers lived in expectation for his return, but they didn’t know when with would happen. All the New Testament authors who wrote about the coming of Christ all believed it was going to happen soon and swiftly. Yet here we are today still living in expectation and in anticipation for the return of Christ. Christ’s return can happen at any moment (imminent). We do not know the day, hour, or time, so we are to be ready for his return because he will come to judge the wicked and set up his kingdom here on earth. Jesus tells us three times in Revelation 22 that he is coming soon… verses 7, 12, 20 - 21. The Christians didn’t need to be convinced Jesus was coming back, they believed this. They were called patiently endure and stand firm in their faith.
Verse 9: As the oppression and suffering was intensifying so were tempers and patience with one another and with God. We can relate to this. Whenever we are amid suffering, turmoil, or difficulties it is easy to lose our cool, question why or turn against those who care and love us most. James reminds his readers do not do this and instead patiently endure and not grumble against each other.
Verse 10 – 11: James sites Old Testament prophets as being true examples of patience in suffering. He pinpoints Job in his steadfastness and God’s true compassion and mercy in times of trials and persecutions. With everything Job went through and all he had lost he was able to endure (not without complaining) and come out of his funk so to speak with a deeper faith in God and truly knowing he is compassionate, good, and merciful.
Patience and suffering are not words we may welcome with open arms into our lives. Patiently enduring amid suffering and tribulation is probably one of the hardest things for us to do. We all face trials, tribulations, and suffering. It is part of the fabric of life. Our response as believers to suffering should be different than the response of unbelievers. The unbelieving world sees pain and suffering and cries out for justice or retribution because there is no hope. We know our suffering is temporary even if it lasts a lifetime. We live in the hope or expectation that one day there will be relief from suffering. We must patiently endure, until we meet the Lord, or until He returns. Our Lord has an eternity waiting for us where there will be no more sorrow, no more pain, and no more suffering. We have put all our faith in this truth. We do not know when our suffering will end, but it will…someday. It is an open-ended promise. It may end tomorrow, it may come at the end of your life, or it may end when the Lord returns. This truth must always remain before us. We must live every day for Jesus as though it were our last day because, who knows, it may be. Knowing the return of Christ is imminent (could be any moment) can help us live hope-filled lives because we know how the story of history ends.
As I conclude, I cannot answer the question “Why?” “Why does God allow the innocent to suffer? How can an all-loving God allow his children to go through heart-wrenching pain, agony, and misery?”
But I can offer hope for you if you are suffering or facing trials ad tribulation. Know that your suffering is only for a moment. I can assure you of the words of the Apostle Paul who writes in Romans 8:18 -23, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.”
In the devotional magazine titled In the Word dated January of 1990 there is a story that is told concerning prayer, “from its early days, Dallas Theological Seminary was in critical need of $10,000 to keep the work going. During a prayer meeting, renowned Bible teacher Harry Ironside, a lecturer at the school, prayed, "Lord, you own the cattle on a thousand hills. Please sell some of those cattle to help us meet this need." Shortly after the prayer meeting, a check for $10,000 arrived at the school, sent days earlier by a friend who had no idea of the urgent need or of Ironside's prayer. The man simply said the money came from the sale of some of his cattle.”
Prayer is a powerful tool that we, as Christians, possess. In prayer there is power. In prayer there is healing. And in prayer there is forgiveness and salvation. Polls have shown that most Americans say that they pray regularly (about 60%) and most of us in this room would probably fit in the category of people who pray regularly. I am sure that we all at least pray before meals, maybe before we go to bed, or especially when we find ourselves in difficult circumstance or in trouble. When I look at this statistic, I wonder, how people are praying? Do these prayers consist of just asking God for things or making deals with God? Does their prayer involve more than just thinking about someone who is having a hard time? We often hear people say, “They are in our thoughts and prayers.” after losing a loved one or a tragic event. Prayer needs to be more than thinking about people and asking God for things. Now, I admit there are times in my life when my prayer life is shallow. There are days when I get up and say a quick prayer to help me get through the day or if I am in a tough, I pray that God would help me, and there isn’t anything wrong with this. But is this the essence of my prayer time with God? No, it is not, and I believe God wants so much more from me in my quiet times with Him other than me rattling of a list of wants and needs. My prayer needs to go deeper.
Today we are going to look at Nehemiah and the importance of prayer in his life and ultimately the necessity of prayer in our lives today. But before we do this let’s get a little background on the prophet Nehemiah.
