Why Did The Greatest Preacher in the Old Testament Get Mad at God? #334 + Actually, the Church Really is a Building (?)
Happy Thanksgiving Eve, dear friends – This is a weird year, to be sure, but there is much to be thankful for, and I hope that your week causes you to enter His courts with Thanksgiving! Our readings for the day range from 1 Chronicles 21 to Jonah 4, to Luke 9 and then 1 Peter 2. Our focus will be on Jonah and 1 Peter.
Two topics today. Perhaps you’ve heard a preacher say something like this: The church is not a building, but a people, or the church is not a building but a family. In one sense, that is true – the church building is not a particularly sanctified and hallowed place – it is a building, and the church is not the building. We often say something like, “I’m going to church today,” signifying that we are driving to a building, but the word ecclesia, which is the basis for our word church, doesn’t mean a place or building, but a people. So, the church is a people…and yet….the church is ALSO a building, but probably not in the way you are thinking – let’s read 1 Peter 2, and see how.
4 As you come to him, a living stone—rejected by people but chosen and honored by God— 5 you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4-5
So you see that the church is indeed a building – a building made of living stones – you and me and all saved followers of Christ – and that building is a spiritual house that houses the body of Christ, which itself is a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD. So, is the church a building? Yes, absolutely it is a building – a spiritual house made up of the people of God together. Vs. 9 is one of my absolute favorite verses in Scripture and is perhaps the best description of the New Testament people of God in the Bible:
9 But you are a chosen race,a royal priesthood,a holy nation,a people for his possession,so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9
Who are you, Christian? A pew-sitter? A mere church-member? Much more than that – you are a called and chosen person that is not only a priest, but a royal priest – possessed by God, joined together with a whole nation of holy priests and called to proclaim the praises of the God who saved you!
Over to Jonah 4. I think I have great justification for calling jonah the best preacher in the Old Testament. Consider how impactful his sermon was. The message was simply, “Yet 40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown!” Apparently Jonah went through the huge city of Nineveh over a period of a few days proclaiming that message and everybody from the least to the greatest heard it and repented in sackcloth and ashes. Amazingly, the people (AND THE KING!) were so moved by the message that Jonah 3 tells us that they not only repented themselves, but they fasted as an outward sign of repentance AND wore sackcloth as an outward sign of repentance AND they made their ANIMALS all do the same thing!! I have never heard of a response to the preaching of God’s Word ANYWHERE that rivals the response of Nineveh to Jonah’s preaching, so that makes him a pretty great preacher in my mind. Even Jesus mentioned Jonah’s preaching and the response, so that’s another point in his favor.
The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s preaching; and look—something greater than Jonah is here.
Now, of course I know that it was God who transformed the hearts of the Ninevites and not Jonah’s preaching…and Jonah knew it too, because he had an interesting reaction to the results of his preaching. When God chose to relent from the judgment He was going to bring, rather than rejoice, Jonah was absolutely FURIOUS! Not only was he furious, but he was greatly displeased and SUICIDAL – he literally asked God to kill him…what a drama queen! Let’s read about it.
Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster. 3 And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
So, why was Jonah mad? He was mad because God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love who relents from punishing those who deserve to be punished. What an amazing description of God and what an amazing thing to be angry about! Why was Jonah so angry? I believe the answer is that Jonah valued something MORE than God…Jonah was trying to serve two masters, and such a thing, according to James, makes you unstable in all of your ways. Pastor Tim Keller has preached nearly 100 messages on Jonah – maybe many more than that, but I have a copy of 84 of those sermons, and in one of them, he gives a very important explanation of why jonah was mad – something for us to think about in 2020:
When a person says, “I would just as soon die,” he’s saying, “I don’t have any meaning in life. Something was in my life that gave my life meaning, and now it’s gone so I have no purpose left.” Whatever that is, it has to be a god. It has to be something he got his identity from, a life referent, something that gave him meaning and purpose, something that gave him a reason for being, and it’s gone. That’s why he is able to say, “… it is better for me to die than to live.”
Look at who he’s saying this to. God is talking to Jonah. God is talking to Jonah, and Jonah is saying to God, “I have no meaning in life.” Jonah is looking at the only source of meaning in life and saying, “I have no meaning in life.” Jonah is looking at the only reason to get up in the morning and he’s saying, “I have no reason to get up in the morning.” Something has been more of a god to Jonah than God. He’s really a kind of unconscious fool to be sitting and saying to God, “I have no reason in life,” looking right at the only reason there is for life.
Now listen, you may not have used such words as this, but what Jonah is saying is, “I don’t feel like getting up in the morning.” Why? “I have no reason to get up. I have no reason. I have no motivation. Why get up? What is there out there for me? Have you not had that kind of feeling? Actually, there is a good philosophical name for that. Heidegger calls it angst, existential despair, a sense of feeling like, “What am I really here for?” Alienation. “There is nothing out there for me.”
If you haven’t felt like Jonah, you’re young, maybe; you haven’t lived a very long time; or you’ve lived, so far, a charmed and unreflective life. I can absolutely guarantee you it won’t last. Jonah has lost his meaning in life, and when that happens, it’s because he has lost his god. There was some other god.
Now what was that other god? Well, without taking too much time on it, because we want to really be looking at ourselves, here, that other god was the national security of his people. We know that Assyria eventually did sack the northern Ten Tribes (there were 12 Tribes of Israel) and Assyria, Nineveh, eventually came down, made war against Israel, basically sacked the northern part of it, and led them off into captivity, never to return. Assyria was a tremendous international political threat, military threat to Israel. Jonah knows that.
Now Jonah loves his people. That’s good. Jonah is a patriot. That’s good. But when it has turned into bloodlust, when it has turned in his heart so that now he wants to see these dirty pagans nuked by God, that good thing had become an idol. That good thing, which is love for his people, had become a god. When he realized that Israel was not certain to win this power play, this power struggle, when he realized that Israel’s national interest had not been secured, he lost all of his meaning in life. And he became angry at God, which shows in Jonah’s heart there was a true God and there was a rival god.
As long as serving the true God enabled him to serve his rival god, everything was fine. But on the day that to serve the true God meant he’d have to stop serving his rival god, which was the national security of his people, his own pride and his ethnic pedigree and so on, his religiosity, his respectability … On the day in which he had to choose between the true God and the rival god, he turned on the true God. He was using the true God to serve his rival god. He was making the true God a means to an end.
Can you look at yourself for a moment here? You don’t see that? Do you this in yourself? Do you see why Jonah was full of instability? Why he could praise God one day and the next day he could turn and curse? Because he had more than one god down in there. That is pretty amazing. You know, I’ve seen women who were carrying twins. When you’re carrying twins before they’re born, there is a lot of kicking and screaming in there. It’s nothing like carrying two gods. Nothing.
What, therefore, do we have to look at if we’re talking about ourselves? Look at it like this. Do you have anything in your life that you simply must have to be happy? You simply have to have it. You may be Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, you may say, “Here’s what my faith is,” but what I want to know today is not what you say you believe, but what is your real religion, what is your real salvation, what are you really living for?
Don’t tell me who your professed god is. Who is your functional master in your day-to-day life? Your functional master, those gods, those things that you must have. If you don’t have they drive you into the ground with despair. To get them they’ll drive you in your goals and in your schedule. What are your functional masters?
You know, Becky Pippert, in that great book, puts it so perfectly. She says, “Whatever controls [you] is [your Lord] … The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by the people he or she wants to please. We do not seek control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our life. If Jesus is our Lord, then he is the one to whom we submit for he has the ultimate power. There are no bargains.” There is no in between.
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
Why was Jonah mad? Idolatry. Something other than God was in the utmost place of importance in his life. Jonah was a nationalist first and first wanted the enemies of his nation crushed so his nation could prosper. He was an Israel fan before he was a God fan, and it made him unstable in all of his ways…praising God with incredible depth in Jonah 2 and basically cursing God and wanting to die in Jonah 4. This is the instability that every one of us will walk in who put ANYTHING – our nation, our politics, our success, our riches, our relationships – on the throne of the #1 pursuit of our lives. Think well on this friends, and love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, mind, soul and strength and Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God, and not any other Kingdom or pursuit.