If you recall, last week I talk ed about the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Not much has changed in the structure of the city. The walls of Jerusalem that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, despite multiple attempts to rebuild them, remained in ruins and disarray for almost a century and a half. Nehemiah came to Jerusalem during the reign of Artaxerxes 1 and he was a member of some standing in Persian royal circles. The Jerusalem of Nehemiah was not much different than the Jerusalem of Haggai some 70 years earlier. The temple was rebuilt, but it was a mere shadow of the awe-inspiriting edifice that Solomon constructed. It served as a reminder of the crushed hopes of restoration, and it served only as monument to remind Israel of the messianic expectations. The promises of restoration were all but forgotten as the post exilic people caved to the pagan gods of the pagan empires known around the world. The reality of Israel’s existence was threatened by their hostile neighbors and communities that surrounded them. This hostility continued throughout Nehemiah’s plan to restore the wall to its former glory for security and protection of the city. Jerusalem also encountered spiritual empathy, social decay and injustice, improper worship, intermarrying with foreign women, neglect of the tithe, and abuse of authority on the part of the priests.
Nehemiah was the cup bearer of King Artaxerxes I. One the primary function of the cupbearer is described by Xenophon who writes: “Now, it is a well-known fact that the kings’ cupbearers, when they proffer the cup, draw off some of it with the ladle, pour it into their left hand, and swallow it down—so that, if they should put poison in, they may not profit by it.”
Nehemiah & Prayer
In the book of Nehemiah God continues, as He does throughout the Bible, to remind Israel of his promises and providence. The best-known covenant in the Old Testament was the Abrahamic Covenant which was a promise made by God to make Abraham great among the nations, to bless Him and to make his name great so he and the nation he would father could be a blessing to all the nations. God promises to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. Ultimately the intent of the covenant would result in all the families of the earth being blessed by God through the nation of Israel. This was intended to be God’s way of being involved in human affairs. He will be with His people, and they will be with Him.
While promises and providence are the underlying theme of Nehemiah the one aspect of the man Nehemiah that is apparent to me is that he was a man of prayer. We know this because there are many recorded prayers in this book named after him. They prayers range from…
It is safe to say that prayer is a vital part of the Christian life but, unfortunately it is often the most neglected discipline. For us to gain a better understanding of prayer, it would be well for us to journey from the Old testament and spend some time in the Epistle of James, the brother of Jesus, and what he has to say about prayer.
James 5:13 - 16
Verse 13: The Epistle of James was a letter was written to persecuted and oppressed Christians. James is aware that there are people suffering amid this body of Christ. What he instructs them to do is nothing knew nor is he informing them of some new formula for breaking free from pain and suffering. He simply reminds them that in their suffering they should cover one another in prayer. Those suffering should pray for spiritual strength to endure the difficulties before them. In their suffering they should pray for relief but also that they should find their comfort in trials through prayer.
Prayer is not only for those suffering but also for those who are “cheerful” or “happy”. Theologian Douglas Moo writes, “A reminder to turn to God is needed even more in times of cheer than in times of suffering.” This is true. Personally, I am less likely to be prayerful when things are going great than I in times of turmoil, chaos, and sickness. This should not be the case for me nor any Christian. Therefore, James exhorts the cheerful or happy people to sing praises. Praise should be as much of a priority in our prayer lives as intercession, thanksgiving, confession, supplication etc. When all is well, we still need to be mindful of our desperate need for God.
Verse 14: If there is any sick among the body then they are commanded to do the following. Let’s pause here for a moment and look at what James is saying. What are most of our natural responses when we are faced with sickness or health issues? We fear, we may react negatively, or maybe we hunker down in depression and anxiety. Some keep their ailments to themselves because they are stubborn, or they don’t want to be a burden. They can become prideful as they don’t want to come across as weak or that can’t handle it. Some are just private people and don’t want to seem like they are broadcasting to the world their infirmities. James sets the record straight. He tells us that if anyone is sick or ailing, we are to call upon the elders to pray, and to anoint with oil in the name of the Lord.
Now this church does not have “official” elders, they would be like those we call Deacons or those who are considered spiritually mature. The prominent role and qualifications of an elder suggests that elders be spiritually mature people who oversaw the spiritual progress of the body of Christ. The elders, deacons, and spiritually mature (whether formal or informal) cannot pray and anoint if they are never called upon. Prayer is one of the main purposes or callings of the church body. This is one of the reasons why we meet. Praying for one another is a privilege and a blessing so why would we want to hinder these prayers by not making our requests known to the body of Christ? Laying on of hands and anointing with oil are two practices I would like to see happen more often in this church. Whether you are a private, stubborn, or anxious person you are truly missing out on the blessings of God when you refuse to allow others to pray for and over you.
Anointing with oil is an ancient practice that has both medicinal and spiritual value to it. Oil has been used in the ancient world as a skin conditioner and a medicine. It is also symbolic of the Holy Spirit. When we anoint with oil, we in essence are symbolically anointed others in the Holy Spirit. It is not the oil or the prayer that heals the sick person it is the Lord. It is a symbolic act to show that we believe that through the Holy Spirit the Lord can and will heal whomever he chooses and I fully believe he uses our prayers as a means of healing and restoring.
Verse 15: Here is a promise, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick…” So often we look at this passage and think that if we can muster up enough faith then God will do the healing. We turn it into being about us and not God. If I can find the faith, then God will do what I ask. Yet we forget that faith is not something we can go out and get more of, it’s a gift from God. When it comes to praying in faith, we need to understand that faith is given to us by God. I don’t really think God is up in heaven measuring our faith on a scale and saying, “Oh, if they just had a little bit more then I could heal them. Sorry, try again tomorrow.” James says prayer in faith will save the sick, yet God is the one who gives us the necessary faith we need to bring healing. Isn’t God wonderful like that? He gives us the resources to accomplish what he sets out to do. It’s amazing that he puts it in our hearts to pray for individuals and then He gives us the faith we need to believe so that He will heal. It has little to do with us (we are called to be obedient in prayer) and everything to do him (he will respond how he wills).
You may notice that James seems to be tying sin and sickness together. Well, in the ancient world the two were often associated together. It is true, there is some sickness that results from sin. In Jesus’ encounter with a paralytic man in Mark 12 and heals him of his ailment by declaring his sins are forgiven. In I Cor. 11:27 – 30 Paul implies that sin is the result of some sickness. Yet, on the other hand, not all sickness is the result of sin.
Overall, we can look at these verses and conclude that those who struggle with illness can take confidence in knowing that God will heal us in the end. Yet, one of the main factors that we must consider is God’s will. Douglas Moo writes again, “A prayer for healing, then, must usually be qualified by a recognition that God’s will in the matter is supreme. And it is clear in the NT that God does not always will for healing of the believer… The faith with which we pray is always faith in the God whose will is supreme and best.”
Verse 16: “Therefore…” Since the prayer of faith saves and heals then the logical conclusion is we should pray for one another and confess our sins to one another. Why should you confess? Because there may be sins present in the body that are hindering our prayers for healing. We see in this passage that when we confess and pray healing happens.
“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” One who is in tune with God in prayer and is a spiritually submitted person will pray according to God’s will because His will is what they seek. Our goal as followers of Jesus is to be righteous people whose prayer has great power, and we should seek out people who pray powerful prayers. I have people in my life who I know are righteous people and I ask them to pray for me whenever I need wisdom, comfort, and guidance. Yet I also desire to be a person who prays great prayers.
Prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian life. Without it we are dead. With it amazing things can happen. I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe God answers our prayers. Many of us are faced with sickness, health issues or even in difficult circumstances, so we let’s become people of prayer. May we commit today to becoming these righteous people who pray powerful prayers that brings healing and restoration to a neighborhood, city, and a church in desperate need of both?
For nearly two decades survivors of abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention have brought accusations to the Executive Committee regarding sexual abuse of women and children in SBC churches nationwide. The Executive Committee has failed to address these real and illegal activities among some pastors and staff of SBC churches and ministries. Until recently these accusations and allegations have largely been disregarded, swept under the carpet, and ignored. At the 2021 SBC National Gathering these voices were finally heard as the Messengers from over 5500 SBC churches overwhelmingly approved a motion calling for an outside third party task force to investigate the allegations of mishandling abuse claims at the SBC Executive Committee level. Guidepost Solutions was the firm selected to conduct this independent investigation.
Two weeks ago (May 22, 2022), the report was published and released publicly, and the contents of this investigation are concerning and appalling to say the least. The report is damning regarding information about how sexual abuse cases have been handled at the SBC’s top coordinating entity for decades. According to the report “over the years survivors were either ignored, put off by invocations of ‘polity,’ denigrated as ‘opportunists,’ or worse. The survivors perceived the totality of these actions as a pattern of intimidation. Moreover, this poor treatment likely had a chilling effect on other survivors coming forward to report abuse.” I cannot fully convey all the contents of this investigation, but the 288-page report can be viewed and read online by searching SBC Guidepost Investigation report.
Personally, I am disgusted by the actions or lack thereof by the Executive Committee. It is NEVER acceptable for anyone in leadership to disregard an allegation of Sexual Abuse in any circumstance. It is even less acceptable to shame or denigrate someone as an opportunist or sweep something under the rug to protect an entity or person. I am saddened by the number of individuals who were sexually abused. My heart goes out to them, even if I do not know them personally. I am also sickened by the number of sexual predators in pulpits. I want to boldly and loudly proclaim that I wholeheartedly condemn sexual abuse or general abuse in any form to any person… in the pulpit or out of the pulpit. I also condemn the actions of the Executive Committee as they chose to protect the entity (SBC) and themselves over doing the right thing.
To the best of my knowledge there have been no public cases of sexual abuse that have been ignored or swept under the rug in the history of Southside. If there has been, I am unaware and I would like to know so we may address it properly. I want to assure you that I/have a zero tolerance for any kind of abuse. If any allegation of abuse is brought to my attention, we will deal with the allegation in a proper manner. I take the calling of being the shepherd of this congregation VERY seriously and one of the main jobs of a shepherd is to protect this flock. I love you all and I promise to do whatever I can in my power to ensure that if have been a victim of sexual abuse that you have a voice and that you have a place where you can worship God freely and without fear.
Dr. Laurence M. Gould, president emeritus of Carleton College, said “I do not believe the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or guided missiles. I don’t think our civilization will end that way. I think it will die when we no longer care. Arnold Toynbee has pointed out that nineteen of twenty-one civilizations have died from within and not by conquest from without. There were no bands playing and flags waving when these civilizations decayed. It happened slowly, in the quiet and in the dark when no one was aware.”
Miriam Webster defines apathy as a lack of feeling or emotion, a lack of interest or concern. Apathy is a state of disinterest, or the suppression of emotions such as care, enthusiasm, motivation, or excitement. An apathetic individual or group of people have lost interest in or care about emotional, social, spiritual, or physical life and the world. Apathy can be described as how an individual or group of individuals feel when they do not possess the ability required to confront a challenge (overwhelmed). It may also come from the feeling of having no challenge at all (such as the challenge is irrelevant to them, or they feel helpless). Everyone has felt Apathy in one way or another and it is often a response to disappointment, sadness, or stress. It can be a way to forget about or suppress these negative feelings. The feeling of apathy is generally short term but can become a long-term or even lifelong state of mind. It can be brought on by trauma (death), life changes (losing a job, divorce) or inactivity (nothing is going to change so why should I care).
We will come back to apathy in a bit. But first, let’s go back in time and see what apathy does in a spiritual sense and what can be done be overcome apathy in life and in the church.
In 586 B.C. Jerusalem was sieged and captured by the Babylonians which resulted in the destruction of the city, the walls, and Solomon’s Temple. It was during this siege that many people were taken into captivity and brought to Babylon. We talked about that last week.
In 538 B.C. the conquered or exiled people were permitted by Persian emperor King Cyrus to return to their homeland to rebuild. Initially nearly 50,000 exiles and servants relocated to Jerusalem. Upon their return the foundations for a new temple were laid, and the altar of burnt offerings was replaced so temple sacrifices could commence. Soon thereafter they began to face hostility from neighboring tribes and the project was abandoned.
In 522 B.C. a second group of exiles returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel (Governor) and Jeshua (High Priest). These leaders were inspired by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to commence rebuilding of the temple in 520 B.C. The temple was completed in 515 B.C.
This brings us to the small minor prophet book titled Haggai. This is the shortest Old Testament book coming in with less than 1100 words.
General Theme: Haggai was called to be the prophet to begin the reconstruction of the temple of God that was destroyed and ransacked by the Babylonians 70 years previous.
Major Theme: The message to rebuild the temple and to call the people to proper worship of God. Haggai assumed that calling the people back to proper worship of God would naturally accompany the initiative to rebuild the temple.
There are four points or calls to Israel in Haggai’s message and they are as follows…
Haggai 1:1 - 11
What does this mean for us today? Southside vision is to connect and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the neighborhood, the community, and to the nations. Before we can do this, we need to honestly ask and answer these questions… Have you personally grown apathetic in your relationship with Jesus? Have we as a church grown indifferent to the life changing Gospel of hope to the world through Jesus Christ? Are we more concerned with our daily lives than with sharing the love of Christ with our unsaved friends and loved one? Do we care enough to care for and reach our neighborhood and community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Revelation 2:1 – 7
The challenge of these questions brings me to the book of Revelation. In chapter 2 and 3 we read the seven letters to the seven churches is Asia Minor and the first letter is addressed to the Church in Ephesus.
When this letter was written the Church at Ephesus had become apathetic. They had lost their first love and Jesus gives them a remedy or a cure for their apathy and sin…He tells the Ephesians to remember, repent, return, and then he will restor. Jesus tells the Ephesians to heed his warning and if they do not, He will come and remove his lamp stand (His Spirit) from their midst. This means that if things don’t change soon the church will die, which unfortunately it did.
This was a problem for the church, but whenever a problem is presented in the Bible we can be encouraged because Jesus always gives the solution.
 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 153.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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